Learning How to Weave Pine Needle Baskets with the North House Folk School
We recently spent a lovely mid-October weekend up in Grand Marais, MN learning how to make pine needle baskets at the North House Folk School, and I’m excited to share all of that knowledge with you!
My husband and I have known about the school for a couple of years, having spent a significant amount of time traveling around the north shore. However, it wasn’t until recently that we started looking into the types of classes they offer.
The school has everything from blacksmithing, wood carving, to knitting and photography. And of course, basket weaving!
Learn more about all of the classes the school offers here!
We stayed in a lovely Airbnb just outside of town that I totally recommend if you ever find yourself in Grand Marais! The lovely couple that owns this property also does direct booking if you’d like to save on fees, just email email@example.com to book it!
We actually attended our pine needle basket class during ‘Basket Week’ at the school, so we got to see other examples of woven baskets made from sweetgrass, birch bark, and red-osier dogwood. After making our pine needle baskets, I’m eager to try more!
The baskets that my husband and I made are comprised of two different types of pine needles, Longleaf Pine and Red Pine. If you’re looking to make these types of baskets yourself, the long-leaf needles are most recommended because of their length, they are the easiest to work with. The Longleaf Pine grows in the Southeastern US, so if you’re located in Minnesota like I am, you’ll need to either book a trip to pick your own needles or buy them online.
Luckily for us, the class we took provided all of the supplies so we were all set to get started.
We started the class by learning about the different types of pine needles and looking at examples of baskets the instructor Paula has made over the years. It was very inspiring to see all the different styles of baskets you can make!
Before we got started, we each grabbed all of the supplies we needed.
A pile of softened pine needles (softened by soaking in hot water for a few minutes)
Waxed or artificial sinew thread
18-20gauge Tapestry Needle
Needle nose pliers
(Optional) A pre-drilled piece of wood or flat stone for the base of your basket
One technique to help make your basket a little easier is by using something on the bottom of your basket as a starting point like a piece of wood or decorative stone. This is the route we took for our class as total beginners and it really did help.
We started by practicing the weaving techniques on a piece of birch bark. After pealing off the sheaths of the needles (the bark-like nubs that hold the needle together) with our needle-nose pliers, we began with a needle pile about the thickness of a pencil. Holding the needles firmly to the birch bark, we began sewing in a coil around and around the pine needles from front to back. As you work your way around, you continue to add more needles to ensure the thickness of your coil remains about the size of a pencil. Some basket weavers call this, “feeding the tail.” I found that I needed to add more pine needles about every 3 stitches. If you use smaller pine needles, you’ll need to add more about every stitch.
Once we each had the technique down, we were ready to get started on our baskets! For our final baskets, we each chose a piece of agate covered in a clear resin to use as our base. From there, the process was the same as before - cleaning off the pine needles, using a starting pile about as thick as a pencil, and sewing around in a coil from front to back.
When I had my first row of needles finished, I was able to use my previous stitch marks as a guide for the remainder of the basket. The stitch we were using is called the “simple stitch” or “straight stitch” which makes a spiral pattern around your basket. As you work your way around your basket, you stitch through the row of needles below, continuing in a coil or circular motion.
If you’re a visual learner like I am, this is an excellent video that goes into more detail!
The art of basket weaving became almost like a group meditation for our class. We were nearly silent as we worked, each of us focusing on the task at hand. I found myself letting my mind go completely blank, just counting my stitches making sure the pattern looked as even as possible. It was actually super relaxing!
At the end of the first day, I had the base of my basket finished and was ready to start building up the sides in the morning.
We celebrated our first day of successful basket weaving with dinner and a beer at our favorite brewery up north, Voyageur Brewing.
On the second and last day of the class, we were ready and eager to keep working and finish our baskets!
Paula, the instructor of the class, had examples of finished baskets we used to get inspired for the design of our baskets. We both really liked how the pine sheaths looked as a way to get more pattern into the sides. Not to mention, this look is easier to achieve because you don’t have to clean off the pine needles before using them!
I decided to finish the look of my basket by topping it off with a piece of red osier dogwood. I had chosen to make my basket using red waxed twine, so I thought the red wood looked great!
Once I had my last row of pine needles, I began to let the needle bundle thin out (meaning I didn’t feed the tail with more needles) and trimmed off the remnants. Then I took the piece of dogwood in placed it on the basket about halfway down the stick so I wouldn’t have one thin end and one fat end once it circled around the top of my basket.
Here’s another video on how to finish your pine needle basket.
I had an amazing time making my basket! I think this will be an excellent activity to do during those long winter nights!
That’s a wrap for our first time making baskets up at the North House Folk School! I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did making it!