How long will a pine needle basket last? At a craft fair in 2014 I was approached by a wonderful woman whose grandmother used to make pine needle baskets. Two of the pieces, a trivet and a napkin holder, needed a bit of repair. Could I do it? We estimated that the pieces were between 40 and 50 years old!
They were beautifully coiled with raffia and finished with shellac. I don’t usually work in raffia, but I was eager to learn. It took me a lot of experimentation to “age” my raffia so that it would match. The biggest challenge I found, though, was that the old raffia cracked easily, which may have been due to the drying effect of the shellac. I was able to repair both pieces, though, and we were both pleased with the finished result.
I am confident that these family heirlooms can now pass to another generation.
From this experiment I learned that I don’t want to coat my baskets in shellac. I doubt that beeswax would cause the same cracking problem, so if I want them to have a coating at all, it will be beeswax. Also, I definitely prefer working with waxed linen thread over raffia! The traditional look of raffia is beautiful, and it offers possibilities for splitting stitches that linen doesn’t. However, I love the strength and reliability of waxed linen thread. It is a lot more expensive, but I think it is worth it.
A month ago, my mother discovered this basket in her attic. She thinks it belonged to her mother, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it is more like 70-80 years old. It was also coiled with raffia, but doesn’t appear to have been treated with shellac. This one will be a big challenge, and since the base is rotting cardboard, I am thinking of making more of a tribute to the original rather than truly refurbishing the basket.
Seeing these pieces definitely gives me confidence that my baskets can last a long time, and hopefully, someone will find one in their attic at some point and say, “Wow! My grandmother made this 80 years ago!”