Flax weaving on a marae

5 November 2012

This eye-catching pattern belongs to a well-worn basket (kete whakairo) that a participant brought to a two-day weaving workshop at Waikawa marae (raranga wananga noho marae), which I was invited to tutor at recently. What particularly struck me is its vivid three-dimensional effect, which is hard to fully appreciate unless the kete is seen in the flesh, so to speak. I also like the way the pattern can be seen as either a checkerboard of vertical squares or as a checkerboard of diagonal squares. It’s woven in blocks of one-under, one-over (takitahi), interspersed with blocks of strips woven in longer weaves. The tightly woven blocks keep the weaving very even and the old kete still has a good shape. If you’d like to try it out, it’s pattern #76 in Mick Pendergrast’s book, Raranga Whaikaro.

Weaving workshops can be learning experiences for everyone involved, including the tutor and it’s always good to pick up new weaving tips and see what people have made. This workshop included Māori language (te reo) and songs (waiata) as well as weaving, which is why I’ve included some Māori words in this blog post.

Marama, an experienced weaver, brought along some of the kete whakairo she has woven recently, as well as a baby carrier (wahakura). She mentioned that there were a couple of things she would do differently next time she wove a wahakura. Firstly, this carrier wasn’t quite wide enough for a baby, so to make it wider she would add more strips into each starting plait. The other tip she gave is to use a really strong flax for the wahakura as ordinary flax isn’t strong enough to give structure to the sides and hold them upright. Instructions on how to weave a wakakura are online in a PDF file and for more weaving tips check out Rita Baker’s YouTube video.

A striking and well-made sculptural piece brought along by Helen was the result of weaving a corner in a different way. Helen had started to weave a kete but instead of crossing two strips to start the corner, she took them out to each side. This inspired her to weave the bird instead and the outwards turn became the start of wings. Using a combination of her sculptural and weaving skills, Helen ended up with this magnificent bird (kāhu). It wasn’t what she started out to weave but it turned out to be a unique piece of weaving.

One of the projects that the weavers are working on for the marae is a mat (whāriki) with flat joins. The flat joins are important as the mat will form the ceremonial base on which to rest a coffin at a tangi. The usual method of joining weaving using a plait wasn’t suitable as it is too bulky. The method they were using to make the flat join is the one shown on page 151 in Peter Buck’s book The coming of the Māori, where the new and old strips are worked together as one and then the old strips are turned back and woven back down to lock them into place.

Several weavers decided to make ketes using the whitebait (Koeaea) pattern which requires a plaited base to set the pattern (whakapapa). As I watched one of the weavers, Helen, preparing her strips, I noticed she used an extra step to prepare the fibre (muka) ends that I hadn’t encountered before. She made a cut half way through the thickness of the leaf where the fibre end would usually start in the traditional method of preparing fibre ends. She then folded the shiny side of the strip down, at the cut, onto the shiny side of the leaf, held the strip very tightly at this point and pulled the strip down sharply as usual. The cut helped to release the muka from the outer green of the leaf although some fibre ends may still need some scraping to remove any excess green outer leaf that remains.

During the weekend, people wove flowers (putiputi) using my book as a guide, large containers (waikawa), small baskets (kono), including those with flaps, baskets with plaited tops, a three-cornered basket, wristbands, balls and rope. The young boys (tamariki tāne) learned to plait for the first time and made a plaited rope (whiri kawe) with shredded flax. At the other end of the scale, Peter, an experienced stone carver, was making a fine rounded four plait rope (tōpuku) to use for carrying fine stone vessels.

I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend with the people of Waikawa marae. Their hospitality was welcoming and their enthusiasm for weaving was exciting. It was a large group with weavers of varying abilities which brought a vitality to the group and a buzz of conversation as people helped each other. Waikawa marae plans to have another raranga wananga in 2013 and to continue with regular weaving sessions.

8 Responses to “Flax weaving on a marae”

  1. Karen Starkey Says:

    I went to the weaving hui to make and weave putiputi “lily and lotus flowers” and came away from hui having made and able to remember how to make those two articles.
    What was also important was the whakawhanungatanga from participants to each other with a common interest. To see everyone working away was great.
    Thank you again to you Ali we would like you to visit us here as well.

    na Karen

  2. Ali Says:

    Hi Karen
    I’m glad you enjoyed the raranga wananga at Waikawa marae. I’d welcome the chance to tutor in Maungamanu. If you can get a group together, let me know. This year’s out for me but next year would be fine.

  3. Wendy Says:

    Hi Ali
    The weekend sounds great. Just pointing out that wahakura are designed as a safe sleeping environment for babies (usually in mum and dads bed) not a carrying basket (hence the lack of handles) Lots of info out there on them.
    Cheers, Wendy

  4. Ali Says:

    Hi Wendy

    Thanks for pointing this detail out. Yes the wahakura is a bassinet, not a carrier. Dr David Tipene-Leach has a good description of the wahakura project in the PDF file I linked to.

  5. Rita Baker Says:

    Hi Ali,

    thanks for including the link to the Wahakura tutorial!

    Also - the way Helen got her muka ends for her whiri Kete is the way I learnt to do it as well - it works particularly well if the Harakeke has not much muka for “ripping” - either or works for me.

    Lastly - for anyone in the upper North Island - there is a big weaving wananga coming up in January in Raglan - that is organised by Nga Hua O Te Rito - normally this “big one” would be in Kawhia but they are renovating the Wharenui there. Details to follow soon or through me.

  6. Bunna Rakete Says:

    A wahine roopu has been establish on our Marae to overseer and make Tuku panels and Whariki for our Wharenui
    We have no idea where to begin or direction as to where we seek funding. I hope that contact with your foundation will be able to help us. We are a Kingitanga Marae in Waikato.
    Teena kOe

    Bunna Rakete
    Kaiwhakahaere

  7. Judy Te.Hiwi Says:

    Tena koe Bunna

    Would love to be involved in your raranga roopu.Can you email me details or requirements to participate

    Na

    Judy

  8. Ali Says:

    Tena koe Bunna

    Have you tried CreativeNZ for funding?

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