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How to Make a Traditional Appalachian Berry Basket

How to Make a Traditional Appalachian Berry Basket

How to Make a Traditional Appalachian Berry Basket

Poplar berry baskets have a rich history rooted in indigenous and rural communities, where they have been crafted for centuries. Traditionally, these baskets were used for gathering berries, herbs, and other natural resources, making them integral to daily life and survival.

The knowledge of selecting the right trees, harvesting the bark at the optimal time, and weaving the baskets has been passed down through generations, reflecting a deep understanding of the local environment and sustainable practices. This heritage not only highlights the practical uses of such baskets but also underscores their cultural significance, embodying a connection to the land and ancestral craftsmanship.

The best time to harvest tree bark is when the sap is rising in late spring and early summer.

Material and Tools

  • Knife - about all you really need
  • Ax or saw if you plan to fell a tree
  • Awl or drill
  • Cordage
  • Tulip Poplar tree
  • Rim material

Tulip Poplar is a fast growing (soft) hardwood with many uses in the southeastern United States. Other candidates for bark containers include; basswood, cedar, white birch (which we don't have in Georgia), and others.

You'll know you're barking up the tree at the wrong time once you've attempted to peel the bark off. If the sap isn't rising, the bark won't come off easily. I look for young tulip poplar trees growing under dense canopies. They tend to grow straight with fewer lower limbs and have thinner bark. A 6 to 7 inch diameter tree is ideal.

Score the bark vertically down to the sapwood with a knife or hatchet. I use a solid stick to strike the back of the blade after a free-hand score mark has been applied to the bark.

Once scored, press the tip of your knife into one corner and lift to separate the outer and inner bark from the sapwood. From that point, I use a wedged stick to run along the edge to loosen and lift the bark. With a gap created, you can use your fingers to further separate the bark from the tree. Warning: There are little spikes under the bark which will draw blood. Go slow and be careful bare handed. Gloves are recommended, but I enjoy the texture and feel of wet sap and bark.

If harvesting large quantities from felled trees, I use a wedged stick to separate bark instead of bare hands. When you're near the point of full separation, you'll know the bark is free when you hear a distinctive, satisfying snap sound.

Place the bark flat on a level surface and cut to length. The length of bark should be a bit over double the intended height of your bucket. Trim all edges smooth to create a long rectangle.

With the outer bark facing up, measure and mark the mid-point of each long side of the rectangle. Use your knife to score an ellipse (football shape) which runs from side to side. Repeat this step on the outer bark. Be careful to not cut through the inner bark. This layer of bark acts as a hinge when folding the basket sides together. When scoring in my shop, I use a utility knife with a about 1/8 inch of blade.

Turn the bark over with the inner bark facing up. Place your hand on the middle of the bark and gently pull one long end to a vertical position. Now fold the other side. Your berry bucket is taking shape.

Use an awl or drill to bore a line of holes on both edges of the bucket. The spacing is up to you. I usually leave an inch and half to two inches between holes which are placed about 1/2  to 1 inch from the edge. The hole diameter should be large enough to accept your cordage/lacing.

Artificial sinew makes strong lacing. It can be purchased online or at craft stores. I've also used tarred bank line, leather, and a few other types of string. The artificial sinew can be threaded into a leather stitching needle to make quick work on this part of the project. You can also use strips of inner bark like hickory (Carya) for lacing. 

Start lacing at the bottom edge near the football cut with the edges joined together. Tie off with a simple overhand knot and run the stitching up the edge. Make a pattern if you like. Secure the lace at the top of both seams.


Cut a flexible stick long enough to form a rim around the top opening of your bucket. I like to use two thin strips of white oak about the size of hardware store paint stirrer. Thinned enough, they flex just right and add a little contrast. Grape vine also makes good rim material. The rim will prevent the bark from curling in as it dries.

As the bark dries, the basket will cave in on itself. To keep the original shape, pack newspaper or bubble wrap into the basket. You may also use a few twigs wedged crosswise inside the basket to help keep its form.


Bore another series of holes along the rim edge. Place the rim wood pieces on the edges and lace them in as you did the sides. Leave enough lacing on both ends to make loops if you plan to add a carry handle made of rope. If you're using two rim pieces like mine, you'll need to bore holes in the ends to tie them together to hold the form you want.

Once you've made one berry bucket, you'll want more. With a bit of creativity and imagination, you can begin making many functional and aesthetically pleasing alternative containers from tree bark.




Next article How to Make and Use a Flip Flop Winch

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