Tivaevae experts Temata Kelly (right) and Vaine Teokoitu and designer Pouarii Jane Tanner. 21042918
The Big Blueprint tivaevae ta’orei – the patchwork style of tivaevae made from 1-inch squares of fabric sewn onto a solid backing – is one of a kind. Its captivating abstract design is intriguing.
designer and facilitator of the Big Blueprint tivaevae project, Cook Islander
Pouarii Jane Tanner shares with us the journey of making the masterpiece during
Covid-19, made with the loving hands of tivaevae experts from Vaka Puaikura:
Tinomana Tokerau Ariki, Vaine Teokoitu, Temata Kelly and Janice Mataora.
says the Big Blueprint tivaevae “symbolises traditional knowledge meeting new
technology to create something new”.
piece was created for the Big Blueprint project, funded by a group of young
designers/entrepreneurs in New York.
is named for a document that was going to be a blueprint for how ocean
governance could work across the Pacific, and which the Cook Islands was going
to be the first to launch last October through Marae Moana.
says they needed to find a group to make a tivaevae to launch at the conference
that spoke to the key things of Marae Moana.
wanted to launch something to symbolise what the document was, something
mother sews tivaevae, and she encouraged her to meet “the amazing women” in her
village of Puaikura and see Tinomana Tokerau Ariki.
initial work on the project started in February 2020 with 12 women; a three day
workshop was held to help the women understand the theme of the design – what
Marae Moana’s regenerative economy was.
is a regenerative economy? “In essence, it’s the same principles of design –
it’s about being self-reliant, it’s about not depending on others using what
education skills and our resources if need be, but not exploiting them to the
point that we don’t have a good quality of life, which I feel especially with
deep sea mining, people have a lot of fear around.”
were discussed on the tivaevae design, and the first pattern sheets of paper featured
drawings of birds, flowers, fish and the atamira.
was going to be colourful and uniquely Cook Islands; that’s the thing about
tivaevae – it looks a certain way and has certain images that we have always
used,” said Tanner.
Covid-19 occurred and the conference wasn’t going to happen.
says: “We thought about it, Covid is changing everything around the world, but
we are really lucky because we were Covid free… and all the countries in the
Pacific were looking at us.”
were currently in Code Blue; I’m working on the big blue print, there has to be
I wanted to do was make a contemporary design, something that people had never
seen before because we were in a situation that people had never experienced
drove around the island intending to visit Tinomana Ariki, but at the driveway
stood a single orange flag.
saw the orange flag… it just reminded me of real plague times when people had
flags outside their houses…”
Tanner kept positive: she would redesign it and make something that responded
to code blue and the different Covid coloured flags.
was there something in the Covid messaging that is relevant to things at the
(Marae Moana) conference?
project talked about ocean governance, says Tanner, adding “Covid teaches us
all so much and it gave the Cook Islands a unique platform to do it because we
were Covid free – so that’s how we responded to the challenges.”
with the Covid preparedness restrictions in place, the women weren’t allowed to
meet, so they worked separately, alone and in smaller groups led by themselves.
what we were doing: it was weird times and we had to innovate, and that’s the
whole point, we have to change, use new technology but stick to our traditional
knowledge to make something new.
also really interesting to learn how women work together, because it’s a
wonderful thing to be part of… we can talk about our homes and our lives,” she
four of the women started sewing the small blocks on a machine, others had
given up. Vaine Teokoitu, Temata Kelly and Janice Mataora continued with the
The Marae Moana Big Blueprint tivaevae gifted to the Secretary General-designate of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna. 21042903.
women are experts in their skill, I’ve asked them to make a tivaevae in a way
that’s never been made before, and they responded to that really well, they
kept the level,” Tanner explains.
always kept to the level, she would say, ‘no this needs to be resewed, this
isn’t a straight line’… she has a very high standard. You love her, but when
she says it’s got to be redone, you do it.
all going to be amazing if we just listen to what she (Janice) says.”
and Kelly agrees with Tanner: “If Janice is not happy with it, we have to redo
it, cut it off.”
two women are used to sewing with their hands and not with a machine. “On the
machine if you make a mistake it’s harder to fix; you have to take it out and
resew it again –hand stiches are easier to unpick,” says Teokoitu.
women have sewn tivaevae for many years, a hobby they love because of getting
together with other women.
experienced these special sewing moments Tanner observed that Maori women don’t
have the luxury to kind of go, “Oh let’s get together just to talk; it’s a
western thing where women go, ‘we’re going come together to talk about
ourselves’… and Maori women go, ‘we don’t have time I got stuff to do, we don’t
have time for that’.”
laughs and agrees “we call it a ‘pange’ when we sit together and start sewing
and talking, about everything; we share, but we’re doing something at the same
time – like sewing.”
actually think that it’s a more elegant way of taking that time for yourself,
because it seems like women are always doing stuff,” Tanner adds.
also forged a long-lasting bond with the women she worked with.
we weren’t doing this stuff, I wouldn’t be making friends with the mamas in my
village, it makes me really proud to be able to do that.
think that the principle of the project ended up teaching me in my own life… I
visit a mama’s house and have coffee then I get pineapple pie at another house…
I’m always trying to get an invite to Vaine’s garden, to look at her plants.”
was honoured to be part of such a significant project, completed during such an
extraordinary time: “It was so amazing.”
of them had such big hearts, they would have loved to do more, in all Maori
things it’s a team effort – it’s a beautiful thing.
month, the tivaevae was gifted to former prime minister and the incoming
Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Henry Puna.
conveyed the following message to Puna: “Thank you for your innovation;
innovation requires bravery and you did that by working with young designers
around the world and giving me the opportunity to work with the Mamas in my
village, that is one of the honours of my life.”
you continue to innovate in your new role and may you bring that innovation and
that Cook Islands spirit to your new role.”
isn’t made anywhere else in the world except here, says Tanner. “It’s only through
us processing it, it’s only through us girls; we should really take that same
approach to sea bed mining and think about that.
fear around technology and what it is. These Mamas really proved something
incredible. If Mamas can embrace new technology and contemporary tivaevae
design… we can all handle it.
my hope that we can do that with our ocean governance, we’ve proved that we can
do that with design, we’ve proved we can do that with Mamas and technology,
we’ve proved that that’s actually a harmonious relationship when its
Big Blueprint tivaevae gift ensured it was full of the love that we find in