Wednesday, November 4, 2009

11. Three Considerations for Faster, Easier Coiling Post 11.

Thanks to everyone who has been following along, and especially those who are leaving comments! It is much easier to have a series like this when there is participation from the readers.

The last post was about binder length. Thanks to Donna, Judy and Tony who told us about their methods. when this series is over, i would like to post my method for adding binder, more specifically, and perhaps it will help you Tony. To Donna, i must ask: how do you assure the knot is completely covered by the coil above? Is this calculated into the placement of the knot? Does this dictate the shaping of your basket? I am very interested in this method, as i have had many people tell me they use it...but i still cannot figure out how it is beneficial. I would love to watch you work sometime!

Now, about collecting and preparing pine needles....I have had many people tell me they spend a lot of time cleaning their pine needles before making a basket with them. Some wash in boiling water, soap or bleach, or all three. Some actually boil them. (One person told me they used PESTICIDE on their needles...which made me gasp...of course pesticide will stay there, and pesticide is that what you want on your basket, and on your hands as you make it???)I have never really understood this. If needles are removed from a prepared lawn, one without animal droppings, I believe they are as clean as they need to be. The same with a pristine wooded area. What, exactly, are you removing?

I would like to preserve as much of the natural oil in the pine needle as possible. Isn’t pine oil a comment ingredient in cleansers (aka PineSol?) As an organic material, pine fibers are subject to decomposition, but the naturally occurring oils combat premature breakdown, as well as attack by bugs. It is the pine tree's own genetically programmed protection. Don't we want to take advantage of that? Isn't this also where the wonderful smell of pine comes from? Boiling needles and subjecting them to harsh chemicals does nothing to stabilize the delicate fiber of the pine needle, and much to damage it.

I have never found little bugs in pine needles I pick up. I think pine needles are naturally very clean. It is very important, however, to first check for animal droppings, and even to ask the owner of the property: “do you have dogs?” If animals frequent the area, I would simply not collect there.

Freshly dropped needles have a wonderful honey brown color, and generally appear very clean. If needles you have found are spotty or have mildew growing on them, they are probably not fresh, have been laying on the ground for months, and would benefit from cleaning. Some spots on pine needles are the result of illness or disease in the tree, and there is not much you can do about that. If you have no choice but to use these needles, of course this will add to the preparation time of your basket.

I recommend looking for clean needles, as opposed to cleaning them every time. If you use bleach to clean your needles, use diluted bleach. Only a tablespoon for a gallon or two of water is fine. it is important that you then neutralize the bleach by rinsing in vinegar, and then very well in water. Ever heard of "acid free" environments that museum curators try to cultivate? Acid contributes to breakdown of materials...but base (the opposite of acid: alkali) does too. Bleach is a VERY strong base, and eats away at things too. If you don't neutralize the bleach, it continues to work...vinegar neutralizes bleach. If you use only as much vinegar as you did bleach, HOPEFULLY you neutralize it, not make it acid. But i would just as soon avoid messing with the pH of the needles all together.

If you suspect your needles harbor very tiny things you cannot see, like chiggers, alternatives to cleaning with water and bleach may be:
• Laying in the strong sunlight on screens for an extended period (turning regularly, assuring there is air circulating on all side, if possible)
• Freezing for a period of a month or more

Another way to get clean needles is to remove them green. I do not advocate removing them from a growing tree, as this could compromise the tree, making it sick or killing it. It takes more than one year for a pine needle to mature.

Sometimes storm-downed trees will render green needles. Lots of people cut trees down. When you see someone cutting down a longleaf pine tree, it pays to ask for a branch or two. Most of the time, they do not care that you want it. They usually don't want any part of the tree, not even the wood, as it is not very good for heating with. At right is the ditch bank in front of my house several years ago...the neighbors cutting two longleaf pines were very happy to have it all dumped in front of my house. After Lynn and I harvested all the needles, we had to haul it to the dump! Alot of work, but we had needles for a LONG time!

Needles that have been harvested directly from the tree rarely need cleaning, but will need to dry before use. If you do get green needles, make sure you spread or hang to dry. You notice the bundles above are only secured at the top, so they flare out, to allow for drying. If there is a place you can hang the whole branch, well, you have saved yourself a step...that works, too, but requires much more room.

The next post is about removing fascicles from pine needles…can you hold those thoughts until then? Thanks! Please comment on this post about collecting and preparing pine needles (except for removal of sheath ends. )


Donna in WA said...

Most of the pine needles that I get are ordered on line. However, I do live in an area where I have relatively easy access to ponderosa pine needles. But, I only gather them when I have the energy to go for a walk on the Howard's Way trail that follows the Yakima River. Since this trail is frequented by dog owners, I rarely will pick pine needles up from the ground. It's just hard to know if a dog's been marking or not.

But, the trees will usually have brown needles within easy reach and I don't have to bend over to get them. In the past, when I've had more endurance, I've been able to gather a plastic grocery sack full of brown needles which I've gotten from the trees.

I don't feel the need to clean, sanitize, or boil the pine needles that I gather.

Anonymous said...

As I was reading your thoughts today I heard singing in the background. It was Hallelujah. I agree 100% and tell my students to do what they must but if I wasted my time cleaning and boiling I would never get a basket made. The only time I wash my needles are if they are sandy and then its just to rinse them. I also agree fresh needles are the best but we are so lucky to be able to get needles year round here in Florida. I use sinew to stitch my baskets and like the nice sheen the wax puts on the needles as I do not add a finish on my baskets. Ruth Anne, Zephyrhills Fl

Carol said...

I don't clean my needles either, I gather in my yard and they have just dropped when I gather.

I am a raffia coiler, by preference, I learned with raffia and have a hard time adjusting to using another binder. I have tried, but go back to raffia-so, using raffia I add to my binder more than if I were using threads.
I also use a knot. When my binder starts to get short I put the needle back up through the middle of the stitch I am working on, so the raffia come out the top in the middle of the stitch, add the new binder pull until I have about an inch of free raffia and tie a small square knot and tug the knot down inside the coil to hold it. lay the tails on top the coil, complete the stitch I was working on,make a few stitches and cut any remaining tails from with in my coil. The knot is invisible, doesn't move, you will never find it and you will not see any variation in the size or shape of my coil.
I have been coiling for roughly 20 some odd years, old habits are hard to break!

Trek Across America said...

I seldom clean the needles but I do prefer working with them slightly damp. I also usually decap them so I can insert the whole three needle group into the coil. These steps do necessitate soaking them in water but I seldom see any dirt left in the water so presume they are usually clean. When they are just damp-almost dry-I just throw them in a bag and put them in the freezer. Keeps them nice and straight and pliable for a month or so. --Earl

J. Anthony Stubblefield said...

I have always gathered my needles right off the top of the grass/lawn so assume the are about as clean as they are going to be. If I was concerned about bugs I would put them in the freezer too, though I have never seen any bugs in my box of needles. I have never thought about dogs or other animals piddling on the needles. I think ignorance is bliss as far as this is concerned! If there were any animal droppings I would just avoid the general vicinity.

I do agree that getting them off a branch is the easiest. One of the times I was collecting a branch had fallen some time before so the needles were already dry. I could pull off whole hand fulls already neatly aligned and ready to be bundled. It was soooooo much faster than my usual method of picking them up one or two at a time off the ground.

Pam, yes do post about adding binder. One of the other commentors described how they did it and I think I finally get it or at least have an idea of how I am going to try it next time. Isn't it fun when light bulb finally goes off in your head?


J.R. said...

I am so glad that you started these posts, Pamela! I am a new weaver, and I've just begun learning how to coil. I've been weaving Appalachian and Ozark-style baskets for some time now, but I've always wanted to learn coiling. I bought Joyce Shannon's pamphlet "How to Make Coiled Baskets" after reading your review of it, but it's on back order right now. I'm waiting with great anticipation!

We don't have the long leaf pines in our area, but we have several of the shorter leaf varieties in Arkansas. Can the shorter needles be used for smaller baskets?

jac138 said...

Since we live in Florida, and believe me there are plenty of mice, rats, and other rodents running around, we prefer to clean our needles. Also on some needles I have picked up, they do have bugs that have eaten the shaft under the fascicle. For us, we feel it prudent to clean the pine needles especially if we are making a basket that might be used near food.
Judy Cellars - Basket Babes