Tivaivai - Cook Islands Textile Art

The Cook Islands are famous for their textile art form called tivaivai. While most other traditional Cook Islands art forms such as carving or tatau (tattoo) have become extinct and are currently being researched and revived, the tradition of cloth covers transcended from the obsolete tapa (barkcloth) to today’s tivaivai.

Technically, tivaivai, sometimes also spelled tivaevae, are piecework and appliqué coverlets that can be compared to the many patchwork quilts which are part of the textile heritage of most countries around the world.

However quilts of similar styles are made only in French Polynesia, where they are called tifaifai, and in the Hawaiian islands. To this day, tivaivai are used as ceremonial cloths and highlight important stages in a Cook Islander’s life. Many Cook Islands women keep numerous tivaivai carefully protected in their glory boxes to be prepared for ceremonies like a the first born in a family, haircutting, a wedding, a special birthday or a funeral.

There are three kinds of tivaivai

For tivaivai manu a solid colour fabric is folded and cut into an intricate mainly floral pattern and appliquéd on to a background of contrasting colour. Tivaivai taorei are composed of tens of thousands of small square, triangular, diamond or hexagonal patches of solid colour fabrics, which are then arranged and sewn together in a repetitive mosaic pattern. Tivaivai whose solid colour background is appliquéd with mostly flowers and leaves of various colours which have been richly decorated with intricate embroidery are called tataura.

The Atiu Fibre Arts Studio has used these old textile traditions as basis for a broad range of innovative textile artworks. These are shown and sold exclusively from the company’s gallery on the island of Atiu.

Andrea Eimke, the founder of Atiu Fibre Art Studio, shares an extensive knowledge of traditional and contemporary textile techniques in a one-week workshop held at her Atiu studio for visitors who enjoy a creative holiday.

Article and photos by Andrea Eimke, www.atiu-fibrearts.com