Sunday was one of the drier and sunnier days we have experienced in the past couple of weeks so I took the opportunity to go nettle gathering. I am planning a new project using nettle fibre, or rather intending to create something of a cross between cordage and yarn. I did a little experimenting with nettle fibre last Summer and I’ve been keen ever since to develop this idea further – hence my need for nettles. The plants I wanted are the longest, thickest Stinging Nettles I could find, which may sound like madness but I have learned that the fibres in the taller nettles are likely to be stronger so would be best for yarn-making.
I had spotted a ‘nice’ patch of suitable nettles when we’d been blackberry and apple picking recently, so off I set with gloves and my secateurs … and of course my specially designed lightweight trug created just for this purpose. Although it was a lovely warm sunny day, it was remarkably quiet along my chosen ‘nettle’ path and since it was so pleasant in the sun, I decided to defoliate the nettle stems right there rather than taking them all home first. Another part of the process I carried out straight away was removing the stinging hairs from the stems. With a pair of thick gardening gloves this is an easy operation as the hairs can simply be rubbed off by pulling each stem through gloved hands. The nettle fibres grow in the outer skin or ‘bark’ layer of the stem so I only needed the stems and this meant less to carry home in my trug too.
To obtain the nettle fibre I need to strip the ‘bark’ layer off the stems. This process is called decortication. For the method I am using, I begin by splitting the stems lengthwise. Whilst the nettle stems are still green, stem-splitting is as simple as standing on the stems to crack and flatten them. Now I will leave them for a few weeks to let the stems dry out before I attempt the next stage of the process.
Whilst I was out on a sunny and warm late-August afternoon, of course I could not resist also picking just a few more blackberries …
J Peggy Taylor