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IV ETHNOBOTANY PROJECT

DIY: Woven Wonders

Plants have more uses than just food! Plants have historically been immensely important for all manner of tools and survival necessities such as water, food, exposure protection, weapons for safety and hunting. You name it, plants can and have probably been made into it. Can you think of any specific examples of plants used as tools? Think back to elementary school and remember how Native Americans used them. 

  • Elderberry trees have long, straight, pliable branches that are good for flutes, bows and arrows.  

  • Willow is good for friction fire spindles, medicine, and their floofy flowers makes good tinder. 

  • Trees are safe havens for food and shelter: you can use branches as a frame and leaves to keep you safe from cold nights and even rain if you make the shelter thick enough. 

  • Toyon wood is used for any number of tools, including fishhooks and digging sticks. 

  • Cattail, tule, and yucca, as well as other strong, fibrous plants, are really great for weaving. Weaving was a skill of immense importance for people who needed materials such as baskets, nets and mats to survive. The Chumash would even coat their baskets in tar from the beaches to make their baskets watertight. 

  • Yucca cordage was also used as a sewing needle with string attached, because the spines are so sharp and narrow and strong that they don’t easily break off.

What are some ways you use plants in your daily life? Here’s a quick list off of the top of my head: houses and furniture; food: vegetables, grains, tea, vegetable/olive oil, flavoring; cotton in clothing; paper and books; skin and hair products: perfume, scents, lipstick; fuel: fire to heat the house, fossil fuels; aesthetic landscaping; cultural expression, bouquet of flowers; medicines.

Warnings: Keep in mind, flax is toxic if ingested and yucca spines have toxins in them, so avoid stabbing yourself or eating the stalks.

 

Collecting the materials: Please forage respectfully using the guidelines in the tab above. Cut flax, yucca and tule from the base of the stalks. You should keep flax soaking in water if you are going to start weaving more than an hour after you cut the stalks. 

 

Preparing the materials: For the best effect, you might want to prepare the flax by scraping a layer off the top of one/both sides of the flax so there is less moisture that will evaporate and shrink the finished design. This takes awhile and I haven’t figured out an efficient way to do it, so I usually don’t.

If you have any cool ideas or ways to make your woven creations  ‘your own’, please do! You have artistic license to do as you please.

Flax Flowers:

To make the flax flower, take one full flax leaf with a long stem, the longer the better. Split it down the middle until you reach the tough stem. Peel off the thicker ‘spine’ from the middle where you made the split in the leaf. Split both sides of the leaf into equal sections. Keep splitting until they are smaller than 1cm, stopping at the stem; the smaller the better but also harder to work with. Starting at the left-most section, fold the section under/behind the 2nd section and weave it in an over-under pattern through the rest of the segments. Do this over-under weaving for each of the other segments until you have only 1 left. The last segment is used to ‘turn corners’ to continue with the swirl pattern of the flower. It should also be woven over-under. Continue with this over-under and turning-corner process until the flax is too tapered off to work with easily. If some of the segments end up being thicker than others, it is okay to split them part-way through to make more even segments. Tie off the tapered ends artistically, either by tying in pairs or twisting or putting them through the back.

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Cordage:

Strip two very thin pieces of flax off the main leaf. Tie one end of one piece to one end of the other piece with an overhand knot. Grasp the flax at the knot. Twist the piece on the left twice counterclockwise (toward your body), very tightly. Put the piece on the right over and to the left of the twisted piece (clockwise away from your body). Twist the untwisted piece twice counterclockwise. Repeat until you reach the length of cordage you desire. Tie off at the bottom. If you want thicker cordage, you will need to use many strips of flax, simply splitting those strips into two groups and doing the same process as mentioned above. If you want longer cordage you will need to twist in new flax straps as you move down, preferably not twisting in new pieces at the same time because that will create a bulge and a weak point in your rope.

Tule Mats:

Lay out 7 evenly sized and shaped stalks. Make sure tule pieces are approximately the same width/thickness along the full length; cut off tapered ends. Bend only the rounded side (if relevant), because the concave side will crack.  Weigh down one side of the seven stalks. Weave under-over style 7 other evenly sized and shaped stalks as tightly as possible to make a woven mat with long unwoven edges. Fold the unwoven edges up over themselves and weave them back through to make rounded edges and to finish the mat.

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Flax Baskets:

To make a basket: Lay out 7 evenly sized and shaped leaves. Make sure flax are approximately the same width/thickness along the full length; cut off tapered ends. Weigh down one side of the seven leaves. Weave under-over 7 other evenly sized and shaped leaves as tightly as possible to make a woven mat with long unwoven edges. Fold the unwoven edges up. Take longer leaves (should be the length of the widths of the 14 leaves already used plus 2 ˜ if each leaf is 1 inch wide you want these leaves to be 16 inches long). Weave them between the bent upwards edges. If the leaves aren’t long enough, weave new ones in a couple inches from the ends. End the edges of the basket by folding the ends over and weaving them through the sides and bottom.

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Sources:

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