"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.
  • History of Tivaevae.
  • Tifaifai. Textile Research Center.
  • Tivaivai-the Art of Patience. Video.
  • Tivaevae - Cook Islands communal art
  • Tivaevae Qulting Treasures from the Cook Islands, New Zealand Video
  • Tivaevae Stitched with Love Video.



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"6 Strings a Playing" Russian Balalaika


Russian Balalaika

People/Country Russia 
Instrument: Balalaika
Border:  Khokhloma
Corners: St. Basil’s Cathedral domes
Dry point etching

Добрый день [ Dobryj den ] Hello

String Instrument: Balalaika

The distinctive triangle-shaped Balalaika is often associated with Russian folk songs and folk dances, and has been part of Russian culture since the late 17th century (1688).   This instrument has only three strings, but actually comes in a variety of sizes (small to very large) to provide variations from piccolo balalaika to bass balalaika. The modern version was created in 1880 by Vasilii Andreev.

Figure and folk attire:

Thank you, Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky (  As I was researching this instrument, I came across a painting “Balalaika Player” by the artist Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky done in 1930. I instantly fell in love it. On one level, it might be that I’m the mother of two boys, and found this little charmer most lovable, with his pensive look. But it was the artistic elements that really engaged me. I thought you might be interested in how the mind of an artist works, how one image can inspire another.  The first thing  I noticed (and I’m sure you did also) is the background, which  of course sets off the nearly monochromatic figure and the red shirt that connects of the figure to his setting. You may be  familiar with the work of contemporary artist Kehindy Wiley, who painting a portrait of former President Obama. If you thought that his “busy,” dramatic, almost wall-paper-like  background was a new idea, you can see, artists have used the idea for some time. Think of Matisse.  This etching series doesn’t allow for that, but I’ll try to remind myself of it when next I paint.  The other thing that captured my attention was the pose. I’ve been looking at a lot of images, most are straight forward front views, with the instrument parallel to the picture plain. But this one provides a subtle angle that positions the balalaika so the neck seems to extend toward the viewer.  I loved that simple compositional element, and  I use it for inspiration as I created this etching.  (Of course, I had to remember to think of  everything in reserves because it is a print.)

Sarafan: The figure in this etching is wearing a typical Russian outfit consisting of a jumper (a long skirt that hangs from just under the arms ) called a sarafan and a white blouse with stitchery  trim.  Peasants have worn variations of this attire since the 9th century, despite Tsar Peter the Great's ban on traditional cloths in 1700 in favor of Western European fashions. Today, sarafans are consider folk dress and worn mostly at celebrations and folk festivals. 

Border: Taking its name from a village in the Novgorod region of central Russia, Khokhloma is the folk art of hand painting wood in bright red, gold and black colors. The shapes are usually berries, flowers and leaves in a curvy, flourished style. The idea of painting wood to look like gold, without actually using gold, was adapted from the technique of painting Orthodox religious icons. It involves a five-step process using tin foil (for shine), paint, gold leaf, and high temperature to produce the gold-like lacquer.  Originally made by monks for Russian nobility and the Royal family, by the 19th century is was used for everyday utensils and tableware. Today it is identified with Russia and is a popular tourist souvenir. I've attached a white-line linocut print I created of two such souvenirs brought back from Russia by my parents. 
Corners: Onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral (officially Pokrovsky Cathedral)
St. Basil’s Christian Orthodox church, located in Moscow, Russia’s Red Square, was built in only six years and consecrated in 1561.

To me (and I think most viewers), St. Basil’s Cathedral looks like a fantasy creation or an elaborately decorated cake. Not surprisingly, it is on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, as it is a mix of Byzantine, Muslim, Renaissance, and 16th century Russian styles, and is completely unique. Interestingly, the main part of the church is built of red brick, which was a new material at the time.  It wasn’t until the 1670s that the original gold gilded domes were replaced with the colorful domes we have come  to know. The domes are covered with sheets of colored metal. Hundreds of pieces of various sizes and shapes have been fitted together and riveted  into place. Four of the dome patterns are shown in the corners of this etching.

References and Links
( Note: I do not endorse or mean to promote any of these sites.) 
  • Dorofeeva,  Evgenia A Brief History of  the Sarafan. The Russion Fashion Blog. 7/2013.
  • Russian Embroidery.
  • About Russian Khokhloma.
  • ( Museum of Russian Art)
  • (
  • The Roof Construction of St. Basil’s Cathedral 29/6/2012
  • 17 Fun Facts About St Basil’s Cathedral. 9/10/2020.
  • Russian Embroidery.

Camellias and Russian Souvenirs

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The Art and Writing of Barbara Rizza Mellin