In the lab this week, the emphasis of the class switched from a focus on animals, animal products, and food, to plant products. Specifically, this week’s lab was focused on cordage and weaving. Most of the lab was experiential, as the entire lab was spent in one of two known processes: making cordage and basket weaving. The data was primarily comparative in the creation of cordage stage, as there were three different types of plants. All in all, the newly minted Group A (Liv, Lucy, Zoe, and Eryk) considered this another successful lab and the human aspects of socializing while being productive were definitely experienced throughout, as there was less numerical data to worry about.
The cordage making process consisted of three main steps. Firstly, there was the task of extracting the fibrous material from the rest of the plant. Second was just letting it soak it water, which was finally followed by taking the soaked fibers and twisting them into cordage. The class got to experience these processes with three different materials: dogbane, basswood, and cattail.
The dogbane easily took the most work during the first step, but resulted in the finest and easiest-to-work-with fibers. The process involved scraping off the outer bark of the twig, then pinching the wood into four quadrants to access the fibrous inner bark. Then, the inner bark was peeled away from the woodier outer bark, resulting in the final product. The sound of the knife against the bark resembled nails on a chalk board, and peeling away the inner bark required some learning to maximize output, but this process was relatively easy to pick up. While there wasn’t much dogbane to create cordage out of while our group was at this stage, it was said (and based on the look of the fibers, could have been predicted), that the cordage making process would be the best from these fibers, as they were the finest and thus could create a finer cord product.
The basswood required less technical labor to extract the fibers, but it was the most physically strenuous task. Essentially, the process came down to smashing the pieces of wood to break down the structure of the inner bark and break up the fibers. Occasionally, we were able to simply strip away some fibers with our hands, but the wood usually required some breaking up with the hammer. However, the product for cordage creation from basswood was a bit thicker than the dogbane, but was still relatively easy to twist into cordage once soaked.
Cattail processing was easily the easiest of the three. While Group A did not actually do any of it ourselves, this opinion is based on the instructions we witnessed and other accounts of the process. Essentially, the processing simply came down to splitting the fibers of the cattail leaves by hand, similar to the basswood but without the hammering to break up the wood. After soaking, the fibers were similar to those of the basswood but slightly more fragile.
Group A had two members make cordage from the basswood and two from the cattail. It was hard for us to gauge which of the materials resulted in the best product, as there was one member of our group at each of the two materials who was more successful than the others. The conclusions we drew about the cordage making were that it mostly boils down to how well the materials have been soaked and the skill of the person making the cordage, although we imagine that the dogbane would be slightly easier to use and create a finer product.
After processing materials and making cordage, we moved on to the basket weaving phase of the lab. We were given standardized materials and straightforward instructions, so the results of each person’s basket boiled down almost exclusively to the basket weaver’s (either intentional or unintentional) design. Similar to weaving on a loom, the different strands interacted with each other to build up a most uniform pattern. However, unlike weaving on a loom, basket weaving was three dimensional and in my opinion, kinesthetically more enjoyable. The most important things to keep in mind when weaving were to consistently wet the strands to keep them less brittle, and to maintain the tight structure to either maintain structure for less skilled weavers or in some cases create some intentionally intricate basket designs.
Both basket weaving and cordage making allowed for socialization while doing the processes successfully, and while none of the processes can be done nonchalantly, it is definitely plausible that older generations of humans could have created cordage and woven within their social circles.