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:
Back to you:
What locally available materials can you use to weave a basket? Have you had success?