I found the most amazing article in the 2003 Winter issue of Spin-Off...rendering fiber from MILKWEED!! How flippin cool!!
While we were at the park yesterday, I found four plants that were not flowering and harvested them. I don't want to harvest a bunch right now because most of them are flowering and I do not want to possibly jeapordize next years new generation of Milkweeds.
I set to work stripping the skins off the woody stalk and setting them aside. I found that a lot of the fiber likes to stick to the stem instead of the skin, so I scrapped of the stems as well with a sharp, two sided knife.
I only had about an ounce of material so I had to downculate (calculate down) the amount of lye and soap called for. What you do is boil the skins in a solution of water, lye, and dish soap. It doesn't say in the article, but I figure the lye eats away the plant material and the soap gets the tacky milk off the fiber. The article says for 3 ounces, sprinkle four heaping tablespoons of lye over the material in a glass, enamel, or stainless steel pan which is in enough COLD water to just cover the plant material. Then add 3 teapoons of soap. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. Afterwards, CAREFULLY drain the lye and soap water (rinse the drain afterwords), but leave the material in the pan covered. Let the material sit in the pan covered for anther hour. After the second hour, rinse the material in cold water until the water runs clear. Then, place the fiber in enough cold water to cover it all and add a cup of vinegar. This helps to brighten the fiber and to nutralize any lingering lye. Let the fibers sit in this for a couple more hours to overnight. Afterwards, rinse, seperate the material, and lay out to dry. Once dry you can run it through a drum carder, or if doing by hand cards-card just a little at a time.
If you try this, plan of having your place well ventalated so don't do it on a day you have the air running with no movement of fresh air because it smells kinda funny. I do plan on creating a photographic tutorial when I get some more milkweed.
I am so planning on harvesting a lot of milkweed stalks this fall and letting them sit outside to ret naturally throughout the winter. I am also gonna get a bunch of seeds and start a milkweed corner. Did you know that all Milkweed parts are usable? The leaves, flowers, and young pods are edable (some prep to get the milk out is needed) , do a Google search on "cooking milkweed" for even more resources and information, the skin has fiber that is spinnable, the floss found in the matured pods can be used for stuffing and insulateing AND paper making and I think you would be able to card mature fluff into batts on a drum carder. The dried pods can be broken down to make paper, the seeds can be ground up and used to kill nematodes and fall armyworms (seeds are not edable and can cause heart problems), the sap is medicinal, and the inner stalk is woody and can be used to make baskets! Sweet mama!! Now THAT is a valuable plant that I wanna grow! OMG, the more I search the more I find!
Until next time...
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