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Of all the items in common use by households across the globe, baskets must be among the most enduring. They provide an unbroken link that can be traced back as far as the times of such lost civilizations as those of the ancient Greeks and the Romans. The flimsy remains of baskets have also been discovered in the tombs of ancient Egyptians, and it is reasonable to assume that they were being used by our ancestors centuries before that.
Baskets were originally designed purely for everyday use, for such humble tasks as storing utensils or food, and for fetching and carrying. Their widely varying styles, which we find so attractive today, grew out of practical need, their shapes evolving according to the particular use they were going to be put to. Baskets for loaves, for example, needed to be long and shallow, while baskets for storing rice or cooking paraphernalia needed to be narrow and deep.
Over the centuries, these basically mundane household objects took on entirely different roles. People began to recognize them as objects of beauty in their own right and to realize their potential for many uses other than those for which they were originally intended. And so they were pressed into many other roles, from the everyday--such as storing newspapers--to the fun, as receptacles for pretty flower arrangements, for pinecones, dried grasses and seedheads, or even for Christmas baubles.
We are lucky today in that we have a veritable United Nations of baskets available to us, imported from all over the world. So while our own country's baskets may be both attractive and beautifully made, we can still satisfy our desire for theunusual: after all, it is always fun to try something different.
Baskets are constructed from natural materials, whether it be willow, rush, rattan or plywood. As we become more aware of our threatened environment, this becomes a definite plus. We are happy to use something entirely natural, especially if it means banishing nonbiodegradable plastic containers to the rubbish heap of history.
Every household will have a basket or two somewhere, whether it is in day-to-day use or sitting forgotten in a corner. If yours are hidden away, now is the time to brush off the dust and turn your basket into something truly splendid, worthy of a prime position in your home, with the help and inspiration of the ideas contained in this book.
The glory of this is that it is so simple. There is no need to trek off to the store and spend a lot of money on equipment: instead, whatever you have to hand can be pressed into use either to decorate or else to fill your baskets. The key is improvisation. It is astonishing how something as plain and utilitarian as a shopping basket can be dressed up, with the help of a few ribbons or strands of ivy, to look unusual and special, worthy of being filled with something appealing.
Odd scraps of material can be pressed into use to make a basic lining for an old basket, and suddenly you have a work basket to be proud of. The flower arranger's basic tool, oasis, is indispensable in a basket: with it you can easily create a wonderful centerpiece for a dining table or, if you are using a hanging basket, a flowering display to decorate a summer supper on the terrace.
Let the children get in on the act when creating brimming baskets: they will have hours of amusement decorating eggs for Easter, making fruit or figures out of bread dough, or cooking a multinational collection of gingerbread people, dressed in their national costumes. A basket filled with such delights becomes a work of art in itself--and will be sure to lend flair to a children's party.
Naturally, the time of year will dictate what materials are available to fill your decorative baskets, and the projects in this book are divided into different seasons. Spring offers a wide variety of new bulbs, while summer brings a profusion of colorful blooms. In autumn, richly hued gourds, or golden-colored dried seedheads and grasses, can take the place of flowers and look just as spectacular--and will last a lot longer. Winter also provides a wealth of material to fill baskets, from Christmas candles or baubles to potted plants like poinsettias or the early flowering, sweet-scented hyacinths or narcissi.
Some of the best fun can be had with objets trouves, such as shells collected on a vacation at the seaside, or interesting feathers picked up on a walk through the woods. Everything can be put to good use.
Nothing except the limits of your imagination will stop you making the best use of baskets. Hopefully, this book will give you inspiration and ideas enough to push those limits to their full extent.
Index of basket projects
Author Biography: Elizabeth Jane Lloyd created all the baskets in this book. A successful painter, she exhibited her work internationally. She also taught fine art and gave workshops all over the world. She is the author of two previous books, Enchanted Circles and Watercolor Still Lives for the Royal Academy in London.
Lucy Peel, co-author, is a freelance journalist. She is the co-author of two previous books, '50s & '60s Style and An Introduction to 20th Century Architecture.