An excerpt from my exhibition The Notion of an Ordinary Yarn
The journey to make string has taught me so much about being with plants, and the absorption of process. I have delved into string, cordage, twine a number of times in the last few years. It is a subject that seems to repeat itself in fibre weaving classes. There are many techniques and twists so to speak, and string is as old as civilization, so I guess it goes to prove it is the simple things in life that can give the most pleasure.
The Cotton Tree, as a weaving fibre was introduced to me by Rene Bahloo (Weavery) at a workshop run at Landcare. The traditional method from what I can gather included stripping the inner bark and then chewing it, or placing it in a running creek or in the ocean to clear it of the slimey mucus substance (this is called retting the fibre). I found that because I wanted to make a large quantity of string I needed to find a different method. After searching online and asking people, I found an article that gave details of boiling with ash (alkaline) to break down the mucus, then rinsing, I added beating with a mallet and combing, a method taught in a class at Fibre Arts Ballart by Tim Johnson (a European basket weaving artist).
The process of experimentation took weeks, I fell in love with the cotton tree, the wood is light in colour, soft and beautiful. I had to let go of my ideas of fine string, the resulting cordage was more like fine rope. The cotton tree consumed me for two months. I used the wood to make the frames for the work, which added another layer of process, how to clean, strip and dry the wood to avoid spoiling from mould.
I now have a familiarity with the plant, I know how it feels, smells and its physical properties. I was able to recognise the drift wood washed up on the seashore, and can identify the plant as I drive by coastal roads. We now have a connection, that goes beyond words printed in a book, or read online, it is a less tangible connection based on senses and time.
Resources and Further Reading
India Flint Teacher of String and Dyeing