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Nettle-A-Long, harvesting stinging nettle yarn  RSS feed

 
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I have read about Nettles being used to make Skeps and Baskets anyone have any details about this ?
What treatment would be needed?
 
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David Livingston wrote:I have read about Nettles being used to make Skeps and Baskets anyone have any details about this ?
What treatment would be needed?



There are lots of different ways, but from my research, the most common seems to be the binding bit in a skep.  The skin is peeled from the green nettles and then dried.  Then this is soaked and uses as the 'cordage' that holds the straw together.
 
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Juli Anne wrote:I have three good batches of nettles that I have carefully tended and I think this year I will be playing with them as a fiber source. I understand soaking is the way to rot away the non-textile part and just leave the fibers?



Very excited to hear you're playing with nettles.  

The soaking is a controlled kind of rot called retting.  What it does is to break down the 'glue' (mostly pectin) that holds the phylum (fibres) in place.  Leave it in the water too long, and the fibres will dissolve long before the core.  

Retting in water is good for small batches of maybe a bathtub size, but I don't like it for anything larger as the water can be quite toxic and if put back into nature undiluted, it can cause an imbalance which can kill plants and animals.  Diluted enough, it is an excellent source of soil fertility.  Think compost tea!

Since I'm keen to process nettles on a larger scale, I've been shying away from water retting and trying dew retting and other options.  Dew retting is basically laying the stems out in the grass and flipping them from time to time.  The dew and weather break down the 'glue' and (in linen at least) produce a much finer fibre than water retting does.  However, it does take longer, but the 'sweet spot' where the glue is dissolved but the fibres are still strong is much larger than with water retting.  The water retted fibre, the sweet spot is about 6-12 hours (depending on lots of factors), the dew retted sweet spot is about 3 days.
 
r ranson
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Hans Quistorff wrote:I was intrigued by the experience of the ants striping the outer coating. We have ants here that make large mounds of conifer needles and thy seem to be harvesting sap from various sources.  I will try throwing nettles on the nest and see what happens. If they doo strip the surface I will also try my wild flax when it is tall but not flowering because the surface of the stems is still soft at that stage.
Anothe question is there usable fiber in the stems of field daisie flowers that I am cutting at this time to keep them from seeding?



I'm excited to see what comes from the ants.  The fibre is in the cambium layer, wich is the inner bark.  If the ants can strip away the outer bark but leave the inner one, that would be amazing.

I hope you do try the daisy flowers for fibre.  I don't know if there is any there, but it would be great to try it.  
 
David Livingston
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Hi Raven
The impression I was given was that the binding was always bramble ( aka. Black berry ) not  nettle. It was the hive itself that was either nettle rye  rushes or a type of wild grass I have yet to ID here in France

David
 
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David Livingston wrote:Hi Raven
The impression I was given was that the binding was always bramble ( aka. Black berry ) not  nettle. It was the hive itself that was either nettle rye  rushes or a type of wild grass I have yet to ID here in France

David



It could be.  I suspect people used what was on hand.  
 
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This is a wonderful thread! So glad to find out nettle has such a wonderful potential for fiber. We used it for many other things but will follow this thread to see how the reinvention of nettle fiber evolves. Thanks very much for starting this thread.
 
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David Livingston wrote:Hi Raven
The impression I was given was that the binding was always bramble ( aka. Black berry ) not  nettle. It was the hive itself that was either nettle rye  rushes or a type of wild grass I have yet to ID here in France
David


Hi David and Raven. My former husband, who is a beekeeper, followed a course for making such hives, in the traditional Dutch way. There he learned to use brambles (vines of blackberries, cut lengthwise) for binding the bundles of straw. No nettles were involved.
 
r ranson
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I suspect there were many right ways to make a skep.

Some places didn't have blackberries, so they would have used what materials they had to hand.  In some locations that would be willow cane, others nettles, others, brambles... there's lots of material that would work for that kind of construction.

Sometimes I find it scary when I go on the internet and find that there is only "one proper way" to make something when historically, people would have successfully made things out of what materials they had to hand.  I think that's the problem a lot of people have when they start working with nettles.  We are trained, now, to look for the "one proper way", so when we find the instructions for it, and try it at home, it doesn't work.  We assume we are doing something wrong.  What people sometimes forget, is that there is a lot of variation between places - there are many right ways to do something.  The only way we will discover what works for us is to observe and interact.  
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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raven ranson wrote:I suspect there were many right ways to make a skep. ... Sometimes I find it scary when I go on the internet and find that there is only "one proper way" to make something when historically, people would have successfully made things out of what materials they had to hand. ... there are many right ways to do something.  The only way we will discover what works for us is to observe and interact.  


You're right Raven. Even when there was one 'traditional way', that doesn't mean it is the only right way. Experimenting is always a good way to find out what works, and what doesn't
 
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maybe the "one right way" to do something is the way you can do it with the skills you possess, following the concepts you understand,  and with the materials at hand that works for your purposes.
 
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I've done some searching in French to see if I could find something new. Most of
the information is the same as what I've learned from this thread. There were
two sources that I found interesting.

The first one (for which I lost the link) is a 19th century legal paper from France
that put restrictions on the use of water bodies to ret flax. I don't want to hurt the
trout in my pond.

The second one is from 1884. It is about Ramie but maybe the process could work
with Stinging Nettle? I like the idea of using steam.

Retting, as it is practiced for flax and hemp, is an unhealthy operation: it
produces pestilential fumes and must be banished from industry. It has, moreover,
the fault of altering the fibers, when it is not conducted with the greatest
care. The decortication of the stalks of the nettle may, it is true, be effected
by mechanical means, without prior retting, on condition that the stems have
been dried. But this result can not be obtained in all seasons: it requires special
climatic conditions; And one would expose oneself to seeing a crop rotten, for
want of a time favorable to its desiccation. The Government of the British
Indies has therefore offered a premium of 125,000 francs for the best machine or
the best process for the green treatment of ramie stalks.

The problem is now solved: The newly harvested ramie rods are subjected to the
action of steam or hot air in closed vessels, in wooden cases, for example. At
the end of a few minutes, the flesh separates with the greatest ease from the
cortical layer containing all the usable fibers. The bark is removed by strips
free of any woody debris, and, on the other hand, no parcel of filament remains
on the core.

This method of treatment was discovered by Mr. A. Favier, a former student of the
école polytechnique.


http://www.france-pittoresque.com/spip.php?article1359


Google Translate did a pretty good job but it had trouble with "chènevotte" and I'm
not familiar with the word.
 
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Google Translate did a pretty good job but it had trouble with "chènevotte" and I'm not familiar with the word.  


Breaking the worn into two parts I came up with the possibility of oak bark  but votte seems to be archaic and not consistent in usage.
Doing the ant nest retting proved to be a failure because a bear destroyed the nest.
Examining the daisy stems, they do have the same arrangement of a hard hollow core with fibers under the green skin but the fibers are so fine I doubt usable fibers could be extracte.
I am thinking that a les energy intensive way to ret with steam would be to place presh material under glass in the sun to steam then dry in the sun the next day and dampen and repeat until the fibers are released.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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After having them in my small pond for a few days, and then dry overnight, this morning I started peeling off the fibers from the nettle stems. It's very little (six stems only), as an experiment.
I put them in water again now, hope the plant rests will come off easier. I'll make photos when it looks more like real fibers
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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it looks like fiber now, at least 'spinnable' ... a pencil is my 'tool' for experimental spinning very small amounts of fiber
 
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Inge Leonora-den Ouden wrote:it looks like fiber now, at least 'spinnable' ... a pencil is my 'tool' for experimental spinning very small amounts of fiber


How does it "feel"? It looks rough, but that may not be an issue depending on how it is used.

How does it smell when mixed with human sweat? I have found that cotton handles sweat better than  plastic (whatever the exact name may be) which smells really bad after just a few hours of work. I have found that wool has less smell than cotton when used for socks. I am told buck skin (brain tanned skin) is even better and tends to keep feet from fungal problems even when wet. I am not sure that it is a straight chemical mix which determines smell, it may have something to do with how our bacteria we host digests things too.

Does it seem strong? I am not sure how much this matters. Wool is not very strong and that may be part of the reason it feels nice (has more flex).

It is probably too early to know... how does it handle water? Does it seem "washable"?
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Len Ovens wrote:... How does it "feel"? It looks rough, but that may not be an issue depending on how it is used.

How does it smell when mixed with human sweat? I have found that cotton handles sweat better than  plastic (whatever the exact name may be) which smells really bad after just a few hours of work. I have found that wool has less smell than cotton when used for socks. I am told buck skin (brain tanned skin) is even better and tends to keep feet from fungal problems even when wet. I am not sure that it is a straight chemical mix which determines smell, it may have something to do with how our bacteria we host digests things too.
Does it seem strong? I am not sure how much this matters. Wool is not very strong and that may be part of the reason it feels nice (has more flex).
It is probably too early to know... how does it handle water? Does it seem "washable"?



My tiny experiment does not answer all of those questions. This only shows me: it is rough and it seems to be strong and washable.
Of course stinging nettle fibers were used before. In larger quantities and with more work stinging nettles can produce a very nice 'nettle cloth' looking like fine linen. It was used in earlier centuries in European countries for the same purposes as linen (under garments, children's aprons and caps; they're still in museum collections). That fabric was strong and washable. Probably it gets more flexible every time you wear / wash it, like linen.

In general I have the experience synthetics ('plastic') cause me to feel sweaty and smelly; natural materials don't.
 
r ranson
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someone sent this to me.  I haven't a clue what it says, but it looks useful.
nettles-for-textile.jpg
[Thumbnail for nettles-for-textile.jpg]
 
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Happy to find this thread, I did my own experiment this fall and wanted to report back.

My Nettle Processing Album on Imgur
I attached all the pics to this post in case the link dies, first time posting so hope it works ok.

Some high points:
  • It split and stripped nicely fresh, but without retting you have all the thin outside bark.  Maybe cording, not great for thread/yarn?
  • If you are going to ret in a bucket, make sure it doesn't have holes.  I ended up putting my bucket in another tub to keep the water level after day 1
  • Retting in Nov was really slow.  I let it go for 9 days and then pulled it.  No froth, no see-through mushy skins, but it did seem to help?
  • Drying in the garage is hard with 80% humidity.  Near the end I pulled them inside my house.  It was in the garage 10 days, inside 2...seems dry?
  • Separation seemed to go well, but it doesn't take many woody bits to make the whole lot look really rough.  I wonder what stripping fresh and retting the bark off the strips would yield?
  • After drying, fibers got more brittle at the nodes and it was harder to pull long strips.  I'm considering giving up and chopping out nodes to just strip 2-3" sections
  • My poor cotton cards!  Never have they seen so much 'junk'!  I'm looking for other options, maybe crushing, scutching, etc


  • 1nettleBundle.jpg
    [Thumbnail for 1nettleBundle.jpg]
    1: Bundle
    2beforeRetting.jpg
    [Thumbnail for 2beforeRetting.jpg]
    2: Before Retting
    3retting.jpg
    [Thumbnail for 3retting.jpg]
    3: Retting
    4afterretting.jpg
    [Thumbnail for 4afterretting.jpg]
    4: After Retting
    5dried.jpg
    [Thumbnail for 5dried.jpg]
    5: Dried and Ready
    6strip.jpg
    [Thumbnail for 6strip.jpg]
    6: Stripping the Fiber
    7comb.jpg
    [Thumbnail for 7comb.jpg]
    7: Combing
    8finally.jpg
    [Thumbnail for 8finally.jpg]
    8: Small Tuft of Nettle Fiber
     
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    r ranson posted a link in this thread to a book that I just downloaded. It is GREAT! I have been making basic string and nets for 30+ years and the book linked to above has great ideas that I hadn't thought of! It's worth putting another link in for it here!
    https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/9721421/reconstructions-by-anne-reichert
     
    Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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    Raven Ranson, your book about flax / linen is ready now ... Will the next book be on nettles?
     
    r ranson
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    Inge Leonora-den Ouden wrote:Raven Ranson, your book about flax / linen is ready now ... Will the next book be on nettles?



    Nettles are part of the plan for a future book, but I'm not quite ready to write about them yet.  I don't feel I have enough experience with them, so I'm trying to gain more.

    We have a small problem with one of our neighbours who enjoys chopping down my nettle patch just prior to harvest, so I haven't been able to harvest a significant amount yet.

     
    Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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    raven ranson wrote:... Nettles are part of the plan for a future book, but I'm not quite ready to write about them yet.  I don't feel I have enough experience with them, so I'm trying to gain more.

    We have a small problem with one of our neighbours who enjoys chopping down my nettle patch just prior to harvest, so I haven't been able to harvest a significant amount yet.


    It's difficult to find the right information on working with nettles, I found out too.

    Did you explain your neighbour about the purpose of the nettles? Then if he still chops them down, he's a ...... (not a nice name)
     
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    raven ranson wrote:
    We have a small problem with one of our neighbours who enjoys chopping down my nettle patch just prior to harvest, so I haven't been able to harvest a significant amount yet.


    Does it HAVE to be done any specific time? Can you ask them to leave the nettles in a nice pile for you if they must chop them? Let them do your harvest

    Inge Leonora-den Ouden wrote:Did you explain your neighbour about the purpose of the nettles? Then if he still chops them down, he's a ......

    Unpaid harvester The problem may be the solution!!

    I have been reading woad, indigo, flax and nettle stuff this morning I am fairly sure i have Hemp Dogbane (Apocynum cannabium) which is perennial, on my property. It looks like it was a traditional fiber too.

    I have dyed cotton and silk for many years with chemical dyes, (the cover pic on my profile is a silk scarf I did) and want to go more natural with it all. I sew as easy as I breathe, and have wanted to get into yarn/spinning/fiber stuff for years.
    I look forward to your book!!
     
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    I have some questions about nettle fibre.

    What might the physical characteristics, properties or benefits of nettle fibre be? As in, why or for which types of textile might I want to use nettle fibre for?

    Also, what would yield look like as compared to flax, or some other fibre-yielding crop, like cotton, sisal, or hemp?

    It looks to be a very fine fibre. Do we know how the ratio of harvested biomass to finished fibre would look?

    -CK
     
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    The next time we get some dry weather (hopefully before June ;) ) I want to go harvest some nettles from a patch on the property. I tried processing nettle once before, using info from http://jonsbushcraft.com/Nettle%20cordage.htm but my results were frustratingly different from his perfectly even, long strips. But now I see that if you're going to comb and spin the fiber, it doesn't matter as much. It also seems from my reading here, that waiting until this season to harvest may mean that nature has pre-retted the fiber a bit for me, and has certainly removed most of the stinging leaves. Will update with pics when the weather obliges.
     
    Chris Kott
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    So I found some of my own answers. I found this thread again, so I figured I'd share this thread.

    -CK
     
    r ranson
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    Quite possibly the best book about processing nettle fibre, currently available is Yarn from Wild Nettles; A Practical Guide by Birte Ford.

    In this book, Ford describes the Root Retting Method.  The nettles are left in the field over winter and in the spring, "just before the new shoots appear", we pick the dry stems and "the bark and the core have rotted away but the fibres are still there and it is easy to break the stems." (page 15).

    This works in some parts of the world.  When it works it is so simple to get the fibres out.  However, it doesn't work here.  

    I have tried testing the standing nettles from about the time they die off (early December) until the new shoots come.  I test about once a week provided the area isn't too flooded to get to.  What seems to happen is that most of the stems turn to slush and the ones that remain standing ret wrongly.  The fibres and inner layer of the skin vanish before the rest of the stem starts to break down so that in the spring when things are dry enough to harvest, I get this.



    Why doesn't root retting work where I am?

    Well, from my memory of the UK, they are much further north than I am, have a colder, dryer winter than I do.  Much of our days during the winter are over 10 degrees C, often up to 20 degrees.  And the rain!  We are known as the 'wet coast' but all of our rain falls in the winter.  My theory: Warmer weather means that there is more microbial activity and wetter weather means that we may not have as much aerobic (air loving) invisible beasties (microbes) to eat the 'glue' in the stems.  

    The nettle shoots are just breaking the soil now.  It's a good time to harvest some for dye and food.  
     
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    r ranson wrote: The fibres and inner layer of the skin vanish before the rest of the stem starts to break down so that in the spring when things are dry enough to harvest, I get this.



    Why doesn't root retting work where I am?



    A few weeks ago, I went out and looked at my nettle patch, wondering if they would have retted by themselves...and, like yours, they've just turned into dry, brittle sticks. Nothing pliable or usable there that I can see.

    I'm thinking that your right, and that it's too wet and warm and things just decompose too well during our winters.

    I've also been out there eating my nettles, and they're delicious. I think they might have grown enough for a second harvest!

    Do nettles need a mordant for dying? I've only ever died with avocado peals. It'd be fun to try something new!
     
    r ranson
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    Nettles on wool won't need a mordant.  They are sometimes used as a mordant for other colours as the oxalic acid and the high mineral content act just like a mordant.

    Nettles on cellulose may need some sort of tannin to help it stick.  Maybe the first dye with willow bark or acorns, then dye with nettles?
     
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    Has anyone here grown stinging nettles (intentionally)? We live in a high desert grassland valley (abt 4,300 ft. elev., abt 31 degrees lat.) and I got some nettle seeds in a collection of dye plant seeds. Of course, I'd love to try nettles as fiber as well as for dye. We don't have much water available for irrigation, though, so most of our growing is monsoon floodwater irrigated, with a small area irrigated by our graywater. I don't know if we could keep the soil wet (or the area shaded?) enough to grow nettles. I may try sowing a few seeds in the graywater-irrigated patch, using a mesquite tree there as a nurse plant, maybe sowing in fall and hoping for cool weather germination and growth. Does anyone have any related experience or tips and advice? Thanks in case!
     
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    Maybe it helps to use the official (Latin) names of the different nettle plants? Here in the Netherlands (western Europe) we have Urtica dioica and Urtica urens.


    Inge's suggestion made me curious about what type of nettles grow on my place and I found some info from the University of California (page is titled "Pests in Gardens and Landscapes" LOL) with descriptions and photos of two varieties of nettles that you named, Inge! http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74146.html
    Raven - Although they have quite a bit of information on the 'stinging' and 'burning' properties of the plants I didn't see anything about the undersides of the leaves being touchable nor has anyone that I know locally ever mentioned this. I have a niece in Arizona though who swears that the way to avoid stings is to only pick the young leaves - which she uses, fresh and uncooked, in salads! Different variety? Different climate?
    Thanks for all of the nettle fiber info, Raven. With luck, this year I'll be able to escape from house building long enough to harvest some nettles for fiber. I'll let you know if I do!

    Carla
     
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    Here's a recent book suggestion from Richard Mak that looks good https://permies.com/t/108637/fiber-arts/Book-Sting-Spin-Gillian-Edom
    Thank you Raven for all your research and for sharing with the rest of us!
     
    BeeDee marshall
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    Zack Walker wrote:Happy to find this thread, I did my own experiment this fall and wanted to report back.
    Some high points:

  • It split and stripped nicely fresh, but without retting you have all the thin outside bark.  Maybe cording, not great for thread/yarn?




  • Cordage instructions for those interested. http://jonsbushcraft.com/Nettle%20cordage.htm
     
    r ranson
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    Beth Wilder wrote:Has anyone here grown stinging nettles (intentionally)? We live in a high desert grassland valley (abt 4,300 ft. elev., abt 31 degrees lat.) and I got some nettle seeds in a collection of dye plant seeds. Of course, I'd love to try nettles as fiber as well as for dye. We don't have much water available for irrigation, though, so most of our growing is monsoon floodwater irrigated, with a small area irrigated by our graywater. I don't know if we could keep the soil wet (or the area shaded?) enough to grow nettles. I may try sowing a few seeds in the graywater-irrigated patch, using a mesquite tree there as a nurse plant, maybe sowing in fall and hoping for cool weather germination and growth. Does anyone have any related experience or tips and advice? Thanks in case!



    I think this would be a lot of fun to try.

    Where I live, it's very dry all summer.  The nettles gravitate towards the shady spots and near the places with deep ground water.   They also hang out in the dryer areas close to the animals.  I think the moisture from the animals' 'gifts' is enough for the nettles, but these ones don't grow very tall.

    A graywater-irrigated patch sounds like something they would really love.
     
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    Beth Wilder wrote:Has anyone here grown stinging nettles (intentionally)? We live in a high desert grassland valley (abt 4,300 ft. elev., abt 31 degrees lat.) and I got some nettle seeds in a collection of dye plant seeds. Of course, I'd love to try nettles as fiber as well as for dye. We don't have much water available for irrigation, though, so most of our growing is monsoon floodwater irrigated, with a small area irrigated by our graywater. I don't know if we could keep the soil wet (or the area shaded?) enough to grow nettles. I may try sowing a few seeds in the graywater-irrigated patch, using a mesquite tree there as a nurse plant, maybe sowing in fall and hoping for cool weather germination and growth. Does anyone have any related experience or tips and advice? Thanks in case!


    Being in the Chihuahuan Desert, I would have to intentionally grow nettles and I like the idea of irrigating them with graywater. I wonder how they would do with the laundry detergent I'm using up before moving to something more plant friendly.
     
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    Hi,
    I am growing stinging nettles (intentionally).  Picked up some seeds last year with miner's lettuce.  
    They do grow up in the higher elevation of the San Bernardino Mtns.  Anyone else from the Inland Empire area of Southern California?
    Today I harvested the first of the nettle leaves for tea.  

    Thanks for all the info on weaving with nettles.

     
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    Hi all,

    Lots of great info and advice in this forum or 'thread' . I've got a few patches of nettles growing around me and have so far used them for teas and in soups/stews. Another of my hobbies is weaving and I'm very interested being able to use nettles and other plants as a fibre also.
    I've had a bit of a go with a drop spindle and a sheep's fleece I bought last year, getting a steady thickness is tricky. I've mainly used the fleece on a peg loom to make a rug but have been lucky enough to have a friend who made me an Inkle loom so the nettle fibres would be great to use on this.
    Basically I've had a little go with fibres and want to have a try of everything!! How rewarding to be able to make something to wear from something growing in the garden!

    The book looks like a great place to start.

     
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    I have a well tended, large patch of Stinging nettles and now have a new use for them! They are wonderful first greens in Spring, and make an excellent compost tea for both foliar spray and drench. I have always added the spent stems to the compost heap. I will "play" with this idea this year.
     
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    I have some seeds and was going to try to grow them for greens this year,  super excited to learn they can also be used for fiber.
     
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