PINE NEEDLE BASKETRY:
Frequently Asked Questions

Pine needle basketry, at its most basic, is a coiling process of sewing—or stitching—continuous coils of material, called the foundation, together with a binding material that includes types of thread, raffia, sinew, cord, strips of plant material, horsehair, or even metal wire, usually threaded onto a needle. Some pine needle basketry is “stitched” using only the same pine needles as used for the foundation, and that specialized technique is known as “threadless.”

Coiling is different from other types of basketmaking that uses twining or weaving techniques. Coiling is one of the oldest forms of basketmaking in the world, used by almost every culture with the materials they have in their nearby environment, and in fact, some earliest pottery—believed to have come after coiled basketry—actually imitates the coils in this type of basketry. Today, many pine needle baskets are considered works of art, often found in museums or art galleries. A small pine needle bowl can take as many as 20 hours to create, depending upon the design or stitches used. Larger, more intricate baskets take around 40 hours to create, and the biggest baskets of all can take months or even years!

Besides baskets, bowls, trays, and other vessels, pine needle coiling lends itself well to amazing sculptural potential. Pine needles are still, in essence, “coiled” but take on freeform shapes that meander, intertwine with each other, and even enfold other objects like antler sheds.

Where I live in California, near Yosemite National Park, the best available pine trees that work for pine needle basketry include Ponderosa Pines (Pinus ponderosa), and Gray pines (Pinus sabiniana). Towards the west coast there are Coulter Pines (Pinus coulteri) aka Big-cone Pine), and Canary Island Pines (Pinus canariensis). When possible, I collect the needles available to me locally when they have fallen to the ground, or ideally, from downed tree branches before the needles hit the ground.

All of these pine needles are usable for basketry, but they are relatively much shorter than my all-time favorites, the Cadillacs of them all: Longleaf Pines (Pinus palustris), which is a species native to the Southeastern United States. These needles can reach lengths anywhere from 8 to 24 inches (20 cm to 61cm), and are often naturally pliable without any treatment. Since these needles are only found across the country from me, I purchase them green from various sellers who harvest them in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Yes! If the needles are green, they need to be dried before using them for basketry—which sometimes takes weeks, depending upon how fresh the needles are. Others need to be either rinsed or washed in mild dish soap to remove potential insects and animal droppings.

After the needles have dried, some are left in their natural state, some are treated with food-safe vegetable glycerin for pliability, some are dyed, and some are both dyed and glycerin-treated. The process involves simmering the needles in the various bath solutions for up to several hours, and then again laid out to dry for what may be several days, depending upon the environment.

I tend to primarily use needles with the caps (the fascicles or heads of the pine needles also called sheaths) removed, which takes about an hour per pound of needles to achieve. This enables smooth feeding of the needles as they are coiled in a basket piece, and eliminates uneven, bulky coils. Sometimes the caps are left intact and those needles are used as decorative elements that create interesting patterns on the outside of the coiled piece.

After the needles are prepped as above, they are bundled and rolled up in dish towels, like snug burritos. This protects the needles from breakage, and enables easier picking and feeding during coiling. Some folks stand their needles upright in things like Pringle chip cans, but I’ve found that method—the hard way—to be less stable.

Coiled pine needle baskets are always (except for some sculptural pieces) started from the center, and coiled outwards, like the helices that they are. Centers can be the traditional tightly-coiled pine needles themselves, or, just about anything else that has holes in them or around the edges with which to attach the pine needle coils. Centers without holes, such as cabochons, are also used with “harnesses” created around them, or mounted on leather and sewn through the leather to start.

The binding I most often use to stitch the coils together is a Brazilian waxed thread known by the brand name, Linhasita. I sometimes use waxed artificial sinew, or waxed Irish linen thread. Each type of binding creates a different overall look to a piece, depending on the thickness and color of the binding.

I was first introduced to the idea of pine needle baskets when I saw a tiny one made by a friend, although he had just passed away and obviously was unable to explain. Later, I attended a basket making class that introduced us to the three types of basketmaking: twining, weaving, and finally, on the last of three nights, coiling. I failed miserably and just didn’t “get” it at all! The teacher moved away, and, recalling my friend’s tiny pine needle basket, I was then determined to figure it out on my own, with the help of some YouTube videos that I found online, which then led to some books, then a very active Facebook group with members at all levels from beginning to decades-worth of experience. Thus, I am primarily self-taught after listening, reading, watching, and countless hours practicing the techniques.

I am open to custom-making baskets on request either like one you might see here in my portfolio (or already marked “Sold!” in the Shop), or one with ideas of your own. We would need to discuss your vision, your needs, and your timeline and how they might fit with what I am able to do, and, of course, a price. Please do not hesitate to contact me via the Contact form here on this website, and I’d be happy to go from there.

I suppose it does take patience, but, I‘ve found that for me, it is more meditative than ever boring or annoying or demanding of extraordinary patience. Fabricating a vessel or object with a design in mind, or even letting the basket take you on a journey of its own, is uniquely satisfying to me—especially when I’ve taken that very last stitch on a piece and am already thinking about the next one! With pine needles, the creative possibilities are endless—from utilitarian vases, trays, and bowls to wild sculptures and wall hangings—the art of pine needle basketry has the potential to go just about anywhere an artist wants, limited only by their imagination.

Once I got past the very beginner stage (which actually happens rather quickly if one is determined), I felt frustrated that all of the resources that I could find only reached a certain point just short of the many more intricate designs and pieces that I had suddenly discovered. I realized that there were lots of stitches beyond a few of the basic ones, and those, along with their various combinations were the missing link for me. As a graphic artist, I also realized that I could actually put a book together that illustrated and explained, step by step, those stitches beyond the basics for others like me. It would be the book I had searched for when I first “stepped into the world of pine needle basketry” as one reader said, and answer so many of the questions I remembered that I had had myself. Thus, the Stitch List was born—truly a labor of love and journey of its own that I think is a great resource for both beginners ready to move forward, and experienced veterans as a reminder or helpful reference for students in classes they may teach.

Sorry, but, I do not directly sell the book myself. It is currently only available on Amazon, at this link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B5N3SCM5

The price of the pine needle creations for sale on this website is determined by a number of factors, including size, materials used, type of center, number of colors—both pine needles and thread—embellishments, and number of hours it took to create. With a standardized pricing chart to calculate, the prices become a reflection of all of those variables, and then, I usually radically reduce them so they are within a reasonable expectation for the pieces of art that many are, as well as being utilitarian. As for my own hourly wage, there really isn’t one, because the pricing usually works out to less than $1/hour by the time most are finished—truly labors of love.

An anonymous well-said quote captures the essence of making and selling basketry, paraphrased here:

“When you buy something from an artist [or artisan] you’re buying more than an object. You’re buying hundreds of hours of experimentation. You’re buying years of frustration, perseverance, patient devotion, and exquisite moments of pure joy. You’re not buying just one thing, you are buying a piece of a heart, a piece of a soul… a small piece of someone else’s life.”

~Annonymous