Tapamakers introduce design elements into the cloth using a variety of highly ingenious methods. During the nineteenth century, the introduction of metal tools allowed for the fine carving of wood beaters and anvils. In Hawaii, this resulted in kapa cloths with watermarks and rich detailing. Fine kapa marked by these special beaters (i’e kuku) may have been used on ceremonial occasions. A wonderful example of a watermark kapa is exhibited here.
A simple and elegant design tradition has been developed by Fijian tapamakers as a structural solution to the problem of tears or holes created during the beating process. A small amount of cloth is gently pulled-over with the fingers at hole locations, as illustrated by the white cloth here (masi vulavula).
Another uniquely Hawaiian tradition involved the inclusion of woven trade cloth into the top kapa sheet of a bedcover (kapa moe), also featured here. The separated colored cotton yarns were carefully positioned on an off-white beaten sheet and were then beaten down to create stripes or figural motifs in a repeating design. Other colored design elements, such as previously dyed tapa strips, were also embedded or sandwiched between two fine sheets of tapa.