Patchwork came to Tahiti, as it did to most of the South Pacific, through the efforts of European and American missionaries. Patchwork bed-coverings in this part of the world are known as tifaifai. They are not quilts in the strict sense as they have no middle batting layer and are not quilted.
breadfruit tifaifai pa'oti
Tifaifai are dazzling needlework pictures. They may be constructed in the “snowflake” style of Hawaiian quilts, but with the motif folded in fourths, rather than eighths during construction. Or, they may be made in a shimmery mosaic style of hundreds of tiny colorful squares. Tahitians, like Hawaiians and other Polynesian peoples, traditionally had no woven cloth. Like the Hawaiians, they wore tapa – a cloth pounded from bark and decorated, that disintegrated in water. They were introduced to quilting and patchwork by missionary women.
Kinds of Tifaifai
Tifaifai in progress. Photo by Annie-Claude Peyre
Appliqué tifaifai or tifaifai pa'oti are similar to Hawaiian snowflake-style designs. Traditional colors are red on white or white on green, but today, many color combinations are used.
Pieced tifaifai pu is characterized by tiny geometric shapes, often squares, each as small as 1" wide. Some tifaifai pu are reminiscent of a geometric mosaic or the Trip Around the World pattern. Others are more like mosaic pictures, reminiscent of the charted designs used to create needlepoint. Find out more about making tifaifai.