Wicker Baskets of Northern Cyprus by Turkish Cypriots.
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North Cyprus Wicker Baskets

Wicker Works
Wicker Works
photo by: TRNC Ministry of Tourism
[ enlarge photo ]

As you explore the villages of North Cyprus, you may suddenly turn a corner and discover a woman sitting in the sun, creating beautiful flat wicker baskets from bundles of multicoloured straw. It says much for the resourcefulness of the Turkish Cypriot people that they have taken local materials, such as bamboo, straw and grasses, and turned them into a useful art form!

North Cyprus wicker trays and design

The distinctive Northern Cyprus flat baskets, some as large as dustbin lids, are also as individual as the person making them, as each basket weaver develops their own patterns and styles. The traditional flat basket is really more of a North Cyprus wicker tray, and is known as a “sesta”, or sometimes a “sele” or “sofra”. The word “sofra” actually means the flat surface of a dinner table, and in the Mesaoria district, the locals still do eat their meals from this tray. Elsewhere in Northern Cyprus, these hand-woven trays with striking geometric designs are considered such works of art that they don’t use them, but hang them on the all as decoration!

North Cyprus wicket baskets: weaving or knitting?

Rather confusingly, the Turkish Cypriots often refer to their craft as knitting a basket, rather than weaving, and when you consider the making process, you can see why. The sesta is made from local straw, reeds and grasses, dyed to produce the vibrant red, green, violet and orange colours. This is not just any North Cyprus straw, however; the finest comes from the villages of Serdali and Ergenekon, where farmers grow black-headed wheat. The wheat is harvested, the grain removed, and the straw is dried and stored in bundles. Farmers will also harvest a marsh grass called “cifcik” which is used as a filler.

The North Cyprus weaver (or knitter) will soak both straw and grass in water before starting to create the tray, and make sure they stay wet during weaving by popping them in a wet cloth. The tray is woven by hand and stitched together using an awl, a large iron needle. Once the tray is nearing completion, the ends are cut using a ‘biz’, a sharp edged tool with a wooden handle, and the handles formed. Other tradition items made from straw include the ‘dalari’, a cup for straining milk and brooms.

North Cyprus bamboo wicker baskets

Elegant though the straw baskets are, for stronger baskets the weavers of Northern Cyprus use bamboo. Indeed at harvest time, you can see these incredibly strong and light baskets being used to bring in the olive or carob harvest, great basketfuls of the precious fruit carried by donkeys from the orchards of North Cyprus.  The bamboo is split into four using a sharp sickle, called an ‘orak’. These four thicker pieces become the main frame of the basket, whilst the rest is woven from bamboo split into eight pieces, which is more flexible.

The frame for the traditional North Cyprus basket is formed by placing bamboo poles into the ground to form a frame, which helps to keep the basket’s structure rigid during weaving. The base is woven first, then the basket is turned right way up, and the sides added on. A North Cyprus weaver will sometimes add pomegranate or oak stems as decoration. Finally the top and handles are finished off with a rim of twisted bamboo, and whole basket smoothed and polished with a stone.

North Cyprus wicket baskets: ideal souvenirs

Bamboo weaving has adapted to modern needs with remarkable ease, so you can take home Northern Cyprus baskets for shopping, laundry, vegetables or, if the suitcase is already bulging, tiny baskets with lids for jewellery!

Take home a piece of North Cyprus art!

It’s worth seeking out the distinct ‘sesta’ wicker trays or the elegant bowl-shaped baskets, and bringing home a couple. They make excellent breadbaskets that are both practical and cheerful! To see the best examples, visit the Folk Arts Institute in North Nicosia, or look for the El Sanatlari Kooperatifi sign, showing the items come from the Handicrafts Cooperative, and is authentic North Cyprus work.