Tivaevae manu (applique quilt) 1987, Underhill, Jasmine (1932–2005), New Zealand. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa
Tivaevae manu (applique quilt) 1987, Underhill, Jasmine (1932–2005), New Zealand. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa

Curriculum links

Learning area

  • Arts
  • Social Sciences

What strands will it fit with?

  • Arts: Visual Arts – Understanding the Arts in Context; Developing Ideas; Communicating and Interpreting
  • Social Sciences: Identity, Culture, and Organisation; Place and Environment; Continuity and Change

Key competencies

Relating to others, Using language, symbols, and texts

Level of achievement

Levels 1–8

Year group

Years 1–13

What topics of study can it support?

  • Innovation and invention
  • Pacific society past and present
  • New Zealand society past and present
  • New Zealand art and artists
  • Pūrakau (storytelling)

How long may this take?

  • Allow 10–15 minutes

Where do I find it?

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Why should I take my class to visit this?

  • See some great examples of tīvaevae – colourful, hand-sewn (and sometimes machine-sewn) bed coverings or quilts.
  • The whole class can fit around the items

What is there to do there?

  • Investigate the quilts and identify the patterns the artists use. Occasionally, these patterns tell a story.
  • Observe and discuss how tīvaevae is made in New Zealand and around Polynesia.
  • Discuss the uses of tīvaevae.
  • Compare tīvaevae with other textiles around Te Papa.

What should I know about this?

Tīvaevae in the Cook Islands

  • Tīvaevae plays an important role in the daily life of many Cook Island women.
  • Tīvaevae patterns are often inspired by, and reflect the environment of the Cook Islands. They can incorporate flowers, leaves, birds, fish, insects, and animals.
  • There is no documented evidence of how tīvaevae making started in the Cook Islands. One suggestion is that it was introduced by the wives of missionaries from England in the early 19th century; another is that it was brought by nuns from Tahiti who taught embroidery, needlework, sewing and crochet.
  • There are two main types of Cook Island tīvaeva – taorei (patchwork) and manu (appliqué). They are distinguished by the use of different sewing techniques.
  • Tīvaevae taorei (patchwork) is made from small pieces of variously-coloured material cut into squares, triangles or diamonds and sewn together to form a pattern.
  • Appliqué tīvaevae have three varieties, also distinguished by their different stitching techniques:
  • tīvaevae tataura uses a combination of stitiching.
  • tīvaevae manu has a large single-cloured base or background with cut-out shaped of mostly floral patterns sewn on top.
  • tīvaevae tuitui tataura is identified by square-shaped fabric with floral, embroidered designs that are crocheted to form a large tīvaevae 
  • Making tīvaevae 

    • Tīvaevae are also made in other parts of Polynesia, including Hawai’i, Tahiti, and the Society Islands.
    • Tīvaevae making is a social activity, with women of a local community coming together to cut and sew the designs (although some women do work alone).
    • Most women know how to sew tīvaevae, but not all become proficient at designing and cutting them. Those that do are regarded as ta’unga, or experts. Usually, only one women in a group. Ta’unga Groups get together on a regular basis to make tīvaevae, share ideas and sing as they work. These groups are called va'inetini.
    • Tīvaevae-making in New Zealand is kept alive through the knowledge and skills passed on ta’unga living here

    The role of tīvaevae

    • Tīvaevae are used for various practical purposes. They include decoration, and also presentations during ceremonies such as hair cuttings, weddings, 21st birthdays, visits to church Ministers and dignitaries, and funerals.
    • They are usually given to family, but may also be gifted to other people. Tīvaevae may be sold, but many women do not sell their work because of the attachment they feel towards it.

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    Possible topics for discussion

    • Compare the tīvaevae on display. What patterns can you see? What are the similarities and differences between them?
    • If you could make a tīvaevae, what patterns, colours and shapes would you use? Who would you choose to present it to and why? 
    • How much time would it take to sew a tīvaevae like these ones?
    • What modern day materials could you use to create tīvaevae?
    • Should the skills of making such beautiful tīvaevae be replaced with modern technology to save time?
    • What do you think would be the most difficult part of making tīvaevae?
    • Why do you think some people give their tīvaevae away, while others sell them?
    • Tīvaevae is an example of a European tradition that has been reinterpreted in a Pacific context. Compare these quilts with those you might have at home. What are the similarities and differences?
    • How would these tīvaevae be cared for at home? How would this care differ from from what they receive in a museum setting?
    • ‘Many girls today don’t seem to care about, or understand the value of tīvaevae.’ (The Art of Tivaevae: Traditional Cook Islands Quilting, Rongokea, L, 2001, Auckland: Random House New Zealand).

         Discuss this statement.

    Further information

    Related material

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