Moss basketry

June 1, 2018

During my month experimenting with materials on the land, I spent more time with a favourite of mine- Polytrichum Commune (hairmoss).

 

 I discovered hairmoss when the incredibly skilled basket maker Sarah Paramor (https://www.sarahparamor.co.uk/) brought it into class last year while we were both studying on the two year City Lit basketry programme. She had come across it growing in little tufts near here home in West Scotland, and had fallen in love with it.  I found that it grew in abundance here too, and with even longer stems. I have since learnt that the wetter the area, and the more exposed the plant, the longer it grows. wet hillsides are ideal, which we have in abundance! I have found clumps growing with strands at least 2 foot long!

 

For all its abundance, it is very hard to find any records of how it might have been used traditionally, or anyone using it in a contemporary way. In Scandinavia I believe they still use moss to coil into 'living' door mats. Polytrichum moss among its many names (haircap, great golden maidenhair, great goldilocks, common haircap moss, or common hair moss) could also be called zombie moss- it has an amazing ability to come back to life! These doormats stay green by being watered as they dry out. I have bags of collected moss at least a year old, which once I've added water to them have come green and alive again!

 

There have been a few archaeological discoveries where Hairmoss has been used, most notably the Newstead hat discovered at a Roman settlement:

https://www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/collection-search-results/?item_id=136824

And a similar one at Vindolanda Roman Fort, but other supposed finds of its woven use have been contested: 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/296916047_Bronze_age_moss_fibre_garments_from_Scotland_-_The_Jury's_out

 

With both oft he Roman hat finds, the stems of moss have been stripped of their leaves. A friend who is also interested in ancient skills suggested that this could have been done using some kind of 'comb'. I am unsure about this, as the leaves are hard to remove, and if trying to get right down to the very red stem you have to almost scrape the strands. I do this using my fingernails. Below is a picture of some cordage made this way:

 

 

I also make plaits which are then sewn into coils, much the way they would be in rush basketry. A couple photos below are of early hairmoss baskets I made during my time on the City Lit course:

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have begun running two day courses in how to work with moss, and will post dates of upcoming courses in the following weeks.

 

 

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