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”.


  • Hi, i found a video on youtube how to start these wonderful baskets, but the part with the bottom is missing.
    Can you tell us how to do this ?
    Im working with disabled people and that would be a great opportunity to make some colorfoul bowls with them.

    • Hi Sunny,

      Thanks for your enquiry? I must admit I didn’t know any videos existed. Are you able to share the link?

      What a lovely thought! I shall send you an email, as I’m receiving a lot of similar enquiries and am wondering how best to communicate this information.


    • Thank you, Sunny. Actually, I do remember seeing this one some years ago. I’ve sent you a couple of emails, please look out for them in your spam/junk boxes if you’ve not received anything.


      • Hi. I would love to learn how to finish the bottom as well if you could share that information with me as well! Thanks so much. Your baskets are absolutely beautiful.

        • Hi Anya,

          Thank you for your kind words. I’m chuffed that you like my baskets 🙂 When you say “also”, have you posted a previous comment? If so, I can only see this one.

  • Hi,

    These baskets are simply amazing! I am a high school Crafts teacher and teach basket making to my students. I would love to incorporate telephone wire baskets into my curriculum but have not been able to find any step by step instructions. Any chance you could share some information with me?

  • Hello – I love that you are making these baskets as they are so incredibly beautiful. I have been dreaming about taking a trip to South Africa to learn how to make wire baskets – and, I finally have time this winter. But, I am having an incredibly difficult time finding anyone that teaches the art. If you know any potential teachers, I would be so appreciative if you would share their information. Thanks! Alisa

    • Hi Alisa,

      Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately I don’t know of anywhere in South Africa that teaches wire weaving. I am entirely self taught and I haven’t returned to South Africa for many years so have no contacts there weaving-wise. I’m so sorry I can’t help you in that regard. However, I am receiving a lot of requests like yours and am considering putting together an online course. Would that be of interest to you?

      Warm regards,

  • I’m looking to get into this too. I visited South Africa recently and love the baskets. I couldn’t find anyone out there to teach me. How did you get started ?

    • Hi Hayley,
      Thanks for your question. I taught myself through much trial and error. I’ve been meaning to put a course together for some time now. Just had too many other balls — baskets 😉 — in the air.

  • I would love to learn how to make these beautiful baskets, as well. There is hardly any DIY out there. Any help you can give would be appreciated! I’m totally fascinated by them & think they’re beautiful! Please help if you can! Thanks 😊

    • Hi Shelly, thank you for your enquiry. I sent a reply to your email address at the end of December 2021. Please check your spam/junk folder 🙂