Simple designs for dyed flax

14 July 2007

dyed-weavingThe format of my two-day workshops has been evolving as I’ve learned more about what first-time weavers are ready to learn on the second day of a two-day workshop. I tutored a two-day workshop at the Christchurch Arts Centre last weekend and, for the first time, I included a session on dyeing flax. Naturally enough, people want to be able to weave with the flax once they have dyed it, and they’re often keen to try out traditional dyed weaving that is geometrically patterned. Unfortunately this requires a construction technique that is perhaps a little too complex to tackle for people who are just beginning to weave — and so to answer the question of “What can I do with the flax now that I’ve dyed it?”, I showed them how the different colours could be mixed simply and semi-randomly in their weaving for interesting effects.

weaving the dyed flaxThis worked out well. One person added some undyed strips to mostly black strips for a striking stripe feature in a simple kete. Another, using one colour for the warp strips and a second colour for the weft strips, wove a four-cornered container. Because of the four corners, this placing of colour produces broad blocks of the same colour as the corners are woven and then a combination of a checkerboard and broad blocks of colour as the sides are woven. In the two-cornered kete, this placing of separate colours in the warp and weft produces a complete checkerboard pattern.

dyeing the stripsTeri dyes were used for the dyeing and the softened flax strips were dyed while they were still fresh and green — although the colour of the dyed flax will be more true to the original colour when using this particular dye if the flax is boiled first. Flax can be also dyed after it has already been woven but the weaving will shrink slightly as it dries so this can result in areas where the full dye colour hasn’t reached the flax at the cross-over of the strips — not such a good look and a method I don’t use for this reason.

Experimenting with different amounts of dye and mixing dye colours can produce great results! For example, the blue dye pot had a smaller dye-to-water ratio than the manufacturer’s recommendation and resulted in the flax dyeing to a stunning teal colour that reminded one participant of the colours of paua.

Patterns for the traditional Maori colour-patterned baskets, or kete whakairo, can be found in Raranga Whakairo, a book by Mick Pendergrast reviewed on the Reviews page.

19 Responses to “Simple designs for dyed flax”

  1. Rita Says:

    Hi Ali

    Can you please put my name on the database for your book. I look forward to seeing it.

    Thanks

    Rita

  2. Ngaire Jantzen Says:

    Kia Ora Ali
    Can you please add my name to the database for your book too. I so enjoy coming back to your website from time to time and am looking forward to your book once you have finished it. I love working with flax and have been lucky enough to have had my mother teach me several traditional Maori weaving techniques including making a korowai, but I just love the flax flowers and want to teach my mokopuna how to make them. Your instructions are beautifully displayed and so easy to follow.
    I live in Australia and don’t have access to flax so I will have to find a substitute of sorts maybe? Do you have any suggestions?
    Best wishes with the completion of your book and thankyou for sharing all your information with everyone.. bless you!
    Ka Kite
    Ngaire

  3. Ngarini Phillips Says:

    you have awesum information on harakeke I look forward to recieving your book Cheers Nga

  4. Ali Says:

    Kia ora Ngaire and Ngarini

    I’ve added your names to the databse for the book.

    Ngaire: Thanks very much for the feedback on my weaving instructions. It’s good to know that you have found them to be easy to follow.

    I apologise that I haven’t answered your query about flax in Australia sooner but things are a bit busy here at present.

    Here are some ideas:
    I use the coloured ornamental flaxes that people grow in their gardens for flowers and smaller items which don’t need to have strength. You may find these in your neighbours’ gardens.

    Often Botanical Gardens have flax growing in them too so it may be that your local one does and you can get permission to cut it there.

    I have supplied a local florist with flax too so you may find your local florist knows where to obtain it.

    Another idea given to me by another weaver is to contact your nearest New Zealand embassy and ask them about any Māori cultural groups that may be in your area who may have a flax source.

    Have you tried any other plants? Any plant with strong, fibrous leaves should be suitable.

    Let me know how you get on with your search.

  5. Nicc Says:

    Gday Ali,

    Im in Oz and just found your site, is it possible to get your book out here?

    cheers Nicc

  6. Ali Says:

    Hi Nicc

    Yes it will be possible to buy the book if you live in a country other than New Zealand. I’m currently sorting out which method of payment is best for people paying from overseas. I’ll let you know when the book is available.

  7. Leslie Lockwood Says:

    Hi Ali,

    Hope Ngaire reads this. I too live in Australia and have been “playing” with flax this weekend. I “inherited” a flax plant when I bought my house. There are many growing in Australian gardens and their owners often want them cut back. Plants are also readily available in garden centres.

    Leslie

  8. Ali Says:

    Hi Leslie

    Thanks very much for letting us know about your flax. It’s good to hear that you have ready access to flax and that garden centres do sell it.

  9. Ngaire Jantzen Says:

    Hi Ali.. thanks so much for your reply. I shall look into your suggestions. I have a sister living in New Castle and she has successfully grown 2 flax bushes, so I am hoping to get a cutting or two from her. Also thanks Leslie for your suggestions too.. much appreciated. I am so excited about your book, thanks again Ali.
    Ngaire

  10. Rex Perenara Says:

    Hi…you can advise your clients that Astelia is another good substitute for traditional flax when it comes to making flowers. I would love to attend a class on dyeing flax. When do you have a class that I could attend in the very near future….kia ora

  11. Ali Says:

    Hi Rex

    Thanks for your tip about using Astelia. I’ve got some in my garden so will try it.

    My next workshop is on 25th April at Avebury House in Christchurch and we’ll do dyeing at that workshop. Maybe I’ll see you there?

  12. Taite Says:

    Hi Ali
    My friend Lucy has been trying to teach me (off and on) the art of weaving for some years and I have finally got it, I am so excited by the experience and I know that there is so..ooo much to learn. But what it has taught me is patience, humility and respect… I am going over to Brisbane- Australia to visit my children and mokopunas thank you Ngaire I had the same query as to what resources were available for weaving. I would like to make my mokopuna/s a potae each.

    I would also love a copy of your book Ali.

    Kia ora
    Taite

  13. Ali Says:

    Kia ora Taite

    I hope you manage to find some flax to weave with in Australia. You could take some with you, of course! :-) Check out my blog post on taking flaxworks overseas.

    I have all the information about buying my book on the Book page on my web site and I look forward to your order.

  14. mary parker Says:

    HI Ali,

    just wondering, what do you think of a wringer washing machine top - old style for softening flax instead of scraping. MY rsi is quite aggravated by this part of weaving and someone suggested this?

    Many thanks, Mary
    ps have been making flax flowers from your beautiful book, thank YOU

  15. Ali Says:

    Hi Mary
    I haven’t used a wringer to scrape flax with but I have tried squeezing it through the flat rollers of a pasta machine. It doesn’t soften the flax as well as scraping with a knife or shell does but it may be OK if you use the flax straight away. I found that the flattened flax dries and rolls up more quickly than the scraped flax. The other way you can soften the flax is by pulling it backwards and forwards across the edge of a table. I hope this helps and do let me know how you get on.

  16. Rose Says:

    Hi Ali

    I love your book & am really getting into the Art of Harakete would love to know more about the dyeing of the flax & what dyes are best to use
    Kind regards Rose

  17. Ali Says:

    Hi Rose

    Glad you like the book. Check out the Dyeing Flax page on this web site for information about dyes and stockists.

  18. lee kaata Says:

    hello

    im am trying so hard to find the answer to this question. what do you use to get the webbing pattern in flax? i love it and really want to give it a go…..

    thankyou
    Lee

  19. Ali Says:

    Hi Lee

    Check out my blog post Weaving a Flax Fantail. I have written a section here about netted flax which should give you the information you require.

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