Wrestling with Wisteria's wrap
A fat layer of tan bast fibers lies beneath the crumbly outer bark of invasive Japanese Wisteria. The fibers are ideal for making twine and rope, and not bad for making a tough, lavender-gray paper.
Stripped from a steamed stem, the vine's hide is soaked overnight, placed on a board and scraped to separate the bast from the epidermis. Older stems might be difficult to scrape, in which case it's easier to cook them first. After washing, use your hands to slip off the black epidermis.
To prepare the fibers for papermaking, cook the bast in a stainless-steel pot with sodium carbonate (also known as washing soda or soda ash) for about an hour, then cover the pot with blankets overnight to let it steep, and wash several times before beating.
No need to cook fibers for rope-making — raw strips will suffice.
PHOTOS, top to bottom:
• Wisteria floribunda bark, steamed and stripped from vine.
• A sheet-metal tool, wired to a White Mulberry /Norway Maple block, holds a bark strip in place as a large, bent putty knife scrapes epidermis from the bast fibers.
• Uncooked bast fibers may be dried for future use, used for while they're damp for rope making, or cooked for making paper.
• Japanese Wisteria twine and rope.
• Cooked and washed Wisteria bast fibers.