Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Basket Case

 Black White and Red Coiled Rope Basket

 I've recently started to make coiled baskets using clothesline rope.  I've always admired basket makers.  The fact that they can take the most mundane of material i.e. rope, grass or thin strips of wood and turn it into beautiful and useful storage and decorating pieces always intrigued me.

I decided to start with rope.  My sister makes these wonderful pocketbooks by wrapping fabric strips around clothesline rope and stitching them together.  Being the perverse person that I am, I thought I'd skip the wrapping and try dyeing the rope.  Easier, right?  I wouldn't  have to buy, wash, iron and cut fabric.  I could just slap some dye on the rope and start stitching.  Well, not quite.

Dyeing the rope turned into  a messy involved process.  I started with some ordinary cotton clothesline rope.  I had some on hand since I am one of the few people left in the United States who prefers to dry my laundry using my solar clothes dryer, otherwise known as the sun.  The last time my clothesline broke and I had to replace the line, I had the forethought to save it.  Actually, it was my inner hoarder who kicked in to save it, but we won't go there.   I hate to throw anything away that I might be able to use later.  But never mind that.  I had the rope and since I'm a big advocate of instant gratification, I dug out some fabric dye that I bought a while ago.  I don't remember why I bought it.  Probably for some project which I obviously never attempted since the dye has been sitting in a drawer in my studio.  I never even opened it!

Anyway, here I was with about 100 feet of rope, several bottles of dye and no clue what to do next.  So, of course, I went to my fallback position when I don't know what to do, Google!  I did a bit of research and realized that maybe this wasn't going to be easier or faster than all that rigmarole with the fabric.  But since I had gone to all that trouble digging out the rope and dye, I felt I had to proceed.

First, I realized what a messy job I was getting into to.  For my first basket, I used a small cookie sheet as a tray.  I coiled the rope, I think it was about 9 feet long, on the sheet and started squirting dye.  I quickly realized my mistake.  My hands were a cacophony of colors and the rope looked like a box of crayons had thrown up on it.

In order to salvage it, I ran downstairs and searched for some surgical gloves that were left over from when I had my perforated appendix out and I needed daily visits from a nurse to change my bandages.  I found the gloves tucked in with some linoleum blocks that I bought to make prints with, because where else would any sane person store surgical gloves? and I raced upstairs to try to salvage my dyeing project.

I manage to clean my hands of most of the dye and stuffed my hands like wet sausages into the latex gloves.  I dug around under my sink until I found an empty spray bottle, another one of my idiosyncrasies, I always save a few spray bottles just in case I might need one.  I started spritzing the rope with water.  I sprayed until I liked the muted and diffuse colors of the rope.

Now what to do with the whole thing.  The instructions on the dye bottle said to leave the material to dry.  My rope was so wet, it would have probably taken weeks to dry inside, but luckily it was a bright, warm sunny Fall day outside.  I took everything outside to my deck and left it to dry.  It didn't take too long.  After a couple of hours, I went out and flipped the rope over and by nightfall it was dry.

Next I had to heat set the dye.  So I spent an hour with a dry, hot iron and finally the rope was ready to use.  The rest of the process, while fun for me, would be boring to read about so I'll skip it.  Here's my first attempt at basket making.
I found that despite the work and the mess, I liked dyeing and stitching my own baskets.  I refined the process a bit.  I now use a large steel tray that I had in my basement.  Don't know what it was for originally but my father had given it to me to store wood in when we had a wood burning stove.  It's about 3 feet long and 2 feet wide and I use clothes pins or clips to hold the rope up off the surface when dyeing and spritzing, so the rope doesn't get as wet as it did the first time.  I always use latex gloves, so my hands stay much cleaner.  It took forever for the color to wear off my hands and I could see people in the grocery store giving me peculiar looks while my hands looked like Joseph's coat of many colors.

I've made a few more baskets and will be making more.  My advice for anyone who would like to try something new, is to go for it.  Life is a learning experience and learning a new art can be both fun and enlightening.

Handmade Coiled Rope Basket in Variegated Greens and Yellow

Bath or Kitchen Storage Basket
Hand Dyed Basket In greens, Blues, and Yellows
Many Colored Basket

And my one attempt at making a trivet.
Hand Coiled Rope Trivet


  1. What an experience! Sounds fun. Your baskets are very pretty. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Sharon. It was and still is fun. Sometimes I just need to throw some color around!

  2. Great idea on re-using rope, love your colorful baskets!

    1. Thanks Diane! Only the first one was reused rope. Just wanted to see what they would come out like.

  3. What beautiful baskets you are making, Nancy! And your first one is really nice - love the colors. Am glad you got the "kinks" worked out because I can see how these will sell at a good clip. Thank you for sharing. Great read.

  4. Enjoyed reading! Your baskets are so pretty and colorful.

  5. Love these colorful baskets you're making. They are very pretty. Thanks for sharing how you made them and the love of your art.

  6. Well Sis, your baskets are beautiful and I'm happy that I inspired them. I still love my fabric covered rope bags but your dying process gives more variations of color without all the cutting of strips. You are a true artist to me and I love you and your creativity.

  7. Very pretty! Sometimes experiments lead to very happy accidents! The colors are great!

  8. They are so pretty! Great work!

  9. You are a very entertaining writer, Nancy! And I understand the hoarding bit! But it's a good thing you had everything on hand because the colors of your first basket are amazing! You are onto something quite lovely here!