Rotterdam

Rotterdam artisan weaves treasures from Georgia pine needles

One of Daine Babin’s finished baskets.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
One of Daine Babin’s finished baskets.

To some, Diane Babin seems more like a magician than a crafter.

She makes everything from baskets to ornaments out of Georgia pine needles, and whether she’s presenting at craft shows or just telling others about her work, many can’t believe the medium.

“The reaction is hysterical,” Babin said.

The longtime Rotterdam resident learned the process, which comes from a Native American tradition, in 2016, though her crafting career began well before that.

“When I was very young, my aunt, grandmother [and] mother all tried to teach me how to sew, crochet, knit [and] embroider. I think it all started to solidify for me when I was about 9 years old and my mother enrolled me in a 4-H club. I took to sewing like a fish to water and have been doing it since then. I made all my own clothes through high school and college,” Babin said.

She taught home and careers, as well as family and consumer science, and ran a clothing alteration business for 15 years.

“It’s always been a part of my life,” Babin said.

The pine needlework isn’t much of a departure from sewing.

“It’s sewing; it’s just using pine needles instead of fabric,” Babin said.

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She orders batches of the Georgia pine needles, which can be anywhere from 12 to 20 inches in length. Then she washes them and bakes them in a glycerin and water solution in a turkey roaster, which makes the needles more pliable.

She then takes a decorative base, be it an ornament, a piece of birch or another material, and sews the pine needles around it.

“My next row is done the same way, in a sense, but instead of going through the holes in the base, I stitch to that first row of pine needles. I just keep catching them and stitching them to the row that came before. It just keeps spiraling around,” Babin said.

The work is finished off with polyurethane to make it sturdier.

Baskets can take around six or seven hours to make, and over the years she’s created more than 500 of them right from her home.

While it’s hard work, especially on the hands, it’s also meditative.

“If I’ve had a particularly hectic day or something is bothering me, if I can sit down and work on a basket for even 10 minutes it just brings me back to center,” Babin said. “It is somewhat meditative. I call it my therapy.”

She sells them on Etsy in her shop called Cruisin’ Creations and at local craft shows, though there hasn’t been much of that this year.

“It’s nice to connect with the customer and I haven’t had that this year because everything’s online or at a shop somewhere, and I’m not there when they’re buying, so it’s different. But I appreciate the fact that I can still sell,” Babin said.

Her baskets and ornaments are also available locally at the Schenectady Trading Company and the Shaker Heritage Society holiday market, which runs through Dec. 19.

Further afield, they’re also sold at Vine & Branches Gallery in Bennington, Vermont, and online via cruisincreations.etsy.com.

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