How long is a piece of string?

As long as you want, if you make it yourself. 🙂

In part of the basketry course I did with Polly Pollock at City Lit, we learnt how to prepare natural materials for weaving, including daffodil leaves.

Earlier this year, after the flowers had finished, I gathered a whole load of daffodil leaves before they started getting slimy and eaten by slugs and snails. I tied them into two bunches and hung them up to dry in the shady back garden.

daffodil leaves drying

After about three weeks they had shrunk considerably and changed colour from mostly green to mostly yellowy brown.

dried daffodil leaves

In class, we sprayed them with water and then rolled them in a damp towel and left them for about 10-15 minutes to soften up, before using them as a core material in coiled basketry – here’s the piece I made.

coiled daffodil leaves

However, one of the other students (thanks Gareth!) also showed me how to make cordage (aka string). This is a video I found on YouTube that demonstrates the method.

So I used the rest of the daffodil leaves to make some cordage. I started with 2-ply, using two leaves in each ply (ie four leaves in total).

2-ply daffodil cordage

It’s difficult to see in the photo, but there is lovely colour variation in the cordage from the different leaves. It also smells lovely, like hay!

There are a few bits sticking out where I joined in a new leaf – I will cut these off later.

I also made slightly thicker 3-ply cordage, using six leaves, two in each ply. Here’s a photo showing the relative thicknesses: the 3-ply is at the top, 2-ply underneath.

3-ply and 2-ply daffodil cordage

Because of the opposing twists, you can stop at any time and the cordage doesn’t unravel – so I can keep on going when I get more leaves!

Other long, thin leaves such as iris can also be used for this. I have a lot of crocosmia in my garden, so I’m looking forward to making more cordage in the autumn!

daffodil cordage

 

Different materials, different result

I seem to be getting more obsessed with basketry at the moment – I’m currently doing an eight-week course (one day a week) on coiled basketry with Polly Pollock at City Lit.

The first four weeks have been spent exploring different ways of starting baskets and working with different materials and stitches. In the second half of the course we are expected to work on our own projects around the theme of seedpods. So as you can imagine, this suits me down to the ground! 🙂

So far I’ve experimented with colour:

raffia coiled with hemp
Raffia coiled with hemp

With softer and harder materials:

fabric coiled with paper yarn
Fabric coiled with paper yarn
seagrass coiled with paper yarn
Seagrass coiled with paper yarn

With additions:

seagrass coiling with hare barley additions
Seagrass coiling with hare barley additions

And combining with felt:

coiling with felt
Coiling with felt

I also tried some “linear” coiling – creating rows rather than spiralling from the centre. The first sample I made with this technique had a thick core, which I wrapped with a stiff paper yarn. As I progressed, the piece began to twist quite spontaneously.

twisted coiled piece
Twisted coiling

I made similar pieces with the same core material but different wrapping fibres, which were all softer than the paper yarn. Some of these pieces twisted a little, others hardly at all.

I also tried making a piece with “ribs” to give a more defined form. I bound five lengths of seagrass together and coiled a thinner piece of green seagrass around them using blanket stitch. Because the seagrass ribs were relatively soft, the tension of the stitching tended to twist them slightly to the right, which made the final piece look a little unbalanced.

As a felter, I am used to shaping a piece while fulling it – the final form can look very different from the original! So I thought I would try reshaping this piece to emphasise the twisting even further. The paper yarn is strong but flexible, so this worked out quite well.

twisted coiled seedpod

This week we were working with natural materials, so I repeated this form using strips of cordyline as the ribs, dried daffodil leaves as the core, and waxed polyester string for stitching.

The cordyline was much stiffer than the seagrass, and I found that if I pulled the ribs together at the top, the coiled sections between the ribs bulged outwards, producing a completely different shape.

coiled daffodil leaves

It’s a useful reminder of how you can achieve completely different results with different materials, and making samples is a very worthwhile exercise. 🙂