Sunday, November 18, 2012

Another Craft? Just What I Need!

Oh, boy...something new to learn and kinda fun, until you start having trouble...Pine needle basket making! I saw a lady down our street at the RV park making baskets and just had to stop. Her name was Carol Moore, and she had some beautiful baskets in the works in front of her. She offered to teach me how to make one for a small fee for the materials. I said sure, and sat down to learn....She gave me a small kit that had some Coats Red cotton for lacing the needles, a piece of copper tubing that her  husband had flared at one end, which is your gauge to know how many needles to gather at one time, an upholstery needle for sewing, and some pine needles. That's really all you need to get started: LONG pine needles 10-18" long, an upholstery needle, a certain type of twisted nylon thread, or waxed thick thread, or even artificial sinew, a gauge to thread bundles of needles through and a base with holes to start the bottom of the basket. You can use a drinking straw for your gauge if you want to. The gauge helps keep the bundles of needles at a consistent circumference as you wind them around to make your basket.

Carol had the coolest bases for her baskets...circular sections of wood which have predrilled holes in them, agates which her husband coated with rosin and then drilled holes all around the edge and leather pieces which had been etched with designs....She got me started with a simple wooden base....I started stitching. It looked fairly easy. She recommended a book that is VERY clear and well written to get started making baskets, so I ordered it. It's called Pine Needle Basketry and it's by Judy Mallow. Judy has supplies on the Prim Pines website...Carol says that her prices are very reasonable.

I went home and thought, I can do this! It looked easy. HA! But it wasn't. There's a real trick to feeding your pine needles through the gauge. You have to feed them through the center of the previous bunch of needles, and you are supposed to insert them just halfway through to the center of the gauge.  It's hard to tell where the needles are in the center of a copper gauge. You also have to keep feeding needles through the gauge before you run out of needles and they all stop at once, giving you a bunch of ends. Then it's hard to start another bunch of needles. (Ask me how I know.) It's hard to know where the center of the  copper gauge is, so I kept shoving needles through the gauge too far which ended up being too close to the open end of the gauge. After stitching awhile, the needles seemed to all stop at once, and I was having bunches of ends sticking out. Trying to stitch those down, I got really frustrated.  Way too many pokey ends sticking out!

The other hard part is the actual stitching. There seem to be two basic styles of stitching the bundles of needles as you go along. Once is sort of a straight stitch from the back side to the front side, and you just keep "wrapping" the needle bundles catching part of the row below as you go. The other way is to stitch diagonally from the BACK left side of your previous stitch coming forward and through the pine needles to the RIGHT and front of the previous stitch row. It's a much more slanted stitch, but makes for a prettier up and down lacing look to the basket. You'll have to either get a book or watch a Youtube video for how the stitching is done. I'm still trying to figure it out! Carol has been making baskets for over 15 years and her stitching is wonderful!

I ended up trying to take out the stitches and start over. I had made so many "extra" stitches to secure all my loose pine needle ends that it was no simple matter to pull the needles out and use them again. I ended up cutting through the needles with a pair of wire cutters and scrapping the whole thing. Now I have to go get more needles to make a basket. It takes a LOT of needles to make a 6" basket.  But I'm determined to try again.  It's also not easy to find really long needles..The best ones are 12" and longer. They are called appropriately enough, "long needle pines". There are LOTS of long needles in Gulf State Park, but not 12" and longer. Long needle pines for basket weaving are also found in Missouri, Mississippi and Florida. 

The cool thing about pine needle baskets, is all the neat bases and nuts you can use to decorate your baskets as you go...Hickory nuts and walnuts seem to be favorite accent pieces on the baskets. Agates are another popular bottom for the baskets. I am so disappointed I didn't get some agates back at the Diamond Caverns gift shop when we were there. But the agates have to be dipped in some kind of rosin to be able to drill holes in them before using them as a base. Oh, well...I'm sure I will find some on our travels this year....The leather bases with designs burned into them were cool, too....Here's one Carol has started using a leather base.

I am inspired and I am going to try and keep learning how to do this...We leave in a week, and I want to try and get my first basket made with Carol's help before leaving and having to do it on my own....Wish me luck! Hopefully, next time, I'll have a photo of a finished basket I've made--or not!  Sigh.......

1 comment:

  1. I have a friend who makes those pine needle baskets - she did it for years and made beautiful baskets that she would sell at Christmas Fairs. Her fingers were usually pretty beat up by Christmas from being stuck by pine needles. She made some good money. She would go on pine needle hunts to find the good long ones. It sure looked like hard work to me. I hope you get the hang of it. :)