“Were baskets important in the Middle Ages?” This is a question asked on the Ozark Medieval Fortress tour as we arrive at the Basket Weaver’s Hut. I think it is asked because today we think of baskets as just decorations. The answer is that in the Medieval baskets were very much in demand. Today we have plastic laundry baskets and plastic storage tubs and plastic food containers. That didn’t happen until after World War II. Before that, all across the world baskets were household necessities. Basket making goes way back - Moses was put in a waterproofed basket. By the time of the Middle Ages there was enough commerce that, although the average housewife knew how to make a basket, it was common to trade for one from a woman who specialized in basketry. They were made out of wood split into narrow ribbons, as well as vines or willow shoots. Before weaving could begin, the materials were soaked to make them pliable. Some woods need to be soaked several days before they can be bent for weaving. Making baskets was one of the few businesses that permitted women artisans.
At the Ozark Medieval Fortress the basket weaver’s hut is very humble and located just outside the gatehouse to the castle. This is authentic to the Middle Ages, since often the basket weavers were gypsies who were seen as dishonest and not permitted inside the castle walls. They sold their baskets outside the gatehouse. The basket weavers at the Ozark Medieval Fortress are not gypsies but they do sell their excellent baskets. They have made woven tool pouch baskets for the masons and the carpenters, as well as baskets for the wool cottage which are used to collect walnuts for dye and hold wool and yarn. Baskets are used in the garden, the rope maker’s hut and in the gift shop for displaying wares. Hand made baskets were the vessel of choice for carrying, gathering and storing during the Middle Ages and so were a big part of daily life.