Visitors love touring historic Charleston, South Carolina, famous for the city’s downtown mansions. Many afford visitors a glimpse into landscaped walled gardens through wrought iron gates. Plantings are often old and carefully cultivated along Charleston brick paths. A Gray Line City Bus Tour is the perfect, most comfortable way to see the city’s residential areas. Along the route, visitors glimpse the ‘Sweetgrass Basket’ weavers selling their handiwork. Visitors are often unfamiliar with the nature of these beautiful, coiled baskets displayed throughout the Lowcountry, and their history.
In the 17th century, Africans enslaved from the Rice and Windward Coasts of West Africa were sought after for the slave trade to the Lowcountry. The reason that enslaved peoples from these regions were so prized was due to their knowledge of the cultivation of rice. The first baskets used in the Lowcountry for winnowing rice were called Fanner Baskets. Fanner Baskets were a tool utilized in the production and processing of the cash crops of the day….cotton, indigo and rice. The baskets were also used to transport vegetables and other produce.
The coiled Sweetgrass Basket is historically significant. Sweetgrass Basket weaving is viewed as a gift from God. The art of basket weaving has been passed on from generation to generation. Learned from childhood, basket weaving requires a great deal of patience and creativity. Agricultural baskets were originally made of bulrush, sweetgrass , and split oak. The mainstays of coiled basketry being bulrush (cattail), marsh grass and palms, are ancient plants mentioned in the Bible.
Males crafted larger baskets to assist with their outdoor chores, while females created smaller ones for household tasks. By the 1890's, sweetgrass, a softer, finer material, replaced the more coarse ones as primary. Longleaf pine was added to the mix. And palmetto replaced split oak as binders. The baskets today are made from sweet grass, pine needles, bulrush and palms. Each Sweetgrass Basket is unique, and each artist provides their own style. The baskets are very durable and will last longer than your lifetime. They are a proud tradition and a valuable investment. Sweetgrass Baskets are found in many museums across the Lowcountry.
Today, Sweetgrass Basket making is still a family activity passed down generation to generation. Each member has their own role in the process, from collecting materials to sewing. Even though technology has changed the manufacturing world forever, each Sweetgrass Basket still requires many long and committed hours to make. Many of South Carolina’s most experienced weavers still need twelve to fourteen hours to finish a single product. A basket can come in a variety of colors, shapes, designs and patterns; each one as individual as the creating weaver.
One of the oldest and largest sightseeing companies in the world, Gray Line is an international association of operators with more than 100 years of experience in the tourism industry. A trusted name in travel, Gray Line Charleston provides informative, entertaining bus tours of Charleston’s historic district daily to visitors from around the world. Learn about historic Charleston, SC and see this Port City up close and personal, via Gray Line Charleston. Gray Line City Tours depart every 30 minutes from 9:30am until 3:30pm from the Charleston Visitors Center located at 375 Meeting Street. Parking directly adjacent.