Tuesday, October 20, 2009

6. Three Considerations for Faster, Easier Coiling Post 6.

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.)


Vincent said...

I live in the Santa Rosa Mountains of Southern California and we haven't seen "real" rain for nearly a year so the pine needles are bone dry. I collect mostly Jeffrey and Coulter Pine needles which are so brittle that sometimes just sorting them cracks them in half. I have to soak them for 15 to 30 minutes in boiling water. I do pull the binder very tight and the coiling doesn't loosen upon drying. I don't use any final finish. Our summertime humidity is usually between 4 and 12 percent.


Vincent said...

Ethel and her sister Lucy were my favorite chickens. They were Cochin breed which are a very docile and calm and a very large breed. They didn't mind being held or petted and were also good egg layers. Unfortunately one day I went out to feed them and they were missing along with 8 other hens and two terrestrial Crested Ducks. As you can see in the picture Ethel liked to watch me coil, though she had a very short attention span. Never did figure what happened to the whole flock.

J. Anthony Stubblefield said...

The only time I wet my needles (Pam, you can probably tell me what kind they are since they come from your neck of the woods) is when I very first start. I just use up the small amount I soaked (in hot tap water) then proceed with all completely dry needles. I really don't have an issue with breakage, but I am making "average" sized baskets with no tight turns. Even the top opening starts getting really small and tight I don't worry about breakage because by that point my stitches have gotten really close together so each stitch represents only a tiny bend.

Thanks so much for the link to my blog post too!


J. Anthony Stubblefield said...

Oh, I also have never used shellac or other "finished". I have wanted to try waxing a basket though. Maybe I will have to try that with this latest basket I am working on and stitching with waxed linen. I have used a hair dryer on a finished basket stitched with waxed linen so "brighten" up the stitching. That is a trick I use on my waxed linen knotted baskets too.


Annejala said...

I was taught to soak my pine needles when I learned to coil baskets. All the books I have read also suggested soaking the pine needles. Thanks to the pine needle group I found out that you should only soak the first few inches to get the basket started then you should switch to dry needles. I do know that my first basket was definitely loose because it was done with wet pine needles. That was many years ago. I like working with the dry needles the best. Thanks...Annejala

Anonymous said...

I always work with wet needles unless I am working on a large, round shape. I soak my needles overnight in a plastic wallpaper tray and only try to soak enough to use the following day. I use longleaf pine needles that are either natural or that I have dyed and painted. I feel the secret to tight baskets is the tightness of the stitches, not whether the needles are dry or wet. I stitch with waxed linen, telephone wire, copper or brass wire and produce very tight baskets that I then preserve with a light coating of beeswax. This process has worked for me for almost 33 years.--Clay in Columbia, SC

Patti said...

Thank you, Pamela, for this lovely "refresher" course and new slant on techniques. I found your comments helpful from the point of view of an experienced coiler as well as for beginners!