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How Our Kenyan Sisal Baskets Are Made

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How Our Kenyan Sisal Baskets Are Made

You know that feeling when you hold something so beautiful, you can almost feel the care that went into its creation? That’s what it’s like to hold one of our handmade Kenyan sisal baskets.

As I’ve learned, these baskets—known as Kiondo baskets —are woven by incredibly skilled women I’ve had the chance to meet in rural Kenya. They use all-natural sisal fibers to create these unique, colorful designs that tell a story of generations-old traditions.

My own journey with these baskets started during a trip to Kenya.

Walking through local markets, I was instantly drawn to these vibrant, handwoven baskets. But it wasn’t just the baskets that captivated me—it was the women crafting them. Sitting under the shade of an acacia tree, their hands moved gracefully and quickly, weaving together sturdy sisal fibers into astonishingly cute designs.

I learned that basket weaving is a longstanding tradition in many Kenyan communities. These women learn the craft from their mothers, and then pass it on to their daughters, keeping the tradition alive.

I feel lucky to be able to partner with these women and their artisan groups. By supporting them through my business, Rufina Designs, I’m helping to share their craft with the world.

I am excited to share how our Kenyan sisal baskets are made. 

A Walk Through the Process

How Our Kenyan Sisal Baskets Are Made: Our Kenyan weavers

The weavers source and harvest the sisal plants for use

Harvesting sisal leaves in Kenya’s semi-arid regions by hand is a labor-intensive process. To the untrained eye, these thick, fleshy leaves might not look like much, but the women who’ve been harvesting them for generations know better.

The process of gathering sisal leaves is a physical one. The long, tough leaves are cut from the plant with simple wooden tools, and then carefully stripped and separated by hand. 

Layer by layer, the women reveal the inner fibers that will eventually be transformed into strong, pliable twine for weaving.

The sisal fibers are prepared for weaving

Getting sisal fiber ready for weaving is no easy feat. 

First, the women take these long, tough leaves and split them into smaller, more manageable pieces. They pull each leaf between the sharpened end of a wooden stick and a flat surface, stripping away the fleshy pulp and revealing the strong fibers underneath.

The fibers are then loosely knotted and twisted together, usually rolled on the weavers’ thighs. This process, while labor-intensive, creates durable sisal yarn that can be dyed with natural pigments like tree bark and roots.

The next stage is dyeing the fibers

The next step in this amazing process is dyeing the sisal fibers to give the baskets their signature color and vibrancy.

The dyes are made from the bark and roots of local trees, crushed into powder using a mortar and pestle, and mixed with hot water. The creamy sisal strands are submerged in these naturally-colored dyes, where they soak up the beautiful colors like little sisal sponges!

After a few minutes, the yarn is pulled out and left to dry, revealing deep indigos, vibrant crimsons, and sunny oranges. It’s like magic!

The weaving of the basket begins

Watching these women weave these baskets is pure magic. It's like they have a sixth sense of knowing exactly where each strand should go to create the perfect shape and strength.

They start with the base of the basket, using larger threads for stability. From there, the weavers move to the side walls, adding decorative colors and looping and pulling the threads tight. 

Every loop and pull is done with precision and care, ensuring the basket is sturdy and free of any gaps. It's like they're weaving a colorful fortress for your belongings!

You might think that weaving something like this would be easy, but it’s not. These women have been practicing this craft for years, passing down their knowledge from generation to generation. They’re true masters of their craft, and it shows in every basket they make.

Even after visiting these homesteads and villages for years, I still can't weave a basket like they can! But that’s okay.

The final stage is creating the rim and adding the finishing touches

The rim of the basket, like the cherry on top of a sundae, is what truly completes the masterpiece. 

This part is where the larger threads from the base are looped and fastened together to create a sturdy, level edge. It’s also where the finishing touches are added, like handles or beads.

Some baskets are left in their natural state, so you can see the gorgeous colors of the sisal fibers, while others have beads or handles for added personality and functionality.

And here’s the best part: These baskets aren’t mass-produced or manufactured. They’re made by hand, by women who’ve been doing this for generations—just generations of wisdom and creativity flowing through skilled hands.

From Kenya to Your Home: Your Purchase's Impact on Artisans' Lives

When you purchase one of these baskets, you’re not just buying a pretty thing. You’re becoming part of a story—a story of tradition, skill, and resilience.

And you know what’s super cool?

When you buy a basket, you’re helping to support them and their families. It’s like giving a high five across continents. Being involved in this process is incredibly rewarding. I work directly with the women who make these baskets, and  I ensure they receive fair compensation for their work.

Once the baskets are woven, they are carefully inspected for quality. Each basket is unique, with slight variations that add to its charm and authenticity. I then select the finest pieces to bring back to my customers, ensuring that each basket is a perfect blend of beauty and utility.

Beyond their beauty, these baskets are also super durable and functional. They can easily last for years when used properly. I often tell my customers that each basket carries the spirit of the woman who created it and the centuries-old traditions kept alive through her work.

Browse Our Collection of Beautiful Kenyan Baskets

We offer a wide range of handmade Kenyan baskets directly sourced from talented artisans.

Our popular Kiondo baskets are the quintessential Kenyan basket, woven from strands of sturdy sisal fiber. These stylish yet rugged open-top baskets are perfect for carrying fruit, holding your plants, or using them as a charming décor piece. You’ll also like that the Kiondo is available in various sizes, patterns, and colors!

We also offer some African planter baskets. They pair beautifully with plants and greenery. Multiple sizes are available.

No matter which style you choose, you can feel good knowing every purchase supports artisan communities in Kenya and preserves cultural traditions. Each basket is a unique, eco-friendly work of art meticulously hand-woven by skilled makers.

Browse our full selection today and find the perfect Kenyan basket (or two!) for your style and needs. Contact us if you have any questions about our sourcing, the basket-making traditions, or placing a custom order. 

Some of our Sisal Kenya Baskets