Just before we moved last month, I harvested some willow bark with the intention of honing my natural cordage-making skills. I knew that if I wanted to make some decent cordage, I’d have to process the bark a bit beforehand. A common method is to boil or simmer the bark in water with wood ashes for 1 hour or more (as long as overnight), depending on who you listen to.
Having no wood ashes available in our apartment (and I wasn’t about to touch Aunt Bertha’s urn ;)), I decided to use the household item for which ashes are often substituted in the field, i.e. baking soda. Also, instead of boiling the bark, I just put it into a container with boiling water, which cooled off gradually. I let the bark soak in the solution of boiled water and baking soda for about an hour and then let it dry before making the cordage.
Surprisingly, preparing the bark “the lazy/busy man’s way” ended up working out very well. It was more flexible and resilient than bark which is allowed to dry without being processed. I also really like the color taken on by the inner bark as a result of soaking it with the outer bark still on (most of this fell off while it was in the water). The outer bark of willow was traditionally used for dying cloth, and I can attest that it works well!
I’m happy with this latest batch of willow bark cordage, as I think it looks and works better than my previous attempts. I think I might try using stinging nettle fibers in my next attempt, just to see how they compare.