Whanganui Chronicle reporter Laurel Stowell felt both nervous and privileged to try her hand at weaving tukutuku panels. She visited Te Ao Hou Marae to give it a go.
I'd done a bit of weaving before - but it was western-style weaving with a warp and weft, done on a loom.
But the arapaki (panels) with their tukutuku patterns are made stitch by stitch, with every strand threaded by hand.
Traditionally the base was kakaho, the dried flower stalks of harakeke (flax) or toetoe.
The fibres that fastened them together and made the patterns were also from plants - kiekie, pingao or harakeke.
The panels were decorative, but also acted as insulation in whare.
It's a serious business making something that has meaning and is intended to stay in an important house for a long time. You have to approach the job with a good heart.
Doreen Bennett is leading the arapaki (panel) project at Te Ao Hou, and her father Bill wouldn't let women weave when they were "in a grumpy".
"You want good thoughts and good energy going up on the wall for everyone," Doreen said.
I had just over an hour on a Wednesday afternoon. The 24 arapaki that will cover the walls of Te Ao Hou's Te Puawaitanga wharenui are being woven both there and in people's homes.
Irene Paama and Lyn Gundersen had just left, after weaving their way through the morning. Katrina Thompson had enlisted her friend Renee Zyp-Vanderlaan to help with an arapaki. They unpicked, and then wove.
Katrina has completed a weaving course with Trina Taurua at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. She's taken an arapaki home to work on, but prefers to weave at the marae when she can.
"I've had quite a few wānanga and hui there, and I always feel the need to return. The marae has given me so much," she said.
Leanne Hiroti arrived with Nova Plumridge, and they worked on another arapaki.
At 14 Nova is the youngest weaver in the project. One of Doreen's aims is to keep the skills alive in the next generation.
She's guided by her mother Barbara and other kuia, and she lives nearby. She had bases and kakaho (the battens that go across them) made by Marty and Marilyn Vreede. She chose the designs, gathered and prepared the harakeke, and called people together.
Marae chairman Geoff Hipango is liking having people come in and enjoy each other's company, share memories and sing songs as they weave.
"Dressing a house is a very rare occasion," he said.
Doreen is spending a lot of time in Te Puawaitanga, and took me through the weaving process.
First we divided prepared harakeke into 3mm strips. Then we moistened them with damp cloths to keep them flexible.
We each started one side of the tumatakahuki, the border around our arapaki - a bit like a picture frame.
The cross stitched pattern in undyed harakeke was white against the red background. Each of us had two strands. We threaded them through in a regular pattern that reminded me of the hessian tray cloth I cross stitched at primary school.
Each time we reached parallel positions on the arapaki we could slip a kakaho under the threads and it would stay in place.
I was following Doreen by rote rather than thinking. At one stage she said I crossed a strand over from the wrong side. Did I notice that? I hadn't.
I had to do some unpicking, which brought me in contact with the knots on the back of the arapaki, where one strand was joined to another to make a continuous thread. That caused more difficulty.
Redoing what I had unpicked I needed to understand exactly how the pattern worked. It was correct on Doreen's side, so I used that as a guide.
That was the end of my weaving experience, and there's a high chance what I did was not good enough and was unpicked later.
I hope not. Like the rest of the weavers, I wanted to be part of making something special that will stay in a special place.
As the project unfolded Doreen has posted kōrero on a private Facebook page. It shows the designs she has chosen, and talks about the meanings that cluster around each of them, different for different iwi and individuals, but also universal.
One design, poutama, is about the steps to success that come from mastering life skills and knowledge. The patiki (flounder) design is about the ability to feed a whole iwi, and women out fishing for flounder in the night.
The kaokao design, V-shaped, is about the armpit of a warrior and the strength of the people. Purapura whetu, a pattern of stars, represents the great number of people that make up an iwi or nation.
I can only imagine that walking into a whare and being enclosed by all these patterns and their meanings is a rich and empowering feeling - for those who know them.