To weave her wares, needles of Florida pine
Newry native Julie Daye, who stitches intricate baskets and hats from pine needles, is likely to take her work wherever she goes.
Even her doctor’s office.
"People will come over and say, 'What are you doing?'" she said.
She explains and demonstrates with a precise stitch that the doctor might envy.
Creating such baskets and hats takes patience beyond what most people, even other craftspeople, can muster.
But it's a characteristic quality for Julie, who throughout the decades has acquired skills in dozens of crafts.
That patience has also served her well in the face of recent health challenges.
Julie now lives in North Norway, but she grew up in and spent much of her married life in a home on the Sunday River Road in Newry.
In the 1960s, she and her husband, Eddie, operated the Sunday River Inn.
In those early years, a neighbor presented her with "a bear lying on a sideboard," she said.
“All he wanted from the bear was the hide. He knew I would take almost anything.”
Eddie had no interest in cutting up the animal for freezing, she said, so Julie got the job. She struggled through it, and the experience was motivation to do better.
"I went right up to the vocational school for a class in meatcutting," she said. Over the next several years, "I ended up cutting up about 5,000 pounds of critters for other people."
Since then she's also upholstered 150 chairs, made 300 stuffed animals, sewn from scratch dozens of costumes for Shriners' parades and …
The list of her skills is so long that her daughter, Sharon, designed a business card for her with a drawing of three signposts, each of which displays seven directional signs.
Each sign points the way to a skill: costumes, butchering, knitting, rugbraiding, soft toys, teacher, baking, fly tying, cake decorating, tailoring, knitting, screen printing, upholstering, chair caning, painter, beautician, bookkeeper, fisherman, innkeeping, motorcyclists and “What’s next?”
"If I want to know how to do something, I take a class," Julie said.
Long pine needles
It was a class she took while wintering in Florida eight years ago that ignited her current passion for pine-needle weaving. "I took a $5 class for 12 weeks," she said. "I was the only one who had the patience to keep at it after the class. It's not a quick craft."
The craft, originally developed by Florida's Native Americans, utilizes needles — up to 22 inches long - from the Longleaf Pine.
Maine pine needles are too small to use, Julie said.
"I collect the needles when I go to Florida in December. The trees shed them in the fall. It doesn't take long to gather them," she said.
It does take a long time to prepare them. They must be sorted and aligned in bundles so the needles all point in the same direction. "It takes about 16 hours total," said Julie.
Before the weaving starts, the needles must also be soaked in water to make them more pliable. The stitching is done with artificial catgut, using a sewing needle. Some of her most complex creations take more than 5,000 stitches.
As she stitches, Julie also pays attention to the alignment of each pine needle. A needle has a rough and a smooth side, and the smooth side must be directed toward the surface of the basket or hat.
Since she started doing the craft, Julie has dreamed up many variations on the basic basket. She's used ceramics, coasters and flat pieces of cedar as decorative additions in the bottom of the baskets.
To obtain cedar, she has a bartering arrangement with a man in Florida who cuts such trees. "I trade cedar for crème puffs," she said.
She's also made baskets with covers, and created others in the shape of pottery vases. She even incorporates gourds into some creations. And her hats often weave slices of walnut around the brims.
Julie occasionally sells her wares at craft fairs.
At one, she was wearing one of her hats. A woman spotted it from across the room, and wanted to buy it, even though Julie wasn't offering it for sale. But she finally settled on $135 to part with it.
Her pine-needle creations range from $10 to $200 in price. "They make nice wedding gifts," she said.
A supportive husband
In addition to weaving while she waits at the doctor's office, Julie also works on baskets while she rides in the car.
She also stitches during the evening, while Eddie watches television.
"I can't just sit," she said.
She said that Eddie, a carpenter by trade, appreciates her handiwork.
"The nice thing about the baskets is my husband is so proud of them. He'll say, 'Have you seen Julie's latest basket?'"
The comeback crafter
Considering the health obstacles Julie has encountered, particularly in the past decade or so, her many craft accomplishments are even more impressive.
She has been a diabetic since she was 22. About 12 years ago, she temporarily lost sight in both eyes.
“It was a struggle to regain my vision, but with over 7,000 shots of laser, it was restored,” she said.
Then, last year, Julie had a stroke. She was hospitalized for several days.
“I was not able to function very well,” she said. “The hands wouldn't do what they were supposed to, and I was simply unable to take one step.
“I was at the Norway Rehabilitation Center for five weeks. I was encouraged to work my mind with word-search puzzles and Sudoku. Finally, my hands did cooperate, and I was able to start with the basket making once again.”
She followed up her NRC stay with further rehab, several times a week for three months.
“My recovery was remarkable, and they called me the ‘miracle lady,’” said Julie. “I have so much to be thankful for.”