How weavers create Darfur Baskets
Baskets created at the Darfur Women’s Centers require a lot of time and patience. A typical medium-sized Basket of Hope takes about a week to complete, while the larger Basket of Strength could take nearly a month.
Weavers are paid based on the size of the basket they create. Weavers and Women’s Center managers set their prices for the baskets they sell, since they know best how much work goes into each one.
Good quality materials can be hard to find. While the women work in the safety of the Women’s Centers, their “homes” are temporary shelters, the camps often have shortages of food and water, and they must care for young children. It is hardly the kind of environment conducive to artistic endeavors. There are, however, many master weavers who take pride in their craft and welcome the opportunity to earn income from it.
The traditional use of the baskets is food storage, especially to keep cooked food warm.
Designs are traditional diamond shapes, in multiple colors; each basket is a unique expression of one weaver’s design sensibility. Patterns are created by closely counting the number of weaves and adding in new colors after a pre-determined number of weaves.
Grasses & Dyes
In Sudanese Arabic, the grasses used to make the baskets are called zaf and buno. Zaf is courser and used as the structural element around which the smooth-surfaced buno is wrapped (see diagram of coiled weave below). Both materials are purchased in bundles in local markets by the Women’s Center managers. The combination of these materials produces an extremely durable basket.
In Sudanese Arabic, dyes are called tifta. Darfur baskets are dyed using natural vegetable and mineral dyes purchased in local markets. All are water-soluble.
- Red and orange dyes come from a derivative of the sorghum plant;
- Purple dyes historically come from mollusks or the indigo plants;
- Brown and black dyes come from Acacia.
Long strips of buno are immersed in a hot water bath of dye. The length of dyeing time depends on the shade desired. The color is fixed by a mordant that we have yet to identify. The strips are then dried.
The dyed strips are then lightly wetted in a bowl of water to make them flexible for weaving.
A bundle of zaf is stitched into a spiraling round form with the thin, round buno strips to create a coiled weave. Some weavers like to embellish a basket by stitching on shells or beads in patterns.
Caring for the Baskets
Because the baskets are made from natural plant materials, they can be damaged. Deterioration will occur with prolonged exposure to:
- High heat
- Excessive humidity
- Bright light
High heat causes fibers to shrink and/or become brittle over time, causing the weaves to separate. Fibers saturated with water will swell, placing stress on the construction and causing it to warp. Humidity also makes the baskets susceptible to mold. Direct sunlight over a period of time will cause the bright colors to fade.
Dry surface cleaning is recommended. To remove dust, brush the surface gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush or low-powered vacuum attachment.
If you are shipping a basket, wrap it in tissue or unprinted newspaper. Cushion with additional packing materials to prevent deformation during transit.
If you are a retailer and would like to purchase Darfur baskets for your shop, please visit www.darfurpeace.org/baskets, or call (202)393-8150 for more information.