Heather Seaman was around nine years old when, on vacation with family in Edisto Beach, SC, she first saw women making and selling coiled sweetgrass baskets. Though she was intrigued at the time, it wasn’t until after she studied art at UNC Asheville with a major in ceramics that she got into coiled basketry.
“I realized that I enjoyed making things with clay, but did not have a passion for it, so I tried many different arts and crafts until I got to pine needle basketry,” Seaman says. “I kept making baskets and my interest in it just kept growing.”
Pine needle baskets have been made by Indigenous peoples for millennia and used for utilitarian and ceremonial purposes. Seaman learned the technique from the book Pine Needle Basketry: From Forest Floor to Finished Project by Judy Mofield Mallow, a fifth-generation basket maker from NC.
Like Mallow and her forebears, Seaman often incorporates thin slices of black walnut into her designs. She uses longleaf pine needles that are cleaned, sorted, de-capped and soaked in near-boiling water to make them pliable. When possible, she gathers the needles herself. If using a wood base as the center, she cuts the wood and drills carefully spaced holes to coil the pine needles onto. Occasionally, she will trace and wood-burn a found leaf onto the wooden base. After constructing the basket using artificial sinew or waxed linen and allowing it to dry, she finishes it with a beeswax/paraffin mixture that keeps it sturdy and gives the needles a sheen. Lastly, Seaman rubs the basket with a soft cloth to remove the pointy ends of the pine needles that are visible past the stitches.
“Overall, it’s a pretty long process that some may consider tedious, but I very much enjoy the variety in it,” she says.
Seaman’s work can be found at Dogwood Crafters in Dillsboro. Her offerings often include bread baskets, cracker baskets, sewing baskets with a vintage spool in the center to hold scissors and thread, and pine needle bracelets, pendants and Christmas ornaments.
“Heather is not afraid to explore new ideas with pine needles,” says Dogwood Crafters president Brenda Anders. “She is so important as a member of Dogwood Crafters because she fulfills our desire to have old and completely handmade crafts.”
Dogwood Crafters is at 90 Webster Street, Dillsboro. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Learn more and see a schedule of classes at DogwoodCrafters.com.