Different fromEuropean flax, New Zealand Flax is often grown as an ornamental around the world. A traditional fibre and medicinal plant in New Zealand, this plant is pretty amazing. The fibre comes from the leaves and can either be peeled or scrutched away from the flesh. There are many different varieties of NZ flax, some only a couple of feet high, some over two meters.
Today I dug up and brought home my a NZ flax plant, kindly donated by another yarn enthusiasts.
The first thing someone told me is "you can't get fibre from that, it's not the right type". Well, you know me, as soon as someone says it's impossible...
I got these fibres from a few seconds scraping. No, the chicken wasn't any help, alas, she's just inquisitive. I think NZ flax is a lot like normal flax - there are hundreds of different varieties, and all will give some sort of fibre - some better than others.
I'll divi it up into several smaller clumps and plant it at different spots around the farm.
Chatting with a friend in Vancouver, NZ flax came up. Apparently, the NZ flax in and around Vancouver all died due to the unusually hard winter we had. I was worried about this as growing it here really pushes the zone. On the drive home, I saw over a dozen big clumps of NZ flax, the same style as the one I brought home. All of them still thriving despite our hard winter. They had different exposure, some on the north facing rocky slopes, others out in the open, others protected. Not one seems to be suffering.
There are customs around the harvesting and use of harakeke, NZ flax, most of them are related to preserving the resource or keeping the weaving area in an orderly state. Working with harakeke is regarded as tapu, (sacred), by Maori.
I trimmed up the Harakeke plants carefully to keep the 'parents and grandparents' intact, and divided them up. I placed them all over the property at different microclimates with the hope that some will flourish. If all flourish, I'm in for an interesting time. Some of the leaves I trimmed, I am keeping for crafting, the rest I've used as mulch around the plants. Some plants are left to fend for themselves, others have a generous helping of llama berries. I'm curious which will do better.
I'm also curious about different ways of processing this fibre. Scraping is all well and good, but it seems to want doing right after harvesting. Someone mentioned pressure cooking. I wonder what other ways there are. There is lots to read.
Will also be seeking any commercially prepared Harakeke fibres for spinning so I can see the difference between my harvest and the fibre crop. It seems a renewable fibre with many uses, I wonder why it's not used more often in textile production.
Oh, I don't think that is ugly. One of the things I love about working with harakeke, and other natural material, is that no matter how unskilled we are, they still have a beauty of their own. The basket you have made is in a completely different style to how weavers here make baskets. I'll see if I can find some links to the techniques we use here.
We're really lucky to be in the homeland of this amazing plant. The region we live in was formerly a vast flax swamp, and up until the middle of the last century there was a thriving flax industry with working mills in the nearby towns of Shannon and Foxton. In addition to its uses as a fibre plant, harakeke flowers are an important food source for our nectar feeding birds like tui and komako, and the seeds are oily and nutritious. There are thickets of flax on the property and although we don't do any large scale harvest, I use it a lot for tying bundles and any sort of odd job where I need a bit of strong twine. Woven flax panels are traditional building materials as well.
Oh, and it's crazy strong. One leaf can stop a 4HP petrol lawnmower dead in its tracks, and don't even think about having a go at it with a weed whacker.
@Sue - I've still got the putiputi that my daughter and I made on a marae visit back when she was a year 2 student. There is something very comforting about sleeping in a wharenui with flax panels and mats all around you.