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Weaving palm fronds helps Ishta Nupa beat pandemic boredom

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Ishta Nupa Paynter in one of his creations (Photograph supplied)

If you're on Ishta Nupa Paynter's Christmas list, prepare for a one-of-a-kind gift.

Bored by the pandemic and all of its constraints, he started weaving coconut palm fronds. He has so far mastered hats, baskets and bowls; with an estimated shelf life of about three years he hopes to find a way of keeping them around longer.

"It all started with this Covid thing," he said. "You have people locked down, you can't really socialise."

While sitting on his porch, the leaves on the banana trees in his yard caught his eye.

"A couple years back I was in Hawaii and I saw these hats [made from palm fronds] and thought, you know, that’s really nice.

"So I was just sitting on my porch trying to find something to do and looking at the banana leaves. I know people make little banana leaf dolls and whatever but I wondered if I could make a hat out of the banana leaves and then I remembered the coconut branch leaves in Hawaii."

Mr Paynter hit the internet and did a bit of research "on coconut leaf hat making and it pretty much went from there" although the start was tough going.

Ishta Nupa Paynter in one of his creations (Photograph supplied)

"You can look at a video but when you're actually doing something it’s a totally different programme," said Mr Paynter, who works for the Department of Marine and Ports Services and has never done anything artistic before aside from playing the ukulele.

"So I just applied myself, kept at it and started with the bowls and graduated to the simple hats. And then I figured out how to actually make them into big sombreros."

The tip that helped him discover how to make the necessary wider brims came while at the gas station.

"I saw this lady with a rope extension – the hair style women have – and I said you know what, if I use more [palm fronds] I can get a much wider brim.

"So I went back [to it] again and experimented some more. The original hats are made from one piece of branch. The leaves I use for the sombreros are interwoven. If I split a coconut branch in half I might use say, 20 leaves depending on the head size. It's just that one section interwoven."

Every one of the hats he has made since he started weaving just under a year ago "is a little different".

Bored by the restrictions brought on by the pandemic Ishta Nupa Paynter started weaving palm fronds (Photograph supplied)

The time spent making each piece varies according to the creation.

"It depends on what I'm doing, how big it's going to be, whether I need to put an extension in it or not," he said. "To me, you're working with something that’s alive. Every branch kind of sings its own song to you. Sometimes it works out right; sometimes it doesn’t."

He doesn’t ever work with a pattern. His preference is to "just sit down and go for it".

"It's just something I took to and really enjoyed it. Even up to this point it's been more of a learning process. In the beginning you make a lot of mistakes. In the beginning you're learning. It's not so much about doing it right it's about doing it wrong a lot of times.

"Now if I do something and I can see I made a mistake I can backtrack to where I made that mistake versus starting all over again. It's all part of the learning curve."

The challenge now is in finding a steady supply of coconut fronds to create his designs.

"I've managed to get a few. My nephew has two [trees] in his yard and there are one or two around on public property that I've managed to get a few branches off of.

"But you need to really get the right ones. I used a lot of damaged ones to practice but if I was going to make a hat [as a gift] I would want to get the right branch that’s not damaged. And that’s normally about the third branch down from the top."

Bored by the restrictions brought on by the pandemic Ishta Nupa Paynter started weaving palm fronds (Photograph supplied)

So far he has had a positive response to his designs.

"People like 'em," he said. "The bowls are beautiful. Last Christmas I gave quite a few of them as Christmas gifts."

His focus at the moment is on figuring out a way to make sure his presents last.

"Some of the ones I've done earlier, they went from green to brown which I think is really nice looking. I am thinking they would last maybe up to three years. I have a little idea that if I sprayed them with clear lacquer they would last longer but I haven’t got to that stage yet.

"Right now it's just natural. Every hat is unique. It’s a living material, not something manufactured. Everything is unplanned."

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Published December 09, 2021 at 7:51 am (Updated December 10, 2021 at 8:02 am)

Weaving palm fronds helps Ishta Nupa beat pandemic boredom

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