Gathering and Processing Brambles

If you haven't already made friends with Bramble yet, now is the time to do so :)
You won't regret it.. I promise!
No longer will those snagging, scratching, spikey vines be a cause of annoyance whilst wandering the hedgerows and forests.
Even when those clever little spikers manage to draw blood, you'll be nothing but grateful to give them this small offering in exchange for all this beautiful, abundant vine gives us.

This magical vine is the perfect free weaving material.

Every Winter for my Bramble harvest, I visit the coast a short cycle from my house.
Between the forest and the beach there's a sprawling patch of brambles that follows the coastline for miles.
On the chilly but clear, short Winter days I spend hours searching out the beautiful, long and unbranched vines that have spent the past year travelling through the sand and stones on the hunt for new territory to place their roots down.
As all the vines will find is more stones and the sea, they grow and grow, until eventually a particularly high tide comes and washes them back in a tangle.
It's these vines I come and harvest every winter.
There are many other places I could gather but I've become quite attached to the yearly ritual of the beachy gatherings.
I also think it's important for anyone who works with natural materials to be aware of the effect your gathering and harvesting has. Coming back to the same place every year I can safely say that my Bramble patch is looking as hectic and as jungley as ever.. I may be biased, but if anything, I get the vibe they rather like the attention and interaction. I mean they wouldn't be so insistent in growing so close to us humans otherwise would they now :)

Where to look for Brambles -

As I mentioned before the beach is my favourite place to gather, but hedgerows, forests, wastelands, industrial areas, gardens, allotments, parks, roadside verges etc can all be perfect spaces for gathering Brambles.

If you keep your eyes peeled you can start to make note of the Brambley areas that get pruned each year. People are always keen for a hand in keeping their Brambles under control.

Which vines to gather -

Not all bramble vines are the same!
There are literally hundreds of species of Brambles growing just in the UK.
Some are more suited to weaving and some less so it's really worth experimenting with a few different local Bramble patches.
In general though, what you're looking for are the lovely, long, unbranched first year's growth vines. Pencil width or less is perfect although thicker vines can sometimes still be useful, either as frames or split down into thinner pieces for use as stitching in coiled basketry.

Gather the nice long thin suckers like this one, that tend to trail through the ground or dangle from trees..

And leave the thick, gnarly branched vines like this ones..

When to gather -

Gather the vines throughout the Winter, once they have lost their leaves and before they have started to bud which should be around November through till March.
This time of the year is best as the sap is down making them easier to weave with.
It is also nice to gather in the Winter as most the other vegetation has died back meaning the vines are way easier to spot and no other plants have to get disturbed in the process!

Gathering -

You will need:

  • Gardening gloves

  • Secateurs

  • An old pair of jeans - cut into a few sections

Once you have found your lal Bramble gathering patch, locate the beautiful, long first year vines and get snipping!
These first year growth vines generally aren't anywhere near as spiky as the older vines so a nice thick pair of gardening gloves should be more than enough to protect your hands.
Cut these vines as close to the ground as you can, making sure not to uproot the plant in the process if you're hoping to keep gathering from this spot :)

After you've gathered a substantial bunch of vines it's time to remove the spikes. To do this grab your piece of old denim and firmly pull each vine through a couple of times in both directions.
This should de-spike your vines enough to happily be able to handle them without gloves but still leave them textural. If you would like your vines completely smooth then rough sand paper should do the job.. I just quite like a textural basket.

Lastly take your de-spiked vines and gently, so as not to kink them, coil them up like so..
Again like with the Ivy, when we come to weave, we're going to put these coils in a bucket to soak so don't make your coils any bigger than your bucket!

Bramble gathering and processing is definitely not the easiest of jobs, if you don't get completely tangled in vines at some point, I am seriously impressed :) but it's totally worth it and super satisfying when at the end your left with a load of beautiful, strong weaving material from a plant that too many people view as a messy weed.

Drying and Storing -

Once you have brought your beautiful Bramble harvest back home, you ideally want to hang your coils up somewhere airy, warm and dry.
Easiest way to do this is to run a piece of string or wood through the middle of your coils and hang them somewhere out the way.
After a week or so your vines should be fully dry and ready to prepare for weaving though don't feel you need to use them straight away. I've found that as long as you keep them dry and out the way the vines should keep for at least a year after harvesting. The colour will slowly fade somewhat but it shouldn't affect the vines weavability (defo a word).

Soaking process

The evening before you would like to weave, take your vines and place them delicately into a bucket and fill with warm water.
Make you weigh them down with a cloth or something so they don't try to escape during the night.
In the morning take the Brambles out of the water and transfer them into damp towel.
Kept like this, moist but not submerged, you have a day or so they will remain good to be used. Any longer and it will compromise the strength and flexibility of the vines.

One thing to bear in mind is that there are many variables such as thickness of vine, temperature, water type etc. which play a part in how long your vines will need to be soaked. If they don't quite feel flexible enough just keep checking until they do! If you can bend your thickest Bramble vine in half, without it snapping, you're good to go!

Uses -

Brambles have many parallels with Willow such as - size, strength and flexibility. Because of this they can be used in many of the same styles of basketry you would use Willow for.

Here are a few examples of ways I've used Brambles in the past..

Bramble vines woven over a frame of exposed root.

Bramble and Willow bark twined Basket.

Miniature egg basket woven entirely of Bramble.
Random weave Honeysuckle and Bramble bowl, this is the style of weaving we're going to explore later on in the month :) such a perfect use for Brambles.This is cordage made from Bramble fibres. I'll do a post on how prepare Bramble for cordage in the Summer, when the saps flowing and it's possible to remove the bast fibres.

Benefits of using Bramble as a weaving material -

  • It's abundance! I don't think I've ever gone out for a wander without meeting some Brambles along the way.

  • It's super fast drying time. Vines only take a week or so to dry.

  • Quick growth. In the summer the vines can grow up to three inches a day!

  • Long, strong, flexible stems. Growing in ideal conditions vines can easily grow up to three metres long.

  • Evenness along the entire length of the vine. This is really helpful when it comes to weaving.

  • The fact that if you're lucky enough to have a gardening job, people actually pay you to remove this vine :)

February's Tutorial -
For the Bramble basket tutorial at the end of the month I will be showing you how to make a Random weave Bramble bowl.
This is a fun style of basketry suited really well to Brambles but you could easily use other branchy, viney material. Either instead or alongside the Brambles.
Such as -

  • Ivy

  • Russian Vine

  • Willow

  • Honeysuckle

  • Clematis

  • Virginia Creeper

  • Grapevine

  • Wisteria

  • Kudzu

  • Also for adding colour and texture the addition of plaited/corded leaves and bark looks rather beautiful

What you'll need for this month's project -

  • 30 long bramble vines (or one of alternatives mentioned above)

  • A fruit bowl shaped/sized mould to weave around.

  • A hoop that is slightly bigger than the rim of your mould. This could be made of either thick brambles or any other sturdy vine or branch material.

  • A bucket

  • Secateurs

  • Strong clips.. they make life easier but are not a necessity.

  • String.

Reet :) Happy gathering mateys.. I hope that made sense!
If not please send me a message !