Dating back to pre-Columbian times, pine-needle basketry was perfected by Native Americans over hundreds of years, but the process is simple enough to master over a rainy weekend indoors too. We can’t think of a better way to put those fragrant pine needles—that would otherwise end up in a garbage bag by the curb—to good use. Use your finished basket to store little odds and ends around the house—from buttons or paper clips to earrings or wrapped candies—or give to a loved one who will appreciate a good holiday craft. Click through for step-by-step instructions.
For this fall-winter craft, you’ll need long-leaf pine needles (large handful, approximately 100 to 200 needles, depending on how big you want your basket), a ¼-inch thick slice of black walnut (which you can buy at a craft store or on eBay), heavy-duty waxed or raffia thread, a sewing needle (thick, sharp point, large eye), and scissors.
Gather pine needles that measure anywhere from 6 to 15 inches. The shorter the needles, the longer it will take to make a basket, but if that’s all you have in your backyard, just make sure to budget out more time (and patience!).
Soak the pine needles in a pan of water for about 45 minutes. Remove and pat dry. Then, peel off the dark-colored caps from the pine needles by carefully scraping the shaft with your fingers. Take off as much as possible without breaking apart the bunch. You want to create a clean, smooth surface. Divide the pine needles into bunches on your work surface, with two or three strands in each pile.
Measure out an arm-length strand of thread and slip an inch or two through the eye of the needle. Start by making a knot with your thread through one of the holes in the walnut slice, which will serve as the beginning of your base. Then, anchor the end of the first bunch (of two or three pine needles) onto the shell and wrap securely with the thread. Continue wrapping the needles along the shell, stitching to hold the needles in place.
Note: This project will work without pre-soaking the pine needles, but they’ll be more brittle and harder to work with, especially at the start of your basket. If you don’t soak beforehand, expect some needles to snap as you make the first few passes around the walnut shell. Don’t worry: You can cover up the cracks with your thread or hide the splits as you add on the layers of needles.
Keep wrapping and stitching until you have about an inch of the first bunch of pine needles left. Now it’s time to add a second bunch. To do so, slip the caps of the new bunch under the remaining inch of needles and onto the base. Secure with thread and continue stitching your new length of pine needles. When you reach the end of your thread, tie off with a knot and restart the process where you left off with a new piece of arm-length of thread.
Repeat this process until you have a base that’s about 4 inches in diameter. (Just know that the larger the base, the longer it will take to complete the whole basket. Budget about five to six hours for a 4-inch diameter basket.) Take care to keep your work as even as possible so that the finished basket will sit flat on a surface.
To build up the walls of your basket, gradually stack each bunch of pine needles on top of each other, angling outward so you create a gentle bowl-shaped curve. Keep anchoring and stitching into place as you wrap the bunch around in a circular formation. Keep the thread nice and taut the whole time. Repeat the above steps, adding additional bunches of pine needles as your thread nears the end of the bunch you’re working on—just like you did with the base—and watch as your basket gets taller and taller.
Note: As you’re building your basket, choose pine needles with a natural curve and use them to your advantage. If they already match the shape of your basket curve, you won’t have to bend and shape them as much. This will make for a cleaner, smoother looking surface.
Stop adding extra needles as you stitch the last row of your basket. Begin to taper the coil down to a single layer of pine needles. Before you cut the thread, stitch backwards, crossing the thread over the last stitch and forming an X on top of the coil. To end off the thread, take the needle through the coil to the inside of the basket, cut, and tuck any loose ends into the coil. Trim off any loose ends of thread and pine needle with your scissors to give your basket a uniform finish.