Coiling, a century’s old art dating back to early Indian & African cultures, is an extremely time intensive undertaking. Even the smallest basket takes many hours to complete. Depending on the size, design & stitching others can easily exceed 50 hours or more.
The process begins with gathering needles from long needle pine trees. In central Virginia, this is no easy task as long needle pine trees are not abundant, having been over-harvested for many decades for use in the shipping and naval stores industries. Once a tree is located, it becomes a bounty of resources for making baskets. The needles fall from the trees primarily in the fall months. So, the gathering process is most productive during that time. If the location allows, I will rake the needles gently into piles that can be picked up and carefully placed in long boxes for the journey back home. Then begins the long, tedious job of “sorting” the needles so the capped ends are all together. During this process, I also discard broken or bent needles. Just recently, I had a rare opportunity to harvest green needles from one of my source trees that, sadly, was cut down to make way for a new cluster of homes. I am thankful for the opportunity to have secured such a bounty of needles, but saddened to lose a stately 50-year old long needle pine.
Once the needles are sorted, they are rinsed, allowed to dry thoroughly and then bundled or bagged for storage for later use. Depending on the project, the needles may be dyed and/or painted or used in their natural state. Another possible treatment for the needles is to give them a slow-cook glycerin bath which turns the needles a deep, dark brown color and makes them extremely flexible. After the treatments are completed, the needles are again left to dry thoroughly. Finally, the needles are ready to “coil” into a finished vessel. They are stitched together using various binders such as waxed linen threads, waxed sinews or even raffia. Often other embellishments may be incorporated such as unique centers, beads, wires, and various “found” objects. Finished vessels may be treated with beeswax to help preserve & protect it.
Rarely do I “plan” what a vessel will look like other than the choice of colors and the general shape….round, oval, or sculptural. My inspiration comes from immersing myself in each stitch, marveling as a beautiful vessel emerges – unplanned – from simple pine needles, threads and my imagination.