The wharenui at Whanganui's Te Ao Hou Marae is being warmed by weavers working on new tukutuku panels that will decorate it.
Te Puawaitanga, built in the 1970s, had only a few decorative arapaki (panels) so on November 28 Doreen Bennett launched a project to rectify that, making 24 large panels that will line both sides of the house in Aramoho.
People who answered Bennett's Facebook panui (message) took home panels to work on. Other panels stayed in the wharenui and are being worked on there.
On Sunday, January 2, four women were at work - Bennett preparing materials and Olive Hawira, Lyn Gundersen and Irene Paama threading harakeke through holes in the panels to make the patterns Bennett had chosen.
They had been coming in about three times a week, Gundersen said.
"I just call it we are keeping the marae warm, looking after our tūpuna."
Paama, who lives in Whanganui, was a complete novice with weaving. Hawira lives in Ohakune and has connections to both the Whanganui River and the Karioi area. She had helped her aunt and cousin in Taihape make two arapaki and said she was still learning.
"I learn something new every row I do."
Gundersen is back in Whanganui after living in Levin for years. She hasn't done tukutuku work for 10 years but weaves korowai and kakahu, two types of cloak.
She made the cloak presented to Dorothy (Dot) Bright on her 100th birthday at the St John's Club on December 21. Because Bright is Pākehā, Gundersen used cotton and wrote down the story of the cloak for her.
"I made a contemporary cloak with traditional methods," Gundersen said.
Hawira was working on a design modelled on the fronds of a silver fern. The pattern called out to her, she said.
"This one was unveiled for me, and talked to me."
Weaving had to be done with a clear mind and good heart, Hawira said.
"You are putting a little bit of yourself in there."
The women talk and sing as they weave, making up words to songs, and sometimes Gundersen plays the guitar. Bennett plans to bring in a whiteboard so they can relearn the words to old waiata (songs).
The weavers dampen the harakeke (flax) fibres as they weave to keep them supple. They work from designs drawn on graph paper and if they make a mistake they have to undo it.
Gundersen and Paama were working on a takitoru design, showing groups of three. Doreen Bennett's mother Barbara Bennett has told them it could symbolise the foot of a swamp hen or it could be about a mother, father and child.
It could also symbolise the matua, tama and wairua tapu (father, son and holy spirit). Gundersen and Paama are both mōrehu (Ratana followers) and that appealed to them.
"Originally the pattern I chose was roimata toroa, the tears of the albatross, but somehow I came across this. I thought it was significant that we do this pattern," Gundersen said.
She worked on the front, pushing strands through to the back for Paama to thread back or tie off with a knot.
She thanked Bennett for organising the project.
"All we have done is come here and weave, eat and sleep. She has done everything, the patterns, the dyeing, the panels, to even helping us to get started."