Presenting some ideas from my new book Practical Basketry Techniques to students at the London College of Fashion last week reminded me of my enthusiasm for two things: plaiting and stripping bark. The two complement each other beautifully, as bark makes an ideal material for plaiting. It’s been used the world over to make containers of all types, as well as clothes, shoes and hand bags. Strip the bark in spring or early summer when the trees are full of sap, then plait or weave then and there, or allow it to dry and soak to soften before using.
I attended this fantastic bark-stripping workshop with the weaver Maggie Smith (not the actress) last summer and now I’m hooked. Problem is we got so enthusiastic about the stripping we never get round to the plaiting. We tried stripping birch, sycamore, willow, dogwood, poplar, chestnut and a few other species. Since then I’ve stripped more sycamore, as well as elder bark, courtesy of my local municipal gardeners. I’ve been meaning to use the bark for ages now, and must do so before the stripping season starts again, else I know, I’ll get distracted again.
After talking with the students, I may have found the perfect opportunity. They are currently working on a project designing luxury goods, with the possibility of using fine leather. I suggested using bark as an alternative. There is such a range of textures, grains and colours, and the potential of sourcing the bark locally which fits their brief very well. Bark might possibly not last as long as fine leather (depending of course on what is designed and how it is treated), but then again, what is more precious than something that doesn’t last. That is real luxury! In any case, you only to have to wait until the following spring to make yourself another item if need be. This is slow and fast fashion combined, perfect!