Old Pine Needle Baskets

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!”