Tapa experiments in Tarascon

tapa experiments

article about tapa on AtiuIn September of 2017 the amazing book TAPA was launched in Paris. I was privileged to be one of the book’s many authors, and asked to write about the bark cloth on my former home island of Atiu (left). I was also invited to exhibit some of my works for the occasion (below a detail of my tapa-lace panel with Marquesan dance costumes in the background).

A. Eimke, lace panel, detailDuring the exhibition I met French artist and art restorer Marion Dumaine. Marion exhibited lengths of Tongan tapa beautifully decorated with natural pigments and gold leaf. Being both interested in barkcloth, the idea arose to meet in August 2018 and hold an experimental workshop. My German girlfriend Christel Weingart, felt artist, painter and published author, who had used barkcloth in a sculptural way many years ago, would also join us. Raymond and Colette Cristini offered us free of charge their lovely summer house in Tarascon sur Ariège (France) for our experiments. Summer house in TarasconOur first interest was to check if there were any suitable plants growing in Europe whose inner bark could be successfully beaten into usable sheets. Marion’s cousin had had to cut down a fig tree, ficus carica, one of the many fig species and thus distantly related to the plant family from which tapa is being made in the South Pacific islands and other areas. They had kept some branches for us to explore.

Christel WeingartWe boiled these in water for three hours (left: Christel checking on the branches) and spent an entire day shaving off the outer bark. The bast could be removed and smelled, felt and looked just like that of the Banyan roots I had worked with in the Cook Islands. We fermented it for a day, as I had done on Atiu, to make beating of the rather coarse bark easier.

Tangled fig fibres
However when beating it, it did not stay in one piece, but dissolved into bundles of tangled fibres. So we learned our first lesson: not all fig bast is suitable for tapa making.




Philodendron rootsScraping Philodendron roots





Marion brought some Philodendron roots from her giant plant at home to try out. It was a fiddly enterprise to shave off the outer bark. The best way of removing the inner wooden core was to just beat the root flat. When fresh, it had beautiful rusty and pink colours, however these dried into beige and brown once dry.

Pink and orange Philodendron rootCyan-dyed tapa stripsI took some blueprinted tapa with me which I wanted to felt into a freshly beaten length of tapa. Colette, our hostess, had brought us bundles of dried Broussonetia papyrifera (Paper Mulberry) bark from her home island of Futuna. We were grateful that Michel Charleux, the editor of the TAPA book, let us have the Marquesan-style anvil which had served for tapa demonstrations during the Paris book launch exhibition. Once the bast was beaten thin, I removed some slivers from the cyan-dyed tapa pieces and beat them into the white tapa. It worked wonderfully.

Hibiscus petalsHibiscus petals felted



Encouraged by Marion’s experiments with the Philodendron roots, I decided to experiment with mauve coloured Rose of Sharon petals. The delicate upper parts were easy to felt into the bast, the thicker maroon centers not so well. However in the end, most of the petals had merged with the bark.

Tapa with Rose of Sharon petals

Lacy tapaWe decided to beat all strips of bark which we had already soaked in water. Both Marion and I were interested in achieving a lacy effect (left) for use in future artworks .

Meanwhile Christel had been using pieces of tapa to fashion some delightful three dimensional artifacts. I had seen Christel’s tapa bowls when I first met her in 2003 and had been keen to learn from her how to make them.

tapa bowl in progresstapa bowl with fig fibres






Over a ceramic bowl, with the help of cling film, water and cellulose glue she formed delicate vessels (left), decorated with spirals and some of the fig bast fibres from our previous experiment (right). They were especially impressive when seen in their delicate beauty against the light and blue sky of Tarascon’s summer.Christel Weingart, tapa bowlThis was my chance and now I knew what I wanted to do with the cyan-dyed tapa pieces.

leftoversAndrea - first bowl





The blue and white patterns reminded of Delftware. After the first bowl I became more adventurous. I discovered that the pieces were double-layered and that using both layers made the bowl too opaque for what I wanted to achieve. I also used the inner, plain layer and adorned it with the remnants of the previous bowl. Blue bowl - work in progress Blue bowl - dry







Now, back in Terrassa, the three bowls I made in this enjoyable experimental workshop adorn my book shelf. They may become part of an exhibition I am hoping to have some day… Andrea Eimke - three tapa vessels






Cyanotypie – a workshop

Paulo Cacais at Tigomigo Gallery

In June 2018 I enrolled in a workshop at Terrassa’s wonderful art gallery Tigomigo. Its owner Paulo Cacais introduced us to the secrets of cyanotypie.

Cyanotypie is a photographic process that results in cyan or Prussian blue prints. It was invented in 1842 by Sir John Herschel. British botanist Anna Atkins used it immediately in a series of botanical books published in 1843. She can thus be considered the first (female) photographer. Blueprints were widely used for many decades in architectural offices until alternative methods were invented in 1942 . Artists still use it today.
Blueprint works of R. Eretz and L. Elkivity

During my visit to Tel Aviv at the end of 2017, I was fortunate to meet the artists Rachel Eretz and Lucy Elkivity in their studio and admire their co-operative blueprint works (left). The technique resembles the sun-dyed pareu we used to make in the Cook Islands. I became curious to find out if I could use this method on tapa.

I took some pieces of Tongan tapa with me to the workshop. In his dark room, Paulo showed us how to dissolve small amounts of potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate in warm distilled water and apply the greenish solution with a brush to the surface of our substrates. The prepared pieces were then left in a dark place to dry.

Circles and gauze
My first idea with embroidery frames and gauze fabric did not give good results, since it had to be kept inside so the wind would not blow it away and could thus only be developed through the window.

weeds as print material

On a supporting frame, under glass plates held in place with clips I could then arrange my printing material on the dried substrates. I opted for plant material which I found outside the gallery.



Paulo had the great idea to scan my hand, print it out on transparent paper and use it as a “negative” that the sun could develop. It is amazing how quickly the colour of the chemicals turns from a light green to a greyish blue right and beyond.
hand print - undevelopedhand print developing





If left in the sun long enough, one achieves a beautiful dark Prussian blue, while the parts that the sun can’t access remain white (or the colour of the substrate).

hand print - developed

To dry the developed “photographs”, the wet pieces were just stuck to the large window of the gallery. I was so pleased with the outcome that I could not help but take a selfie…
Andrea and one of the blue prints

Un pas més – Another Step…

Between art works

…is the motto of the exhibition. And surely, for me this much appreciated challenge has been a step forward.

Going back to the beginning: newspaper as material. Cool!. How could I use it? It was clear that it would have to be “my way”, i.e. sewn lace. However paper is fragile. What to do about it?

text printed on fabricI could print a newspaper extract onto fabric (left).I wanted it to be a meaningful text, though. Where would I find one in such a short time? And then, what to do with that text? Hmmm, somehow that wasn’t convincing.

newspaper scraps
The technical question was, how to stabilise paper? With iron-on interfacing (above).

lace of newspaper scraps
Yes, this did work, however, where was the message? I could look for meaningful words. Which language should I use? German – my native language, English – a language I sometimes find easier to work in (!), Castellano – the country’s language, or Catalán – the regional language I am only just beginning to learn and love?

No! All the languages I speak, I decided. Then I went in search of international newspapers.
various newspapers
words, collageMany interesting articles later I had a good collection of words I could use. I arranged them so they’d transcend the confines of the frame (left). The words could  be sewn (right)…

alternatives - sewn wordHowever,  that turned out to be too labour-intensive for the short time period, so this will become a separate project to be continued…

beads to attach the laceIn the end I found words that satisfied me and joined them with machine-sewn lace. I didn’t much like the frame and thought that the natural wood colour made it stand out too much. White paint was the answer. For weeks my workroom smelled of paint! However, it did the trick. I drilled holes in the frame to attach the lace with beads (right).

Between Wor(l)dsAnd, voilà, the work was finished. The title came easily: Between Wor(l)ds – my favourite space to be.

My work can be seen during the four days of the Festa Major (city festival) de Matadepera at the Casal de Cultura (culture centre) – between other interesting works of local artists who have also submitted to the challgenge of frame and newspaper. We have all done “un pas més” – another step.

Back on Track

During the time of transition from one side of the world to the other, from island to city life, from wife to widow, from full-time work to (semi-)retirement, I managed to create a wonderful circle of choice family members and friends in my new Spanish home town and nearby. To all these amazing people I owe my sanity.

new work roomNearly two years had to pass before I was able to start creating again. I have adjusted to my much smaller workroom (above) and won new artist friends.

words, collageThese encouraged me to join an art group in a neighbouring town, the Matadepera Col•lectiu d’Art, and participate in their art exhibition. All participants had to use a frame sponsored by the city council of Matadepera and newspaper in our works (left).

I’ve always wanted to work with text.  This was a much welcome challenge. It finally broke my artist block.

Tomorrow will be the inauguration of our exhibition. I’m so excited! I will keep you posted…

pin board

Dust to Dust…

Dried bouqued 35 year later

… Ashes to Ashes

Almost a year has passed since my last post on 9th February 2015. It has been a pivotal year in my life. Quite unexpectedly, in March my husband Juergen began his final journey to the other side of the world and eventually of life. For me, too, this meant leaving for good my beloved home island of Atiu. Circumstances forced us to forsake most of what had formed our daily life and identity for 31 years. In May, all arrangements were finished and I could follow Juergen to Germany to attend to his needs. In early July, I lost my loving partner of 35 happy years, Juergen Manske-Eimke.

Our wedding day

Witnesses signature

just a shadow remains

Many friends in all corners of the world supported us during this arduous journey. I have no words to express my gratitude. The love of my Spanish “family”, whom I have known since childhood days, has kept me strong and positive. With their help I found a new abode in their delightful home town close to Barcelona in Spain, where I have now been living since August 2015.



glowing tapa in semi-darkness

The Visible and the Invisible

Experiments with photo-luminescent pigments on tapa and fabric

The New Zealand company GloTech, Inc. has agreed to a part sponsorship of my Spirit Sail project with their rare earth photo-luminescent pigments. I asked for a small amount to experiment with. CCG Industries in New Zealand has in principle agreed to sponsor the binder for the final project but were unable to send over a small sample amount of heat-set medium for fabric painting. Instead, Elena Tavioni of TAV Ltd. in Rarotonga was so generous as to come to the rescue.

Letter from SingaporeIt took some time for the 20 g photo-luminescent pigment sample to arrive. The company had it sent over directly from Singapore. Elena let me have half a bucket (way too much) of the heat-set medium to mix the with the pigments to make a luminescent fabric paint.

I mixed the pigments in the ratio directed by the manufacturer. I first painted the thin part of a piece of white, lacy paper mulberry bark cloth and also the other end where the fibres are coarser and more densely spaced. That way I could appreciate the difference. My cotton mull dropcloth now has traces of the paint mix from seeping through the tapa.

photoluminescence on transparent tapa This photo was taken in plain daylight shining UV light on the tapa with a torch.

white tapa with invisible paintIn normal daylight, the paint is hardly visible on the white tapa. I placed my samples outside in the sun to dry and charge with natural UV light.

painted white fabric in daylightI also painted a small strip of white cotton fabric. The paint dries really fast. When the small amount was nearly used up, I thinned it with water twice so as not to waste anything and to see how the performance would change. It is difficult to discern the paint in daylight, but on the fabric it was visible having a slight greenish tint.

After about two hours the sun had wandered around the house and I decided to take my samples inside and check for an effect. I was richly rewarded by a beautiful glow (see featured image at top). The photo was taken in semi darkness. I placed the painted tapa on a piece of black tapa for contrast.

glowing tapa and fabric in darknessEntering a dark room with the fabrics was an amazing experience. The glow was very strong and even helped me find my way around the room in the darkness. I hung the three samples up side by side for photographing. I had to manipulate the photos on the computer to make the glow better visible. What we see in this photo is pretty close to what I saw.

varying glow intensityI have learned from this experiment that it is OK to thin the medium which is water-based, because the pigment powder thickens it. In the varying intensity of the glow on the fabric strip we can clearly appreciate the thinning of the paint. The thinnest mixture is in the lines on the right. There was nearly no paint left but obviously still enough pigments to have some effect. I will experiment with a different ratio, using more medium and less pigment so that the paint can cover a larger area.

Glowing tapa in darknessThe difference in intensity in this photograph is not just caused by the difference in consistency of the tapa or the paint, but also because the left side of the photo shows the wrong side of the thin lacy part of the tapa. It was interesting to note that the luminescence can be observed on both sides of the transparent tapa.

The glow effect had disappeared after two hours, about the same time that the samples had been exposed to UV light. When exposed to daylight for about a whole day, the glow effect did not continue for so much longer. I look forward to living with a piece in with I incorporate photo-luminescent fabric. The painted fabrics will develop a different life at night.

The visual effect of these pigments makes me think of the mind. During the day it gets ‘charged’ with all sorts of experiences, the impressions of which are re-lived, in part, and worked through during the un-consciousness of sleep. The day-time picture dazzles us with a variety of sense perceptions and experiences. The night-time picture of the unconscious only leaves their essence. I have only just begun to think more about the expressive possibilities this photo-luminescent paint offers me. It will be fun to experiment some more…

Washing tapa…

… for a new project

Fine tapa from FijiTongan tapa is predominantly Broussonetia papyrifera or paper mulberry. It is the finest I’ve known, with the exception of a gauze-like piece of tapa from Fiji (left) that I saw at the recent Tapa Festival in Tahiti in November 2014 . For me as lace maker and tapa enthusiast, using this natural material is an ongoing challenge.

A friend brought me some unpainted tapa (feta’aki) from Tonga. I haven’t measured the cloth, but it is about 1.20 metres wide and many metres long. Length and width of individual strips depend on the size of the sapling that has been harvested for beating. It varies slightly.

Tongan tapa or feta'akiTapa makers in Tonga layer and join those individual strips to make a larger piece for their final printed ngatu.

Patch on Tongan tapaAny holes and tears are patched by pasting small pieces of tapa over the area with starch.

Look through tapaWhen holding up against the light and looking through such cloth, the doubled areas form quite a pattern – and tell a tale of the tapa’s quality perhaps…

My plan for a new project is to dye this paper mulberry tapa with fabric dye. I assume that the contact with the liquid dye will dissolve the starch and the joints and patches will come apart. I prefer to work with the individual layers and their ‘imperfection’ anyway. Luckily we have a rather deep shower tray, because my large plastic basin is too small to submerge the long feta’aki in enough water to soak it.

wet tapaAs soon as the water penetrates the material I can already see that the pieces separate. After agitating the bark gently, because wet tapa has very little tensile strength and can easily be ripped, I can take out the separate lengths of bark. I gently squeeze them, roll them up in a thick towel and wring that towel-tapa sausage to get rid of as much water as I can before spreading the bark on a table to dry. I have covered our studio table with sheets.

length of wet tapaIt’s a bit like detective work to discover how many larger and smaller pieces hide in such a squeezed-out ‘snake’.

layers of tapaI find out that it’s usually two, sometimes three lengths that have most probably been beaten together. The bottom part of the bark is much thicker, the top usually very delicate and lacy. That’s why they are placed so that the bottom part of the one comes to ly on the top part of the other and thus give an even thickness.

beginning of a layer of tapaI have to find the beginning of one separate layer and pull or lift the piece and let gravity do its job.

holding up layers of wet tapaI love the contact with such, at this stage, very delicate material. I find that I have to respect its specific properties, if I want it to work for me and through handling it I get to know its strengths and weaknesses – and my own.

Studio full of tapaEventually all possible flat surfaces of my large studio are covered with fine tapa. Swimming in the bowl near the water’s surface are the fallen off patches. I skim them off, spread and flatten them, long and narrow, square and rectangular, hand-size and smaller, placing them in the spaces between the other longer strips. In my mind’s eye, the new work begins to grow. All I need now for the colouring is a day of sunshine which is required to develop the light-reactive dyes full brilliance.

Many tapa pieces To be continued…