Thanks to Annejala and Tony, who made some great positive comments yesterday! I loved hearing about both your coiling experiences, what did and did not work for you. Don’t miss Tony’s blogpost about his coiling at http://jaskets.blogspot.com/2009/10/contemporary-pine-needle-basket.html
Now to the nitty gritty. The last of the three things I want you to consider. They are your habits. Again, you will have to have an open mind. Some of these things you may have believed were required to coil…so sorry…not.
Do you use wet needles? Why? The only reason I ever used wet pine needles is that I want to turn some very close corners, where dry ones will break.
Wet needles hold a great deal of moisture. The moisture in the core also is picked up by the binder, and this makes the binder more fragile. As the basket dries, the pine needles shrink away from the binder, and the coils are loose. Many basketmakers combat this by using a “finish,” such as shellac or polyurethane, to try to stabilize the basket after it is thoroughly dry. This is somewhat effective, but does not make the coils truly immobile. Over the years, the fine glass-like shellac coating stresses and ages. In places, it breaks away, and the binder is loose from the coils. When the coils begin to rub against the binder, the sharp edges of the individual pine needles are just like little saws, and they shred away at the edges of the binder. This is what has happened to many of the very old raffia-bound pine needle baskets you see in antique shops. You will notice that most of the time, damage is where the raffia has broken away.
If you live in a dry climate, or your pine needles are very stiff (coulter, for instance,) you MUST use dampened needles. If you must use wet needles, try to use as little moisture as possible. Instead of soaking in boiling water, try wrapping in a moist towel until the level of flexibility REQUIRED BY THE PROJECT is reached. Some projects require more flexibility than others, and this means reasoned assessment every time. Another alternative might be to soak only the first 2-4 inches of the pine needles in water. It will take time and patience to discover the MINIMUM moisture level required, but this effort is well worth the trouble. As with anything else, experience is key, and only you can discover what works for each project.
If you must use a “finish” consider wax, which not sharp and does not become brittle with age. If a basket you have finished with wax becomes overly dusty or dull, placing it in the sunlight or applying a little heat to the surface for a few minutes (with a hair dryer or placing near a heat vent,) and then brush with a soft toothbrush or boar hair bristle brush. This will remove surface dust, and deliver a soft sheen to the wax finish.
Coil with as dry needles as possible, all the time.
If you live in a dry, arid environment, you will need to experiment with this a great deal. Especially if you are using needles like Ponderosa or Coulter, which are sturdy, stiff, and tend to be brittle.
If you live in a humid environment, like the southeastern US, you may find longleaf pine needles require no added moisture for almost all applications.
If you travel to a new place, or try new needles, you may need to change whatever your regular method is.
Many people swear by glycerinized needles,(instructions for glycerinizing) which are moist and bendable.
I would love to hear about your experience with moist/dry materials, please leave a positive comment here for everyone to read! Thanks
The next blogpost will continue with habits, specifically gages.
(as an aside, all of the images used in this blog were given to the Pine Needle Group and permission given to use on site. If one of these photos is YOU and you do not want your image used any longer, please just let me know. On this page is: Vincent and Ethel, D. Fritz basket repair, Gloria Jones, Leigh Adams.)
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