Sardinian basket weaving: Cestini

Woman weaves basket
Woman weaves basket

Sardinian basket weaving: Cestini

by Anna Leigh Bagiackas
Stripes Europe

On the Italian island of Sardinia, the practice of basket weaving has a long history. And as the craft begins to fade with fewer and fewer artisans picking it up, there is a desire to preserve what is left of this industry that produces baskets and items unique to the island. If you’re wanting to bring something special home from your time in Cagliari, you can help preserve this tradition and decorate your home with a beautiful hand-made reminder of this island, a “cestini” or woven basket. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that this is a souvenir that travels easily—no melting, spilling or fragility to worry about.

Artists create woven baskets, mats, rugs, and a variety of other vessels, used for different purposes and designed with patterns that have been around for or centuries. Basket weaving goes beyond an artistic role in Sardinia and can be part of various traditions, such as religious ceremonies as well as being used by fishermen. Different symbols and images can represent various meanings and traditions associated with weaving.

With the lush forests, beautiful landscapes and natural environment all over this rural island, it’s only fitting that one of its longest-standing craft traditions relies on the plants the island grows. Because weavers depend on the natural resources around them, baskets will differ in what they are made of depending on where on the island the artisans are located. Artists in northern Sardinia typically use fronds from dwarf palm trees, while central Sardinian artisans use asphodel plants, which are perennials with white or yellow flowers. Other materials such as rush, reeds, straw and willow are also used all over the island. These plants are meticulously harvested, dried and dyed before being weaved into baskets and other items.

Two different techniques are used to weave and create the different patterns and designs: coiling and twining. This is used to create the “spiral,” the beginning point of the project where the straw is wrapped and shaped. These techniques produce distinctive styles you can choose from, and you will also find a variety of colors from neutral and natural shades to vibrant and bright colors dyed from plants.

While techniques and practices within Sardinia’s basket weaving tradition have spread all over the island, the city of Castelsardo on the northern coast is one of the most famous places on the island for weaving. To find your basket souvenir and fully immerse yourself in Sardinia’s weaving tradition, head to Mostra Mercato dell’Artigianato. Learn more about this tradition as well as the artisans and products with a visit to the Museum of Mediterranean Weaving, also located in the town of Castelsardo.

To learn more about the use of the asphodel plant in weaving, you can visit the small town of Flussio where you can find dozens of examples of woven crafts as well as dive deeper into the tradition with a stop at the Asphodelus Museum. If your stay in Sardinia brings you only to Cagliari, fear not, as shops around the city will be sure to offer many different options to find your perfect basket. Bring it home to use as a decorative fruit or bread bowl or as an eye-catching piece around your home.

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