Foraging Project: Pine Needles

Ok, so maybe you’re one of “those” people, the ones that don’t believe they are “crafty” or “good with their hands”. You can’t imagine yourself making a wreath, a dining table centerpiece or your own homemade candles. Well, imagine this: I was one of “those people” for a very long time, too. I always thought I was good with words, maybe, a fast typist, organized, made a good housekeeper or secretary. But I never imagined I could make things; my common refrain was “I am creative, but not in that way.” I’m not just saying that because it might make a good story. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago, the late 1990’s in fact, that I thought I’d try my hand at making things. I’d read some books on herbs and crafts and thought I’d try making herb candles or homemade massage oil. Well, after a few tries, I fell in love with the work and ended up making a ton of stuff that I tried to sell at first and ended up later on giving to friends and family as gifts. My walls are still decorated with aging herbal wreaths that I made myself and truly love.

Being a business woman at heart I could not imagine liking anything that wasn’t part of a “company project”. Everything in my life was career minded; my clothes, my hair, my hobbies, my attitude. Even my Friday nights. If something could not be turned into a “business” it just didn’t hold my interest. But I had a “hobby” of sorts, gardening on Sunday (after my sunbathing was over) and I loved and cherished the moments I spent in the yard. Not that I didn’t try to sell the plants and start a nursery (the old dog is still trying to hunt!) but I slowly began to realize that it wasn’t all about money and work. So when I started making wreaths I first imagined it as a business and then later made it a work of love. During this process I became a self-taught herbalist, of sorts. And now I am always on the lookout for lovely natural things that can be used in my daily life. I have reduced my lifestyle to the most basic of simple and gotten rid of all that baggage and I’ve never been happier and closer to “balanced”. Foraging is path to joy and happiness for me. And I want you to try it, too. See if the shoe fits.

Today I want to toss out some recipes and ideas for using Pine needles. Hey, these things are all over the place, even here in Florida. I walk along the river front roads through the orange groves or trailer parks and Pine needles fill the gullys, trenches and ditches along the way. Bring a bag and fill ‘er up! And then on home with the goodies, ready to make some neat stuff. Sure, at first I thought, hey, this is a lot of work and I can just go to WalMart and buy the same thing. But the truth is, even if you don’t care that Pine needles are free or natural or everywhere, this is a work of love. Any time and attention you spend on anything is translated into love. And once you allow yourself to focus in this fashion, you begin to express that love and this makes you healthier, happier and calmer. It gives you a chance to slow down, to focus on something that isn’t stressful or competitive and come out with something special that only you have made. It’s a priceless experience and I recommend it highly. This, from a business woman who could never imagine anything mattering outside of an office. If I can learn love in this way, so can you! So get on out and get a bag full of pine needles. Here are some neat ideas:

First of all, when gathering Pine needles, there are some things you must do to prepare them for crafting use. Do not collect green needles! Always gather only brown, mature needles. They should be laying on the ground; never remove them from the tree. Try to locate the “fresher” needles, not cracked or crumbling. Pick up only the whole Pine needle clusters; make sure they are straight and not bent. They should be thoroughly dry, unbroken and have the ends in tact.

When you get them home you need to soften and sterilize them for use. Sort out as many needles as you will need for the next project (they should be used within the next 2 days). Put them all in a large pan or bowl and pour them over with boiling water. DO NOT put them in a pan full of water and then boil them over heat. Just allow them to sit, simmering to cool, in a bowl or pan after pouring the water over them. They should sit in the water for about an hour. Then pluck them out, shake them off and wipe them down with a cloth towel. Don’t use paper towels, they will shred and contaminate the pile. Then wrap them up in a fresh dry cloth towel and allow them to dry out thoroughly. This will take from 2 to 3 hours and they should not be left like this for longer than 3 hours or they will mildew and rot.

Check the instructions for the project and see if the caps needs to be removed or not. If so, do that now. The caps can be pulled off with your fingers or gently popped off with a dull knife. Do not use a sharp knife or you may cut the needle short. Once all of this has been done, the needles are ready for use.

Pine Needle Coasters

Materials You Will Need:
( for one coaster; double these amounts for two)

Around 20 Pine Needle clusters with the caps removed
One cotton darning needle
Nylon upholstery thread
5/8″ Gauge
One black Walnut, thinly sliced
4″ diameter wood round
Clear shellac or acrylic spray
Scissors

Method:

Gather up 4 whole Pine needle clusters together with the scissors and thread. If you have not done so, remove the caps from the Pine needle clusters. Holding a slice of the Walnut, tie on approximately 1 yard of thread, wrapping it around the cluster every 1/2 inch, working downward from the previously capped end. Thread it through the holes along one side of the Walnut slice, holding the needles along the outer edge. Use two double overhand knots to secure. Double loop the knot to lock it in place (like when sewing material). Then cut off the short end of the thread and trim the Pine needle cluster as closely to the knot as possible.

Overlap both the Pine needle bundle and the hole in the Walnut slice with the thread and run the sewing needle through the next hole in the slice, working always from back to front. Continue around the nut, making three or four stitches at a time to secure the Pine needles to the outside of the nut. As you work your way around back to the beginning, try to hide the knots and trimmed ends of each cluster as you go by separating each bundle and tucking the knot and trimmed ends into the middle of the coil. Take a few more stitches to secure and leave the ends of each coil loose. When you are finished with the first row of needles completely around the nut, then you are ready to add the gauge to the coil.

The gauge is a 1″ long pc of metal tubing that the Pine needles are inserted into the keep them in place while you work. It will also help ensure uniform thickness in each coil as you go along. The gauges’ diameter can vary from 5/16th of an inch to 1/4 inch. As you work you will move the gauge ahead and just add more needles. Once you get the hang of this, it just gets easier. It’s like knitting; once you figure out how to work the needles with the thread, you can do it without much thought. Flaring the end of the gauge as you go along will make it easier to insert fresh needles. To form the second row of needles, just pull the free end of the Pine needle coil up slightly and slide the gauge over it. Add several Pine needle clusters to the gauge so that it is full but not impossible to slide. You will need to add Pine needles one at a time as you go along to keep a continuous coil.

Continue adding needle clusters through the gauge and securing with a simple stitch until the Coaster reaches 4″ around. You can finish it with a blended end or add outside edges if you like. To give the Coaster a lipped edge, continue to add coils to the outer half of the previous coils and plain stitch them on. Add any number of side rows on top of the first to create the size of lip you prefer. Taper the last coil down to finish this off and backstitch around the entire outer edge of the Coaster. Spray over with the clear Shellac or acrylic spray. Allow to dry completely before using.

Pine Needle Wreath

Materials You Will Need:

About 200 Pine Needle clusters with the caps removed
About 40-50 additional Pine needle clusters with the caps on
10″ diameter wire wreath base
3 yards of Nylon upholstery thread
Cotton darning needle
Clothespin
5/8th inch Gauge
2 Pine needle bells (instructions below)
2 Pine needle braided bows (instructions below)
Clear shellac or acrylic spray

Method:

Bundle up 10 Pine needle clusters without caps. Starting with the innermost wire on the ring base, secure these clusters around the wire ring with a double overhand knot. Just run them around the outer edge and tack them down with thread until they are all around the ring. Don’t worry about perfection at this point. Thread the needle with 1 yard of the upholstery thread and form the first row by wrapping this thread around the coil you have created along the outer edge of the wire rim, being careful to hide the wire wreath base behind the needles. Continue to wrap the thread around the Pine needle clusters along the wire ring at 1/2 inch intervals to establish an even pattern. Look at the photo to see what I mean. Tack down the needles using the clothespin if you need to hold them steadily in place as you go along.

After three or four stitches around the clusters, add four more needle clusters evenly around the ring and tack them in place with the clothespin. Hide the lighter colored ends of the needles by tucking them into the middle of the previous bundle. Stitch these in place using the same pattern as you did the first one, giving the visible stitching an even line as shown in the photo. Continue once again around the ring until you reach your starting point. Stop and cut off the light colored ends of the beginning Pine needle clusters and cut them close to the thread.

Continue once again with another group of clusters over the starting point, making sure to wrap over the cut ends. Pull any Pine needle coils that are underneath the ring to the top of the ring to form another row. Add the 5/8 Gauge to the work now, continuing around the ring, just adding Pine needle clusters and upholstery thread as needed. Be sure to follow closely the stitching pattern you established in the first row. Just continue doing this until you are out of needles or are happy with the size of the wreath. The wreath in our photo has a total of six rows.

To make the decorative outer coil, as shown in the photo, you must stop adding Pine needle clusters on the last row about 10 stitches before the finish. Taper back down to a stopping point so you end up with 3-5 single Pine needles on the coil. You may need to cut away a few needles from the bundle to reduce the number this much. Trim these last few needles off close to the last stitch, being careful not to cut the thread. Go to the needles left that still have their caps intact. Place 3 Pine needles on top of the last row and stitch them on, 1/2″ from the capped ends. Add 3 more needles at every stitch. As the bundle gets thicker, cut it in the middle to reduce bulk. As you add 3 needles, cut 3 away.

Continue around the ring until you reach the starting point. Taper the last bundle down to a single layer of needles. Backstitch over the needles with 3 stitches to secure the thread. Make the bells and the bow.

Pine Needle Braid Bow

Tie together 3 Pine needle clusters with the caps still on. Do this with the upholstery thread. Separate the needle bunch into 3 equal sections and braid them as you would hair. Braid six times and then add a single Pine needle with the cap on to the left of this braid. Continue adding new clusters as needed, always adding them to the left side of the braid. The caps on the needles should stick out of the braid about 1/4″. Just continue braiding until you reach a desirable length. As you approach the end, stop adding needles but finish off the braid. Tie off with the thread and cut the braids close to the knot.

Tie the braid into a bow and cut off all the ends that are sticking outwards. Tie the bow just like any bow and stitch it in the center to hold it in place. Let it dry out really well, overnight is good, and then in the morning, spray it over with shellac. Let the shellac dry completely and then glue it on to the wreath where ever you like it.

Pine Needle Bells

Tie six single needles together at the top with strong thread. Trim them close to the knot. Starting with the knotted end, roll the bundle of needles into a tight, flat circle stitching where needed to secure in place. Continue rolling until the circle is 1″ around. This is the top of the bell. Add the gauge to your work to help you at this point, sloping the next eight rows downward and outward to form the outer sides of the bell. Keep adding single Pine needles as needed as you go along.

Gently slope the last 3 or 4 rows outward to form the bells final shape. Stop adding needles as you reach the end and start cutting away the middle of the last coil so you can taper them all down to a single needle at the bottom. Backstitch a few times to secure the thread. At last, attach small Pine Cones to a thread and sew them back through the top of the bell to form the clapper.

The wreath in the photo was finished off by gluing Pine Cones into the center of the braided bow and by attaching them also to the ends of the braids. Feel free to experiment. You do not have to add cones or braids if you don’t want to. The wreath also looks lovely with traditional red bows, garlands and greenery. Make it your choice.

Pine Needle Christmas Ornaments

To make the candy cane ornament as shown in the photo:

Materials You Will Need:

18 long leaf Pine needle bunches with the caps on
Spool of brown quilting thread
Medium gauge floral wire; 4″ longer than the Pine needles if cut
Wire Cutters
Scissors, sharp!
Phone book
Glue gun
1 ft length of narrow velvet Ribbon
10 Evergreen sprigs, trimmed to 2″
3 sprigs of dried German Statice, trimmed to 2″
2 miniature Hemlock cones
Clear shellac or acrylic spray

Method:

First of all you will make a braid by using up all 18 bundles. Follow the same method for braiding as in the braided bow. When you have used all 18 bundles, the braid should be the right length. Do not trim the ends like you do on the braided bow, but tie them off at about an inch above the ends and let them fan out loosely. Check the photo for the finished look. Bend the length of braid into a shape like a candy cane and place it under the Phone book to sit all night. This will flatten and dry the braid in place.

When removing the shaped braid in the morning, shellac or spray it right away to firm it in place. Allow this coating to dry completely before decorating. Once it is completely dry, form several loops in the middle of the velvet ribbon (to look like a bow) and hot glue it on the center of the candy cane braid. See the photo for the right way. Then hot glue the Evergreen and the German Statice sprigs over and under the loops in a decorative fashion. Again, refer to the photo for the general idea. Finish off by hot gluing the Hemlock Cones over the center of the entire decoration, just over the center of the ribbon.

Projects made from recipes first outlined in “The Complete Book of Nature Crafts” by Eric Carlson, Dawn Cusick and Carol Taylor. Published by Rodale Press.

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