Pine Needle Basket Weaving

What You'll Need
·         Thread. You will have to decide what type of thread to use when sewing your basket. Many basket makers use artificial sinew thread, which comes in a wonderful variety of colors. Raffia or any sturdy thread can also be used. I decided to use light-green mercerized crochet cotton because it is stiff and the color matched the pine needles.
·         Needle. Your needle should have a good-sized eye for easy threading.
·         Scissors. Keep a pair of scissors handy for this project.
·         Pine Needles. These should be gathered prior to starting your basket. I used needles that were about 5-7" in length. They weren't as long as I hoped they'd be, but they still did the trick.

Before You Begin
·         Coiling Methods. You can use different methods to form your basket bottom and sides.
·         Stitch. You will also have to decide on a stitch, or, as I did with this basket, use a number of stitches to get a feel for things. It doesn't hurt to experiment so that you find a stitch to your liking. It's not just pine needles that contribute to the look of a basket! The type of stitch you choose also plays a role in how your finished basket looks. A stitch is not just a stitch. As your basket grows, something interesting happens.
·         Books. It's a good idea to pick up at least one instructional reference book. Books offer step-by-step instructions, which make the whole learning process much easier. Once you've tried your hand at fashioning a basket of pine needles, you'll likely want to create another. You may want to experiment with different stitches because these form such interesting-looking patterns on the outside of your basket. Look for a book that includes a number of different stitches to choose from.

The needles form the coils of the basket.  The other thing that you will need is a thread to stitch the coils together with.  Today most basket makers use imported raffia twine to embroider and stitch together pine needle coils into sturdy, light weight baskets.  However, traditionally local materials would be used, including cedar bark, nettle cordage, nettle thread, hemp thread, and linen.  Often raffia is soaked in glycerine to make it more pliable and stronger for pulling through the pine coils.  The constant friction of pulling the thread through the bundles of needle requires a very strong, smooth thread, so that the weaver isn’t frustrated by breakage.    Nettle, hemp, and linen thread are generally very strong with hemp and linen being the strongest of the three.  These threads can be waxed by pulling them over a piece of beeswax.  After waxing they pull through the layers of pine needles easier and with less drag.

As you get ready to make your pine needle basket from local materials, and you have gathered all the materials that you will need, plan to allow several evenings to complete a medium size basket.  Use 1 to 3 bundles of needles for the coil in a small basket, 3 to 5 bundles of needles for a medium basket, and 4 to 6 bundles of needles for a large basket.  Space your stitching about 1/2 inch apart.  I used the wheat stitch for my basket.   Using linen, hemp, or nettle thread makes embroidery stitches easier to manipulate.
Trial Basket Tips
·         Your first pine needle basket should really be a hands-on trial run that helps you develop a feel for basket making. Instead of feeling pressure to produce a usable basket, play with it and have fun.
·         Don't expect stellar results with your first basket. View it as your learning curve so that when you make your first real basket, you will avoid problems that are hard to foresee (as I discovered). We might try something or read about how to do something, but hands-on experience teaches us what books can't always cover.
·         I thought it was easy to pick a stitch from free tutorials online. What I didn't anticipate was how the basket was going to look as the rows grew.
·         Experiment with different stitches and different widths of gathered needles, and try using different materials to stitch your basket together. This way, when you move on to your second basket, you will have a better idea of what you like and what you don't.

Tips for Working with Pine Needles
  • ·         Your needles won't go moldy if you leave them in water for a couple of days.
  • ·         Each time you plan on weaving in needles, soak them first so they are pliable.
  • ·         If you decide to remove the knobs, cut them to spare your hands.

Pine needle baskets are simple coil baskets made traditionally by many indigenous people wherever pine trees grow abundantly.  In North America there are several native pines with needles traditionally used for basketry.  In Western North America four species of pine have needles that are long enough for basketry.

The digger pine (Pinus subiniana) of California has 8 to 10 inch (20 to 25.5 cm) needles, three per cluster; the Coulter pine (Pinus coulteri) also in California has 10 inch (25.5 cm) needles, three per cluster; the Jeffery pine, (Pinus jeffreyi)which ranges from South Oregon through California and west to Nevada, has needles 5 to 10 inches (12 to 25.5 cm) in clusters of three.  The most important basket-making pine in western North America is the Ponderosa (Pinus ponderosa) which ranges from Southern British Columbia to Mexico and is seen as far east as South Dakota and Nebraska.  Its range is predominantly west of the Rocky Mountains.  Ponderosa needles are 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25.5 cm) in length and come in clusters of 2 or 3 needles.

Eastern North America is blessed with the longest pine needles in the world.  The Long-leaf pine, (Pinus palustris) which grows from southern Virginia to Florida and west to Mississippi has 8 to 18 inch (20 to 46 cm) needles, three to five per cluster.  Other North American pines that are have long enough needles for basket making:

Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) – 4 to 6 inch needles, 2 per cluster
Slash Pine (Pinus elliottii) – 8 to 10 inch needles, 2 per cluster
Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) – 6 to 9 inch needles


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