All rope is not created equal! The market is currently split between synthetic ropes, such
as nylon and polyester, and vegetable fiber ropes, such as cotton and hemp. Working with vegetable fibers is always my preference, because they’re spun from plants, they’re softer and more pliable, and they’ve been associated with weaving, macramé, and other crafts for decades.
The principal vegetable fibers are:
Manila. Made from abaca leaves, a plant that belongs to the banana family, it’s highly praised for its elasticity and strength.
Hemp. Cultivated in many parts of the world, hemp has been used for centuries to make rope, canvas, and paper.
Coir. Extracted from the husk of coconuts, it forms a particularly durable, water-resistant cordage.
Cotton. We’re all familiar with this one.
Sisal. Extracted from the corchorus plant, it’s coarse, strong, and durable, and is often found in carpets, wall coverings, and scratching posts for cats.
Jute. Considered one of the strongest vegetable fibers, it’s extracted from the jute plant and used in countless products, including sacks and rugs.
These fibers are twisted or twined together to form ropes of two, three, four, or more strands, or are braided together. It’s difficult to sew through some of these ropes without breaking a needle or two, but cotton rope is a good all-around option that’s suitable for all basket-making projects. You’ll need to use a sewing machine to give your basket the perfect finish.
When working with a twined rope, the strands are more likely to unravel under the needle if you don’t catch both ropes in each stitch, so I prefer using braided cotton, which is easily accessible, cost-effective, and easy to dye.
Here are some of the basic techniques needed to create a rope basket using cotton rope and a sewing machine. Be sure to thread your machine with extra-strong thread and to use a needle suitable for sewing jeans or leather.
Tools & Materials
- Sewing machine
- Rope (braided cotton, preferably)
- Colored stick pin
- Embellishments of choice, optional
Step 1: Set your sewing machine to zigzag stitch. Untangle the rope, and coil it in your hand into a circle that measures 3⁄4 to 1 inch in diameter. Secure it with a stick pin. (TIP: Using a colored stick pin makes it easier to see.)
Step 2: Place the coil under the foot of the sewing machine. Start stitching the rope together to secure the coil by zigzagging back and forth and catching the rope to either side. Continue stitching, following the spiral of the coiled rope, until the basket base is your desired size.
Step 3: To start building the sides of the basket, angle the base against the left side of the machine. Continue to sew as the side of your basket takes shape.
Step 4: Keep sewing, gradually building up the rows of rope and making sure the zigzag stitch is catching both ropes in each stitch. (TIP: If you get to the end of your piece of rope and need to start a new length, simply place the pieces end to end, and zigzag stitch them together.)
Step 5: When your basket reaches the desired height, loop the last few inches of rope back underneath itself before stitching it down, so that the raw end is enclosed.
Step 6: If desired, you can add a personal touch to the basket by sewing on a few embellishments.
Tabara N’Diaye is the co-founder of La Basketry, and she’s on a mission to shine light on one of the world’s most ancient crafts with basketry techniques and modern creations that inspire people. This article is excerpted with permission from her book Baskets (Quadrille).