The Real Meaning of “Wicker”

wicker meaning

Have you ever wondered where the word “wicker” comes from? It’s pretty interesting when you look at its history. A long time ago in Old English, they used words like “wiccer” to describe the flexible branches of plants like willow trees. Willow branches are great for weaving baskets because they can bend easily.

Over hundreds of years, the word “wicker” started to mean anything woven using peeled and bent plant parts, like rattan cane. So whether it’s a willow basket or one made from bamboo, we call them “wicker” baskets.

The bottom line is “wicker” comes from old words for bendy willow twigs. Way back when those were the main materials people used to weave cool containers for carrying things. Even as new materials like rattan became popular, the name “wicker” stuck around to refer to all hand-woven baskets.

  • The word “wicker” comes from Old English terms for flexible willow branches.
  • Common basketry materials like rattan, willow, and bamboo are lightweight yet durable.
  • Coiling, twining, and plaiting are basic techniques used to weave baskets.
  • Historically, baskets served useful purposes like storage, transport, farming, and crafts.
  • Different cultures imbued baskets with symbolic meanings around community and traditions.
  • Baskets reflected ideas like sustainability, social bonds, and pride in artistic heritage.
  • Beyond utility, baskets represented deeper meanings important to many societies.
  • Their adaptability shows human ingenuity, while natural materials connect to nature.
  • Basket traditions remain relevant through customs and innovations by contemporary artists.
  • Valuing both the practical and symbolic roles of baskets is part of appreciating diverse cultures worldwide.

Common Materials for Wicker Baskets

natural wicker materials

Rattan Cane

Rattan is one of the most popular materials for wicker baskets. It grows all over jungles in Southeast Asia. Rattan is both stiff and flexible at the same time. This makes it perfect for weaving without breaking. Plus it’s light, so baskets made from rattan are easy to carry around.


In places like Europe, willow was a common choice for old-time wickerwork. Willow trees prefer moist soil near water sources, though some species can also tolerate drier conditions. This environmental adaptability made willow an abundant resource.


Lately, bamboo has become a popular option. Like rattan, it comes from Asia. But bamboo has some great benefits – it’s really strong even though the stalks are hollow inside. When cultivated responsibly through replanting and sustainable harvesting techniques, bamboo can indeed serve as a renewable resource.

Creating Wickerwork: Basic Weaving Techniques

Now that we have an idea of the key materials, let’s check out how crafters put them together into baskets. There are a few basic techniques used that I’ll quickly overview.

Coiling involves making concentric circles to build up a basket bottom first before adding sides. You twist flexible materials like reeds around a central spine to form round shapes.

Twining secures two sets of elements like reeds or vines by weaving them over and under each other. This tight interlacing makes the walls of baskets and other containers.

Plaiting uses multiple parallel strands that are woven together to create strong flat work for things like carrying mats or hat brims.

With practice, skilled artisans can combine these methods like coiling the bottom and then twining sturdy sides. Over centuries, unique regional styles evolved using specific materials and designs.

You may also like to read: What Are the Three Techniques Used in Basket Weaving?

How People Used Wicker Baskets in the Past

Baskets have been helping folks out for a long time. Here are some of the main ways they were used:

Keeping Things Tidy – Baskets were perfect for storing small items wherever you needed – in the home, garden, or while traveling.

Carrying Stuff – Whether it was food, tools, clothes, or gifts – baskets made it easier to move things from place to place.

Farm Chores – Farmers designed special baskets to help with tasks like collecting eggs, picking veggies, and feeding animals.

Cooking – People used baskets for making and serving food like steamed corn or crabs. They held ingredients and dishes as they cooked.

Art and Crafts – Artists kept brushes, clay, beads, and more organized in baskets while working on projects.

Giving Gifts – Decorated baskets were often filled with food or gifts to share at celebrations, trades, or as presents.

Home Decor – Some cultures displayed baskets as nice-looking decorations full of flowers or trinkets.

What Baskets Meant to Different Cultures

Beyond just using baskets in daily life, they also represented important ideas for many people and communities. Some themes that came up a lot included:

Having Enough: In nature, plants grow back each season like baskets can be replenished. This symbolized being able to provide enough food.

Connecting with Others: Customs developed where baskets held shared feasts or gifts between families/villages. This showed the importance of getting along.

Valuing Traditional Skills: Basket art requires talent and patience. Intricate designs demonstrated craftspeople’s pride in old methods.

Different cultures applied these themes in their unique ways. For example:

  • In Africa, baby baskets meant helping new lives develop and connections to ancestors.
  • For Native Americans, spiritual relationships tied baskets to changing Earth and animal spirits.
  • Across Asia, basket roles in venerating the past or nature gods underlined their symbolic significance.

So in short, beyond carrying things, woven containers also represented deeper community meanings which survived for ages.

A Global Snapshot of Basketry Traditions

RegionMaterialsTechniquesCultural Significance
AfricaReeds, grasses, raffia, strawCoiling, plaiting, twiningSymbolize communities, histories, and life milestones like birth
AsiaBamboo, rattan, water hyacinthTwilling, coil-and-twiningRepresent agricultural cycles, spiritual beliefs, artistic heritage
EuropeWillow, vines, rushesPlaiting, coilingSustain rural livelihoods, and cultural identities in diverse communities
North AmericaGrasses, roots, tree barkCoiling, twining, basket-weavingConnect indigenous peoples to ancestral lands, nature spiritualities
South AmericaFibers from agave, palmPlying, looped stitchCommunicate indigenous cosmological concepts, traditional knowledge
AustraliaRushes, bark, grassesCoiling, twiningMaintain Aboriginal dreaming stories, relationship to sacred sites
basket in various scenarios

Wrapping Up

What Makes Baskets So Useful?

Baskets can carry lots of stuff because they’re lightweight but strong. Their shapes make them easy to hold or hang on walls. Throughout history, people kept finding new ways baskets to help with daily chores and celebrations.

Why Are Basket Traditions Important?

Many cultures see weaving as an art form. Baskets show their histories, beliefs, and ways of life. Families keep teaching basket skills between generations. Even today, basket crafts stay relevant through customs and artistic innovations.

What Can We Learn From Baskets?

By adapting easily to meet needs, baskets reflect human cleverness. Using natural resources reminds us to care for our environment too. Whether practical or symbolic, baskets connect all societies worldwide in appreciation of community and nature. Their stories encourage valuing traditions alongside progress.

Also Read: Are Willow And Wicker The Same Thing?