Saturday, 18 August 2012

Pandanus weaving

There is a style of handcraft around here known as pandanus weaving. Some of it is actual weaving and some is more like macramé or basketry. This art form is done by Indigenous Australian women. It is possible that it is done by men, but I have not come across that.

I took this photo at a nearby town during a festival.
The end products include fishtraps, mats, bowls, baskets, dilly bags, sculptures, armbands, and other personal decorative items.

This photo of pandanus is from The Eden project.
The process is long and difficult. Pandanus is a spiky leafed palm, often two metres or more in height. The leaves have small thorns along each edge. The green fronds are collected. Then the ladies sit around together and strip or slice each frond into strings. The thorns are discarded. The ladies use their fingernails to start the slicing and then pull along the leaf. This sounds simple but you need to concentrate.

Next the strings are grouped and dyed. I have not come across any artificial dyes being used, but it is possible this could happen in the future. Roots, bark, and fruit are collected to make the dyes. This is collected by women and children as they walk through the bush.  The dyeing process is not usually available for viewing by outsiders.

ATSIS photo
The visitor is leaning from the experienced artists.
After the threads have dried the weaving begins. Usually this is done as the ladies sit around in a group on the ground. I have attempted to learn the weaving or construction process but found it extremely difficult. Imagine crocheting a basket without a hook or scissors or any tool whatsoever. That is how it is done. The knots are close together and tiny. The smaller and finer the work the higher the quality and value. In the museum are examples from a hundred years ago and the standard is incredibly fine. Traditionally there would be ochre applied on the outside of some finished baskets as decoration.

A completed basket about 30centimetres high and 15 centimetres wide would sell in a gallery for around $200 here in town. The artist would have received half or less. If the work is taken to the bigger city the price will double again. Mats, fishtraps, and other large items sell for thousands in the galleries. The price is a mere pittance compared to the work involved.

No tools, just effort and talent.
This will become a bowl or a basket.

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