One of Heather Seaman’s core memories are trips with her family at eight-years-old to Edisto Island, South Carolina. It was on these trips she would see a lady on the side of the road making sweet grass baskets. “I think this influenced me as a child,” she said. “I was fascinated by the process even then.”
Seaman was no stranger to the crafting world; her mother was a science teacher but also created macramé and flower arrangements. “I was exposed to the culture of the crafting world at a young age. I remember weekends at craft shows with my mom when we would have a booth.”
After spending a year at UNC-Greensboro, Seaman transferred to UNC-Asheville and graduated with a BA in art in 1996. Her specialty in college was ceramics.
“Over the years I tried a little of everything from rug hooking to decorating dried gourds. I then read Judy Mallow’s book Pine Needle Basketry: From Forest Floor to Finished Project and decided to try it,” she said. Eighteen years later Seaman’s passion for pine needle baskets is fully alive.
“I enjoy the many steps in the process of making a basket, from collecting the needles, to preparing them, to making the wooden or ceramic bases and finishing the final pieces. It is a time-consuming process with so many steps that it stays very interesting to me.”
To prepare pine needles, you first need to wash them in really hot water and then soak with a capful of bleach,” Seaman said. “While the needles are still wet, I sort through and find the ones I like and de-cap the ends. You use the needles together in their bundles of three. I then dry out and store the bundles.”
“When ready to use, the needles are best coiled a little damp,” she said. The coils are threaded together with an artificial sinew. “Traditionally, raffia or cotton thread was used, but cotton will deteriorate over time so I prefer something longer lasting. A beeswax paraffin finish is added to the coiled basket and then it goes into the oven to finish the process.” Even a small basket takes many hours to complete.”
Seaman teaches pine needle basket making adult classes at Heritage Weavers and Fiber Artists at the Historic Johnson Farm in Henderson County. She is currently a member of the Transylvania County Handcrafter’s Guild in Brevard and the Dogwood Crafters in Dillsboro. Her work can be found at various craft shows around Western North Carolina in addition to the Dogwood Crafters shop in Dillsboro.
“I am really looking forward to my first N.C. State Fair at the Village of Yesteryear,” she said. “I am excited about being part of a community of crafters and I like that their mission is to demonstrate heritage crafts – it is just as much about teaching and showing as selling.”
In her booth she plans to incorporate facts about long leaf pine trees and basketry.
“I am also looking forward to finding funnel cakes and roasted corn,” she added.