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How to Select and Prepare Pine Needles for Basket Making

Athlyn Green is an avid crafter. She enjoys sharing what she's learned with readers.

Length of needles is an important consideration when selecting needles to use for basket making.

Length of needles is an important consideration when selecting needles to use for basket making.

Pine Trees Provide an Unlimited Supply of Raw Material

Pine trees are abundant in North America, and perhaps it's not surprising that the sturdy needles have been used for centuries to make any number of usable and decorative containers. This undertaking goes back centuries to pre-Columbian times and Native Americans who used the needles to fashion baskets. Fortunately, these coiling techniques have been passed down for posterity, plus modern crafters have added their own ideas into the mix.

Pine needle baskets are unique-looking and as such, are highly sought after by collectors.

Others don't choose to buy baskets; they would like to learn how to make their own. If you have ever considered trying your hand at pine needle basket making, you may have had questions about finding and using pine needles and which needles are best suited for this purpose. There are different trees and different needles, and the length of the needles can vary greatly.

Covered in This Article

  • Which needles should be used for basket making?
  • When is the best time to gather needles?
  • How should needles be cleaned?
  • How should needles be stored?
  • How are needles softened?
Is it long enough?

Is it long enough?

Which Needles Should Be Used for Basket Making?

All needles are not created equal, so it's a good idea to have an idea of the type of needle you wish to use before getting started. Needles are selected based on length and width, and they also may have to be chosen based on what's available in your location. While needles can be purchased, this can become expensive, so if you can find needles in your area, this may be preferable.

Some trees produce a 6-inch needle, but some of these can be on the skinny side. Others produce needles that reach 12 inches in length. Some trees offer longer needles still. Trees considered ideal for pine-needle crafting are Ponderosa Pine and Longleaf Pine, Longleaf pine trees were traditionally relied on because their needles could grow to impressive lengths.

Longer pine needles are generally preferred because they are considered easier to work with and one doesn't have to sew in as many needles. Smaller needles from other pine tree varieties may still be used, however. This might apply if you only have access to shorter needles but still want to make baskets from what is available.

Ideally, pine needles should be about 5–8" long.

These are Ponderosa pine needles. Longer needles are good raw material for basket making.

These are Ponderosa pine needles. Longer needles are good raw material for basket making.

Pine Trees at a Glance

TreeNeedle LengthArea

Jeffrey pine


South Oregon, California, Nevada

Ponderosa pine


B.C.,South Dakota, Nebraska, Mexico

Coulter pine



Digger pine



Canary Island pine


Southern California, Canary Island

Montezuma pine


California, Mexico

Longleaf pine


Southern Virginia, Florida, Mississippi.

This is a longleaf pine. Its name is well deserved with long needles that reach impressive lengths.

This is a longleaf pine. Its name is well deserved with long needles that reach impressive lengths.

Best Time to Gather Needles

Pine needles should be gathered in the fall when the trees have shed them. The best needles are found in undisturbed areas or under trees.

If gathering pine needles in a public park, ensure that needles are not on or near walkways. Needles from these areas may have been stepped on and broken.

It is preferable to collect a generous supply of needles to allow for discards (needles that are broken, are too small, are missing one needle or are simply too fragile).

Needles, with their pointed ends, can be sharp, so caution is warranted when collecting them.

Cleaning and Drying Needles

Pine needles should be placed in warm water and the water gently swirled to remove any dirt and debris. It is important to handle needles gently so that they don't snap. Rinse needles a couple of times until the water runs clear.

Some basketmakers soak their pine needles in warm soapy water to further clean them or add bleach to counter black spots. (If bleach has been used, make sure that needles are rinsed well, prior to handling them).

Needles can be laid out on a towel to air dry. Sun-dry needles for a bleached look; shade-dry needles to retain greenish color.

Can Needles Be Stored?

If you've opted to store your needles, these can be laid flat in a rectangular container or sorted to length and tied in bundles. The idea is to store them in such a way that retrieving needles doesn't cause breakage. A jumble of needles in a bag isn't the best scenario.

Can Needles Be Used Immediately?

While many crafters prefer to gather their needles, prepare them ahead of time, and store them, others might wish to get started right away. If you have collected your needles and are ready to start on a basket, simply clean them and then soak your needles in boiling water and let them sit for about half an hour. They will be pliable and ready to use.

Once needles are softened, they can be coiled and sewn.

Once needles are softened, they can be coiled and sewn.

Softening Pine Needles

If you've opted to store your cleaned needles, you cannot simply grab up some needles and start coiling them. They need to be softened first so that they bend instead of snap. What can you do to soften them when you are ready to use them?

Pine needles can be softened by placing them in warm water for about 20–30 minutes. A large handled bucket works well for this purpose.

Once you've finished coiling and sewing and need to stop work on your basket, what to do if you have leftover needles? These may be left in the water for a day or two and can be used to continue working on your basket. Avoid leaving needles in water for long spells to guard against the breakdown of needles.

Before You Start

For my first two baskets, I didn't get too fancy with stitches because I wanted to get a feel for working with the needles and gain confidence with using them before moving on to specific and more complicated stitch patterns. The key here is to have fun and experiment. You don't have to get it perfect right out of the starting gate.

It's a good idea to make one or two tester baskets. These can be used to troubleshoot, practice, and hone your skills. Check out my second, larger basket in my other article.

I would suggest starting out with a small project. This way, if something goes wrong or you later wish you'd done something differently, you won't feel as frustrated over the time you invested.

To achieve the best results, it is well worth investing in an instructional booklet before you start to fill any gaps in your knowledge, rather than guessing at it and perhaps wasting much time before you create a basket you are truly proud of.

The sheer beauty of these baskets

The sheer beauty of these baskets

Tips for Getting Started With Basket Weaving

  • Go out and collect a good supply of needles.
  • Plan to experiment with your first basket or two to get a feel for preparing and working with needles.
  • Make sure you read my first article to find out what I did wrong when making my first basket. I was going along great guns until I hit a major snag. Avoid a mistake that I made that ruined my first basket and will ruin yours.
  • Pick up a book on pine needle basket making and decide on a stitch pattern.
  • Consider if you want to add extras to your early baskets, such as beads, feathers, crystals, shells, small round pine cones, or acorns.
  • Decide whether you will line your basket and what fabric you might use, such as the sticky cloth one can buy for drawer liners or felt or velvet.
  • If possible, attend some classes or workshops or a local group.

Tips and Insights

Always be willing to learn and make that part of your journey. Learning can be exciting as you discover different and sometimes easier or more effective ways to do things. While you'll find your own comfortable groove when making your baskets, continue reading all you can. Attending classes and workshops can also be fun, and you may make lifelong friends with fellow enthusiasts.

© 2013 Athlyn Green


Lissette Meisner on October 25, 2018:

What instructional book would you recommend?

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 29, 2013:

I had no idea that there was so much to learn about this subject. Thanks for the comprehensive resource!

Athlyn Green (author) from West Kootenays on March 25, 2013:

I'm still working on it, as it is a larger basket.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 25, 2013:

Brilliant work of art here a unique and well advised. The basket is so lovely.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on March 24, 2013:

This is amazing and so creative! I have seen these baskets in the handicrafts market. Can not imagine making this at home.

Wonderful hub! Thanks for sharing.