Basket-making is one of the oldest handicrafts and has been going on for generations without any significant changes.
Cyprus’ natural resources always provide suitable raw material in abundance. Very few tools are needed and used by craftsmen to make the wide variety of baskets in different shapes and sizes suitable for many uses.
The variety of materials used gives the natural colour to the items, which vary according to the mood of the maker. In some cases the raw material is dyed with bright colours. The colours used in the past were natural but today chemical colours are used.
The need for gathering and carrying goods such as potatoes, grapes, olives, fruit, and so on led to the creation of items to be used for this purpose. Plaited strips of rushes, reeds or leaves of date palms were used to make soft baskets for the commercial transportation of crops or for domestic purposes. The same materials were also used to cover the roofs of sheds.
Out of all the raw material used, the easiest to find is the hard reed. It is also the easiest to use, because when soaked in water it becomes quite flexible. Furthermore, it comes in different sizes and lengths.
Different types of baskets made out of hard reed are found in villages such as Liopetri, Troulli, Mesoyi and others. These baskets are used mainly for transporting potatoes and other cultivated products.
In some cases, thin flexible twigs from trees or bushes, such as turpentine tree, monks’ tree and wild olive tree are used together with the hard reed. In some villages they make different shapes of baskets using only twigs. They also use twigs to dress large glass containers, protecting them in this way from breaking, and the contents from light. The big baskets are used mainly for carrying grapes, while the glass containers for storing olive oil, wine and zivania, a local spirit.
Apart from cane, raw material that are still used today are the different kinds of rushes such as jancus acutus, erianthus, cat’s tail or club rush for carrying delicate crops. Large baskets, farti, were used mainly for carrying light products and zembilia for the olives crops. The double baskets, sirizes, were placed on donkeys and were used for carrying salt form the lakes, and the long strap zembili, slung over the left shoulder of the farmer, was used for sowing the seeds in the fields. The workers carried their olives and cheese for lunch in small lidded baskets called korokolios. The bread was kept in a tapatzia (soft basket with a cord) hanging from the ceiling in the kitchen. The talaria (type of soft baskets), widely used even today, are for draining and pressing Cyprus cheeses.
Palm leaves, rope from stubble and straw, were also used for making a variety of items. The technique employed for the use of these materials developed in the areas of the Karpassia Peninsula and Messaoria (now occupied areas), and spread to most of the villages as far as Pafos, where even today they make the coloured tsestoi (large, round flat baskets) using pieces of brightly coloured fabrics instead of coloured straw. Tsestoi were always used in the homes to dry in the sun local foods, such as phides (type of noodles) and trachanas (raw form of food made of wheat and milk), to keep the bread and flaounes (Easter cheese pies), and most importantly to carry the koulouria (type of bread) used as invitations for weddings and to exhibit the bride’s dowry during wedding celebrations. Tsetsoi as well as corn dollies made of straw were used to decorate houses.