Putting All Your Needles Into One Basket

By Alice French – Education and Outreach Coordinator

It’s American Craft Week and Saturday Oct 6 we had a full house of makers at Menokin to learn the craft of Pine Needle Basketry with historic educator, Wisteria Perry. She gave us an overview of the history of Longleaf Pines and then taught us how to make baskets with the needles which fall to the ground.

A few facts to note about the Longleaf:

Longleaf Pine Cone
  • It is one of nine native species in the Commonwealth of VA. Historically they were found from Florida to Virginia and as far west as Texas. 500 years ago the Longleaf pine tree was one of the most prevalent species in southeastern Virginia. When John Smith and Christopher Newport arrived in Jamestown in 1607, there were more Longleaf than Loblolly pines. Longleaf became known as the “tree that built Tidewater”.
  • By 1907, 5.5 million acres of Longleaf were logged per year. In 1932, the Civilian Conservation Corps set up camps under the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt. This group was responsible for planting trees and building parks, but they replaced the slow growing Longleaf with Loblolly in heavily logged areas. By 2005, just 200 Longleaf pine trees were left.
  • Recognizing the economic and environmental benefit, landowners are now planting these pines instead of Loblollies. They are resistant to a variety of insects, saltier water, and ice, and benefit many endangered species by providing a long term habitat. These trees grow to 100 feet and don’t begin to mature (make their first pine cones) for 30 years.
  • The Nature Conservancy, The Mariners Museum, and Newport News Shipbuilding are partnering to build a 550 acre forest, and naming each tree planted after a ship or submarine, in honor of the ship building heritage!

Our class was held inside the Visitor Center with a back drop of a Menokin fireplace mantel, believed to have been originally carved from Longleaf pine, almost 250 years ago.

Menokin Visitor’s Center transformed into a classroom

Before everyone arrived, we soaked the needles in some warm water for about an hour, to soften the first bunch for the tightest part of the coil.

For the baskets, we were a little slow getting started, but once you get a hang of it, it’s smooth sailing! All you need are some long leaf pine needles, or really any pine, some waxed thread or raffia, an upholstery sewing needle with a very large eye, (#22)…and a little patience. Wisteria encouraged us along.

Our Makers all left feeling confident with their newly learned skills and a bunch of pine needles to continue their project.

Look for more makers workshop at Menokin in 2019!

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