Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


Purpose of Treatment

Sacred garments worn by the male members of the Hawaiian ali’i, or chiefs, these feather cloaks and capes serve today as one of the most iconic symbols of Hawaiian culture. During the summer of 2007 the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawai`i, under the supervision of its conservator, Valerie Free, commenced a project to stabilize the cloaks so that they could be safely exhibited in the museum. This project was funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Over the course of the summer three of the twelve cloaks in the museum’s collection were treated: the “Chapman” cloak (Fig.1), the “Joy” cloak (Fig. 2) and the smaller second “Joy” cape (Fig. 3). The Bishop Museum completed a conservation survey documenting the condition of the cloaks before treatment. Because exhibition requires frequent handling and manipulation of these large and fragile textiles, the main purpose of the treatment was to stabilize the existing damages in the cloaks, primarily in the form of tears and losses. In addition to stabilizing preexisting damage to the cloaks, the museum designed a new mounting system that would fully support them as well as provide a culturally appropriate display. The museum planned to stabilize the entire collection in order to alternate the exhibition of the cloaks, therefore shortening the display period of any individual cloak.

The cloaks are made of netted olona cordage, a bast fiber shrub endemic to the Hawaiian Islands that forms a flexible support to which feather bundles are attached. The netting is often made of multiple sections stitched together to form the whole. The fragility of this netting and the feathers determined the scope of the treatment.