Flax on the brain

16 January 2010

Click here to visit an upgraded version of this blog post on my new website at alibrown.nz.

photo of red-black hat with arum lily by Lesley JenkinsI’ve really enjoyed reading the many letters, emails and blog comments that other weavers have sent me since I published my book. It’s fascinating to read about people’s weaving experiences and to see photos of their work, especially when it’s something I haven’t tried myself, such as weaving flax head-gear.

photo of natural hat with rose by Lesley JenkinsThe photos I’ve used on this blog post were sent to me by Lesley Jenkins and Wayne Boniface of Norfolk Island. These beautifully-woven and decorated hats are made in a traditional Norfolk Island weaving style. Norfolk Island doesn’t have much in the way of weaving material so the islanders use what they can, including banana tree bark, corn husk, drain flax (this is not Phormium tenax, it looks like bulrush to me), Moo-oo, or Cyperus Iucidus and palm leaf.

photo of natural hat with blue buds by Lesley JenkinsLesley and Wayne use pandanas and Moo-oo which they gather from the cliffs around Norfolk Island. As with many plants used for weaving, Moo-oo has razor edges which are stripped off. It’s then left to dry out for about ten days before use. The traditional method is to plait the material into one long flat strip, which is then wound around and sewn into a hat shape. Lesley and Wayne have used a variety of different styles of flowers to decorate their hats in attractive ways.

photo of greta roseAnother email I received recently was from Greta Nicholson, who enlisted the help of her son to make a video that shows her way of making roses. Greta’s rose is made with one thin strip of flax which is folded in half and and then folded up concertina-like as if making a paper streamer. Greta calls this a small rose and says it’s best to make it with thin, soft flax. I suggest the flax is softened first before making this flower. I made the ones illustrated here with strips about 1.5 cm wide which I folded 10-12 times each way before pulling the soft strip through. Pull the strip through slowly and be careful as it reaches the top so that you don’t start pulling other side of the strip through. I agree with Greta that they can be a bit haphazard in appearance but they are easy and fun to make.

It’s very gratifying to hear that the book has inspired or reinvigorated people’s interest in weaving. Mina Timutimu of Whakatane writes:

I received your contact details from a colleague and have read your book hence the request to purchase same. We live in a remote rural area with access to flax of good quality because the community take good care of the resource and make sure that it is cleaned regularly. Your directions are easy to follow in fact the book is beautifully presented. As a result we have commenced weekly raranga (weaving) which have become very popular, not only with floral but incorporting kete, whariki, (mat), kete whakairo (intricate patterned kete) by experienced tutors.

It’s especially nice to hear that the book works for children and beginners as well as experienced weavers. Ruth from Cambridge writes: “… some of our 4 year olds (I work in an early childhood centre) can even follow the pictures,” and Bev from Opotiki mentions that … ” your diagrams are so great that she was making the flowers using diagrams only.”

photo of pohutukawa in hairWriting a book can be such a long-winded, solitary business that it’s great to get feedback, and all the positive feedback has inspired me to extend and update it at some point soonish. photo of flax pohutukawaOne of the additions will be a flax pohutukawa flower which I recently created for Miss World New Zealand 2009, Magdalena Schoeman, to wear in her hair in the Miss World Pageant in South Africa. It took a while to figure out how to make the pohutukawa and I don’t currently have written instructions for it, but it will certainly feature in the updated version of the book. I was notoriously wrong in my predictions about how long it would take to publish the first version of the book, so I’m not making any predictions about when the updated version will be published! :-)

photo of hat from Norfolk IslandAddition 27 Jan 2010
I was delighted when Wayne offered to make one of his hats for me. The hat was delivered to me recently and fits perfectly. It’s beautifully made and I especially like the pretty edge on the brim of the hat. Thank you very much, Wayne!

29 Responses to “Flax on the brain”

  1. Riana Schoeman Says:

    Hi Ali

    Thank you so much for the pohutukawa flower that you made for Magdalena. Your flower made it easy to explain that her traditional costume was representing this unique New Zealand flower.

    Riana Schoeman

  2. Leona Hermens Says:

    Hi Ali

    I have been a fan of yours for sometime now and have been wanting to tell you how much I enjoy your website! I’m of Pitcairn descent and as a young girl on the island was taught to weave traditional Pitcairn baskets from Pandanus leaves. I now live in Wellington and for the past few years have been experimenting and weaving with harakeke. Results have been quite pleasing.

    For Christmas I was given a copy of your book which I just love - am hoping to learn how to make flowers to decorate my baskets!

    I was very excited to read your blog and see the beautiful hats made by my friends, Lesley and Wayne from Norfolk Island. I’m the proud owner of two of Wayne’s hats - decorated with roses and arun lilies that he made using instructions from your book.

    Thank you for sharing your many brilliant ideas.

    Kind regards

  3. Ali Says:

    Hi Leona

    It’s nice to hear from you Leona and your change from using pandanus leaves to flax leaves for weaving. Lately I’ve been experimenting with different types of materials for weaving but I always come back to flax, both because of its availability and its versatility.

  4. Sadie Says:

    Hi Ali I have just transferred $31.00 into your bank account for a copy of flax flowers book can you email me for my address as I have trouble emailing out, per chance would you have instructions on doing zigzag stick or stalk I have seen in some floral bouquets or button holes?? Thank you Sadie

  5. Ali Says:

    Hi Sadie

    I’m not sure what you mean by the zigzag stalk. Do you have any photos you could send me or a link that you could send me that shows the stalks?

  6. Diane Says:

    Ali would you be please be able tell me is there a way to keep tension tight when doing a kete. I have it nice tight and even but when I turn inside out it becomes loose and can see thru. I dont know if it is the way I turn it inside out or not keeping tension tight enough,but when weaving I dont have it loose.I would be very grateful for any tips you could give me. Thank you for your help.

  7. Ali Says:

    Hi Diane

    Although it’s difficult to assist you without seeing the weaving, there may be a couple of things that could help you. I assume you’re making a cylinder first, then weaving the base together, then turning the weaving inside out, which is actually the right side out.

    One thing that may help is if you have used twining to start your cylinder, keep this twining in place before you turn the weaving, and even put another row of twining around the top of the weaving to make sure it is secure, before you turn the weaving inside out.

    The looseness may also depend on the type of way you are completing the bottom of the kete. As there are several different ways to do this, it’s difficult for me to suggest anything here, as I don’t know which way you are doing this. Have a look at this yourself and see if you think this may be contributing to the slackness in the tension and see if there is any way you can tighten it up in this area.

    Another thing that may help is to make sure your strips are not too moist when you use them to start with.

    I hope this helps and let me know if you have any other questions.

  8. Josephine Baker Says:

    Hi Ali,
    Could you please send me a copy of your book.

  9. Ali Says:

    Hi Jo

    To purchase a book, please deposit $31 for the book plus postage and packaging into the bank account I show on my Book page, and email me your postal address. I’ll post the book to you as soon as the payment shows up in my bank account.

  10. Leonie Lewis Says:

    Kia Ora Ali,

    I am an Ex-pat living in London and recently attended a Flax Weaving Wananga with 2 lovely Weavers from NZ (Ruth & Mandy) they are here doing research in Weaving plus sharing their amazing skills in different workshops they’ve set up. I loved their workshop so much (I am a complete novice) and learnt alot in one day that I was inspired to find out more information. I was so happy to have come across your website which is very informative and after ordering your book it has arrived safely I am so very pleased to have done so, as your book is amazing and you have such an outstanding talent. I doubt if I will reach the level required of such works but I’m going to work on them. I recommend this book enough especially for beginners and higher levels. Just to note we have a little Kohanga here and myself and another colleague will take what we’ve learnt from the Wananga and your book and hopefully share our newly acquired skills. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and making this highly recommended book. Also from the information provided on your website I have asked our Kohanga to purchase a few of the other weaving books you have mentioned for our children’s library. Thank You.

  11. theresa denize Says:

    are any of these hats available for sale

  12. Lesley Jenkins Says:

    Hi Ali,

    I know it’s a bit late notice but is it possible for you to bring a couple of bottles of dye. Scarlet and royal blue and maybe a dark green. If you can’t no worries. I will see you at your work shop on the Sunday, I am really looking forward to meeting you.
    Best regards

  13. Ali Says:

    Hi Leslie

    It was too late to get full bottles from the supplier but I am bringing some blue and green in powdered form and some red liquid dye, as well as some other colours, so you can try a range.

    See you soon. :-)

  14. Ali Says:

    Hi Theresa

    I asked the weavers your questions about the hats being for sale while I was in Norfolk Island last week. The hats are only for sale in Norfolk Island as the cost of postage to send them offshore is prohibitive. However, Norfolk Island is an interesting place to visit so if you get the chance, I suggest you go there for a holiday and buy one while you are there! :-)

  15. kylie Says:

    hello i just cant get enough of weaving and love it. I pick up tips and am learning as i go i love maori artwork and anything to do with harakekethanx for your book too i love it to bits.

  16. Judy Says:

    Thankyou Ali for a wonderful book ! My daughter has some learning difficulties and has found a new skill to enjoy and to be able to show and teach others. You have shown us a fun and relaxing thing to do and no flower is ever the same!

  17. Tai Kotuhi Says:

    Kia ora Ali, just a query. The flower Arum Lily that is pictured on page 58 of your latest book(I purchased a copy from you last year) is it possible to purchase any. I think they are just georgous & would like to be the owner of some. I am not a weaver as have oos in hands, wrist,elbow etc plus arithtis.Just love reading your book. please if you could let me know I would much appreciate it. Kindest Regards Tai Kotuhi

  18. Ali Says:

    Kia ora Tai,
    Yes I’m sure I can assist you here. How many are you wanting and would you like them in natural coloured flax or dyed?

  19. Rose Rurehe Says:

    Kia ora Ali, I purchased your book last year and I have been making flowers ever since. I have also sat with my niece and her friend and taught them some of the flowers from your book, they enjoyed learning this simple skill.
    My niece is selling her flowers now at a reasonable price,big help to her as she is a student.
    Thankyou for your book I think they demonstrations are arty and cool.

  20. Ali Says:

    Kia ora Rose

    Thanks for letting me know about your niece selling flax flowers to help support herself as a student. What a great way for her to boost her income! :-)

  21. Diane Says:

    Hi Ali, I was wondering if you can help me the ara when weaving is it the left whenu that comes down or is it the right.The class I was going to last year the tutor had us keeping the right, but this year I am going to a different class and the tutor this year said it is the left and so I was wondering which is correct.Hope you can help.
    Regards Diane

  22. Ali Says:

    Hi Diane

    The main purpose of checking the ara is to make sure that your weaving is all at the same height. Although I would usually bring the right whenu down to check the ara, in practice you can use either the left or the right whenu, as long as you continue to do the same action all the way around the weaving. By this, I mean use either the left whenus all the way around or the right whenus all the way around. This will show you whether your weaving is all at the same height or whether you need to even it up.

  23. Valerie Martin Says:

    Hi Ali & all

    I would like to share something that I found while experimenting with colouring flowers, roses in particular.

    If you paint the tips of the finished rosebud with a pink irridescent nail varnish and when dry dip it in a pot of red dye you get brilliant shiny tips to the petals. Looks spectacular.

    Best wishes Valerie

  24. Ali Says:

    Hi Valerie

    Thanks for sharing this tip. It sounds very interesting and I’ll have a go myself next time I do some dyeing.

  25. Julz Says:

    Hi, I have a copy of your original book and am wondering if it is possible to purchase the pohutukawa instructions to add to it please.

  26. Ali Says:

    Hi Julz

    Yes the Pohutukawa instructions are still available from me. They are $9 including postage and packaging. Deposit the $9 into my Westpac bank account 03–0823–0516382–000 and let me know your current address and I’ll send them to you.

  27. Shona Tawhiao Says:

    Kia ora Ali
    I love your book and have just purchased one for my mum for Xmas which she loves too.
    I’ve been weaving for 15 years and find your book inspirational. It reminds me that my weaving is based on traditional techniques and contemporary concepts. Please keep sharing your love of mahi raranga, we cant wait for the next edition!
    Nga mihi Shona.

  28. Hilda Says:

    Hi Ali

    I have been making a large kete while on holiday camping using lovely Northland flax. Unfortunately when I came to finish the bottom before turning it right side out I could not remember how to do it off as it has been a while since I last did this kind of finish. Can you help with some instructions. I have looked in library books and on the net but can not find anything.

    Would really appreciate instructions if you have them.

    Love this site and have tried several things from your flower book which I have.


  29. Ali Says:

    Hello Hilda

    My apologies for not replying to you sooner. I’ve been very busy and your comment slipped out of my mind. You may have already found a way to finish your kete, but if not, here’s a suggestion. Firstly, if the flax is very dry you’ll need to soak it overnight to remoisten it again in which case the flax will dry to a darker shade. There are several ways to finish the kete on the inside but the one that is easiest to explain in words is one that uses the double lock technique, which you may know how to use, to finish the edge on a woven piece. If you don’t know it, it is on page 88 in Mick Pendergrast’s book Te Mahi Kete. Firstly finish the bottom edges of the kete with a single lock all the way around. Instruction for this are on page 48 of Te Makhi Kete. Then push the two sides of the weaving together so it it makes a kete shape, and, using the strips that poke out from the edge, do a double lock. This will be woven using both the front and back strips and a strip is brought through from the front to the back in each step. This is the bit that you’ll need to work on and figure out as you go. I do hope this is helpful to you. Let me know how you get on.

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