Birch bark crafts have been around for centuries featuring a variety of forms, functions and methods of creation. The history behind processing birch bark crafts is extensive across cultures and generations featuring rustic home decor to items with style and function like extravagant handbags. Working with birch bark to create handmade items became a goal of mine very suddenly.
How I started Processing Birch Bark for Crafts
One summer lake trip to the Adirondacks sparked a new level of creativity I hadn’t experienced with items found in nature. A family member had just gotten engaged and was discussing ideal wedding decorations. Birch bark flower vases were on her mind but the prices sourced online were not within reason.
Taking a break outside that afternoon, I began to notice all of the birch trees around the rented property as well as the sheer amount of bright white bark just laying on the ground. I proposed the idea of doing a little research and seeing if this type of DIY decoration was worth exploring on our own.
After looking into the best practices of preserving birch bark, the history of making crafts with birch bark and the best way to preserve the environment while harvesting, I decided to take a piece of bark that had peeled and was now hanging from a tree. I gently removed it, making sure to only take what was peeled and I carefully processed it, shaped it and dried it. The results were surprisingly great.
We discussed and gathered more bark from the ground, careful not to disturb the ecology and live plants in the area. I worked on the bark I gathered that summer with a little help to create the dreamiest decorations. I wanted to explore this passion project further.
The ideas were flowing so I decided to repeat the process the following summer (the best time to harvest is the summer months).
Processing Birch Bark
After trial and error I found a system of processing birch bark crafts that I love. While there are chemical solutions that can be used to preserve the life of birch bark, I wanted to avoid working with harsh chemicals and make my system simple. The important thing was to preserve the bright white and silver color of the bark as well as remove as much organic matter as possible to delay the degradation of the bark quality and durability.
The bark pieces used are naturally and sustainably hand harvested. At no point in the harvesting process are live trees harmed or involved. All bark is sustainably sourced and harvested in a manner that does not disrupt the natural ecology of the environments they are sourced from. When harvesting, we are careful to leave plenty of material behind for the organisms that thrive off its structural protection and nutrients.
Treating the bark with some of the chemical solutions available may kill more organic matter, keeping just wood behind, but it does not necessarily make the end result more durable. Some side effects of these solutions are lasting chemical smells and discoloration of the bark.
The process I settled on includes the following steps:
-Soak the bark in cool water for several hours.
-With a sponge, clean dirt and organic matter from bark pieces.
-Soak the bark in cool water for several more hours.
-With a sponge, remove difficult debris and lift difficult stains.
-Rinse bark pieces and shape into cylinders or lay flat.
-Hold with paper clips and rubber bands.
-Set with wood glue or jewelry glaze once dry.
Additional Materials used with Birch Bark
There are a range of other materials involved in creating with birch bark that can vary with each collection.
Tea Light Holders and Candle Vases are not chemically treated to preserve lifespan or prevent flammable combustion. All of the birch is carefully hand washed, dried into shape. Once dried, the birch is wrapped around glass tea light holders or glass vases and set with wood glue. They air dry once more and then are adjusted for quality. It is not advisable to keep these decorations near areas that get a lot of sun or moisture as they will become damaged over time and degrade much quicker. If used outdoors, they must be stored in a cool, dark and dry place afterwards. You can store in plastic boxes with leftover silica packets, pieces of cardboard or packing peanuts.
Jewelry pieces are cut and coated in a low toxic or non toxic gloss coating to enhance durability, thickness and prolong lifespan. I try to choose options that are safe for pets just in case my cat gets into something he shouldn’t. Natural matte jewelry pieces have a gloss coating on the back for durability and are treated with matte spray paint on top for a thin layer of durability and protection from moisture. Additional setting product experiments are underway to assess the best option of preservation and durability
Jewelry finishings range and change seasonally and with each collection. Thickness and durability of each piece can vary. Some pieces feature more casual, rustic metal rings that have a vintage feel and others use touches of 14k gold or sterling silver. Gems and beads include Czech or Japanese glass beads, Swarovski crystals, freshwater pearls, and semiprecious gems like aquamarine and amethyst. Necklace chains are made from either glass beads or sterling silver.
Although processing birch bark crafts is challenging and I expect the materials to change over time, my goal is to highlight fun style with the luxury of nature’s beauty using sustainable pieces of wood and pairing it with elegant beads, gems and crystals. These become fun representations of style that age slightly with wear and become new vintage pieces with time.