THE tall grass known as slough grass, swamp grass, or sedge grass can be used for weaving place mats, for making baskets, or as a dye source. It is like the grass used in the British Isles for thatching roofs and here for the grass houses of the American Indians. There are many types of grasses suitable for handicrafts, but the tall slough grass is a superior material because of these qualities: the length of the fibers, the toughness, the flexibility, and the hard, reedlike sections of the stems.
The grass may be gathered any time during the summer or fall. Even midwinter is not too late to gather the weaving material, but it is often quite brittle at this time.
The gatherers should wear gloves and long sleeves for protection from the razor-sharp blades. Cut with scissors near the ground. Spread the grass out in a shaded place for several days to dry. This native material does not require soaking unless greater flexibility is desired.
The wiry tips are usually too thin and brittle to use.
Remove the tips. The long grassy section is flexible and is an excellent weaving material. Cut this section into long lengths. By peeling off the outer covering, a hard reed stem is found. The material peeled off is like bamboo when split lengthwise with the thumbnail. Separate the different sections of the grass. Tie them into bundles and store until they are to be used.
To weave place mats of the flexibile grassy section, cut the lengths an inch longer than the desired width of the mat. String up a cardboard loom and weave as for a wheat-straw mat. The grass may need pressing when the place mat is finished. Dampen it and place it under a weight. A drawing board or a breadboard laid on top of the mat and weighted down with books makes a satisfactory press.
For a heavy mat, use the reed section of the grass. The light yellow color and smooth texture are beautiful. The split sections of the outer covering for the grass make lightweight mats. Cattail leaves, cornhusk strips, and straw weavers may be used with the grass for variations in pattern and texture. These materials do not need to be waxed, varnished, or shellacked. They may be dyed in a hot commercial dye bath to which salt has been added.