The fibres that are being used are derived from the sisal plant. The plant, with the botanical name Agave sisalana, is a species of Agave native to Mexico but also grows well in the Kenyan climate. Not only is the plant able to withstand a dry and warm climate, but there is also no need for pesticides nor chemical fertilizers in sisal agriculture. This makes the cultivation of sisal more sustainable but also more cost effective for the local farmers.
Getting down to the fibres
The outer parts of the plant are removed in order to obtain the fibres from the sisal leaves. These fibres are usually between 0.5 to 1m long and are used for a vast array of products such as twine, rope, rugs, … and of course baskets!
Dyeing & drying
The sisal fibres are coloured by boiling colorants together with the fibres in a big pot. Traditionally the artisans use natural colorants like tree bark or soil to create natural shades of black, brown, grey, pale pink and yellow. The fibres are then left out to dry in the shade so the colours don’t start to fade.
Producing the twine
The sisal fibres have to be rolled very carefully in order to produce twine. This is probably the most time consuming aspect of the entire process and requires amazing skills from the artisan at work. The artisan needs to roll consistent amounts of sisal fibres into each other to obtain a twine that has the same thickness all over.
Once the artisan has enough twine in the desired colours, the weaving of the basket can begin. The weaving always starts in the centre, at the bottom of the basket. Each lady chooses her own design which ensures a personal touch and a completely unique basket every time again!