Arts Te Papa is changing…

We’re building a spectacular new art gallery and making changes online.

The Arts Te Papa website will be shutting down soon, but head to Collections Online to find your favourite works from New Zealand’s national art collection.

Find out more about the new art space

Keep up to date with news from Te Papa

Other Te Papa Sites

Cuppa tea for the Mamas

Yvonne Underhill-Sem and June Underhill on Cook Islands tīvaevae-making in Porirua


<P data-associrn="1483102"></P> <P><STRONG>The Porirua vainetini</STRONG></P> <P>In the 1980s, a group of women came together in Cannons Creek, Porirua, New Zealand, to make t&#299;vaevae. One of those women was our mum, Jasmine Underhill. They were probably a little younger than we are now &#8211; in their 30s and 40s &#8211; when they first gathered together. They were mothers of school children, teenagers, and young adults. They were not quite old enough to be called ‘Mamas’, but that’s how we referred to them, even if it meant we would get ‘the look’ from Mum. They were the beginning of the Porirua vainetini group. </P> <P data-associrn="1483103"></P> <P>Our mum, Jasmine Underhill, and Vaine Ngaro, both from the Cook Islands, formed the group as a way to maintain community contact. As a group, they learned to make t&#300;vaevae and in the process shared aspirations, problems, and eventually pride in their success. At this time we did not consider them to be artists. They were Mum’s friends, our aunties, and just Mum. Over the years, though, we appreciated how much time, skill, and effort goes into getting the right colour combinations, the patterns that suited the colours, and the best embroidery thread colour and stitch to highlight the designs. They had public exhibitions in art galleries and travelled around New Zealand, to the Cook Islands, Tahiti, and Hawai‘i. Both Mum and Mama Ngaro became ta‘unga (experts in their craft),<SUP><FONT size=2>1</FONT></SUP> with examples of their work held at Te Papa.</P> <P data-associrn="386060"></P> <P>At its height, the Porirua vainetini group numbered more than 50 women who gathered in school halls and community houses of Porirua. Hundreds of t&#300;vaevae had their beginnings or were touched in some part of their journey by members of this group. Making t&#299;vaevae in a group allowed the women to expand the art of t&#299;vaevae, but equally important, it deepened the relationships between the women.<SUP><FONT size=2>2</FONT></SUP> New artists emerged, a cultural heritage was enriched, a generation of migrant Pacific women made t&#300;vaevae, and new generations in the future will continue to make them. Our part of this flourishing began as daughters of a self-taught t&#299;vaevae maker in Porirua.</P> <P data-associrn="1483104"></P> <P><STRONG>The art of the t&#299;vaevae</STRONG></P> <BLOCKQUOTE style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px" dir=ltr> <P dir=ltr align=left>The t&#299;vaevae is a specially treasured bedcover used for special guests, gifts from family and important people, gifted at ceremonial occasions such as weddings, funerals, hair cutting ceremonies, 21st birthdays and other special functions.<SUP><FONT size=2>3</FONT></SUP></P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>The early history of t&#299;vaevae-making in the Pacific began when missionaries taught women to embroider and sew clothes and other domestic items like bed covers. It is hard to imagine the need for highly decorative bedcovers in the tropical Pacific, nor even a bed that required covering in such a manner in those early days. However, in keeping with the missionaries’ desire to teach a particular kind of domesticity, women were taught to sew, and bedcovers were popular.</P> <P>The earliest t&#299;vaevae in the Pacific appear in photographs in the 1850s as display items and look very much like the European quilts they were styled upon. Over time there have been many changes in the patterns, the fabric, the stitches, and the use oft&#299;vaevae. In the Cook Islands there are now regular events to display t&#299;vaevae, and even the most modest house is able to be spruced up with the use of t&#299;vaevae on furniture and beds.<SUP><FONT size=2>4</FONT></SUP> There is no doubt that in the 21st century, t&#299;vaevae have a special place among people from the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Hawai‘i. In the heartlands of Hawai‘i and French Polynesia, where the making of t&#299;vaevae began, it is still a flourishing activity. And t&#299;vaevae continue to be made by Pacific women in New Zealand, regardless of their original home country.</P> <P data-associrn="1483105"></P> <P><STRONG>Imagery on t&#299;vaevae</STRONG></P> <P>The overall effect of t&#299;vaevae when they come out of the glory box is a stunning visual display of bright contrasting colours. A range of tropical flowers jump out at you &#8211; hibiscus and various gardenias as well as non-tropical flowers like roses, lilies, and chrysanthemums. </P> <P>Design ideas can be either traditional motifs handed down from one generation to another or modern interpretations. Most of the images recur in symmetrical patterns and come from plants rather than animals. Flowers, leaves, and fruit are popular, but there are also crowns, shells, and stars. The flower designs in particular invoke a sense of movement and the scent of home islands.<SUP><FONT size=2>5</FONT></SUP>/P> <P>There are two main patterns of quilting: the patchwork and the appliqué style, both of which are used to create images of flowers and plants and other scenes. The patchwork style is known in the Cook Islands as t&#299;vaevae taorei and is an older style consistent with the teaching of London Missionary Society in the 19th century. This is well suited to collective work because hundreds of small pieces of fabric must first be cut and then stitched together in a consistent way and in a manner that contributes to the overall pattern. </P> <P>There a number of appliqué styles:t&#299;vaevae manu, t&#299;vaevae tautaru, and t&#299;vaevae tuitui.<SUP><FONT size=2>6</FONT></SUP> Each requires the pattern to be cut, either as a symmetrical design or in particular pieces, and stitched onto base cloth of a contrasting colour. Sometimes there is more than one layer. Sometimes the stitching is invisible. Sometimes the stitching is dramatic and forms part of the colour scheme and pattern. In Hawai‘i, the appliqué technique was considered to be an innovation that followed on from the earlier patchwork style quilts and was seen as early as 1858.<SUP><FONT size=2>7</FONT></SUP></P> <P data-associrn="1483106"></P> <P data-associrn="1483107"></P> <P><STRONG>Learning to make t&#299;vaevae</STRONG></P> <BLOCKQUOTE style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px" dir=ltr> <P dir=ltr align=left>Most Cook Island women learn their craft from their mother or grandmother; learning by watching and gradually being allowed to take a greater and greater part in the making. My entry into t&#300;vaevae making was different. I became interested about 1980 when I asked a cousin to cut several patterns for me to start from. I brought those to New Zealand and tried to work out how to lay the patterns [on the fabric] for cutting. After many, many messy attempts I finally succeeded. I would have continued to have problems if it had not [been] for the special help of a friend, Mata Vahua. Her help was invaluable to me in those early stages.<SUP><FONT size=2>8</FONT></SUP></P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>Mum taught herself to make t&#299;vaevae, and we estimate she made more than a hundred. Initially, we didn’t fully appreciate what the Mamas were doing, and our experience was one of mixed emotions. When the Mamas gathered at our house, the lounge was filled with colourful embroidery cotton and material. We watched the hard work as they moved over the large base sheets, cutting, pinning, and tacking material into place. Their ability to sustain such small, repetitive movements for long periods was impressive. Their patience in getting the pattern, stitch, and overall effect just right was admirable. They were all self taught, each had their own style, and they could tell who made each t&#299;vaevae from the design and stitching.</P> <P data-associrn="1483106"></P> <P>We listened to their chatter. Often it was in English, the common language of all Pacific migrants in Porirua at the time, but also Cook Islands Maori when it was just the Cook Islanders. They laughed as they retold a silly moment, offered advice, shared their problems, and had the ‘occasional’ grumble. Island music played, and songs came easily. We tried to understand what was being said, especially when their voices lowered to hushed whispers. Straining to hear what was clearly not for our ears, we were told, ‘<EM>Are</EM>! Go and make a cuppa tea’ - for the Mamas. </P> <P>The messages we got were often contradictory, as were the lives of the first generation of migrants from the Pacific to New Zealand. Sometimes we were invited to help with a menial task - like passing the pins - then moments later we were told to go away, only to be ordered back after a few minutes and told to sit and hold a corner of fabric and ‘watch what we’re doing’. </P> <P data-associrn="1483333"></P> <P><STRONG>Folding t&#299;vaevae</STRONG></P> <P>There is a special way to fold t&#299;vaevae. Our mum taught us that this was an important part of caring for them. In the months before she died in April 2005, we spent much time under her direction opening the three glory boxes that she had filled with t&#299;vaevae. Each one was unfolded so that she could confirm who it would belong to. Some had a name embroidered on the corner along with the year she made it. Others she was not sure who should have. This meant she kept opening them, admiring them again and telling stories about their patterns and who helped make them, until she had decided who they would go to. Then our skills at folding t&#299;vaevae would be tested as we placed them back into her glory boxes. </P> <P>Mum wanted to be sure that people knew how to look after their t&#299;vaevae. Sometimes this took time. Being able to fold them properly indicated the respect each one deserved &#8211; respect for the time taken to make it, for the meaning and history of the pattern, for its significance once completed. Meanwhile, she held them close to her, knowing that when they were finally given away, her love and spirit went with them. </P> <P>When Mum died, we found some old t&#299;vaevae carefully folded at the bottom of the glory box. Three of them looked like they had been very well used. They were faded, but good hand stitching had kept them intact. They were probably from Ma’uke, where she grew up in the 1940s. Another had been well preserved; it had come from her grandmother and was probably made in the 1930s. We also found a well-used one that we remember from when we were growing up. </P> <P data-associrn="1483108"></P> <P><STRONG>Reviving skills, generating pride, making treasures</STRONG></P> <P data-associrn="1483101"></P> <P>There was a lot more going on in the Porirua vainetini group than just making t&#299;vaevae. As the Mamas made their t&#299;vaevae they were also making Porirua and New Zealand their home, and ours. It was a special time for these women, a very special time for Mum. They were young mothers raising their children in a different land from the one they were used to. Each had grown up in a different place with different family dynamics, and this was a space to stitch together new lives.</P> <P>They worked as sisters and as friends. Families were important. As soon as Mum knew a baby was on the way, she would start the process of creating a t&#300;vaevae just for them. A name would be embroidered into a corner. Their creations were from the heart and were made for a purpose. Each piece was like the growth of a child, a reminder of their children, their mokopuna, their family. Cook Islands poet Vaine Rasmussen speaks of the satisfaction expressed by her mother knowing that, through the t&#299;vaevae she makes, she will be ‘with my children whenever they sleep’.<SUP><FONT size=2>9</FONT></SUP></P> <P>The Mamas made many of their t&#299;vaevae after their own children had left home. On our own visits home, the t&#299;vaevae would come out from the glory box, to be held up and admired, and we learnt again the patterns, flowers, colours, embroidery, who each one was for, who helped make it. We were not living near enough to Mum to learn t&#299;vaevae-making alongside her, but her efforts to show us her work and its meaning bound us closer. </P> <P>The Porirua vainetini group succeeded in reviving the t&#299;vaevae-making skills of their mothers and grandmothers who they left behind when they moved to New Zealand. They have passed on those skills to new generations of New Zealanders. They have also passed on a confidence to be creatively innovative and to believe in the strength that comes from working in groups. As Mum said in 2002, ‘The Cook Islands have many treasures but the living treasure is the t&#299;vaevae.’<SUP><FONT size=2>10</FONT></SUP></P> <P><FONT size=2><STRONG>Endnotes</STRONG></FONT></P> <P><FONT size=2> <OL> <LI>Grace Hutton, Safua Akeli, and Sean Mallon, ‘Rediscovering the collection: Cook Islands material culture in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa’, <EM>Tuhinga</EM> 21, 2010, pp. 99&#8211;123. </LI> <LI>See Jane Horan, ‘Tivaivai in the Cook Islands ceremonial economy: An analysis of value’, doctoral dissertation, The University of Auckland, 2012, <A href="https://researchspace.auckland.ac.nz/handle/2292/19380">https://researchspace.auckland.ac.nz/handle/2292/19380</A>.</LI> <LI>Jasmine Underhill, 2002, personal papers held by Yvonne Underhill-Sem.</LI> <LI>See Lynnsay Rongokea, <EM>The Art of Tivaevae: Traditional Cook Islands quilting</EM>, Random House, Auckland, 2001.</LI> <LI>Susanne Küchler and Andrea Eimke, <EM>Tivaivai: The social fabric of the Cook Islands</EM>, The British Musuem Press, London, 2009.</LI> <LI>Grace Hutton, ‘T&#299;vaevae: Cook Islands quilting in New Zealand’, in Sean Mallon and Pandora Fulimalo Pereira (eds), <EM>Pacific Art Niu Sila</EM>, Te Papa Press, Wellington, 2002. <BR>Rongokea, <EM>The Art of Tivaevae</EM>.</LI> <LI>Phyllis Herda, ‘Cook Islands tivaevae: migration and the display of culture in Aotearoa/New Zealand’, in Anita Herle, Nick Stanley, Karen Stevenson, and Robert Welsch (eds), <EM>Pacific Art: Persistence, change and meaning</EM>, Crawford House Publishing, Adelaide, 2002, pp. 139&#8211;46.</LI> <LI>Joyce D Hammond, <EM>T&#299;faifai and Quilts of Polynesia</EM>, University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu, 1986.</LI> <LI>Underhill, 2002.</LI> <LI>Quoted in Wichman in Rongokea, <EM>The Art of Tivaevae</EM>, p. 114.</LI> <LI>Underhill, 2002.</LI></OL></FONT></P> <P data-associrn="">&nbsp;</P>
Jasmine Underhill. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Jasmine Underhill. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Jasmine Underhill and Vaine Ngaro. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Jasmine Underhill and Vaine Ngaro. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Porirua t&amp;#299;vaevae makers. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Porirua tīvaevae makers. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Jasmine Underhill (left), Vaine Ngaro (third from the left) and unknown t&amp;#299;vaevae makers. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Jasmine Underhill (left), Vaine Ngaro (third from the left) and unknown tīvaevae makers. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Jasmine Underhill. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Jasmine Underhill. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Eli Matangi (second from left), Elaine Annandale (left), and unknown t&amp;#300;vaevae makers. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Eli Matangi (second from left), Elaine Annandale (left), and unknown tĬvaevae makers. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

image

Jasmine Underhill, Tivaevae manu (applique quilt), 1987,
Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

&lt;EM&gt;Out of the Glory Box: Cook Islands t&amp;#299;vaevae&lt;/EM&gt; exhibition in &lt;EM&gt;Ng&amp;#257; Toi&lt;/EM&gt; | &lt;EM&gt;Arts Te Papa&lt;/EM&gt;, 2015

Out of the Glory Box: Cook Islands tīvaevae exhibition in Ngā Toi | Arts Te Papa, 2015

Jasmine Underhill. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Jasmine Underhill. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Jasmine Underhill, Oloka Viliamu, Olga Vaega, Miriama Singer. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.

Jasmine Underhill, Oloka Viliamu, Olga Vaega, Miriama Singer. Photograph courtesy of the Underhill family.