Native American Basketry is one of the oldest crafts known.
Baskets were used for various tasks. Some baskets were created to cook in. Some baskets are used to gather needed items. Storing foods and sifting grains are other uses for baskets.
Baskets materials were gathered from areas that the American Indians inhabited. Every basket is unique in some way depending on materials used to assemble the basket. Some of the materials used are sweetgrass, redbud bark, and black ash.
Today due to environmental change and American Indians living arrangements basket weaving and the gathering of materials has become increasingly harder. The true basket artists still insist on gathering in a traditional manner which can be hampered by weather, environmental impact, and traveling long distances to the gathering places.
Dyes for basket making are becooming harder to get also. Dyes are gathered from trees and native plants. In a case where areas have been depleted of a native plant used for dye, the basketmaker is forced to seek the plant elsewhere. This can mean long travel time as well as gaining the plant from a non traditional method.
As more and more Non-Indians moved into Indian inhabited areas, some American Indians chose to support their families with their basketmaking.
Non Indian people saw the beauty and artwork in these baskets. Some of the early baskets made in the early 1800’s still can be used as well as the day they were created. The craftsmanship and love used to create these baskets make them as durable as an iron pot would be for cooking.
Pine Needle Baskets are found in the areas that California Indian tribes inhabited. Pine Needle baskets are durable as well as beautiful. The older variety of baskets were made of Jeffrey Pine needles, Redbud Bark, and the sap from the soaproot plant boiled to make a glue-like substance.
Once you have decided you would like to try your hand at basketry, items will need to be gathered. The one main item will be your pine needles.
Jeffrey Pine is preferable to any other because of the flexibility and length of the needle.
Gather your needles at higher elevations of mountains if at all possible. These needles are greener and in turn the greeness makes them flexible and easier to work with. Do not choose bright green needles. If these needles are all that is available you will need to allow these needles to dry for several months before using.
Gather your materials in the fall. Never pull the needles off the trees. You must gather what is on the ground only. This ensures the readiness of the needle to use, as well as it protects the tree. All traditional gatherers only gather what is given to them and that means needles that have fallen to the ground. Gathger needles that are at least five inches long, or even longer. The longer the needle, the easier the basket is to make.
Since redbud trees are hard to find, and on the verge of protection, we now avoid the use of redbud bark. You may substitute raffia for sewing the seams of the basket. Raffia is available at craft stores. Do not use paper raffia, only the ribbon type texture. Paper raffia will fall apart after a few years compared to the ribbon raffia which will hold up for decades.
Natural dyes from plants are no longer available in most areas. Even though most of these plants are not protected we leave them alone for ecological reasons as well as for the true traditional artists who require these dyes. Brightly colored raffia takes the place of dyes in the baskets of casual basketmaker today. many colors are available so choose any one you like.
For each basket choose the longest strongest needles. Choose those that are flexible but do not emit sap. Disgard brittle ones or those very dark ones. Use the clusters of needles, not each needle separately.
Gather a cluster and soak in water a few minutes. This allows the needles to become a bit more flexible for twisting. Each cluster used should have at least four to five needles. Do not use large bulky clusters.
After you have soaked the needle remove the excess water by draining on a paper towel.
Take your first cluster and turn slowly in a clockwise fashion until you have a small circle. With a large darning needle and your chosen color of raffia sew the needle together. Form the needle in the shape of a circle as you are sewing. Start in the center and sew outwardly toward the edges. Keep the raffia straight. This should resemble a round disk when finished.
The edge on the round disk that remains on the outside of the disk is where you begin. Gather another cluster of needles and stick the closed end of the needle into the edge of the disk.
Sew a stitch with your raffia to secure the end.
At the end of that needle cluster, add another cluster and sew that in again with your raffia. You should be molding these needles into a round circle and only sewing the ends where you have added the needles. Make sure your stitches are very tight. Be careful not to be=reak or splinter the pine needles. Once you have sewn enough needles in to make a disk approximately three inches in diameter, stop. This will be the base, or bottom of your basket.
For the upper part attach another cluster of needles to the edge of the bottom of your basket. This time use only dry, unsoaked needles.
Start on the top edge of your base and begin with one cluster. Bend the cluster to the shape of the bottom of basket. You are now adding the sides of the basket so shape the needles to fit evenly in the form of the basket.
Sew each end with two stitches to secure. Add more clusters of needles by inserting them into the unfinished end of the needle cluster you just sewed in .
Always work in a clockwise fashion.
This is the process that you will use.
You simply layer one on top of the other. As you finish one layer, continue onto another layer by securung the needles with the raffia as explained above.
Continue until your basket is at least four inches high.
Once you have assembled your basket sew the edges with your raffia.
Use a criss cross stitch around the top.
To end the stitches and tie them off simply:
Sew the last stitch and end with the raffia inside between the last layer of needles. No need to make a knot, this method will secure the raffia very tightly.