Nice Weave: How Ancient Basket Making is Inspiring Contemporary Furniture

Pendants made from woven pop bottles

Pendants made from woven pop bottles

Basket weaving is one of the oldest known handcrafts. It predates pottery and, for at least 10,000 years, has been a vital means of transforming leaves and grass into vessels for storage and transportation.

These days, even at a time when furniture production has never been more high-tech — it’s possible for a designer to model a chair, light fixture or vase on his laptop, then e-mail the specs to manufacturers all over the world for almost instant 3-D printing — the anachronistic warp and weft still has an important influence.

Part of the appeal is that weaving a product by hand always has a special, made-with-love quality that machines can’t replicate.

Weaving also reflects the unique, cultural heritage of where the product originated. Senegalese crafts people have different methods than those in Ho Chi Minh City, something which gives an object a rich, irreplaceable character.

It’s this deep-seated sense of tradition that is inspiring designers to come up with innovative uses for the ancient technique. Talented young furniture makers are plaiting with unconventional materials like plastic pop bottles, or creating cross cultural mash-ups for unique tables, light fixtures and stools.

Here, five masterfully woven pieces for the home.

Pendants made from woven pop bottles

Pendants made from woven pop bottles

Pop art: Disturbed by the massive build-up of plastic waste in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, designer Alvaro Catalán de Ocón wanted to create a product that would help to prevent single-use pop bottles from going out to sea. The Spaniard worked with artisans in Colombia – a country with a troubling amount of debris drifting from the oceans into its Amazon region – to create the PET lamp. The warp is made from strips of old plastic bottles. The weft is made with dyed papa tetera palm fronds, wool or cotton. Through

Stephen Burks' Dala lounger

Stephen Burks’ Dala lounger

From trash to chair: Stephen Burks’s Dala lounger was inspired by handmade furniture the American saw while visiting artisans in Senegal and the Philippines (dala means “to make” in Senegalese and “to take” in Tagalog). The structure of the chair is a lightweight, aluminum mesh, onto which colourful strands of recycled polyethylene and Tetra Paks are woven. Through

Baskets made from paper yarn

Baskets made from paper yarn

Two for one deal: On a trip to Spain, German designer Sebastian Herkner was intrigued by a technique of curling paper into long, yarn-like strands. With famed Italian manufacturer Moroso, he developed a method of wrapping the natural fibres around a sturdy metal frame. The resulting baskets can be used to store sweaters or magazines, but they can also be flipped over into colourful coffee or end tables. Through

Anthropologie's handwoven Lita table

Anthropologie’s handwoven Lita table

Blanket stripes: Anthropologie’s handwoven Lita table looks like an eccentrically coloured pioneer’s blanket that was left on the loom. But rather than soft wool, the strips are made from long-lasting polypropylene, and the frame is iron, so it won’t break down from spilled drinks or too much time in the sun. Through

Glimpt Studio's Nordic-Vietnamese furniture

Glimpt Studio’s Nordic-Vietnamese furniture

East meets north: The Superheroes collection is a cross-cultural mash-up of Swedish and Vietnamese influences. Designers Mattias Rask and Tor Palm (who run Glimpt Studio in Stockholm) were inspired by weavers in Ho Chi Minh City to create the bowl-like shape of its lounger, coffee table and stool. The pair worked with Swedish illustrator Malin Koort to create the Nordic-style patterning. Through

This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, May 16, 2013.


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