Earning an income from your craft

25 March 2018

I recently updated the Links page on this website and added another section for links to on-line instructions and courses. Exploring these confirmed an impression I’d gained through the contacts on my Facebook page — these days more and more people are earning an income, or part of their income, from their weaving. In fact, many people who love a particular art/craft, not necessarily weaving, manage to earn a living from it — by making art/craftworks and selling them, and/or by teaching the art/craft (privately or in a tertiary training organisation), and/or by writing articles or books about it, and/or by wholesaling/importing materials with which to pursue the art/craft.

It’s not always easy to earn a full living as an artist or craftsperson, and having a detailed documentary record of your work, including your experience and specific skills, will invariably stand you in good stead when offering your services as a tutor, writer, or seller of craftworks. It’s also necessary when applying for funding to be able to show your art/craft history and experience. One way to do this is to have a separate CV for your art/craft work, apart from the CV you use to find employment. For example, Mary Butcher, a basket weaver in the UK, has her craft CV on her website. Many artists/craftspeople also have portfolios of their work, but a CV differs from a portfolio insofar as it documents all your experience in the art/craft world.

Back in the early 2000s, I wanted to teach weaving in a local polytech and had a craft CV prepared to help me get a job there. Having worked in the employment industry, I knew it was important to choose a CV writer who understands that making a living from your art or craft is a viable career option and doesn’t take the view that you should aim for a ‘real job’. I chose Chris Eilers, a CV/career consultant who had previously prepared a work CV for me, and who understands earning a living from craft work because he’d been a manufacturer of handcrafted leather goods and wooden toys. As it turned out, I didn’t use the CV we prepared. Instead of approaching the polytech for a teaching job, after working with Chris on my CV, I gained enough confidence to start holding private workshops, which I eventually advertised online, and which continue to this day.

Apart from documenting your work for income-earning purposes, it can be a rewarding and informative exercise to revisit your own work over the years, and my children have also been interested to learn about my craft history. (The photos illustrate one of my early craft projects — a baby gown I made in the 1980s when my children were born, along with a close up of the bobbin lacework I wove for it.) Whenever you work on a CV, you are exploring your own craft whakapapa, or craft history, which gives you a sense of where you picked up your various skills and how they may be influencing the work you do now. Also, the knowledge and recognition of your own experience and abilities can instill a greater confidence in the approach you take to earning an income as a craftsperson, and the documentation of your work gives you a factual and authentic base to work from. When I hold workshops, people regularly ask me where I learnt flax weaving, or how I got into it. Although I can pinpoint when I first wove with flax to the late 1990s, and still have the first little kete I wove, after remembering all the various types of craft work I have done over the years, I realise there is a much longer history that has influenced, and continues to influence, my work.

© Alison Brown 2018.

Weaving a water bottle cover

6 March 2018

When I completed weaving a visor hat I was left with quite a few ends of prepared strips that I didn’t want to waste. They were long enough to use for a small project so I thought I’d weave a water bottle holder with them. I started with hexagonal weaving but as the strips weren’t long enough to reach all the way up the bottle I carried on with plaiting, joining the plaits as they lengthened, ending with three plaits at the top. Before starting the plaits, I secured the weaving by tying overhand knots with each set of two strips at the point where the strips became too short for further hexagonal weaving.

I shredded the ends of the knots and started plaiting each set, adding in shreds as required to keep the plaits reasonably even. As the plaiting progressed, I positioned them diagonally across each other and joined each alternate plait together to make one plait. I repeated this further up and ended up with three plaits at the rim of the bottle. It wasn’t necessary to join the plaits together as they grew longer, but I was in an experimental mood, and felt like trying out this idea.

It worked fine and having just three plaits at the top also makes it easy to take the top off the bottle, although I did have to add the extra horizontal plait around the point where the three plaits start to ensure that the plaits sat at an equal distance from each other around the rim of the bottle. I extended the three plaits and then joined them into one plait over the lid of the bottle, plaited this a bit longer and added a loop in the form of a piece of water-smoothed shell. This makes a handy toggle for carrying the water bottle as well as hanging it up in a tree where the breezes blowing around the tree keep the contents cool. This was a fun exercise and although it’s not the neatest item I’ve ever made, it’s a useful piece of kit.

Hexagonal weaving is fun to weave and is well-suited to this project as it’s easy to move from the horizontal weaving of the base to the vertical weaving of the sides. Next time I’ll use longer strips and use hexagonal weaving for all of the holder.

What would I do differently on this project? I’d shred the ends of the flax strips before I made the overhand knots at the top of the hexagonal weaving so that shredded flax could be added if needed to make the knots more even in size and I’d take more care with keeping the plaits even in width. Now, what will I make with the rest of the ends of strips I have left?

© Alison Brown 2018.

Weaving in Rarotonga

16 January 2018

Weaving is very much part of Pacific Island cultures and I was keen to see the weaving in Rarotonga when I visited recently. I was expecting to see large market baskets and hats with circular crowns woven out of green palm leaves but these were very scarce. What I did see was intriguing and quite unexpected. The main type of weaving practised now is with very fine strips of white palm leaf, sometimes dyed for patterned weaving, used to weave hats and fans.

I first saw this weaving at Punanga Nui Market, the Saturday market, where one stall had numerous hats and fans woven with these fine palm strands. Many of the hats and fans were woven in coloured patterns and all were made with very fine strips.


I then visited the shop Pacific Weave, where weaver Nanave Taime was weaving a basket with fine white strips. I wondered what the material was and how she managed to get it so white. Nanave was very happy to share her knowledge, and told me me that the material was boiled palm leaf. I knew that boiling NZ flax, the usual material I weave with, doesn’t whiten it to this extent, so I was interested to try this process for myself. Later that day I tried boiling both dry and green palm leaf but this didn’t make any difference to the colour of the leaf.


Out and about the next day, I discovered Tarani Crafts and Pearls in downtown Avarua, just past the roundabout heading towards Muri beach, and had an interesting discussion with Tarani Napa, the owner, who is very knowledgeable about traditional weaving. Tarani also has an outlet at the Saturday market.

Tarani explained that the white material is part of the new leaf, or rito, of the coconut tree before it becomes green. The new leaf is peeled apart into two different types of strands. The outer fibre is coarser and creamy light fawn and the inner fibre, which is lighter, is boiled to make it white. The strips are very thin and there’s a lot of work involved in getting enough strips to weave with. It’s mostly older weavers from the outer islands — which are covered in coconut palms and a good source for rito — who weave hats.

As I saw some evidence of what I think are earlier types of weaving, such as basic market baskets and fans, and was interested in discovering how the weaving style had changed over time to a more intricate and delicate style. I wonder if this is partly due to the influence of missionaries, as the white hats and fans are often worn for church-going. I searched in the Rarotongan library and museum for information about this but found nothing. If anyone has any more information on this change of style I’d be very interested to hear about it.