Learn more about our Baskets

Basket Materials

Ilala Palm Fronds

The Ilala palm frond is traditionally the preferred weaving material for the Zulu people. This plant has for many centuries, in addition to providing weaving materials, been used for many other needs including thatching, mats, sandals and a source of intoxicating palm wine called iNjemane. The palm fronds are sustainably harvested in the northern most region of KwaZulu Natal and traded to the weavers.

Grasses and Reeds

Other materials utilised are various grasses or reeds which are formed into tight coils around which the Ilala palm fronds are wrapped to form the cord from which the basket is woven. The grass and reed types utilised varies from region to region and is also dependant on whether the basket is required to to be watertight or, just utilised to store dry ingredients.


The weavers pull the palm fronds into strips and dye the strips utilising seasonal fruits, roots and barks of specific trees to obtain a variety of colours. Dyeing the palm fronds is partially tradition, handed down from old masters, partially science and alchemy and largely governed by the creativity and experience of the individual weavers as they experiment according to their artistic drive for ever different colour variation thereby, turning a traditional craft into a vibrant art that expresses the weaver’s individuality.

The cost of a basket is significantly influenced by the type of dyes utilised to stain the palm fronds as the overall processes are time consuming and expensive and some dye processes may take up to a few weeks to complete.

What Goes into Making a Zulu Basket?

Created with Love

Our baskets have gone beyond the point of craft and functionality and are creations of art. They are expressions and reflections of each artists personality. Trapped in each basket is a bit of their soul. Yet, woven in each basket is the tradition of the Zulu people that stretches over many centuries. Each basket though stitched with a weave unique to each artist, nonetheless carries with it the method of basketry born of necessity and functionality that has served the Zulu’s needs well for hundreds of years. We find our creativity between the spaces of craft and art thereby blurring the two.

Obtaining a Bambizulu basket therefore preserves a culture and allows the continuity of a tradition that was almost lost to the Zulu people and the world at large whilst still investing in piece of art. We have an innate love of shape and form that is born from order of daily life as well as rooted in tradition. Our selection of colours are influenced by the seasonal availability of certain fruits and roots that are used to stain the baskets as they are by the aesthetic impact of how the colours combine with the form and pattern of the basket to deliver a piece of the art that talks to you the viewer.

As much effort goes into the sourcing and collection of raw materials as goes into the weaving of a basket.

Palm Fronds and Grass

We utilise a grass chord wrapped with the Ilala frond to create Zulu baskets.

The process begins with the purchasing of the Ilala palm fronds from traders who harvest the fronds in a sustainable manner. The best quality of Ilala palm fronds come from the northern most part of the KwaZulu-Natal province and within the district municipality that we reside. The Ilala palm is one of the most versatile of plants and has been utilised for centuries by the Zulu for thatching and for making mats, baskets and sandals. The palm sap is also used to make an intoxicating drink call iNjemane.

Grass selection varies from weaver to weaver and is partially influenced by location. We select river grasses which provide several benefits including; rendering the isichumo basket watertight, preventing deterioration and providing a uniformity of weave that is aesthetically pleasing.

Creative Process

Each of us artists draw from a wealth of personal experiences as from our daily lives and surroundings to create baskets that communicate with us and though us to the viewer.

Through our baskets we communicate our individuality and creativity as  artists as well as the continuity of the Zulu tradition. Our work is art for art’s sake expressed through an age old craft. Every basket is visualized long before the weaving process begins. The colour combination and as patterns as wells as the shape and dimension of the basket is heavily influenced and guided by artistic intuition. The final creation is an expression of individuality that maintains an essence of the creative force within each artist as well as a bit of each persons soul.


Most of our current work is commissions. We co-operate well with museums, galleries and individuals to create commissioned works of art that is appealing to the viewer but maintains the artistic expression and individuality of an artist.

Shapes and Styles of Weaving

Every artist expresses themselves differently even when utilising the same materials and when they are from the same cultural background. This is true in the art of basket weaving as is for any other form of art. Our style of basket weaving is stooped in the cultural heritage of the Zulu people where the shape and size of the basket is governed by traditional function. Baskets were traditionally woven for carrying, beer, grains, water and personal belongings – each basket type evolved to the optimum size and shape to fulfil these functions.

We find our artistic expressions within the parameter of the various shapes. Though we weave all traditional shapes our  opus is the isichumo basket which is the traditional basket shape to carry water and which Beauty Ngxongo is master of. Symmetry in basket weaving has both an aesthetic appeal as well as a practical function. Any misshape in the basket for instance can cause failure.

Similarly the tightness of the weave determines functionality. A very tight weave normally signifies as liquid bearing basket. An alternate looses and tight weave signifies a grain bearing basket as the weave all the basket to “breathe” to prevent the development of mould in the grain.

The style of the weave is a signature characteristic of the artist. Generally loose weaves and broad strips of palm frond indicate a lack of experience. The thickness of the chord is normally related to the size of the basket. As the size of the basket increases so must the chord thickness. However, a thick chord on a small basket may be an indication of a lack of experience.

The patterns and symbols utilised on the basket is a personal expression of the artist and does not have any traditional symbolism.

A quality basket and the artist’s signature is recognised by:

  • Shape – the basket must be symmetrical and pleasing to the eye from a distance.
  • Patterns and symbols – this expresses the individuality of the artist. Patterns and symbols must be uniformly spaced.
  • Colour – this is also an expression of the artist with certain colour combinations preferred by certain artists.
  • Weave – a tight weave with thin, tightly spaced palm frond strips is the sign of a master weaver.

Types of Baskets

Please click on the left or right arrows to toggle through the different types of baskets:

Saucer or Shallow Bowl (Imbenge)

Traditionally this type of basket was utilised to cover the bee baskets in order to keep out insects and dust. Currently, these baskets are utilised for decorative purposes as they are hung up on walls with the convex side which is the decorated side facing the viewer.

Water Basket (Isichumo)

This is a rigid, vase shaped basket used for carrying water. It has a matching cap, which fits over the neck.

This type of basket, because of the narrow neck is one of the more difficult designs to create. The Isichumo is a signature basket type of Beauty Ngxongo.

Herb basket (Iquthu)

The smallest of the Zulu baskets, usually made either by elders who do not have strength to make larger baskets or beginners who are starting out on learning Zulu basketry. They come in different beautiful and vibrant colours.

Open Bowl (Iqoma)

This is a straight sided bowl in varying sizes and is typically used to transport food in or for storage of personal valuables.

Beer Basket (Ukhamba)

This is a rigid bulb-shaped container that is rendered watertight by the coil-weave, and the material used. These baskets are often given as treasured wedding presents. These baskets in the past did not have any covers but today often have matching covers, originally did not have tops. This is the most common type of basket shape.

However, shape and size can vary widely between artists from different regions. The uniqueness if these baskets is that they are watertight and have the ability to condense vapour on the outside. This condensation and evaporation process keeps the contents of the basket cool even in the hot African sun.

Large grain Basket (Isilulu)

This basket style differs from the isisquabetho basket in that it is deep and is used to hold grain for long periods. The basket is woven in a unique fashion to allow air to circulate through the grain and therefore prevent the grain from being ruined by mould.

The shape of the basket is large and squat and is, depending on the region from which the weaver originates, either flat or bell shaped.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Beauty Ngxongo Baskets Collectable?

The answer is a resounding yes. In order to appreciate a Beauty Ngxongo basket, one has to reflect on the history of Zulu basketry. The art had almost died out by the 1930’s as the use of traditional baskets were replaced by the use of western tin and later plastic containers. It was spectacularly revived in the 1980’s by a Lutheren missionary Rev Lofroth as a source of income for rural men and women who were severely affected by drought.

Beauty was one of the first apprentices of Laurentia Dlamini, one of the finest Zulu basket artist and one of only a handful who remembered the art. This intervention radically changed the art of basketry as the weavers were creating baskets for aesthetic appeal and no longer solely for practical purposes. Part of the evolution was the colourful, vibrant and diverse patterns on the baskets which allowed for individual expression thereby creating a nexus between art and craft.

Through diligence, Beauty has emerged as one of the most famous weavers of her era and one of only four recognised master weavers. Her work is now exhibited around the world and held by several South African and international museums making her one of the most sort after artists in the world. A Beauty Ngxongo basket is created with love and each basket possesses a part of her soul. By owning one of her baskets you possess a valuable collectable piece of art stooped in an ancient tradition.

How is the Price of a Basket Determined?

The price of the basket is determined by many factors including:

  • Quality of the weave
  • Size of the basket
  • Aesthetic appeal
  • Colour of the Basket
  • Reputation of the artist
How do you Recognise a Good Quality Basket?

Not all baskets are alike. All baskets represented on this site is woven by master weavers and artists of high repute. The guidelines for evaluating a basket are:

  • Aesthetic appeal: Does the basket appeal to you in terms of colour, pattern combination and shape? Every basket created by a true artist traps a bit of the essence of the artist and this is reflected to the viewer is often part of the hidden reason for the appeal.
  • Structure of the basket and the tightness of the weave. The tighter the weave and the smaller the coil relative to the size of the basket, the higher the quality of the basket. A sturdy basket is a sign of the weaver’s skill.
  • The execution of the weave: A high quality basket will have even coil thickness and width of stitches throughout. The coils should be uniform in size and thickness from the top of the basket to the bottom. In addition, the individual stitches on the coils of the basket should be made with thin strips of palm frond tightly spaced together. The thickness of the coil must suit the size of the basket.
  • Complexity of Design and Colour: Generally, the more complex the design the more expensive the basket and often the more aesthetically appealing. However, some of Beauty Ngxongo’s most well known baskets are in single colour made from fronds dyed in complex processes and/or with fruit colouring that is only available seasonably therefore making the basket more valuable. Uniformity in the design and the even spacing of patterns and motifs and the pleasantness and aesthetic impact that the combined shape and patterns have on the viewer also determines the quality of the basket.
What is the Cost of a Collectable Basket?

Considering the amount of effort that goes into the creation of a quality basket, the cost of a basket is reasonably priced. Factors to consider when purchasing a basket are:

  • Reputation of the artist – the more reputable the artist the higher the price
  • Quality and size of the basket – the large the basket and the higher the quality the more expensive the basket
  • Source of purchase – buying directly from the artist or through a gallery will affect the price. In general, the longer the supply chain the more expensive the basket. Our baskets are sourced directly from the artist, eliminating several middle man. This allows us to pass on the majority of the profit to the artist and provide a cost saving to the client.
Can the Artist Do Commissions?

Most work done by the artist are commissioned works. Our artist work well on commissions to produce specific sized and colour and/or pattern combination baskets to suit the client’s needs.

How do I Guarantee the Authenticity of my Basket?

All baskets sourced from us comes with a certificate of authenticity which lists the artist, unique reference number, the size and style of the basket, the date that the basket was created and the colour combination and is personally signed off by the artist.

How Long Does it Take to Weave a Basket?

Often, the collection of the raw materials for weaving takes as long as it actually takes to weave a basket. A small basket may take a day to weave whilst some of the larger baskets may take several weeks and very large baskets may take a few months.

What do the Patterns on the Baskets Symbolise?

Most baskets have patterns that have become more and more complex as the craft of basket weaving evolved into a fully fledged art. The complexity and the beauty of the baskets have increased as the artists have been exposed to a wider palette of colours made from natural and organic dyes and as ideas for designs evolved from many sources.

Each design and pattern is the artist’s personal expression and is not stooped in any ancient meaning as often stated by traders in baskets.

The History of Zulu Basketry – Evolution of a Craft into an Art

Baskets in Zulu culture historically served as practical containers in everyday Zulu life that were seldomly decorated.

The craft of Zulu basketry nearly died out in the 1930’s and was successfully revived thirty years later by Rev. Loroth and a handful of weavers who remembered the craft. Today, individual weavers have introduced complex designs and colour schemes to the tradition of basket weaving successfully blurring the line between practical craft and fine art.

At the forefront of this evolution is Beauty Ngxongo, nationally and internationally known for her distinctive baskets with vibrant designs. Though strongly rooted in the weaving tradition of the Zulu, modern basketry is created for art’s sake and praised for its aesthetic excellence. An artistically crafted basket is exemplified with elegant structural forms that are often enhanced by complex and masterful graphic and colourful designs.

The various colours utilised to stain all baskets are obtained from natural sources such as seasonal berries, roots and tree bark. Complexity of the art can only be fully appreciated if the alchemy behind the dyes are truly understood. A range of 20 different colours is derived from more than 50 different plant types. The time to create each colour is highly dependant on the desired hue and the skill of the artist and can take from a few days to a few weeks.

In contemporary Zulu society, baskets for utilitarian use have virtually disappeared though the craft still lives on in the form of baskets created for the tourist industry. Masters such as Beauty Nxgongo challenge and expand the tradition’s boundaries and create art for art’s sake.