Kishie basket making
The making of an open-back basket known as the kishie (Shetland) or caisie (Orkney), made of oat straw and traditionally used to fetch peats.
|Historic area of significance||Shetland, Orkney and Caithness.|
|Area currently practised||Shetland|
|Origin in the UK|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||0|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees||2|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
The kishie (Shetland) or caisie (Orkney) is a twined back basket traditionally made out of straw and bent (Ammophila arenaria) or floss (Juncus effusus) and as a result it is unique in the British Isles. It was used to carry a multitude of things but primarily for transporting peat from the peat banks to the croft on the backs of ponies, or around the croft on the backs of humans. Its uniqueness is a consequence of the ecology of the places in which it was made, places that offered few choices in natural materials for basketmaking (primarily the Northern Isles of Shetland and Orkney but also the West Highland region of Scotland). The name is a reflection of the Norse heritage of the Northern Isles and comes from the Norwegian kjessa and Icelandic kassi.
Kishie making requires harvesting and cleaning the straw and making a bent rope of approximately 27 metres, weaving the basket with the rope, stitching a border with a home made needle, and trimming and singeing the basket.
Each maker had their own style (they were made by men in the winter). Some people made very beautiful ones and others were very rough. It was not considered to be a thing that required superb craftsmanship, as long as it functioned was what mattered.
There are several other baskets in Shetland that were made using the same weaving technique to create different forms – the salt cubby and the Bodie to name a couple.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
These baskets are no longer needed for their original purpose of carrying peats from the hill to the croft on either human or pony backs. The black oats are not grown in Shetland any more on a big enough scale. The last generation that made them is almost all gone now. These were never commercial objects but made for use by the maker on their crofts. That said, the skills inherent in making them are valuable and transferable.
- The Scottish Basketmakers Circle
- The Basketmakers’ Association
- Shetland Museum and Archive
Craftspeople currently known
- Ewen Balfour
- Lois Walpole
- Ian Tait – Shetland Museum and Archive
- Helen Balfour – trainee
There are a lot of people who have done a course with Ewen and maybe they make them on an occasional basis.
Shetland Museum and Archive (Dr Ian Tait) is actively encouraging growth of “Shetland Aets” for use in thatching. Aets have been supplied to them this year. This will help to preserve growing raw materials which could also be used in basketmaking.
Lois Walpole is currently writing a book about Shetland straw craft that will include kishie making.