Stinging Nettle:the SRO tent

Stinging Nettle grows in areas referred to as “disturbed land” and places of past human settlement as it grows in areas with high nitrogen and phosphate content in the earth (midden piles). This information led me on a goose chase of attempting to grow enough nettle to make a tent, then of course, the process of processing the nettle to make the tent. Having long thought of fairy tales and the heroine’s journey in such tales in the making of my work, I suddenly found myself caught in my own nightmarish version as the nettle learning curve just seemed to get steeper with each step. Here is the short version of my various trials and errors on what was undoubtedly the toughest and perhaps strangest project I ever took on…

The meager nettle plants as of August- a cold wet spring washed out most seeds, and finicky transplants that were growing roots not stocks led to travels in search of nettle to harvest.

Nettle was located, harvested, and first processing step involved a 24 hr  submerged bath in one part glycerin, 3 parts water to preserve stems and soften the “stinging hairs”.  A pricey process. Knowledge shared after the fact was that coastal First Nations people would wait until after the first frost and harvest then- much cheaper, easier, and would avoid my next fiasco….

Upside down hanging bundles in the studio. What’s wrong with this picture?

1. bundles too big, too tight: interior of bundles began to mold

2. bundles hanging upside down ( what was I thinking?) so the top, young growth was at the bottom- if the bundles were reversed, they might have been able to “drain” remaining moisture and glycerin from the cut  hollow stem.

My friend Bill spent a day helping sort out bundles in a park, we salvaged about 50% of the harvest- what a waste!

Each nettle deemed worth saving was split open with a thumbnail, and the strip was rubbed down with olive oil- my general cure all…

Back in the studio with processing future crops, a knife, rock and olive oil were used to pound , scrape and open each hollow nettle shaft.

Did I mention how ridiculously time consuming this was?

The rock as tool was the greatest technical advance in this project at this point in time….. Pictured here, another friend Andrew helping out. Amazing I still have any friends that come visit really.

With materials processed, it was “simply” a matter of lining up the stocks and feeding them through my sewing machine. Sewing panels into the size required for a small two person tent. Sewing lines every 5-6 inches, the areas between what was sewn  kept catching on my table edge and ripping holes, that I would have to try and go back to repair.

Massive zigzag stitching to keep it all together. Some day I really should approach Bernina for funding, as most things I do are such a test to the average household machine.

Trial run before the doors are made and installed.

Interior detail:

It just about broke me, but somehow surviving the absurdity of it was worth while, though the installation itself is not yet finished. One of the irony’s in this project was that I broke about 120 needles in the sewing ( my  machine’s alignment went out, and I kept bulldozing through in my pigheaded way, thinking it was just the nettle causing the problem) I now have needle shards embedded in the tent, and occasionally am pricked by a needle lost in the surface. A fitting return to the sting of the nettle…..

In future, the SRO for disturbed Land tent ( Single Resident Occupancy) may be documented in the areas where Vancouver’s Homeless population find shelter. Such locations as under bridges, in parks and new  development projects  that have been previously home to low/working class or transient populations but are now developed for Vancouver’s wealthier citizenry.

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