Aleene's Wood Fibre
While the earliest wood fibre instructions we find in the Aleene's archives are dated 1951, it wasn't until the August 1954 issue of The Petal Pusher, the official newsletter of Aleene’s Dealers, that the first full article appeared that offered the “first in a series of educational articles designed to acquaint the floral enthusiast with the many materials used in floral designing. Here is the story of how Wood Fibre was made reprinted in its original entirety from The Petal Pusher image posted to the right:
Never before has the complete story of
Formosan Wood Fibre been told, nor have the Taiwannee’s
allowed anyone to take pictures of the processes or bring
back the actual implements that are used in harvesting and
processing the fibre. On a recent trip to the
We don’t know when it was first used for flowers, but it does go back 2,000 years at least. At that time it was used as part of a religious ceremony. Small flower or buds were made, placed in a cup of tea, where they opened up. Fibre paper was also used for parchment paper to do paintings on. It was not used for books or other uses, because it was too expensive and not durable enough. It is used, even today to line coffins, for they found out hundreds of years ago that the wood fibre was excellent for embalming. The fibre being hygroscopic, draws the moisture out and dehydrates the body, mummifying it.
Keeping the source a secret for
hundreds perhaps thousands, of years, still remains one of
the most interesting facts about fibre. It wasn’t until
about 1859, that the assistant United States Vice Consul in
The wood fibre that we use for flower
making comes from the plant known as the Aralia Papyrifera.
It is not cultivated, but grows wild and is considered a
crop, for they harvest it each year in January, February,
and March. There is no other place where the fibre grows
pure white other than in
The Aralia Papyrifera is well known in
The fibre is gathered high up in the mountains by the aborigines. These natives were originally headhunters, and up until 1937 the villages in the area had to have electrified barbed wire enclosures to protect them from these mountain people at night. The villagers stayed inside, if they didn’t want to end up in the stew pot. The aborigines were very adept with knives. The aborigines could be compared to the American Indians, who at one time scalped and massacred people, but who in time, became civilized.
The mountain people cut the trunk of
the Aralia plant into pieces about 3 feet long. They then
take a sharp bamboo pole and pop the pith out of the trunk.
The pith measures about 1 to 2 inches in diameter, while the
trunk around it is only 1/8 inch thick, and is just a shell.
The mountain people dry, or cure, the pieces before bringing
them down to the villages to sell to the factories. The 3
foot long pieces of pith are put up on racks to be cured.
They sustain a loss of about 40 per cent from mildew and
distortion, for the pith is just like spaghetti when it
comes out. Wherever it droops over the rack, it is lost.
Because it is so wet and humid on the
After the pith has been dried, it is brought down from the mountains and the natives sell it to the factories. The factories are not big institutions, but many hire from 6 to 8 people. Fifteen employees is considered a large factory. The Taiwanee girls do most of the work. The first girl cuts the pith into 3-1/4 inch lengths, using a piece of wood that has been made into a measuring stick for a ruler, and a short, but very sharp, knife. Not only are the processes done by hand, but even the tools are hand made. Another Taiwanee girl sets at a bench and shaves the fibre off the pith. She does this in much the same way as we do veneering, but it is all done by hand and not on a lathe. They use very primitive tools. For the cutting base, they use a square stone. Along the edges of the stone they have placed a piece of tape and shim brass. The girl holds the knife in one hand and the piece of pith in the other, and begins to roll the pith, shaving it off as she rolls. The piece of shim brass holds the knife up a fraction of an inch, which determines the thickness of the fibre. She continues to shave the continuous ribbon off each piece of pith. They will measure approximately 3 feet in length. She then stacks them and sends them to a man who does the final cutting into the 3-1/4 by 3-1/4 inch squares. Before bundling the squares, one of the girls must grade each piece of fibre. The choice fibre is bundled in an interesting way, for regular string or twine would cut into the fibre, or might loosen or tighten it. A native reed is damped and wrapped around the package. It is secured by twisting, not knotting, and when dry, it holds securely without loosening or cutting.
At this stage the fibre is bundled 10
packs into a package. It is pure white and its texture is
very brittle and dry. It is placed on the market in
Bringing the fibre here to the
Since the fibre was once a living, growing plant and its texture remains the same, moist and soft and petal-like, it makes the most life-like flowers ever known. The flowers last permanently with good care. They may be cleaned by a solution of rubbing alcohol and water. The natural texture will last indefinitely, if the flowers are occasionally put into a moist place. If they are over-dried, their texture may be restored by adding glycerine and water to them.
5/15/09 Interview with Heidi Borchers about
Cover of Aleene's Petal Pusher
Young woman cutting wood fibre pith
Close up view of shaving the fibre
off the pith
Worker (presumably at Ramont's preparing wood fibre for dyeing.
Aleene's Wood Fibre Rose Instruction Sheet - 1951
Aleene's Wood Fibre Wild Primrose Instruction Sheet - 1951
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