Milkweed Processing

Common milkweed from my yard

Last month, with the help of many others, I extracted fibers from milkweed stalks to use in weaving projects. The stalks were harvested between late October and early January from various places, including my yard. One should wait until the stalks are black before harvesting. For some reason, the milkweed stalks in my yard didn’t blacken until January, when I finally cut them down. I let them weather in my yard for a few weeks so they would be easier to work with when the processing started.

Milkweed stalks

As the stalks sat out in the yard, some whitened from the bark, wearing off from exposure to the weather. That was a great help when removing the fibers from the stalk. Next year, I will leave the stalks exposed to the weather for a longer time so that more will whiten like these.

whitened stalks from exposure to weather

To remove the cellulose fibers, crack a line all the way down the stalk and open it up. Some stalks are pretty tough so it may take some strength. Remove the pith from inside the opened stalk.

Once the pith is removed, carefully peel the fibers from the bark. Most of the time, there will be quite a lot of bark that remains attached to the fibers. That’s OK, the bark will be removed later.

Again, some stalks may have little to no bark left on them. You can see the fibers sitting on the outside of the stalks – just go ahead and peel them off.

Try your best to peel off the fibers in nice long strips but its fine if some break. Later we will twist the fibers into cordage and use up those broken or short pieces.

Next time, we will work on removing the rest of the bark, washing and drying the fibers, and twisting them into cordage that can be used for a variety of weaving projects.

Aquene, Cher

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