Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cook Islands Tivaevae

Destination: the South Pacific

Most visitors miss some of the most beautiful South Pacific islands of paradise for the simple reason that they are in the middle of a vast sea and, frankly, are not well known.  One lovely island nation is the Cook Islands. The “Cooks” are comprised of 15 islands with a total land area of a little over 90sq.miles, however their geographical boundaries are nearly 700,000 sq. miles of Pacific Ocean.

They have a parliamentary form of democratic government and have a unique relationship with New Zealand as a “free, associated state”, in that N.Z. has responsibility for their external affairs.  Cook Islanders are also New Zealand citizens, although the reverse is not true.

                                                    Parliament building in Rarotonga

The capital is Rarotonga, but our final destination was Aitutaki, which is reported to have “the most beautiful lagoon in the world”, according to tourist information.  Our reason for this short air flight (in the smallest plane I have even flown), was a meeting with a ham radio operator and a meeting with textile artists, Mrs. RuRu Carl  and  Mrs. Tara Thomas, who worked with the island’s tivaevae makers.  Guess whom I was meeting.

At first glance, Tivaevae, is a version of Hawaiian quilts (also sometimes mistaken for Tahitian”Tifaifai”).  Their resemblance is understandable.  Although the islands are thousands of miles apart, missionaries and their families traveled throughout Polynesia.   The missionary wives taught native women sewing and embroidery techniques, including the making of bed coverings. While all variations are based upon appliqué of common native plant life motifs onto a ground fabric, which is then sewn onto a backing fabric, there are differences.  The most outstanding difference is that Hawaiian quilts are quilts in the sense that they have 3 layers: the patterned front, the plain backing and an inner layer of some type of batting.  These are heavily quilted using very small stitches to create parallel quilt lines, which follow the appliqué pattern.

Tivaevae are, what we would call, bed spreads.  There is no inner batting, nor, usually quilting.  The motifs are folded squares of cotton fabric, cut into designs, similar to cutting out snowflakes 
( believe me, there is no snow to be found).  These appliquéd spreads are called” Tivaevae manu”.using only one color for the pattern.

“Tivaevae taorei” are pieced spreads made from small pieces of  four or more colored fabrics forming triangles, squares or diamond patterns.  This is intricate work, as each member of the sewing group (vainentini) works on her own square.  Therefore, each square must be counted and sewn correctly if the sections are to fit and form the overall pattern.

“Tivaevae tataura” patterns are cut out and embroidered before being sewn onto the ground fabric, although it may be appliquéd and then embroidered with 2 strands of pearl cotton, often variegated..  Embroidery stitches may include feather, chain and stem stitches, as well as variations of other embroidery stitches.

Each floral motif takes one artist up to one day to create.

Tivaevae tataura

A variation of “Tivaevae tataura” is “tuitui”, in which motifs are sewn onto ground fabric squares, The squares are then crocheted together before being sewn onto the backing fabric.

Tivaevae: Portraits of Cook Islands Quilting, Lynnsay Rongokea, Daphne Brasell Associates Press, Wellington, N.Z., 1992

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