Speed-weaver on mission for babies
AFlaxmere woman has turned a passion for wahakura (flax sleeping bassinets) into a career, as district health boards around New Zealand line up for her craft. About six years ago Katarina May took up a weaving class — and loved it. Her family’s doctor and friend David Tipene-Leach, now a Ma¯ori and indigenous research professor at EIT, encouraged her to learn how to weave wahakura and as soon as she learned how to make them, she fell in love with the tradition. Wahakura are bassinet-like capsules woven from harakeke with mattresses that are safe spaces for babies up to 6 months old to sleep in, in a shared bed. A pepi-pod is a plastic version of wahakura. Weaving them moved from being a craft, to something she did full-time. About two years ago it became a business after she began weaving them for DHBs. May is working on an order of 30 for Waikato DHB. She also sells them at markets and online, including internationally. But if she feels someone wants one but can’t afford one, she makes it possible for them to get one. She encourages people to pass on their wahakura, and buys them back when she sees any for sale. “It’s more a labour of love. “I enjoy the satisfaction of knowing I’m helping. In my business plan it’s to reduce the level of SUDI (sudden unexplained death in infancy) and knowing that in a small way that’s possible.” May said it wouldn’t be possible if her husband Gary hadn’t encouraged her and worked so she could stop fulltime work to weave. Her day starts at 8am with harvesting harakeke from Longlands, where flax has been planted for weavers. One wahakura now takes 45 minutes, but when she first began, it took two days. For about four years she has been teaching workshops for people who want to learn to weave their own wahakura to pass on the knowledge. Hapu¯ mothers and nurses often come to her for workshops. “Just meeting people and having that common interest to share, it’s really fun.” Scraps from the wahakura are made into little boxes, kete, flowers; the ends of harakeke are boiled to make harakeke balm and any other leftover bits are dried to use in the fireplace. Gary says markets are also a great place for education. Kids coming to buy small kete can lead to a conversation with parents about safe sleeping.