For the past half century I have been focused on permaculture-type ideas and concepts and am always looking for new ways to do things in an environmentally-friendly or sustainable way.
This fall I was looking for new ideas for ways to use my winter grape vine prunings. I have been making wreaths with the vines each year and once you have done 10 or so it begins to feel like enough, right? Then I came across a great new idea! Baskets! I have always loved baskets and have lots! I never gave much thought to making them myself, but for some reason the idea really hit home this fall.
Because it was too early to prune the grape vines when I made the discovery, I started doing research online for ideas and instructions for weaving baskets and other sorts of woven objects. Suddenly a whole new world of possibilities opened up before me! Wow!
The first thing I discovered was that I am quite literally surrounded by materials for basket making! I had no idea. I have a section of my property that is covered with English ivy. It’s considered an invasive here in the Pacific Northwest along with Himalayan blackberry. It turns out both of these make excellent basket making materials!
The bane of my existence here is the low growing native trailing blackberry – which I have been unsuccessful at banning from my garden and orchard. It makes incredibly long tough vines that grow along the ground – tripping me up when it can – and sometimes climbs up in the hazelnut trees and drapes itself like a prickly curtain there. Wonder of wonders – the stuff makes excellent basket weaving material! All you do is cut the vine and – with a pair of tough, heavy garden gloves – run your hands down the vines and strip them of all the leaves and little prickles! It’s really easy! The same is true for English ivy. It just takes running my hands down a vine to strip off the leaves. The big thorny Himalayan blackberry vine bark can be used, but it has to be cut just before it blooms in summer and then stripped from the vine and then stripped of it’s formidable thorns! I may give that a try next summer since I have a fair amount of that as well.
The more I studied, the more materials I discovered I had growing right out my door! The kiwi vines add interesting little curlicues from the vines twisting back on themselves or on the trellis wire, as well as having a pretty shiny rust colored bark. I love having different colored and textured materials to use.
Then I started gathering honeysuckle vines – both hybrid and native which I have a fair amount of, as well as akebia vine, which I have planted in two places and shares space with the honeysuckle. My Schizandra vine put out some nice long branches this year that look like they will work well too. I even found lots of nice long thin hazelnut shoots that work like willow, which is a very common basket material.
One of the surprising materials I learned about was iris and daylily leaves. It’s too late to gather green ones (which keep their green color when they dry) but the tan “dead” leaves are commonly collected in fall and work even better! They can be braided into “rope” and used in the weaving or used individually. Fortunately I have lots of both daylily and iris and now have bundles drying in my guest room.
Then there are crocosmia leaves and juncus reeds, which I also have. I tried another invasive – Scotch broom – which keeps popping up around our woodland – but it was too brittle. I love it’s bright green color, so I might try drying it first and then soaking it to see if that works, since I read that some things can be brittle and easily break when “green” but work well when dried then rehydrated with soaking. I’m hoping it will keep it’s nice green color dried since I have an unending supply of it to use.
I even came across instructions for gathering and processing stinging nettles into cord and fiber, something I find interesting to learn about, but have a hard time envisioning myself actually doing. The same with pine needles – something I have a vast supply of. Maybe one day I will try my hand at pine needle baskets, but right now it looks more tedious than I am up for.
I made my first three baskets out of fresh picked materials, and now have an idea why people more commonly harvest and dry the materials first, then soak or boil them for a time just before using them. The green, fresh material shrinks as it dries. And then you are left with gaps in your basket or the shape changes. If you use several materials that shrink differently – things can get a bit cattywompus. The rehydrated material doesn’t shrink. And I mentioned the other reason – the tendency for “green” material to break. So for now I am gathering materials and wrapping them into little “wreaths” to dry. When they have dried really well I will soak them in a five gallon bucket or boil them on the stove in a big pot.
I still have a lot to learn and you can learn just so much from reading. I read some kinds are boiled to kill insects that live in them and that can eat your basket over time! But others are boiled because it makes them more pliable. I have no clue right now which…
I’m sure that wherever you live you can find materials growing wild in yours or a friends or neighbors yard, that would just be hauled away or composted. Every part of the world has wonderful viney, reedy, willowy stuff that is weavable. I encourage you to try it if you haven’t. It’s easier than you imagine and unendingly creative! If you have tried and have any suggestions I would love to hear them!
Here’s a link to a Pinterest “board” I created to save inspirational pictures to: https://www.pinterest.com/barb222819/random-weave-basket-ideas/ . There are some great YouTube videos out there as well.
One of the lovely things about most of this is that I will be USING materials that I would be pruning anyway because they are growing where I don’t want them – like the ivy and creeping blackberry, or because I must prune it once a year – like the kiwi and grape, or because they are dead materials around a perennial plant – like the daylily and iris leaves. I love that! It’s such a very permaculturey, sustainable thing…