Hawaiian Quilting

Hawaiian Quilt

Hawaiian quilting is a distinctive art form that combines brightly colored fabrics and elaborate stitching. The style often incorporates images of indigenous flowers and plants to create truly stunning masterpieces.

History of Hawaiian quilts

According to Quilts Hawaii, quilts evolved as an art form in Hawaii, rather than as a necessity, because the climate is mild. This style of quilting differs from other types of quilting in four ways:

  • Whole pieces of cloth are used for the designs, instead of small pieces like other quilts.
  • Only two colors of fabric are used.
  • The motif is cut using the "snowflake" method.
  • The design motif is echoed in the quilting.

Missionaries visiting the islands introduced quilting to the native women. Because they didn't have scraps of fabric lying around (since indigenous clothing often consisted of wraps made of whole cloth), they developed their own methods of quilt design. Missionaries also influenced the way Hawaiian quilts are cut. The design part of the quilt is cut out in the same way that a child would make a paper snowflake. The fabric is folded several times and cut along the edge, ensuring that all sides of the design are symmetrical.

Hawaiian Sensibility in Quilting

In addition to having a different reason to make quilts, Hawaiians also tend to have a different attitude about quilt making. Not merely a utilitarian item, Hawaiian quilts reflect the beauty of the world around the quilters. A beautiful, well-balanced design was considered a gift. The spirit of the person who made the quilt was said to live on in her work. Many quilts were often destroyed when the quilt maker died so her soul could be at peace.

Due in part to this tradition and the salty, humid environment of the islands, many Hawaiian quilts are no longer in existence. Those quilts that still exist often are kept within a family and not often seen by outsiders. It is a recent occurrence that Hawaiian quilting has been openly taught and shared.

Hawaiian Quilting on Your Own

If you don't have the luxury of going to Hawaii and taking a quilting class from a master at the craft, don't worry. You can find a treasure trove of information about the craft on the Internet. Here are some good resources:

  • Quilts Hawaii has a good tutorial and video about Hawaiian quilting.
  • Poakalani and Company has instructions for Hawaiian quilts, as well as tips, hints and instructions for cutting out your pattern. If you're ever in Honolulu, this is the place to take quilting classes or see a demonstration as well.
  • Honu Hale has a lengthy tutorial on Hawaiian quilting and includes patterns that you can buy.
  • Quilt Hawaiian offers all sorts of tips and instructions on Hawaiian quilting, including such good information as how to avoid fraying when working on your applique.

A Living Art Form

Hawaiian quilts are a living art form. Each quilt is unique and carries the spirit and emotions of the person who designed and made the quilt. The spirit of generosity and attitude toward life found in Hawaiian quilts can be adapted by quilters everywhere and in every style. Remember if you quilt with your heart, investing yourself in every project, you will be quilting in Hawaiian spirit, if not Hawaiian style.

Hawaiian Quilting