Selecting and Using Pine Needles for Basket Making

Starting My Second Basket--Not Perfect But Part-And-Parcel of The Learning Curve

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Pine trees are abundant in North America and perhaps it's not surprising that the sturdy needles have been used for centuries to make any number of items ranging from baskets to trays and platters, from charming Christmas tree decorations to wreaths, from decorative clothing to jewelry items. The needles lend such a distinctive look to whatever a crafter chooses to make.

Pine trees shed their needles each year providing an unlimited supply of raw material. But there are different trees and different needles and length of needles can vary greatly.

One of the most common uses for the needles is to use them to create containers. This undertaking goes back centuries to pre-Columbian times and Native Americans who used the needles to make baskets. Fortunately, these coiling techniques have been passed down for posterity, and modern crafters have added their own ideas into the mix.

Pine needle baskets are unique-looking and as such, are sought after by collectors. In recent years, cottage-type businesses have sprung up offering a variety of wonderful handcrafted baskets.

Others don't choose to buy baskets, they would like to learn how to make their own. If you have ever considered trying your hand at pine needle basket making, you may have had a number of questions about finding and using pine needles.

In this second article, I'll go over this, as well as sharing photos of my journey with my second basket. (I gathered the needles from a local park.) By the time you finish reading, you will have a much better idea as to how to get started. I hope that by sharing my photos of what I'm doing and including insights from others will inspire you.

Pine Needles Range in Length

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Questions

 
Which needles should be used for basket making?
When is the best time to gather needles?
How should needles be cleaned?
Can they be used right away?
How should needles be stored?
How are needles softened?

Is it Long Enough?

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Fast Fact

Needles from the same tree can vary in length.

Type of Needles

All needles are not created equal, so it's a good idea to have an idea of the type of needle you wish to use before getting started. Needles are selected based on length, width, and also, may be chosen based on what's available in your location. While needles can be purchased, this can become expensive, so if you can find needles in your area, this may be preferable.

Some trees produce produce a 6-inch needle, but some of these can be on the skinny side. Others produce needles that reach 12 inches in length. Some trees offer longer needles still. Trees considered ideal for pine-needle crafting are Ponderosa Pine and Longleaf Pine, Longleaf pine trees were traditionally relied on because needles could grow to impressive lengths.

Longer pine needles are generally preferred because they are considered easier to work with and one doesn't have to sew in as many needles. Smaller needles from other pine tree varieties may still be used, however. This might apply if you only have access to shorter needles but still want to make baskets from what is available locally.

Ideally, pine needles should be about 5-8" long.

Ponderosa Pine Needles

Longer needles are good raw material for crafting
Longer needles are good raw material for crafting | Source

At a Glance

Tree
Needle Length
Area
Jeffrey Pine
5-10"
South Oregon, California, Nevada
Ponderosa Pine
5-10"
B.C.,South Dakota, Nebraska, Mexico
Coulter Pine
10"
California
Digger Pine
8-12"
California
Canary Island Pine
9-12"
Southern California, Canary Island
Montezuma Pine
15"
California, Mexico
Longleaf Pine
8-18"
Southern Virginia, Florida, Mississippi.

Longleaf Pine

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Pine Trees in Other Areas

There are an untold number of pine trees that grow in countries beyond Canada and the Unites States that offer suitable needles. For the purposes of this article, I've listed trees commonly found in Canada and the United States and a little further southward. If you live further afield, it may be an idea to find out which trees in your area would be suitable for basket making.

Best Time to Gather Needles

Pine needles should be gathered in the fall, when the trees have shed them. The best needles are found in undisturbed areas or under trees.

If gathering pine needles in a public park, ensure that needles are not on or near walkways. Needles from these areas may have been stepped on and broken.

Needles can be gathered while still green, or brown needles can be removed from stems and branches. It is preferable to collect a generous supply of needles to allow for discards (needles that are broken, are too small, are missing one needle or are simply too fragile).

Needles, with their pointed ends can be sharp, so caution is warranted when collecting them.

Cleaning & Drying Needles

Pine needles should be placed in warm water and the water gently swirled to remove any dirt and debris. It is important to handle needles gently, so that they don't snap. Rinse needles a couple of times until water runs clear.

Some basket makers soak their pine needles in warm soapy water to further clean them or add bleach to counter black spots. (If bleach has been used, make sure that needles are rinsed well, prior to handling them).

Needles can be laid out on a towel to air-dry. Sun-dry needles for a bleached look; shade-dry needles to retain greenish color.

Storing

If you've opted to store your needles, these can be laid flat in a rectangular container or sorted to length and tied in bundles. The idea is to store them in such a way that retrieving needles doesn't cause breakage. A jumble of needles in a bag isn't the best scenario.

Can Needles be Used Immediately?

While many crafters prefer to gather their needles, prepare them ahead of time, and store them, others might wish to get started right away. If you have collected your needles and are ready to start on a basket, simply clean them and then soak your needles in boiling water and let them sit for about half an hour. They will be pliable and ready to use.

Once Needles Are Softened, They Can be Coiled and Sewn

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Working Smarter

Preparing your needles ahead of time means you have a supply of cleaned needles ready for your next project.

Softening Pine Needles

If you've opted to store your cleaned needles, you cannot simply grab up some needles and start coiling them.They need to be softened first, so that they bend instead of snap. What can you do to soften them when you are ready to use them?

Pine needles can be softened by placing them in warm water for about 20-30 minutes. A large handled bucket works well for this purpose.

Once you've finished coiling and sewing and need to stop work on your basket, what to do if you have leftover needles? These may be left in the water for a day or two and can be used to continue working on your basket. Avoid leaving needles in water for long spells to guard against breakdown of needles.

A Peek at My Second Basket

I felt far more confident while working on my second basket. I winkled out some of the challenges I'd had with my first basket and know now how to make the sides much firmer.

Ooh! I'm Liking the Look of This!

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Beads

As can be seen, I added beads to this basket, just as I did with the first one. One of the most satisfying and rewarding parts of making pine needles baskets is adding your own decorative elements, which help to make your baskets truly unique.

Experimenting With Stitches and Beads--and I'm Starting to Feel Like a "Real" Basket Maker

Basket Bottom
Basket Bottom | Source

A Long Way to Go

I've got a long way to go to finish this basket but I'm excited about the size. After making my first smaller basket, I felt confident enough to try for a larger basket. I plan to line this basket with some type of fabric to "tidy it up." I've seen fabric-lined pine needle baskets and inner linings help to truly finish them, plus add to their charm.

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Did You Know?

Interlocking your stitches is another way of ensuring that your basket holds together.

Stitches Strengthen Basket

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Deciding on a Stitch Style

While the pine needles themselves are part of the allure of these unique-looking baskets, some crafters incorporate wonderful-looking stitches, which, as they work their way up basket sides, form into interesting-looking spirals and patterns.

For my first two baskets, and as can be seen in my two articles, I didn't get too fancy with stitches because I wanted to get a feel for working with pine needles and gain confidence with using them before moving on to specific and more complicated stitch patterns. The key here is to have fun and experiment. You don't have to get it perfect right out of the starting gate. As I mentioned in my first article, it's a good idea to make one or two tester baskets. These can be used to troubleshoot, to practice, and to hone your skills.

It's a good idea to start out with a small project. This way, if something goes wrong or you later wish you'd done something differently, you won't feel as frustrated over the time you invested.

To achieve the best results, it is well worth investing in an instructional booklet, so as to fill any gaps in your knowledge, rather than guessing at it, and perhaps wasting much time before you create a basket you are truly happy about.

Learning the different stitches also opens a world of opportunity and can help you to refine your basket making and take it to the next level, so you ultimately create eye-catching works of art you can feel proud of. Stitch designs, of themselves, can look truly captivating and are an important part of the overall look of pine needle baskets.

As you work on your first basket or two, you will discover things you never thought of. A good instructional booklet will also offer suggestions and trouble-shooting and help you create a better finished product.

Skill Development

Truly, you can't have one without the other. In this case, you will need to combine book learning with hands-on. The two will help you to become a much better basket maker.

Ready to Get Started?

  1. Go out and collect a good supply of needles.
  2. Plan to experiment with your first basket to get a feel for preparing and working with needles.
  3. Make sure you read my first hub (link in the sidebar) to avoid a mistake that I made that ruined my first basket and will ruin yours.
  4. Consider if you want to add extras to your early baskets, such as beads, feathers, crystals, shells, small round pine cones or acorns.
  5. Decide whether you will line your basket and what fabric you might use, such as the sticky cloth one can buy for drawer liners or felt or velvet.
  6. Pick up a book on pine needle basket making and decide on a stitch pattern.
  7. If possible, attend a some classes or workshops or a local group.

Tips and Insights

Always be willing to learn and make that part of your journey. Learning can be exciting as you discover different and sometimes easier or more effective ways to do things. While you'll find your own comfortable groove when making your baskets, continue reading all you can. Attending classes and workshops can be fun and you may make lifelong friends with fellow enthusiasts.

© 2013 Athlyn Green

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Comments 4 comments

randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 3 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I had no idea that there was so much to learn about this subject. Thanks for the comprehensive resource!


Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green 3 years ago from West Kootenays Author

I'm still working on it, as it is a larger basket.


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Brilliant work of art here a unique and well advised. The basket is so lovely.


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

This is amazing and so creative! I have seen these baskets in the handicrafts market. Can not imagine making this at home.

Wonderful hub! Thanks for sharing.

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