Hawaiian Quilting History
Hawaiian quilting history has deep cultural roots of the islands. Before the missionaries arrived, Hawaiian quilts were made of fabric called kapa, which was pounded from the bark of the wauke (paper bark or mulberry) tree. They dyed the bark cloth and decorated it with geometric block prints to use for bedding and festive clothing. The people of old guarded this tradition, by passing down the Hawaiian designs and patterns to younger quilters. Fortunately, today the art form has come out from behind closed doors, allowing everyone to celebrate the Hawaiian quilting history.
The Birth of Hawaiian Quilts
Around 1820, missionary wives brought woven fabrics and steel needles and taught the Hawaiian people how to make patchwork quilts. The missionary women had scraps of fabric from sewing on long sea voyages. However, this didn’t make sense to the Hawaiians to cut up a large piece of fabric into small strips and sew them back together. In addition, they taught the Hawaiian keiki how to cut snowflake patterns from folded paper. The Hawaiians found this method of folding a more efficient way to create the designs that they were already printing on their bark cloth kapas.
Legend has it that a breadfruit pattern was the first true Hawaiian quilt design. Some Hawaiian women laid some fabric on the grass to dry. They noticed a shadow from the branches of the breadfruit tree on the fabric. The Hawaiian women then cut out the shadowy design and laid it onto another fabric and appliqued and quilted. Thus, the birth of the first Hawaiian quilt.
This technique quickly found its way through the islands, and Hawaiian women were creating unique quilts depicting the beauty of each island. They looked to their gardens and the land for inspiration for their designs. It is also very common to see Hawaiian quilts in only two solid-colored fabrics. The Hawaiian designs and patterns were often done in a bright color and attached to a pale-colored background. Red, green, and yellow against a white background were some of the most common color combinations. Furthermore, the quilts always showcased perfect balance and symmetry.
Hawaiian Designs and Patterns
Hawaiian quilting designs and patterns traditionally reflect nature or everyday household objects, which evoke the memory of loved ones. In addition, traditional Hawaiian quilt patterns do not use humans or animals in their designs. Hawaiian families treasure their quilts as possessions of great significance. It was traditional for a new quilt to be made for a bride or as a present for the birth of a child. Hawaiian quilts symbolize an attachment and love for the islands shared by people throughout the world.
In Hawaiian tradition, you should start with a breadfruit design. This will lead you to a fruitful life, never starving for wisdom or knowledge. This tradition is a very spiritual journey and starting with the breadfruit will ensure that Hawaiian quilting becomes a part of your life.