Buttonhole looping · Examples

Dilly bags

Carrying bags were made by buttonhole looping for a very long time before the advent of the European bourse en feston. Descriptions of widespread local traditions began to appear in the ethnographic literature toward the end of the 19th century, with authors devising their own designations for the newly-recognized looped structure. A description from 1908 of small buttonhole-looped bags made by the Nguni people in South Africa details their production and says that it is “best regarded as netting without a knot.”

That term matured into its presently recognized (and frequently criticized) form in an article by Daniel S. Davidson in the 1933 volume of The Journal of the Polynesian Society, titled Australian Netting and Basketry Techniques. This classifies simple buttonhole looping and loop-and-twist as subcategories of “knotless netting” and maps all of its forms into the areas of Australia where they are found, alongside a similar range of “knotted netting” techniques (placing them all under the top-level heading of “netting”).

The first specific item Davidson mentions is the buttonhole-looped “dilly bag,” which also appears as an archetype in earlier texts. The following photograph is taken from a post on the CIM:Resource blog:


Regina Wilson describes the production of the dilly bag in the following video. It should be noted that the loops are formed without using a needle or other tool, and are gauged on the index finger. Of additional interest are the simultaneous twisting and plying of the palm fibers on the thigh, and the use of the same technique to extend the length of the string while the loop-work is in progress.

Wilson discusses a bridge between the long-lived craft tradition and the modern gallery context in a second video:

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