Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine,
The summer land where the sun doth shine,
Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great,
Here’s to “Down Home,” the Old North State!
– North Carolina State Toast
I started coiling pine needle baskets in my thirties. I’d not been much of a craftsperson before then – I could write a little bit, but never anything that required good form or function.
I’d grown up in the Piedmont region of North Carolina where longleaf pines are uncommon. They don’t like the clay and winter ice storms, and they’d been overharvested to build mills, barns, homes, campuses and all sorts of east coast infrastructure.
But when I first moved to Carrboro, there were three longleaf pines standing behind the house, likely planted decades earlier by someone who missed the sandier landscapes of their hometown. Each fall they shed abundant, coppery needles, some as long as twenty-two inches, but most around twelve.
The needles were hard to rake. I thought they were very beautiful. Surely something could be made with them, I thought, and so I asked around. When a sympathetic artist referred by the local basket guild surveyed the needles in my yard, he suggested I learn to coil. It’s not a new idea, he said. It’s a really old one. Look it up.
So I did, and I bought a book, and I taught myself the basic art of coiling. It was not easy, but the slow, circular rhythm of the craft was meditative, the occasional prick from a needle notwithstanding.
I have coiled intermittently since then. I have taken two classes at the John C. Campbell Folk School and experimented with different threading, centers, decorative beads, and dyes. While I have sold a few, I give away most of my baskets, except those I cut apart because they just aren’t right. I think I have finally learned something about function and form.
This website will be a place for me to showcase a piece every now and then, but I’ll also share my thoughts about the craft and what it conjures for me. I hope you enjoy looking and learning. Thanks for visiting!
– Bethany Chaney, Carrboro, NC