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Joylynn Hardesty
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As we do not have enough land for animals, I have been concerned about what to do about future clothing needs. Then I ran across this
. Sarah Corrigan from roots school using dogbane to make cordage. After obtaining the rough fibers that I've seen many people make into a rope, She shreded (rhetted?) the fibers down to soft looking hairs with a comb (a different video by some one else, showed carding the rough fibers just like wool is done). She employed a hanging (or is it a drop) spindle to make her cord. She then shows making a basket with the cordage.
I ran across another you tube making rope from milkweed fibers (I didn't capture his url). He said this fiber feels like cotton. Elsewhere, I read nettle fibers are used in some fabrics made for upholstery and carpets. Another source said that giant ragweed will make cordage.
Here, Victoria Melia makes cordage out of nettles, for baskets.
She starts her process with fresh plant material. This process is good to know, if you need cordage made in the summer. However through watching the other, dry plant methods, it appears the dry stalks are easier to strip down into the fibers, to the rough rope cordage product.
Now, I don't know how the feel of these fibers compare to flax. I am sure that people farm flax for very good reasons. However, With these weeds, I could wander along the highway and harvest my fabric without having to set aside valuable space, then tend and water and weed as well.
Once the cordage like Sarah made exists, I imagine knitting, crocheting or weaving it into panels.

=================
Identification pictures for those interested.
dogbane http://altnature.com/herb-pictures/images/indian-hemp0848.jpg


milkweed http://altnature.com/herb-pictures/images/milkweed3717.jpg


nettle http://altnature.com/herb-pictures/images/stinging-nettle1987.jpg


ragweed http://altnature.com/herb-pictures/images/ragweed6506.jpg

 
r ranson
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What an amazing adventure! If you were in town, I would take you by the hand and show you all the amazing things you can harvest here. And how to transform them into cloth. This is the subject I am most passionate about.

Small space crops:

Angora bunnies might be worth looking into. Only a few square feet for modern raising techniques, a bit more than that for permaculture style bunnie raising.

Silk moths of course take up even less space. The most common silk moths are Tussah (which eat oak) and Bombex (which eat mulberry). Here's a little known fact. There are many wild moths that produce useable silk. Some green, most brown or tan, all lovely. If you raise wild moths that are native to your area, you already have a large variety of plants that they will eat. Wild moths aren't so picky as their domestic counterparts. With wild moths, there are some clever things you can do to make raising them simple.

As to plant fibres, there are some amazing things you can do. From roots, to tree bark, to bast fibres (flax, nettles, hem, and others like you mentioned) where the fibre is hidden within the stem of the plant, to fluffy seed coatings like cotton - it's incredible what you can use, and what has been used throughout history. Have you ever read about those mummies in Ancient Egypt? Or maybe seen a movie, or even a museum display. The linen cloth these desiccated corpses are wrapped in, have hundreds of threads per inch (if you put 1 inch square on the cloth, and count how many threads go one direction, that's how many threads per inch), some in the thousands!!! ALL THAT THREAD WAS GROWN BY HAND, HARVESTED BY HAND, PROCESSED BY HAND, SPUN BY HAND AND WOVEN BY HAND!

Linen/flax can be worked into a standard crop rotation, or can be grown in an unobtrusive corner of the garden. Or guerilla gardening if that's your thing. It usually needs one weeding when the plants are 4 to 6 inches tall. Flax is the ultimate bast fibre because it has some amazing qualities and can be worked extremely fine. Don't disregard other fibre plants - they can be just as joyful to work with in their own way, and the end result reflects the artisan's skill as much as the materials.

So many different plants produce fibre that can be used for cordage and clothing. You can make amazing luxury cloth with stinging nettles and a bit of perseverance.

Rope is a good place to start, develop your skills, and discover if textile work is a good match for you. If rope is what you want, then even better.

Maybe I'm getting a bit over-excited about the adventure you are beginning, please forgive me.


Advice for actually doing it!

Try, try and try again.

Find a local mentor. You may be surprised how many people make yarn from natural materials. Even if your mentor prefers modern materials, you can still learn some skills that transfer well to wildcrafting your clothes.

Don't fall in the the 'right way' trap. People have been doing this sort of thing for thousands of years, all over the world. Each individual had their own technique, and different regions had different ways to do it. The right way, the proper way, the most efficient way, is the way that works for you and gets the results you want. If anyone dares to tell you "this is the proper way to..." make xyz into yarn, then send them to me and I'll give them a talking to. It's too easy to spend all your time searching for the right way to do something, only then to discover that it's the right way only in certain circumstances that don't apply to you. Instead, get out there and try different things.

There are some tools that will make life much easier. My thoughts and observations is that some people spend a lot of time and money acquiring the tools before they discover that they don't enjoy the craft. They forget that textiles can be achieved with simple tools that are easy to make and mend. If you can, borrow the tool - carder, cards, wheel, whatever - before buying, so much the better. Depending on what you want to achieve, and your natural inclinations, there are some tools that I can suggest might be worth investing in early on.



If you are willing, could you tell us what part of the world you are in? If not, don't worry. It would help get an idea of what grows best where you live. Or, you could tell us about the main weeds on your property. By knowing what plants you have access to the most, I can gather together some resources that might inspire you.
 
r ranson
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Finally got to watching the nettle video. I love it. "That one stung me. It's gonna be a basket. That's what you get for stinging people."

Nettles are definitely on my to do list. We have a few nettle patches here and I've started working with them a few times. Even got so far as to rett some and extract the fibres of one by hand. But life happened. Actually people happened and they threw out my 'rotten weeds'.

Rett: a kind of controlled rott that removes the 'glue' at attaches the fibres to the boon. Boon: stick like stuff from the stems of the plant. You probably already know that bit, but I like to put in the definitions for future readers.

I know that there are a great many ways to process nettles into yarn. Medieval Europeans processed nettles (or so the archaeologists tell us) much the same as they did flax, and made a fabric so fine that it was difficult to tell the difference between nettle and linen... according to the same source. Yet contemporary sources do seem to note a difference between nettle shirts and linen ones. I often wonder if this difference was more a status issue than actually being able to tell the two fibres apart.

Much of the medieval knowledge of working with nettles has been lost. Our current understanding is that it was processed a lot like flax. Harvested, dried, retted, broke, scrutched...and so on. When I tried to do it this way, I found the individual fibres within the nettle plant were quite short, only an inch or three long. This is very different than linen where the fibres run the whole length of the stock and can easily be over a yard long.

In the Pacific Northwest, the First Nations have a long history of working with nettle fibre. There are still people alive who remember seeing these nettle work parties, and a few who participated in them in the past. If I remember correctly, Judith MacKenzie McCuin writes about it in one of her books. There was something about beating and soaking the nettles in a tidal pool. Hopefully I can find something in the local guild library next month that will tell us more. In the mean time, I'm going to look for books on the Coast Salish textile traditions, and other (bands/groups/tribes/some special word for it I can't remember) along the coast.

The method in the video you linked to is one I've heard of before, but haven't tried. I understand it works well for making rope for nets and bags, but I don't know about for clothing. I've put it at the top of my list of things to try this weekend.

Do you have any nettles near you? Want to try it with me? We can each post our experiences and see what we can learn.
 
r ranson
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Power's been off all day, and looks like it will probably be gone again if the wind picks up. Please forgive the incompleteness of the post, just need to get this out while I can.

Homework assignment: Visit local library and borrow The Intentional Spinner by Judith MacKenzie McCuin (link to feed the empire to come later, if I remember). Introduction has some awesome stuff about First Nations nettle working. Further into the book under the Cellulose chapter, there is a bunch more about nettles.

As for those tools I was talking about you needing for fibre arts...

...tool number 1: A library card.
 
r ranson
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Yet another method for processing nettles.

There seems to be a great many methods for working with nettles. I have yet to find one that is as easy as flax however, but I think there must be one.

Almost all the methods suggest harvesting in the fall, starting about now actually, so I picked a bunch and will set to work experimenting.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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"The method in the video you linked to is one I've heard of before, but haven't tried. I understand it works well for making rope for nets and bags, but I don't know about for clothing. I've put it at the top of my list of things to try this weekend." rransom

As for the 'rope' not doing for fine weaving, I agree. It is however a place to start, the end 'cloth' being much rougher than homespun. Perhaps approprate for an outer garment, tunic style. "Why yes, this is an unusual garment, I wove the fabric myself you know." Bragging rights!
In ages past woven cloth was more like 12 to 24 inches wide. Garments made were boxy and triangular, in pattern layout. I am thinking of doing woven pannels, stitching or crocheting (in my case meaning chaining, unskilled as I am there.) them together. Not that I know yet how to make a loom.
Passion? As for weaving, I'd imagine at the least, it would be a meditative kind of thing. Like weeding, a necessasry task to something I do love: eating. Weaving necessary to garment production. I love to create clothing. My favorite projects have been from clients who bring a drawing: 'This is what I want the dress to look like'.
I know nettle grows in the area, though I don't have it. I ran into it (ouch) before I knew it had any benifits, It is no longer in that location. I have not run into it since. Anyone have nettle or milkweed seeds they want to send this way?
I grow late flowering boneset, for winter colds. I have a forest of giant ragweed, to remember what winter colds are like. Actually, for biomass. Goldenrod. Really, what I do is not weed these volunteer plants. Mare's tail is prolific. No one is going to stop me from pulling up Kudzu from along the highways. Wild lettuce stalks? We eat the leaves before it bolts, letting it reseed as it will. A smallish quantity of stalks for the purpose though. The others are the plants with a population I think would make a few yards, as opposed to inches of cloth.
Cotton requires a permit, think plagues of cotton boll weevils. Though one article I read claims the bug is much reduced. Yet, I don't want to harm my actual farming neighbor's crops with my ignorance of the pest.
I have a 4 year old silk mimosa, It bloomed beatifully this year, finaly. I snagged the seedling on a hike somewhere, with silkworms in mind. Or whatever makes those tent webs I see all over the wild trees.
Hm, sunchoke stalks for bunnies, and fibers? I don't know if it is appropriate for thread. Do you keep angora bunnies? I have considered rabbits for meat and leather, furs. I was thinking in terms of shorter hairs for ease of garment care, though. Then there is the heat and humidity factors too.
I may be a week posting again, we had the opportunity of striping trees of a few bushels of pears at a friend's placeover the weekend. Work, work, work! Have patience, I won't lose interest in learning this skill.
Library card in hand.
Joy
 
r ranson
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How exciting, you live in a place with Kudzu! I wish it was a 'problem' here. Kudzu has a long history of being used for textiles, as well as human and animal food. Please share all your experience with kudzu.

It's lovely to find another person interested in the history of textiles. There are so many exciting things we can learn from the past. Lately I've been looking at Japanese textiles, who made most of their clothes out of cloth 13 to 14 inches wide. I'm fascinated with Sakiori weaving which is a kind of recycled rag weaving, but the rags are very, very fine. The finished fabric is flexible and warm.

My personal favourite clothing to wear is Medieval England, circa 14th Century. It's very loose and flowing, without constricting the body much at all, but it's designed in a way that it stays out of the way of farmwork and other daily activities. All rectangles and triangles, with the widest fabric panel being about 30". Of course, most of them were usually in two panels, so really the widest needed would be 15 or 16 inches wide. I wear this for a week or two each summer for a medieval educational display, and wish I could I would wear it the rest of the year as well.

My eventual goal is to be able to make a good chunk of my wardrobe. To find a style that is comfortable, practical, and as appropriate for farm as city use. I like long skirts (easy to make), tank top, blouse and jacket/cardigan. I can make the cloth, but transforming it into clothing is always my stumbling point.


For the longest time for me, weaving was a necessary evil. I wanted to like it in the worst possible way. In fact, I liked threading the string through the eyes and slots (dressing the loom) but when it came to weaving, I found the whole thing about counting to 8, 6, or 4 to be far too trying. I'm much happier with weaving now. I found my biggest problem was that I allowed myself to be pressured by popular trends.

Some thoughts on looms:

A backstrap loom will be your easiest to build yourself. This tutorial is fantastic. This style of weaving is used to make Warp Faced fabric, where the threads wrapped around the loom (the warp) are dominant in the finished fabric and the thread you pass back and forth (the weft) is usually hidden. It's a very strong, hardwearing fabric.

You can use the backstrap loom to create a ballanced weve as well, but it's not super-easy. To make it super-easy, one can use a rigid heddle There are lots of other tricks to get the fabric you want.

If you wanted to invest in a loom, a rigid heddle loom like this one would be a good place to start. My preferred width is 24" loom. One can often find these used or even free on the local usedanywhere site.

Tablet weaving is another good weaving 'loom' you can make yourself. Most people use an old deck of cards and a hole punch. It makes an extremely strong cloth, with potentially fancy designs. However, it's difficult to make a very wide piece of cloth with this. Usually about 4 inches is as wide as people go.

There are a lot of other loom styles out there that one can make themselves. These are just the ones that I've had the most friendly experience with.


Bunnies - I've raised meat rabbits as well as one fibre bunny. Not an angora, more a pet rabbit with nice fibre. At that time in my life, bunnies proved to be a very poor match for me, so I only kept the a year. Although, I am considering maybe starting again. If I did, I would definitely make better homes for them, preferably closer to the house so that it's easier to keep an eye on them. The other thing I would do would be to wean them away from commercial feed. This might take a bit of breeding as most domestic rabbits are selected that they cannot eat fresh plants in any serious quantities.

One thought on bunny fibre is you mention the fibre length. The longer the individual fibres (generally) the stronger and longer lasting the finished fabric. Short fibres work their way out of the cloth and cause the fabric to pill, or create lint. Both cause the fabric to wear poorly.

The warmth of the fabric has more to do with how the air is trapped. Llama fibre for example, is hollow so it traps more air than say wool. Llama is about 4 times more insulating than wool (as a general statement, so many other factors contribute).


Finally Silkworms. Wormspit is my absolute favourite souce for information about raising silk worms, both domestic and wild. I don't know enough about tent caterpillars to know if it would work or not, but perhaps worth a try.

I'm hoping things work out so I can raise the polyphemus moths again this spring. Who knows. I'm keeping an eye out for signs of them in the wild, but failing that I can buy some cocoons for rather a lot of money which I had best start saving up for now.

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Jotham Bessey
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R Ranson wrote:Have you ever read about those mummies in Ancient Egypt?  Or maybe seen a movie, or even a museum display.  The linen cloth these desiccated corpses are wrapped in, have hundreds of threads per inch (if you put 1 inch square on the cloth, and count how many threads go one direction, that's how many threads per inch), some in the thousands!!!  ALL THAT THREAD WAS GROWN BY HAND, HARVESTED BY HAND, PROCESSED BY HAND, SPUN BY HAND AND WOVEN BY HAND! 



Was it all by hand? In studying things like self-sufficiency, alternative energy/fibers/food, building techniques, cleaning, person hygiene. The stuff that has been bled out of our culture by the industrial system. I'm sure humanity has forgotten much more than they've learned. I'm beginning to think the Egyptians had technology made from biodegradable material. Permaculture becomes a pursuit of relearning that which has been forgotten   
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Jotham Bessey wrote:
R Ranson wrote:...


Was it all by hand? In studying things like self-sufficiency, alternative energy/fibers/food, building techniques, cleaning, person hygiene. The stuff that has been bled out of our culture by the industrial system. I'm sure humanity has forgotten much more than they've learned. I'm beginning to think the Egyptians had technology made from biodegradable material. Permaculture becomes a pursuit of relearning that which has been forgotten   

The old Egyptians have made so many murals and inscriptions. I think if they had such technology, they would have showed it and written (in hieroglyphs) about it.
And also in later ages such fine threads were still spun and fabrics woven, and the 'artifacts' are still there and show it was handcraft.
Humanity has forgotten much, yes, but humanity is/was also able to do much more 'by hand' then most people can imagine nowadays.
 
r ranson
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Jotham Bessey wrote:
R Ranson wrote:Have you ever read about those mummies in Ancient Egypt?  Or maybe seen a movie, or even a museum display.  The linen cloth these desiccated corpses are wrapped in, have hundreds of threads per inch (if you put 1 inch square on the cloth, and count how many threads go one direction, that's how many threads per inch), some in the thousands!!!  ALL THAT THREAD WAS GROWN BY HAND, HARVESTED BY HAND, PROCESSED BY HAND, SPUN BY HAND AND WOVEN BY HAND! 



Was it all by hand? In studying things like self-sufficiency, alternative energy/fibers/food, building techniques, cleaning, person hygiene. The stuff that has been bled out of our culture by the industrial system. I'm sure humanity has forgotten much more than they've learned. I'm beginning to think the Egyptians had technology made from biodegradable material. Permaculture becomes a pursuit of relearning that which has been forgotten   


It is possible ancient Egypt had some technology we don't know about yet.  Probable even.  But I don't think much of that is in textiles as the process for making cloth is so well documented from pictures and descriptions in the tomb and other evidence.  Textiles were such a vital part of living, how they are made is very well documented - often better documented than food production.  There are spindle whorls and also the technology was still in use in parts of the world up to the 20th Century, with very little change from how they were depicted in ancient times.  It's quite fun to follow the pedigree of something like the spindle whorl and it's placement on the shaft through history and place. 

The Egyptians did some really amazing stuff.  To me, doing it by hand and doing it far better than we can do with all our modern tech, is amazing.  Attributing it to technology that may or may not have existed is almost like belittling the past.  To me, it feels like we are saying, "they weren't really that amazing because they were like us".  But if we stop and actually look at what they produced, they made cloth far superior to we can with our current technology.  It's unlikely they could have done it any way but by hand.
 
Jotham Bessey
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Good point. Stay healthy and regain the knowledge. We can do a lot without modern technology.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Does anyone know anything about using sun hemp as a fiber crop?  We use it as a nitrogen fixer, cover crop, and we eat the leaves as a vegetable.  I have read that its more commonly used as a fiber crop, but I can't seem to dug up any info on how its processed or what the fibers are used for.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Joylynn Hardesty wrote:As we do not have enough land for animals, I have been concerned about what to do about future clothing needs.


OK. I'll try again:
Here is a very enlightening article about industrial hemp:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2013/05/29/industrial-hemp-a-win-win-for-the-economy-and-the-environment/#1c2f4293289b



 
Sharon Kallis
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Thank you R Ranson for posting this thread on the dailyish mailing....as you know, anything fibre warms my heart but the wild or gleaned local fibres for cloth are especially exciting! as it turn's out- I was supposed to teach a nettle class today that got cancelled last minute because of illness, so I have an unexpected day off to play with my nettle pile instead- starting here with watching the videos and reading about other folks experiences- ohh happy day! I have been working on attempts to unlock the code to best harvest times for ease of processing here on the wet coast for several years... and go back and forth from green harvest in july to autumn harvest or later winter harvest... each have a bonus, mostly I find if I want soft spun threads that are silky,later is better- for cordage earlier so  I keep the fibres as long as possible for strength. A useful book that outlines the process as it best works for a place with cold, drier winters then what we have here is  Birte Ford's book Yarn from wild nettles,  a practical guide.https://www.abebooks.com/9781511419031/Yarn-Wild-Nettles-Practical-Guide-1511419032/plp I have found here seasonal notes dont work here as we are so much wetter- if I harvest when she does in Jan everything is overretted and the fibre is too compromised... this year of course the exception as our weather has been snowy and colder then usual.
A few things to note I haven't seen mentioned yet:
not all nettle has the same bite! nettle in sunny areas will sting you way more, nettle growing in shady areas is often mild- in fact I seek out shady nettles when my arthritis is bad...
if you get a sting, look for yellow dock or plantain usually growing nearby- either can be chewed into a poultice mush for immediate relief, I find the dock a bit better at the task, but plantain will do fine.
harvest after first frost and the nettle hairs will have frozen  and no sting
or, for green harvest in summer, leave your pile of nettles just laying out in the sun to wilt for several hours or overnight and the hairs wilt, so generally no gloves required.
Another important bit to know, the top video  she suggested keeping the top leaves for tea- only do this if you are gathering young nettles... by the time seed heads have formed there is too much silica in the leaves and they are hard on kidneys- so do your  scouting for locations in early to mid spring, gather leaves then for tea- then come back a few months later for your fibre harvest

Another fibre I would encourage you to look at you might find as it seems you are southern from me- Phormium tenax, or other phormium varieties... know commonly as new zealand flax, it was mislabeled as a flax by settlers who saw what the Maori were doing with the plant they call Harakeke... it grows here as an ornamental planted around the city and is an incredible fibre plant!! I ask nicely of some of the city gardeners I know and am often allowed to clip back the scraggly outer leaves... I tear them down by hand into strips, soak them overnight or longer, then have pulled them through my wide teeth metal hackles for breaking down further- Maori folks scrape them with shells to take off the waxy surface, and pop them in the geothermal bath nearby... not having that luxury I have played with using a pastry cutter to scrape surface ( this is a great tool for flax scutching btw) and then  rolled up the fibre and put it in my pressure cooker for a bit with a few inches of water... (sorry I can't remember how long exactly but try 40 minutes to start) then I scraped and hackled again, and I ended up with a thick hank of fine, long fibre fantastically strong- courser then linen, softer then a horsetail- but about 4 ft long!
finally before I go and start playing with fibres today,...
Do you have any nettles near you? Want to try it with me? We can each post our experiences and see what we can learn. 
Yes please! Sign me up for this... I would so love to have a dedicated place and group to share knowledge with through the gathering and working season... being able to share discoveries and compare notes of seasons weather etc makes a big difference for pushing our fibre knowledge for the subtle nuances that are involved in wild fibre work. Most of what I have learned to date has been by trail and error with the plants as my teachers- filling in gaps from various books and cross referencing what work with other bast fibres. I would be most happy to be doing a little check in every few weeks once the season is rolling this year....
top photo shows Harakeke in various stages- you can see soft blondish tail in the foreground as finished product ready to spin, bottom photo is scraping partially shredded leaves with pastry cutter.
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Sharon Kallis
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I forgot to say another excellent fibre research rabbit hole to fall down is looking at traditional Japanese textile fibres.... everything from wisteria vines, elm bark, linden bark, mulberry bark, and kudzu... as well of course hemp. A common feature in processing I come across is cooking the bark fibre in wood or soda ash to make it softer and break down the compounds that bind or lock the fibre... I see this in many places and came across a video  of doing this in norway with green harvested nettle- I tried it over a fire with a couple scoops of wood ash last summer. not having any idea how much ash to use or how long to cook it for I think I overdid it... It feels a bit too crunchy now, but I did just think to try a vinegar and water bath to neutralize  the PH level again.... will see if that does anything good. this is an area for further testing for sure. Also, I have heard in norway they emerged linden trees in ponds for several months after felling the tree- then stripped and processed the bark for cloth and baskets.
In general for retting nettle, when I tried water retting in my tub I found it took 4 days to flax being 6- so less time. when dew retting outside, we have sped up the process by using a concrete pad so it only took a long weekend when we had crazy rain storms to  ret- the lime in the concrete of course sped it up considerably... OK, NOW I am going to play with my fibre!
 
Len Ovens
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Joylynn Hardesty wrote:As we do not have enough land for animals, I have been concerned about what to do about future clothing needs.


Lots of fibers to use. In this area, cedar bark was very common for blankets and hats and....


Now, I don't know how the feel of these fibers compare to flax. I am sure that people farm flax for very good reasons.


In our case, with the coming of the European people, the switch from cedar to wool was quick. I do not know if it was less work to process or comfort that made the quick change (durability?), but the fact that the change was made does say something. It may have even been ease of dying, one never knows what property of a raw material would attract someone to it.


However, With these weeds, I could wander along the highway and harvest my fabric without having to set aside valuable space,  then tend and water and weed as well.
Once the cordage like Sarah made exists, I imagine knitting, crocheting or weaving it into panels.


We await the results of your experiments.
 
Maureen Atsali
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I just wanted to put an addition on my question about sun hemp as a fiber.  It is not a true "hemp", it is a tropical legume.  I'll probably butcher the spelling: crotolaria juncea?  Still wondering about how to make fiber from it... As a complete novice to plant fibers.  I dissected the stems, and can't figure it out. 

Aside from that we have sisal here, but its so course it doesn't seem good for anything but ropes.  I love watching old men in the village process their sisal though!  A beautiful, dying art.
 
Sharon Kallis
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Maureen i think some experimenting will most certainly be called for! I am not familiar with sunhemp, a quick search tells me you should harvest just after the seedheads have formed and that retting is in order.
My suggestion is to harvest as above, tie bundles in small handfuls and hang to dry- if you get a wet season fall then great you can just leave them there for a bit...
Otherwise experiment with them on the ground and hosing them down daily, flip bundles ocassionally.
Retting is a very complex and subtle thing to kbow when the fibres are done- i encourage you to read everything you can about retting flax for linen- knowing there is some cross over in method and process. Time could be anywhere from a day to a few weeks
The important thing to know is if you overrett you cant go back! Retting is a one way trip, so try removing bundles- rinse, then follow some if the ways above to strip fibre from stalk... The rett will have disolved the glue in the plants cellular structure making this easy- if it is not, ret longer. Also try drying some retted stalks and then stomp them and pull fibre. Labelling your bundles with harvest date and retting time is damn good advise that i wish i followed myself!
Good luck and post pictures for us when you get rolling!!
 
Maureen Atsali
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Thanks Sharon!  All of my dry season sunhemp has already been harvested to death, chop and dropped or composted.  Have seeds in the ground for the next season, so will have plenty of time to scour the internet about "retting" - a word I never heard before I read this thread.

And, will wonders never cease, I found stinging nettle on our property, in a previously unused portion that I just had slashed last month.   I knew something was stinging me when I bush-wacked my way through it before, but I never thought I'd find nettles here in Kenya!  So that gives me something else to experiment with!
 
J. Adams
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Since silk worms and bunnies were mentioned here due to the small amount of space that take up (even though we're focusing on plant fibers), here's an overview of the various types of angora rabbits for fiber. Some breeds come in natural colors, some snowy white only that takes dye very well, and then there's the silk angora's uniqueness. Angora rabbits for fiber
 
Sharon Kallis
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All of my dry season sunhemp has already been harvested to death, chop and dropped or composted.
reading this again I couldn't help but think of a time in Spain a couple of years ago where I came across  bales of straw that had been sitting in the field for years... on close inspection I realized it was flax straw, and it was lovely for spinning! very soft indeed... and such fun to spin right off the bale! I encourage you Maureen to go check your compost pile for where those dropped, chopped fibers are- they might be gold! and the motto of this story? It pays to always travel with a drop spindle....
photo-1.JPG
[Thumbnail for photo-1.JPG]
 
Sue Rine
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And then there's Harakeke or New Zealand flax...not at all related to linen flax. The botanical name is Phormium tenax. It can be woven fresh into baskets and other items. The fibre can also be extracted by hand, some varieties are better than others for this, and plaited into handles or formed into thread in a similar way to the nettle fibre. The threads can then be used for taniko which has a tapestry like appearance or it can be woven into kakahu, (capes).
Here's an introductory video...



And another...



And using the fibre, (muka)...



 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Hi. While I was at Curaçao (volunteering at an organic plantation, a three week 'work-vacation', read more in my other threads) I thought of ways to make yarn of fibers growing there. Some years ago I saw a plant growing there with fluffy seed balls, like cotton but fluffier. They call it Katuna di Seda (Cotton Silk, Latin name Calotropis procera). This fluffy stuff is not easy to spin, more suitable for filling in cushions. There is the Cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra), producing the same kind of cushion filling stuff. This time I saw a shrub looking more like the real cotton. It was a little 'wild', but I could spin threads out of the seed fluff. I think it's possible to grow cultivated species of cotton there (organic of course).

Something different is the banana fiber. I read about 'banana silk' before. But my hostess only knew about 'banana cordage'. That's easy to make of the fibers of the dead leave stems. Maybe for the 'silk' the same fibers are used, but they need a preparation like flax, hemp and nettles? Is here someone who knows?

Maybe more plant fibers can be grown in the dryish tropical climate of the Caribbean? It would be nice if it were possible to make clothing of natural fibers growing there.

I found two more interesting things, though not really for clothing. One is the 'rubber vine' (Palu di Lechi, Cryptostegia grandiflora. This is a very very invasive vine. I had to help cutting down those vines, because they kill trees! I read they were imported by the Dutch in the past, for producing rubber. The rubber can be made of the milky juice inside the stems. Every time I cut one of the vines, this juice dripped out (some of it stained my shirt, impossible to wash it out). Of course this introduction ended in a disaster with this vine climbing trees in such large quantities it tore the trees down Probably it's impossible to ever get rid of them, so it would be nice to find a good way to use them ...
The other thing I found was some kind of 'loofah'. My hostess grew them as 'bitter lemon', a zuchini-like vegetable. She had far too much, so many stayed, ripened, became dry 'objects'. They looked like 'loofah' (or 'luffa') to me, the vegetable sponge, I am sure they are (my hostess never heard of vegetable sponges). I took some with me back home (a very light souvenir!). Now I use one in the shower and I gave some to friends.

 
Len Ovens
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Inge Leonora-den Ouden wrote:
Something different is the banana fiber. I read about 'banana silk' before. But my hostess only knew about 'banana cordage'. That's easy to make of the fibers of the dead leave stems. Maybe for the 'silk' the same fibers are used, but they need a preparation like flax, hemp and nettles? Is here someone who knows?


The Barong Taglog is made of banana fiber.
I wore one at my wedding as happens. My wife is a Filipina and I felt the Barong would be lighter and cooler than a tux. All of the ones I have seen are sheer or mostly so (I wore a white t-shirt under). You can buy banana cloth at $55 a yard ( Banana cloth source ), but I am sure it is easy enough to make (easy being low tech not little work). Here is the school quick version of how it is processed.
 
Rarna Vanda
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What a wonderful read, thank you everyone.

As a general rule...

Long thick fibres  ...  Use for string or rope
Long thin fibres   ...  Use for thread to weave with.
Short fibres        ...   Use for making paper.

I know that wood ash can be used to soften and break down fibres, if they are too long and coarse then try this. Also boiling can loosen and break down fibres. These techniques can break your fibre length though, so for keeping them long, use a rolling pin, or big smooth stick to beat the fibres along their length.

The ideal fibre for making really lovely cloth, is one that can be spun very thin. The thinner the better. If you find that your spun fibres are so thin that they are weak, then you can coat them in starch, from boiled rice or potatoes. Traditionally the starch is brushed onto the fibres after they are strung out for weaving, and warmth is used beneath the fibres to allow the starch to seep into the fibres. This starch coating gives the fibres strength and also an almost shiny surface, when woven.

If you want really strong thread, for leather-work or waterproof thread, then run your spun fibres thread over a block of beeswax to wax coat it.
 
r ranson
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Sharon Kallis wrote:

Another fibre I would encourage you to look at you might find as it seems you are southern from me- Phormium tenax, or other phormium varieties... know commonly as new zealand flax, it was mislabeled as a flax by settlers who saw what the Maori were doing with the plant they call Harakeke... it grows here as an ornamental planted around the city and is an incredible fibre plant!! I ask nicely of some of the city gardeners I know and am often allowed to clip back the scraggly outer leaves... I tear them down by hand into strips, soak them overnight or longer, then have pulled them through my wide teeth metal hackles for breaking down further- Maori folks scrape them with shells to take off the waxy surface, and pop them in the geothermal bath nearby... not having that luxury I have played with using a pastry cutter to scrape surface ( this is a great tool for flax scutching btw) and then  rolled up the fibre and put it in my pressure cooker for a bit with a few inches of water... (sorry I can't remember how long exactly but try 40 minutes to start) then I scraped and hackled again, and I ended up with a thick hank of fine, long fibre fantastically strong- courser then linen, softer then a horsetail- but about 4 ft long!
finally before I go and start playing with fibres today,...


Inspired by your post, I sought out and acquired some New Zealand flax. 



It's such an exciting plant that I made a thread all about New Zealand Flax
 
Sue Rine
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Just a slight caution. The ones with stronger fibres are the plain green ones rather than decorative variegated or red ones.
 
r ranson
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Sue Rine wrote:Just a slight caution. The ones with stronger fibres are the plain green ones rather than decorative variegated or red ones.


I would love to work with the plain green ones but I haven't found any locally, yet.  From the videos I've seen on youtube, they might be easier to peel than the one I'm working with, but mine is easy to scrap. 

The fibres I got from this bronze one are impressively strong and many more fibres that I expected.

The place where I advertised for NZ flax, I had several people contact me and tell me that it's not possible to get fibres from anything but the proper flax.  I heard this before.  There is only one proper way, one proper plant, that gives textiles.  And yet, take something like flax, flax.  Some areas only had one variety of flax, not the 'proper' one for getting fibre from.  But they got fibre by planting and harvesting the fibre flax different than they did seed flax.  This is completely contrary to current textile lore, and yet it worked for them. 

 
Sue Rine
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Some more info..

https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/flax-the-enduring-fibre/



 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Probably there are many more ways to get fibers from plants than we know now! Both old, forgotten, ways and new ways, still to find out
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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For educational use only! This was broadcast on a local station, so I went on a 3 minute search to find it. Shrinking these mechanized harvesting and processing may help us speed up on our own plant fiber production.

HEMP FOR VICTORY by the U.S. Department of Agriculture


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p52Epx6lJes
 
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