Researcher Dr Patricia Te Arapo Wallace is an expert in customary Māori textiles and clothing technology. Learn about her research into indigenous sewing and weaving techniques.
The science of indigenous textiles
Dr Patricia Te Arapo Wallace, of the iwi (tribe) Ngāti Porou, is an honorary research associate at Te Papa. She brought years of experience in clothing and textiles to her PhD study in traditional Māori dress. This work in turn sparked a commitment to investigate the science and technology of indigenous textiles.
Patricia's techniques include reviewing historical records, carefully observing current weaving techniques, and analysing taonga (treasures) in museum collections in New Zealand and overseas.
She says: ‘Bringing together elements of mātauranga Māori [Māori knowledge] and scientific practice fosters new insights into … the production of garments we now perceive as taonga [treasures].’
Whatu Kākahu | Māori Cloaks, edited by Awhina Tamarapa, Te Papa Press, page 59
Insights into sewing
Patricia's work has demonstrated that early Māori developed sewing technology to a high degree. This is confirmed by the thousands of bone needles found in archaeological sites all over the country.
Her work has been especially important in restoring knowledge of methods that Māori used to sew animal skins, such as dog and bird skins.
Ongoing research – investigating weaving techniques
Patricia has been collaborating with a group of skilled weavers, Te Hunga Whakawhāiti Māori Arts Research Network, to revitalise customary practices, including tāniko – the twining technique used to create the geometric patterns on cloak borders and other garments.
Patricia also plans to research exchanges between Russian explorers and Māori in the Marlborough Sounds in 1820. As she says, ‘Good research never finishes. It asks more questions than it answers.’