WANDA’S EASY FLAX WEAVING INSTRUCTIONS IN PICTURES | Sharon Henry
Learn how to make a flax flower or harakeke flower by following the weaving process with this easy step by step photo guide. (Original article taken from issue 3 of the Breeze e-magazine by What The Saints Did Next.)
Long gone are the days when New Zealand flax, draped over the hillsides of St Helena represented a staple industry of fibre exports for the British Post Office.
Decades since the industry’s collapse, anecdotally brought on by the invention of synthetic fibre, the flax plant has instead become an invasive pest.
In recent years, flax on St Helena has a new use which has turned the New Zealand plant into a commodity once again – for flax crafts.
In 2012 Veranoa Hetet, a Maori weaving expert visited from New Zealand to share her skills and teach flax weaving techniques to islanders.
Flax is also known to the Maori as harakeke and the fibre has traditionally been used to make flax linen clothing and all manner of everyday items. There is a wealth of information about the Maori culture of flax weaving online.
“No one did this before then,” says St Helenian artisan, Wanda Isaac who absorbed this shared knowledge like a sponge. “That is the amazing thing; we had no idea about using flax for crafts, of how to put it into anything that would be of any great purpose.”
Wanda quickly learned how to make flax flowers and how to weave a flax basket using simple patterns.
Wanda now teaches flax weaving herself and has an array of flax designs to make authentic island souvenirs. Through her you can learn how to weave a basket, make flowers, mats, fish shapes and even hats. She also has excellent lace making, upholstery and tailoring skills.
“Making a flax flower is simple and easy, anybody can do it,” she smiles. “Something that I’ve been hoping to provide for tourists and visitors is bookings for say an hour’s lesson of flax weaving flowers. So they could make a St Helena souvenir themselves to take away.”
What a superb idea! (If interested find Wanda’s contact details at the end of this article).
For a taster Wanda has given us her easy flax weaving instructions on how to make an arum lily or calla lily flax flower. These flowers grown in abundance on St Helena and are used as a local emblem on the island.
Growing flax is easy on St Helena and luckily for Wanda, getting flax leaves for her craft is simply a trip outdoors with a pair of scissors.
Here Is A Step By Step Guide On How To Make A Flax Flower
You’ll need a flax leaf, scissors, knife and a pin.
1. First, is the task of preparing flax for weaving. Snip off the bottom and tip of the leaf. Fold in half and using your fingernail or a pin slit and tear off the edges along the length.
2. Split the leaf through the middle seam from top to about 10cm from the bottom, this will become the stem.
3. Make a crease across the line between the split and the intact piece.
4. Starting from that crease, using a pin split even sized strips across the width of the leaf. The thinner and even the strips the neater the weave.
5. Soften the strips by pulling and scraping each one against the back of a knife. Do this on both sides.
How To Weave Harakeke Flowers
6. With shiny side up and stem pointing toward you, starting with the second strip, fold back every other strip along the crease.
7. Fold the left strip to the right placing it under the next strip (which is folded back), weave it over the next one and repeat this procedure to the centre.
8. Do the same for the next line, starting at the left, work across the line to the right.
9. Repeat this procedure until all the strips have been folded to the right except the last one. You’ve now made a quarter of the flower.
Flax Weaving For Beginners With Wanda
10. Turn the leaf so the stem is now on your right. Fold back the alternate strips as before, then fold and weave through the left strip (which was the right). Repeat the same procedure you did for the first quarter of the flower.
11. Turn and repeat until all four quarters are done.
Wanda Shows Us The Art of Maori Flax Weaving
12. To finish off, fold back the alternate strips and weave the left strip to the centre and tie off with the right strip.
13. To make a ‘stamen’ place a strip so it sticks out at the top of the flower (opposite the stem). Then turn and roll the weave into a flower shape. Tie a knot at the base of the flower to hold into place. Cut the stamen to a desired length.
14. Fold the ‘petals’ back to form the flower into the arum lily shape. Et voila! You have made an arum lily flax flower!
1 flax leaf = 1 arum lily or calla lily
The stem can either be tidied with florist tape or by wrapping a long strip of flax around it. Wanda then freezes her work for 2-3 days, a tip passed on from the Maori lady.
This is done for two reasons, one it kills off bugs and two, the flax dries and turns golden faster when placed in the sun. Once dried, flax can be dyed or sprayed different colours.
We hope your finished product looks just as good as Wanda’s does. If not practice make perfect!
If you enjoyed this introduction to flax weaving you could hone your skills by trying these 50 projects for Beginners, available on Amazon.
An interesting fact about flax: There are two main types; New Zealand flax and the common flax also known as linseed and they are quite different in appearance. The latter is more commonly used to make linen fibre and linseed oil.
If you would like to see a few flax plant images of flax crops growing wildly on St Helena click here.
Wanda Isaac, Abiwans, Forester’s Hall, Jamestown, St Helena Island, STHL 1ZZ.
Tel: +290 22082
I visited St Helena at the beginning of March 2020 and made one of these flowers along with roses and a coaster. Quite easy to do with Wanda’s instruction. Have yet to see them dried as my daughter will bring them home for me. If you get the chance to go to the island then do so the people and places are wonderful.
Glad to hear you enjoyed your trip to St Helena and got to make your own souvenirs with the wonderful Wanda. The flax dries to a lovely golden colour, something to remind you of our island sunsets. 🙂
Have u got a book on flax weaving as I’m just starting
This is real craftwork very good presentation and looks easy to do and cost very little but time, skill and commitment what is needed and Wanda has all substantial qualities in this industry. Another good story and amazing pictures.