On a scale of zero to 100, with 100 being someone who is insanely crafty and creative, I’m about a zero.

I’m not being overly-humble, but I do know my limits when it comes to arts and crafts, and I just don’t have the “it factor” when it comes to creating something beautiful from scratch (on the other hand, I’m a great admirer of crafty things).

So, you can imagine the awe I feel every time I see a beautiful, hand-made Hawaiian quilt. Not only do I admire the work and patience it took to make, but I also admire its beauty and utility.

Turns out, the art of Hawaiian quilt making goes back hundreds of years. According to womenfolk.com, the traditional Hawaiian bedcoverings were made of kapa, a cloth made from the inner bark of native trees. Strips of this inner bark were beaten and felted together to make it into a cloth that was smooth and soft to the skin. Kapa moe was kapa made into a bedcovering.

A kapa bed cover sheet. The ancient Hawaiians used to use kapa to make bed sheets before the missionaries showed them how to weave fabric.

However, it was actually contact with the missionaries that took the “quilt” to the next level. When the first missionaries arrived, Hawaiian women learned how to use fabric instead of kapa cloth. And, then, of course, they learned how to decorate the kapa cloth with designs. By 1870, the first traditional Hawaiian quilt had emerged.

I was intrigued to learn that, during the takeover of Hawaii, Hawaiian natives developed another unique quilt form, one that uses the flag of Hawaii and other symbols of Hawaiian royalty in its design. These quilts honor the short-lived Hawaiian Kingdom, according to womenfolk.com. And, many of you probably know about Queen Lilioukalani’s “crazy” quilt on display at Iolani Palace, designed and created when she was imprisoned during the U.S. takeover of Hawaii.

Now that you know a little history of the Hawaiian quilt, where can you find Hawaiian quilting classes while you’re on vacation here? Read-on if you want to know more about some opportunities to learn this culturally-significant skill:

  • Iolani Palace: Tutorial sessions are offered weekly on Saturdays at Iolani Palace. The classes are taught by John Serrao and his daughters, Cissy and Rae, in the lecture room of the Kanaina Building (Old Archives). The Serraos are known for their expertise in Hawaiia quilting and have been teaching the craft since teh 1970’s. Classes are $6 per session, with the first session for beginners costing $15. Sessions are held from 9:30 am to noon. For more information, call (808)223-1108 or email at cissy@poakalani.com
  • Royal Hawaiian Center: Occasionally, the Royal Hawaiian Center will provide classes in Hawaiian quilt making from 9:30—noon at Building B, Level 2 Paina Lanai Food Court. The sessions specialize in the art of kapa kuiki, which is the unique form of Hawaiian quilting that traces its origins to the 1820s. Early missionaries and Hawaiians developed this art form that combines applique and quilt stitching. Quilting kits are provided for a fee (approximately $30), and requires many hours of intricate work. 2 hours, once a week. Multiple classes are recommended. Click here for more details.
  • Academy of Quilting: In this class, you will learn how to choose and prepare your fabrics; design a Hawaiian quilt pattern; apply that pattern to the fabric; cut out and baste your quilt top; needleturn hand applique using Nancy’s stress-free methods; choose batting; baste your quilt top, batting, and backing together; mark your echo quilting lines; hand quilt; and bind your Hawaiian quilt. Cost is $51 for 5 lessons. Click here to learn more
The traditional Hawaiian flag quilt was popular during the time when Hawaiian sovereignty was at stake.

From time to time, various Hawaii hotels will offer Hawaiian quilting classes or have Hawaiian quilts on display in the lobby. Check with your individual hotel for details.

Even after writing this blog, I can’t say I’m ready to tackle a Hawaiian quilt just yet. But, researching this fascinating Hawaiian art has definitely inspired me to think about it!


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