From the land

Preparing Juncus effussus for making cordage

I am just back from a 4 day workshop with Tim Johnson, artist and basket maker. We went out into the landscape to harvest raw materials then prepared and made them into finished (or experimental) products.

Juncus effussus is commonly known as ‘soft rush’ and grows in damp meadows across the UK. For many centuries, before the advent of electricity or in rural areas, rush lights were used for lighting – they were made by extracting the pith from soft rush and soaking this in fat or grease. We harvested rush to make into cordage or to use whole in braiding and weaving.

This is a visual summary of how the soft rush was prepared:

Pulling rush
Cutting rush (cut as low as possible)
Aim to harvest with the white section at the base of each stem (leaf)
Sorting for length using a bucket
Beat starting at the butt end then the tips
Twist to loosen fibres then beat again
Fold bundle in half and beat again
Crank the fibres
Bruised and cranked stems
Then comb the stems (leave tips uncombed to aid fibre management)

During the rest of the course Tim taught us palm plying to make cordage, braiding and looping.