Spring is a plentiful time for collecting plant fibres to use in basketry and dyes. You may have seen in my earlier post, Making Dandelion Paper and Dandelion Beads that the petals of these wonderful springtime weeds, can be turned into a wonderful textural paper and a fun craft activity for children. The sunny and under-appreciated dandelion, has uses beyond its flowering time, however. The stems grow incredibly long as they go to seed and can be hung in bunches of 5-6, to let them dry for later use.
I have also found that they dry well laid flat, as long as the air can circulate all around them. I have done this on homemade frames, made from reclaimed wood, with linen scrim stretched over them. The frames fit onto runners above our stairs, where they dry beautifully and quickly – thanks to the warm air rising through the house.
If picking the long stems, wait until the seeds have dispersed, to ensure a good crop the following year.
Once dry, the stems can be used as they are for twining, or can be made into a beautiful cordage. The variety of colours in these stems ranges from deep purples, through pinks and of course pale greens. It is worth noting however, that these will fade in time to a lovely golden colour.
The flowers, stems, leaves and even roots of the humble dandelion, can be made into natural dyes. These vary depending on which parts of the plant that you use, how you prepare the dye, the accompanying mordant and whether you are dyeing plant or animal fibres.
Greens and yellows can be expected and my own efforts this year, produced a fantastic bright yellow on raffia, which has been a joy to work with.
There are other plants around during late spring, which are starting to fade and can be used for basketry. I made dye with our daffodil flowers earlier in the year (Daffodil Dye and a Basketry Experiment), but I was equally excited about gathering the leaves.
Daffodils need to retain their stems and leaves, until the time that they begin to yellow or brown, as the bulbs take goodness from these to produce next years flowers.
Of course, as soon as they start to go, it is a huge job to collect and dry them all. I have found that these leaves will not tolerate being dried horizontally. They will just get spoiled by dark patches of mildew.
This can also be the case if hung in bunches. So instead, I have been hanging them individually on washing line, stretched along our walls.
I had no idea, until this year, that daffodil leaves have such a strong scent. The whole house has been filled with a strong floral smell during the 2-3 weeks that they take to dry out properly. If you are drying some yourself, hang with the cut base of the stem hanging down. Once dry, the leaves can be wrapped in paper and stored until needed.
I like to braid them in threes and fours and use them for coiling. You will need to mellow the leaves before use, by wrapping in a damp cloth and leaving overnight.
Perhaps New Zealand Flax, might not be in everyones garden, but here they grow well. So well in fact, that they become enormous and huge numbers of leaves need to be stripped out of the established plants, to keep them in order.
I was lucky enough to be given the spring clear-out from a neighbours plants. The leaves are ideal for weaving. They can be cut into strips, bent and folded or even retted, so that individual fibres can be stripped.
I think I have a great deal to learn about this plant and its uses, but for now I contented myself with making a harakeke whetu ( a traditional New Zealand woven star).
As spring comes to a close and summer begins, a whole new supply of natural fibres are coming into season, so fill up your walls with nature’s bounty and you will have plenty of natural craft supplies, to keep you going through winter.