Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Okay, look -- I know that's some really lousy weaving. I can only tell you (a) it was my first time, (b) I didn't have the slightest idea what I was doing and, (c) Ralph insisted on helping as the ends of the strips kept flipping his way.

It's supposed to be a flower. (cough cough) Although it doesn't show in the photo, there are actually three layers of weaving, spiraling up from the largest bottom layer. I didn't really take too much care with turning even corners and keeping strands snugged up, which is why I wouldn't ordinarily care to display the results. Mainly I've decided to expose my ineptitude because I just wanted you to see how really neat the grain of the strips is. If you click on the photo, you can see a larger version. Just wish you could smell this stuff. It's very much like freshly cut grass, which is logical since, in a way, that's what it is.

Yuppers. Grass. Of the wide and long persuasion. Of the infamous mystery monster that has been the subject of previous posts and comments. By the way, for those who might not have checked back for guesses, I did add a second photo to the last post that showed the leaves at a closer range. You can scroll down and check it out now. I'll wait. Okay? Okay. Now let me tell you what I did.

Had to wait until this morning because 101 Plants is closed on Mondays. Don't know why I didn't think to call earlier because Pat and Jeff are veritable founts of botanical knowledge. So Jeff answered the phone and I described the mystery monster. It wasn't a problem. "Oh," he said, "that's a New Zealand flax. It's real name is Phormium but everyone calls it New Zealand flax."

Bill, your guess about agave was closer than I thought. Apparently Phormium has been placed in the agave family in the past (and still is by many sources) but has since been moved to a different family entirely. Be that as it may, with a bit of Googling you'll find this is a most fascinating and remarkable plant, in all its many varieties. The Maori cultivated lots of different kinds and managed to use them for everything from medicine to cloth to rope and fish nets -- as well as all manner of useful things in between.

New Zealand flax grows all over the world and comes in a broad range of sizes, from something that you can keep in a pot to the likes of my monster. It also comes in various colors but cheerfully lends itself to dye should you happen to want something different when you're working with it. Because that's what really drew my interest -- what you can DO with the beast.

Absolutely the best site I've found so far is maintained by the hugely talented New Zealander, Ali Brown. She not only tells you all about this magical plant, she provides instructions on everything from harvesting and preparing leaves to various weaving projects, complete with excellent photos giving you a step-by-step feel for what is otherwise (to me, anyway) hopelessly complicated. Be sure to click the link to her blog because there are more projects demonstrated there.

I did my best to follow her instructions to make the funny-looking "flower" pictured above. Right off the git-go, I didn't get the strips particularly even in size. That didn't really bother me because I wasn't planning on entering the result in any competition. I just wanted to see how it worked. I can tell you this -- when you're weaving away, manipulating all those strips, it's alarmingly easy to misplace one of the skinnier ones and have to go back and reweave a row or two. I'm just saying.

Actually, I think one could spend a significant part of one's lifetime learning about all the properties of the phantastic phormium. Check out the University of Auckland page listing just some of the uses for the plant. From another source, I learned the seeds can serve as a substitute coffee. And the pulp can be fermented for silly juice. (Also known as adult beverage.)

Just think of it: From one plant (including its variants) you can get clothing, medicine, food and the means for catching more food (fish nets). You can weave practically all your kitchen ware and wrap your food and decorate your home and person. You can even make paper with it and, for all I know, maybe you can get dye out of it to make ink so you can write on the paper. On top of everything else, it's pretty and it smells good.

Don't see how you could do better than that.


The Old Guy said...

Too bad it didn't turn out to be the root of some psychedelic potion that would help us retain our inner equilibrium until after November 4th. But if one must become a basket case, it's nice to be able to weave one's one basket. What we need is a grassroots movement...

What this proves to me is that people who know stuff are much better sources than computer databases. That's one of many reasons why your blog is so interesting, Dee. And thank you for sharing your friends' wisdom.

Wendy said...

Dee, you come up with some of the most interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing it. Now what I really want is a video of you doing the weaving and Ralph doing the helping. I bet that was a blast.

Dee said...

Bill, we may have a real money-maker here. No matter how the election comes out, half the country will think we're going to hell in a handbasket. Now's the time to learn to weave the handbaskets so we can sell 'em when folks go in to vote!

Wendy, I'm afraid to do a video like you describe. I'm afraid you might catch me weaving ol' Ralph into the pattern. Accidentally, of course. (rolling eyes innocently)

Bonnie said...

Is this in your back yard? I sure don't remember seeing it there. Then again we know my memory.

I'll leave the basket case comment to others sharper than I am. btw those leaves look sharp.

Dee said...

Bonnie, yes, back yard. You can see the clump of flax from the dining area window. As for sharp -- no, the flax leaves are not sharp. But you can sure get cut up if you tangle with the pampas grass clumps that border the yard. In fact, there's a pampas clump right next to the flax -- and I steer clear of it. (grin)