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Making baskets from bark

Create a folded bark basket made from the trees on your property

I have a favorite basket that I use every year when I’m picking produce in the garden. It's rectangular with a handle. Long ago, pioneers made folded bark baskets to transport food. Basket makers today use the same methods to make a variety of containers.

Jim Widess owns a caning shop in California. He says creating bark baskets is  a fun project. He recommends harvesting fresh bark from a recently-felled tree. Birch, ash, and poplar are excellent barks to use. You'll need a good, sharp knife and a pry bar to get the bark off of the tree.

"You'd cut a strip of bark that's 10-12" wide, maybe more, and then a little bit more than twice as long as you want the basket to be," says Widess. "You scribe, or score an oval in the middle of the bark that's going from side to side, and those will be the fold lines. Punch holes in both sides, and stitch it together."

Widess says a basket maker might use a strip of hickory bark to stitch up the sides of the basket, and then continue the strip around to become the handle.   

He notes you have to work quickly after removing bark from a tree. As it dries it loses its pliability. Keep the bark wrapped in a bag to hold in the moisture if you're not able to work with it right away.

If you haven't made a bark basket before, Widess recommends practicing first.

"Make some cardboard patterns. Heavy cardboard, you could use leather. Make some patterns first to get an idea of how it goes together, how it folds," says Widess.

Don't worry if your newly-made baskets seem flimsy at first. As they dry, they become sturdier and lighter. Depending on the bark, curing could take up to a week.

Learn more about making a folded bark basket

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