Milkweed!!

September 22, 2008 at 2:57 pm 4 comments

Back in June I was out in a rural area, and spied a very interesting and beautiful plant growing wild by the side of the road:

I didn’t know what it was, but I liked it (and the butterflies seemed  to too), so I took some pictures and sent inquires off to a few Virginia agriculture/native plants people, all of whom were nice enough to respond that I had stumbled upon common milkweed, a native perrenial plant and favored food of Monarch butterflies.  A little more research, and I discovered that native Americans used to make cord from the baste (stem) fibers, and use the fluff that forms in the seedpods as insulation.  This same fluff was used to fill life jackets during WWI, and there is a budding milkweed industry in the midwest.  Wow!  But the main thing I thought was — I bet I can spin what’s going to develop in those pods!

So… it’s September, and I return to that little stand of milkweed.  I was so excited to find that it was still  there — no road crews had sheared it down, nor had anything else disturbed the pods, which were now fully grown.  I found one that was dry and cracked it open:

Isn’t that BEAUTIFUL!  Yes!  I want some of that!  So I picked what pods I could reach from the edge of the road, and brought them home to finish drying.  The outer hulls were turning yellow and felt hollow and light, so I figured it was time to get them before something happened to them.  Here’s my harvest:

Just enough to experiment with — but think of all those seeds!  I’m sure I’ll be able to find a corner of my yard to plant in milkweed for future years.  Right now, those pods are in my dehydrator drying.  I’ve done some more searching, and sources recommend mixing the fluff (or “silk”) in the pod with wool for spinning, but apparently the fibers in the stem (baste) are longer and can be spun on their own once the stems are “retted” either naturally or by boiling in a lye/water solution(?!).  I might have to try that sometime too.  But for now, take a peek at my pods as they head off to dry… and keep watch for a future post about what I do with the fluff!

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Entry filed under: HANDSPINNING, OTHER FIBER FUN. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jennifer  |  September 23, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    What an informative blog! Great quality pictures too. How did you get sunflower seeds? The birds eat mine on the plant. Let us know how planting the milkweed goes.

    Reply
  • 2. ann  |  November 19, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    Hey- You and I were walking in parallel fields this summer… I took pictures of the same plant and decided to research it later in the colder months. You rule. Let me know how the spinning goes! I really loved the history of its uses. Way to go, Melissa!- your bud- Ann

    Reply
  • 3. Sarah Skeen  |  November 22, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    I can’t wait to see what you do with this! I’ve been obsessed with milkweed because I raise Monarchs and always wondered if anyone used the silky soft fluff for anything.

    Reply
  • 4. LunarAwe  |  April 10, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    So did you ever spin with your milkweed? It turns out you can! I researched this last fall since I have been a long and devoted drooler over the possibilities of spinning milkweed. Turns out it is very spinnable, but needs to be blended with other fibers because the resulting yarn is too brittle when spun by itself. It needs at least 40% wool to make a useable yarn. So far I have carded a bit into wool and it is so lovely! I also hear that when dyeing the mica in the fibers prevents dye pick up so you get shiny silver bits in the mix when this is spun with light fibers and then dyed. Good luck!

    Reply

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