Friday, February 28, 2014

My Inspiration for Learning Pine Needle Basketry and a Glycerin Bath Recipe to Preserve and Darken the Needles

Pine Needle Basket made by Melissa Abbott
with Glycerin Preserved Needles


This Pine Needle & Tennerife Mattapoisett Purse created in 1970’s by Helen Gastar became my inspiration to learn Pine Needle Basketry. Helen Gastar's daughter, Geri, was my friend and I visited their home and saw Helen making this basket many years ago. It always stayed with me and I am sure you can see why.
Helen Gastar's Mattapoisett Basket 

I have always loved Pine Trees especially the scent at Christmas Time when Evergreen Trees are brought into the home. There is a certain something, a mysterious wonder the scent conjures up. Several years ago, I went to visit an old friend on Cape Cod. She lives on the edge of a Pine Woods and we walked our dogs amongst the lovely Pine Trees there. We remembered her mother who had made Pine Needle Baskets and she even had inherited a beautiful basket her mother had made and showed it to me. I was mesmorized by it. In fact I had visited her many years before in Mattapoisett, MA when she was making it. The basket was as hard as wood but light as a feather. This is where the intrigue of the Pine Needle Basket started for me and I eventually learned techniques to make my own baskets.

 Depending on where you live, Long Leaf Pine Needles may be growing near your home. This tree is available throughout the southern United States from Virginia to Gulf of Mexico. The botanical name is Pinus Palustris. In other parts of North America there are other versions of a long leaf pine needle. Many people use Tory Pine, Canary Island, and Guatamalan varieties with success. If you are not able to find them locally you can buy them on the internet from basket suppliers, Etsy sellers, and Ebay. When I first made a Pine Needle Basket, I bought a lb. of Tory Needles on Ebay and they worked wonderfully. After my initial trials, I started collecting needles locally and in my travels. 

At first, I just picked up any old pine needle I found on the ground. I would see a copse of trees by a roadside, pull over, and scoop up what I could under the trees. I soon discovered that a lot of these needles had been laying around for a long time, perhaps even years. Not only were they very dirty, they also had mildew, and even bugs. I decided that I only wanted the freshest needles and I started looking in parks and parking lots where the lawn was often mowed under the trees. 
A Bundle of Needles
 picked up individually
off the ground
with discrimination.

I also discovered that needles fell off the trees after wind storms and if had been particularly windy, it was a good time to look for needles. I found a large park with many Long Leaf Pine Trees on the perimeter. I looked for Pine cones on the ground and where there are pine cones, there are usually pine needles. The freshest needles have a nice new look about them. I started looking for these type of needles exclusively and it made a different using this type of discrimination in my selections.
I dry my needles on Newspapers
The Best time to gather needles is in the Fall
You can, though, gather them anytime of year green and allow them to cure outside in the sun for at least two weeks until they turn a golden brown. You can collect boughs and hang them from a line or fence so as not to touch the ground.
The color of the needles can range from a light tan to a deep walnut color.
If you live in the Northern Climates where the pine needles are shorter you can use them with success but you will have to use lots of them.
After you find your Pine Needles, there are a few things you can do to improve and preserve them. You can put them in the sink and pour boiling hot water over them and a squirt of Dawn Dishwashing liquid. This kills any bugs and washes off any dirt of residual grime from the ground or environment.
Wash in Plenty
of Hot Water and Dawn
when you get home
If you want to dye them, you can use RIT Dye at this point too and many interesting colors can be used. 
Another way to preserve them is to give them a Glycerin Bath which renders them very flexible and preserves them well. I know some people add the RITT Dye to the Glycerin Bath too.

Recipe for Glycerin Bake
Ingredients Needed:
1 16 oz. Pure Vegetable Glycerine
2+ cups of water
Roasting Pan 
(Disposable Aluminum Pans work great)
Pour 2 cups glycerin over pine needles then add 2 cups+ of water, enough to cover your bundle of pine needles with liquid. Swish things around by turning the pine needles over a few times with tongs. Place pan in preheated 225 degree oven
Roast pine needles in the oven making sure glycerin and water mixture doesn't deplete, turn and check often, add more water if necessary. Carefully turn needles with tongs after 1 hour and continue in this fashion for 2-3 hours (some people cook them for even longer, it depends on the color you want. Then turn off oven and let sit in oven overnight. After several hours rinse pine needles really well in the sink with plenty of hot freshwater. Do not throw away the glycerin and water mixture as this can be reused many times. The more you use it the darker and richer the color becomes. I just pour the remaining mix in mason jars and refrigerate until next use.
An Aluminum Pan, Tongs, Measuring Cup, Water,
and Glycerin are all you need

Needles Baked in Glycerin and then Washed in Hot water, Drying

Recently Completed Pine Needle Basket by Melissa Abbott without Glycerin Needles

Happy Basket Making,
Melissa Abbott
Merritt Island, FL
February 2014



  1. I also use glycerin for pine needles. 1 lb of needles to 1 quart of glycerin and water to cover.

  2. A detailed account of your harvesting and preparation methods that show a deep understanding of how the material behaves; this understanding is needed in order to be able to make such beautiful baskets. My very best wishes.

  3. I use Pam Talsky's method of simmering needles. But as a full time RVer, I have to use the stove top, keeping the needles covered in water and glycerin for 5-6 hours. I also pick green needles to control the length.

  4. I have often wondered how to soften my needles.And I knew that glycerin would do that.I just didn't know how to do it.That you so much for your information it is so helpful. I do gourd art and use pine needles on them.I just know that I can do it much better now.

  5. Can green needles be treated w/ glycerin or do they need to be dried? Local park cut down a few long needle pines, they are in my basement drying on newspaper ...was thinking I should put them in the sun till brown, thoughts?

    1. If I collect green needles I let them dry in a dark airy place. They retain much more integrity that way and can dry to different shades. As for putting green ones in glycerin, I don't know. Should image they need to be dried first.

  6. Can green needles be treated w/ glycerin or do they need to be dried? Local park cut down a few long needle pines, they are in my basement drying on newspaper ...was thinking I should put them in the sun till brown, thoughts?

  7. Hi Pam, If you leave green needles in darkness ( like a basement) then they dry but retain a green color. If you want the brown color ( which I love), dry them out in the sun ( this is how they dry naturally). Be sure to bring them in at night so they don't get mildewed. One time I got a branch of needles that someone had cut down and I just put it up on a fence ( hanging in the air) and the needles dried beautifully. Good luck on your endeavors. Kind Regards, Melissa

  8. I found this article most helpful. Am completely addicted to glycerin pine needles now. They are so beautiful to work with, smell divine and so supple and strong. Thank you!

  9. The article answered some of the more technical questions I had about wherefores and why that only someone reflexively engaged in this process can provide. Thank you!

  10. Can I do the Glycerin wash in a slow cooker/crockpot on high for six to eight hours?

  11. I am interested in the difference between glycerin and beeswax. If the glycerin preserves the needles,why add beeswax?

    1. There is no reason to ever put bees wax on a pine needle basket if you are coiling correctly. Every pine needle has a front, back, top and bottom. If inserted correctly the shiny side or front of the needle faces out toward you. It makes the coils very smooth and naturally shiny. No need for bees wax or shellac.