A full upgrade of my flax weaving website

21 October 2021

photo of logo and tagline for ali brown weavingIn the last few months I’ve spent time upgrading my flax weaving website. I wanted to do this for a couple of reasons. First, to make the site secure, and second, to make it more mobile friendly.

Having a secure site is becoming more and more important for website owners and is recommended especially for those who run a business through their website. (You can see that the site is now a secure site by the closed lock symbol at the start of the URL and by the ‘s’ at the end of ‘http’ in the URL.) Second, the new website is more mobile-friendly — in other words, it’s easier to read on cellphones.

While upgrading the site, I decided to upgrade most of the hundreds of images so that more of their detail can be seen. Also, some of the images next to the instructions for flax weaving projects have had arrows added so that the project steps are easier to follow. For example, I think you’ll find the instructions for Weaving a flax fantail are better with the arrows showing the way the strips have been moved in each step. A full index of flax weaving projects can be found through the navigation bar.

Some of the pages have a version in te reo Māori as well as English. Wi Pohatu has very generously been translating my webpages and these are available as a resource for people learning te reo Māori, the idea being that the images will help with understanding the text. I’ve found that I am starting to understand more of the translations the more I study te reo Māori myself.

All of the blog posts I’ve written since 2007, when I wrote my first post, are available on this upgraded website and all the comments I’ve received over the years on these blog posts are available through a link at the bottom of each post. I’ll continue to write blog posts as I find new and interesting topics to write about. Comments on these posts are always welcome and there is a place to do this underneath each post. It’s always interesting to hear from other weavers — your thoughts, comments, criticisms and ideas. If appropriate, add a photo as well to illustrate your comment.

Do have a look at the Book Reviews page which I’ve upgraded to include more books on flax weaving, weavers and exhibitions. I particularly like the older books with stories about weavers from earlier times, such as Te Ringa Rehe: The Legacy of Emily Schuster. Many of these books are out of print now but your local library will either have a copy or can get one for you to borrow. My own books are also listed on this page and are available through my online shop. The Shop now has links to larger images of both the front and back covers and the back-cover blurbs are readable.

While I’ve done the rewording and upgrading of images for this new site, the website itself — and the logo — was designed and developed by Chris Eilers.

Do leave a comment in the comment box below if you have any thoughts or suggestions — or see any broken links or mistakes.

“Fun and Functional Flax Weaving” book

7 December 2020

The book I’ve been writing, Fun and Functional Flax Weaving, is now available for sale through the online Shop page of my website. From delicate cords for jewellery to rugged hefty thick ropes used in outdoor art, from useful bottle carriers and decorative flask holders to toys for children and pets, window blinds and table runners, mobiles and fiery dragons, this book shows how basic weaving, knotting and plaiting techniques can be used for the creation of any number of useful items that have wide appeal.

Weavers of all levels will find something to spark their interest. Even though many projects can be achieved by those with little or no weaving experience, there are also projects which require previous weaving knowledge — for those who want to extend their weaving repertoire or who like a challenge.

Different techniques are used in each project and so it’s also suitable for a course book — as well as for individual weavers and groups. Buyers of my previous books have commented positively on their easy-to-follow, step-by-step illustrations beside the written instructions. You can see a link to these comments under each blog post I’ve written when I’ve published a book. More illustrations from the book are shown on the web page About the book Fun and Functional Flax Weaving. The samples in the book are woven with New Zealand flax but any natural or manufactured material that can be made into long thin strips can be used for most projects, including palm leaves, strapping, bark and paper.

If you buy the book, do post a comment below if you can see how it might be improved, or post a question if any of the instructions are not entirely clear. Also if you have any photos of your weaving based on projects from this book, I’d love to see them.

The book can be purchased directly from me, along with my other books, Weaving Flowers from New Zealand Flax, Weaving Baskets, Backpacks, Boxes and Other Projects and Weaving a Large Container from New Zealand Flax, either singly or in a set of 3 or 4 of the books, (which incidentally makes for savings on postage charges), from my online shop. I do hope that people find this book useful and even inspiring. Happy weaving!

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Even, diagonal weaving — or finding the ara

13 July 2020

Traditionally flax weaving is woven on the diagonal rather than vertically and horizontally, as in many other weaving traditional weaving styles and I’ve noticed that new flax weavers often struggle when they’re trying to get tidy, even diagonal weaving. One of the trickier things for a new weaver is how to work out if the weaving is all at the same level — or how to find the ara or path of the weaving. As weaving is completed row by row, as in knitting for example, working this out is a basic skill that’s essential to master if you want to progress in weaving. It’s also essential if the weaver wants to achieve a straight edge at the top of the weaving, as illustrated in the kete here. Steps on how to achieve even, diagonal weaving are illustrated here using red and white arrows — the red arrows show the current movement and the white arrows show previous movements — as well as steps to take if a particular strip is too low or too high.

Select two strips so that the one pointing to the right (the purple one) is under the one pointing to the left (the green one). Pull the strips up gently but firmly to firm up and tension the weaving.

Once the strips appear to be tensioned firmly, fold the purple strip that is pointing to the right back down to the left. This is the height that all the strips will be matched to.

Move on to the next set of two strips, one green and one purple and pull them up gently but firmly as before to tension them. (The white arrow shows the previous strip that was folded back.)

Lay the strip pointing to the right back down, following the red arrow, checking that it’s at the same height as the previous strip folded back. Carry on doing this all the way around the top of the basket.

If a strip folds down lower than the others, as the lower purple one has here, then it will need to be woven up to reach the same height as the others.

To weave it up to the right height, fold back the green strip from the right that is the second green strip above the strips that has folded down lower than the others.

Bring the purple strip that was folded back forward again, so that it’s pointing up to the right.

Bring the right-hand green strip over this purple strip so that it’s pointing up to the left. The two strips are now up to the same height of weaving as the rest of the weaving.

When the purple strip is folded back down over the green strip, it is now at the same height as the others.

If the strip folds down higher than the others, as this purple one has here, which is folded back over two green strips instead of one, then this bit of weaving will need to be undone and woven again.

Bring the purple strip forward again and then pull the green strip pointing to the left back down out of the way.

The purple strip can now be folded back down on the correct green strip and is at the same height as the other top purple strips. You can now carry on weaving, making sure you are weaving row by row around the item, and then moving up to start a new row. The weaving used in these diagrams is one over, one under weaving and is applicable only to this style.

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A second set of project instructions translated into te reo Māori

27 May 2020

Following on from the first page translated into te reo Māori on my website, Ko te raranga i te putiputi, I’m pleased to say that there is now a second page of online instructions in te reo Māori. These instructions are for weaving a curved plait, which is suitable to make a koru, spiral and jewellery. The instructions for the curved plait, or te whiri-wha kopiko, in te reo Māori, are here.

After writing about my hope to have my website translated into te reo Māori in the magazine of Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa, I was contacted by Wi Pohatu who offered to assist with the task. Wi (Ngai Tamanuhiri / Ngati Kahungunu ki Te Wairarapa) is a weaver, a member of Raranga Whatu ki Kahungunu (Napier) and Te Muriwai Weavers (Muriwai, Gisborne), and is presently Principal of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Ara Hou (Napier). I was delighted to receive his very generous offer and this page is the first of the ones he has translated.

Wi also suggested adding a glossary to the translated pages, which is a great idea and I’ve added the glossary he provided at the bottom of the page. I find it very helpful and even if I’m not at the stage with my own te reo Māori to be able to fully read the translated page, I enjoy learning more weaving words in te reo Māori. For those of you who are also learning te reo Māori, I do hope you find these on-line flax weaving instructions in te reo Māori a useful resource and I’d appreciate any suggestions or feedback.

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Weavers National Hui 2019

30 October 2019

The 2019 Weavers National Hui, held over four days at Labour weekend at Ngā Hau e Whā National marae in Ōtautahi/Christchurch was a terrific success in my view. Thanks go to the organising group including Ranui Ngarimu and Paula Rigby and the many obliging volunteers, who put together a weekend of weaving, knowledge sharing, forums and visits to sites of interest. The delicious food served up by Te Rūnanga o Ngā Maata Waka completed the enjoyable experience.

One of the highlights was the presentation of two groups studying Te Ra: The Māori sail, which is the only known Māori sail left in existence and is held by the British Museum. One group is studying the sail from a practical weaver’s approach, working out the weaving techniques used to weave Te Ra. With this knowledge they hope to recreate a traditional sail. At the hui, members of the group were weaving samples using very fine weaving strips. The techniques include open-weave sections that allow the wind through the sails. Follow their progress on Facebook. The other group, looking from a scientific perspective, used a polarised light microscope to compare tiny specimens taken from Te Ra to a set of identified reference materials. They confirmed that the material that Te Ra is made from is actually harakeke, Phormium tenax, that is, New Zealand Flax. Follow their progress here.

A large part of the hui was spent sharing basic and advanced weaving ideas and techniques. For example, a kuia showed Chiu, pictured above, how to weave a sun-visor hat, pōtae, and I showed a weaver from Tāmaki-makau-rau/Auckland how to make a neat even finish on the top edge of her first waikawa.

Several people commented on the koru pendant I designed a few years ago and was wearing, so I showed them how it’s made. One kuia was interested to weave this pendant as she was weaving items for tourists and thought the pendant was small and light and is easy to carry in luggage. If you’d like to make one yourself, check out my blog post Weaving jewellery where you’ll find instructions for that pendant and other pendants made using the curved four plait.

This year, the exhibition at National Hui celebrated the weaver and kete — a kete made by the attendee, or one brought, gifted or inherited. The stunning display of kete in this exhibition showcased the wide variety of designs, patterns and weaving techniques that encompass the weaving of the past and present. I don’t have permission to use images of the ketes in the exhibition, apart from this one which is the first kete whakairo, or patterned kete, I wove many years ago. The pattern is Koeaea and represents whitebait swimming.

The National Weavers Hui is held every two years and it’s well worth going to. The next one in 2021 will be held in Ōtaki and I look forward to meeting up with old and new weaving friends there.

My thanks to the ©Trustees of the British Museum for permission to use the image of Te Ra on this post.

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Translating this site into Te Reo Māori

14 September 2019

I’m pleased to say that my online instructions for Weaving a Flower from New Zealand flax are now available on this website in te reo Māori as Ko te raranga i te putiputi. For several years I’ve been wanting to translate, firstly, the instructions pages and then the whole website into te reo Māori, but it hasn’t been an easy thing to get going.

My feeling is that following the step-by-step illustrations for weaving projects, while reading the instructions in te reo Māori, is a fun and useful way of learning te reo Māori. I’ve certainly found it’s working for me and, as an older student of te reo Māori at 66 years of age, I need all the help I can get!

I’ve learned quite a lot of Māori words through my work with flax weaving over the years and found that the combination of my love of weaving with my learning of te reo Māori gives a synergy to my ability to learn. I’m glad to say that I can now string some sentences together that relate to weaving. For example, “E hia nga whenu?” when I want to know the number of strips for weaving a certain piece, or “He aha te tae o te waitae?” when I want to know the colour of a dye. By the way, I didn’t record the name of the dye I used in this kete whakairo, which I do these days as it’s a very useful source of information.

The main problem with getting my website pages translated is the shortage of Kaiako Te Reo Māori, (Māori language teachers), and the people I’ve approached over the past few years, although willing to assist, just didn’t have the time to dedicate to translating even one page. And as my te reo Māori journey is just beginning, I’m not anywhere near the stage of being able to translate the pages myself.

Luckily, Harata Simmonds, Kaiako Te Reo Māori, agreed to translate this first page. I’d like to continue the translating project and wonder if there are any people who’d like to take part. This isn’t a paid position as I fund the website myself through my flax weaving workshops (although the majority of the profits go to charity), but you would be acknowledged on the page that you have contributed to, along with koha.

It was raranga that brought me to the desire for learning te reo Māori, and I would like to acknowledge the welcome and acceptance to the weaving group that I received from Lesley Gray at Te Āwhina marae when I moved to Ngatimoti last year, which gave me the inspiration to learn te reo Māori.

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Weaving an open-weave basket

29 March 2019

At my last flax weaving workshop, in addition to showing people how to weave small baskets and large containers, I invited more experienced weavers to learn how to weave an open-weave basket — kupenga kete — and four people took up the offer. I’d woven my kupenga kete a few years ago and the questions Beryl, Kath, Gill and Oz asked while weaving their baskets reminded me of the things that need to be worked out as the basket is woven and I thought I’d share this information. When gathering flax for this basket, choose firm flax as the strips need to be quite firm to retain the shape of the open weave in the basket. The basket I’m using to illustrate this post is woven with 64 strips that are 0.5 cm wide, with fine fibre, or muka ends. The number of strips required needs to be divisable by 8.

The basket is started by adding two sets of two strips each side, each time i.e. 8 strips altogether, into the plait at set intervals in order to create the diamond pattern. It makes a difference how fat the plait is as to how often the strips are added in. If the fibre ends have been scraped down to fine fibre, which makes a finer plait, then more plaiting is required between each set of strips. If the fibre ends still retain some of the green fleshy part of the flax, then the plait may be quite fat, and the sets of strips will need to be added more frequently. This illustration shows six rows of plaiting between each addition of strips. (As the illustration is from a completed dried basket it is showing already-woven strips rather than green strips, as yours will be, when you add them to the plait.)

To check if the length of plait in between each set of strips is right, hold up two strips from each set together at the top to show the shape of the diamond. If the strips are too far apart, the diamond will be too big, so reduce the number of plaits between each set of strips addition.

Once all of the strips are added in and the plait is tied off, then weave the sets of strips on one side to start the pattern. The strips from each set of four are firstly woven together by weaving the right strip over the left strip in both sets of two. Then weave the second strip over the third strip which sets them in the right place for the pattern. Peg in place and repeat for all the sets of strips on one side. The two strips left at each end are used to weave the corners.

Cross the two strips (I always cross the strips in the same direction as it helps to keep the pattern looking well-made and attractive), and then take the left set of crossed strips from the first set on the left and the right set of crossed strips from the adjacent set and weave the two sets of strips through each other in under/over — taki tahi — weave. Go to the next four strips and repeat this across to the end of the plait on this side. Look at the half diamonds that have been created along this first row and make sure they are basically the same size and shape. If they aren’t adjust the tension to make them as similar as possible.

Repeat this crossing of two strips and then weaving four strips together across the side two more times and there will now be full diamond shapes created with the weaving. Peg in place and repeat on the other side. Fold both sides up together and then weave the corner together with the two strips left at the end of each side. Before weaving any higher, secure the ends of the plait inside the kete with a tie so that they lie flat and neatly along the inside of the plait.

Once the sides are completed to the height you want, finish with the four weave crossing and peg the strips in place. Comb the ends out into fibre and plait these together for the top edge. To do this, I use a set of three narrow flax strips tied together to start the plait and then bring each bunch of fibres from the end of each strip into the plait as in French plaiting. See pages 78-82 in my book Weaving Baskets, Backpacks, Boxes and Other Projects for instructions on working this technique. Doing this plait quite tightly around the top can create a stunning sculptural piece.

There are different ways to finish the plait. For example, the end of the plait can be threaded through to the inside of the rim and tied in place or the plait can be lengthened to make a decorative finish. The ends can be left on or cut off as in Gill’s kete illustrated here. It was good to see others weaving this basket as it highlighted the things to think about and observe in the weaving. I hope you find this useful when you weave your own kupenga kete, and do send me photos of your finished weaving. I’d love to see them and share them here.

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Weaving a sun visor hat

25 October 2018

When I notify buyers of my books that their order has been sent, I ask them how they found out about the books. There are many answers to this question — people have heard about them through friends, weaving groups, schools or university courses and often, especially overseas buyers, people discover the books through internet searching. A number of people have also found them in their local library, take them out multiple times, and decide they must buy them!

I recently sent my book Weaving Flowers from New Zealand Flax, to Deborah Tuzon in Hawaii. She wrote, “I am a lauhala weaver who has not been able to weave for almost 8 years due to osteoarthritis in both my thumb joints. Surgery was done in both so now I am starting again. I used to make a flower that looks like an anthurium and I had lost my example. So I was looking online at different websites and I saw a flax flower on Pinterest that reminded me of it. It led me to your site. I have been making flowers for my crownless hats.” The flower Deborah has woven for her hats, which are illustrated in the stack of hats in the first photo on this page, is the flower I call an Arum Lily on pages 56 – 63 in my Flowers book.

Hats, or pōtae, are fun to weave and this style is a good one for beginners to start with. To weave a crownless sun visor-style hat similar to Deborah’s lauhala one and like the one pictured here, you can use instructions from my book “Weaving Baskets, Backpacks, Boxes and Other Projects”, which, although they are instructions for weaving baskets, can be used for this style of hat too. Start by working out the size you want the crown of the hat to be. This is the measurement around the widest part of the head where the hat will sit. Use the instructions for weaving a cylinder on page 119 of the Basket book and add enough strips to the cylinder to make the size for your hat. For a size of 56 cm circumference, I used 68 strips of just over 1 cm wide (which dried to 1 cm wide) for the cylinder. Once the cylinder, or crown of the hat, is woven and joined, finish off one edge.

Now add in extra strips for the brim at the other edge of the cylinder. For this hat I split the strips to make a finer weave for the brim. I wove one row and then added 23 cm strips of the thinner .5 cm width, making 46 strips added altogether (the added strips are doubled over to use both ends). See pages 101 – 103 of the Basket book for instructions on how to add strips in. Weave a few rows for the brim — I wove a wider brim but it can be narrower than this — and then finish the edge of the brim off. The crown of this hat is a bit high and I suggest weaving 3 or 4 rows for the crown rather than the 5 rows that I wove.

If you weave a hat like this, do send me some photos that I can add to this post. Everyone weaves differently and it’s great to share ideas.

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Weaving jewellery

30 May 2018

Crafting personal jewellery from natural objects is a universal and ancient pastime so it’s not surprising that people who work with New Zealand flax, harakeke, make jewellery as well as baskets, hats and other larger items. A variety of interesting jewellery pieces can be fashioned simply by plaiting four strips of flax into either an enclosed, rounded plait or an open curved plait and then shaping the plait into a necklet, earring, brooch or bracelet. For example, the pendant illustrated on the left shows the rounded plait being used to make a necklet and the curved plait being used to make a pendant shape to hang from the necklet.

The curved version of this four-plait works well to make various shapes of pendants, like the two heart-shaped pendants illustrated here. The pendants are made by curling the plaited flax into a koru shape — a spiral shape based on the appearance of a new unfurling silver fern frond — at one end and then curling it up in the reverse direction the other end, leaving a single piece of plait in between them. The point of the heart is shaped by pinching together the single strip of flour-plait between the two koru shapes while the flax is still soft and shaping it into a curved point.

The heart shape is held together with a small stitch with thread in the centre. A waxed linen thread is added for hanging. The green pendant’s shape is a classic heart shape but I rather like the offset shape of the naturally-coloured pendant which is made by joining the two koru shapes so they are slightly offset from each other.

Illustrated on the left is a variation I made of the koru pendant. This design has a small koru in the centre which is encircled with a larger single row of curved four-plait. To complete the pendant, the ends are threaded through into the plaiting of the outside plait, by threading each end twice through into the plait pattern. This secures the outer encircling plait. A waxed linen thread with a loop at one end and a paua shell button at the other end is used for hanging the pendant.

I also made a smaller version into earrings. To allow the earring to hang freely and on an angle which shows the pattern fully, the koru circlet needs a jump ring, or extra ring, between the circlet and the earring hook. Unfortunately I only made one of these earrings so have never worn this one as an earring, although I do wear the pendant regularly and have received favourable comments on it. (I must make that second earring sometime!)

I’ve played around with a few different ideas for making jewellery with a four-plait, including enclosing a small shell or stone in the centre of the koru. The curved four-plait makes a nicely rounded bracelet, or a ring. A smaller version of the bracelet could be used for napkin rings, or with a few more layers, a toggle to hold a scarf if the hole in the centre is a bit larger than the one illustrated here. I like long tails on the koru but haven’t yet found any practical jewellery use for this style, although I can see it being used in other ways. Do you have any more ideas for koru jewellery? Or other sorts of woven jewellery? I’d love to see them.

I’ve written instructions on how to make the curved four-plait here and there are instructions for the rounded four-plait cord on this blog post.

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Earning an income from your craft

25 March 2018

I recently updated the Links page on this website and added another section for links to on-line instructions and courses. Exploring these confirmed an impression I’d gained through the contacts on my Facebook weaving page — these days more and more people are earning an income, or part of their income, from their weaving. In fact, many people who love a particular art/craft, not necessarily weaving, manage to earn a living from it — by making art/craftworks and selling them, and/or by teaching the art/craft (privately or in a tertiary training organisation), and/or by writing articles or books about it, and/or by wholesaling/importing materials with which to pursue the art/craft.

It’s not always easy to earn a full living as an artist or craftsperson, and having a detailed documentary record of your work, including your experience and specific skills, will invariably stand you in good stead when offering your services as a tutor, writer, or seller of craftworks. It’s also necessary when applying for funding to be able to show your art/craft history and experience. One way to do this is to have a separate CV for your art/craft work, apart from the CV you use to find employment. For example, Mary Butcher, a basket weaver in the UK, has her craft CV on her website. Many artists/craftspeople also have portfolios of their work, but a CV differs from a portfolio insofar as it documents all your experience in the art/craft world.

Back in the early 2000s, I wanted to teach weaving in a local polytech and had a craft CV prepared to help me get a job there. Having worked in the employment industry, I knew it was important to choose a CV writer who understands that making a living from your art or craft is a viable career option and doesn’t take the view that you should aim for a ‘real job’. I chose Chris Eilers, a CV/career consultant who had previously prepared a work CV for me, and who understands earning a living from craft work because he’d been a manufacturer of handcrafted leather goods and wooden toys. As it turned out, I didn’t use the CV we prepared. Instead of approaching the polytech for a teaching job, after working with Chris on my CV, I gained enough confidence to start holding private workshops, which I eventually advertised online, and which continue to this day.

Apart from documenting your work for income-earning purposes, it can be a rewarding and informative exercise to revisit your own work over the years, and my children have also been interested to learn about my craft history. (The photos illustrate one of my early craft projects — a baby gown I made in the 1980s when my children were born, along with a close up of the bobbin lacework I wove for it.) Whenever you work on a CV, you are exploring your own craft whakapapa, or craft history, which gives you a sense of where you picked up your various skills and how they may be influencing the work you do now. Also, the knowledge and recognition of your own experience and abilities can instill a greater confidence in the approach you take to earning an income as a craftsperson, and the documentation of your work gives you a factual and authentic base to work from.

When I hold workshops, people regularly ask me where I learnt flax weaving, or how I got into it. Although I can pinpoint when I first wove with flax to the late 1990s, and still have the first little kete I wove, (I didn’t know at the time that traditionally your first piece of weaving is given away), after remembering all the various types of craft work I have done over the years, I realise there is a much longer history that has influenced, and continues to influence, my work.

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