Robyn Kahukiwa and weaving taniwha

photo of Robyn Kahukiwa exhibitionHaving long been an admirer of Robyn Kahukiwa’s work, it was serendipitous for me that the opening of her art exhibition Tangata Whenua at The Centre of Contemporary Art Toi Moroki CoCA in Ōtautahi Christchurch happened when I was visiting that city. Tangata Whenua is the first solo exhibition in Te Waipounamu in two decades for Robyn Kahukiwa who is of Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngāti Hau, Ngāti Konohi, Te Whānau-a-Ruataupare, and Te Whānau-a-Te Aotawarirangi descent.

photo of Robyn Kahukiwa exhibitionThe exhibition included this painting, He Wkakputanga, 2023 Soveriegn Series, an example of the strong themes of the artist’s work. CoCA writes, “She is one of Aotearoa’s foremost artists, and is acclaimed internationally and known for her strong political commentary. The works emphasise the strength and vitality of iwi Māori. As Kahukiwa notes: Māori are living proof of the continuum of whakapapa, the power of our achievements, and the survival of an intact, dynamic culture.”

photo of Robyn Kahukiwa book TaniwhaRobyn also writes and illustrates children’s books. I was first introduced to her art through her children’s book Taniwha and I have enjoyed her art since then. The book Taniwha became a firm favourite with my children in the 1980s and is still a favourite with children today. While I was designing and weaving flax taniwha samples for my latest book Fun and Functional Flax Weaving, the illustrations in Robyn’s book were hovering in the back of my mind, and I realised the influence this book had on my work.

photo of weavingphoto of weavingThe images and storyline in the book resonated with weaving taniwha from harakeke / flax and by simply substituting flax and garden for log and river in the text, the story could easily be referring to a flax taniwha. I asked for, and graciously received, permission from Robyn to use, in a slightly changed form, this text from her book, to complement the woven taniwha in my book.

Here’s the text as it is in Robyn’s book:
There’s a taniwha in my river, people say it’s a log, but I know it’s a taniwha.
She’s been in my river a long time. Before I was alive, and before my koro was alive, the taniwha was in my river.

photo of woven flax dragon
He taniwha kei roto i taku awa, Ki mai etahi tangata he rakau noa iho engari mohio au he taniwha.
Mai ra ano ia I roto I taku awa. No nga wa o nehe ra no tua whakarere noho ai te taniwha i roto i taku awa.

photo of woven flax dragon

And here’s the text changed to reflect taniwha woven with harakeke:
There’s a taniwha in my garden, people tell me it’s a flax leaf, but I know it’s a taniwha.
She’s been in my garden a long time, before I was alive and before my koro was alive, the taniwha was in my garden.

photo of weavingWhile the woven flax taniwha in my book have nowhere near the complexity of Robyn’s drawings, there is still a lingering reference to Robyn’s taniwha for me when I see them, and there is in my imagination a fantastical, three-dimensional, woven taniwha waiting to see the light of day. Whether it gets any further than being imagined, who knows. 🙂 The taniwha that I designed for my book range from the simple to more complex designs, with something for all levels and ages of weavers. For example the simple, orange-spotted taniwha sneaking though the grass to the pool pictured above by Robyn’s text is suitable for very young weavers, and the taniwha pictured here with orange wings has a more complicated construction.

I’m pleased I managed to see the exhibition, which runs until 14 January 2024. If you’re not able to see this exhibition, a search online for “Robyn Kahukiwa images” is another way to see the breadth and depth of the artist’s work. Robyn’s works can be acquired through Season gallery, Tamaki Makaurau, who represent Robyn. My book Fun and Functional Flax Weaving, can be purchased directly from me through my secure online shop.

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Meeting Te Rā — The Sail

photo of te ra sail on tableTe Rā, the only known surviving example of a traditional woven Māori sail still in existence is visiting Aotearoa New Zealand. As I and two other weavers from Te Āwhina roopu raranga (weaving group), Motueka, are about to embark on a project to weave a sail for a local waka (boat) business, we were keen to study this sail up close. We heard that the sail would be available to view at the Christchurch Art Gallery, so we quickly booked tickets to fly down to Ōtautahi Christchurch for a day visit. The sail, named Te Rā and personified as female by distinguished master weaver Ranui Ngarimu, has been in the British Museum for over 200 years, her provenance unknown.

At the art gallery we were taken into a private study and work area where the sail was laid out on a long set of tables. What struck me at first sight was the beauty and fineness of the weaving, the width of the weaving strips being between 0.3cm and 0.4cm, unusual for such a large piece of weaving. For a piece that is 4.4 metres long, 1.0 m across the base and 30 cm across the top, this is a lot of fine weaving. Stripes of an openwork pattern running the length of the sail enhance the plain over/under weaving, adding to its delicate appearance.

As we were able to see and handle both the front and the back of the weaving, we were able to study techniques that have either fallen out of use or were used specifically for the sail. For example, the edges are finished with a twice-folded hem which is stitched in place with twisted harakeke (NZ flax) cord, the panels are joined in an unusual way, and various types of cord are used to tie on the feathers. This was good information for our group as we work on weaving the replica sail.

A number of other weavers and interested people, such as sailors and artists, were present to learn how this ancient sail has been woven, perhaps for the sake of weaving a sail themselves, or perhaps to use a technique in other weaving.

For all this study and replication, Te Rā remains a mysterious lady. Whose hands wove her? Where was she woven, was she used on a waka (boat)? If so, which winds did she embrace to speed the waka across which waters? Her fineness gives her an aesthetic and delicate beauty. This, plus her utilitarian, robust purpose make her an ‘artwork extraordinaire’, as Ranui Ngarimu describes her. Te Rā is a true taonga (treasure) with huge mana (bearing, influence, status) and significance for Aotearoa New Zealand.

To see a waka in full sail, using sails of similar shape to Te Rā but made with modern materials, is breath-taking, as I discovered when I saw similar sails on the waka hourua Haunui pictured here in Picton in 2019 as part of the Tuia 250 voyage.


The opportunity to see Te Rā and study her has given huge impetus to weavers throughout Aotearoa to build on the work others have started in revitalising the cultural knowledge of traditional woven harakeke sails. To see waka with woven harakeke sails plying our waters as a natural scene is a future I look forward to.

I appreciate the efforts of Ranui Ngarimu, Donna Campbell and Catherine Smith who were instrumental in bringing Te Rā home to Aotearoa for those interested to appreciate and study her. This group has been studying scientific as well as practical weaving aspects e.g. they have definitely identified the material as harakeke by DNA testing and have closely studied the techniques used in weaving Te Rā. A second group, Te Rā Ringa Raupā, including Maureen Lander who instigated it, Ruth Port, Mandy Sunlight and others, have studied the construction methods and recreated their own sails.

Te Rā is on display at the Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Puna o Waiwhetū from 8th July to 23 October 2023 and then at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum. You can also read more about Te Rā here.

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Three sets of books gifted

photo of set of four flax weaving booksIn my last post we offered, in celebration of the sales of over 10,000 copies, a free set of my four current books to three flax weaving groups. I am humbled and thankful for the feedback I have received about the books from many weavers since I published my first flax weaving book in 2009, and we were keen to share the success of the books with the weaving community. We did initially think the books would go to groups that may have lost resources in the northern floods, but had contact from new groups starting out, and groups working in the community as well as those affected by the floods. We’re delighted to announce the three groups who we chose for this giveaway have all now received their sets of books.

The first group is a group of eight learner weavers, who are all staff at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Ara Hou in Ahuriri / Napier, Hawkes Bay. Misty Hooper, at the back right in the image, applied on behalf of the group and says that their group just started this year and they meet monthly. We hope the books will guide you in your weaving and I look forward to seeing your weaving as it progresses.

The next group is from Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland. Cathy, wearing the pōtae, wrote, “I run a group called Weavers and Makers at the Gribblehirst Hub, the monthly evening group and weekly groups are run for free. It would be amazing to have your books as a resource. My house was flooded in January and I lost all my raranga visual diaries.” Cathy studied raranga at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and donates proceeds from some workshops to charity.

The third group is based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara / Wellington. Irihāpeti Hokianga Te Aho, on the right in this photo, wrote “I offered to run four weaving sessions, and due to their desire and having no funds, I was able to get the support of The Tuhunga Rau and Raukawa community centre to have a weekly free Sunday weaving session. I am offering my time for free … and am here to guide them in connection to harakeke and learn what they would like to learn. It is real beginners, but we do have a few advanced weavers in the mix.”

Kenney Jean wrote in support of their application “It is the most beautiful atmosphere of people ranging from the curious to the ‘I’ve always wanted to try’, to proficient weavers, and every thing in between. It’s the first time there has been a gathering like this on Motukairangi / Miramar Peninsular. EVERYONE who attends would LOVE to be able to dip into your taonga pukapuka. Its a kind, safe space to explore ones journey into mahi raranga.” What a great-sounding roopu raranga this is.

It gave us great pleasure to send the sets of books to these groups to use with their flax weaving / raranga. We do hope they enjoy using them and find them helpful, as many have done before them. If you don’t have your own copies of my books, your local library may have them. If they don’t, you can put in a request for them to buy them. They usually do. Also, you can purchase the books singly or in a set through my secure online shop.

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Celebrating the sales of over 10,000 copies of my books on New Zealand flax weaving

photo of set of four flax weaving booksWhen I wrote a booklet on how to weave flax flowers as part of the arts project for an OSCAR Foundation conference in Christchurch in 2007, little did I know it would lead on to my writing a series of books on flax weaving.

Now, sixteen years later and currently writing a fifth flax weaving book, I am humbled and thrilled to be able to celebrate the sale of over 10,000 of my books (collective, not each book).

We are a family business, publish the books in-house, and sell them through the online shop on my website. By working in this independent way, I have the added bonus of direct, personal contact with the people who buy my books — an excellent way to keep in touch with what readers like and to receive feedback. The majority of sales are made within Aotearoa New Zealand, with the rest scattered to far-flung places including Hawaii, USA, England, Scotland, France, Japan, Norfolk Island and of course Australia.

To celebrate this 10,000-books-sold milestone, we have three sets of my four current books — “Weaving Flowers from New Zealand Flax”, “Weaving Baskets, Backpacks, Boxes and Other Projects”, “Weaving a Large Container from New Zealand Flax” and “Fun and Functional Flax Weaving” — to give away. We would particularly like the books to go to weaving groups who may have lost their weaving resources in the recent weather events in the north of Aotearoa, but any group is welcome to apply.

To have the opportunity for your group, or a group you know of, to be chosen for the giveaway, please write to us with a paragraph or two about the group and include pictures. Tell us how many people, how long it has been going, how often they meet, and any other information that will help us choose your group. Send to by 31st May 2023.

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Weaving a simple star

There are many ways to weave a star and I show a couple of them here and here. However it’s sometimes good to know a very simple method when time is tight, for example, or there are a lot of stars to make. Here I show how to make the simplest of stars, and even though it’s simple, its an attractive and effective star for decoration.

This method of making the star uses two strips of flax together so that each side of the star is shiny (flax has a shiny and a dull side), but it’s not necessary to use two strips. To make the star, (this one is about 12 cm across), select two long strips of flax that are .5cm wide and tape them together at the base, so that the shiny side is on the outside on both sides.

Using the two strips as if they were one strip, make a fold out to the left about 10 cm down from the tape.

Next, measure across 10 cm from the fold and make another fold back up to the left at about the 10 cm mark, with the strips going over the top of the strips where you started.


Fold the strips back down again so that there is a point made at the fold and take the strips under the first section of strips. Take it over the second section of strips, making a second point for the star. Make sure the points look the same size.


Fold the two strips, so that there is a point made at the fold of the strips, back up to the start where they are taped, going under the second section of strips and over the third. This makes the last three points of the star.


Adjust the points so they are all an even size and match each other.


There are a couple of ways to complete the star. The ends at the final point can be glued together and the excess trimmed off. Alternatively, the ends can be tied together and the longer bits shredded to make a tail. This star is made from NZ flax which has been dyed red but it could easily be made with other firm strips of different materials. The dye used is synthetic dye but they could be coloured with felt pens after the flax has dried too. Have fun making them!

Addition July 2023: At a recent workshop for a Grandparents Raising Grandchildren group, I printed out some star outlines on sheets of paper for people to follow with their flax strips, which made it easier to keep to the star shape. One participant, Wai, also suggested using pegs to keeps the points in place which worked well and we used a little bit of tape here and there to keep the shape until the harakeke dried out. A great Matariki project for even young children with help on hand. It helps if two people work together for the first one or two.


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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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