Sharing my passion for handcrafted jewelry, paper making, and living a creative life.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Gathering Willow

It was a glorious day yesterday so, even though I had plenty of projects on my list needing attention, I let myself be side-tracked.  As Jo Packham said in the current issue of Where Women Create, "you will never "find" the time to do all of those things that inspire and nourish your creative simply must MAKE the time..."
Willow heart card on handmade willow paper

My handmade paper supply needs replenishing after a busy winter of card making and soap wrapping so it's time to start gathering materials. I love Mother Nature's Craft Store, where everything is free! 

 Spring is the best time to gather willow while the sap is running, making it easy to strip.  The young shoots coming off old willow stumps or willow that has been pruned are the easiest to work with.  Continuous lengths without branches make it easier to strip the fibre from the shoots.  Later in the season, you can steam willow branches to strip them but it is much easier to peel the young shoots.  For my area, the central interior of northern British Columbia, now is the time but, if you live in a warmer region, you will have to check the "stripability" of your willow.

Using a knife, small saw, or pair of garden shears, gather an armload of willow, find a comfy place to sit, and start stripping your willow.  Make a small cut in the bark at the base of the willow shoot/branch, grab hold of a small section and peel it down the branch.    Continue peeling until just the woody core remains.  The bark and bast rarely come off in one piece so just keep pulling off sections.  You can do it with a small knife or just use your hands and wreck your fingernails like I do.  (The reason I am not showing one hand holding the willow while the other hand pulls off the bark is because my hands look like crap!)

The fibre from willow and other similar plants (poplar, elm) is called woody bast.  This bast fibre, which is between the outer bark and the woody core, is one type of fibre used to make paper.  The bast fibre can be separated from the bark as you work by inserting the blade of your small knife between the layers and running it along the length of the strip.  Or, you can boil the strips later to remove the bark.  Alternatively, you can just leave the bark on.  This makes a darker, more rustic looking paper which I sometimes prefer.

Before you know it, you will have a pile of beautiful, clean, green smelling fibre, waiting for the next step in becoming handmade paper.  (At least once a day turn your pile so it dries completely.)

This is the first in a series on gathering plants for handmade paper before I do the actual papermaking tutorial. I will cover three more types of fibre in future posts: herbacious bast, leaf, and grass fibres.


  1. Interesting...I'm looking forward to see the rest of the tutorials. Is there anything you can do with the stripped branches?

  2. Andrea, the stripped branches are beautiful so I'm saving them for 'something.' I have a couple of vague ideas so I don't want to throw them out.

  3. This is so cool, Liz. It there a reason you choose willow over other woody stems, is it merely the pliability of the blast at this time of the year over other woody types in your area?

  4. That's right, Pat. I don't have any elm and the red alder is hard to peel any time without steaming or boiling first. I could have used poplar but it doesn't have the long continuous shoots that willow does.

  5. How wonderful that you create your paper with fiber you have collected..look forward to seeing the next step..I use pre-processed pulp from a book making supply company but always wanted to try it the natural way..a lot of work! The view from your studio is inspiring!!

  6. For all the time you put into your wonderful blog, I am passing the Kreativ Blogger Award to you! Please keep up all the wonderful work!

  7. Thanks, Andrea! I appreciate your comment!


Thank you for taking the time to leave comments. It means a lot to me.