Coil baskets…

The finished product

January is a great time to reflect upon the year that has gone before and of course the new year brings a time where many people set new goals for themselves. For myself I like to have a think about those things that I have had a go at or would like to perfect with more skill, or just those things that I downright found tricky! So, a list ensued…and grew, and grew. Coiled baskets were one of those things that I was lucky enough to have a go at as part of one of the many wonderful Woodland Wayer weekends. However, it was not a technique I found I was particularly blessed with. Practise makes perfect and so with that in mind I decided to give it another go.

Coiled baskets are made by winding fibres into coils and with a stitching technique binding these fibres into baskets. The inner fibres can be made from many plants or trees, anything really that allows for flexibility. Many coiled baskets were historically made from hay, rush, sedges, grass, bramble and pine needles to name a few. The stitching material can be made from strong cordage or stripped-down tree bark. Native Americans have made many intricate patterned coiled baskets using complicated and gorgeous stitching patterns and in Uganda woven coiled baskets have been used for holding herbs, bread and medicines. Some evidence has been found that coiled jugs and platters were waterproofed using a variety of boiled down tree pitch. This is something that I have yet to have a play with and I am not sure that my stitching technique is quite that good that I can make a container that could hold any form of liquid (without it being a sieve).

Having initially had a go with coiling grass to form a seed collecting container. I decided to give a pine needle basket a go. I collected lots of fallen pine needles and separated these out and then spent a few weeks drying them, just by letting a lot of air circulate around them. To start the coiling process, I used a cut-up piece of straw that I fed the pine needles through. This keeps the thickness of the coils the same size, you can do this by hand and just feeling if the bundle of needles grows thin. I inserted a bunch of needles into the straw ensuring that both tips and bases of the needles were mixed together. (this was so that I didn’t end up with a thick and thin end of each bundle).

A gauge will set the thickness of the coil
A gauge will set the thickness of the coil.

I used a coloured thread for the next step just so that it would show up in the photos, however natural cordage, thin bark strips etc can also be used. Start by tying the sewing material (in my case thread) around the bunch of needles, I found this slightly easier to do about half a cm from the end of the needles. Then I started to wrap the thread around the needles. Continue wrapping in the same direction around the pine needles until you have at least 6 cm of needles covered. If you find that your bunch of needles gets too thin or that you run out of pine needles, keep adding them into your gauge so you always end up with the same thickness of coiling fibres.

Wrapping the bundle with cordage
Wrapping the bundle with cordage.

The next step is to bend / fold your threaded pine needles into the start of a coil. Once your coil starts to fold back on itself place a few stiches through the middle of the previous bundle/coil to hold this in place. Eventually you should end up with the start of a circle which is completely covered by the stitching material.

Starting the coil basket
Starting the coil basket.

At each point keep checking that you are adding the coiling fibres into your gauge or by feeling the thickness of your bundle. Also note that your sewing material should be quite sturdy…. otherwise you end up snapping your thread continuously and having to start over. (Sorry for the thread continuity error in the photos… a thread snapping lesson occurred!) As you continue to coil your fibres place stitches through the middle of the previous coil to attach your coils together. This will initially be quite close together.

Stitching coils together
Stitching coils together.
And adding in more pine needles
And adding in more pine needles.

As you progress through the coils your stitches will become further apart. When placing your stiches, I always tried to place each stitch on top of one from the previous coil, and also tried to ensure that my stitches were on the same side of the stitch each time. As the coils grow you will get into a rhythm of always adding in new pine needles to your bundle of coiling material. I found that if I wanted to stop at any point a peg was useful for holding your coils and stitches together. You will start to build a circular / oval shaped disc of coils.

Stitching can add to the pattern
Stitching can add to the pattern.

Hopefully from these pictures you can see that each stich is placed around the existing bundle of pine needles and through the middle of the previous bundle.

Securing each coil to the previous curl
Securing each new coil to the previous coil.
Keep it neat to add to the effect
Keep it neat to add to the effect.
Adding new cordage can change the style
Adding new cordage can change the style.

If you run out of sewing material, I simply tied the end of a new piece of thread to the old piece and hid the knots between the coils of a basket.

Continue adding pine needles to the bundle and adding stitches around your coils. To build up the sides of your basket just start to add the coils on top of one another. The steeper you stack the coils the sharper the sides of the basket will be. I gently added the coils on my basket so that I ended up with more of a dish shape.

To finish your basket, you can taper out the pine needles so you don’t end up with a sudden stepped stop in your basket. Do this by not adding anymore pine needles but continuing your stitching until your pine needles have run out. To finish you can add a few stitches over the last stitch and knot off the thread.

Tapering the final coil to give a smooth finish
Tapering the final coil to give a smooth finish.

You can add a solid rim to your basket by wrapping continuously round your fibre bundle and sewing to the previous coil in exactly the same way as the initial coils. I did this in the middle of the basket in purple thread to see what this would be like. This forms a more rigid coil; however, it does mean you can no longer see the pine needles. Further embellishments can also be adding into your coils by adding shells beads antler etc let your imagination run riot.

If you find the initial coil tricky a circle of antler or a drilled wood cookie can be used to form the initial base of your basket. I had lots of fun making my pine needle basket and I have upmost appreciation for the beauty of coiled baskets and those intricate patterns of people with far more skill than me. Next time I will have a go with a variety of different stitches and will use bramble cordage as my sewing material. I personally found that grass was easier to use than the pine needles as the thickness of the grass bundles needed consistently adding to however the coils went a bit further, whereas when you are using only 8cm long pine needles adding materials was a lot more time consuming. Have fun with your own coil basket projects, and I would love to see other peoples coiled creations.

The finished product
The finished product.

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