Workshop: Maori basket weaving with Alice Spittle

This workshop at the Australian Museum was an absorbing, centering and very satisfying day, with Alice as a warm and generous guide.

Observing protocols, respecting tradition, was an important part of the day. There was a sequence of ceremony – acknowledgement of traditional owners and custodians of the country where we met, and also the country where the New Zealand harakeke (flax) we would use was harvested; Karakia (perhaps incantations or prayers) invoking the spiritual guidance and protection of Earth Mother and Sky Father; each introducing ourselves, if we chose with our connections to family and place. To me this was a reminder that what we do can have wider ramifications, it gave a deeper sense of purpose, a calm focus.

Alice took us through the nurturing and harvesting of the harakeke. Every step considers the health and sustainability of the plant. Which leaves to take, how to cut them to enable water run off and avoid disease, when to harvest… There is also a spirit of generosity, the belief that sharing is a way to abundance. And integral with the spiritual, the philosophical, there is the practical – the integrity and ongoing availability of the fibre. I’ve been an urbanite all my life, am happy to use plastics and synthetics and metals, try to be mindful of my footprint on the earth without actually changing anything I particularly want to do. Although it’s not a path I follow, being reminded of another way… well, I’m not sure what that means to me yet. (For more on harakeke, see my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/harakeke/.)

The project for the day was a two cornered basket. Alice had the material already prepared, so we could go straight into softening the strips, weaving the initial square, starting a second layer and the magical moment when it pops into 3D. All the way through Alice would explain and show traditional ways and alternatives.

I think everyone in the class was able to finish their basket by the end of the day. Later at home I made some cord with the flax for a handle and closure, incorporating a little paua shell and silver pendant by Margaret Jordan in Paihia, Bay of Islands – a gift from my father.

At the end of the day Alice shared out remaining materials. I was keen to show respect in my use of the harakeke, given it is highly prized and in some sense sacred. I also wanted to both consolidate learning and push a bit by trying for a four cornered basket. It turned into a bit of a scramble, improvised rather than traditional, and rather gappy and loose.

In theory the jagged tie-off at the top is easier than the “flat” of the first basket. I made it difficult because I wanted to try tucking the ends to the inside rather than outside, so that only the shiny top surface of the leaf is visible. I suspect that structurally this is weaker, but I like the look.

computer wire, neoprene, whipper snipper
My response to the class with Frances Djulibing

In the morning while we were waiting for the final couple of participants Alice showed us a few extras, including spinning fibres from the harakeke. She used her arm, pretty much from the elbow down to the palm of the hand, rolling down and up the length of her thigh, to create a two ply thread. At a broad level it was very similar to what I saw demonstrated by Frances Djulibing from Ramingining, in the east of Arnhem Land, at a workshop at the MCA in 2013 (see 31-Aug-2013, which includes a long, wordy description of what I could see/understand of the process). The fascinating part is the difference, which I think is due to the different materials being used – an expression of location. The banyan fibres were shorter, more chaotic, and Frances was constantly adding more. Alice was working with a long, regular, bundle of fibres, the length of the leaf. She started holding in the middle, spun one side, then turned to do the other. The final length of the yarn is a reflection of the size of the plant. Another element I want to remember is a change in the position, the angle, of the hand holding the growing length of spun fibre. Without changing grip it allowed Alice to bring the two strands together for the upward plying movement.

Finished bolga basket from class with Godwin Yidana

Godwin Yidana from northern Ghana taught another variant on this spinning (31-Jul-2017). The materials again reflected local environment – plastic water bags, recycled and scrap fabric, plastic shopping bags. An old rubber thong (flip-flop) was used to protect the leg and improve grip.

At the top of this post I mentioned our personal introductions. As part of my connections, my explanation of who I am in the world and my place in community, I talked about the three examples of spinning, using local materials and one’s body, different but the same. A community of makers across cultures. Making thread, weaving – basics for survival, and capable of supporting expressions of self and aesthetics. Powerful stuff.

1 Response to “Workshop: Maori basket weaving with Alice Spittle”



  1. 1 Quickly taking stock | Fibres of Being Trackback on December 11, 2018 at 6:56 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.




Calendar of Posts

December 2018
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Archives

Categories


%d bloggers like this: