Taking flaxworks overseas

28 September 2007

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

flax bagPeople regularly ask me if it’s possible to take flaxworks into other countries and the short answer is ‘yes’, although I recommend that flaxworks are declared as you go through customs.

Countries such as Australia, the USA and Canada have strict conditions about the importation of certain types of plant materials as they may carry pests and diseases which could cause huge damage to their agricultural or horticultural industries. Countries in older parts of the world like Europe, Scandinavia and Asia are not so particular but if in doubt, do declare the flaxworks.

As Australia is one of the countries people often want to take flaxworks to, I contacted AQIS, Australia’s plant quarantine unit to clarify the situation. I asked them these questions:

Can you tell me please what I need to do to either bring or send these items into Australia: 1/ items made from NZ flax (phormium tenax) where the flax has been scraped and woven and they are now dried. 2/ Green NZ flax leaves that have been cut off the plant with no other preparation.

This is the reply I received. (The flax fibre in the second link refers to both Phormium Tenax and the European linen flax Linum Usitatissimum):

Thank you for your email regarding the importation of dried and green NZ flax into Australia. Both the dried articles and the green leaves of NZ Flax are permitted entry into Australia without an import permit. You will need to declare these items on arrival so a Quarantine Officer can inspect them to confirm freedom of live insects, snails, soil, weed seeds and disease symptoms.

You will need to provide some sort of documentary evidence to confirm the identification of the plant material as Phormium tenax – NZ Flax. If these are not commercial items you could package the items and hand label them yourself.

Please refer to the following 2 cases on our Import Conditions Database for reference:
Phormium spp. - New Zealand flax leaves only for cut flowers, fresh
Flax fibre

Import conditions database: www.aqis.gov.au/icon
Import permit application: www.aqis.gov.au/importapp

The USA also has strict laws. The USA customs website states that:

Every single plant or plant product including handicraft items made with straw, must be declared to the CBP officer and must be presented for CBP inspection, no matter how free of pests it appears to be.

Again, it is important to declare the items. I have anecdotal evidence from people who’ve declared flaxworks through the USA customs that they’ve not had any problems.

I’d be interested to hear of your experiences of taking flaxworks into other countries.

29 Responses to “Taking flaxworks overseas”

  1. Diana Anderson Says:

    Kia ora Ali

    What a great site you have, one well worth recommending to others.

    I would like to recommend a book to your extensive list. By Paul Moon (2005), “A Tohunga’s Natural World. Plants, gardening and food. There is some very interesting information on harakeke, weaving and also medicine.

    I will try and phone you to discuss the above book within the next couple of weeks.


  2. Ali Says:

    Kia ora Diana

    Thanks for your comments and for recommending the book. I have now borrowed the book from the library and will add it to the Books page. I look forward to your call.

  3. Jasmin Teale Says:

    hi my name is jasmin i found ur site and i love would love more info on all things thanks

  4. Jasmin Teale Says:

    I all so would like if pos 2 read or see more on history of the kete eg were did the 4 corner came from thank u jasmin

  5. Ali Says:

    Hi Jasmine
    I’m glad the site’s interesting for you. I usually write a blog post about once a month so keep an eye on that for more things you may find interesting.

    Weaving is an ancient craft and I think the four-cornered kete would have developed centuries ago and at the same time as the two-cornered one.

  6. Virginia Says:

    Last year (2010) I learned mahi whatu muka, the kind of weaving for korowai. When I couldn’t get a definitive answer about whether my panel would pass customs, I left it behind but took along some weaving strands and asked the U.S. customs officer in LA airport about it. As Ali has written, the flax would have been no problem, however, the feathers with which I had decorated the panel would have been. If they find that the feathers come from avian flu infected birds, the whole item would be confiscated.

  7. Ali Says:

    Thanks for your comments Virginia. Your mention of taking feathers through customs reminded me of an interesting snippet I heard from Ranui Ngarimu when she talked about taking feather cloaks overseas. If the feathers are from native birds, then every feather has to be counted before the article is taken overseas, and then every feather is counted again when it arrives back in the country to ensure all feathers are accounted for.

  8. Haana Stewart Says:

    I live in Australia and have my wedding flowers made by flax. I was wanting to know if I can take them home, to New Zealand. Do I need to get radiation treatment on them. I don’t want to leave them here

  9. Ali Says:

    Hi Haana

    From my experience, as long as the flax is dry, then it is OK to bring into NZ. I have taken dried flax pieces out of NZ and brought them back in with no problems.

    If your flowers are dyed then they will have been boiled and dried and that is even better. If they aren’t dyed, then I imagine they are quite dry now and the flax will have been scraped before the flowers were made.

    Customs will probabaly have a good look at them but as long as you tell them they are boiled and dried or scraped and dried it should be fine.

  10. Klista Says:

    Kia ora Ali,

    My query is, would you know of any classes on flax weaving or similar, here in Brisbane Australia? I am so keen to learn this art preferably with flax but will make do with similar available materials.
    Any advice would be much appreciated :D

  11. Ali Says:

    Hi Klista

    Sorry I don’t have any information on flax classes in Brisbane. It might be worth contacting the local New Zealand embassy to see if they have any information. Maybe other weavers in Brisbane can contact you through this website.

  12. Roxy Says:

    This info has been very helpful thanks, I’m now ready to take two colorful kete over to Melbourne as thank you gifts to my friends who have gifted me the flights! But, I’m now worried about attached the shell and drift wood catchers/buttons I have made…has there ever been issue with bringing these attachments into Australia on kete?? Thanks!

  13. Ali Says:

    Hi Roxy

    I’m not sure about taking shells and driftwood into Australia. I suggest you make sure they are very clean and dry and declare them as you go through customs. Other than that I can’t advise you but I would be interested to know how you get on.

  14. Shona Says:

    Kia ORA I’m very interested in doing harakeke classes.can you help me please as I live in Brisbane and is trying to find someone to teach me.

  15. Mikayla Says:

    is it possible to send flax to U.S.A?

  16. Ali Says:

    Hi Mikayla

    I think so as I know that people take flaxworks through the borders. It would be best to declare it and make sure the flax is clean and dry.

  17. Natasha Says:

    Hi Ali,

    I live in Australia and I would like to teach myself how to do crete some backpack ketes for gifts.
    Is there alternative flax that I can use here in Oz?

  18. Ali Says:

    Hi Natasha
    You may be able to get flax at your local Botanic Gardens as they often have flax plants in them. Alternatively, you could use Pandanus or palm leaves. Hope this is useful.

  19. Eric Says:

    Kia ora Ali,

    My partner (who is Maori), our son and I moved to France where I come from. She loves weaving but I struggle to get her harakeke. Unfortunately here it doesn’t grow in the wild. I find some in peoples garden or on round about etc… It is not easy to get enough as we need people to allow us to cut them off. So I wonder if there is a way to maybe buy green leave from NZ and to get them shipped over?
    Your help would be much appreciated.
    Thank you.

  20. yvonne Says:

    Hi Alli,

    I was planning to take a Korowai back to New Zealand from Australia for my daughters graduation. I suddenly thought about the feathers.. will I be able to take in and out of both countries . It is a family heirloom, it was made for my in laws a while back and left in the care of my son the oldest grandson of the male line. I would hate to have it taken from me at customs. Thank you

  21. Ali Says:

    Hi Yvonne
    That’s tricky one and I don’t know the answer. I would check very carefully with Customs in both countries if I were you. I think it could be quite tricky if the feathers are from a native NZ bird. I understand that if a Korowai made with kiwi feathers, for example, goes out of NZ, each feather is counted on the way out and on the way back in!

  22. Ngaire Ngamoki Says:

    Kia ora,

    I have a kakahu made out of feathers obtained from feather dusters made from my mother. I am going to LA in a few months time do the same rules apply to those feathers? I have looked on the customs website but there is no information? Help!!!

  23. Ali Says:

    Kia ora Ngaire
    I don’t know the answer to this. I suggest you go to the Submit a Question tab in the Ask an Expert area of the USA Customs website and ask them directly. I think it would be good to know where the feathers came from originally if you have that information and if they are dyed etc.Let me know how you get on.

  24. Rebekah Dangen Says:

    Do you know if you are allowed to send harekeke kete to the UK?

  25. Ali Says:

    Hello Rebekah, Yes I understand that you can. They don’t have the stringent biosecurity rules we have in NZ. I would label it clearly as dried Phormium tenax, and if you know that the flax has been boiled then say that as well. It will have been boiled if it is dyed, of course.

  26. Pania Boult Says:

    would it be safe when harakeke has been boiled then woven into kete/backpack and coloured to send to Australia? what will the process be for customs?

  27. Ali Says:

    Hello Pania. From my understanding it’s fine as long as you “declare these items on arrival so a Quarantine Officer can inspect them to confirm freedom of live insects, snails, soil, weed seeds and disease symptoms.
    You will need to provide some sort of documentary evidence to confirm the identification of the plant material as Phormium tenax – NZ Flax. If these are not commercial items you could package the items and hand label them yourself.” This information is from Australia’s plant quarantine section.

  28. Lyn craill Says:

    I would like to take some items mDe from woven, unboiled nz flax to australia with me when i return. Do you think this will be ok if i declare them on entry?

  29. Ali Says:

    Hi Lyn, from my understanding as long as they are dried and you declare them they should be OK. It would be better if they were boiled or even soaked in boiling water to be sure though.