Baskets of Yore

Photo from Timothy D. Parsons, Nantucket Lightship Baskets

On a transatlantic cruise, an unusual crafter caught my interest.  Ann Shaffer had taken up thread basketry to keep her hands busy while traveling. Ordinarily she uses stiffer materials to make Nantucket baskets. My ears pricked at the promise salty heritage, and Nantucket baskets didn’t disappoint.

Photo from Timothy D. Parsons, Nantucket Lightship Baskets

As Ann wove, she told of the men who operated light ships—brightly lit ships that anchored on dangerous shoals to keep passing vessels clear. They passed the time by weaving baskets, a skill settlers had learned from Native Americans.


Photo from Joan Moore, Etsy


Over time, the lightship men developed a specific style, using a form—a salvaged hunk of ship’s mast–to shape their baskets around.   Nantucket style also requires a solid wood bottom and confines itself to one stitch, a strictly uniform design.

Ann showed me pictures of her creations that stray outside those lines, and I have to agree that, while it’s nice to preserve heritage, innovation beats the heck out of being stuck on a lightship endlessly weaving the same blasted basket.


About breathtakebyways

Ann Williams’ travel articles have appeared in publications all over the country including The Washington Post, Roads to Adventure, and Jack and Jill. Between researching and writing books, she specializes in creative lectures.