The first most obvious step is to collect the bark for the container, it is important however that it is taken from the right species of tree, many species will not give there bark so freely.
The most obvious species of tree to use when making a bark bag or container is probably the birch tree (Betula sp.) but I have found that in this country the bark is much to thin to be of use and is prone to splitting at the lenticels making it fiddly business trying to get it off the tree. I have however seen some incredible pieces made from birch bark in Siberia where the bark grows thicker on the trees. If using birch however it is the outer bark that is used.
Species of trees that offer good bark are for example sweet chestnut (both the inner and outer bark may be used) as well as: Juniper, Aspen, Cherry, Willow, Cedars, Lime, Oak, Chestnut, Elm and a species which I am experimenting with at the moment is Rowan.
The other important factor when collecting bark is the time of year, it should generally be springtime (though I have heard of birch bark being collected in winter to gain a darker colour but this is difficult to do) and the bark should come from a living or very recently felled tree.
Once the tree has been selected it is important not to strip the tree completely of its bark nor take bark off in a complete ring round the tree, as this will kill the tree. I however only take my bark from trees that need to come down or recently felled as taking bark can damage or threaten a tree fairly significantly. I have also taken bark from limbs of trees before but this is generally thinner than from the main trunk, if doing so, I will take the entire limb and using it for other crafts.
The next step is to remove the bark. To do so mark the top and bottom of the section you wish to take with a knife or axe to give a clear guide. If cut through the bark to, but not into, the wood of the tree then this will help when removing the sheet of bark.
Then a line is drawn down the bark with a knife connecting the two markers. Work the knife slowly under the lip of the bark, between the wood and bark, down the length of the sheet until an edge is separated, depending on which type of bark is used it is sometimes then possible to work of the bark with fingers and wooden wedges.
When removing the bark score the length of the sheet with a knife and here I used a baton to help the knife cut into the bark.
This is the shape which we must mark is as follows in the diagram.
If the bark is not folding along the score lines easily enough then score deeper but do not cut all the way through, we want the bark to bend not break!
Once the container is folded into shape it can be pegged to hold its shape and left to dry. At this point I then moved on to do some bark weaving to make a handle for the container.
To weave bark we must remove the outer bark first, this is best done whilst the bark is still attached to the wood and is easily removed with a blunt object like the back of a folding saw.
For weaving the inner bark must be cut into strips, the thinner the strips the more tight the weave may be. To cut the strips equally you could use strong scissors or a nice little trick using involving a knife in a stump and a peg for a guide as shown here:
An improvised grip for holding bark strips ready for weaving to make a handle
The pattern of the weave is important and is as follows. In the diagram below…
Follow the weave as above then when 4 is reached the 5th strip gets folded and the process started again in the opposite direction
When the weaving is complete the ends must be folded back in on themselves.
After a couple of hours the container should have dried out a little and is ready for stitching. To do so I used very thin strips of bark as the equivalent of the thread. When stitching it is important to make sure the holes or punctures are NOT in alignment vertically as this will encourage the bark to split, which is something that really should be avoided.
Stitch from the bottom up wrapping around the base of the container and finishing at the rim.
To help the bark keep its shape add a circle of wood in the top, here I used a piece of western red cedar bark that was already roughly bent to shape and secured it with further bark stitching.
This should complete the basic bark container, a handle may be added and designs if so wished.
The finished container and weaving