Women from Arnhemland have a long tradition of using plants such as pandanus, palms and selected bark fibres to create materials that are woven and knotted to make baskets, bags and mats. The leaves are stripped, dried, dyed with natural vegetable dyes (roots, leaves and berries), dried again and then woven into baskets, mats and dilly bags.
Women produce a range of products made from natural fibres. These include pandanus baskets, string bags and large floor-mats, made from palms and other plants. The women collect the raw products, strip and dry them, boil them with plant dyes if they are to be coloured, and then begin spinning or weaving them. The women achieve a range of colours from subtle to vivid, including purples. pinks, greys, green orange and brown. They were only able to begin dying the bags and baskets once metal containers became available for prolonged boiling of the fibres with roots, berries and leaves of certain plants. Pandanus weaving is seasonal, the new shoots being collected during the wet season until the mid-Dry season.
The weaving technique used in the baskets was introduced by the missionaries in the 1930's. However dilly bags were traditionally made and used in a variety of ways. Dilly bags can be seen in rock and bark paintings dating back through the millennia.
Apart from their use as food carriers, loosely woven bags were used to hold "cheeky yams" in fresh running water for days to leach them of toxins. Tightly woven bags are used to collect sugar bag (wild honey). Occasionally, special bags, painted and sometimes decorated with feathers were used in ceremonies. One of the staples of the local diet are water birds such as magpie geese and brown duck. The pinfeathers of these and other more brightly coloured birds are woven into string bags after the meat has been consumed. The bags that incorporate feathers are often very beautiful and have an ethereal quality.