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Vikings Part 4: Weaving on Weaving Sticks

Weaving on Weaving Sticks

Weaving on weaving sticks is a medieval craft that makes thin strips of woven fabric. These thin strips can then be used as they are, or else stitched together side by side to make a wider piece of fabric.

Weaving sticks in use

The sticks for stick weaving are usually made of wood. They can be of various thicknesses, most often about ¼ to ½ inch (6mm to 12mm). One end of the stick is tapered to a dull point. The other end has a hole through it. Stick weaving is done with two or more sticks held in the hand. 

I hope to be able to offer weaving sticks to Craftsteaders in the future. We can. however, offer a lovely range of beautiful cotton yarns.

Meanwhile over on YouTube, Alison Russell teaches you how to make your own weaving sticks from felt pens and Little Bird shows you how to weave with sticks.

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Vikings Part 3: Lucet braiding

Lucet braiding

Lucet fork with needle

A lucet is a tool used in cordmaking or braiding that dates back to the Viking and Medieval periods, when it was used to create cords that were used on clothing, or to hang items from the belt. Lucet cord is square, strong, and slightly springy.

Lucet cord is formed by a series of loop like knots, and therefore will not unravel if cut. Unlike other braiding techniques such as kumihimo, finger-loop braiding or plaiting, where the threads are of a finite length, lucetted (or knitted) braids can be created without pre-measuring threads and so it is a technique suited for very long cords.

You can buy your own lucets here.

Find out how to lucet here. How to Lucet, by Evelyn Skae

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Vikings Part 2: Nålebinding


One of my favorite Viking textile crafts is nålebinding (Danish: literally “binding with a needle” or “needle-binding”, also naalbinding, nålbinding, nålbindning or naalebinding).

nalbinding needle
Nalbinding needles

This is a fabric creation technique predating both knitting and crochet. It’s also known in English as “knotless netting,” “knotless knitting,” or “single needle knitting.”

Vikings and Anglo-Saxons used nålebinding to make hats, socks, gloves and mittens. People would use different stitches to create varied textile patterns and thickness. Whilst over 30 different nalbinding stitches exist today, the evidence from grave sites suggest the Vikings only used three stitch types.

Shop for nålebinding needles here, and knit like the Vikings.

Find out how to do nålebinding here: Nalbinding For Beginners Part 1 – Getting Started. By Ylva The Red

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Videos for Craftsteaders #5 Hanna Van Aelst

Location: IRELAND

Hanna Van Aelst basketry
Hanna Van Aelst

Hanna Van Aelst is highly skilled at basketry. She is a talented artist and basket-maker. Her YouTube channel is enthralling to me, as a craftsteader. Hanna grows her own willow at her country property in Tipperary, Ireland. She lives with her family, “off-grid in the forest on a mountain” and her website can be found here.

Hanna’s videos include information about how to grow willow, harvest it, grade it, and prepare it for basketry, as well as some basic basketry tutorials. Sometimes she makes videos about her many other interests, or philosophical musings. I love every one of her videos and always look forward to new ones.

Below is a selection of two of Hanna’s videos that fellow craftsteaders will enjoy.

Basketmaking for beginners: the base

Catalan tray made from foraged materials (tension tray, easy weaving project).

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Vikings Part 1: Clothing & Jewelry


Vikings. Why do we love them? Some historians think it’s because Viking men are usually portrayed as strong, macho, and powerful. Or perhaps it’s because we admire their seafaring prowess, their cool costumes and their mythology.

For whatever reason, Vikings inhabit the popular imagination. People have become even more obsessed with Vikings lately, due to pop culture movies and TV shows. The Thor movies in the Marvel Universe, and the TV series “Vikings” are examples.

viking shirt
Viking-inspired shirt

I originally included a Viking and Anglo-Saxon section in my online store after I learned about the intriguing knitting and weaving techniques of the Vikings. Vikings were more than just raiders and pillagers – they were craftspeople and makers, too. I didn’t expect that this category in my shop would prove to be one of the most popular! Customers love the clothing and the jewelry.

Viking jewelry

Viking runes and Norse knotwork inspire beautiful jewelry designs. And of course the Vikings never used zippers or Velcro, so their garments were usually fastened with pins or brooches. Vikings were skilled metalworkers.

HINT: Type the word “Viking” into the search box above, and you’ll find a lot of Viking treasures!

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Videos for Craftsteaders #4 Grandpa Amu

Grandpa Amu
Grandpa Amu

Grandpa Amu’s YouTube channel has 1.42 million subscribers at the time I’m writing this post. No wonder it’s so popular, because Grandpa Amu is a genius at making things, and what’s more, he makes them with old-fashioned hand tools. His skill and patience are extraordinary. He’s a master carpenter. Most of his videos are about handicrafts and delicious food. His channel is informative and inspiring, and it’s relaxing to watch him work.

Cheryl Heng reported in the South China Morning Post on 29 Sep, 2020:
“Grandpa’s an internet star: Chinese carpenter’s traditional woodworking skills wow millions online, but he says ‘I’m just an ordinary farmer’.
“Wang Dewen, known on the internet as Grandpa Amu, creates works of art without glue, screws or nails – all filmed by his son who uploads the process online
“Wang’s viral fame has brought improvements to his home village, and the local government has built a ‘Grandpa Amu’ attraction to bring in tourists.
“His woodworking videos – showing him building everything from furniture to bridges and lanterns using traditional methods – have become on online sensation, earning him more than 2.8 million fans on the Chinese short video app Xigua Video. His fame has translated internationally too, garnering over 1.2 million subscribers on YouTube.”

Location: CHINA

Here are some examples of his videos. First, “Grandpa Amu uses bamboo roots to make tea cans, small bamboo baskets, pen holders and bamboo horns”.

And here’s an example of Grandpa Amu’s woodworking skills: “The principle of Luban lock to create tables and stools, detachable assembly, easy to carry.”

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Plant resins

This post focuses on naturally occurring plant resins, and not on the man-made types. In polymer chemistry and materials science, resin is a solid or highly viscous substance of plant or synthetic origin that is typically convertible into polymers. Resins are usually mixtures of organic compounds.

Some resins are petroleum- or insect-derived. Shellac is an example of an insect-derived resin. Asphaltite and Utah resin are petroleum bitumens.


From Wikipedia:
Plants secrete resins for their protective benefits in response to injury. The resin protects the plant from insects and pathogens. Resins confound a wide range of herbivores, insects, and pathogens, while the volatile phenolic compounds may attract benefactors such as parasitoids or predators of the herbivores that attack the plant.

Other liquid compounds found inside plants or exuded by plants, such as sap, latex, or mucilage, are sometimes confused with resin but are not the same.


Plant resins are valued for the production of varnishes, adhesives, and food glazing agents. They are also prized as raw materials for the synthesis of other organic compounds and provide constituents of incense and perfume. The oldest known use of plant resin comes from the late Middle Stone Age in Southern Africa where it was used as an adhesive for hafting stone tools.

The hard transparent resins, such as the copals, dammars, mastic, and sandarac, are principally used for varnishes and adhesives, while the softer odoriferous oleo-resins (frankincense, elemi, turpentine, copaiba), and gum resins containing essential oils (ammoniacum, asafoetida, gamboge, myrrh, and scammony) are more used for therapeutic purposes, food and incense. The resin of the Aleppo Pine is used to flavour retsina, a Greek resinated wine.

Several natural resins are used as ingredients in perfumes, e.g., balsams of Peru and tolu, elemi, styrax, and certain turpentines.


Examples of plant resins include:

  • amber,
  • Balm of Gilead,
  • balsam,
  • Canada balsam,
  • copal from trees of Protium copal and Hymenaea courbaril,
  • dammar gum from trees of the family Dipterocarpaceae,
  • dragon’s blood from the dragon trees (Dracaena species),
  • elemi,
  • frankincense from Boswellia sacra,
  • galbanum from Ferula gummosa,
  • gum guaiacum from the lignum vitae trees of the genus Guaiacum,
  • kauri gum from trees of Agathis australis,
  • hashish (Cannabis resin) from Cannabis indica,
  • labdanum from mediterranean species of Cistus,
  • mastic (plant resin) from the mastic tree Pistacia lentiscus,
  • myrrh from shrubs of Commiphora,
  • sandarac resin from Tetraclinis articulata, the national tree of Malta,
  • styrax (a Benzoin resin from various Styrax species)
  • spinifex resin from Australian grasses.


Amber is fossil resin (also called resinite) from coniferous and other tree species. Copal, kauri gum, dammar and other resins may also be found as subfossil deposits.


Rosin is a solidified resin from which the volatile terpenes have been removed by distillation. Typical rosin is a transparent or translucent mass, with a vitreous fracture and a faintly yellow or brown colour, non-odorous or having only a slight turpentine odour and taste. Rosin is insoluble in water, mostly soluble in alcohol, essential oils, ether, and hot fatty oils. It softens and melts when heated and burns with a bright but smoky flame.

Rosin is obtained from pines and some other plants, mostly conifers. Plant resins are generally produced as stem secretions, but in some Central and South American species of Dalechampia and Clusia they are produced as pollination rewards, and used by some stingless bee species in nest construction.

History and etymology

Human use of plant resins has a very long history that was documented in ancient Greece by Theophrastus, in ancient Rome by Pliny the Elder, and especially in the resins known as frankincense and myrrh, prized in ancient Egypt. These were highly prized substances, and required as incense in some religious rites.

The word resin comes from French resine, from Latin resina “resin”, which either derives from or is a cognate of the Greek ῥητίνη rhētínē “resin of the pine”, of unknown earlier origin, though probably non-Indo-European.

The word “resin” has been applied in the modern world to nearly any component of a liquid that will set into a hard lacquer or enamel-like finish. An example is nail polish. Certain “casting resins” and synthetic resins (such as epoxy resin) have also been given the name “resin”.

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Vegetable Ivory

tagua nut
Tagua nuts

Decades ago I stumbled across a wonderful Internet resource called Wayne’s Word, an Online textbook of Natural History. I live in dread that this website might disappear one day, and I hope it continues to be hosted forever, because it’s fascinating.

It was here that I found out about – among many other amazing things – the existence of Vegetable Ivory. It’s the perfect substitute for the animal-derived ivory. Human greed for animal ivory has caused untold suffering to the world’s beautiful, vulnerable elephants.

But ivory grows on ivory-nut palm trees, too.

About Ivory from Ivory-palm Trees

As WP Armstrong writes,”. . . ivory-nuts contain a substance . . . that becomes so hard and dense that it can be carved and polished like elephant tusks. . . . Called “vegetable ivory,” the endosperm is used for buttons, chess pieces, dice, umbrella handles, billiard balls, and for intricate carvings in the art of scrimshaw, without endangering whales, elephants and walruses. Like wood, vegetable ivory is essentially composed of thick-walled dead cells; however, unlike grainy hardwoods it has a texture and hardness similar to ivory. In fact, vegetable ivory is remarkably dense, with a rating of roughly 2.5 on the scale of mineral hardness.”

carved tagua nuts vegetable ivory
Carved tagua nut vegetable ivory beads

I’m happy to announce that we are now offering real Vegetable Ivory, tagua nuts, for sale at the Craftsteading Store. Choose between carved or raw form for you to carve or decorate as you wish.

Meanwhile, here are WP Armstrong’s words about Vegetable Ivory. The copyright belongs entirely to him. I’ve reproduced it here to save it, if ever his marvellous website disappears.

Source: Wayne’s Word, Noteworthy Plants January 1999

Vegetable Ivory
© W.P. Armstrong (Updated 12 July 2010)

Saving Elephants & The Rain Forest

“What do African elephants and the South American rain forest have in common? They are both being eliminated from the face of the earth at an alarming rate. During the past three decades, poachers in search of ivory tusks have decimated large populations of African elephants, some by as much as 50 percent. Bans on international trade of elephant ivory have discouraged the slaughter of elephants, but the demand for polished ivory has pushed the world’s largest living land animal to the brink of extinction.

“Across the Atlantic Ocean, in a land that was once connected to the African continent, another kind of massacre is happening to the rain forest. In Central and South America this destruction amounts to about 50 acres per minute, an area roughly the size of West Virginia each year. Slash and burn agriculture is directly responsible for the extermination of hundreds of plant and animal species each year, largely for plantations of exportable products such as fast-growing pines, rubber, bananas, coffee and cattle.

“However, there is a glimmer of hope in this modern day battlefield of people against nature: A lovely Amazonian palm might help to save its rain forest relatives and the African elephant.

South American Vegetable Ivory

Several tropical American palms are known to produce vegetable ivory, but one of the most important is Phytelephas aequatorialis, also known as the ivory-nut palm. The generic name Phytelephas literally means “elephant plant.” It is derived from the Greek words phyton (plant) and elephas (elephant). The specific epithet aequatorialis refers to the equatorial region where this palm is native.

Another name used by some authors is P. macrocarpa, in which the specific epithet macrocarpa refers to the large fruits bearing ivorylike nuts. Ivory-nut palms have an extensive distribution along banks of tropical American rivers, from Panama and Colombia to Peru. They are most abundant in the Amazon Basin of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.

Native habitat

“One of the best places to see the beautiful South American ivory-nut palm (Phytelephas aequatorialis), is the Napo River of Ecuador, a major tributary of the Amazon. It typically grows under large rain forest trees along streams and on wet hillsides. . . . Female palms bear clusters of large, brown fruits, the size of grapefruits or melons. Each fruit is studded with numerous woody, pointed horns and contains four or more large seeds.

“The seeds have an outer shell (seed coat) and a large white endosperm. Called “taguas” by local Indians of the Napo River, the endosperm of immature seeds is pulpy and sweet–food for people and animals of the region. Mature, dry seeds are so hard that it requires a hacksaw to cut one in half.

“Although the heavy seeds typically sink in water, some become buoyant due to internal cavities from endosperm decay. These buoyant seeds are washed downstream by torrential rains, eventually ending up in the Atlantic Ocean where they may drift to Caribbean Islands and beaches of the southeastern United States.

“The white, dried endosperm inside the seeds of ivory-nut palms contains a substance called hemicellulose that becomes so hard and dense that it can be carved and polished like elephant tusks. [The white “meat” inside coconuts and the exploded morsels of popcorn are also endosperm tissue.] A small cylindrical cavity near the outer edge of each ivory-nut was once occupied by the miniature palm embryo. This cavity can sometimes be found in carved objects.

“Called “vegetable ivory,” the endosperm is used for buttons, chess pieces, dice, umbrella handles, billiard balls, and for intricate carvings in the art of scrimshaw, without endangering whales, elephants and walruses. Like wood, vegetable ivory is essentially composed of thick-walled dead cells; however, unlike grainy hardwoods it has a texture and hardness similar to ivory. In fact, vegetable ivory is remarkably dense, with a rating of roughly 2.5 on the scale of mineral hardness. [Compare this rating with 3.5 for a copper penny and 10 for diamond.] Ivory-nuts can be polished in a stone tumbler, as you would polish agates and quartz, or by using tin oxide and a buffing wheel.

“Like elephant ivory, the seeds can be fashioned into all sorts of beautiful objects, from chess pieces, buttons and pendants to knife handles and belt buckles with intricate scrimshaw designs. The workability, density and fine-grained texture is also similar to true ivory.

A valuable cargo

Ivory-nuts have been exported from South America for more than a hundred years. In fact, near the turn of the century Colombia and Ecuador were exporting nearly 40,000 tons of the precious nuts to the United States and Europe. According to an article in International Wildlife (1991) by Anne Underwood, a ship sailing from South America to Germany in 1865 carried a load of tagua nuts as ballast. Upon arriving at dockside in Hamburg, curious stevedores began playing with the taguas and noticed their ivorylike characteristics. For many years the buttons on uniforms worn by U.S. soldiers came from ivory-nuts. Like so many natural dyes and textile fibers, vegetable ivory has been replaced by less expensive synthetics. By l950, the discovery of new plastic polymers put an end to the demand for tagua nuts.

But what about the demand for elephant ivory? Vegetable ivory is a very desirable substitute. Like elephant ivory, it is completely natural and it comes from a marvelous wild creature. Unlike elephants which must die for their precious ivory, tagua palms are a renewable resource; as long as their native habitat is preserved and sufficient seeds are left to perpetuate the palms. A single female tagua palm may produce up to 50 pounds of nuts in a year, that’s roughly the amount of ivory in an average African elephant tusk. The elephant, however, yields its ivory only once while the palm produces nuts year after year.

Other Vegetable Ivory Palms

There are several other palm species from distant rain forests with large, extremely hard seeds that are also used for vegetable ivory. The Caroline ivory-nut palm (Metroxylon amicorum) is native to the Caroline Islands of Micronesia. The unusual one-seeded fruits are covered with numerous shiny brown scales and superficially resemble a closed pine cone.

Another source of vegetable ivory is Hyphaene ventricosa, a beautiful African palm native to islands and banks of the Zambezi River in the vicinity of Victoria Falls. Although the seeds are smaller than the Caroline ivory-nut palm, the bony endosperm is just as hard. The fruits of Hyphaene palms contain a sweet, juicy outer pulp that tastes like gingerbread and is the source of the name, gingerbread palms. Unlike most other palms, they have an unusual branching growth habit resulting in forked trunks.

Fruits and seeds from two distant species of vegetable ivory palms: Metroxylon amicorum from the Caroline Islands of Micronesia (A) and Hyphaene ventricosa from the Zambezi River of Africa (B). The seeds are so hard that it takes a hacksaw blade to cut them in half.

Note: A closely related species of Metroxylon called the natangura palm (M. warburgii) is native to Vanuatu & the Solomon Islands.


Most consumers of ivory would probably buy jewelry and carved articles made from vegetable ivory. If their greed for ivory is based on its rarity and exotic origin, then vegetable ivory should be equally acceptable. This is especially true considering the endangered status of tropical rain forests where ivory-nut palms grow. Very few ivory lovers could tell whether beautiful rings, necklaces, belt buckles and carved knife handles are made from the modified dentin of enlarged elephant incisors or the dried hemicellulose of palm seeds. The only drawback of ivory-nuts is their size. Average seeds are about two inches (5 cm) long, and this would limit the size of articles made from them. However, milled nuts can be fused into a larger, solid mass with modern bonding cements under heat and pressure.

Protecting rainforests

Another ecological incentive for using vegetable ivory is that renewed trade in tagua nuts could help protect endangered rain forests in Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. According to a Massachusetts-based environmental group called Cultural Survival, natural rain forest products such as vegetable ivory can generate up to five times the income of banana plantations and cattle ranches. In fact, two California-based companies, Patagonia Inc. and Smith & Hawken (closed in 2009), use(d) buttons made of tagua rather than plastic on their clothing products.

Meanwhile the tropical forests and their inhabitants are rapidly being destroyed. Who knows what biological secrets may reside in the genes of these vanishing species–perhaps cures for many tragic human diseases.

The devastation of the earth’s tropical rain forests is analogous to a worldwide burning of libraries without ever reading any of the books. Maybe tagua nuts and other vegetable ivory palms can help save at least a part of these beautiful rain forests before it’s too late, and at the same time help to preserve one of the most magnificent mammals that ever roamed the earth.

(c) WP Armstrong

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Where’s my favorite item gone?

where's my favorite product gone?

We usually get our stock from suppliers who have big quantities on hand, but sometimes they run out. This has happened a few times, now, to the consternation of some customers who had put off buying something they liked, only to discover it had suddenly disappeared from this website!

Wherever possible, if a stocked item becomes “no longer available” we do our best to source a similar item, to fill the gap. But we can’t guarantee it! (Just letting you know, to avoid disappointment.)

Until next time. . . keep making!

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Videos for Craftsteaders #3 Liziqi


Liziqi’s YouTube channel is a joy to watch. It depicts a lifestyle of sustainability and self-sufficiency, wrapped in a stunningly picturesque environment. Liziqi makes things from scratch, and I mean, really from scratch. You can watch her plant some seeds, see the plants grow and the fruits (or seeds or leaves or roots) ripen, watch her harvest them and carry them home through heavenly landscapes in beautiful handwoven bamboo baskets, then see her wash, chop and cook them into a gourmet meal, or use them in other ways.

Liziqi makes her own furniture, wades in vast ponds to harvest giant lotuses, grinds her own grain, brews her own beverages and more. And barely a word is spoken, which is very relaxing. You’ll enjoy the sounds of nature – birds, falling water etc.

Location: CHINA

Here’s a sample from the numerous videos on her channel. It’s called “The Life of Cotton”. Scroll down and you’ll find the bamboo furniture one, too. Make yourself a cup of your favorite brew, sit back, put your feet up, click “play” and enjoy!