Every one of our quality Bolga baskets starts out in the imagination of the weaver.
What size? What shape? What colours? What pattern?
The only thing that's absolutely not a variable is quality. For us - and for you - that's a given.
Our baskets are made from hollow stalks of dried elephant grass. First, the weaver splits the grass into two long strands. Next, by rolling these strands across an old flip flop strapped to a thigh, the weaver twists these two stands together. This makes the grass stronger and more pliable for weaving. Next, the weaver dyes the prepared elephant grass in big vats of industrial quality chemical dyes. To our knowledge, nobody around Bolga uses any sort of natural or vegatable dyes. Finally, after selecting a range of colours, the weaving begins.
Every basket starts in the middle and the start is critical. If you start wonky, you'll finish wonky. All of our baskets - regardless of shape - are woven as a single, integral shape. There are no sewn seams to wear out and fail. That's why our baskets are so strong and also why you can reshape them over and over again. The precise weaving pattern, like the colours, is up to the weaver.
How long does it take to weave a basket? That depends on the shape, size and complexity of the basket; also on the skill and experience of the weaver. A small round basket with one handle takes only a day. A large pot basket takes at least 3-4 days. Really big and difficult baskets like Jemima 10 Cows take even longer.
Weaving and attaching the rim and handle is a special skill. Some weavers can do it, but many pass their baskets on to more experienced weavers for this step. Why? Because a wonky handle will ruin an otherwise perfect basket.
Not all baskets have leather-bound handles. Ours do because we commission a team of specialists - the Leather Boys - for this job. When we're in Bolga, after we've chosen our baskets and before we pack them for shipping home, the Leather Boys work feverishly - sometimes through the night - stitching on leather handles. Their handles make our baskets stronger, more comfortable to carry and even more beautiful!
For the weaver, this is the most important step of all. Weavers make baskets for only one reason: to earn money in a remote town where the cost of living is high and earning potential is low. Weaving baskets supplements their main job, which is farming.
When the weaver has a basket to sell, there is a choice: Take it to the basket market in Bolga, where the big volume 'pile em high and sell em cheap' basket traders will drive the price down as far as they can. Or bring it to the compound of the Baba Tree Basket Co, where we and our basket guru Greg MacCarthy will pay a much higher price - but only if the basket is absolutely perfect.