Week 6 Plant Fibers lab data: Group D


This lab involved two activities: weaving baskets and processing wood into cording. The data collected was mostly experiential, in the form of descriptions of the difficulty or ease with which the processes required for both activities could be performed, the relative qualities of the materials involved, etc. These descriptions, in addition to the limited quantitative data I recorded, are reproduced below.

Basket Weaving

Our group began the lab by weaving baskets, a process which had four steps. The first was to collect our materials and preparing the space for weaving. Our materials consisted of a cutting board, several small knives, four disks (one per person) of plywood punched with 11 small holes to serve as the bases of our baskets, and several lengths of cut, dried, and soaked reeds of unknown species which would serve as our basket material. To prepare the space, we gathered in a seated circle with the cutting board and knives at the center and the reeds on the outside.

The second step of the weaving process was to cut and set the uprights (the “warp” around which the baskets would be woven). Each upright was separated with a knife from a length of reed, and all were measured against a 10.5 inch stick before being cut to ensure that they were of equal length. Every group member took 11 uprights and inserted them into the holes in their disk-base, allowing them to project two inches from what would become the bottom of the basket. The lower ends of the uprights were then folded down and over one another in a ring to hold them in place.

The third and longest step was the weaving of the basket body. This involved taking a length of soaked reed and weaving it between the uprights, folding its end into the basket and continuing with a new reed once the previous one had been entirely integrated into the basket. In addition to being the longest part of the weaving process, this also seemed to be the most difficult and frustrating. Baskets-in-progress had to be repeatedly immersed in water to ensure that the reeds didn’t dry out and break, which was unpleasant due to the strong, cold wind. Several group members also reported feelings of aggravation when their weave didn’t hold tightly, their reeds broke, or the shape of their basket emerged in a way they didn’t like–too narrow, for instance, or lopsided. There was a disparity of skill in this latter area; some people were able to imagine and implement particular basket shapes, while others had to “follow” where the basket “led.” Most people attested to finding the activity relaxing, however, including those who also said they felt frustrated.

The final step was finishing the baskets, which involved folding the ends of the uprights over one another and into the body of the basket in the same manner as with the base. Most people seem to have had little difficulty with this step, though there were some exceptions based on the shapes of various baskets causing issues. In all, the process of producing a small, narrow basket in this way took about an hour and twenty minutes.

Making Cordage

Our group spent the second half of the lab creating cordage. Most of us began at the final step of turning soaked strips of wood into cord, though one of us began (and spent much of the lab) by pounding sections of cut basswood/linden with a hammer against a stump, in order to prepare it for peeling into usable strips. He reported that it made him sore.

The method for turning peeled and soaked strips of wood into cordage is as follows: first, select an appealing strip, ideally thin and limber, but not so much as to fall apart. Next, thin the strip by peeling it to remove any thick regions or hanging areas. Third, twist an area in the middle of the strip until the torsion makes it kink, then pinch the kink in place and fold the rest of the strip from that point. Fourth, twist the section of the upper section of the strip nearest one’s fingers away from oneself, then bring the whole upper section towards oneself and down, making it into the lower section, and hold it in place. Repeat step four until the strip is entirely corded, save for the last inch or so, at which point new strips can be married to the current ones by holding and twisting them as though they were continuations of the cord in process.

3/4 of Group D making cordage; the basin of basswood/linden is visible in the center

The general consensus among our group was that this was an easy enough method to learn, but that difficulties resulted from two factors. The first was the task of selecting quality strips to turn into cord. Our group worked mostly with basswood/linden and dogwood, and agreed that dogwood was much easier to use than basswood on account of the former splitting easily into small, flexible fibers (though these could get tangled in the soaking basin). Basswood, by contrast, split into strips unevenly, was somehow both soggy and tough, and tended to produce an unpleasantly-textured slime when soaked. Both types of wood still required careful discrimination between useful and non-useful strips, however. This is partly due to the second difficulty, which was marrying strips together. Most people were able to do this fairly easily, but especially with basswood the unevenness of strips and imperfect technique often resulted in lumpy regions that could break more easily than the rest of the cord.

An issue which, while it did not make the process of cording difficult (at least in the limited timeframe of our lab), did come up frequently, was the irritation of index fingers and thumbs as a result of the continued twisting of wood against the same areas. Most people said that they experienced soreness or “hot spots” of tender skin, while some people developed full-on blisters over the course of the lab. Nonetheless, the majority of group members described the process, like basket weaving, as relaxing.

By the end of the lab, most people were able to produce around three feet of cord (mostly thick to medium-thick, some fine) over the course of about an hour and a half.

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