Friday, April 22, 2016

Crafting Aliens

When I finished reading Eating Aliens, a book about the advantages of eating invasive species, I felted compelled to look at my own local environment for aliens I could consume. The example I mentioned in my review was that of English Ivy. Basically, English Ivy wants to murder your trees, and there's not a whole lot you can do about it.

My thought at the time was that while you can't eat English Ivy, you can use it for medicinal purposes. But that's a pretty poor idea as the health benefits of English Ivy aren't very well understood (WebMD uses the phrase 'might' a bit too frequently, as in it might stimulate mucus glands and have expectorant properties), and the process of going from weed to medicine would require a precision that would be hard to scale. So yeah, I was on the wrong track.

But you know who wasn't? Michael Bauer of Don't ingest it, craft it! His solution was brilliantly simple: use English Ivy for basket weaving projects. And the results are pretty sweet, check out his English Ivy Bike Basket:

And the best part: the idea scales. Consider the English Ivy Basketry Classes offered in Portland, Oregon. Part of the class is spent collecting up English Ivy (and therefore helping your local environment), and then part of the class is spent actually making baskets. Sure this works as a community class, but it should also work at the entrepreneurial level. Who wouldn't want to run a business where people are desperate to give you your raw materials? And the completed projects should be something you can sell online or locally. Heck, put me down for one English Ivy Man Bag, please.

So naturally, I had to give this concept a try. I went outside and tried to collect up some English Ivy that's strangling one of our trees. No dice. The Ivy held fast to the trunk and while I could pull bits of it off, I didn't end up with anything resembling weavable material. I then went to our back property line and pulled some that was growing near our shed. Now we were talking! When I was done, I probably had a length of 8 feet or so of vine. Now what? To YouTube!

I watched this video and this video, which gave me the very basics. Stripping the leaves off of English Ivy was super easy: I just put on a pair of gardening gloves, wrapped my fingers around the vine and pulled. Within a just a couple of minutes I had materials I could weave with. Also, the vine was both pliable, yet durable. My big problem: I don't have enough of an ivy infestation. With only 8 feet or so of cordage to work with, I was hardly going to be able to make a basket. But I at least go started. Here's how far I got before I ran out of materials:

Pathetic, I know. But the thing is, it was working. Honestly, I expected the process to be intricate and take forever. Yet, in fact, it's relatively easy and fast to do. If I had all the materials and 30 - 45 minutes, I'm pretty sure I could have constructed something resembling a functional container. You wouldn't have wanted to display it (well, my Mom would, but that's because she's my Mom), but it would have held stuff.

I'm certainly convinced that the English Ivy basket idea is workable and now I just need to keep an eye out for some section of woods overrun with the stuff. I can then collect it knowing I'm helping the local eco system, and finally finish my masterpiece.


  1. See if you can track down Basketry: A World Guide to Traditional Techniques by Bryan Sentance. Basketry was one of those crafts that for whatever inexplicable reason, I never properly considered. After becoming utterly engrossed in that book, I have a whole new appreciation for both its utility and beauty.

  2. Exploriment -

    I know what you mean! I'd never given basketry much thought. Perhaps if someone had called it: improvised gear making using natural materials, I'd have been all over it!

    Unfortunately, my local library doesn't have the book you mention (it's got another title from Bryan Sentance), so I'll have to keep an eye open for it. Thanks for the tip.

  3. To remove ivy from trees: Cut the ivy near the base of the tree. A few days later, much of the water will have drained out of the ivy, making it shrink, so the tendrils that hold it to the tree won't grip so strongly, and it will be easy to remove from the tree.

  4. pbewig - that's awesome! I'll definitely give that a try and see how it works.