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Unless you’re into quilting as an avocation, it’s likely that quilts aren’t a large part of your consciousness. Here in the islands, a Hawaiian quilt is considered a treasure, whether you’ve received one as a gift, bought one or made one yourself.
Long before the first Westerners reached the islands, the Hawaiian people were making a fabric called “kapa” from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree. Kapa was pounded into layers and sewn with bone needles and natural fiber threads. The yield was clothing, bedding and canoe sails. The resulting fabric usually was dyed and decorated with elaborate patterns.
When the missionaries brought woven fabrics and piecework quilts to Hawaii, the Hawaiians quickly adopted their sewing techniques and materials – but not their methods.
Rather than cut fabrics into bits and then resew them, the Hawaiians’ designs were cut from solid pieces of cloth and appliqued to a fabric background forming a decorative top. Batting of wool, cotton, or natural fibers was placed between this top and an undecorated backing. The three layers were then stitched together.
It’s presumed that the first Hawaiian quilt designs were inspired by leaf patterns falling on fabric laid out to dry and other designs found in nature. The quilts weren’t sold; they were gifts of love.
During the latter years of the monarchy and particularly after Queen Liliuokalani was deposed in 1893, quilt patterns incorporating themes of royalty, “Ali‘i,” and of the royal palaces became symbols of Hawaiian identity. Today it’s considered a matter of courtesy for non-Hawaiians to request permission from members of the Hawaiian community before using those particular patterns.
Quilting has gained a respected place in the resurgence of traditional Hawaiian arts and crafts. Now quilters are passing on their knowledge of the past and creating new designs.
Hawaii’s visitors usually come across Hawaiian quilts – as they browse shops, see them in hotel lobbies and some rooms, or encounter them in private homes. They are easy to covet, but are bulky when it comes to getting them back home. Several companies will ship your choices to you. For your guidance, here’s what you can expect to pay for quilts of various sizes for various uses:
It’s easy to take quilt making lessons while you’re here. Just ask your Hawaii-Aloha Travel specialist.