Connecting with nature #4: Flexible spring!
30th April 2016
We’ve been bending over backwards to try out new ideas with flexible materials this April. Spring hasn’t quite sprung for us here yet (still snowing at the end of April!) but a plentiful supply of willow rods and bramble stems has provided a flexible resource that keeps on giving.
At end of March my Dad presented me with 2 buckets full of fresh willow he had chopped back from his hedge. Taking this to our Easter holiday forest schools the children soon got to work experimenting and making. The flexibility of willow meant some got snapped up for making bows and arrows, although we don’t think its as good as hazel for strength under fire. The bendiness lends itself well to some creative ideas though, and forest school practitioner Ruth McBain showed us an owl she’d made by tying up curved shapes with wool. A few forest school-ers soon wanted to make one too.
Our home education forest school group have talked about going fishing for some time. Our woodland is short of fishing holes, but some willow rods, string and hooks, plus fir cones with hook eyes created an absorbing fishing challenge where the young children whiled away a morning, sitting on a log and seeing who could hook the biggest catch.
Pulling up wild rooted blackberry stems from the garden is an unwelcome chore, but thanks to a recent course on Celebrating Woodland Heritage with the amazing Lily Horseman of Kindling Play and Training I now see the common bramble in a completely new light! We were asked to try heritage techniques for building woodland shelters. Fiona and I found that the flexibility and strength of a bramble stem was enough to support a geodesic dome, like a woodsman’s bender, albeit on miniature scale. It would have been a prickly night though.
Inspired by properties of this plentiful material I went on to have a go making cordage from blackberry stems; a primitive but resourceful way of making essential string and ropes that has been around since the Stone Age. First I had to bash the long stems with a log to soften the tough casing and remove the white pith. The stripped ‘bark’ was then left near the fire to dry out for half an hour or so. Cordage making can be a simple twisting or rolling of the fibres in your fingers. By rolling each of two strands of fibre, then twisting one behind the other alternately, I soon had a length of cord which made into a bracelet, which I’m still proudly wearing now.
My final discovery about the properties of the brilliant bramble was when we had a go at basket making. We gathered long stems of bramble then wearing gloves, stripped off the leaves and smoothed down the thorns. The first step in making the basket was to bend the flexible ends of a stem into a circle, tucking the ends into the frame. Another circle was postitioned inside the first then struts attached on the non-handle side to create the outline shape of a basket. It was then just a matter of weaving thinner
stems between the struts and tying in or cutting off each stem end. The final result is a rough looking basket, perfect for foraging blackberries with this September!