Mexico has a long tradition—dating back to pre-Hispanic times—of using soft and semi-soft plant fibers to manufacture baskets and containers. Because of the nation’s wide-ranging biodiversity, there are many plants whose roots, leaves and stems can be used to make baskets, nets, bags, ayates, tenates, tortilla holders, sacks, bread baskets, and werekes—sets of baskets into which each basket fits into one slightly larger—used for shelling corn in the Northern highlands, or even the barcina baskets of Escuinapa, Sinaloa, where dried shrimp are stored.
Raw materials, processing techniques, shapes, decoration and uses vary by region. Materials for fashioning woven containers include palm, huano palm, sisal, willow rod, sabino root, panikua, chuspata, tule, torote, sotol, pine, hyacinth, cane heart, mutusay, lengua de vaca, reeds and twigs. They can be finished naturally or stained.
Large wooden baskets are made in Santa Apolonia Teacalco, Tlaxcala; tule fiber harvested from surviving lakeshores is woven into baskets in Lerma, Mexico State; Tabasco is one of Mexico’s richest states in terms of natural fibers used for bread baskets, general baskets, petate mats, bags and hampers; in the states of Mexico’s northern highlands, fibers from sotol and lechuguilla plants are used to manufacture nets, bags and baskets; chuspata and panikua are more frequently used in Michoacán’s lake district for bins, baskets and tortilla holders; numerous other useful housewares are woven from fiber, such as petates, fans for stoking fires, and fine sieves used in the northern plateau region for pinole making.