Basket makers

Basket makers were craftsmen who made panniers (kassakia or kafassia), as well as straw seats for chairs. In Lesvos, panniers were used to carry olives, fruits, vegetables and other products. The travelling tradesmen placed them symmetrically on the donkeys and bound them with a rope to be balanced. They were also used to “cover” the goat kids destined to be slaughtered in order not to be “sunned”, that is, not to spend too much time in the fields for their meat to be tender. The straw seats were used more in coffee shops than in houses. The fabrication of the wooden frame of the chair seat was not part of the basket maker’s task. This was a carpenter’s job. Usually, basket makers worked on a custom-made basis, although some of them travelled on donkeys in various villages to sell their products (on the spot). During the winter, most of them worked in the fields, such as in olive groves, since basket making was mainly a summer occupation.

The tools they used were the pruner, the hammer, the pincers and the saw. The first matter, the straw (psathi), is a grass that grows near the lakes and marshes. During the summer, they collected it and left it to dry for a week under the sun. When they “wove” (“twisted”) it, first they had to slightly wet it to soften. For the frame of the straw mat they used mainly chestnut, pine, oleaster and osier wood.

The pannier (kassaki) was made of woven straw fastened on wooden rods fixed perimetrically to keep it firm and strong. For its fabrication, they used a wooden pannier (and not a straw one) with tinplate walls instead of rods, in order not to be worn out and to stay firm. On this model they “twisted” first the straw and then they nailed the wooden rods according to the tinplate frame. Often as they were “twisting” the straw they also put decorative threads of coloured nylon (lilia or ploumia).

Until the ‘50s – ‘70s there were many basket makers in the villages of Lesvos. Today there is a very limited demand, mainly by some olive oil producers (who buy panniers for olives) and coffee shop owners (who buy straw seat chairs). Panniers and straw chairs have been replaced by plastic ones, which are cheaper. So, very few old craftsmen practise the art of basket making, since young people lack interest in this craft.

Sources used

  • Interview with Giorgos Axiomakaros [basket maker], in Agiassos, Lesvos, 30/07/2004
  • Interview with Christos Efstratiou, in Plagia of Plomari, Lesvos, 05/07/2005