The Story of Quilting in Hawaii
Hawaiian quilts are unique to the world, a birth of beauty from the blending of Hawaiian and American tradition and culture. Tapa cloth made form wauke bark, was the only cloth available to the Hawaiians. Making this cloth was an intricate part of Hawaiian culture. The wauke bark was pulled off of the tree and soaked, pounded, and beaten with the round hand tool (pictured above). After it was carefully pieced together to make larger pieces it was pounded with the carved flat kapa beater (pictured above). Then the final step was mixing crushed kukui nuts with water in a coconut bowl (pictured above), creating a dye, and printing designs on the kapa from carved bamboo (pictured above). Each ohana came up with their own unique water mark and print design on their kapa, as a family identity. It took many days of hard work for the women to make and design tapa, which was stacked to make bedding.
When missionaries came to Hawaii, the first recorded introduction of quilting was in 1820 aboard the “Thadeus”. A group of royal Hawaiian ladies sat on the floor of the top deck of the ship, half wrapped in tapa, while the missionary ladies gently showed the art of sewing and quilting. The creative and innovative Hawaiians soon developed a unique quilting style which more closely reflected their own culture and traditions, giving birth to the beautiful, more intricate Hawaiian quilt.
Hawaiian quilting patterns traditionally reflect objects of nature, or even everyday household objects, which evoke the memory of loved ones. Objects such as plumeria blossoms, hair combs worn by Princess Kaiulani, or a ginger lei. In general 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 a new grand child. The Hawaiian quilt symbolizes an attachment and a love for Hawaii shared by people throughout the world.