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favorite PNW basketry materials?  RSS feed

 
Kelda Miller
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I'd love a 'top ten' of good basketry materials for this area and a rough timeline of when to process/dry/use.

I bet on that list are:
cedar
horsetail
reeds
willow

I guess what I'm asking is, for folks who are regulars at this, how do you organize yourselves? and your storage sheds?
 
paul wheaton
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I'm looking at a black locust tree and thinking about putting some branches away to get good and dry and use for trellises and the like.  Black locust makes for the longest lasting wood for anything outdoors.

Not exactly the same, but close ....

 
Dave Boehnlein
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Kelda,

You should talk to Heidi Bohan. She's on point with this stuff. Email me if you need her contact info.

For the record I'd add red twig dogwood and tules to your list.

Dave
 
Heidi Bohan
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Hi Kelda, Paul and Dave and others,

I'm on Kuaui right now, researching and working with the local Hawaiians using their fibers for hats, mats and netting (hau, hala, olani, beachnut, coconut, more) and I was doing a search and found this entry!

Top 10 basketry fibers for the northwest?.... hmmm. Sounds like another good article Dave? or add to my book ideas. But for now;

red cedar bark, red cedar withes, red cedar roots, yellow cedar bark, spruce root... would be at the top of the list. Easy to get? no, and I wouldn't really want people racing out to get as much as they can unless they understand it's importance, how to use it, harvest ethically, etc.

For easy to get, sustainable to harvest, top natives for basketry/cordage;

Nettle, Cattail, Tules, Willow, Red Osier, Basket sedge, Hazelnut, Pine needles, Red cedar withes, Dogbane hemp, wild cherry...

How to use it? how much to get, what part to get, how to cure, how to store? That's what apprenticeship is all about. There are so many subtleties. I've had people proudly tell me they harvested a whole garage full of cattail, then ask me which part is used. That is unethical harvesting.

I started out harvesting a little of each, learning from my relatives, practicing, studying, seeing what worked and what didn't. It's all very interesting. Maybe I'll do a workshop series this winter on fibers of the Northwest.

Interested?

Hau fiber is amazing, super strong, from a plant that grows out of control everywhere. I'm going to make a net from some. The people here are intriqued by cedar bark. Cool.

Check out my new blog, http://heidibohanblog.blogspot.com/ , I've posted an article on poi making I participated in.

Heidi
 
Kelda Miller
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Heidi,
I am so happy about your blog and I'll take some time to read it soon. From a glance though it doesn't Nearly have as much information about all you do, as that would be pretty darn complex.

I just finished reading 'Keeping it Living' and 'Tending the Wild'. awesome books!
one interesting basketry thing that was mentioned in california was harvesting of sedge roots, but in the northwest they listed sedge foliage.

Hm. I should really dive in more before asking more questions (so yes! am very interested in a workshop taught by you). but it seems odd that sedge roots wouldn't also work up north.
 
Steve Nicolini
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I made a basket, my first basket, a few weeks ago.  It is subtle, but works really well.  I used the inner bark of western red cedar, and twined it with sweetgrass (coastal rush species).  There is one strip of cherry bark in it for some pizazz.  Willows supposedly are awesome too.

 
Dave Boehnlein
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We haven't experimented yet, but I'd love to try using the whips from Prunus mume (ume). Our trees grow tons of long whips every year and we prune them hard every winter. They are long, thin, & green. I'm not sure what they'd look like once they dry, but it seems worth a try.

Dave
 
                              
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Around here the Oregon Iris is blooming. It grows like a weed here, spreads fast where it's happy.  The native americans used the leaves for baskets, and ELK SNARES!!! can you believe it? I would love to see that in action! Its latin name Iris tenax translates into "Rainbow holding fast", that's one of my favorite ones.
 
Brenda Groth
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you know i have all of the things you listed growing in my property and I've never made a basket..I know i should learn how..and get this stuff being used..but i don't even know where to start..I have a pond full of cattails surrounded by willows and alder..and a swamp full of woods..cedar and others..i'm sure there is a lot of material..also i have some tall grasses that grow don't know if they would work for anything.
 
Erica Wisner
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Brenda Groth wrote:
you know i have all of the things you listed growing in my property and I've never made a basket..I know i should learn how..and get this stuff being used..but i don't even know where to start..I have a pond full of cattails surrounded by willows and alder..and a swamp full of woods..cedar and others..i'm sure there is a lot of material..also i have some tall grasses that grow don't know if they would work for anything.


I've been asking people for tips like this for a while.  Finally started hearing about the Columbia Basin Basketry Guild; making it to one of their annual gatherings would definitely be a kick-start.  http://www.basketryguild.org/
(I keep drooling over their website, but haven't managed to go to an event yet.)

What I've been doing meanwhile is practicing techniques on invasive species.    Nettle is supposed to be a great fiber to work with, once farmed for the purpose; harvest is in fall (maybe now?) when fibers are tough but not rotten.

I've gotten cedar inner bark, and heard of others getting it, from freshly felled trees when someone is thinning or harvesting the wood.  Not as nature-friendly as I'd like to be, but at least I'm only scavenging from a dead tree, not killing a live one.
Cedar roots I believe are harvested from the dripine outward, to leave the tree enough roots to grow on; I have only examined them when dug up by accident, not tried to harvest a lot.  They are split for coiled basket sewing.
  If you know someone who is cutting cedar, you can try to get access to the site to harvest roots too.  This all seems somewhat macabre when you think of cedar as the "mother tree," and a sacred plant, but then most mothers would rather have you walking all over them than never calling, never visiting.  Try to be respectful and considerate, or if it feels too weird, use other plants.

  I feel very comfortable hauling up great hanks of English ivy, reed canary-grass, or other stringy invasives to practice my technique on.  Canary reed-grass (I've heard it said both ways) is sharp leaved, will cut you if you're not careful - like a serrated paper cut.  But the coil basket I made with it is still holding up OK.  Young ivy withers into brittle bark-raisins, but older ivy has a tough core that can be quite pretty if peeled.

English ivy, I like to use as a beginner project: http://www.ErnieAndErica.info/ivybaskets
It's evergreen, and invasive; sharing this basket is my way to encourage us invasive English-speakers to resume our rightful role as English Ivy's natural predator.  Make one basket for Mayday, two for Easter, three for Thanksgiving (or do a fancy cornucopia if you can figure out how), and wreaths and swags of it at Christmas as an evergreen accent... ivy 'fairy crowns' for visiting princesses... then maybe you'll keep it at bay in your local vacant lot!  But please don't plant it for the purpose; there are plenty of vines to work with once the ivy is weeded out.

Willow is the traditional wicker material; what I know about harvesting is that it's traditionally brought in when the leaves aren't out (nor buds fattening; leaf-joints and new growth create weak spots in the wicker strand).  Peel it quick (the bark of most willows contains a painkiller like aspirin)... and dry it, then soak it again when you're ready to work on a project.

I think this drying and soaking method is useful for a lot of basketry plants; it helps get rid of the deceptive greenery, while retaining useful fibers indefinitely.

If you don't know how much you'd need, here are a few tips for harvesting:

1) Make a basket with some invasive plants or 'boughten' materials for practice.  Give it away (maybe as a disposable container for a gift of fresh fruit or flowers.  Also, you never tell a basket it is ugly: it is teaching you, and pretty in its own way).
When you are done, you should have a sense of how much material it takes to make a basket.  Collect that much, maybe a little extra for breakage, from sources where there is plenty to spare. 

2) Harvest on your own land.  Learn to cultivate these plants, and how much you can harvest.  Great incentive / commitment to practice regenerative harvesting.

3) Rule of 1-in-20:  If you see 20 plants growing within reach of each other, it's OK to take 1.  If you can only see a few, then it's best to leave them to proliferate.
This especially applies to roots, which are harder to regenerate.

4) By following the above rules, you will also learn to identify quick-regenerating plants.  Trees like hazel and willow that sucker are handy for coppicing.  'Weeds' like nettle, ivy, and reeds can be picked extensively without threatening the supply.  You will also learn to identify signs that someone has been harvesting before you, and ways to harvest that make next year's visit, even more rewarding.

Hope that helps.
'Tenax' in any plant name is a good indicator - NZ 'flax' (a lily species) grows well here, and I've had good luck asking permission to harvest from ornamental plantings.  You can scrape the leaves like yucca to leave strong, stringy fibers, useful for weaving or cordage.  You can even do a pattern of scraped and fleshy sections, which when dry, curls up into a kind of beaded-curtain effect.  Used for making costumes by the Maori in NZ.

Top ten.... well, let's see if I've used ten so far:
Here's roughly in order of how much I use them.

1) Ivy (for practice; twining, weaving, lashing)
2) Canary reed grass (for practice / hazing; works OK as both coil filler & wrap)
3) Nettle fiber (cordage)
4) Cedar inner bark (cordage is OK; strips are also useful)
5) Cedar bark, whole: (bent-bark 'box' sewn up with twine or cordage).
6) Willow - (I've used it in packs and traps, wicker crowns...)
6) Bigleaf maple - (bark and leaves, for quickie carry-baskets; or to line a basket too loose for my berry harvest).
7) Long-needle pine needles (braiding, coil filler)
NZ flax, English flax, or any 'tenax' plant (braiding, cordage, twining, stripped/boiled fibers for spinning, weaving; Ali Brown's website is good place to learn basic harekiki procedures... www.alibrown.co.nz )
9) Hazel or fruit wood (stakes or withes for garden hoops, ribs for hefty containers)
(10)  How about yarn, hey?  (Accents, spinning, felting, holding stubborn joints in place while you maneuver the tougher wickerwork... I've also done spinning and felting with class groups, and apparently traditional cedar-bark clothing was often lined with a form of dog wool from dogs bred for the purpose.)

Things I'd love to try:
Tulle / cattail
Iris tenax
Other reeds, grasses, rushes...

Good question.  Thanks!

-Erica Wisner
 
Heidi Bohan
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Aaah, things are slowing down abit again. Just read this thread after my last entry lots of good stuff. Couple of things came up I'd like to share/clarify...

Love the 1:20 rule being spread widely. thanks Erica.

I've really been using my baskets this year for local harvest and my wicker and cattail ones are the ones I go to the most. Want to make many more wicker ones, heavy duty for gathering, drying, storing. Years ago I watched a traditional Irish wicker basketmaker make a 'potato basket', about 4' tall and narrow, which I bought from him. I jusst used it as an example in a winter storage class I taught, and realized I would really like to get those baskets in use again, they have ideal air flow etc.

Willow is coming up for harvest, and is great for creating your own 'holt' for harvest, whether on your property or some wild site. We have lots of native species here in the northwest, and some naturalized ones that I actually prefer. It is easy to take cuttings and root them right in place, willow loves to propogate by 'whips', just a stick in the ground. The time Ive learned to harvest is in December January. The longest shoots possible, and once a willow is coppiced (cut back) it begins to send out long shoots each year' It can be 'cured' by drying in a barn, garage, porch, etc with bark on or not, depending on your preference. I keep mine on, I like the colors. Willow can also peeled, and then split further from much finer baskets, but I haven't really worked with that much. Willow wicker is also really challending to work with to make a fine looking basket as a beginnner, its hard to control the different thicknesses, but they are sturdy and beautiful in their own way. .

Nettle is a native plant (the Hitchcock has wording that makes that unclear and I believe is the source of the confusion) heavily used by local native people.  The time  to harvest it is nnearly over this year, hope I havne't missed it, I need some... better go out today. I cure it in a dry palce in the house, then store in plastic bags or something in my storage room which gets damp.

Gotta run... I'll check in again soon.
 
Erica Wisner
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thanks for the storage descriptions...

I've heard nettle is native, and also that it's invasive, and even that it's imported.  There are not so much scientific botanical surveys from before contact. 
(Who are we kidding- there was always contact!  My Viking of a husband says that the Europeans who 'first' arrived in the PNW were salvaging spare parts from a sunken Chinese junk off Fort Astoria.)

Nettle was certainly being used enthusiastically by native weavers (and cooks) by the time the edumacated botanists got around to surveying.  Maybe they dismissed it because it was recognizable from their European books.  (Everybody wants to discover new, rare, useful plants and get famous, don't they?)

I think as long as it grows quickly, people don't mind if you harvest some (and your harvest won't hurt the supply), then that makes it a good beginner's plant.
And as a nutritious edible as well, it definitely deserves a place among the "friendlies" even if it does sting.

Another plant I saw recently in our museum here is ryegrass, in a gorgeous twined basket:
(It won't post the image from Picasa, so here's a link to visit it: http://picasaweb.google.com/eritter/NaturalistNotesOct2009#5398216499818966562 )
They've recently banned field burning down here in the W Valley, and ryegrass straw is a common waste product for local seed-growers, so there may be a lot of it coming on the market soon.
 
Heidi Bohan
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The ryegrass I've been shown how to use by native weavers is a native beach rye grass. But I imagine field rye might work.
 
paul wheaton
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It would seem that winter would be a really good time for this sort of thing. 

What would be something that would be optimal to use in winter?

 
Heidi Bohan
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This is the willow season....
 
                    
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New material for baskets for me is seaweed. I do Appalachian egg basket style but recently learned willow basketry. My instructor said the native willow in the Willamette Valley is called crack willow because it breaks. He grows European willow for his baskets.
I would like to know more about indigenous willow use.

Last summer I collected some stringy rope like kelp off the beach near Yachats. I kept it on my porch all summer and fall, kept it dry, it was a tangled mass and looked awesome. Then when I was ready I clipped off a portion and took it to the bathtub and soaked it in warm water and used that in baskets. It's really smooth and wonderfully nice to work with, great hand feel, very pliable. Takes much longer to dry. It's rather heavy so the basket is sturdy. But it shrinks very much so I don't know if I could ever get it to be a tight weave. That bumpy thingy is the holdfast and because this is mostly an ornamental basket I left that one on there. This one I gave to a friend to hold knick-knacks.

The spine of the basket is apple tree prunings that I shaped into rounds while green, held in place with used twist ties.  They sat for more than I year before I got around to using them.  Then I had some imported fiber palm that I dyed more than 20 years ago and used that for the ribs and decorations. 

Sorry for the 1.5MB picture. I have replaced it with a webcompressed version. Save the server space.
webcmpsdbasket.JPG
[Thumbnail for webcmpsdbasket.JPG]
 
Michael Duhl
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I read the whole post and haven't seen Yucca or Naked Ladies.

Anyone ever try it?  I have made some hanging birds nest out of both and it is strong.  One out of the Naked Ladies is going on 8 yrs, winter and all, on a covered porch, it twists up nice.  The yucca I have used for scrubbing tubs and dishes and would make a fine rope.
 
                        
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I don't make baskets and Im probably not in your part of the country but I have a good collection from when I was working in Tennessee.
The traditional baskets in Tennessee and N. Alabama are made from white oak.

http://www.whiteoakbaskets.com/process.htm

I just found that a mouse has chewed through the rim of one of my treasured baskets.  I guess Ill have to learn enough to repair it.  Im sure the lady who made it for me is no more.

This is the classic style in which white oak baskets are made:

http://www.whiteoakbaskets.com/img_4.htm

I believe this one is called a "gathering basket".  And it is perfect for a daily trip to gather what ever is ripe in the garden.
 
Brenda Groth
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would leaves of daylilies and siberian iris work in baskets..here some of mine get 3 and 4 feet tall..just curious..ive enjoyed reading this site but still have failed to harvest any of my many reeds or willows or other materials..only ones i've managed to find time to mess with was the vines..and have made wreaths etc.. from them..but not baskets yet..someday..i'm not getting any younger !
 
Faye DancingCloud
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This is just the question I asked along with posting some pictures. I have used reclaimed packaging paper and cordage from shopping/produce bags as well as birch branches from a yard across the street.

I would like to share the thread I just posted https://permies.com/t/61363/permaculture-decor/art/Weaving-Basket-Case#522915 for some pictures of baskets.

I'm in Portland. Does anyone here live in the area who would want to coordinate some weaving? PM for my number.

I would love to host a theme party. With a movie? The choice of which could go in the way of the fiber arts documentary or a pun sorta way like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Or something else.

For reelzies.

Love this thread!
 
Of course, I found a very beautiful couch. Definitely. And this tiny ad:
2017 Rocket Mass Heater Workshop Jamboree - 15 workshops in one event
https://permies.com/wiki/63312/permaculture-projects/Rocket-Mass-Heater-Workshop-Jamboree
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