Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Deegan, Ann, and Ross Cordy. “Micronesian Textiles in Transition: The Woven Tol of Kosrae.” Contact, Crossover, Continuity: Proceedings of the Fourth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 22–24, 1994 (Los Angeles, CA: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1995), pp. 81–91.


Copyright © 1994 Ann Deegan and Ross Cordy


This paper presents findings on the major steps in the transition of the Kosraen tol from traditional clothing, to tourist souvenir, to the end of tol manufacture. An extensive study of the German, French, and English literature of the 19th and 20th centuries was done to piece together the history of the Kosraen tol.

The island of Kosrae, located in the Pacific (4–10°N latitude, 140–163°E longitude), is part of the Federated States of Micronesia. Since earliest European contact it has seen numerous changes in its traditional culture. One of its most beautiful and complex traditional crafts is the woven tol--the only clothing used on Kosrae prior to European contact. It is this tol that will be traced through various periods of European contact Kosrae.

An expanded presentation of tol construction can be found in Deegan and Cordy (1994). A short summary of tol technology, based on that research, is contained in this paragraph. Tol was woven by women. It was made of fiber split from banana leaves. Yarn was made by twisting 3 to 6 of these leaf fibers together and knotting them end to end. Traditional tol fabric ranged in size from 13–25 cm wide and 92–183 cm long. Tol was worn by women as a wrapping around their hips, while men wore tol as a loin cloth. In addition to natural tan, these tol often contained black, red, and yellow dyed fibers. Tol were predominantly woven in warp-faced plain weave. The most complex were cross-banded by changing colored warps down their length. Each change in color required knotting-on of a different colored warp yarn; some complex tol may have contained as many as 4,000 knots. A warping bench was used for measuring warp color changes. Warp yarns encircled the warping bench pegs in a ring warp until the desired tol width was reached. The finished ring warp was slid off the warping bench onto a backstrap loom. After weaving completion the ring warp was cut, leaving fringe at both ends of the tol.

Four time periods of Kosraen history will be examined in this paper: (1) the European Contact Era, 1824 to mid 1850s; (2) the Transition to the Christian Era, mid 1850s to 1869; (3) the Christian Era, 1869 to 1914; and (4) the Post-Toi Era, 1914 to present.