Yesterday I talked to you about the many beneficial uses of the pine trees that you have growing on your homestead. One of my favourite uses of the Pine is to make sweet smelling pine needle baskets. Unfortunately most how-to books will direct you to purchase your basket making materials from a craft supply store, and somehow you get the impression that the stuff you have locally available isn’t good enough for the work. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Your local pines and your local bast threads, are the perfect materials for beautiful, unique pine needle baskets to hold your treasures, collect your huckleberries, and herbs, or serve your homemade bread. The First Nations elders would have used the materials that were available in their local area. While some specialty materials like medicines and dyes were traded, every day baskets would be made from what was available.
Baskets like this are strong and light weight. They are easy to transport and when their useful life is finished they will go back to the earth. They are made from renewable and sustainable resources. Even children can learn to weave coil baskets.
Pine Needle Baskets
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. These needles are collected commercially and can be purchased at some craft stores. (Katherine L. Armstrong. Fragrant Basketry, Bear Grass Press, 1986)
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
When collecting needles it is good to check out several trees as the needle length can vary greatly even within the same species. Once you find a tree with very long needles, you will want to come back to that tree again.
Thread for stitching
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.
What you will need to make a pine needle basket:
A bundle of Pine Needles, (gather brown needles from the ground under pine trees in the Spring, or harvest green needles from fallen branches.)
Sturdy thread (handspun linen, hemp, or nettle thread)
Cake of Bees Wax
Bowl of water big enough to immerse the pine needles.
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. (pictures coming). Using linen, hemp, or nettle thread makes embroidery stitches easier to manipulate.
While I like the soft beige colour of natural linen thread, you can also dye the thread with natural dyes to achieve various hues for your needle work:
- Try golden rod, nettle, yarrow, mullein, and weld for yellows and greens.
- Walnut and butternut hulls for browns
- Various barks for tannin to use with iron rich mud for greys, and blacks.
Part 1 of the tutorial:
Part 2 of the tutorial:
I’m working on my pine needle basket using needles from the Ponderosa Pine Trees growing at Joybilee Farm and waxed linen thread, that I handspun from linen that we grew in our field. The other baskets that I have woven were made with raffia. I find the waxed linen thread easier to work with, and I’m already getting ideas for my next basket.
To whet your appetite here’s some more internet finds that will guide you through the steps to making your own pine needle basket from local materials:
“Make a Pine Needle Basket” from a 1997 article in Mother Earth News
Tips for making Pine Needle Baskets from Joybilee Farm
Back to you:
What locally available materials can you use to weave a basket? Have you had success?
Not sure if this thread is still “alive” or not, or if anyone reads the comments since it’s been two years since the last comment. I just wanted to pop on here and say that I live in New York and the native pine here with the longest needles is the Eastern White Pine – the needles are 2-5 inches long at most. I wanted to get into basket making, so I looked on Etsy and a pound of MUCH longer needles from Ponderosa Pines, or Longleaf Pine ranges anywhere from $20-80!! So I decided to try the shorter needles from my white pines. And you CAN make a coiled basket from them! It requires more stitches though, due to the shorter length and the ends popping out wherever they decide to, and you have to refill the gage more frequently. But it can 110% be done! I hope this helps someone 🙂
I moved to the island of Hawaii from California and cannot find any pine needles that will work for basket weaving… is there any way to get them either purchase or find someone who would be willing to send them to me? I miss making my baskets!
Joybilee Farm says
You know that you can use the same techniques that you use for pine needle baskets using grasses?
Laura B says
I know this is an old post … we’re not seeing the tutorial videos? Are they still available? Thanks!
June Cox says
I have been making pine needle baskets for years. I no longer use the raffia I have from Madagascar and would like to send it to you, if you want it. I have a small bundle. I am 88 years old and need to get my house in order.
I have only used thread on my baskets. I’m a beginner though. Is raffia hard to use? What kind of sewing needle works with raffia?
Hello! I have Long Leaf Pine Trees in my yard. I find needles that have fallen this month are clean, but drier in texture than the ones falling now. The recent ones seem to be ‘waxy’ on the outside. Which ones are best to use? Or can I use either one?
Thank you for all you do!
Joybilee Farm says
You can use either one, Diana. The waxy ones will dry over time. As you gather them bundle them and put an elastic band in three places to keep the needles straight while they dry. They are easier to hand this way. I make my bundles about as thick as the circle of my thumb and forefinger. Anything larger and the needles don’t dry evenly.
Thanks for saying you use Ponderosa Pine.. I live on Vancouver Island and there is no long needle pine here… An abundance of swamp willow but no needles… I’ve been trying to work up the ambition (I’ll be honest, I’m one busy girl) to take on the task of basketry… thanks for helping push me to get going..
Thijmen van Kooten says
why do i have to live in a place filled with short needled pines?
Joybilee Farm says
Alternately, straw, grasses, cordage can be used in these baskets. Also split willow.
What is nettle cordage? Do you cut the stalk and peel it apart?
Joybilee Farm says
There is an inner fiber in the nettle stalk. When you peel off the outer bark you’ll see the inner fibers. You make the cordage by twisting the inner fiber and then doubling it back on itself. You can make thicker cordage by repeating this twisting and doubling several times.
Kristi Pierson says
You’re so funny, so do I. I was just trying to think how I was going to weave with short needles.
Peggy Harris says
Enjoyed your video and I am going to try and make a basket. We have lots of long leaf pines in our area so supplies are plentiful! Thanks for the video!
Joybilee Farm says
Oh, good. I love it when another person is infected with the basket making bug!
WYNAJEM SAMOCHODÓW GDAŃSK says
I have fun with, lead to I discovered exactly what I used to be looking for. You have ended my four day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye
electric vehicles for sale says
I do trust all of the concepts you have offered for your post. They’re really convincing and can certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are too brief for starters. Could you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.