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From garden to basket: using New Zealand Flax for weaving

New Zealand Flax - Phormium tenax - this is one of my favourite plant fibres to weave. 😍🌿

New Zealand Flax is such a versatile fibre!

It is perfect for coiling, twining, under & over weaving, looping, random weave as well as cordage. New Zealand Flax dries firmly and is extremely strong. You can pick and store for years in a dry airy place.

Not only that -- when you want to use it just soak for 15 - 30 mins and you're ready to go! It is a great all-round fibre with little preparation time required!

Above are three examples of weaving with flax; a godseye with eight spokes, a pod made with fruit tree pruning's and flax has been used to fill in the sections and a small piece using the woven under and over technique. You can learn these techniques in our Sculptural Basketry online course.

NZ Flax coiled baskets.
New Zealand Flax coiled baskets.

For those looking to dive into plant fibres for weaving, New Zealand Flax is a forgiving and beginner-friendly fibre. The image on the right is taken from my face to face workshop from several years ago where I provided New Zealand Flax to make these coiled baskets.

Participants have used New Zealand Flax throughout these baskets as well as weaving in other plant material.

Where I live, which is a temperate climate it is easy to grow. It will withstand cooler temperatures but generally this plant doesn’t like subtropical or tropical climates. The plant grows in a clump and has long strappy leathery leaves.

If the climate is suitable I highly recommend growing it!  If you don't know, ask your local plant nursery.

You can also use it instead of raffia -- it's not as soft but you can make similar shapes when coiling. So if you want to save money, it's an ideal choice! 🌿💰

I have three varieties in my garden and I use them all for weaving, the largest of them being the Native Green Form. I can weave a medium sized basket with just a couple of leaves and can use it quite soon after picking.

Picking New Zealand Flax is easy. Cut the outer leaves first and leave the other leaves to continue to grow. The outer leaves are called the grandparent leaves and this way you won't damage the plant. Strip the leaves to about 2-3mm, 1/8 inch in width with a needle or, you can use your nails if they're strong (watch the video below to see this being done with a needle and prepared for weaving). One leaf can give you a good yield. Wrap them together into coiled bundles which can use pretty much straight away, or you can leave the bundles to dry and use another day. If the bundles dry out, soak them for about 15 - 30 minutes. Then they’re ready!

Phormium tenax in a garden bed

If you use them within a few days of picking you don't need to soak the fibre and can get straight into weaving as it will have enough moisture to keep the leaves subtle.

If you are using rehydrated leaves wrap them in a damp towel, this way they won't dry out while you're working. However don't leave them wrapped for longer than a day or two or the fibre will go mouldy.

If you find you have soaked too much and don't want to waste your fibre, simply lay them out and let them dry and you can store for weaving with them another day.

⬇️ Here is a video on how to split New Zealand Flax. ⬇️

New Zealand flax is native to New Zealand, and is widely used by Maori weavers to make Kete (baskets) and traditional clothing. If you ever visit New Zealand you will notice that it grows everywhere!

We run two courses that feature New Zealand Flax as well as many other plants.

Phormium tenax in a pot
You can even plant NZ Flax in pots

6 Fantastic New Zealand Flax varieties to use in Basket Weaving (Phormium tenax)

As we know New Zealand Flax is a versatile, strong and fabulous all-round fibre to use in basket making.

It is a visually striking plant prized for its architectural foliage and vibrant colours - it looks great in your garden!

Horticulturalists and gardeners alike value its resilience and adaptability to various growing conditions.

Within the realm of Phormium tenax, there are several popular cultivars, each with its own unique characteristics and aesthetic appeal. You can even grow them in a pot, so if you're limited with space it's ideal.

1. 'Atropurpureum': This cultivar boasts deep reddish-purple leaves, adding a bold contrast to garden landscapes. Its stiff, upright foliage can reach heights of up to 3 meters, providing a striking focal point.

2. 'Sundowner': With its variegated pink, green, and creamy white leaves, 'Sundowner' brings a splash of colour to gardens. Its dense clumping habit makes it an excellent choice for adding visual interest.

3. 'Yellow Wave': Characterized by vibrant yellow-green leaves with a subtle wave-like pattern, 'Yellow Wave' adds brightness to any garden setting. It typically grows to around 1.5 meters tall and is ideal for adding colour contrast.

4. 'Tricolour': This cultivar features green, pink, and creamy white striped leaves, creating a captivating multi-coloured effect. Its compact growth habit and height of approximately 1.2 meters make it suitable for borders or containers.

5. 'Maori Queen': With bronze-red leaves and pink margins, 'Maori Queen' exudes elegance and sophistication. Its compact clumping habit and height of about 1.5 meters make it an excellent choice for smaller garden spaces.

6. Native Green Form (Harakeke): In its native habitat of New Zealand, the green form of Phormium tenax, known as "harakeke" in Maori, is iconic. This variety features large, broad green leaves, adding a natural and majestic presence to the landscape. It is widely distributed throughout New Zealand and holds cultural significance for indigenous Maori communities.

Phormium tenax in a garden

These cultivars offer a range of colours, textures, and sizes, allowing gardeners to incorporate Phormium tenax into their landscapes and, of course, your weaving pantry. It's actually a great introduction to start growing your own plants for weaving.

New Zealand Flax is a fantastic choice as a weaving fibre. Its ease of cultivation and versatility in weaving techniques make it a valuable addition to any basket weaver's toolkit. Whether you're a beginner or experienced weaver, consider using New Zealand Flax into your projects for a unique and sustainable weaving experience. It is a stunning plant and fibre to have amongst your collection! 😍🌿

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May 07

Flax is definitely one of my most favourite fibres to work with - it is always reliable and gives consistently good results. Thank you for this informative read Ruth, I will have to play with some different varieties.

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