Collaboratively making korowai (cloaks) is an activity that seems to be gaining popularity in classrooms across New Zealand at the moment- and for good reason. It’s a great way of bringing Māori culture into the classroom, and working together to achieve a common goal is a great experience for students.
We made our korowai for the annual Matariki display at our local museum. Schools from around the district are invited to contribute, and the finished artworks are displayed in the museum for visitors from around the world to see.
Here is how we made our korowai.
We began by discussing what a korowai was, and why we might make one to celebrate Matariki. After this discussion, I explained to the students that each of them would be making one feather to contribute to the cloak. The design on each feather would represent the mana (hard word to translate, kind of means integrity) of the individual, our class, and our school as a whole. Tough concept for kids to get their heads around, but they did really well!
Next, we looked at different Māori art styles, the symbols used, and what they can represent. Each student had a go at drawing with different styles and symbols.
Now that we had finished our research and preparation, it was time to get down to business. Each student was given a paper feather to draft their design on. They had to explain the meanings of their design to me before they could get a fabric feather, and copy their design onto that. Once the design was pencilled onto the fabric, students chose whether they wanted to use pastel or indian ink to fill in their design. When this was completed, a wash of colour was applied to the entire feather using standard school dye.
Next, each of the feathers were backed with iron-on interfacing. I covered the front of the design with baking paper, to stop the pastel from smudging and transferring.
Once the feathers had been interfaced, students cut them out and hand stitched with a plain running stitch around the edges. Some students did require a little tutoring for this step, but on the whole I was pretty impressed with the sewing abilities of my class! Some students chose to add another row of stitching along the inside to compliment their design.
Next, I collected all of the feathers and laid them out on a black strip of fabric- wide enough to wrap around a child’s shoulders. I sewed a channel at the top of the fabric so that a cord to tie the korowai onto its wearer could be threaded through. I also hemmed the rough edges of the fabric. Then I pinned each feather in place in rows of five or six, making sure that each feather could be seen, but also overlapped another.
After pinning everything in place, I sewed each feather on with a simple running stitch (making sure to tie each one off securely). Then I threaded a cord through the channel (super long shoe laces anyone?) and a design was painted across the top.
Because we made our cloak for the museum display, we attached it to the board they had provided us with, accompanied by pieces of writing by the students, explaining how and why we made it.
We can’t wait for our korowai to be returned to us- we plan on having it as a school korowai, to be worn by the students on special occasions.