Cultural Techniques

Yolngu women have been weaving objects using fibre (such as pandanas grass and bush string) for many hundreds of years.

By continuing to use these traditional techniques we can keep the culture strong, and it can go on. This is what I have learned from my grandmother.

In the old times we made fibre objects for ceremony and for carrying and catching things. These days we still make these objects, but we can also make new things with these fibres. The lampshade project was an opportunity to try something new and show our artwork in a new light.

Fibres, Roots & Leaves

The materials used by the weavers are all derived from plants that are native to Arnhem Land. The key fibre used on Elcho Island is from the pandanus plant, Pandanus Spiralis. The long spiky leaves are used by the women for weaving. The other main fibres are derived from the bark of the Red-fruiting Kurrajong tree. The dyes used by the weavers come from combinations of roots, ash and various plant leaves.

Splitting, Stripping & Crushing

The first step in preparing the pandanus is to strip the long leaves of the spine and the prickles by inserting the right thumbnail through the leaf and slicing through to the end. The leaves are then split in half by bending them over at the tip, firmly pressing thumb and index finger together and gently sliding them so that the leaves separate.

The outer layer of the kurrajong sapling is cut off when preparing bush string. Between the outer bark and the inner core is a fibrous layer, which is removed and beaten to help soften the fibre in preparation for dyeing.

Dyeing & Drying

Various roots, leaves and ash are used to achieve the rich colours used to dye the fibres. These dye colours vary with seasons and also between different parts of Arnhem Land. The dye mixtures are boiled in water with the fibre for different lengths of time which changes the intensity of the colour achieved.

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