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Now that I am getting a little bit familiar with this blogging process I have commenced a new blog and website to record my raranga journey.  You can find it over at 

I would love for you to visit me there!


It's a week since we had our assessments and I am very happy to say I have passed the last three papers for my degree.  I achieved an excellent for the Creative and Media Practice paper and merits for the other two (Studio and Project Management and Contextual Practice).  Who would have thought when I started night classes at Paekakariki five years ago that this is where it would lead.  So exciting . . . can't wait to see where the path leads next!


Now is a chance to reflect back over the year's work and bring together all the main components for my presentation.  I have looked at weaving being therapeutic in two areas:  the impact that weaving has on the weaver and the impact a woven object has on the viewer.  It has been amazing to have my neighbour agree to be my case study and we have talked through the experiences she has had, firstly with the woven bodice in the hospital and then with each of my bodices as she came to visit. Each time we have talked at a deeper level and she has experienced some profound moments of impact.  I believe those experiences have shaped her, comforted her, encouraged her or guided her, and in some way brought healing to her.  If it wasn't for my meeting with her originally, this research project would have taken a very different route.  I am grateful for her friendship, her openness and her willingness to be a part of my exploration.

I am also extremely grateful for other weavers who have encouraged and inspired me.  Many have had therapeutic experiences while weaving and I am keen to now start exploring how this potential could be developed further as a Creative Arts Therapy modality.  

Each of the bodices I have made are symbols of healing.  They can be used to stimulate thoughts and feelings that can then be explored in such a way that it is beneficial to our personal growth and the way we live our lives.  The red and natural bodice is symbolic of relationships and our desire to be at peace with others (based on the premise that primarily we were created for relationship).  The ti kouka bodice is symbolic of being connected to the land and at peace with the environment and the muka bodice is symbolic of our relationship with God (and if we are at peace with God then we can be at peace with who he created us to be because everything flows out of Him).  Each bodice contains many aspects that can be a stimulus for us to relate to e.g. knots, patterns, and materials as well as themes that can be developed e.g. complimenting, competing, making changes, unlikely combinations, trying something new, identity, trust, faith, hope, commitment, belonging, working together, clarity, simplicity etc.  

This journey has been extremely therapeutic for me and I am grateful for the new things I have learnt about myself, how I function in this world and the impact we have on each other.  Weaving has changed me.  Weaving has taught me.  Weaving IS therapeutic.                   


What a strange feeling to be finally finished.  I keep looking at my muka bodice, feeling a mixture of relief, surprise and delight.  I actually did it!  I am so pleased with the finished result even though it is very different from what I first planned.  And what a huge amount I have learnt.  About weaving and about myself.  The last four hours of work on it were spent retying the knots along the bottom of the bodice and the bottom of the collar and trimming them off so they were even.  I love paying attention to detail - it is so rewarding for me!  I think this is probably one of my strongest points, that I like to think things through and believe it is all the small things that add up to make the overall picture.  I will not hesitate to pull something undone and redo it if it is not working.  Similarly if the foundations are not right, then we cannot expect to produce anything of a high standard. For me this is about the preparation of the materials, taking care with the work and giving it my best shot.  This journey has been amazing and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work alongside other weavers, to be inspired by them and to learn from them and to ultimately produce a piece of work that I am absolutely thrilled with.  Thank you for sharing this journey with me.


The final thing to be decided is how to close the front edges.  I purchased a kit to make covered buttons and made five from the organza, using four layers to get good coverage and colour  match.  I had been thinking they would look good but instead they seemed to get lost on the garment.  Next thing to try was a plaited muka tie idea that caught the bodice together at the top and left the bottom ends open sort of like a waistcoat idea but I did not really like the finished look of that either.  Then there was the shell idea.

These are the shells we collected from Lonely Bay. Throughout this project I have had them in the back of my mind and often pulled them out and threaded them through the muka or tried to find a place for them.  I had actually been using them throughout the making of the bodice to hold the fronts together when it was on the mannequin.  Just because they are beautifully smooth and are easy to thread in between the whenu without damaging it.  After much deliberation, my Labour Weekend visitors helped me decide.  I would use the shells.  In some ways it seemed like cheating - not having to create buttonholes or even sew them on. Just poke them through and it was done.  Keeping it simple.    


Right from the start I have wanted the bodice to continue right up to the shoulders.  I have seen lots of bodices that are strapless and lots that are halter neck but the idea I had in my head (and hopefully to meet the criteria of being innovative in my work) was to have some kind of collar to join the front to the back.  When all the whatu rows had nearly been completed I tried it on one of my daughters to get a feel for what this collar might need to look like.  I decided I would make it as a separate piece first then whatu the fronts and back to it.  This is mostly what I did.  I worked two rows of whatu on the collar (measuring it to the width I wanted it to be) then on the third row, I included the centre back into the whatu as well.  I then did another row of whatu on the outside of the collar to hold it firmly.  The front pieces were also attached to the collar by a raranga technique of weaving over two, under two (known as torua).  Then the ends were finished off with a row of whatu on the inside to hold firm.  So pleased with it all! 


The back shaping was a process of dropping off whenu evenly so it achieved an even cut away up to the shoulders.  These rows were worked quite quickly - very much like the shaping of a knitted garment where you knit two together at regular intervals and the number of stitches on the needles gets less and less until you are down to nearly nothing.  It is such a great feeling to know the end is in sight, especially as the days are being ticked off as I head toward assessment date.  I plan to have the bodice finished one week before assessment weekend so I have time to finish off bookwork and practice my presentation.  I think I am on schedule, although who knows how long it will take to work out the joining together of all the whenu at the neck and shoulders.  I have never seen it done anywhere before so will definitely be a case of trial and error. I'm sure someone has done it, but I have not come across any photos on the internet.  Sure would be helpful right about now!

My dressmaking skills are coming to the fore as I start the finishing off processes.  After weaving up the fronts and back, it took 16 hours to thread all the ends back and catch the missed whenu with thread so they would not poke through to the other side.  I had chosen not to do the traditional finish on the end of each row of whatu because I did not want the extra stitches to show.  Instead I knotted the aho and threaded it back through the whatu on the reverse side.  In my embroidery days I learnt that the back side of the work should look as neat and tidy as the front and this has always stuck with me.  So in celebration of this, here is a photo of the reverse.  I am very pleased with it.       

Logistically this is all new territory for me.  It's my first muka bodice and it's my first shaped piece of muka.  And it's only my third attempt of muka work overall so the whole journey is one of discovery.  One of the things I have learnt (after many different angles and arrangements) is that it is easiest to weave if I put the mannequin's neck in between my legs and balance it there. That way I can lean her back to an angle that is ergonomically suited for my arms, wrists and fingers.  I don't know how other weavers do it, but this is working well for me at the moment.  I have so enjoyed having the mannequin to work on - it gives extra dimensions to my work rather than it just being a flat piece.  In some way the piece comes alive and seems to guide me to what needs to be done next.  I am loving it and I can sense that I will be doing a lot more of this!

This week was about counting out how many whenu I would separate off for the underarm and neaten that edge.  That clearly divided the work into two fronts and a back, each piece being much easier to handle and quicker to work on.  In saying that, I still seem to need extra clips and pegs to hold whenu in place and keep other whenu out of the way.  After neatening off the underarm with two rows of whatu on the inside, I will leave the ends of the whenu long in case I need to undo it later.  I am still not sure how everything will come together along the neck edges so won't trim anything short yet.  I have a few ideas in my head so hopefully they will develop into something that works!    


Now that the waist shaping is all done, I am moving into the breast shaping. This is different to the waist shaping because now the width needs to increase.  I am using four rows of aho poka which are shortened aho rows to give increase. I have been told to do elliptical rows, not circular. I am really appreciating the organza markers again - so pleased I do not have to count all the whenu every row.  It's nice too, to be doing short rows.  It took over an hour and a half to do one row of the full bodice, so it's a treat to be able to sit down and do four rows quickly and see lots of progress.  

Today I found one whenu in a place where it wasn't supposed to be!  How annoying for a perfectionist.  Immediately I was looking for places I could tuck it in so it wouldn't be noticed but then I stopped myself.  Here is the life lesson . . . things happen that we wish hadn't.  There's no going back.  We cannot change the things of the past but we can choose how we live with those things. And so I have left the whenu out on its own - behind one of the plaits - to remind me that no one is perfect and we have a choice about what we do with the things we might label as mistakes.  In a few rows it will be added back in where it should be, but you will always be able to see where it departed from the plan.  I will certainly be more attentive now in my counting and checking . . . it's a good thing to have happened.   

The waist is proving to be more difficult than I thought.  So I had done all my calculations but it is not fitting as snug as I would like it.  I am hoping for an overall look of being very shapely, so I want it to fit as well as it can.  After much thought I decided to remove six whenu from each panel and make them into plaits and then add them back in as the waist measurement increases to go towards the breasts.  Not very happy with the look because it's starting to look a bit busy for me.  I generally prefer understated, unfussy and like the work to speak for itself, not be covered in fancy pattern.  I know I need to trust the process but it's hard when the evidence is staring you in the face!  The good thing is that I have found some tiny wooden pegs that are brilliant for holding things together - big enough to do the job but small enough to keep out of the way.  

This bodice is all about shaping.  Almost as soon as I started I realised I had to start decreasing to head towards the waist.  To do this I measured what length I had from the hips to the waist, measured how many inches I needed to lose (sounds familiar!), then calculated how many whenu I would decrease each row to reach this.  I will be including two whenu in each whatu stitch (and treating them as one), sort of like decreasing in a row of knitting.  I have discovered that the organza whenu are acting like markers so I don't have to do a lot of counting (as you would in knitting), just decrease say one or two in each panel. 

My mannequin is amazing to work with.  Every row I take the bodice off the frame and put it on her to see how it's looking and whether it fits or not.  I want the bodice to overlap in the front so I can do some kind of front fastening.  So far so good!

The aho tapu took nearly all day to complete.  The traditional way is that this row must be completed once it is started, so it made for a long day of concentrating.  The whatu stitches are repititious but I enjoy the rhythm of it all. Whatu means finger weaving.  

I am loving the look of the muka with the embroidery cotton and the organza. Exactly the monochromatic, soft, muted effect I had in my mind.  I am on my way!

Here I am ready to start my third bodice.  I have over 400 whitau (prepared muka whenu for warp threads), 26 lengths of cornflour blue organza, two extra organza lengths that have been sewn into piping lengths for the whenu tapiri (outside edges), multiple aho lengths (weft threads) at 240cm each and in true dressmaking style, a paper pattern of the shape I am hoping the bodice will be. I don't mind saying it's a little bit nervewracking!  Being a thinker, I have so many different ideas racing around in my head it is hard to pin down one line of action and commit to it.  Just when I think I have decided what I want to do, there always seems to be a better idea that comes along!  The bodice will be made on a wooden frame that will be clamped to the kitchen bench unit.  It has a row of nails along it that the piece of work will fit onto after I have done the first row.  The first row is called the aho tapu (sacred thread) and is very important as it sets the foundation for the whole piece.  And we all know if the foundation of anything is not set right, then what we build on top of it does not have much hope of going right.

I have decided on knotting my whenu at the ends to keep things tidy as I work - especially since this is a project that will take a few months and have a lot of handling.  I am using a mawhitiwhiti pattern around the bottom of the bodice and will repeat it again in other places.  It reminds me of cross stitch patterns or hardanger embroidery.  I am placing the organza at regular intervals to give a light and delicate look to the bodice.  I really want it to have an ethereal appearance i.e. light, airy, extremely delicate, refined, heavenly or celestial.  

Each bodice so far has been symbolic of the therapeutic journey with the red and natural one being about relationships with other people (more about this later), the ti kouka and korari one being about our relationship with the land/our environment and this one is going to be symbolic of being at peace with ourselves and with God.  

Just several days after we had signed up for our new section, I was invited to a clean up day in the Pa Harakeke (flax garden) at the Auckland Botanic Gardens.  I had just begun to start thinking about planting a pa harakeke and now I was being offered free plants!  

What an amazing day we had.  We met Annie (raranga whanau) at the gate and from the moment we walked down the path and found ourselves surrounded with the New Zealand native collection, it was like being in harakeke heaven.  We signed into the visitors' book, putting our names directly below Maureen Lander - a remarkable personality in the weaving world.  What a privilege to be introduced to her and to listen to her talk to us about her latest installation at Te Papa.  Kerri Gillbanks (in charge of natives and a flax weaver herself) is a real treasure - so knowledgeable about each different variety of harakeke and so willing to share her knowledge with us. The purpose of the day was to clean up the harakeke plants, with weavers from the greater Auckland area being invited.  In all truthfulness we did not do a lot of cleaning up, being so overwhelmed with talking, looking and learning. I came away with fans of nine different varieties to plant (about 30 in total) - with two varieties from the Buckley Fyers collection and the rest from the renowned Rene Orchiston collection, as well as a bundle of freshley harvested harakeke. 

Local landscaper Jude Calder has designed the layout of the flax garden for us as the first stage of our landscaping plan.  We have also purchased muka flax fans from Mita Watene at Kopu. Really interesting story because it turns out that he and Dad worked together for years at Carrington Building Company and Dad actually drew the plans for his home. Along with the Kopu flax we have also added a fan from the beautiful flax I have found on Robinson Road, (courtesy of Isabel, the quilter) and some ti kouka (cabbage trees).  Hopefully they will all prosper and in a couple of years will be ready for harvesting.  

Trevor and I have just purchased our own little piece of the Coromandel.  It's a one acre block of land nestled in a rural setting but only 1km to the beach in one direction and 3km to the town in another.  It's perfect for us!  

Before we came to Whitianga for our 12 month adventure, I purchased a card that reads "sometimes right back where you started from, is where you belong."  After 20 years in Wellington, I am happy to be right back where I started from.  And especially happy to have my best friend at my side.  I am so looking forward to this next phase of our journey together, establishing a home from scratch, doing all the planning and dreaming and then making it happen.  What a privilege it is to be able to create!  

Our homes together have always been a place where others can come and spend time, relax and feel loved and welcome. The plan for this home is that it will be even more so. My dream has always been to have some kind of a retreat centre where people can come apart from their busy worlds and be refreshed.  With this property we will have a unique space for that to happen.  My mind is racing with ideas for the garden . . . native plantings, pathways that lead to unexpected pleasures, seats tucked away for enjoying the quiet, vege and herb gardens, homes for the birdlife, a few sculptures here and there . . . watch this space for updates, and an invitation to come and relax with us!


For the Creative and Media Practice paper, one of the skills we need to show we have developed is the ability to evaluate and test solutions and explore personal limits. So with this in mind I have been exploring different threads and effects on muka.  Part of this has been about exploring shaping ideas, i.e. how to cause increase in muka garments to fit body shape.  

In the piece pictured I have worked seven rows of whatu (finger weaving).  The first is in cream coloured embroidery thread, the second and third are in black embroidery thread.  These two rows show the "normal" tension and finished width.  The fourth and fifth rows have been worked in a synthetic wool which I unpicked from a shawl.  These lengths are narrow in the middle and wider at the length, which, when doubled to form aho, create an increase in stitch width.  You can see how the piece has now widened because of that, gaining nearly 1cm on each side.  In the middle of each of these whatu rows I have run a black and silver lurex thread up and down with a needle, just for added effect.  The sixth and seventh rows are worked in black shirring elastic.  This is the part of the experiment I am most excited about!  To look at it, it appears to be ordinary black thread, but when you stretch it, it expands beautifully to at least 1cm wider on each side.  It has got me thinking about using it for bodice shaping over the breasts.  The obvious negative is that it would stretch so much that you would be able to see beyond the garment, but if the garment was lined or an undergarment worn, this would not present a problem.  It could also be incorporated with other adornments to cover this e.g. feathers.  I'm sure that with a bit more experimenting these issues could be addressed.  That's certainly pushing the boundaries - I have not yet seen any muka work done with elastic!

There have been some materials sitting in my cupboard, calling out to me to make something from them.  I have been trying not get distracted by them because I have far too much work to do.  The first is a bunch of ti kouka leaves (from the iconic NZ cabbage tree) that nearly ended up in the rubbish.  We had been looking after our friend's house while they were in the UK (Natalie and Brian) and the weather had been incredibly windy.  When we called around, the outdoor furniture was spread across the yard and there were leaves everywhere.  The moment before I put them in the bin, I took another look at them.  I love the deep brown colour.  They were even in length and in great condition.  What a waste, I thought to myself!  So I bundled them up with a tie and stored them away in my bottom drawer.  Where incidently, is quite a collection of random things.

The second thing that was urging me to create was a bunch of korari.  These are the flax flowers.  On Phormium Tenax (botanical name for the swamp flax which is the one predominately used for weaving) the flax flowers are often strong and upright, but on Phormium Cookianum (mountain flax) the flowers are soft and papery and silvery brown.  I had been walking up the top of Shakespeare Cliff at Cooks Beach and there were masses of them. Unable to resist I picked a heap of them, my mind racing with what I could do with them. When I got them home, it wasn't long before I was wondering what would happen if I combine the ti kouka leaves with the korari?  I love textures.  I love contrasts.  I love new directions.

I had read in a fibre art book about a woman who said she has many pieces of work on the go at once and only ever works on a piece if she feels like it.   To my "finish what you start" mentality, this was very foreign.  So in an act of doing something very different for me, I put my "real work" aside and lay the ti kouka and korari in front of me.  Add to that, a roll of copper wire (found in the cleanout of Avis's garage - Trevor reckons it was part of his Dad's collection and that would make it over 50 years old), put them together with whatu and you have bodice No 3.  

I had no idea of what it was going to look like when I started but as I put the materials together I felt like it was happening without me needing to plan it.  Kohai Grace (weaver from Wellington whose work I absolutely love) talks about it not being up to the artist to create the design, but the materials will tell the story.  I feel like this is what happened.  I love the finished piece - it is a simple, strong statement.  A celebration of the female form.  And a celebration of our natural resources.  And it's a celebration of my creativity.  It's one of the few times I have made something and felt absolutely satisfied.  Usually I see shortcomings or think something could have been done differently.  Sometimes the finished piece doesn't match what was in my mind.  This bodice is a gift to myself - of knowing that I don't need to plan everything, that I have it within me to create something beautiful just by letting it happen.  And I have learnt a valuable lesson - that sometimes the distractions ARE the real work.      

So I had decided to make a muka bodice for my body of work for the degree.  In my mind, I have been practising with different shapes, styles and ideas.  But after showing my tutor the red and natural harakeke bodice she has suggested that I include it in my body of work.  That came as a bit of a shock to me - mainly because I made it thinking it was just a practise and no one would really see it.  I have perfectionist tendencies (which is crucial if I was a brain surgeon), but sometimes it gets in the way because I have very high expectations of myself.  If I had known it was going to be handed in, I would have taken more care with it!!  Oh well . . . it's good learning for me not to take everything so seriously.  So now I am thinking I will make three, maybe four, bodices.  But the muka one will be the main one.  

In my mind I can see the beautiful shiny muka with a soft muted colour - probably blue, but very pale and giving an almost monochromatic look.  Traditionally in weaving the aho thread (or the weft to us dressmakers) is muka as well, but because I want to celebrate my sewing background, I had decided to use an embroidery thread. Imagine my delight then, when Julie gifts me a crocheted top that had got caught in the washing machine and ruined.  It is a beautiful pearly grey/blue - exactly what I had been thinking of.  I sat down in front of the tv and unravelled someone's beautiful handiwork.  Got me thinking about who had made it.  I love the fact that we can make something beautiful out of something that others might throw away.  Preloved and upcycled.  Very exciting!      


After the haro process is completed (extracting muka from harakeke leaf), the next step is to miro which is rolling the strands together to form a cord.  This is done by splitting the length of muka into two lengthwise and using a rolling motion down the leg to twist each length separately, then a rolling motion up the leg to twist the two twisted lengths together to form a cord.  This is the shortened version of how to do it - there is a bit of an art to it and it involves a few other bits and pieces so all in all, lots of practise is needed.  It does get easier the more I do, although when in the midst of this process I am wondering why I chose to make something that needed so much muka!

After miro, the muka is washed in water with sunlight soap then hung out to dry.  The next step is to patu which means to beat the muka to soften it.  Fifty lengths are twisted together in a hank and then soaked in water, then placed on a smooth river stone and beaten with another stone.  This is repeated in a "beat and twist" pattern several times then hung out to dry again.  What a great feeling to see rows of muka drying in the sun!  After this, bunches of muka are put through a process called kamaru, which means to hold with fist in one hand and rotate cords with other hand to crimp them.  This finishes off the drying process and muka is now called whitau (prepared muka) and is ready for whatu (finger weaving).  


I came across this definition the other day.  I was listening to a sermon online from a church in Hamilton.  It's the definition of creativity and it's from . . .  
-  having the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships or the like and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations etc,
-  originality, progressiveness or imagination.
The speaker went on to say that this could be paraphased by the following:
"an ability to transcend established norms and use our imaginations and gifts to come up with a new idea that transcends that norm in such a way that somebody might take a second look."
My desire is that somebody (and lots of somebodys) might take a second look!
ON A ROLL . . . 

I've been looking at the woven work of Donna Campbell (The Art of Maori Weaving), Shona Tawhiao (, Muna Lee (in my weaving class) and Hazel Shepherd (local woman from Hahei) to gather ideas for my own work.  I have decided I definitely want to make a garment instead of a sampler so my head is full of ideas.  I thought I was excited about making a sampler but now that I have started to go in the direction of bodice-making I am finding I am even more excited. I think it is because it appeals to my experience of dressmaking. When I was about 18 and I bought my first sewing machine, I completed a dressmaking course by correspondence.  I loved it! Making samples of everything including bound buttonholes, plackets, collars and tassels, and sending them off to get marked. I passed with great marks and then went on to start the pattern making and designing by draping course. For some reason that I cannot remember, I didn't complete this one but it has been something that has always fascinated me.  Perhaps making garments from flax will re-ignite this latent passion!

So, here is my second bodice.  It is based on the design of my wedding dress from 1994.  I love the way the colour placement has accentuated the shape of the garment and I love how feminine and graceful it is.  I was able to use what I had learnt from the "pumpkin bodice" and improve on the technique. The most satisfying moment for me was when my neighbour (from previous blog - cancer survivor) came in to see it - she stopped in her tracks in the hallway, lifted her hands up to her mouth and was visibly overwhelmed with emotion.  We talked through what she was feeling.  It felt like mission accomplished.  A therapeutic moment - definitely!    


On arriving home from noho I was inspired to do something different - to make something out of material that I previously had "discarded".  It's all about being resourceful and letting the materials speak for themselves, not prejudging whether or not a material is "good enough".  Sounds like a great life concept, doesn't it?  So in my box of flax I had some 1cm wide whenu (wider than I have been using lately) dyed golden yellow (which actually is the colour of pumpkin) which I did not like at all.  I mixed it with black and natural and decided to try my hand at making a bodice.  My husband had picked up a mannequin in a second-hand shop for me for $30, a real bargain, and I was keen to dress her!  

Not really knowing what I was doing and never having made anything that was shaped before I pretty much worked it out as I went along.  The end result has amazed me!  I learnt alot about what not to do and discovered some things that do work. Can't wait to make another one and fine tune the process.   



Knowing that the main woven piece for my research project will be made out of muka, I have been collecting and preparing it for the last few months.  Muka is the fibre found inside the flax leaf and it is quite a time-consuming process to extract it and get it ready for using.
It is extracted by first making a cut in the underside of a strip of flax leaf and then placing the straight edge of a mussell shell directly above this on the top side of the leaf.  Pressure is applied to the top as the leaf is pulled along which causes the para (leaf skin) to separate from the muka.  It takes a bit of practice to master this but is well worth the effort because the muka fibres are beautiful!  It also helps if you have the right variety of harakeke. 

Last year we harvested our muka flax from Foxton, near the site of the old flax mill.  This year we have been privileged to be given permission to harvest from the pa harakeke of the late Diggeress Te Kanawa, one of New Zealand's most respected weavers.  It has been amazing to visit her home, see her work and hear the associated stories.  So inspiring! 

After the muka has been extracted from the strips it is then rolled to produce lengths for weaving.  Then it is washed and beaten.  Similar processes are found all around the world to prepare natural fibres for weaving. 

To make a bodice, I have estimated I will need about 400 whitau (prepared muka lengths).  This sounds a lot, but is nothing compared to what I might need if I was making a kakahu (cloak). 

Last night we spent three hours getting to know our new neighbours.  It was a relatively easy thing to do - they were welcoming and unrushed, had beautiful food prepared for us to nibble on as we chatted and were open and interesting in sharing the stories of their lives.  Little did I know that half way through the evening I would be given an amazing gift!  On hearing that I was a flax weaver, the woman responded with a story of an "encounter" she had recently had with a woven bodice hanging in Waikato Hospital.  She had been going there for regular visits and her story is exactly the evidence I need for my research project, that interacting with the woven piece was therapeutic for her in helping her deal with ongoing cancer treatment.  I don't believe in coincidences, rather that the steps we take are planned and it's up to us to make the most of the opportunities that come our way.    

I had been thinking that maybe a sampler was not quite the medium that would best suit my topic and now another idea was ignited - that I make a garment of some kind.  I feel that not only has my research topic of "weaving as a therapeutic journey" been confirmed, but that I have been given much needed evidence to back up my claims.  She has agreed to allow me to use details of her experience as a case study for my research.      

Over Easter weekend Trevor and I visited Lonely Bay in Cooks Beach with new friends Ray, Lynette and Robyn.  While sitting on the beach after our very "refreshing" swim, I became intrigued with the high number of tiny rib-like shells that were scattered where we were sitting.  Immediately my mind went to wondering what they would look like as hukahuka (attachments) on a piece of woven clothing.  They are delicate and smooth, lovely to touch.  I could see them in rows, or hung individually or scooped around a neckline.  I gathered up 150 of them in a short space of time and then unbeknown to me, Trevor went back a few days later and gathered another few hundred! 

They are from the very common New Zealand whelk.  Beaten and polished by the sea.  My dad used to polish stones when we were young and I remember seeing them come out of the polisher having been transformed from ragged pieces of rock.  I can remember him adding more grit or more water to finetune the process.  On picking up these shells I was reminded of the quote, "Life is a grindstone.  Whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us."  And that to me is about therapy. Being ground down and polished up brings benefits, gives us insight, increases our capacity for life.  Am wondering just how I will use these shells in my project - they are definitely symbolic of therapy!       

I have been reading about different embroidery stitches and have started to experiment with working them onto a muka background instead of the traditional aida cloth.  I am making a stitched sampler along the lines of a similar one I made 20 years ago when I went to embroidery classes.  Some of the muka stitches give a similar effect to embroidery e.g. mawhitiwhiti is like a cross stitch, paheke is a running stitch and using different coloured threads for the aho gives the effect of multicoloured backstitch.  I guess it all comes from the same origin.  There's quite a few stitches I would like to try but for now it's more about the basic premise - that embroidery threads on muka works!  I am really liking the overall look but would prefer more muted tones i.e. softer blues.  One thing that is obvious so far is where two patterns run alongside each other I need to calculate the common denominator so they look balanced following on from each other.  Am learning as I go along.  Very excited about the possibilities.      


Today I had a lovely visit from a woman I first met when I was a teenager. We were friends for about five years, then lost contact when we each married and followed separate paths.  Imagine my delight when I discover she is living about 20 minutes away by car from the place where we are making our home for the next 12 months!  Her name is Julie and she is incredibly creative. Thirty years ago she was very quirky, particularly compared to the shy, introverted, unadventurous person I was then.  I treasured the purple and orange crocheted bootees with their leather thonging ties she made for my first baby, Lauren, in the 80's.  They were unlike anything I had ever seen before, particularly as it was just the beginning of the era of starting to dress babies in "non-baby" clothes e.g. sweatshirts and denim, and colours other than pink or blue.  

Today Julie is an accomplished artist, living in a home she designed and built over a four year period with her husband Gary, a painter and potter. The house has adobe exterior walls and paper mache interior walls and is full of creative ideas put into practice. We have rekindled our friendship, each bringing to it a wisdom and experience that we have much pleasure in feeding off and soaking up.  I talked through my idea of the embroidery sampler with her and she gives me fresh ideas - lining up the embroidered dotterels (which represent my family name) in a border, even maybe using the swamp bird stitch from tukutuku panels.  Maybe making individual samplers focusing on the girls in the family and the rich heritage of sewing and craftwork that has been passed down to me?  Maybe making a series of samplers to tell the stories? 

Thank you Julie . . . I am so loving being around you again!   

I have been struggling over the last week or so with regards to refining my research project.  I need to have a clear idea of what it is I am wanting to find out.  Claire, a new friend here in Whitianga, prayed for me this morning for guidance and clarity.  A couple of hours later when I was heading off somewhere else, I had a clear impression that I needed to call in at the library.  For someone who loves books, this presented a problem - if I am on my way somewhere, how can I "quickly" call in at the library, where the norm for me is to spend several hours at a time!  Anyway I decided to go with the impression and right at the front door there was the reason . . . a trolley of books for sale - $1 each - and two of them nearly jumped out at me.  

The first is Mau Mahara, Our Stories in Craft, which is a lavishly illustrated book celebrating 150 years of Maori and Pakeha craft in New Zealand.  The second one is Stitchery and Needle Lace, a collection of ideas from all around the world previously published in Threads magazine, full of embroidery samplers and exotic stitiching.  What a treat for me!  I feel a renewed sense of excitement about my project.  The word sampler is derived from the French word exemplair meaning a kind of model or pattern to copy or imitate. Basically they are ways of recording patterns and motifs to pass information or stories from person to person and generation to generation.  

Maybe I can re-invent the embroidery sampler using muka and threads and tell the story of my life? Maybe it can tell of my experience of learning to weave?  Maybe it can tell of the blending of an English-influenced upbringing and the experience of participating in a Maori art learning programme?  

It's got me thinking . . . 

We've been doing mindmaps to help us discover our research topics.  I've listed all the areas I am interested in and try to find some common threads.  Embroidery, sewing, weaving, natural fibres, natural dyes, therapy, healing, collecting life histories. My tutor looks at my lists and sees something I don't.  A therapeutic journey.  Weaving as a means of telling a story.  My story.

I know weaving is therapeutic because I know the effect it has had on me over the last four years.  There is something very compelling about gathering natural resources and working with my hands to create something.  Not just compelling in a physical sense of making something, or in a creative sense of being inspired, but something (God!) is at work deep inside saying this is who I created you to be . . . I have given you my creative abilities and given you everything you need and when you are making something I am with you and working in you.  So in a spiritual sense (although I don't like to compartmentalise) and in very simplified terms (although I have a mind that constantly tends to overthink), I am finding out about myself, finding out about my God and finding out where I fit into this world.  That is therapeutic.          

2012 - The Final Year

This year I am a fourth year student at Te Wananga o Aotearoa and will be completing a research project for Te Maunga Kura Toi - Bachelor of Maori Visual Art. Raranga is my chosen area of study and the general name given to weaving or plaiting harakeke - New Zealand flax.

I love weaving and all that it involves - every aspect of it holds a fascination that continues to inspire and challenge me.  To be so connected to the land and to be able to produce a work of art or a functional object from that, is a privilege and a blessing.  I am grateful for the skills I am acquiring and for the therapeutic benefits of working not only with my hands, but my mind and heart as well.  

You are welcome to join my journey . . .


Just prior to Christmas I decided to experiment with combining fabric with my weaving to make some casual shoulder bags.  They are hessian bags (back, lining and shoulder strap) with a flax front panel and decoration.  I made twelve in a variety of colours.  My Mum took them to the Thames market where they sold incredibly well. This is one area I would love to explore more . . . watch this space!   

Weaving 3


My first muka kete - made October 2011.  Muka is the inside fibre of the flax leaf. It is extracted by traditional methods using a mussel shell.  It is then hand-spun, washed and beaten. I have used embroidery thread for the aho and it is decorated with mawhitiwhiti pattern and paheke.  It has plaited muka handles. 

Weaving 2


A maro is a traditional piece of clothing worn like an apron.  I made this one as part of my class work in 2011.  It is made from approx 150 pokinikini with a taniko pattern across the top, above a row of gannet feathers.  The brown colouring in the body of the piece is achieved from commercial dye and the taniko is woven with embroidery threads dyed with commercial dyes and cold tea.  The taniko pattern is half of the Okaihau pattern meaning "wanderlust."  This is particularly relevant as we have left the Kapiti Coast to live in Whitianga for 12 months.  


One of my class projects for 2011 was a whariki (mat).  It has over 600 whenu and took just over 60 hours to make, from harvesting to completion. The pattern is kowhiti whakapae in black and natural.  I called it Ngaere in honour of Trevor's Mum who passed away very unexpectedly when I was about halfway through making it.  She was an incredibly clever craftswoman and also very active in her community (Ngaere, her middle name, has meanings of various forms of action and movement).  The second papa has one less row of horizontal pattern to remind us of those who are no longer physically present with us, showing how we integrate these losses into our lives as we continue with our own journeys.  Rest in peace, Avis.