Taita Basket

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Characteristics / Features

A “Taita Basket” is the name of the sisal baskets made by women in Taita Taveta County. The baskets are laboriously crafted according to the traditional art from hand-twisted thin sisal fibers dyed with natural plants. They are remarkably soft, thanks to the tightly woven fine mesh and they boast resistance to color fading. Sisal is famous for being an extremely strong and hardy material; it is resilient even to salt water. However, care should be taken when exposing your basket to full sunlight, since this will cause the colours to fade. Whilst a splash of water will not harm these baskets, drying your basket out if it is made wet is highly recommended. Otherwise the basket will loose its shape. Sisal is a natural product, and if it remains damp for a long period it will go mouldy. If you use your basket as a plant pot, you need to line it with a water proof bag.

Production and Processing

These unique baskets are produced according to the traditional art by local women who have passed down the skill from generation to generation. The Taita ladies dye the fibres themselves and then roll the twine on their lap. Making baskets is a very labour intensive art. The baskets come in a number of different colours and patterns, with each design entirely made up by these Taita ladies: The sisal leaves are decorticated (process by which outer parts of the plant are removed) until only the fibres remain. These fibres are typically 0.5 to 1 m long. Stiff sisal fibre is used to make a vast array of products, everything from twine, rope, dartboards, cat scratching posts, lumbar support belts, rugs, slippers, cloths, disc buffers… and of course baskets! Though in Kenya traditionally Sanseveria and baobab fibres have been used for basket weaving, now the ladies rely on sisal because of its suitability and vast availability. The sisal fibres are coloured by adding them to the desired dye and bringing them up to the boil. They are then left out in the shade to dry. Traditionally ladies have used natural colorants like certain tree bark or soil to create earthen shades of black, brown, grey and pale pinks and yellows. Textile dyes are now broadly being used in order to obtain bright colours. Using sisal fibres, the ladies have to roll it to produce twine. This requires amazing skill since it necessitates the women to roll, upon their bare legs, consistent amounts of sisal fibres into each other to obtain a good quality twine that has the same thickness all over. This is probably the most time consuming element of the entire basket making process Finally only once the lady has enough twine in the colour she wants, can begin weaving her basket. The weaving starts at the centre of the bottom of the basket No pesticides nor chemical fertilizers are needed in sisal agriculture.

Link with the Territory

The weaver ladies either grow sisal plants (Agave Sisalana, Mexican origin) on their farms or else buy sisal fibres from the sisal estates in Mwatate. Sisal is an exceptionally durable and strong material, and grows well in harsh Kenyan climates. The sisal baskets produced in the Taita Taveta County of Kenya are regarded by many as regional treasures. These unique baskets are made out of sisal which is grown either on farms belonging to the basket weavers, or else purchased from sisal estates in coast province.
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