Experimenting with dyeing flax fibre

7 May 2007

photo of rolled-edge potI happily accepted an invitation to fly down to Queenstown and take a two-day flax weaving workshop for the local Art Society, and we made several different flowers, a small kete with a plaited fibre handle, a large container, and a square box. Creativity took over when some of the participants decided to convert the square boxes to bowls with rolled edges half-way through weaving them, a style inspired by the flax bowl that I presented to my hostess as a thank-you gift.

In response to a last-minute request from one of the participants — an experienced fibre artist — to learn flax dyeing, we needed to get around the problem that the venue didn’t have a facility to keep water on the boil. I knew that flax as pure fibre could be dyed without boiling it in water, and I happened to have some fibre from a working flax mill in Riverton, so I packed this for the trip along with bottles of red dye and purple dye, two colours that had been requested and neither of which I’d used before. photo of dyed fibreOn the second day of the workshop, I filled a large pot with boiling water, stirred in the red dye and then the fibre. Whoops! The fibre turned bright hot pink, not a popular colour! With the addition of some of the purple dye, it changed to a vibrant midnight blue-purple, much more acceptable. A second pot was used to dye a hank of fibre purple and then a hank was dyed with an end of it in each pot. The final two hanks dyed to a lighter colour as the dye was beginning to get used up. Each student ended up with a mixed bundle of all the coloured fibre — which could used for plaited handles or other weaving.

This was the first workshop the Queenstown Art Society had hosted that didn’t focus mainly on painting. From feedback from the participants, it seems the workshop was much enjoyed — I have heard that some just can’t stop weaving — and suggestions have been made for another flax workshop in the future.

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