Rhubarb grows well in the rainforest climate of Juneau, Alaska where Owen Hutchinson grew up. His mom, Anni Stokes, has made amazing rhubarb pies from her garden his whole life. The local handmade ice cream shop, Coppa, made its reputation on Marc Wheeler’s signature rhubarb sorbet and rhubarb sherbet. It has since branched out into devil’s club, salmon, and other flavors of place, but rhubarb is a perennial favorite with the regulars. Marc recently started using a bladder press to extract flavor from the rhubarb, and Owen saw potential in the beautiful dusky reddish pink and sage green smashed stalks leftover from the pressings. Fresh off an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, Owen’s thesis work involved some textile work and he was intrigued with the idea of using rhubarb fiber in his art. He gave me permission to share here some of his experiments in pulling out usable fiber material in the hopes that other folks out there might have some insights and suggestions about using non-traditional fiber sources like rhubarb.
Above is an image of the material he was able to hand strip from the pressed rhubarb…a lovely color, but time consuming to prepare and somewhat brittle.
To encourage drying, the sample in the cardboard box was put in kitty litter, but it became dull, brittle, and ugly.
A salted sample was somewhat easier to manipulate, and it was pliable and bright, though it still retains quite a bit of moisture at this point in the process…
This promising-looking material was retted in water for a week. Retting is essentially controlled rotting, a method used for centuries to remove useful bast fibers from plants…the most widely known example is retting flax to make linen.
The experiments are continuing. It is still not known how lightfast the lovely color might be. Here’s hoping other experimental souls out there with a passion for plant materials, fiber technology, and textiles might want to share helpful insights?