WILLOW BAST (continued)

You're left with a tough, leathery strip that can be used as is for binding and this is the condition I usually use it. But it can be taken a step or two further to make a much finer cordage. Dumping it into a stream (weighed down with rocks so it doesn't join the stream on its journey) and leaving it for up to a month or so rots away the material that binds the fibers together. At this stage, it feels like entrails and stinks to high heaven. It's then often boiled with charcoal in the water (though what purpose the charcoal serves, I don't know) and hung to dry. The resulting fibers are soft and pliable and make good rope or string (or even a wig if you're very weird).

It's good for making shelters and binding poles or logs together and I've even used it to make a replacement for a broken rucksack strap but I don't know if it would hold indefinitely. What's your view? Have you used willow bast for permanent structures?

I'd surely like to have a go at a chair so I might try it. But I'd welcome a word from the voice of experience.

Good stuff is willow; it gives us baskets, straps, aspirin and cricket bats, if you're into cricket ... despite being English, I'm not.

Ron Tocknell is a retired graphics artist who enjoys playing with wood in the woods.
His web site is: www.loneturtle.co.uk

Editor’s comments:

I have seen willow bast used as a chair seat. The example was from Mississippi and the bast was particularly thick, rough and brittle. Not so good. But there are many types of willow, so getting smooth, thin willow bast should be possible. How long it will hold up as chair seating is another question.

The soaking technique is similar to the preparation of kudzu vines for their fiber, once common in Japan. The vines are buried in the ground to initiate decomposition. Then they are also weighted down in a stream to separate the binding stuff from the fibers. The final step is dividing and sub-dividing the strands with a needle until you have thread that is comparable to silk.

We often get inquiries that begin with something like ‘what if” or ‘can I?’ In many cases the best answer is “Go ahead and try for yourself. Find out what happens.” This is especially true with a material that is as variable as wood (even within a species) and when there are so many other variables, such as local climate.

If you know more about willow bast, or have other questions on this topic, please consider contributing a post on our on-line forum.

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