Guðrún Sveinsdóttir – Pine Needle Coil Basket

Location: Shire of Mountain Freehold


SCA Blog:

How Did This Project Come About?

This is my first attempt at making a coil basket. This project was inspired by the basket-making videos of Sally Pointer, a historical reenactor from England who does “hedge-bothering” (foraging) and a variety of naturally-sourced projects. While my own basket is not a recreation of an extant piece, and while I have used some modern substitutions, this type of basket is theoretically period-plausible…somewhere in the world. This one was primarily an experiment in working with pine needles and using coiled binding techniques, but I will be delving more deeply into the history and extant finds in future basketry projects.

Historical Connection:
Baskets have been used for thousands of years by many different cultures all over the globe. The earliest known evidence of basketry is from basket imprints on pottery. In Europe, the oldest such impressive (ah, impressed) pottery is from the Paleolithic-Mesolithic era (over 27,000 years ago), found in Spain at Coves de Santa Maira. The oldest extant baskets, from the Neolithic period around 10,500 years ago, were found in Faiyum, Egypt. Coiled baskets are the most common of the earliest basket types.

In my full documentation, I also discuss several Viking-era Scandinavian finds and a late-period pre-contact Yup’ik find from Alaska, all of which help demonstrate the uses and prevalence of basket-weaving in a variety of contexts.

Techniques Used:

I started with a small bundle of white pine needles, about half of the diameter I wanted for the coils, which I covered with artificial sinew binding (again, modern substitution used due to lack of time to source a more period alternative). I then folded them into a small loop and lashed it together with the sinew, making sure to leave the ends of the needles bare.

To start coiling, I threaded the ends of the needle bundle into the tube and added more into the guide when needed to keep the bundle size consistent. I started wrapping the needle bundle around the central loop, securing it by wrapping a few times around with the sinew as I went, and sewing the sinew through the previous coil using a needle.

Once the bottom of the basket reached the size I wanted, I started pulling in the sides by binding the sinew tighter so that the new coil would overlap the previous one. This took a bit of experimentation to achieve the desired balance of tightness.

When I reached the side height that I desired, I allowed the needle bundle to taper off without adding more needles, and bound the ends tightly to the coil underneath it. I wove in the end of the sinew, and the basket was complete.

Lessons Learned & Future Plans:
I learned a lot during the making process. I knew that wetting the pine needles before working with them makes them less prone to breakage, and I knew they would shrink as they dried, but I underestimated just how much they would shrink. Therefore, the bottom of my basket and the first three rows of the sides are more flexible than I originally anticipated. Once I changed to using dry needles, the shrinkage stopped being an issue.

For my next basket, I plan to experiment with natural bast fibers (such as burdock or bramble) instead of sinew to sew the coils together. My hope is that this will help control the shrinkage, as both the coils and binding should shrink – hopefully at the same rate. I will probably make one basket using soaked needles and fibers, and another using dry needles and soaked fibers, to compare the different results.

Please see my full documentation for more details, my references, and pictures.

11 thoughts on “Guðrún Sveinsdóttir – Pine Needle Coil Basket

  1. I’m a big fan of Sally Pointer’s work. She’s well known the experimental archaeology community and I own one of her bronze mirrors. (Worth it, btw.) This is a great experiment using your locally sourced materials! Have you considered reaching out to any of the indigenous nations in your area to see if they have information on their pre-contact practices? I totally bet they used white pine.

    Beautiful work!

    -Magistrissa Anna Syrakousina, OL. Trimaris.

    1. Thank you, Magistrissa Anna!

      Yes, Sally Pointer is a wonderful experimental archaeologist. So cool that you own one of her mirrors!

      Up here in New England, the most common traditional basket-making materials for the Haudenosaunee (called Iroquois by the Europeans), the Abenaki, and the Wabanaki are black ash splints and sweetgrass. I’m not sure how far back that goes, but here’s a link to a pdf with some information about these types of baskets:

      For the Haudenosaunee, the white pine is sacred because it is the tree that symbolizes the Great Peace between the 6 Nations; however, I haven’t found any records of pine needle baskets. I haven’t yet contacted the Elders to ask (if I end up doing that, I want to have a gift to give them before making my request, as is traditional and respectful).

      I have found some mention of the possibility of pine needle baskets made by Wabanaki artists, but I’m not sure if that’s traditional or more modern.

      I do know that down near you, pine needle basketry is traditional for the Seminole, and I’ve seen some mention of it for the Haida of the Northwest, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more widespread, but I haven’t researched enough to know (yet).

      1. We have several amazing pine trees indigenous to Florida, too! I also know that some of the earlier nations (Pre-Conquistadors, alas) also used Spanish moss to create textiles.

        This is a heck of a rabbit hole you got me in now, thanks!

        1. I’m always happy to enable more rabbit holes! 🙂

          I’m not surprised to hear about the Spanish moss, since that seems like it would make excellent textiles, but now I’m wondering what the indigenous name(s) for it would be…now I’m going to have to look that up.

  2. This is an amazing basket! I love the look of it and your research really interesting. I am looking forward to seeing the next steps in this with the natural fibers used to wrap the coils together. I can’t wait to see how that works! Thank you for sharing this.

  3. This is a neat project! Baskets are everyday items in many cultures, so it’s great to see your research into period basketry. And I am so impressed with the breadth of your interests! Every time I see you, you have a great new project on a different topic. This time you even have two entries in the same exhibit, wonderful!

    1. Thank you so much! It’s easy for me to fall down rabbit holes of research on new topics; there’s so much history to explore, and I find it all fascinating, especially how everything connects.

  4. This is a beautiful! I look forward to seeing the continued research you make into the materials. The experimenting is my favorite part of projects. I am absolutely inspired by this little gem of a basket!

    1. Thank you, Your Excellency! I agree; experimenting is loads of fun. I’m happy to inspire you!

  5. Wonderful project! I love to see folks looking into the everyday type items that were used historically.

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