#5 Bark Weaving – Sweet Chestnut

Hi all,

I’ve been researching basketry and weaving recently and found a lot of information on willow frond weaving, especially in the Somerset region. There are a few demos on YouTube for pine needle basketry and clematis weaving. However I’ve found only one video from woodlands.co.uk showing working with the Bark of trees for weaving.

After some research it was quite common in America but very little of it done in the uk. Those that follow my Instagram account will see that I’ve spent the last few days harvesting and playing with bark to see how workable it actually is.

I’ve been using the inner Bark from sweet chestnut (castanea sativa) interestingly not native to the uk, but brought here by the Romans. This may answer as to why there is little to no historical evidence of native uk uses. The Bark is best harvested in the spring, late April to early June time. I harvested this stuff recently and it took a lot of time and care to remove in one sheet.

To harvest the Bark you first need to identify a Sweet Chestnut tree, a young branch works best for this as the Bark is still smooth. Sweet Chestnuts are identifiable by the smooth Bark with fault lines where they meet the main trunk, similar to beech, and purple brown twigs. When in leaf the bright green saw toothed ovate leaves are a classic giveaway. Bear in mind that a Sweet Chestnut may not product fruit for up to 50 years so don’t be put off if you cannot see any chestnuts.

Once identified you will need to responsibly, and with permission, remove one of the limbs. Try and take a branch with as few knots as possible, this will pay dividend in the next few steps. Try and keep the branch as long as is workable. Then taking a blunt metal edge debark the green outer Bark to reveal the white inner. Do not go too deep.

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Now take your knife and score as deep as possible, ensuring you go deep enough to penetrate the inner Bark at least. Completely around the lower and upper of the sheet you will be removing and then one long line down the log.

Taking your knife to start you off slowly peel the Bark off the wood. If needs be you can use a blunt stick to help ease it off. Take care around the knots and edges. You should end up with a sheet that looks something like this.

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You’ll see the inside of the Bark begin to turn purple as you remove it. This is the tannins in the Chestnut reacting with the air. Interestingly those tannins were used to tan leather before the use of chemicals hence to tan a hide by use of tannins. Chestnut was widely used and gave the leather the classic Chestnut colour.

Now you have your sheets removed you will need to keep them moist so they are pliable. They do hold moisture for a few hours so don’t worry too much. If they do dry out just spray or submerge them to rehydrate.

The sheets will now need to be cut into workable strips, ensure your sheet is trued up so your strips are square and cut them at 1cm heights, and as long as you can.

Once you have eight strips all the same length and height you will need to bend them over in half. You can either have them all shiny side up (like I did) or all rough or half shiny half rough for a pretty effect.

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From here you are now ready to weave. I will explain as best I can here and then watch the video underneath, it’s eight minutes watching me complete the first weave.

Take one strip and interconnect it with another so that it locks in and creates a V shape. Next take another strip and place it next to the other but alternate if the one to lower is under then next one should be over. Continue this until you have all eight interweaves together, they should all be under over interlocked the whole way through. The same strip should marry up on the other side after each weave.

Hopefully this video now sheds more light on this.

So you’ve now created the bottom of the pouch, the next step is to weave the sides.

Take the lowest pair on the left side, fold the top half back out of the way. Take the bottom half and bend it at 45 degrees so it now points towards the open end. Weave this under and over the other top strips of the other pairs. Turn the whole piece off and do the same with the other end of that same strip, bending at 45 degrees, under over the rest of the strips on that side.

Simply continue this with the other side now working all the way up and continuing this practice of bending 45 degrees, under over under over. Again, hopefully the video now paints a better picture.

After you have got to your desired length of pouch or around 5cm left on each strip, whichever is sooner, you will need to slice off the ends at an angle to create a point.

Now comes the really fiddly part, you will now need to turn each strip back in on itself and weave it back on itself to lock it in place. Creating a finished top and locking it all tight. I’ve recorded it here but the lighting wasn’t ideal. Hopefully it shows the process. One to note on this is some of the strips will come outside the pouch and weave on the outside, this is where the strip was going to go at the end of this clip.

And there you have it, the finished pouch. As it dries it will shrink so ensure you keep the weave really tight throughout as any gaps you have now will be exasperated by the next day.

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You should have something that looks like this. I did a fair bit of research on this project trying to get some guidance but couldn’t find much. If you weave in a different way or have given this a try please get in touch. Good luck on this one, the finished product is strong and has its own natural beauty, well worth the fiddly bits and frustration!

– Charlie

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