The art of basketry in the Adelaide Hills

Learning about the ancient craft of basketry with Bev Manthey and Christine Ford, two skilled basket makers from the Adelaide Hills, reveals the fascinating world of a craft deeply rooted in nature and community.

Bev and Christine share not only the craftsmanship behind their creations but also the deep connection with the natural world that inspires their work. As proud members of the Hills Basket Cases, a branch of Basketry SA, they provide insights into the meditative aspects, communal camaraderie, and environmentally conscious ethos that define the timeless art of basket making. 

Bev: You could say that civilisation began with string. Making cordage from leaves and grasses and fashioning it into containers allowed our ancestors to catch, carry and store food much more efficiently. Basketry is the original craft – it predates weaving, spinning, even pottery – and to this day is the only craft that has not been mechanised.  

Christine: Most of our baskets are made from materials that grow in our gardens or by the roadside: iris, wisteria, even weeds like ivy or chasmanthe. Since I started making baskets I look at what’s growing around me in a whole new light. Did you know that you can make a natural dye from soursobs?

Bev:  Baskets come from the garden but they also return to the garden. Part of their beauty is that they don’t last forever: years of hard service and then they decay gracefully into the compost heap. Compare that with the problems we have now with ‘forever’ plastics. 

Random-weave basket by Anna Durovka

Christine: I know some basket makers who incorporate waste plastic into their work. But for me the important thing is reconnecting with the natural world and rhythm of life that we seem to have lost. Making a basket is slow work, but it’s satisfying to know that you’ve grown, harvested, dried and prepared the materials yourself – and I find the weaving itself really soothing, like a mental health break. I put on some music and disappear into another world. 

Bev: There is something meditative about basket-making but there is also a great sense of community. Basket makers are a generous lot and love to share techniques, tips and even materials to get newcomers started. I’ve taught hundreds – maybe thousands – of schoolchildren how to make string from a leaf. That tradition of teaching stretches way back in time, connecting us all. 

Christine: And stretches into the future – there are some amazing makers who are really pushing the envelope when it comes to form and function. I love to see people who take the same materials and make something entirely new and different. 

Bev: While still using the same techniques that indigenous peoples all over the world perfected thousands of years ago. It’s that sense of connection. 

Christine Ford and Bev Manthey are members of the Hills Basket Cases, a branch of Basketry SA. 

Hero image credit: Christine Ford, demonstrating at Anlaby Station Spring Festival

For more information about Basketry SA’s groups, exhibitions and workshops:

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