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As a nearly lifelong lover of quilts, one of the things I’ve discovered—and what is probably the basis for my unflagging interest—is that the more I learn about quilts and quilting, the more I realize there is to learn. Not that I consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I have spent a lot of time around quilts and quilters and I study both at every opportunity.
Because of that interest and effort, I’ll have to admit to taking a teeny bit of pride in thinking that I know at least something about the history of quilts and the various types made throughout the world.
That’s why I was surprised (and delighted!) recently to learn about a genre of quilts that, despite my years of study, I had never heard of before: tivaevae (sometimes written tivaivai). Tivaevae are quilts made by Cook Island women of Maori descent. The Cook Islands are in the South Pacific Ocean, northeast of New Zealand. The group of 15 islands forms a parliamentary democracy in a free association with New Zealand, and Cook Islanders are considered citizens of New Zealand.
The history of Cook Island quiltmaking is similar to that of Hawaiian quiltmaking in that the wives of Christian missionaries in the early nineteenth century introduced the artform to Cook Island women. There are certainly visual similarities between Hawaiian quilts and some tivaevae as well, particularly in the two-color appliqué pieces known as tivaevae manu, which feature stylized kaleidoscopic designs of flora and fauna common to the Polynesian islands.
Other types of tivaevae are distinctly different from Hawaiian quilts, however, and are unique to the Cook Islands. Traditionally, people and animals are not depicted in tivaevae patterns.
In the Maori language, the word “tivaevae” means to “stitch” or “sew.” Tivaevae are not precisely quilts in the strictest sense, in that they do not consist of a top, batting, and backing; rather they are coverlets with only a pieced or appliquéd top and a backing, as reflects the mild climate of the South Pacific.
Over the past century, the making of tivaevae has become an important part of the cultural life of the Cook Islands. Primarily made by hand and by women as a group endeavor, tivaevae are rarely used as bedcovers. Instead, they are created to commemorate ceremonial occasions such as hair cutting (an important ritualistic coming-of-age event for boys in Maori culture), baptisms, weddings, graduations, funerals (they are sometimes used as shrouds), and the like. They are highly valued by the society at large, even to the point of being considered an indicator of a family’s wealth and status, and may be passed down for generations as family heirlooms.
In addition to the Hawaiian-style appliqué tivaevae manu mentioned previously, there are several other distinct styles that combine piecing and appliqué and may be embellished with embroidery as well:
Tivaevae tataura feature fabrics of more than one color appliquéd onto a contrasting base and are heavily embellished with embroidery. From the photographs I’ve found, the tivaevae tataura can consist of either an overall design or a number of blocks sewn together to compose a whole, rather like a Baltimore Album quilt.
Tivaevae uati, which are made from diamond-shaped pieces sewn into stars; and
Tivaevae paka'onu, which are made from hexagonal-shaped pieces.
I would love to see a tivaevae “in person” one day. In the meantime, I’m simply enjoying the fact that there is still so much for me to learn about quilts and quilting.
Much more information about tivaevae can be found in the book, Tivaevae: Portraits of Cook Islands Quilting by Lynnsay Rongokea (1992,Wellington: Daphne Brasell Associates Press.)
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Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
Column 77: Quilting with AMD
Column 76: Maverick Quilts and Cowgirls
Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
Column 73: Maximum Security Quilts
Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
Column 71: The Christmas Quilt
Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Column 64: Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree
Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
Column 61: Louisiana Bicentennial Quilt
Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor
See other archived columns here