Saturday, December 24, 2011

Weaving with English Ivy

To keep you from guessing about what to do with English Ivy, here are a few pictures to get you interested.

A wall covered with English Ivy
"Spider" weave or start of a small basket
English Ivy (Hedera helix) is an invasive plant here in Vancouver parks and its usefulness has been underestimated by the fact that it is a weed that spreads quickly and overcrowds indigenous vegetation.

Harvesting English Ivy for weaving can be done essentially at anytime of the year. Bundle vines or coil up after removing soil, leaves and small roots and twigs. Store in a cool dry place until your ready to start processing the material for weaving.  

Processing the English Ivy for weaving can be a tedious process, but rewarding. The process is similar to the cleaning of spruce roots or cedar roots. Before you start to clean off the outer bark of the bundles of roots or vines, soak them in a tub of water overnight, then the next day drain the water and you can start cleaning the bundles.

Use a knife to clean off the outer bark leaving a nice white material like shown in the Spider weave picture on the right. Bundle or coil these cleaned vines and arrange such that they dry before storing or starting your weaving project.

Once you have a small bucket full of cleaned vines, you can start the spider weave. Soak the vines overnight in cold water or use boiling water and a small cooking pot to soften the vines. Making spider’s is an exercise that can be a long learning process, but well worth the effort in learning the skill. You may have to make at least 30 of these "Spiders" before you feel that you understand the material, technique and patience. These finished spiders can be also used as decoration, ie a pendant or talisman even an earring. Essentially making the spider teaches the weaver how to start a basket, twine the body, and finishing touches. Twining is relatively easy, but often beginning and ending a basket can be hard to remember, thus making 30 spiders helps engrain the process in your mind and fingers.

The last picture here shows a finished English Ivy basket, with 3 different colors. Two are the result of a commercial dye, green and red. Without a presoak in a bath of Alum, the colors turned out a little pastel like. The red appearing more orange.

Method for dying English Ivy. Presoak cleaned material in a bath of Alum water. Use a canning jar, and place in 1 Tablespoon Alum, and the material you wish to color. Top up canning jar with boiling hot water and let stand covered overnight or several days. In another canning jar, place about 2 tablespoons of color fabric dye and 1 tablespoon of Alum. Take out the material that was soaking in the Alum bath, and put into the new canning jar. This will become the dye bath. Top up the dye bath jar with boiling hot water and let stand overnight in a warm location covered or for several days. Remove material from dye bath, and rinse under cold water. Lightly dry by damping with paper or cloth towel.

Finished basket

Tools and Supplies for weaving with English Ivy are few and inexpensive. When harvesting a good pair of garden gloves are handy to keep your hands scratch free. A small knife or utility blade for cleaning the bark off the vines. A bucket or two large enough to soak the vines in. Boiling water from a kettle or hot water faucet is good for softening the vines prior to weaving. A sharp pair of scissors for trimming and cutting the vine as you weave with it. and Some clothes pins to hold your weaving together throughout the project. To dye the ivy vines different colors you will need a couple of wide mouth canning jars, tongs, plastic gloves, tintex or dyx fabric dye, alum powder (from the spice rack at supermarket, used in pickling too, but cheaper from a craft store).

Weaving links and Basket ideas

You can buy processed basketry materials from various sources.  But for practicing, nothing is easier to obtain than our persistent pest, invasive English ivy. . .

English Ivy; its invasive behavior has given it a bad rap. A while ago I started to feel empathy for the plant and wonder what kind of relationship I could begin to have with the plant, other . . .