This is how I make the baskets.
First, I have to collect the pine needles. I am lucky enough to access to a Long-Leaf Southern Pine tree right here in La Plata. This is very unusual because their normal habitat is Southern Virginia and south. They are very abundant in South Carolina and Florida.
The needles have to be collected one by one to make sure to I get only straight, clean needles without mold. It is very time consuming. I have tried raking them up into a bag and taking them home to sort, but that was a disaster! I ended up with a tangled pile of broken, crooked needles. The pine needles fall off the tree in large amounts in the fall, so this is the best time to collect. Pulling the green needles off is a bad idea since it damages the tree. When I am unable to collect enough, or need some at other times of the year, I order them from Florida or South Carolina where creative entrepreneurs have found a way to get rid of their yard waste and make money! I recently stopped on my way to Savannah and purchased 6 pounds of needles out of the back of a pickup truck!
After I have collected a box full, I take them home and soak them in boiling water to kill bugs and mold and remove sap. Then I lay them out to dry in the sun. They can’t be stored damp or will grow more mold. Needles that were not fully dried when first collected need to be dried for days or weeks.
The needles can be used in their natural state, or sometimes I dye them or treat them with glycerin. Pine needles don’t pick up dye very well, so the dying process is lengthy, and the color of the result is not always predictable! Treating the needles in glycerin makes them more flexible and also a darker brown. Most often the woody “cap” of the pine needles is removed before use by snapping it or scraping it off. Sometimes the caps are left on as an embellishment.
The start of a basket is always exciting because I never know how it will turn out. I generally start with a plan, but I frequently have to alter that plan as I go along. I usually begin by looking through my centers, threads, and beads to choose a new combination. When I am out shopping, I am always on the lookout for new items to use as centers or embellishments.
I choose a center such as a walnut slice or an agate set in resin, or I just start by wrapping the needles. The start of a basket requires concentration and patience. It is slow and can be frustrating when needles break or refuse to bend to my will! Once the center is established though, the slow but relaxing coiling process takes over. A small basket will take about 6-8 hours over the course of a week, depending on the stitching techniques used and the embellishments. Larger baskets and free-form designs take several weeks or a month to complete. I like to have a basket in process all the time so that whenever I want to sit still for a while, I have something to work on. My first baskets were frequently completed while I waited for my son at flag football practice.
Once the basket is complete, I may decide to coat it with beeswax. Beeswax makes the basket firm and helps to protect delicate needle caps. On the other hand, it darkens the color and limits flexibility, so I use it for some baskets and not others. The waxing process is a bit scary since the beautiful basket is first made ugly by painting it in wax.
Then it is “cooked” in a warm oven to melt the wax into the needles.
It is always a relief to take it out of the oven and see the final result!