My husband, Bob, grows three or four types of willows for basket making material. Yesterday I cut back a number of branches that were growing into a pathway and put them on the ground in the shade so that he could strip them when he got home from work. It rained for about 15 minutes which was just what the willows needed to stay moist. Bob informed me that it is too early in the season to gather branches for basket making because the wood is still too weak.
I checked them in the morning and tried peeling the bark away from the woody core. It came away very easily. I knew I could not pass up the opportunity to harvest this bast for future paper, so this afternoon when I was finished with what I needed to do, I moved the branches to my new papermaking outdoor studio (that Bob built for me as a 25th wedding anniversary gift) and began to spend the rest of the afternoon stripping the bast from the woody core.
About halfway through the stripping process it became evident that the branches were drying out because the bast was not coming off easily any longer. I put the remaining branches in a bucket of water and let them sit for about ten minutes. This helped to revive them.
I placed the stripped bast in a bucket of water so that they would not dry out. I wanted to be able to remove the outer bark from the bast.
It was a very easy task! I just laid a strip of the bast onto a board, held it down with my fingers and with a putty knife, scraped away the green bark. I was not able to get all of this bast scraped today. I hope to have some time tomorrow to finish the job. If I don't, I think I will put it in the freezer. If I let it sit in the water it will ret, which would probably be okay, but it will no doubt change color.I am saving the green bark that is removed to use at a later date as a dye. I did a dye experiment in the spring with willow bark, but it didn't work. There are too many variables to know why, but I will try a different technique with this batch.