Kingston University Biodiversity Action Group

28-07-2015: If you go down to the woods today...

... you may be in for a big surprise.

Due to the popularity of the winter woodland workshops we decided to add a summer workshop to our events, which some volunteers thought was good enough to miss graduation for!

Mark Lloyd returned to run the workshop showing us how to do bark weaving.
Mark giving a health and safety talk at the start to the team
I had never heard of bark weaving before this event, though I had seen examples of weaving with flexible willow staves and also straw. So I was curious how bark (which I thought of it being flaky and brittle) could be woven. It was fascinating to learn that a lot of bark weaving is done with the inner rather than the outer bark, which is a lot more flexible. However while the outer bark is harder and more brittle and harder – those properties, can be combined with the flexibility of the inner bark to produce specific objects such as canoes.

As this was a shorter than normal workshop, Mark had pre-prepared harvested inner bark, but he showed us how to harvest bark in a short demo.
After scrapping off the outer bark, the inner bark is scored

...and peeled carefully

The freshly peeled bark was passed around, it almost felt like supple leather. 
This process does require the wood to be harvested in spring, when the sap is rising, as this makes it easier to separate the layers.

The harvesting process does involve either removing a tree or cutting branches of a certain size. This should be a tree which you’re already going to remove due to management, or a well-established coppice where the stems are thick enough for the work (which won't unnecessarily kill the tree).

Dried bark made flexible for working by dunking it in simmering water for a few seconds. 
Newly harvested bark shrinks as it dries, to allow for this it needs to be dried for a few months before working, but can be worked easily after a quick dunk in simmering water.
Cutting a straight bit is much trickier then you would think!
The team quickly started to measure and cut their bark strips for weaving.

Longer than expected
Mark showed us the weaving technique and also talked us through establishing the length of the strips needed. 
Mark talks us through the maths

Anam and Amtul quickly get the hand of creating the base
The base of the basket was the relevantly easy part to do with many of us trying for different patterns on the base, or sides…the tricky part was weaving the sides. 

It took most of us a while to come to grips with this part of the weave and this was the quietest that we had been as we all concentrated in getting the first three layers of the weave in place. 

Once we managed to get past the third layer, things were a little easier.
New sustainability team members get weaving
We finished the tops of the baskets with some binding, using either very thin strips of bark, or, for those of us who were more ambitious, bark string, which Mark showed us how to make. A lot of string had to be made so we only ending up with two of the team deciding to go for it, but it was surprising how much string they ended up making.
Teaching us how to make string 

Julia and Melissa knuckling down to make enough string to finish off their baskets
Weaving to the finial moment to get baskets finished

Plenty of variation in size and design 

Oma finishing off his basket 

First use of a basket

A satisfying end to a fun afternoon
A big thanks to Mark and the volunteers for a great afternoon in the woods.

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