American Native Arts and Antiques

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Wabanki Baskets for Sewing/Women's Work Baskets

Vintage Acorn Tatting or Crochet basket

Baskets made by tribes of the Wabanaki alliance to hold sewing/crocheting/knitting/tatting/quilting materials and tools are and were numerous,these baskets were made in a variety of shapes and sizes from the 1860's through the 1940's. By 1880 sewing baskets made by the Maliseet, MicMac Passamaquoddy and Penobscot basketmakers in Maine and Eastern Canada were major part of their trade economy. These "women's work baskets" were produced in mass quantities and even sold in the "Sears and Roebucks" catalogs in the early 1900's. Traders on individual reservations also produced "catalogs" which were sent to large stores in cities like New York, Boston and Chicago. The stores then placed orders for the different types of sewing and women's work baskets they wanted to offer their customers - sometimes ordering a dozen of one kind, 200 of another.

PHOTO DESCRIPTIONS: please click individual photo to see entire picture

Vintage Acorn Tatting or Crochet basket - SOLD - SOLD -

Larger Vintage Women's Work Basket - Currently available in this website's store "Vintage Maine Indian Items"

2 Tiered Sewing Basket - SOLD - SOLD -

Flat or Arm Sewing basket w/accessory baskets sewn on inner lid - Currently being auctioned on ebay at -

There were tiny thimble covers, needle cases, pincushions, scissors covers, small round button baskets, larger round ribbon baskets and round flat baskets called "flat or arm" baskets that ranged in size from 2.5" to 16" in diameter which were intended to hold a variety of sewing tools and materials. The largest were furniture size, tiered sewing baskets on wooden legs meant to set beside a seamstress's chair. These had 2 or 3 large round or square baskets at various heights. Some of these had a lid on the top basket; others had all open baskets.

Special baskets for crocheting, tatting and knitting had a hole woven into the lid top. The yarn or thread would pass through the hole keeping the ball inside and untangled while the woman worked. Knitting baskets are a tall cylindrical shape (with the hole in the lid top). Enchanting shapes for crochet and tatting baskets were sometimes used - acorn, strawberry and "aeroplane"shaped baskets which had large hoop handles. These hoops could go over the back of a ladder back chair or over a woman's wrist steadying the basket and the work.

From 1880-1910 some of these women's work basket forms were decorated with fancy curl work, other baskets were colorful having dyed splints and weavers. During the depression and later, from 1930 until the early 1990's Wabanaki basketry was weakened. While there were a few excellent basketmakers working during this time, the number of baskets made and for the most part, the quality of the baskets declined. Beginning the 1990's interest in basketry has encouraged young basketmakers - with quantity and quality both strong. - Sewing baskets or women's work baskets are not common forms made currently. But many basketmakers now working have made a few pincushion baskets, and "flat or arm" baskets. Round baskets with lids are made by many current basketmakers, and these could be used to hold sewing materials or tools, they are not made specifically for sewing purposes as were baskets a century ago. A few basketmakers have made knitting baskets which have the hole in the lid top. While acorn and strawberry shape baskets are made by several Wabanki basketmakers, I have not seen any current acorn or strawberry baskets with a hole in the lid indicating the basket was made for crochet or tatting work.