Over the past couple of months, I have been experimenting with some of the plants that I have gathered and dried from my garden.
Much as I love working with raffia, exploring and developing ways to use the plants that I grow or that grow naturally around me, has always been an important area of my work. I hope that in time, I will only work with local plants, but I need to learn some more first and I also need more space if I am going to be able to process enough plants, to last me all year round.
With this in mind, we are planning to move in the next few weeks, to a property where both myself and my husband have room to expand our creative dreams and where we can potentially hold workshops, so that we can share our passions with others.
As any of you that have bought and sold houses will know, it is rather all-consuming, taking up time and energy and no matter what your intentions may be, it is always very stressful!
As a result, I haven’t done all of the things that I would have liked to have done with my plants this year, but my work has provided me with a welcome relief from the mental and emotional strains, of taking the next big leap in our lives.
And of course, everything that I have learned this year makes me more prepared for next spring and summer. I already feel excited thinking about it and I can’t wait to sit down and plan both my craft garden and our kitchen garden, over the winter months.
So, what have I learned over the summer?
One of the big things for me, has been how much I love working with Phormium Tenax (New Zealand Flax). I did a little bit of work with this wonderful plant last year, when a neighbour kindly gave me some partially retted leaves.
I finished retting them and then spent a very long time, trying to separate and clean the fibres. The results were very beautiful, but the time involved in processing the fibres, would have made it highly impractical to do much work with it. You can see the resulting basket in Baskets from my Garden
Thankfully, I’m not that easily put off!
This year, another kind islander helped me to transplant some phormium tenax, from their garden to mine. I had intended to try using the leaves for weaving, in the way that they are traditionally used in New Zealand, skipping out the need for stripping those fibres.
I quickly discovered that not all varieties are as suitable for this kind of weaving as others! And after watching a short documentary on the National collection of these plants in New Zealand, I realised that I had a lot to learn and that my new plants, were not going to give me wonderful weavers.
I was going to put all thoughts of using phormiun tenax to one side, when I came across a photograph online, of someone using a wire brush to strip the fibres from some lily leaves. There wasn’t any information to go with the image, but it was enough for me to rush to the hardware store on the next island and buy myself a big wire brush!
The results were fantastic! Within minutes of working with leaves, freshly cut from my plants, I had a big pile of fibres, ready to be dried out and stored away for basket making. No retting, no struggling to separate fibres with my fingernails – here was my light at the end of the tunnel.
The resulting fibres are a wonderfully rich, auburn colour and need only a brief run under the tap, to be ready to use.
I set about making a little twined basket with the fibres. I began by using some of them to make cordage for the spokes and then used one or two strands (depending on thickness) for the weavers. It was an absolute joy to work with and I am processing what I can from my small plants, to use over winter.
These are most definitely added to my list of plants to grow, in my new garden.
I was also keen to continue my work with dandelions, this summer. As those of you who regularly read my blog will know, I have used various parts of this fantastic little weed, for craft already this year, I made the petals into paper and beads and then then used whole flowers to create a beautiful yellow dye, which I used on both raffia and fabric for my dyers quilt.
With my children helping, I gathered an enormous amount of dandelion stems, once the plants had finished with their seed heads. These were dried on my racks and carefully stored away in paper for later use.
I found that the stems didn’t need to be refreshed before using – they retained a waxiness that made then perfect for cordage making.
I stitched the cordage together into a coil basket with some cotton thread. I realise now, that I could have used phormium tenax fibres for the stitching, eliminating the need for any materials, other than those found in my garden.
This humble little plant, that is so readily available, is useful in so many ways and will always be welcome on my land.
I also did a lot of experimental work with the ribbed plantain, which grows everywhere on the island, earlier in the season.
The stems can be used for weaving or if retted and blitzed in a food processor, can make a kind of paper.
Another yellow dye, can be made from the stems, less of a sunshine yellow than the dandelion, but still very nice to use.
I hadn’t tried using the leaves though and there are so many in my garden, that it seemed a shame to waste them. So I gathered some and put them on the drying rack. Just like the stems, the leaves get considerably darker as they dry out and I found, that they could be used straight from the rack, to make cordage.
I absolutely love the the inky darkness of this cordage. It’s so different from other plants that I have used.
I decided to stitch the cordage together with phormium tenax fibres, which looked very like thin strands of copper against the dark plantain leaves.
I wasn’t entirely happy with the quality of my work on this one, but I was convinced that plantain leaves were going to be a lovely addition to my basket making materials, so I have gathered and dried lots more!
Of course, I couldn’t leave out the daffodil leaves, that I spent so long gathering and hanging up to dry in the springtime. They don’t make great weavers individually, but layered up and plaited together, they can be a wonderful resource for basketry. I particularly like the rich golden colour of them when dried.
You really do need to take the time to mellow these before use, by wrapping them in a damp cloth and leaving for a few hours or overnight. If you try to use them dry, they will just break.
I never realised before, what a rich floral scent, daffodil leaves have. It filled the whole house as they were drying and was still strong when I reopened the paper packages.
Again, I stitched the plait together with phormium tenax fibre. This time I made a little lid for my mini basket and whittled a single bead from sycamore, for the top.
I was in a playful mood with this one, so I also added some dried sea lavender flowers from our garden, around the rim.
This little basket didn’t really give me enough room to fully explore the possibilities of daffodil leaves, but plans are being made to create a plaited hat, something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. At the moment I’m thinking of something rather 1920’s in style.
It is hard to know how much work I will be able to do over the coming months, as we are planning to buy a derelict house and will have to spend some time in temporary rented accomodation. But wherever I can work, I will, and of course nature always provides us with opportunities to create.
So that brings me rather more up to date and I will do my best to get back to more regular posting here, as it helps me to keep track of my thoughts and my progress.
For now, I will get back to a fortnight of natural dyeing, which I will share with you next time.