It's been a while since I posted something useful on my blog here, so today I thought I'd add a post regarding a welcome discovery I've made. Back in my native Somerset (UK), withies are a really popular, traditional material that has been used for centuries for cordage and lashings for all sorts of jobs and construction tasks. Withies are made from finger-thick branches and sapplings of certain plants. Back there, hazel and willow are popular choices. It's taken me a while to find plants that are suitable for use as withies in New Zealand, but I recently identified that Wineberry does the task really well.

To make a withy, start by selecting a branch (or if absolutely necessary a sappling's trunk) of wineberry that's about finger-thick and as long as you need for the task in hand. If you do use a sappling, try to choose one where there is plenty of other wineberry growing so that the severity of the loss is lessened. Cut the narrow taper of leaves off the end of the branch to create a clean end that is easy to grapple in your hand. Trim the remaining leaves and sub-branches off branch to create a single stick. At this point you can cut the stick off where it joins the main branch or trunk, being careful to make a clean-cut to avoid the main plant getting infected, but often the job of withy-making is made easier by leaving it connected.

Next, begin to work the stick at the thin end by bending it slightly to loosen the fibres and make it flexible. Continue working down the stick, making it flexible. Where the thickness of the stick makes the bending hard, create a dog-leg crank in the end and use this to twist the thicker parts of the stick to loosen the fibres. Work your way right along the stick. You will find the fibres will separate out slightly but that the overall tensional strength of the stick is not lost, allowing you to tie it in knots.

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Comment by Te Hopo on November 8, 2010 at 22:05
Very cool, I've heard of withies before but never thought of what woods would be good for it in NZ.
Thankfully theres plenty of wineberry around here, so I can try this out myself sometime.

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