Flax weaving for gifts

25 June 2015

In Māori tradition, the first piece of flax weaving a beginner completes is given away and the giving of flax gifts extends this tradition. Weaving flax gifts can be both satisfying and fun and makes for both economical and very acceptable gifts. There are all sorts gifts that can be made with flax and this includes gifts for pets as well as people. A round basket, made using the technique of weaving a large container, which is explained and illustrated in my book Weaving a Large Container from New Zealand Flax , is the ideal place for a kitten to curl up in. After it was lined with old woollen socks and the top rolled down to give it a soft edge, the kitten took to this basket immediately, claiming it for his own.

Flaxworks can also be used instead of wrapping paper as the container for a gift. When two of my long-standing work colleagues resigned, bone carvings from master carver John Fraser were commissioned for their leaving presents. I wove a little basket with a shaped waist and a handle to hold one bone-carving and a pocket basket with a flap for the other one. Another colleague wove little flowers to tie on the baskets.

Flaxwork gifts are regularly used to represent the relationship between two organisations or groups of people. The agency where I work has a close working relationship with a Māori social service agency and to represent the two baskets of knowledge which each organisation brings to the partnership, I wove two little ketes and joined them together. These were gifted to the other organisation, the staff and clients acknowledged the representation and were delighted to accept the gift. The ketes are held together with a flax strip looped around a small flax button.

Flax flower bouquets make a welcome thank-you gift for a guest speaker. These flowers are woven with variegated flax and dyed red. The whiter parts of the variegated flax dyed a different red from the greener parts, which give the flowers an interesting twist. These soft multi-coloured flax varieties aren’t usually used for weaving but their softness is fine for flowers and makes them easier to weave. Information about netted flax is on my page Weaving a flax fantail. When making the netted leaves, moisten the netted flax and pull each leaf out into an attractive shape and weight it down while it dries.

A paua-shell kete can be very acceptable as a gift, particularly for people from other countries. It gives the recipient a taste of the culture of New Zealand, and always seems to be well received. I’ve made paua kete in several different styles, including one with a long fringe illustrated here, and a more wrapped-around version shown in my blog post An Article in the Christchurch Star, which is more compact for taking overseas.

However the tradition of giving the first piece of weaving away originated, it reflects the fact that weaving flax is not just a personal accomplishment but relies on a whole body of knowledge, experience and tradition that has been passed down through many generations and is part of the culture of giving. This photo shows a flax flower symbolising the love between two people, in this case a father and daughter — and as it’s one of the last photos I have of my late father, it holds a special meaning for me.

Some other ideas for gift-wrapping are on my previous post Gift wrapping with flax and decorative ideas for Christmas are in the blog post Flax Weaving for Christmas. My book Weaving Flowers from New Zealand Flax is regularly gifted as a present for weavers. As it has now sold over 4,000 copies, there must be many flowers and bouquets being woven out there in weaving land!

Weaving a remembrance poppy

1 April 2015

flax poppyEach year in New Zealand, as ANZAC day draws near, red poppies, a world-wide symbol of remembrance for people who have lost their lives in war, start to appear. Poppies are usually made from paper or cloth, and lately knitted poppies have become popular. A few years ago I wove a poppy from flax for a friend and he told me recently that he continues to wear it every ANZAC Day. I have regularly been asked about weaving flax poppies, so here is how I made the one for him.

flax chrysanthemumI used dyed flax, one leaf of red and one leaf of black. The red leaf is woven into a Chrysanthemum, instructions for which are on pages 5-8 in my book Weaving Flowers from New Zealand Flax or on the Christchurch City Libraries’ website. Make a flat chrysanthemum by folding three to four rounds of petals. Cut off the pointed ends of the leaf at the centre once there are enough petals and keep the flower flat.

flax English RoseThe black leaf is woven into an small English Rose, instructions for which are on pages 27-31 in the same book. The stem of the rose is pushed through the centre of the chrysanthemum, tied around the chrysanthemum and the ends of both flowers cut off, taking care to ensure that they are not cut off so close to the flowers that they unravel. A brooch backing or safety pin is stuck to the back with tape so the poppy can be worn on clothing.

netted flax poppyA simple flax poppy can also be made with netted flax that has been dyed red. Cut a circle out of red netted flax and moisten the flax. Push it into a round container that is smaller in diameter than the round of flax is, so that it will curve the edges up to make the shape resemble poppy petals. Take the round of flax out of the container once it’s dry and attach a black button, preferably one with a shank, for the centre of the poppy. The button can be sewn onto the netted flax and a fastening attached onto the back.

white flax poppyIf you would like to weave a poppy without having to dye the flax, you could weave a white one with the leaf from a white hybrid flax, although greenish stripes may show where the back of the flax leaf is uppermost during the folding process. The central rose in the poppy illustrated here is made with brownish/black flax. The white poppy, which used to be seen by some as unpatriotic, and perhaps still is, conveys not only remembrance but also the hope for an end to all wars.

Camp Quality weaving workshop

23 February 2015

tutor and studentsIn January this year I tutored two flax weaving workshops at Camp Quality, which is a summer camp for children living with cancer. Weaving wristbands seemed like the ideal choice as these are acceptable to both boys and girls and they don’t take too long to weave. To prepare for the workshop, I gathered together a selection of flax strips dyed in different colours and some flax leaves.

pink and green wristbandI prepared the base for each wristband from the flax leaves and split the long length of the strip used to make the band into three even-width strips and the children chose the colour of their weaving strip. They wove the pattern by weaving the coloured weaver over and under the three strips all the way around which results in a checkerboard pattern as shown here.

flax wristbandSome children tried weaving more complicated patterns. One used two different coloured strips as the weavers, alternating them at each turn. A couple of others were keen to try the Step pattern illustrated on the wristband shown here. The pattern is made by the way each of the strips around the wristband are positioned before the weaving strip goes over the top of the band. If you’d like to try this pattern, instructions on how to weave it are here.

camper and companionAt camp each child has a twenty-four hour buddy who gives them one-on-one support and the wristbands turned out to be a popular choice for the buddies too, a couple of them returning to make a second one. Most people wove the first wristband for themselves and then went on to weave others for family and friends.

jaxonI’ve found from past workshops that weaving wristbands is a popular project and can be woven by children from about five years upwards. The younger ones may need assistance but do tend to get into the rhythm of weaving after a while. This workshop proved how suitable wristbands continue to be for a children’s weaving workshop, as well as being of interest to all ages.

handleThe same technique used to weave a pattern on wristbands can also be used to weave over the base of a handle for a basket. For example, the handle illustrated here has a flax butt base and the Step pattern is woven over that. This Step pattern is woven with the weaver weaving over three strips instead of five, as shown in the example of the wristband. It’s important to keep the tidying of the ends on the underside of the band neat and tidy as the underside of the handle is seen as much as the top side.