Monday, April 25, 2016

FREE Natural DIY Fiber Filling and Batting

I've been meaning to do this story for some time, as it actually has quite the history here in Fallon, Nevada. 
Milkweed, October 2015
    During World War II Japan cut off our supply of fiber fill (kapok) that was being used for making life vests, but a local weed came to the rescue. This plant that plagues farmers and gardeners alike is actually one of the most useful wild plants there is when it comes to textiles. My uncle told stories of kids going up and down ditch banks during the Great Depression collecting milkweed pods to sell the down. And I remember collecting monarch butterflies and yellow swallowtail butterfly caterpillar that feed on it. 
    It grows a seed pod that produces a hypoallergenic fiber fill that can be used in making pillows and stuffing quilts. The fiber is easily collected just before the pods open while the pods are still green. Pods are cracked and the seeds are raked off. You are then left with milkweed down that when allowed to dry makes an excellent fiber fill. There have also been a number of people who have experimented with combining it with other textile such as cotton or wool and then spinning that cotton or wool into yarn. (Sorry but I do not know the ratio used of cotton or wool to milkweed silk ) Unfortunately milkweed down by itself is too brittle for spinning but as I said before it has many unique and useful properties. Native Americans were also known to use the rubbery sap as a chewing gum by rubbing the sap between their fingers to make a rubber ball to chew on. Although I would not recommend it as it tastes awful and may be toxic, the white milky sap is similar to liquid latex. Fibers from the stem would also be used to weave into fishing line or cordage which was then used for making other things.
Drought and late in season, liberty pond
    It should be noted : before harvesting you should make sure that the milkweed has not been sprayed with an herbicide. If it smells funny or the leaves are brown then I would stay clear of these plants. The plants are readily found along ditch banks and ponds. And make sure you remove all the seeds, because if the seeds get wet, they will sprout.

Silky and soft to the touch
To me it is a mystery as to why this plant has not yet been commercialized, as it outperforms goose down. It is more breathable, more durable,and warmer than goose down. It also uses less water when compared to similar fiber crops. So if you’re looking for an inexpensive fiber fill this may make a
good alternative.
The green milkweed pods in the background of this photo are what you're looking to harvest just before they open 
Note green milkweed pods in background
milkweed at liberty pond

These beetles also make milkweed their home.
The fire and gem beetles are harmless and may be a good indicator that the plant has not been sprayed with herbicide or pesticide.

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