Introduction: Pine Needle Baskets for Fun &...Isn't Fun Enough?

About: Storyteller, Entertainer, Former Librarian...and he owns more than 1,500 neckties.

Pine needle basketry is a craft that is either relaxing or stress-making, depending on how you do it. With materials provided by Mother Nature, you can create beautiful projects that can enhance your décor, become cherished gifts, or make an interesting supplemental income.

I started making pine needle baskets in 1991, while working at a diabetes summer camp (I don't have diabetes, I've just been around it for over 40 years).

The materials are easy to get, and the methods are easy to learn. It looks difficult, but I always say “Everything’s easy when you know how.” Let me show you how.

Step 1: Materials

Pine needles vary by the type of the tree. For coiling, it is best to use pine needles that are at least 5 inches long. Some varieties get 18 inches in length. The Canary Island pine is often used in landscaping, and has needles over a foot long, but they are quite skinny, so you need to use more needles at a time. For the stitching, blunted tapestry needles are my favorite, with large eyes for threading with thicker materials, and the not-so-sharp points mean I don’t bleed as much.

When I first learned coiling, I used raffia, the inner bark of the raffia palm from Madagascar. It’s
natural, but needs to stay wet to be used. Later, I discovered artificial sinew, which is nylon thread coated with beeswax. It looks cool, you can get it in different colors

Most of the time, now, I use crochet thread, double it through a needle, and run it through a piece of beeswax or an old candle. Crochet thread comes in more colors than artificial sinew, and it's cheaper, At fabric stores and sewing centers, beeswax usually comes in chunks, or small, round cakes in a plastic frame. Using beeswax makes the thread less likely to tangle.

A pair of scissors is useful for cutting thread and trimming pine needles, unless you have really sharp teeth.

Step 2: Starting the Coil

Pine needles come in clusters of 2 to 5 needles, with a cap (or sheath) that attaches to the branch. Some coilers leave the caps on and incorporate them as a design element, but removing the caps makes the work easier. Soaking the needles for an hour will clean and soften them, so they won’t break on the tight curves at the start of a project. Once the diameter of your basket is 3-4 inches, soaking the needles isn’t as crucial. If you soak your needles overnight, they stay pliable for 2-3 days. Don't seal them in a plastic bag--they might get moldy.

I do not take pine needles off the tree. Show respect for Mother Nature. Gather needles from the ground or from downed limbs and branches.

There are several methods for starting a basket, This is the method I use most.

To begin, hold 3 clusters of needles together. Lay about 2 inches of your chosen weaving material (I will call it thread in the instructions) along the needles. From the end where the needles join together to make a cluster, begin wrapping around the bunch of needles. Try not to twist the thread. Keep the wraps close and not crossed. Wrap about 3 inches.

Fold the wrapped needles to make a spiral. Wrap the thread 2-3 times around the folded bundle and stitch through it. Begin the next phase by wrapping your raw pine needles 3 times, then stitching into the bundle, what is unfortunately called the Lazy Squaw stitch (I once taught a group of Native American women. They called it the Lazy White Woman stitch). Keep stitching your way around the bundle. The long stitches will become the base for the Chain stitch (also called the Split stitch).

Make one row of Squaw stitches. The next row of stitches are made by stitching the tapestry needle through the stitch of the previous row, splitting the stitch. As the rows mount up, the stitches will appear to be chains radiating in curves from the center.

Step 3: Changing to a New Thread

Eventually, you will come to the end of your thread. Some instruction books say to tie the old and new threads together, and try to bury the ends in the coil, but the knots often stick out.

I run the sewing needle into the coils, and pull it through, then cut off the end.

Take the new thread. Run it through the coil and bring it out next to the last stitch of the old thread. As you continue stitching, the stitches will lock the tail of the new thread into the coil.

Step 4: Adding Needles to Your Coil

As you reach the end of a cluster of needles, you will need to add more needles to your coil. Stick the joined end of the new cluster into the coil and continue stitching. The stitches will lock the new cluster into the coil.

Stitching with a 3-cluster coil takes along time to build a basket. Don’t be afraid to add more clusters to make a 5-or-7-cluster coil. If you need help to keep your coil the same size, a stitch gauge can be made by cutting a 1-inch piece from a drinking straw of the desired diameter. Slip it over the coil, and add clusters whenever it fits loosely.

Step 5: Which Side Is Up?

A flat coiled disc can make a nice trivet to protect a table, but there comes a time where you’ll want your basket to hold something. With the Chain/Split stitch, you’ll have a good side (picture on the left) and a not-so-good side (picture on the right). Decide whether you want the good side on the inside or the outside of the basket.

Step 6: Up, Up, and Away!

People think that making the sides go up is a complicated process. Actually, it’s pretty easy.

Lift the coil from the horizontal and start stitching at an angle. If you want an angled wall that gets wider to create a bowl, keep stitching at that angle. If you want the sides to be straight-up-and-down vertical, after the first round of stitching that changes the direction, stitch directly into the side, parallel to the base disc.

Step 7: Finishing?

Keep stitching until the basket is the size you want. Then, stop adding clusters of needles. Your coil will grow thinner and thinner, and finally come to an end. Backstitch around the rim to finish the edge. Your basket is now finished…..unless you want to give it a lid.

Step 8: Put a Lid on It!

A simple lid is basically a flat basket with a rim inset beneath it.

Using the start techniques you can add a bead to your thread and stitch it onto the middle of the start. When the lid is wide enough to cover the basket opening, finish off the edge.

Stitch 3 clusters onto the bad side of the lid, and stitch them so that they are inside the diameter of your basket's opening. Stitch 2 or 3 rounds and finish off.

Step 9: This Is It!

You have a nice lid. Put the lid on the basket and be proud of it. Hope you have fun!

For more information on pine needle basketry and other stitches to use, I recommend:

Pine Needle Basketry: from forest floor to finished project by Judy Mallow--Shows many samples and several stitches.

The Pine Needle Group--An online gathering place for basketmakers with tutorials, links, contests, and really nice people.

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