Foraged fiber cord

I’ve become interested in the fiber plants that grow wild at 555.

Over the late summer, I learned that the nettles which grow like weeds all around the property are useful. They are food in spring, but as they grow they become excellent fiber plants. With enough processing, they can be used to make baskets, cord and even fabric. I didn’t make time to harvest any last year, but I identified the biggest patches and will put in some time with them this year, along with the goldenrod and susuki that grow abundantly.

In December, I harvested a few leaves from a tall, sword leafed plant that looks a bit like a cycad or pandanus. Searching it with Google Lens, I believe it is New Zealand flax, aka phormium. In Maroi it’s called harekeke, or in Japanese, マオラン.

I had no idea what it was when I gathered it but it seemed like it might be useful. I even split the green leaves and wove a little heart shaped bobble as a test. Cute.

Turns out Phormium is quite traditional and has been used in many ways: from flat weaves with strips of the whole leaf like my basket, to extracting and spinning the inner fibers into thread, and all ranges in between.

This week I have been playing with my dried bits by reconstituting them in water and making cording – hand spun yarn, basically.

Three thicknesses all from the same plant.

As I sat at my desk this afternoon, I decided to use a letter opener as a tool to strip off the outer layer and release the thin fibers inside. It worked better than I expected and I was able to spin a thin cord with just a few of the fibers.

What will I do with the cords? For now, they are specimens to be displayed in the Tractorport near my workbench. I want to build a sort of library of cordage so I can compare and contrast their colors, flexibility, and strength.

Eventually, I’d like to make some baskets. I have an old loom in the hayloft that I can use to weave flat pieces, too. Let’s see what the land can give me to play with.

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