Applying Surface Design Features

Palm-leaf design template (kupesi): dog, Tonga. PM 00-8-70/55347.12
Child's dress of fine white tapa, Bora Bora, French Polynesia. PM 00-8-70/55393
Sleeping tapa, Solomon Islands. PM 23-47-70/D1803
Tapa pad for putting on paint, Samoa. PM 32-69-70/D4098
Cut pandanus leaf stencil, Fiji. PM 41-60-70/1997
Cut pandanus leaf stencil, Fiji. PM 41-60-70/2000
Tapa cloth turtle painting in relief, Tonga. PM 2002.7.1
Hand-painted circular tapa, American Samoa. PM 12-35-70/84186
Hand-painted tapa, Niue, New Zealand. PM 11-2-70/83961
Hand-painted tapa, Samoa. PM 48-56-70/3126

Techniques for applying surface decoration are quite varied. They include freehand painting and rubbing over a carved bamboo roller, twisted cords, or a design template. Early design templates, such as the fish and dog template displayed here, were constructed with pandanus leaves and coconut fiber. Later, carved wood boards were introduced and are still used today. Fijian tapamakers developed a stenciling method originally using cutouts of banana or pandanus leaves, or, later, of X-ray film. Another technique is stamping with the use of plant materials. Surface design techniques are key markers for identification.

One method of preparing decorated sheets, especially in Tonga, Samoa, and in some regions of Fiji, involves placing the first layer of beaten strips over a design board and applying paste. A second layer of beaten strips is positioned perpendicular to the first, and the slightly overlapped edges are pasted. A wad of cloth soaked with dye is tamped to firmly bond the two layers together and to bring up the design pattern through the second layer. In this process, cloths could be enlarged as they were decorated. Examples of such a cloth and the dye pad are featured here.