Tīvaevae ta’ōrei (patch work quilt)

Unknowncirca 1900

Te Papa

Te Papa
Wellington, New Zealand

Tīvaevae - Treasured quilts

Tīvaevae are treasured quilts made by women in the Cook Islands. Tīvaevae are made from brightly coloured fabrics, and designs can include geometric shapes, flower and animal designs - though animal or bird shapes are considered unlucky on a bedspread. While tīvaevae serve a practical purpose, they are used as decorations and, more importantly, presented as gifts at important occasions such as weddings, funerals, pakoti'anga rauru (boy's haircutting ceremonies), receptions for church ministers and, among New Zealand Cook Islanders, 21st birthday parties, gifts to VIPs and dearly loved people in the family and the community.

Missionary Influence
Tīvaevae are believed to have been introduced to the Cook Islands in the 1800s by the wives of early European Christian missionaries, who taught quilting and needlework. It is thought that patchwork quilts came first, and appliqué and embroidered quilts later. It did not take long for this imported art form to take on a uniquely Cook Island appearance, with bright, vibrant tivaevae motifs such as flowers and plants reflecting the natural environment of the Cook Islands.

Making Tīvaevae
When making tīvaevae, while some women work alone, many work together to sew their quilts in women's groups called va'ine tini, which meet to share ideas and sing as they work. They are similar to the Tongan koka'anga and other women's work parties found throughout the Pacific Islands. There are four main kinds of tīvaevae. Tivaevae ta'orei (patchwork), have a large number of small patches sewn together to form a pattern. Tīvaevae manu (appliqué) and Tīvaevae tataura (embroidered appliqué), have designs sewn to a backing cloth. Tīvaevae tuiauri are sewn on the sewing machine.

This example is a tīvaevae ta’ōrei (patch work quilt) made from hundreds of coloured diamond shaped pieces of cloth hand sewn together within a wide border of white material. The type of cloth used in the construction of the tivaevae as well as its provenance suggest it was probably made some time in late 1800s or early 1900s. For many years, this tīvaevae was in the family of Margot Stewart, who recieved it from her husband's uncle and aunt, Robert and Agnes Stewart, who were closely associated with the Melanesian Mission in the early 20th century. It is thought that this tīvaevae was purchased by Agnes to benefit the Melanesian Mission. It was offered to Te Papa in 2006 by Mary Lee Boyd Bell on behalf of St Georges Church, Seatoun, Wellington New Zealand.


  • Title: Tīvaevae ta’ōrei (patch work quilt)
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: circa 1900
  • Location: Cook Islands
  • Physical Dimensions: Overall: 2895mm (width), 2230mm (length)
  • Provenance: Purchased 2007
  • Subject Keywords: Textiles, Cook Islands, Polynesian, Oceanic, Cook Islands Māori
  • Rights: No Known Copyright Restrictions
  • External Link: Te Papa Collections Online
  • Registration ID: FE011982

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