The forms of most baskets announce their function. There is nothing ambiguous
about the shape of a burden basket, or a basketry scoop or tray. Shape does not
necessarily dictate weaving technique, as different weaves can be used to create
similar forms. Large Apache jars have a characteristic silhouette, as do Thompson
River Salish trunks, and whaler’s hats made by the Nuu-chah-nulth. Basket-makers
work within these cultural parameters—or depart from them, as in the case
of the Tlingit hat design adopted from the Russian Navy.
Many traditional baskets, and therefore shapes, were reduced in size for sale
to non-Indians. While a tray made for sale is still identifiable as a tray, its
size may preclude its use for anything other than to decorate a home. Weavers
adapted shapes from other tribes’ repertoires in order to emulate baskets
that were popular with non-Indian buyers. As introduced crops, livestock, and
store-bought goods replaced traditional economies, baskets were no longer needed
to harvest, prepare, cook, and serve, and their use faded.
Regardless of the maker’s weaving ability, a basket made of improperly prepared
materials will have uneven stitches and designs, and may warp, split, or twist
with time. A basket that has kept its shape over many years testifies to the sum
of its maker’s skills.