Extreme Weaving

I weave baskets.
Out of telephone wire.
On top of mountains.

Weaving with telephone-wire is a traditional South African craft of the Zulu people that, with the advent of telecommunications and plastic-coated wire, has developed into an internationally recognised art form. It is a craft steeped in history, as conveyed by the following quote from one of the very few books documenting the significance of wire art in South African culture.

… the true ancestor of wire weaving as an art is the imbenge, the beer pot lid. Traditionally this lid, woven of grass and palm leaf, is one of the most important household objects in the Zulu homestead because it covers the ukhamba (clay beer pot) … Among the Nguni people the drinking of beer is a quasi-sacred event because it is done to honour the amadlozi (ancestral spirits). Very strict rules and etiquette are followed in the brewing, drinking and presentation of the beer. It deserves only the most beautiful containers and lids.
Arment, D and Fick-Jordaan, M. (2005) Wired: Contemporary Zulu Telephone Wire Baskets. S/C Editions, Santa Fe.

After my last trip to South Africa in 2004, I set about teaching myself the soft-wire weaving technique used in the baskets I had brought back with me to Australia. I’ve since woven quite a few baskets but have really only scratched the surface of wire weaving. One of my most ardent ambitions is to spend some time with wire-weaving masters in South Africa, learning more about the traditions and techniques of this intriguing craft.

I source my wire from rubbish skips and bins where it has been discarded after rewiring jobs. The cables are painstakingly stripped of their rubber casing and unravelled, and the individual wires coiled and sorted into colours. The selection of colours is based on matching the basket to a particular décor, to the intended recipient, or just the mood of the moment. However, the palette is restricted by the limited range of colours the wires come in. The baskets are woven in my spare time, usually during mountain-top rests on bushwalks in the Tasmanian wilderness or relaxed moments on holiday, hence the moniker ‘Well-Travelled Baskets’.

These images are of my latest basket, which is nearly finished. It’s been to some fantastic spots in Tasmania so far: Clear Hill in the South West, Maria Island off the east coast of Tasmania and Long Tarns on the Central Plateau.

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    • Thank you, Mel. I have major procrastinitis over my next post; blogging don’t come easy to me! Thanks for the compliments about the site, I was a little concerned that it’s a bit stark?

  • I was in South Africa four years ago and bought one of these magnificant bowls. I like to try new projects and have lots of coloured telephone wire in my basement. I have no idea how to start one of these telephone wire baskets. I have googled many times but can’t find a website that shows DIY step-bystep directions. I would greatly appreciate if you could show where I can learn how to make a bowl. I am 65 years old and have this on my “bucket List”.

    Thanks