Sweetgrass Stunners

02 Jul 2023

Local handicraft items go beyond the traditional basket

Story and photos by Jenny Peterson

When it comes to home décor, there’s nothing more quintessentially Charleston than a sweetgrass basket.

No matter where you place the baskets in your home—whether to add texture to a bookshelf, to hang on the wall, as a catch-all for keys or as a fruit basket on a kitchen island—these stunning works of art are conversation pieces, with guests marveling at the immaculate attention to detail in every stitch.

Sweetgrass baskets are a handicraft passed down to generations by African American families since the era of slavery and have been designated South Carolina’s Official Art Craft.

Gullah artisans originally started with marsh grass known as bulrush to create working baskets called fanners, originally used for winnowing rice with a shallow wide bottom. Many local artists continue to create the storied handicraft passed down from generations but are expanding the creations beyond the traditional basket, from wreaths to vases, even tissue box holders.

No matter the final result, the tradition for creating the hand-woven baskets has remained the same – right down to the four-inch nail bones that resemble a dull knife and scissors as the only tools used to make the historic woven craft. 

A walk through the Historic City Market and by booths along Meeting and Broad Streets downtown or along Highway 17 in Mt. Pleasant, you’ll find these sweetgrass basket makers, usually with a project in hand. (It takes roughly 40-60 hours to make one basket, depending on how complicated the design.) Many artisans are adding new shapes and sizes and new items completely, with accessories like sweetgrass earrings and necklaces. They are happy to discuss special orders.

Here are a few ideas on how to incorporate sweetgrass items beyond the traditional baskets into your home décor:

Name card holders

Throwing a dinner party and want to turn up the Southern hospitality? Check out adorable mini sweetgrass basket name card holders for guests to find their seat. This can be perfect for larger events like a wedding, and the name tag holders can serve as the party favors, or simply keep a collection of them tucked away to use when you have a larger dinner party or other gathering.

Serving Tray

While baskets tend to corral storage items, these well-made and sturdy sweetgrass creations can also be used as a decorative tray to carry drinks or pass out items to guests. Artisans even create sweetgrass serving platters for chips and dips. Other larger flat-bottomed trays can offer a very Charleston-esque breakfast-in-bed-moment.

Palmetto Rose streamers

The Palmetto rose, a beloved sweetgrass design that you can find being sold on streets and in vendor booths, have a number of uses: collect 5-7 to make an everlasting bouquet for your table, or weave the Palmetto roses into a light fabric around porch columns, tacked on a large wall in an organic shape or even drape over a four-poster bed.

Discover more

Find sweetgrass treasures of all kinds at the annual Sweetgrass Festival in Mount Pleasant, set for July 22 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Mt. Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park. The festival is designed to promote and bring attention to the contributions of the Gullah Geechee people’s history, culture, traditions and their sweetgrass basket art form.

Offering free admission, entertainment and activities, the Sweetgrass Festival provides an opportunity for local basket makers to showcase, promote and market their sweetgrass merchandise to locals as well as cultural tourists from around the country.

Stroll through the Sweetgrass Basket & Craft Show, where you will find an amazing assortment of incredible basketry along with a wide variety of hand-made arts, crafts and jewelry. There will be plenty of unique Lowcountry creations that make great gifts for yourself and your loved ones.

More importantly, the Sweetgrass Festival provides an opportunity for engagement, interaction and exposure to the Gullah Geechee people’s cultures. Informative and interesting educational sessions will enlighten and entertain participants of all ages.

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