Yucca fiber processing is an ancient art. I first became interested in yucca fiber in my time at The Clovis Site (an important archaeological site on the high plains of New Mexico). People have used yucca for ages past in every form. From raw leaves, to finely spun yucca yarn, the leaves have been used in every form. The book Treading in the Past: Sandals of the Anasazi showcases many excellent examples of yucca fiber in all forms as used in sandals. Yucca is also used for cordage, bags, nets, and really anything fiber related.
I start by chopping down a yucca plant. I happen to have access to narrow leaf yucca. All I use is an ax. The difficulty with yucca is the pointed tips, so I begin by gathering the leaves up, holding them up with one hand, leaving the base of the plant exposed. With the other hand, I chop the plant down as if it was a small tree.
After the yucca is cut, I peel the leaves away from the main body so that each leaf is separate.
From here there are three options that I have heard of to liberate the fiber. One is to beat the leaf with a rock, stick, or hammer pulverizing the flesh and leaving the fiber. The next is to allow the leaves to soak in a bucket of water for several weeks until the flesh of the plant begins to rot off, and then scrape off the remnants of the flesh. The third is to boil the yucca in a pot of water for several hours until the flesh becomes soft, and then scrape the flesh off. The last method is my favorite. The first method is more manual labor, and I have a tendency to pound the leaves too much and damage the fiber. The second is all to easy to allow the yucca to rot too much, also damaging the fiber. But, I think that which way is best is a matter of personal taste.
After the fiber has been liberated, it’s nice to wash off any remaining flesh. The fibers will become a whitish color when clean. The longer the fibers are scraped and peeled apart, the finer they become. Dried yucca fibers will preserve for a long time, so it’s no hurry to used processed yucca fiber. To work the fibers into something, I first soak them in water until they become soft again. My skirt contains about one and a half narrow leaf yucca plants.
The skirt is made in two pieces. I think of it as two opposing aprons. To make the skirt I took a buckskin lace and folded a small bundle of fiber over the top, tying it in by weaving through the bundles at the top. I repeated this until the skirt was as wide as my hips. I then repeated this for the back. I then came back and added another layer of weaving a few inches down to hold the fibers together.