Example of appliqué Tifaifai, from an exhibition at Papeete, July 2007. Example of appliqué Tifaifai, from an exhibition at Papeete, July 2007.

Tifaifai is a quilt style from French Polynesia, involving appliqué and patchwork. Tifaifai means ‘to mend, sew.’ Cotton fabrics and patchwork were introduced in the early nineteenth century by Christian missionaries.

There are two main styles, reflecting at which archipelago the quilt is made. The first form is tifaifai pû and originates from the Austral Islands (in the south of French Polynesia). Small pieces are pieced together to form geometric patterns in the shape of crosses, diamonds or stars. The second form is called tifaifai pa’oti and derives from the Society Islands (in the north, including Tahiti). It is an appliqué form, which is traditionally worked in red on white or white on green.

Tifaifai are mostly made by older women and are given to family members to mark special occasions. During a traditional wedding a quilt is wrapped around the couple to signify they are now husband and wife.

In the nearby Cook Islands this quilt style is called tivaivai. It is worked mainly by an older woman or a group of women. The quilting group is called a vainetini.

See also the TRC Needles entry on Hawai’ian quilt.


  • HAMMOND, Joyce (1986). Tifaifai and Quilts of Polynesia, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
  • KÜCHLER, Susanne and Andrea EIMKE (2010). Tivaivai: The Social Fabric of the Cook Islands, Wellington: Te Papa Press.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 9th July 2016).


Last modified on Saturday, 20 May 2017 19:00
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