Saturday, 13 August 2016

Harakeke and more harakeke

Phormium tenax or harakeke

Harakeke (Phormium tenax and Phormium cookianum) is also known as New Zealand flax. It is not related to the common flax (Linum usitatissimum), but because it has long fibres in the blade (leaves) and could be used to make ropes and fabrics it was named flax by the European settlers. It has been used for many purposes by the Maori. Indeed, Judy Te Hiki, my tutor at the Kaipatiki Project papermaking day explained that it was the many properties and uses of harakeke which allowed the original Maori settlers to survive in NZ when their imported plants failed to thrive in the harsher climate here (in comparison to their more tropical origins), and was a major export for New Zealand at one stage.

We have plenty of the raw material in our garden so it seemed right to take the opportunity to learn more about the plant and recently I have had the pleasure of taking part in two workshops, both making different uses of the harakeke.

The first course was papermaking held at the Kaipatiki Project in Beach Haven near Auckland. The Kaipatiki project organises many eco-friendly events and workshops which I am always keen to get to if I can. On this day we learned how to harvest the blade sustainably and for the continued health of the plant, and many of the traditions which should be observed when working with the flax. For instance, pregnant women are not supposed to work the flax (it is tapu or forbidden) as they are considered as food because they are a food source for their baby and you do not mix food and harakeke! My suspicion is that this particular tradition was developed by pregnant women themselves in order to get out of doing some hard physical work!!
For papermaking, we shredded the blades on a stick with nails (nailboard) in, chopped them into small sections, boiled them for a couple of hours and blended them in a strong food processor. To speed up the process, we used some fibres which had been boiled on previous courses and had then been left to sit in a barrel of water. A little strongly smelling I have to say! (Our boiled pulp will be used by people on the next course). 

Judy explains about the harakeke and how to harvest it

Judy using the nailboard to shred the blades.

And chopping the fibres. Though scissors worked too.

The pulp was then added to a vat of water and using a deckle to catch the fibres we created the sheets of paper. In essence, this is the same as any other paper making and for stronger papers I would probably add in other fibres. 

Rinsing the stored pulp - a stinky job for me!

Pulp ready to add to the water vat
Judy showing us how to use a deckle

Removing excess water

A sheet of paper ready for drying

However, it is a beautifully textured surface and I might well be using some in my future pieces. We could also have a go at making a bowl and biodegradable plant pots.

A table full of paper at the end of the day
 Though it wasn't actually used in paper making, pounding the blades can also be done to begin the process of separating the 'muka' or fibres from the other plant material. I enjoyed the textures in the fibres which were created just by doing this. I am not sure how they will dry, but it is worth an experiment I think.

Pounded harakeke blade

A kauri harakeke beater -very efficient, and easier than the traditional 'patu muka' or beating stone.

The pounded blades laid in a woven pattern

The second course was with Kath Stevenson at her shop in Warkworth where she makes and sells her woven harakeke baskets and sculptures. 

Getting started. Kath and I. You can see some of her sculptures and baskets in the background.
During this morning we prepared the blades for weaving, then gradually wove a basket. I was shown how to make a beautiful plaited edge and by shredding the remaining sections of the blade, how to use these to make plaited decorations, handles and decorative hairy edges. There are of course many variations and much more complicated variations on the basket weaving and edging, but I was very pleased to have created a practical and beautiful basket.

Choosing, preparing and cleaning the blades

Exposing the 'boomerang', and beginning the weaving

Got to get this part right!

The base all woven, tightened and ready to start shaping into a basket.

Kath showing me how to work up the sides

All woven and ready for the finishing edge to be created

Making the plait at the top was so clever. Hope I can remember how to do this again!

Shredding and plaiting the muka

Making a long plait by adding in extra blades. Neat trick!

Basket complete

It will gradually dry, losing its green tones and become a strong basket in a natural golden colour. I have discovered this morning that the cat seems to like chewing at these hairy bits, so I will have to find a place she can’t reach whilst the basket dries!

A great big thank you to Judy and Kath for your time and expertise. I should really have been working on my exhibition pieces for October, but hey …
Back to it now!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Rip, Stitch, Burn (and Bash) Day 3 of 5

On the third of a five day course for the Kowhai Arts and Craft Group, originally called 'Rip, Stitch, Burn', we added a forth word 'bash' because we spent a little time manipulating metal wires to reflect some of the drawings they had created in Day 1 and 2, just as an extra bit of fun.
The main emphasis today was to add another technique and to brush up on machine stitching skills, then to start to investigate the individual projects that the participants were considering.
For the technique part of the day we used metal foils from chocolate wrappers bonded to fabric, layered this with man-made sheer fabrics, stitched these then burned them away using heat guns and soldering irons. Here is Gill doing the fun part:

Gill doing a bit of burning
And if that video isn't working, here's the one on You Tube.

The result

And a few of the other transformations:

Christine's 'before'

And 'after'

Somehow I didn't manage to get pictures of the manic grins which were in evidence whilst we were hammering wires - you will just have to imagine those.

The later part of the day was devoted to beginning the journey of discovering what it was about our starting points and ideas for inspiration which we wanted to bring out in the piece. To start this we developed a 'word sketch' and described this to the group. The immediate feeling is one of worry, that 'my ideas aren't good enough, or deep enough etc. but by spending a short time thinking about the questions I posed, it was evident that we all had some really interesting ideas. These ranged from flight, an unknown grandfather, fossils, tattoos, music and 'digging deep'. Everyone was then sent home to do a little more structured reflection so that when we meet again we will have identified the key points of interest for each person and be ready to begin to translate those into a visual form. I am excited to see where these take us.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Barking up a silver tree

The 2016 New Zealand Embroiderer's Guild Conference was held last week, with an exhibition including many examples of fine embroidery, a sales event over the weekend and then 4 days of workshops featuring tutors from New Zealand, Australia and the UK (don't hold it against me if I have missed any other nationalities).
My contribution was a workshop called 'Silvered Bark' and derived from one of the projects in 'Stitch, Fibre, Metal and Mixed Media'.

Silvered Bark by Alysn Midgelow-Marsden
The workshop explores colouring fabric, colouring metal and metal fabric with a combination of alcohol inks, spray paint and heat, then building bark patterns in metal and metal cloth onto soluble fabric. The final simple assembly method brings out the combination of strong textures, subtle colours and reflects the wide variations in tree bark.
We had about half of the class who had never tried free motion machine embroidery before. It is always such a pleasure to watch a face light up with the realisation that there is a whole new world of possibilities. The exclamations of surprise and delight are fabulous. Well done to everyone who thought they were going to take the hand stitch option but were brave enough to have a go at something new. Never say never!
Though not finished, these images give a good idea of what the pieces will look like after the addition of a small amount more stitching, some beads and knitted wires.

Hard at work in the Silvered Bark class at ANZEG 2016 Conference

Bark like patterns applied to silk for the backgrounds
First time free machining ...

No problem!

With the bark texture laid over. More stitching and removing the soluble film later.

The camera shy Tricia!
Detail showing the variations in metal cloths and stitching

Silver birch - obviously!
Sue working on an image of the bark from the Plane tree

Plane bark textures

All laid out to get an impression of the finished article
Recreating an image of a partially stripped trunk of a Canadian pine tree

Detail to see the textured stitch being added
Jenny's textures

Then after stitching and laid on the backing
This from the professed non-machine stitcher!

And with a little more stitch, it will be there. Well done.
And there is always one who goes their own way! Mentioning no names.

Still going to be great Betty.
A great big thanks to the organisers and participants, I had a fabulous time and hope to see images of these pieces when they are finished.