Shellac is an insect resin secreted by the Lac bug, a very small red parasitic bug that attaches itself to a small variety of trees in India and Southeast Asia. The insect feeds on the sap of the tree and secretes the Lac as a protective shell in which the female lay their eggs.
Once the Lac is removed from the branches, it is crushed and washed with water to remove a once valuable red or bright orange dyestuff from it. It is then heated and forced through a sieve to extract the filtered resin. It is now gathered and rolled while it is still soft and pliable and stretched into long, thin sheets. The stretched-out sheets are allowed to cool and are broken into flakes. This flake form allows fresh quality shellac to be prepared and avoid waste. The flakes are mixed with denatured alcohol to produce a liquid solution that can be applied with a paintbrush.
Use of Shellac in Pine Needle Basketry
Shellac is used in Pine Needle Basketry as an excellent stain barrier and to stiffen an otherwise "floppy" basket. It will also add brightness to the pine needles and enhance other possible elements of your basket i.e. nut slices, wood, or gourds. Simply mixed with denatured alcohol it can be made in small quantities to save waste, money, the "upset" of applying out-dated shellac to your baskets, and it comes in extra pale blonde color that will not discolor stitching materials.
Dissolving and Mixing
"Cut", or ratio of shellac flakes to alcohol determines the consistency of shellac. In general for applying to pine needle baskets it is best to use a light consistency. I use 2 ounces of shellac flakes to 12 or 16 ounces of denatured alcohol.
Mix in a dark plastic or glass container with a tight fitting lid. Soak shellac flakes with the desired amount of denatured alcohol overnight or a least eight hours to dissolve flakes, stirring occasionally. Store shellac is a cool place away from direct sunlight. Clean up application brush with denatured alcohol or household ammonia.