Tag Archives: cordyline

So much string

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Part of our holiday was spent staying with a long standing and treasured friend in a beachside suburb of Sydney.  It was a wonderful time but also an unseasonably cold, wet and windy one, so there was more walking than swimming and more knitting time than I anticipated.  The plants along that coast are just perfect for basketry.  Or in my case, string making.  Here, dianellas growing right by the sea.

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Here, a garden that could not have been planned with more care if landscaped by basket weavers.  For the first time ever, I made string from pandanus leaves, while a bunch of us did a long cliff top walk.  Just glorious! I gave it to one of our lovely companions immediately she commented on it.  First she tried it as a necklace, and then she settled on adding it to her rather gorgeous hat.  Those orange parts are the base of the leaf… she liked them, and clearly they fit with her hat’s colour scheme

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I also made string with cordylines from here and there, picked up on walks, beginning when we were on the Mornington peninsula staying in a place with immensely long leaved cordyline.  I tried twining pieces of shell and coral picked up on the beach into the string (successfully!  I will do that again)… I taught someone else to make string.  I gave string away.  I left string in people’s homes to be found later.  I made string while sitting, chatting and walking.  I came home festooned with string.

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Then one night after we arrived home I was playing guitar and the string was very much in the way.  So I gave away all the looser string on my wrist and now I have just this left as a holiday memento.

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More lessons from string

You don’t need as much as you think. A message that I can never hear too often as a first worlder.  Only a few leaves will make many metres of string if you twine it right!

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What you might need is all around you.  This is dianella, which we are growing, and so is the council.  Eventually dead leaves come away from the base and even these make decent string!

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If you have the right leaf, and you use a pin or needle, you can get a nice, fine strip with which to make nice, fine string.  Just insert needle into leaf and pull it toward one end of the leaf or the other! I learned this method when I did introductory basketry, but had clean forgotten until just recently.  I’ve found with cordyline that keeping everything really wet helps a good deal.  Here it is stripped into fine lengths and sitting in a container of water suitable for indoor string making.

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Tough fibres are more resilient and make a more robust string, but pliable fibres are much more pleasurable to work and not so poky to wear (if you’re wearing string this season).  Cordyline and dianella have been my more recent experiments, and they make very resilient and strong string.  But it never gets as smooth as daylily, which is lovely and pliable when damp and smooth and comfortable to wear when dry.

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Imperfection is acceptable more often than you might think.  Basketry manuals offer excellent advice about how to choose and prepare plant fibres for optimal use in basketry and cordage but you can use non optimal fibres and less than optimal preparation and still make something that will please you and that might be more than adequate for use or need.  Here you can see the cordylines I have most recently tried making string from.  They are standing in a bed alongside the footpath outside a residential facility for frail elderly folk in my suburb.  Under the live red leaves, dead brown leaves are gradually withering and eventually falling to the ground.  Taking a few of the dead leaves is unlikely to worry anyone.  In fact, I’ve collected fallen leaves for mulch from the footpath outside this place and been thanked by the residents and applauded for my public spiritedness (little do they know!)  If leaves have been out in the sun, wind and weather for too long they will become brittle and degraded, but these leaves are so tough they have been more than adequate for use, and I have made a lot more string since I realised (with some help from Roz Hawker and some experiments with leaves wet from rain in my own garden) that much less preparation and care might work fine for at least some applications.

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The structure of leaves is every bit as intricate and individual and interesting as I had always suspected from looking at leaves but not trying to work out how to use the fibres in them.

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There are companions on the road.  There are always companions.  Helle Jorgensen; Patten project; Weaving Magic and clearly many Indigenous traditions.  Thanks to kind readers who have pointed me in the direction of some of these lovely makers.

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These galahs (can you see them?) kept me company making lemongrass string and some rosellas watched over me and dropped little bits of tree on me while I made green lomandra leaf string and lemongrass string.

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There and the lessons of string for the moment!

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