Maori Flax Weaving Tutorial


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Maori Flax Weaving History

HistoryThe Maori people have not always used harakeke, they brought with them to New Zealand the mulberry plant, but due to New Zealand’s climate the mulberry plant did not flourish, so an alternative had to be found, this is when they found the native flax.

The Maori people were able to create so many items from the flax that it became an integral part of their culture.

With the leaves of the harakeke they were able to make such things as:

  • String
    Fishing nets
    And even clothing

The Maori people realized the great importance of the harakeke so they propagated their own flax nurseries and plantations throughout the land.

Leaves were cut near the base of the plant using a sharp mussel shell or specially shaped rocks, the green fleshy part of the leaf was stripped off right through to the fibre, then with several processes of washing, bleaching, fixing, softening, dyeing and drying the flax it was ready for crafting.

Fibres of various strengths were used to fashion eel traps (hinaki), surprisingly large fishing nets (kupenga) and lines, bird snares, cordage for ropes, baskets (kete), bags, mats, clothing, sandals (parara), buckets, food baskets (rourou), and cooking utensils etc.

The flax fibre called muka which was laboriously washed, bleached and hand worked until it became extremely soft is the base for the beautiful feather cloak, the kahu huruhuru, a traditional garment that is highly prized by Māori. It is adorned with colourful feathers from the native huia, kiwi, tui, kererū (woodpigeon) and kākā (parrot).

The handmade flax cording and ropes had such great tensile strength that they were used to successfully bind together sections of hollowed out logs to create huge ocean-going canoes (waka). It was also used to make rigging, sails and lengthy anchor warps, and roofs for housing.

Frayed ends of flax leaves were fashioned into torches and lights for use at night. The dried flower stalks, which are extremely light, were bound together with flax twine to make river rafts called mokihi.

I believe most weavers of today will have learnt the quality skills and knowledge from their tupuna (ancestors).

Harakeke kete and harakeke weavers are mentioned in a number of Maori legend

  • - Maui slowed the sun by using the harakeke as his rope.
    - The three kete's of knowledge, the wharepora (house of weaving) where young woman would be inducted to retain there skills.

There are over 60 different varieties of harakeke - they do have there own names, these could be found in a number of weaving books.


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