From trash to treasure Recycling bailing twine into colorful baskets

Times staffer Amelia LaMair weaves colorful coiled baskets out of baling twine she collects from the hay bales she feeds her goats – and from discarded strands she finds along area roadways.

I know we’re supposed to be grateful for the seemingly endless abundance our great nation enjoys, but I must have been indoctrinated by public television or conscientious parents, because I think about waste and trash a lot. And that line of thinking leads me to ponder situations  – past, present or future – where people have no choice but to make do with what they have available.
An example is the Depression Era clothing made out of pattern-printed flour sacks – something many Ozark County seamstresses excelled in. After the clothing wore out, the flour-sack fabric was further repurposed for baby clothes or quilts – and eventually deployed to the rag bag to be used for cleaning. In the cities, when fabric was finally used to its full household extent, “rag pickers” sold discarded scraps to paper factories.
These days, although most of us don’t have to worry about saving and using every scrap of every resource we have, I think there’s great value in turning waste products into functional, beautiful items. If nothing else, it’s a fun, creative outlet.
Such thoughts caused me to cast a creative eye toward bailing twine – the string that holds square bales of hay together. Just from feeding my small goat herd, the stuff accumulates like crazy at my place, and I’m constantly challenged to find new uses for it.
So far, I’ve used it to hang garlic bulbs to dry after harvest, to trellis tomatoes in my garden and to secure gates and fences. But we still seem to have an endless supply!
As useful as the stuff can be, though, it has its downsides. I’ve learned from experience that it’s highly attracted to mower blades and tiller tines. And it’s also dangerous to livestock and wildlife who find it too tempting to resist. I have one particular rooster who always seems to have the stuff tangled in his spurs. I’m not quite sure how this happens because I’m careful not to leave it on the ground when I’m feeding the goats, but still he manages to find enough to get tangled in.
One of baling twine’s other flaws is that it’s unsightly when it appears along area roadsides as litter. And it seems to appear more and more frequently there in ever-increasing quantities. Like the plastic-netting hay-wrap that was lamented as roadside litter in a recent Ozark County Times opinion piece, baling twine trash is also a frequent result of being tossed into “self-cleaning” truck beds and left to blow out onto the roadways.  
But unlike the plastic-netting hay wrap, baling twine can be recycled in dozens of other uses – and not just practical, everyday uses but in creative and colorful ways too. Here’s one of my favorites:
A few years ago, I came across instructions for making a coiled grass basket in a book called Native American Survival Skills by W. Ben Hunt. (Incidentally, I salvaged that book from a recycle bin, and it has been a great source of information.) It turns out that bailing twine works great for this ancient method of basketmaking.
Coiled baskets are simple to make; if you aren’t lucky enough to dig a helpful book out of someone’s recycling bin,  you can find instructions by doing an online search for “coiled basket weaving.” All you need is a generous supply of bailing twine and a short needle – which can be made from a modified paper clip with tape over the sharp ends. Basically, the technique entails wrapping a strand of twine around an inner “core” of multiple strands of twine while coiling the wrapped section into a spiral. As it grows it’s “sewn” in place by wrapping the twine back around the previous coil every five passes or so. The sky’s the limit! You can make a palm-sized basket or a giant one, deep or shallow, with or without handles or a lid, mullticolored to monochromatic.
This style of basket can also be made from a wide variety of materials such as strips of recycled fabric, rope, string or telephone wire, as well as natural materials like vines, reeds, grass or pine needles. (Note that the green-colored sisal bailing twine is chemically treated to delay rotting, so you may want to avoid using it.)
The beauty about using baling twine for this project is that it uses up a lot of twine. And, for me, it also transforms a routine commute to town into a treasure hunt for basket supplies! Even when I’m well stocked with twine, I instinctively note any roadside caches I see and stop to collect it when I can. When I started a new basket on a recent weekend, I only had orange twine on hand. Well, the universe provides, especially when it comes to trash. I spotted a nice clump of blue twine on my way in to work. Hopefully nobody has picked it up yet!

Ozark County Times

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PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423