What is Hawaiian Quilting?

On a visit to Hawaii in 2014, I fell in love with Hawaiian Quilting and for the past month at the GillyMac Studio, we have been working on our own small Hawaiian pieces. We’ve used traditional patterns and changed the hand applique to machine sewing and the results have been brilliant. In light of this, wanted to share a bit of the history I learnt about Hawaiian Quilting 5 years ago whilst staying on Big Island.

What is it?

Hawaiian Quilting is traditionally an applique pattern, which is created in much the same way as a child folds and cuts a snowflake from paper. The design is cut into folded solid coloured cloth and the symmetrical applique is then unfolded and sewn on the paler quilt top. The quilt is finished with detailed quilt stitches which echo the contours of the applique design, like ripples spreading from a stone thrown into a pond.  Many of the early designs were based on native Hawaiian plants. Another popular motif was the royal crown which was a tribute to Hawaii’s brief period as an independent monarchy.

How did it develop on the Islands?

Prior to the arrival of Westerners on the Hawaiian Island the textiles used for (sparse) clothing and bedding was bark cloth. This was thin sheets of inner bark from the paper mulberry tree, pounded together to form thicker stronger pieces of cloth. After Captain Cook discovered the Islands in 1778, missionaries from across Europe and later America followed and with them brought quilts and cotton fabrics. It is likely that the first quilts the Hawaiians saw were Album Quilts, which were quilts made for the missionaries as a parting gift from their last congregations. The use of folded applique designs may well have come from quilts brought to the Island by Pennsylvania German missionaries which were similar in style.  

My next project

Whilst on Big Island I was lucky enough to take a class in traditional Hawaiian quilting.  The sample I made there, remains incomplete but holds very fond memories of a fantastic time spent in a beautiful place. I have always liked the idea of quilts telling a story, The Hawaiian quilts tell the story of their surroundings and the fall of their own monarchy in 1897. I would like to start to make a piece every few years that holds memories for my family. I am not sure I am ready to start yet, but I’ve been holding onto that thought since I took that class with the native Hawaiian ladies in 2014. and after the past month’s Hawaain sewing in the studio, I am now planning to start my own Hawaain inspired quilt in 2020.

If you would like more information about upcomig classes at GillyMac Designs, please stay in touch by liking and following the Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Images of professional Hawaiian Quilts kindly supplied by Yoko Brown,@hawaii_apapane who also has an etsy shop which can be found here

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