Salish Basket: Materials and Techniques

Salish Basket: Materials and Techniques

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Image 1: Salish basket from Agua Caliente Cultural Museum collections


Image 2: Diagram of imbrication commonly used on Salish coiled basketry, with decorative imbrication (gray), stitches (cream), and coil bundles (dark brown)


Image 3: Detail of imbrication on the Salish coiled basket, with the cherry bark lenticels clearly visible

This basket comes from an area commonly known as the Plateau region of North America, home to the Salish-speaking bands of Indians.  The basket’s region of origin is helpful in identifying materials and techniques used in its construction.  Traditional Salish basketmakers were the leading manufacturers of coiled and imbricated basketry in the Northwest. Coiled basketry involves the sewing of a vertical element, known as a stitch, around horizontal coil bundles.

Decorative Elements: Imbrication

Imbrication, a common technique used by the Salish peoples in traditional basketry, involves a strip of decorative material being laid parallel to the coil element, and folded back on itself.  The folded edge is then caught by the next stitch, with the strip then folded back over the stitch again, resulting in small squares of decorative material covering the vertical stitches.

Common Materials

Cedar tree roots are one of the most common materials used in Plateau coiled baskets.  The roots are dug, stripped of bark, and split for use, creating a long, thin, and pliable material.  
The red and black material used to create the imbrication on this basket is probably cherry bark, which can be identified by the small pores visible on the surface of the bark, called lenticels (Image 3).  Cherry bark was often made black by burying it in deposits of decomposed plant matter.

– Dawn Lohnas