Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).


Copyright © 1998 by the author(s)


The Maori cloak

After the settlement of New Zealand in about 1200 AD, Maori women adapted wefttwining techniques for constructing wann clothing suited to the cooler climate of their new habitat. The principal garment was the cloak made with yarns prepared by working and twisting the long fibres extracted from the sword-like leaves of the indigenous plant Phormium tenax, commonly known as New Zealand flax.

The historical evolution of the Maori cloak is largely unknown as only a few fragments and one cloak found in a burial cave are known to be earlier than the cloaks collected by Captain James Cook on his expeditions in the 1770s. Those cloaks together with contemporary illustrations and written descriptions from Cook's and other early voyages of exploration by the English and French indicate that cloak making was highly developed by the 18th century. Many fine examples collected before 1800 are preserved in British and European museums.

All cloaks, whether the coarsely constructed rain cloaks with a thatch-like outer surface, the closely constructed cloaks with added strips of dog skin, or the more pliable finely made and shaped cloaks decorated with tassels and feathers or finely-patterned borders, are made by weft twining. Roughly rectangular, they vary in length from approximately 70 to 150 cm and in width from 100 to 200 cm. The body of the cloak is called the kaupapa. Most cloaks are simply finished on the edges with a thicker plied thread, narrow plaits or a fringe, but prestige cloaks with densely constructed patterned borders of taniko are called kaitaka.