There is something magical about pine needle basketry. Every needle becomes an important individual as it is carefully collected, sorted and dried before lovingly added to a basket.
Basketry, one of the oldest arts, dates back some 9,000 years. The American Indians used over one hundred different natural materials in the area which they determined the materials available for use in their baskets.
Historical references do not indicate a wide use of pine needle in the basketry of the American Indian. However, because of the availability of pine needles, the Seminole Indians of South Florida are thought to be the first pine needle basket weavers. The needles were used in bundles and sewn together with fern roots, swamp grass and sisal using bone or shell needle or awl.
Modern day use of pine needles in basketry may have begun during the Civil War (1861-1865) when Mrs. M. MacAfee of Southern Georgia used pine needles with cotton thread to replace a worn hat for her father. She claimed to be the originator of pine needle basketry as we know it today, but others have laid claim to their distinction.
Raffia, from the Raffia Palm in Madagascar, soon replaced cotton thread as a binder. Following the Civil War, women began making pine needle baskets, trays, purses, pine cushions, hats, desk caddies and lamp shades. Classes were taught, several “how to” books were written and the distinct American pine needle basketry form was on its way.
Today, baskets are made with artificial sinew, raffia, or waxed linen thread.
By Maurice Williams, Long Leaf Pine Needle Basket Art Maker