Monday, February 23, 2015

How much string do I need to make a korowai?

I have been asked this question many times and unfortunately there is not a simple answer except LOTS.  Firstly you need to decide what string you will use.  In NZ we can get three sorts of mop string in large rolls, two  (a thick and a thin, both 4kg and costing around $100 with gst and postage) from ICB Cleaning supplies in Auckland and and thin 4.5kg from Browns Brushware also in Auckland for about $130.  These are the main ones used so I will talk about these.
When you have decided which string I recommend doing a sample piece so that you can work out your personal tension and work out from this.  It is a good idea to keep a record of what you make, how long and how many the whenu and of what material etc.  No matter how much I tell others to do so I am a bit lax myself so these ideas have been hard to work out but here goes.
Next is to decide on a pattern.  Are you going full feather with taaniko at the top and mawhitiwhiti on the back or will you have mawhitiwhiti within the kaupapa of the cloak?   Mawhitiwhiti takes up more string as the diversion uses more each time.  But assuming you are making a straight cloak with taaniko and mawhitiwhiti then decide on a finished length.  To this finished length add about 10cm for the turnover and mawhitwhiti on the back. Now add an extra 1/4 that length for somehow it seems to need that.  And then double the whole amount for casting on two whenu strings.  So for instance if your desired length of 110cm. Add 10cm for turnover making 120cm. Now add an extra 1/4 that length (30cm as the weaving takes it up) making it 150cm. Then you double that for it to be cast on in twos.  Oh and if you want a plait and/or mawhitiwhiti on the sides they will need to be half the length again so that they don't get too short. So lots of maths involved. Make sure when you measure the string you don't stretch it but loosely wind around whatever you are measuring on. I have my weaving board with nails which I also use to wind off my whenu.  Now don't sue me if this is too short.  Its better to cut longer than necessary and use any left overs to make small pieces for framing as gifts than to get up to the top and discover its going to be too short.

Now we come to how many.   I have found that as I go up the korowai it gets skinnier. I don't know why. Maybe my tension gets tighter as I put feathers in. However that needs to be allowed for and don't be surprised if it happens. I can sometimes be 10cm shorter in width at the top than at the bottom. But that's ok because the width doesn't show so much unless lying flat and it is better to be that way round as the cloak may come around the hips more. I don't bother with shaping and few I know do. So this is where your tension piece is really helpful as your tension and mine might be different.  Of course the different strings require differing amounts too.  If I use the thinner strings I generally use them double.  This means each 'whenu' is actually two strings held together and woven as one.  If I was using them singly I would use a finer aho cotton than the 4ply knitting and crochet cotton I use at present.  Otherwise there is a tiny gap between the whenu which would make it unstable and the feather down and stems would poke through making the back unsightly and scratchy.
So I can cast on less than 300 ICB thin used double and more than 350 Browns thin double to make an adult cloak.  It also depends on whether you want it to come together in the front or for the strings to tie with a gap in the front so what you wear under can be seen at the top.  Also whether the korowai is for one person or a family of differing sizes.
All I can tell you is what I would cast on for me to achieve 115cm at the top, say, I would probably cast on 290 double  in ICB thin (or 360 double of Browns string.)  ( 250 thin ICB double ended up 100cm wide on the Wakari school cloak I have just finished) You can see from this that the advantage of the ICB string is that it requires fewer stitches per row  than Browns and so takes that much less time.

I would like to hear if others have a formula to tell people.

I hope this helps with approximating what you need but It is not an exact science at least not in my experience.

Friday, February 20, 2015


At last the Wakari School kakahu is finished. 

The top is done with mawhitiwhiti with a plait threaded through to keep it drawn up for a smaller person to wear it. 
The top turnover is done with two whenu at once which in this case is four strings. This has made a bigger turnover than normally. A slightly chunkier look. The back is just plain rows with the left over string threaded back through below the mawhitiwhiti to make a fringe. 

All in all I am quite pleased with it and look forward to handing it over sometime soon. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Nearly at the top

I have finished the poutama pattern on the school kereru cloak and have done three rows of little neck feathers to finish off the feather rows. These feathers are so tiny I have had to not turn them up but keep them flat and do another fairly close row over them. 

I am fairly happy with it but we shall see when it's finished. 
Now for the mawhitiwhiti on the top. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Using native bird feathers

As you can see I am using kereru feathers for this school korowai. This has come about because DoC had a lot of kereru that needed using and it seemed appropriate for this school. However I needed to apply for them from the joint Ngai Tahu/ DoC committee and then get an authority to hold the birds while I worked on them from DoC according to the Wildlife Act. After these were duly received. I was able to pick the birds up from the museum where they were held. The school is also going to need an Authority to Hold when I hand over the korowai. So it is quite a complicated process but at least I am covered. 
However I got ten birds and they varied in size and condition. Two were beautiful big birds that had white fronts and little damage. The others had stained fronts that didn't whiten and some were badly damaged. So the number of useful feathers varied. However even the best ones only provided perhaps two rows of bundles. The feathers can have quite thick shafts so are awkward to use. 

I am using three sorts of feathers for this design. The 'white' front feathers; the grey back ones and the darker ones from near the wings. The birds are frozen so I thaw them for half a day then pull out the feathers I want sorting them as I go. Some are a decent length but some I have had to layer to get enough to turn up the ends

When I have pulled out everything useful the bird is still quite feathered. 
But the rest if the feathers are too stiff or too small. Sometimes a little meat comes attached to the feather and I pull it off or cut it off. Not for the squeamish. 
Kereru have a particular odour which I don't like so the feathers are all washed. I would hate to go to all this work and have it rejected because the kids didn't like the smell. Unfortunately washing and drying them can take the natural oils out and the feather may not act like a feather should. But I can cope with that for the sake of no odour. 
These are the piles of bundles from those two birds when ready. There are enough I hope for four rows plus some tiny bundles I hope to use as a 'collar' at the top. These are too small to have a turnover so I will have to do three rows over them to secure them. 

I really don't think I will use kereru again both because of the feathers themselves being too difficult to use and because of the legal ramifications of using native feathers. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Saturday weaving

We had a great day of weaving on Saturday with 10 ladies meeting together. Two new ladies joined us and have made great progress. It was a wonderful day, sunny and warm with lots of interesting projects to see. Our next day will be next Sunday 15th Feb at the Otago Museum at 2pm.  All welcome.

I also received an email from a friend from Palmerston North who has just finished her first big korowai. And most impressive it is too. Especially as she has used the thin string singly and had to cast on 500 whenu. I am in awe of such perseverance. She has used the thin side feathers from a peacock tail feather as splashes amongst the white feathers and mawhitiwhiti between the columns. I am so impressed.  Well done Adrienne.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


I have often been asked where to get feathers.  This is not as simple to answer as it may seem.  I have gathered feathers from many different places and have always been on the lookout for feather options.  Now don't take anything I say here as an endorsement of anyone, its just what I have used in the past.

There are at least four things to try I can think of depending on how many, what quality and what sort of feathers you want and how much effort you want to go to.

The Internet - eg Feathergirl - can be expensive but sometimes there are good bargains. Feathers are mostly ready to use and generally clean and of consistent quality.  She has good pelts too.

Kentsing Trading Co in Papatoetoe, Auckland PH 09 2789892. The natural brown (shorter) feather strings are just natural brown chook feathers. As they are imported they will have been fumigated but they don't seem to smell now like they used to do.  Maybe the fumigation process has changed.  They need washing, hanging out to dry a bit then finishing off in a pillow case tightly tied in the dryer to fluff up. I wouldn't use them just as they come as they can fluff up much nicer. They also have white ones and dyed ones. I am not swearing to their quality but I send for them for the starter kits I make for beginners. They are cheap.

Road kill, killing your own chooks or roosters or picking up feathers from parks etc where there are lots of geese, swans etc. Messy, yuckky but free. I have a friend who pelts her own chooks and she sells them for around $30 each. 

DoC: you can apply to DoC for birds. There is quite a few hoops to jump through especially for native birds AND you just get the birds usually frozen. They need plucking and washing carefully.

A small company that kills birds for the restaurant market if you can find one. The feathers are waste and maybe free. BUT there is a lot of yukky work to do. This is how I started out and looking back on it I don't recommend it. A great deal of work washing and sorting.