In theory, the entire surface of a basket can be covered with designs, but different
weavers consider different areas, such as the bottom, or the rim—unsuitable
for decoration. The rim or shoulder of a basket may be decorated differently from
the body. A weaver may use wide spacing or small, isolated design elements to
delineate a basket’s design field, or she may frame it with border bands.
Designs that are used by many different tribes can often be distinguished by their
placement within the design field. Two groups might use the same design, but one
may orient it in a more upright way than its neighbor.
Understanding a basket’s use can often help make sense of the basket-maker’s
decisions about design field. The side of a burden basket that is worn against
the back, for example, often has a very different design from the side that faces
out. A basket made to be worn on a belt may have a design that looks best when
seen from above. During the early part of the 20th century, non-Indian
buyers requested more realistic birds and other naturalistic representations on
baskets. Weavers complied by reducing their use of abstract motifs and by simplifying
the layout of their designs.