My friend Anna and I recently made a braided basket for a classroom art project at our daughters' school. We had all the students make polymer clay beads and each donate an old t-shirt. We braided the t-shirts along with some extra jersey fabric we bought, threading on the beads every 18" or so, then sewed the giant braid into a basket (Anna did the braiding, I did the sewing). Time consuming? Absolutely. But it was a sweet piece that did pretty well at our school auction last weekend.
We used about twenty child-sized t-shirts and a yard of jersey, but you could use as little or as much material as you want, depending on the size basket you are making.
A collection of old t-shirts
Jersey fabric, minimum 1 yd. length for braid continuity
Spool of nylon crochet thread (a darker color would've been better here)
Beads with minimum 1/4" dia. holes (optional)
Sharp upholstery needles
step 1, cutting:
Cut the jersey fabric and the t-shirts into similarly sized strips, around 2-2 1/2" wide. You will get the most out of the t-shirts from the torso area, yielding 3-5 strips from each t-shirt. The jersey strips should be a yard long.
step 2, preparing the fabric:
Baste stitch three t-shirt strips together at a time to form longer pieces. Do as many of these as you can manage until you think you have what you need. I spent about three hours doing this with the 20 +/- t-shirts we used. Don't sew more than three smaller strips together at a time, as anything longer than that will be difficult to braid.
step 3, start braiding:
Sew the ends of two different t-shirt strips to the end of one of the jersey strips. This will be the top of your braid. Secure that end to something stable (we used the spindle holder on the top of a sewing machine) and start braiding.
As you come to the ends of the t-shirt fabric pieces, attach new pieces to the old with a quick stitch or two so you can continue braiding. Same goes for when you reach the ends of the longer jersey pieces.
You will want to start threading your beads on only after you have finished enough braiding to make the bottom of your basket, where you don't want beads. Wind the braid up like a rug on a flat surface from time to time to find out how big you would like the bottom to be. Once you start braiding what will end up being the walls of the basket, add beads as often as you'd like. It's a really nice touch.
Eventually you're going to end up with an ENORMOUS BRAID! I wish I had measured it, but we were under time constraints so I didn't have a chance. It seemed like it was a block long.
step 4, sewing the bottom:
When you are ready to start sewing, fold the unbeaded end of the braid over and sew those two pieces together side by side with the crochet thread to form an oblong basket bottom, or start coiling the braid right from the get-go for a more circular bottom. As this was my first time making something like this, I didn't do a great job and the stitching is totally visible and ugly at the inside bottom of our basket. Once I started up the side of the basket I realized there was a way to stitch through the fabric so the stitching is only visible on one side. You can see that in step 5 ahead.
step 5, sewing the basket walls:
When you are ready to make the walls, turn the braid 90º into an upright position and sew to outer braid of basket bottom. That stitching is best done at the exterior of the basket. After that, move the stitching to the interior of the basket. Keep stacking the braid on top of itself, sewing the interior braid edges as shown in the photos below. Take care that the crochet thread does not show through to the outside. When sewing near a bead, keep your braid in position and secure all around the bead, making sure the bead stays to the exterior of the basket walls.
Keep on sewing until you get the height you want! The vertical, stacked form I ended up with just happened naturally. I would like to try this again with a more splayed or salad-bowl type form.
step 6, adding handles and finishing the job:
To create handles, decide where you want them to be located and how wide you'd like them to be. Hold the braid off of the top of the basket at the handle and add very strong, repetitive stitching at the fork in the road where the handle comes away. Leave a little slack in the handle bit, and secure it again at the other side where it meets the top of the basket again. Keep sewing that braid at the top of the basket until you reach the opposite side and add a second handle.
To finish up, keep sewing the braid to the top of the basket again after the second handle for a few inches, then you'll end the braid in a taper. To create the taper, cut the width of each of the three pieces of the end of the top braid to just about 3/4" wide, being sure that they are still continuations of pieces already in the existing braid. Braid these thinner pieces into a much skinnier braid a few inches long and then secure to top of basket. Tuck the very end of the taper into a bigger braid at the inside of the basket, and stitch to secure in place.
And there you have it! I have to tell you, the sewing takes a surprisingly LONG time. Crazy long. Some fabrics were darn near impossible to push a needle through, some were like butter. This is definitely not something you can bang out in a night. Or two. Or three! Still, I'd like one for myself so I'll probably do it again, maybe using old cotton sheets and tapestries we have around. I love the random crazy colors of this, though. It's so pretty!