So, I've kind of got a notion of something I'd like to try. I've no idea whether it would be feasible, but I figure a test run is none the less interesting.
The reason I asked about nettles, is because I discovered that it's possible to make fabric out of nettles - and Urtica dioica
(to use the latin name) is ubiquitous. (That's the common stinging nettle for the less pretentious).
The nettles themselves can be used to produce fibers that can be spun.
The roots of the nettles can be used to dye (yellowy)
Leaves are edible (apparently).
Leaves can instead be used to produce a green-ish dye. (think 'really strong nettle leaf tea')
So anyway, the notion is that it would be interesting to go 'end to end' from 'gathering stuff' to 'making something out of it'. Including dying it.
Just what that 'something' ends up being depends a lot on enthusiasm vs. effort involved - I'd _like_ to make a something I can wear, but am thinking that that might take a prodigious amount of effort.
So it might end up being a piece of string or something :-).
Anyway, as far as I can tell from research so far (yay internets) it goes something like this:
1/ Gather nettles
Collect some juicy nettles - the taller the better I believe, as they'll have more/longer fibers in the stalk.
2/ Dry them
So they're not stinging any more.
I'm thinking that a 'twisted string' style washing line will do the trick for this - take some string, tie it in a loop, and twist it up until you can't any more - and then the 'twistyness' will grip anything you thread through it, and allow you to suspend it.
3/ Ret them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retting
Retting is ... erm. Basically plonking them in water until they rot, then scooping out what's left. I'm thinking that this can be accomplished via a tidy box. 6-8 hours to 'leech', replace the water and then leave them a few days more.
Other methods include in running water, or laid out in a field to allow the dew to 'ret'. I don't have a convenient river or field handy, so I'll try it this way ;)
I think I should be able to strip the leaves and put them to one side, to use later.
4/ Dry the 'straw' - the retted stalks.
Well, first off their wet, and secondly doing this means you've got a bit better chance of getting the fiber out easily.
5/ Extract the fibers.
As best I can tell you do this in the same method as you would with Flax:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flax
First you 'break' the straw, then you strip away the 'barky bits' (scutching)
Then you 'comb' (heckle) the fibrous stuff you've got - you get to separate out a bit the fibers, and the finer the combs you use, the finer the final result - but the more you'll leave behind as you go.
Improvisation I think would be a rolling pin to break up the bark, and 'bit of wood with nails' to do the heckling.
6/ Spin the fibers you've got into a yarn.
... much like you would with cotton.
That's a bit trivialised isn't it? Well, that's a bit better documented,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinning_(textiles
Basically though, you're just taking the fibers and twisting them together into a continuous thread. There's various techniques for doing this - from 'by hand' by taking a pinch and gradually twisting and rolling out the thread, drop spinning, where you use a weight, or just using a spinning wheel.
And sometimes you'll take the yarn you've made and 'ply' it, to make it a stronger/thicker yarn.
Easy in principle, quite complex in practice - the thinner the yarn, the weaker it is, so you've got to be fairly careful it doesn't break. And, y'know, keep it fairly consistent in thickness and twistyness, because if you're making cloth out of it you need to :-)
7/ Turn the yarn into 'something'
This would be weaving it - again, basics are quite straight forward - lay out a load of your yarn on a frame (warp threads) and then thread some through it in an over/under/over pattern (weft).Of course to make 'usable cloth' is a bit harder, as tighter weaves also take proportionally longer to set up in the first place, and to thread back and forth with each weft. And of course you need a fair amount of width for an 'average' piece of clothing.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weaving
Bit sketchy on this bit, but I figure that'll wait until I have enough yarn to make it worth looking. It might be feasible to consider e.g. knitting as a method of making a fabric instead.
8/ Cut your cloth, and sew it up.
Well, you've got some cloth - hopefully it's big enough that you can use an existing pattern with it, and maybe use some of your existing yarn to sew it together.