"8 Maids a Quilting" Cook Islands Tivaevae

Tivaevae quilting
Country: the Cook Islands (New Zealand)
Quilts Name or Style: Tivaevae
Border: Tivaevae quilt sample
Copper sulphate and salt etching

Kia Orana/ Hello

Named for Captain James Cook, who visited in the late 1700s, the Cook Islands consist of 15 islands in the South Pacific. They are autonomous but considered in “free association” with New Zealand. Citizens of the Cook Islands have the status of Cook Island Nationals and also citizens of New Zealand.

Tivaevae quilts are dramatic and  colorful, reflecting the ambiance of the islands.  While they are a distinctive and recognized textile art of the islands, similar quilts are also produced in Hawaii and other Polynesian islands. Tivaevae (Tifaifai in French Polynesia) means to patch or to sew.  There are actually three basic types that all combine patchwork and appliqué: 1.Tivaevae ta’orei, a mosaic of many (up to 1000) tiny pieces, 2. Tivaevae tataura, which adds embroidery stitchery on top of the appliquéd pattern shapes and 3. Tivaevae manu consisting of just two colors. The Tivaevae manu is perhaps the most commonly identified and created Cook Islands quilt. The basic pattern is folded and cut (like a childhood paper snowflake) from one color fabric and then appliquéd (or sewn onto) a solid background fabric. The patterns, often imitating natural forms such as flowers and leaves, can be quite complicated and intricate or bold, simple shapes. 

Originally, the inhabitants of Cook Islands created a stencil-decorated, pliable fabric called tapa cloth from soaking and beating sapling strips that had been stripped of their outer bark.   However, when the missionaries arrived in the 19th century, they introduce the islanders to sewing and embroidery with needle, thread and woven cloth. The patterns inspired by the tapa cloth now can be seen in these impressive quilts.  Making a Tivaevae quilt is an important social activity. They are usually made by older women, family groups, or groups of woman called vainetini, who get together to sew, talk and sing. One quilt is made by many women. They are usually given a gift for a special occasion or to commemorate an event.  

References  and Links:
  • Eddy, Celia. 2005. Quilted Planet A Sourcebook Of Quilts From Around The World. New York: Clarkson Potter. ISBN: 1-4000-5457-5. Tivaevaeof the Cook Islands, Pgs. 185-187.
  • Kuchler, Susanne and Andrea EIMKE (2009). Tivaivai: The Social Fabric of the Cook Islands, London: The British Museum Press. ISBN: 978-0-7141-2557-2.
  • Tivaevae Collectables. https://tivaevaecollectables.com/our-story
  • History of Tivaevae. https://tivaevaecollectables.com/history
  • Tifaifai. Textile Research Center. https://trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/australia-and-pacific/tifaifai
  • Tivaivai-the Art of Patience. Video.
  • Tivaevae - Cook Islands communal art  http://www.ck/tivaevae.htm
  • https://tivaevaecollectables.com/our-story
  • Tivaevae Qulting Treasures from the Cook Islands, New Zealand Video
  • Tivaevae Stitched with Love Video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjGuCaZatPU



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The Art and Writing of Barbara Rizza Mellin