Cordage, Baskets & Fire
This weekend is one of my favourite weekends, getting the chance to work with natural fibres, learn new skills and work with my hands is such meaningful work. This weekend Laura and Chris Gilmore joined us to teach some key skills when it comes to using plant fibres to make tools for our daily lives or for survival . We started our weekend with a gratitude circle, underneath the beautiful black walnut trees on Alexis’ property we talked about how grateful we all were for the cool weather and the coming of Autumn. Nuthatches chirped as we took the opportunity for a sit spot to clear our minds and mentally prepare for the weekend together.
When we came back together Laura gave us all an introduction on plant fibres and how they have been used outside the realm of medicine and food. We chatted about manipulating fibres with you hands and how you can start to recognize and learn about them by continuously working with them. At this point Laura taught us all how to make cordage. We chatted about the best plants to use including Dogbane, Milkweed and Nettle as well as leaves, barks and animal fibres. As Laura explained the intricacies of making cordage we all practiced processing Dogbane and created long threads of rope.
After we broke for lunch Chris took the lead and introduced the group to basket making with the bark of trees. We sat surrounding a number of cut white pine logs as he described the kinds of barks that can be made into baskets as well as how to remove the bark from trees and about the grain of the wood and how it differs from tree to tree. We spent the rest of the afternoon removing pine bark from the logs and creating a number of amazing baskets. Some were made by folding the bark and some were created by sewing and folding the bark, we created some really beautiful and functional baskets, some that can even be used for boiling water in! When we were all finished and after we dealt with our sticky hands, we came together for our potluck dinner. We quickly ate and built a fire for the next activity of the day. It was a busy day, jam packed with so many amazing projects. At the fire , Chris and Laura taught us how to create Pitch Sticks that can be used as a natural glue or even to create a torch. We also worked on coal burnt spoons and bowls, and as the sun set we worked and chatted about our days and our progress.
The next morning was cool and bright, we spent some time chatting and reflecting on the day past as well as took the opportunity to get to know each other a little better. It was fantastic to learn more about the people we get to spend one weekend of every month with. When everyone was up and ready, we all gathered under those beautiful black walnuts and expressed our gratitude before we started working. After this we jumped right into it and Laura described the history of coil basketry and how it has been found on almost every continent in the world. We chatted about the different materials and plants that can be used to create these coil baskets and how those materials differ from region to region. In North America grasses and cattails have often been used. We all got to select some cattail for ourselves and we used raffia to start learning how to create a coil basket of our own. We spent the entire morning learning and creating, getting our hands to learn the new muscle memory needed to create a beautiful basket. Some found this project difficult and it came more naturally to others however everyone worked very hard. Before we broke for lunch Alexis jumped in and we started chatting about fire by friction and how we can use natural materials around us in the forest in order to create a fire. We made fire boards, spindles, bows and hand holds and many of us spent what was left of the morning working to get an ember. Some succeeded and some didn’t however the amount of patience was impressive!
After lunch we spent our time working independently on our baskets, on cordage, and on fire making as well as participating in casual trap making workshops and natural crayon making workshops using Japanese knotweed and natural dyes. We sat together and shared stories, it was such a beautiful way to spend a Sunday afternoon, learning more about each other and creating community. At the end of the day we said our goodbyes and parted ways. The utilitarian weekends are always the best for community building, I came away from it with new skills, enhanced skills and closer friends, I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in such meaningful experiences with such great people.