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Utilitarian Uses of Plants Weekend
Written by Tamara Anderson and Ann Schletz

Plants Apprenticeship 2017

Alexis lit a fire literally and figuratively to start the weekend session of Utilitarian Plant Uses. After providing time for a sit-spot to “shake off the road dust”, Alexis facilitated a bow-drill and a hand-drill workshop. Several people were successful at making their very first coal and fire that morning. At the end of the weekend, everyone was “fired up” – inspired by the numerous gifts that plants provide for utilitarian uses.

Fire bundle lit!

Guest instructor, Laura Gilmour shared a workshop on making pitch sticks with tree resin and charcoal. We each made a pitch stick, also known as a glue stick that could be used to repair tools and patch canoes.

Pitch Stick Making

Next, it was time for a cordage-making session. We worked with the stems of the plant Dogbane to make strong cordage using a reverse wrap. Please find a punny cordage joke at the bottom of this write-up.

Cordage Making

Cedar attracted our attention and focus for the next session. We were invited to make spoons and bowls using the cedar as our base. After a session on knife safety in the morning, we were carving and burning holes in the wood with coals from our well-lit fire. Many spoons were made in addition to some fine, coal-burned bowls. Alexis made a handy pair of tongs with a pine branch to help transport coals.

Laura shared her gifts for basket-making in a workshop that included making a Pine Bark Berry basket. She also demonstrated how to make a Birch Bark basket that can hold water, a willow basket, a cattail basket and corn husk basket. Our appreciation for basket makers worldwide definitely grew as we tried our hand at weaving and stitching baskets. Alexis shared his skills at making a grass mat as well.


Using Japanese Knotweed, Laura demonstrated how to make crayons. The wax and colour is heated and then poured into the cut segments of the open stem of the plant. The hot liquid is trapped in the nodes of the plant. When dry, the open end is cut to reveal the tip of the crayon.


Sammy harvested some Black Walnut to make an ink stain. Laura added some gelatin and we used sticks to try the ink. The ink was very dark and dried quite quickly. We each took a sample of Black Walnut ink to take home.

Black Walnut Ink-Making

Ann and Tamara shared a session on natural dyes. Ann brought a blanket that she is knitting. The blanket is made up of squares of different coloured yarn that has been dyed with Buckthorn, Eastern Hemlock, Queen Anne’s Lace, Dyer’s Polypore, Goldenrod, Black Walnut, Cedar and Purple Cabbage.

In the evening, we shared a wonderful potluck. People continued to make either bowls or spoons. Laura shared different techniques to make torches with natural and human-made materials. It was a very fun weekend reconnecting with the plants from a utilitarian perspective. With gratitude for all of the people that shared skills this weekend and for Alexis for organizing it all😊


Funny Cordage Joke:
Three strings want a milkshake. The first one walks into an ice cream store and says, “Can I have a milkshake.” The owner says, “We don’t serve strings here”. The string leaves, disappointed. The second string gives it a try and walks in to the store with more confidence. “I will take a milkshake.” The owner says, “No you won’t. We don’t serve strings here.” The string leaves. The third string has an idea. He ruffles his strands and makes himself look really cool. He walks into the store and says, “Can I have a milkshake?”. The owner looks at him and asks, “Are you a string?” The third string replies, “No, I’m afraid not. (a frayed knot)”.

  • Naomi

    Ha ha! Love the joke…

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