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Hawaiian Quilting


The Unique Quilting Tradition of the Hawaiians...

Hawaiian quilting is different from other traditional forms of quilting. Originally, the native Hawaiian population was introduced to quilting in the early 19th century by visiting missionaries who attempted to teach the traditional method of piecing. This method however, was contrary to the cultural style of the Hawaiians who viewed the cutting and re-piecing of fabric to be a waste of time and materials so they modified the technique to fit their style.

Below, I will explain a bit more about the Hawaiian style of quilting and the customs that have accompanied the development of this unique quilting tradition.

Table of Contents


The Hawaiian Quilting Technique

Hawaiian quilters take a single piece of fabric, fold it in quarters or eighths and cut out a pattern similar to cutting a paper snowflake. The resulting image is then appliqued onto a solid background. This folding method results in symmetrical motifs that repeat depending on how many times the fabric was folded. Traditionally, Hawaiian quilts are composed of only two colors, one for the appliqued design and one for the background.

In the example shown here, made between 1855 and 1887, you can see that the appliqued motif was folded only once (in half) and was cut from a single piece of fabric including the border. Beautiful, isn't it?


Hawaiian Inspiration

Hawaiian quilters take their inspiration from their surroundings frequently using plant and floral motifs such as the antherium flower, the ti plant and the hala tree just to name a few. Quilts are also designed with images symbolic of their religious beliefs. Historically, this was a way for the Hawaiians to preserve their heritage at a time when everything was changing with the influx of missionaries and people from all over the world. Also, quilts are created to commemorate events or in memory of loved ones who have died. They are created with a specific purpose and each one is unique. The designs are considered to embody the spirit of the maker so to duplicate a design is considered stealing.

The quilt shown here depicts the antherium, and goes outside traditional design with the incorporation of additional colors. The green appliqued portion is cut in one piece and the red and yellow accents are appliqued on top.


Hawaiian Quilt Customs

There are some interesting superstitions associated with Hawaiian quilts that exemplify the spiritualism of the Hawaiians. In Hawaii, you never sit on a quilt because they are treated with great respect due to the time invested and the belief that the quilt is the embodiment of the creator's spirit. To be respectful of the quilt demonstrated respect for the creator as well. You could sleep under the quilt, but never sit on top.

Another tradition is for the the quilter to sleep with the quilt one night before presenting it to the recipient. And when a person is ill it is said that if they sleep with a quilt all the love from that quilt will help heal them.

Finally, when designing a Hawaiian quilt, never create human figures, it is believed that the figures will walk and visit you at night.

I hope you enjoyed this introduction to the beautiful Hawaiian quilting tradition. Below, you will find links to more information about Hawaiian quilting including links to a few free projects.

Want to Learn How to Make a Hawaiian Quilt?
Start with these books

Hawaiian Quilt Bedding

Hawaiian Quilting Inspiration

More information about Hawaiian quilts...

Hawaiian Quilting in Action...

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What do you think of Hawaiian Quilts?

Dan from CNY on May 29, 2013:

These are pretty cool looking. I'm not a quilter, but I sure wouldn't mind owning one.

badplatypus on April 12, 2013:

I had never even heard of Hawaiian quilting before, this is so interesting! It must take a ton of skill to cut and appliqu such intricate motifs. Great job on this lens.

anonymous on June 20, 2012:

I was not familiar with the Hawaiian style of quilting. How fascinating!

kathysart on January 19, 2012:

Ohh here we go, I was just at your other quilting lens and made comment about Hawaiian quilts. So nice to see them featured! ALOHA ... and angel blessed!

lesliesinclair on August 09, 2011:

Charming! They have such an appearance of structure, a firmness of pattern, that belies their stuffing inside.

Wanda Fitzgerald from Central Florida on March 06, 2011:

I've always enjoyed looking at Hawaiian quilts but never took the plunge into starting one. Lovely photos, blessed by the Quilting Neighborhood Squidoo Angel.

Senora M on January 13, 2011:

Cool lens. I love quilting and recently read a book where they were doing Hawaiian quilting. Didn't know what it was really... :) Now I do! blessed by a squid angel

David Gardner from San Francisco Bay Area, California on September 11, 2010:

Nice lens! I have relatives in Hawaiian (who are part Hawaiian--hapa and hapa hapa)... they have lots of Hawaiian quilts in their homes. Definitely thumbs-upped, favorited, liked, and lensrolled (to my lens Hawaii Vacation Tips. Now you have me wondering about the quilts we have in our home.

CCGAL on September 10, 2010:

I have loved Hawaiian Quilt designs ever since I saw a PBS special about them a long time ago - but I really enjoyed learning the backstory you've presented here - the Hawaiian customs associated with the quilting was fascinating to me. Very nice!

Surfie LM on July 10, 2010:

Fantastic lens on Hawaiian quilts! That anthurium quilt is particularly spectacular. I would love to own one of these, but I can't imagine ever being able to create one myself.

Treasures By Brenda from Canada on February 18, 2010:

We saw some beautiful Hawaiian quilts when we were there. This page is beautiful, too.

Heather Burns from Wexford, Ireland on December 30, 2009:

very well explained! 5* and blessed.

Patricia on December 22, 2009:

These are cool! I love Hawaii! I am lensrolling this to my Aloha from Kauai lens and blessing it!

Mihaela Vrban from Croatia on December 22, 2009:

Love these patterns! They are very pretty and have an earth touch in them!

Wednesday-Elf from Savannah, Georgia on December 22, 2009:

What a fascinating history. I had no idea Hawaiian quilting was so different from the traditional pieced quilting my grandmother used to do. And the customs and superstitions are so interesting, especially about why you never create human figures... I'll share this lens with my daughter-in-law as she is now the 'quilter' in the family.

JoyfulPamela2 from Pennsylvania, USA on December 21, 2009:


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