My weaving journey May 2014
Weaving is my passion. I have been weaving for about 14 years both with harakeke (phormium tenax – NZ flax) and similar natural fibres, and also on a loom. How did it begin?
Weaving has always fascinated me. In the 1970s while still at university I bought a book on hand weaving and did a creation from wool on a ring frame. Then I got into cane basket-making. I remember seeing a wonderful exhibition of woven wall hangings at the National Art Gallery which really excited me. But teaching and motherhood got in the way and it wasn’t until 2000 that I signed up for a weekend of flax weaving at the local high school and made my first kete with tutor, Veronika Maser, a Swiss woman now resident in Hokitika. I was hooked.
Although largely self-taught, I spent some time weaving with the late Tungia Baker in early 2000s who challenged and motivated me in many ways. Tungia is always with me when I weave – I use a piece of pounamu she gave me to hapine the whenu in preparation for weaving. As part of group, we wove in kuta (eleocharis sphacelata) a traditional rain cape and then a small whariki for the opening of the marae at Bruce Bay. I did a five day basket-making course with Deb Price run by Aotearoa Creative Textiles in 2009, using harakeke and other readily available natural materials like dead ti (cabbage tree) leaves and pine needles. (read more about materials I use)
In 2001, being on sick leave after burnout in secondary teaching gave me the space to work out what I really wanted to do with my life and weaving was high on my list. Yvonne Rakena, a member of the local Creative Fibre group, saw me sitting on the floor of the library looking at weaving books and offered me use of her home-made table loom. Thus began my loom weaving life. My first efforts were from working through Anne Field’s Ashford Book of Weaving – the library copy which I just kept renewing. By the end of the year Yvonne, very sick with terminal cancer, offered me the chance to purchase her 48-inch Bartlett 4 shaft counter-marche floor loom and all her weaving accessories and stash. I couldn’t resist.
Now I had the looms and the time, I would have loved to attend a comprehensive weaving course as were common a few years earlier. But alas, I was too late. So again I reverted to books to help me set up and play on my new loom, including sectional warping. In 2007, Helen Boon invited me to a weaving course being run by Nynke Piebenga with local Creative Fibre group, and part of the deal was to join up. That’s how they got me! I enjoyed seeing someone else actually weaving and learning all sorts of techniques and tips from Nynke. Later, the correspondence colour course with Phillipa Vine, formed a strong foundation for my dyeing efforts – I always mix from the three primary colours.
I have always felt a bit on the outer of Creative Fibre. Everyone else locally seemed to be spinners or knitters and while I can knit and now have my father’s spinning wheel to use, most of my fibre work is in harakeke or on my big loom. So what could I take along to do at meetings? My first national festival experience at Timaru in 2009, made me realise that creativity in all fibres is welcome. Now I usually take harakeke work with me.
Over the years much of my loom weaving has been for one-off items/projects for other people such as five 1.1m x 2.5m panels for a music installation at Auckland University with my son-in-law, 13m of hand-dyed fabric for the upholstery in our boat, and a wedding present rug made in hand dyed and carded fleece. Hokitika’s Junk2Funk event, using at least 75% recycled materials, has led me to weave a full length cloak on the loom with recycled wool warp and strips of newspaper as the weft. Last year I did a wall hanging with audio tape warp and plastic wrappers off our daily newspaper as the weft.
My work is largely influenced by nature, especially the beautiful, rugged West Coast, and the bush surrounding my home, which is my studio. I am always on the lookout for how I can use the abundant natural materials from my surroundings. I have even woven creations on the Hokitika beach in the annual Driftwood and Sand event.
WAI (Westland Arts Inc) hold regular members’ exhibitions and I tentatively entered some work (using my newly learned basket-making techniques) in 2009. Over the past five years I have regularly entered artworks in these exhibitions as well Creative Fibre Westland area exhibitions, and much to my surprise, have even sold some items. This year, with the encouragement of local Creative Fibre members, I decide to enter some work in the National Exhibition, all in harakeke. I was completely overwhelmed when the awards were announced – to have harakeke artworks recognised in this way by Creative Fibre, means the organisation’s name is indeed apt.
Where to from now? The Creative Fibre recognition has given me the confidence and motivation to continue to create art works in harakeke and similar materials, as well as using yarns from my large inherited stash. I want to explore ways of combining all areas of my weaving life. I have so many ideas running around in my head and on paper – I just need to make the time to make them happen!