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I met Cathy at the Rotorua museum during an exhibition dedicated to weaving. She was presenting one of her works, a shawl or “Tarapouahi” as it would be called in Maori, made of flax and feathers. Cathy started weaving in the traditional maori way 14 years ago. Her husband, Jim, works in the restoration of marae. He is also a well-known artist often called for projects in all four corners of the country. During our encounter, I explained to Cathy how I wished to know more about the weaving techniques of the maori. She then invited me to spend an afternoon at her place to learn me some of the basics and see her work.
I instantly liked Cathy’s place, located right beside a vast lake near Rotorua. In her garden, flax grew everywhere and her creations were hanging from the laundry lines. Her studio was outdoors and protected by trees. Many pots and tubs were installed there, to be used for dying the leaves of flax. Behind the studio was a small river where she could rinse her works after the dying process.
Later on in the evening, Cathy showed me a woven base of flax leaves. We started by cutting leaves together in her garden. But we weren’t supposed to just cut any way we could, I followed her traditional maori way of cutting the leaves. Each flax leave grows the same way : the youngest leaf, the child, grows in the middle, protected by its parents on each side. The parents themselves are protected by grandparents and so it goes. We would cut through the older generations of leaves and always leave the younger ones protected by their parents. We gathered a few elderly leaves that would let us get to work.
Then, we had to divide each leaf in long and equally large strips. Each of them were softened with the blade of cissors, exactly the way we would curl ribbons while wrapping gifts. This step allows to make the leaves more flexible and makes weaving easier. At last, we can start weaving. The basic technique is to make the leaves intertwine above and underneath each other so you get a chessboard pattern in the end. This technique seems simple at first sight but turns out to be difficult since you have to keep the strips tightly put in place. With a little patience and perseverance, I finally managed to make my first basket with flax strips. The photo of the final result was taken a few days afterwards when the leaves began to dry and change color. This is the most simple technique of weaving. The variations are limitless and offer a wide range of possibilities. Thank you again, Cathy, for this superb afternoon and the intriguing discoveries.