Sweetgrass Basket Sewing
Come observe Basket Sewers in their element as they create beautiful, lasting creation made from sweetgrass, bulrush, pine needles, and palmetto palm. Step into the world of these marvelous women as they transform raw material into something absolutely majestic.
Sweetgrass basket sewing is a craft that originated in Sierra Leone, West Africa and was brought to the Lowcountry of South Carolina by enslaved African people. The first sweetgrass baskets made were large fanner baskets, which were used to winnow rice, a process where rice is tossed in the air to allow wind to separate the chaff from the hull.
According to Marilyn Dingle a Charleston-based Basket Sewer for seventy years, “Baskets in the olden days were made to be used in the rice fields…through the years we started making functional baskets to use in the home.” This happened after the Civil War and emancipation, when former slaves began taking creative freedoms. Breadbaskets, hotplates, and lidded jars are examples of functional baskets still being made today.
Though women do much of today’s basket-making, the craft isn’t solely their provenance. “When we were children, the boys and girls all had to learn,” Dingle says. Although, there are less Basket Sewers, the craft is not dying. The techniques of sweetgrass baskets are passed down from generation to generation in order to keep the craft alive. As such, Dingle’s granddaughter Kim Youson, who is in her early twenties, often comes to Mount Pleasant to weave sweetgrass. She sits next to Dingle working on her own baskets, which are smaller, thinner, and more modern.
Gullah Geechee traditions are the foundation of Charleston’s cultural landscape. The Basket making process requires a great deal of patience, dedication, and creativity as there are no set patterns. Each piece is unique and in time an artist develops his or her own style of basket making. Basket Sewers pledge to continue to carry on the traditional craft as long as there are raw materials available, as unfortunately, the development of rural areas are threatening the supply.
Come join us as we step into these remarkable artisan’s worlds and journey to a different time.