I have had so many people asking me how to prepare the beautiful Phormium Tenax fibres, that I use, so here is my step-by-step guide!

I must start by saying that, this is just the way that I have developed the processing of these fibres. As far as I am aware, it is not the same as the traditional method for stripping the fibres in New Zealand. I haven’t studied Harakeke basketry, but have been told that I use a different part of the leaf blade. I came across Phormium Tenax (New Zealand Flax) quite by chance, a couple of years ago, when a kind neighbour brought me some leaves to play with, from his garden.

My approach to stripping the fibres has changed since those early days and I am going to share with you, the way to process fresh leaves (the ones that are still green). It is possible to work with the old brown leaves, but they take a lot more work and I find that some of the fibres are brittle. This was all that I had to work with in the early days though and I still got enough good fibre to produce some lovely baskets, although much darker than the almost golden work that I produce today.

If you want to know how to harvest the leaves, I recommend that you watch a short video produced by the National Collection of Harakeke in New Zealand https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkLmr9GEzQk  but ignore the bit when they tell you to get rid of the bottom half, because that’s the bit that we’re going to use!

When you have harvested some leaves, you will need to remove the top part of the leaf blade. We only want the part that is folded over and partially fused together. You can use a sharp pair of garden scissors for this. The first photo shows the discarded tops (I add mine to my compost, but you could try out some harakeke weaving), the second photo shows the bottom half, which we’ll strip.


Now you will need to use a sharp garden knife to split the remaining leaf blade, down the middle, where it’s fused. Please, please be careful of your fingers! I find that if I start it with a knife, I can then pull the length apart. You will find that it’s sticky inside and a most amazing colour!


From here on, it’s going to get messy! I am warning you now, that stripping these fibres will stain your hands and no amount of scrubbing will get it off. I have tried wearing gloves, which is fine for these early stages, but won’t work later on and I have tried washing my hands with soaps for mechanics and printers. Still, I spend a lot of time with orangey-brown hands. I just have to wait for it to wear off. If you find a solution do let me know, I would love to have nice hands again! That said, I still think that these fibres are worth the sacrifice.

For the next part you will need a comb. I just use an old plastic comb that I found on the beach, a regular fine hair comb.

Comb firmly along the length of the split leaf blade several times, until the fibres are well exposed.


Complete this process with all of your split leaf blades and then leave the fibres to dry out. You could spread them out in the sun, or hang them in front of the fire. Either way, it shouldn’t take more than a day. I find that the next stage is easier if the fibres have had this time to dry first. The remaining part of the leaf blade can be added to your compost heap, or used in a permaculture lasagne bed or hugelkultur bed.

You can store the fibres like this until you’re ready to do the next stage. I will often do the first stage of processing and then box up the dry fibres and do the second stage in small batches, as required. It is a time consuming business, but I have got into a nice rhythm with it in this way, so that it doesn’t feel like a gargantuan task.

You could also use it at this stage, for a much more rustic look – although it should be noted that if it gets wet, without being thoroughly cleaned, it will release a lot of colour.

If like me, you want those golden or sometimes palest auburn fibres, you are going to have to clean each fibre individually. Start by soaking the pre-dried fibres in a bowl of water for half an hour.

Then, drain off the water – but leave the fibres wet.

You can see in the photos below – the fibres straight after stripping, then after their first drying and having their first soak.


Now you can begin to clean them.

Place one end of an individual fibre, between your forefinger and thumb nail. Use you other hand to pull the fibre (firmly) all the way through to the other end. You will see the wet pithy bits coming away from the fibre.

You may need to repeat this, to get off all of the pithy stuff. Then you just need to do the same with all of the other fibres!

You could listen to an audio book or some music, watch your kids playing, or as I often strip mine when everyone else is asleep – listen to the sound of the sea or the birds singing. You’re going to be at it for a bit, so get in the zone and make it a relaxing medititive task.

Again, add the pith to your compost. I keep meaning to try using it for paper making, if I do, I will let you know.😉

Pictured below – cleaning the fibre, the pithy remains, the fibre after cleaning.


The only thing left to do now, is to give all of fibres a really good rinse, under the tap or in a bowl of water. Squeeze out as much water as you can and then you can either use it straight away, or you can dry it out and store it.

If you dry it, you will need to soak the fibres for a few minutes before you use them. I generally just soak a few fibres at a time, leaving a small bowl of water on my workbench, while I work.

I find that at this stage the fibres don’t like to be soaked and dried out anymore, so only soak what you can use straight away because Phormium Tenax does dry out very quickly.

I hope that you find this guide helpful, as I say this is just my way of doing it, you might improve the method, or find a better way for you. As I often tell my children “There is almost always another way of doing something”.