Rauaroha - The journey of a korowai
The journey of a korowai
There are over 60 varieties of harakeke (Phormium tenax). Each variety has its own characteristics that make it ideal for a certain type of weaving. When choosing harakeke for cloak weaving, a harakeke is selected for muka (flax fibre) and length. For this korowai, I used Kōhunga – a superior variety of harakeke from Ngāti Maniapoto used for muka.
The Kōhunga I used was gathered from the home of Sir Hirini Moko Mead and Lady June Mead. It was gifted to them over 50 years ago by my great grandmother, Dame Rangimarie Hetet. I felt it appropriate to use this harakeke, not only because of it attributes but also because of its whakapapa. As well as being leaders in education, both Sir Hirini Mead and my great grandmother have been leaders in the field of mahi toi, in particular nga mahi a te whare pora (the arts of weaving).
Once gathered the harakeke is prepared for hāro. Hāro is the technique used to extract the creamy white fibres from the leaf with a mussel shell.
To prepare the 1200 aho required (horizontal or weft) threads, four single strands of fibre are selected and these four fibres are then plied on the leg.The fibres are then plied on the leg, creating a strong, unbreakable
thread. 600 whenu (vertical or warp) threads were required for this korowai.
Muka must also be extracted from the harakeke leaf to produce the hukahuka (black tassles adorning the body of the cloak). This process of extracting and plying fibre is a very laborious task.The whenu and aho must then be washed. After beating the whenu (patu muka) they are then further softened with kōmuri (a slow, time consuming action of kneading the fibres between the hands).
The feathers for this korowai are pheasant feathers. Pheasant feathers are an ideal substitute for the feathers of New Zealands native birds. The feathers are plucked and bound at the quill in bundles of two or three feathers. These bundles are set aside for weaving.
It is only after all of the materials (whenu, aho, hukahuka and feathers) are prepared that weaving can begin. The preparation for the materials for this korowai took two months.
Casting on a korowai is a very special time for a weaver. It is when the months of physically hard work can be set aside and the still, quiet time of weaving can begin. It is a very solitary time with the korowai woven in the most ancient technique of whatu (traditional cloak weaving stitch). Thousands of stitches were used in the creation of the korowai and all of those stitches were done without the use of a loom or a needle. The entire korowai was created by hand.
Hours of methodical, rhythmic hand movements were spent at the weaving stand where this korowai grew.
A korowai becomes a part of the weavers life and home. It is born from her hands and her mind.
Months are spent in its creation and finally it is gifted with pride
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