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milkweeds for the war effort

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Recently I posted a photo of a funny looking plant that I grew up frolicking amongst every Fall: the Milkweed. I never thought much of them until I bought a book about the local history of my town and found this picture:

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Who knew those funny looking weeds played such an important roll in saving lives! After reading the caption I knew I had to do some research to find out more about the life saving Milkweed.

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The Milkweed pods contain seeds attached to a fluttery, silky “floss” which is actually quite buoyant. During WWII the Japanese cut off supply routes in the Dutch East Indies, causing the US to lose their main source of Kapok floss, which was the first choice for stuffing Mae West style life preservers. With the urgent need for an alternative, and no time to grow and harvest a crop to meet demands, the government called on America’s children to collect Milkweed pods wherever they were growing wild.

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The pods needed to be collected before they cracked open to ensure the floss remained inside. Onion sacks were handed out nation wide, with a price of 15 cents paid per bag that was filled with pods (with an additional 5 cents if the pods were pre dried). Two bags of pods contained enough floss for one life jacket. The U.S. military needed enough floss to fill 1.2 million life jackets, which totaled 2 million pounds of floss. – Fascinating, isn’t it? There’s a great article on pantagraph.com if you’d like to read more about it.

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Obviously there’s no need for Milkweed pod collection in 2013 (edit – I was mistaken, yes there is!), but I sure had fun pretending I was some sort of  Girl Scout on a mission to do my part for our boys overseas.

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The green pods may have been more useful, but the dried out broken pods are certainly more fun! They’re pretty magical on a blustery day, actually.

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I’ll tell you, I’ll never look at a Milkweed the same way again! It’s funny how you can go around seeing things and not understand their importance, until you do, and then it makes you appreciate the little things. …like weeds.

outfit details: dress – handmade, sweater and apron – vintage, boots – Payless.

xo
Rochelle

*I’m tied for first place!! Please vote for Lucky Lucille in the Craftsy Blogger Awards!*

 

 

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  • Abbi

    Hw neat! Thanks for sharing that interesting information, and you look super adorable (as always)!

  • Merry

    Your pictures are so charming! You have the Tasha Tudor look…… I always loved that quaint little woman!

  • Hope

    Very interesting! I love reading about that kind of stuff, it’s so fascinating. Great pictures to go with it too!

  • sewcookgardenrepeat

    Interesting! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Chuleenan

    I had no idea milkweeds were part of the war effort! Fascinating.

  • Deb

    Wow! Let’s hear it for the War Effort! What interesting information!

    I just found your pages a week ago and am totally hooked–it’s now my mid-afternoon break from actual work, if only for a few minutes, just to see what fun stuff I can find on your site. You have quite an eye for one of the most interesting decades of American history–and I love LOVE your clothes. Thanks for sharing your passion.

  • Christine

    I have a tattoo of milkweed :) They were all over my back yard growing up and I absolutely adore them!!!

  • tam

    Love this story! i am a huge fan of milkweed because it is food for monarchs and also attracts some of the coolest looking bugs around!
    tam@ spinstsersnacks.com

  • Mona Miller

    Loved your photo and information.

    My friend Candy in Ohio who is a member of Wild Ones shared this information on collecting milkweed seeds. Monarch Watch (University of Kansas) needs milkweed seeds of many varieties from many states.

    ‘Once the pods turn brown, they are most likely ripe. A good way to test for ripeness is to place your hand around the pod, with your thumb over the pod’s seam, and then gently squeeze the pod. If the seam “pops” open under your thumb, the seeds are ready. The seeds should all be brown. Ideally, collecting the seed just before the pod splits open will be best–it is easier to remove floss and it also helps avoid milkweed bug damage.
    Wild Ones has a document that will help answer many seed collecting/cleaning/growing questions, with instructions for how to mail seed to Monarch Watch if you would like to help with the Bring Back the Monarch campaign. See http://www.wildones.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Milkweed-Basics.pdf. Specifically, under “Cleaning” on page 3, you will find directions for how to remove floss (fluff) from your seeds.”

    • Rochelle

      I was wrong, there absolutely IS a need to pick milkweeds in 2013! I knew they were important in the life cycle of of the Monarch, but I didn’t realize there was an effort to collect the seeds. Thank you so much for sharing this campaign with me. I’ll see if I can go back and collect some seeds, and I’ll also share the cause for others who may be able to help! Thanks, Mona.

  • JJ

    I love the back story to this shoot. My favorite photo is the next to last one! :o)

  • sallie

    Gorgeous photo shoot, Rochelle!! And such a fascinating history behind the lowly milkweed!! I grow tropical milkweed where I am (it looks slightly different, and from what I can tell so far, it seems to be fluff-free) to attract Monarch butterflies, as it’s their favorite food. The Monarch’s that hatch where I am usually make a big commute to Mexico, so I like to give them a little bit of fuel for the road ;) But I think what I find most inspiring about this little tidbit of history is the ingenuity and reliance on our own natural resources – even our weeds! – during times of struggle.

    • Rochelle

      Thanks, Darling! Yes I agree the lowly milkweed is actually quite a magical plant! I knew the Monarchs favored them, but I didn’t realize the plants played such a vital roll in their survival. I’m inspired to go back for some seeds so I can plant a butterfly garden closer to my house!

  • Adastra

    There are some folks in the Hudson Valley who make milkweed wine as well, and swear by it as their favorite fruit/root wine. Apparently it tastes sort of like rhubarb wine, if you can imagine.

    • Rochelle

      Wow that’s fascinating! I had no idea, but now I’m curious to find some to sample ;)

  • Jessica Cangiano

    This was such an awesomely interesting history lesson. I feel like I’d heard about the role of milkweeds for the war effort once or twice eons ago, but couldn’t have begun to tell you much more beyond that before I read this wonderful post. I can never get enough of cool, engaging historical facts like this, thank you for giving me another one to share at the dinner table. :)

    Love your outfit! That gorgeous floral print dress partnered with a cute gingham apron is perfection.

    ♥ Jessica

    • Rochelle

      Thank you, Dearest! I’m happy you enjoyed the history lesson :)

  • Kate-Em

    I love the picture of you with all the fibres floating about. I have never heard of milkweed, not sure it grows in England. What a fascinating history it has though.

  • stgilbert

    That’s so interesting! I love your dress!

  • Mary

    Oh Rochelle!! I love Milkweed too. When I taught hand-spinning I researched Milkweed as a source for a fiber to spin. It was too silky. But I learned about the kapok and knew a woman who collected the pods for the life vests. But they also studied the plant for the latex that oozed from it as a meat tenderizer and the long stalks as a bast fiber similar to linen. But I love them the most because it is the host and food plant for the Monarch butterfly which is sadly disappearing.

    Thanks for the great post and reviving fond memories for me.

    Mary
    http://zipsanddarts.blogspot.com/
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/CynicalGirl

    • Rochelle

      Wow milkweed as a spinning fiber would be very interesting indeed! I remember finding caterpillars among the pods as a kid, but I had underestimated the plant’s importance in the life cycle of the monarch butterfly until now. I’m doing more research on how to collect seeds to grow for their benefit. So maybe I will have to orchestrate a milkweed pod drive!

      • Mary

        Our grove played host to migrating monarchs for at least the 25 years we have lived here. In late September we could walk out and plumes of orange would fill the skies. Photographers would come to our place to document the event. Now, sadly, there are but a trickle of these winged beauties resting over in our grove. If you host a milkweed pod drive count me in.

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A Blog By Rochelle New

I'm a fabric wizard and wielder of needles with a passion for quilt industry cottons, bygone eras, and natural things.

i.e. I mostly do nerd things like pretend I'm a wizard, collect moldy books, and spend too much time picking up acorns in the woods, all with my spirit animal (a dog named Lucille), my personal photographer (a man named William), and a few literal fat cats in tow.

Making magic and messes in the backwoods of New York.

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