Just before the Summer holidays began a charming Texan who now lives in the fens delivered the remains of two oval potato gathering baskets circa mid 20th Century.
His request was for me to make some baskets that would be as close to the original as I could so he could use them alongside his vintage tractors that he restores.
I measured and analysed the remnants and looked up dimensions from the National List of Basic Wage Rates in the Basket Industry 1956-List of Basket Specifications,reprinted by the Basketmakers Association in 1989, and designed then made three.
Peter my partner and head rush cutter remembers farms around Ely still using “cob” baskets in the 1970’s,and the now retired Coveney farmer who gave me my soaking tank in exchange for a Blackberry basket told me how they would put in their order for 60 potato baskets each year.These vessels worked hard and carried heavy loads countless times each day and were flung and thrown about in the mud.They would have been replenished each year until mechanisation scaled up the whole potato harvest and the cob basket was redundant.
The base is oval and worked under your feet in 6-7 foot willow,with no splitting of base sticks,making it very strong.In the hope of making baskets last longer these bases were made out of wire then subsequently plastic and these versions still crop up in Ely’s Waterside Antiques now and then.
New to me was the short central stick running the length of the base that doesn’t get woven in and do a dog leg but that is present to provide central tension and keep the over one under one configuration.
Upset was in 6 foots and the central two were woven over with a 3 rod slew as if they were one stake:one forms a border the other used as a handle wrap to help make a stronger handle.The originals had a thick wire tie incorporated alongside the central pairs and over the handle bow and starting and finishing in the base obviously for strength.
A 4 behind 1 rod border was copied from the original remnants but I did make the final depth an inch more and I made the handle smoother by not twisting the handle wraps.I pegged the handle bow and included my plaited wraps tips detail as my makers mark.
They would probably have been made in willow with the bark on but I chose white as I wanted them to look striking especially next to the customers restored tractors.
The Texan was delighted and wants more.