After reading Ruth Woods’ new book, Finding Form With Fibre, which profiles the work of 14 talented Australian artists and offers different techniques for working with plant fibers, I immediately headed outside to gather plant materials that I could transform into an artistic piece. Working with Phormium and some Lomandra, I attempted to weave a masterpiece. Turns out, I’m not much of a textile crafter. Well, at least not currently.
Determined to become more skilled, I reached out to Ruth, who started Craft School Oz and teaches basketry and textile workshops, to ask for advice and guidance.
Photography from Finding Form With Fibre.
What is your favorite plant to work with?
“I have many plants that I like to work with, so it all depends on what’s available, usually in my garden or my neighbors’. This is a wine growing area in Australia, so I use grapevines from my neighbor’s garden. I also use a lot of New Zealand flax because it’s readily accessible as I have several in my garden. Flax is strong and fibrous and is a great weaving plant. I also like Kniphofia which has a long leaf and soft fibres to work with—it’s really nice on your hands.”
Is there a particularly easy plant to work with?
“Daylilies are great because you can pick their long leaves when they are dying back from the new leaves; this means that they are already dry and ready to use. I try to pick these early in the morning while they are still moist with dew, because then I can use them straight away.”
Top tips for creating with plants?
“Every plant is different so there is no one rule that fits all. But generally you pick the leaves and let them dry out first so there is little shrinkage. Once the leaves have dried, you can rehydrate them just enough so they are pliable, but you don’t want to over soak them as they will swell up again then shrink. One basketmaker told me that if you leave your plant fiber on the grass overnight, the dew will moisten the fibre enough, and then you should keep them wrapped in a damp towel so they don’t dry out. This tip might not apply if you live in the tropics or a very dry arid area.”
A ‘practice project’ you recommend?
“I use the phrase “practice projects” to encourage people to make lots of little tryout pieces to experiment with and see how different plant fibers react, what shapes can be made, and to develop ideas. A simple under and over weaving technique is great as you can play with lots of different fibers and obtain so many different results.”
Any new material(s) you are using?
“At the moment I’m experimenting with different types of rush, the ones that like to grow in boggy areas. Also if I see a tree that has been felled or pruned, I like to collect some of the branches and create shapes with them even though sometimes I have no idea what tree it is. When I’m teaching, I emphasize the importance of playing and experimenting with plant fiber and technique. You learn so much by making mistakes—it’s the best teacher!”
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