Posted by: Sunset Rentals | December 12, 2011

Sweet Tradition: Sweetgrass Baskets

As you are tooling around Hilton Head Island, you’ve probably seen roadside stands full of beautiful baskets. These are sweetgrass baskets, handmade using natural sweetgrass that grows along the coast of South Carolina.

If you stop at a roadside stand, you’ll likely see someone there weaving a basket right before your eyes. They are carrying on a handmade tradition that began in West Africa and has been handed down for generations.

Sweetgrass baskets are used as decoration, as well as in everyday life. They range in sizes from tiny baskets perfect for a few candies to very large baskets that can be used to hold fruit or stand alone as a piece of art. In addition to baskets, sweetgrass placemats, trivets, napkin rings and wreaths also are available. The prices range, as well, and reflect the time it takes to hand make these intricately-coiled baskets. A medium-sized basket can take up to 12 hours to construct.

Sweetgrass grows behind sand dunes near the ocean and along the boundaries between marshland and forest. The long-stemmed plant, named for its sweet scent, is harvested in spring and summer and then set out to dry. Longleaf pine needles are used to decorate baskets, and strips of palmetto leaves are used to stitch the coils together. A basket that is greenish in color was made with recently harvested grass. All of the baskets settle into a light brown color as they naturally age.

Baskets made in the South Carolina Lowcountry have been recognized as an art form and were part of a 2010 traveling exhibition by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. The baskets can be found in roadside stands and in local gift shops and make the perfect memento from your trip to Hilton Head Island.

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