Weaving jewellery

30 May 2018

Crafting personal jewellery from natural objects is a universal and ancient pastime so it’s not surprising that people who work with New Zealand flax, harakeke, make jewellery as well as baskets, hats and other larger items. A variety of interesting jewellery pieces can be fashioned simply by plaiting four strips of flax into either an enclosed, rounded plait or an open curved plait and then shaping the plait into a necklet, earring, brooch or bracelet. For example, the pendant illustrated above shows the rounded plait being used to make a necklet and the curved plait being used to make a pendant shape to hang from the necklet.

The curved version of this four-plait works well to make various shapes of pendants, like the two heart-shaped pendants illustrated here. The pendants are made by curling the plaited flax into a koru shape — a spiral shape based on the appearance of a new unfurling silver fern frond — at one end and then curling it up in the reverse direction the other end, leaving a single piece of plait in between them. The point of the heart is shaped by pinching together the single strip of flour-plait between the two koru shapes while the flax is still soft and shaping it into a curved point. The heart shape is held together with a small stitch with thread in the centre. A waxed linen thread is added for hanging. The green pendant’s shape is a classic heart shape but I rather like the offset shape of the naturally-coloured pendant which is made by joining the two koru shapes so they are slightly offset from each other.

Illustrated on the left is a variation I made of the koru pendant. This design has a small koru in the centre which is encircled with a larger single row of curved four-plait. To complete the pendant, the ends are threaded through into the plaiting of the outside plait, by threading each end twice through into the plait pattern. This secures the outer encircling plait. A waxed linen thread with a loop at one end and a paua shell button at the other end is used for hanging the pendant. I also made a smaller version into earrings. To allow the earring to hang freely and on an angle which shows the pattern fully, the koru circlet needs a jump ring, or extra ring, between the circlet and the earring hook. Unfortunately I only made one of these earrings so have never worn this one as an earring, although I do wear the pendant regularly and have received favourable comments on it. (I must make that second earring sometime!)

I’ve played around with a few different ideas for making jewellery with a four-plait, including enclosing a small shell or stone in the centre of the koru. The curved four-plait makes a nicely rounded bracelet, or a ring. A smaller version of the bracelet could be used for napkin rings, or with a few more layers, a toggle to hold a scarf if the hole in the centre is a bit larger than the one illustrated here. I like long tails on the koru but haven’t yet found any practical jewellery use for this style, although I can see it being used in other ways. Do you have any more ideas for koru jewellery? I’d love to see them.

I’ve written instructions on how to make the curved four-plait here and there are instructions for the rounded four-plait cord on this blog post, including an idea on how to make a clasp for the cord.

© Alison Brown 2018.

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.