In June, a friend who works at a local mill got me some basswood bark. It took several weeks, but I have most of it processed now and it is beautiful.
I wasn’t entirely sure how this would work out. David’s wife got the bark to my husband while I was out of town at the Willow Gathering in Decorah. That was mid-June. I don’t know when the tree was cut, or how long it had been sitting around before it got to my place. And I had never before processed any basswood from such mature trees.
But I wanted to see if I could get fiber from bark slabs that would otherwise go in the chipper.
I’m back! After my last post, I started a training program that was supposed to help me build skills for a better-paying job. It quickly became clear that training was only a priority for me, the long commute was going to be bad in winter, and the training was unlikely to lead to something better than the business I’ve spent 20 years building. I’m very happy to be back. For right now, I’m mostly just tying up loose ends and catching up on things I promised but never delivered. As the fog of grief and exhaustion lifts, though, I’m starting to see what changes I might make as I move forward. I’d love to hear your ideas as well, and I’ll keep you posted as plans become goals. In the meantime, thank you for your support. I love what I do and the wonderful people I meet doing it. I hope you’ll be part of this next chapter!
It’s been a long season of letting go for me. My father died earlier this month. My mother’s dementia continues to progress. And after several years of cutting back on my fiber art business to manage my parents’ care, I’m letting go of some old ideas about who I am, what I do, and what’s most important in my life. All that’s missing is weight loss and a new hair color to signal big changes ahead.
I haven’t managed the first or ruled out the second. But I have made some decisions. First, though, I have to share an update on an old story.
In 2009 I wote about an unfinished needlework sampler that’s been in my family since about 1815. Now that my dad is gone, I hope to re-home it and other objects with other family members. And I wanted to add some information to the written information that was given to my parents along with the sampler. So I did a little internet sleuthing.
It’s been a while since I took time to write, so to catch up a bit I’ll focus on topics — starting with willow. I’ll write on indigo and other natural dye materials soon.
This season has been a good one for peeling willow bark. I was able to peel before and after going to the Willow Gathering at Luther College in June. With some of the early harvest it was easy to separate outer and inner bark, so in addition to natural dye material I got a basket full of inner bark dried for cordage.
My studio has been getting a thorough purge in preparation for a garage sale this weekend. It’s been sort of like an archaeological dig, as I’ve been finding materials and samples from classes I haven’t taught in years. But the most ruthless culling has been on on our book shelves. Here’s what goes away:
It was a risk to set out indigo so early here in northern Wisconsin, even under cloches. So far, it’s only a partial success, but I’m learning more about how much I can get away with where the growing season is so short.
All of the indigo growing in double buckets seemed OK after nighttime temperatures dipped to 30 degrees. Then it got even colder.
They might have fared better if I had given them additional cover when the forecast was a low of 28 degrees. But the point of this experiment (besides extending the season) is to see how much I can get away with. So that night, we covered the asparagus and left the indigo to live or die under the cloches. The plants were definitely frosted. They might have recovered eventually, but today I replanted with the leggy seedlings I had indoors. This is still earlier than I’ve ever had indigo out.
The indigo in the recycled horse trough bed was also frosted, but two of the plants looked good enough for another experiment. I replanted some, but kept two of the frosted ones to see how they compare in a couple of weeks.
If what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, these frosted indigo plants might become very strong indeed.
I’ve lived in Northern Wisconsin for 30 years and the only month where I’ve never seen frost is July — but I’ve heard it can happen. My growing season for tender plants like Japanese indigo is generally from early June to mid-September. This year, I’m trying to extend that season on the front end. I’m hoping I won’t have to bring potted plants indoors in the fall to protect them from frost while seeds mature for the next year’s crop.
Previously, I started my indigo seeds at the end of April and set the plants out under milk jug cloches after Memorial Day. Our ground can stay cold well into June, and the cloches act like mini greenhouses. This year, though, I started seeds in early April, and set the seedlings out under cloches on April 24.
We’re expecting overnight temperatures in the high 20s later this week, which might put a quick end to this experiment. To be safe, I have more seedlings indoors and can replant if necessary.
This is the first time I’ve used a heat mat under the flat while germinating the seeds. In the past, I put containers on top of our 55 gallon aquarium. Without the aquarium for warmth, I splurged on a $17 heat mat that I only used for a couple of days.
I don’t have grow lights, so my seedlings get leggy pretty fast. On April 20, I transferred some seedlings into yogurt containers. That should give them enough soil to thrive in case they’re indoors another four to six weeks. These are my insurance policy, in case this experiment in pushing the season fails.
If the seedlings that went outside already do succumb to frost this week, I have seedlings left in the flat for replanting — several times, if necessary. But I have high hopes for this experiment. I’ll keep you posted.
Years ago at a workshop, I picked up another basketmaker’s trimmings to make cuttings for my own willow patch. Over the years, that variety’s leaves and bark have become among my favorite for natural dye. But I never knew what variety it was.
This video shows key features for identifying willow species in the United States. I believe the willow I’ve been trying to identify is peachleaf willow, salix amygdaloides.
Before I started growing named cultivars bred for basketry, I harvested and wove a lot of the willow that grows wild here in rural northern Wisconsin. I wish this video had been around then!
Embarrassing things happen when you travel. At least, I like to think it’s not just me who occasionally looks around in relief that I will probably never have to face these people again. I’ll leave much to your imagination and just share today’s addition to things I hope never to repeat.
This is not the yarn or project I planned to bring on this trip. I’m heading to Florida to move my parents again, to a different assisted living/memory care facility. I know I won’t have much time for stitching the next two weeks. But you might have heard that bad weather has wrecked havok on air travel this week.
I picked up the technique (including its name) from Osma Gallinger Tod’s book Earth Basketry. Over the years I’ve applied the concept to materials ranging from bark and cordage to velvet and satin cores. Definitely not traditional — but then, it’s hard to find much information about the basketry traditions of Tierra del Fuego and the Fuegian culture area. And I’ve never had the opportunity to travel to the southernmost tip of South America.
So I really appreciate when someone who has visited sorts through travel photos and sends some to me to share with others. It’s even better when that someone sees through a basketmaker’s eyes.