Saturday, March 19, 2011

Aloha and a Swap

A couple of years ago I wrote a report for my quilt history group on Hawaiian quilts. I thought it would be a report on the silhouette quilts you typically think of when you think Hawaiian quilt, but I discovered there was a lot more to Hawaiian quilts than I knew!

Long before missionaries brought their version of quilting to Hawaii, native Hawaiians were skilled at making a type of bedcovering called kapa moe, made from a type of cloth called tapa. Tapa was made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree. Women pounded thin sheets of the inner bark into thicker sheets sheets of uniform consistency, which were then sewn into clothing and textiles with thread made from twisted bark fibers. Kapa moe were made with four sheets of white tapa, topped with a layer that was frequently dyed with natural dyes and decorated with stencils. The layers were then sewn together with a running stitch at the bottom. Here are some of the patterns found on kapa moes.

On April 3, 1820, the ship Thaddeus, sailing from Boston carrying women from the American Board of Missions, made a brief stop at Kawaihae. Some of the women on the ship sat in a circle and taught the native women to do "patchwork." It is not know if this consisted of bits of cloth pieced together, or a type of applique, but for the most part Hawaiians seem to have made appliqued quilts from the start. The few pieced examples that exist duplicate designs that were stamped on the kapa moe, including the log cabin design.

In the 1860's, Pennsylvania Dutch Missionaries arrived to start schools in the islands, and brought with them the scherenschnitte cuttings that were popular in Pennsylvania and parts of New England. Two quilts exist that are made up of small scherenschnitte squares, and it is theorized that traditional Hawaiian quilting was influenced by these designs. Early quilters cut the patterns freehand, but later paper patterns were made. This stunner is Queen Kapiolani's Fan Quilt. It is currently on display at the American Museum at Bath.

One legend says the the Hawaiian applique originated when women laid a sheet in the sun and noticed the shadow of the breadfruit tree on the cloth. Since beginners are encouraged to start with a breadfruit, or "ula," quilt, this is the type of quilt most commonly found.

This quilt possibly represents the "Tree of Life" found on chintz quilts imported from India by the British.

Applique patterns were considered intensely personal, as were their names, and both were closely guarded. Patterns were sometimes stolen from a quilt hanging on a clothesline. A talented quilter could stand in the shadows and cut the patterns freehand on paper.

Outline embroidered quilts, what we think of as "redwork," were also popular and were often used for everyday, while the traditional Hawaiian applique quilts were kept for good. When the quilts became worn, the were cut up and used for children to sleep under. Hawaiian redwork quilts were a whole cloth quilt with designs stamped in a ring, sometimes around a central figure, in the style of applique quilts.

Another type of quilt is the Hawaiian Flag Quilt, Ku'u Hae Aloha, or My Beloved Flag. These were believed to have first appeared in 1843 when Lord Paulet of the British Navy claimed Hawaii, then know as the Sandwich Islands, for Britain. Citizens were afraid they would never see their flag again, so they used it as a symbol in their quilts. Later that year, a British Admiral restored the flag, which underwent numerous design changes over the years. Quilts can generally be dated by the design of the flags it contains, however, this is not always the case. It is rare to find a quilt made much earlier than 1875 because of the mildew and pest infestation caused by the humidity. It was a Hawaiian tradition to make a copy of a deteriorating quilt, so a later quilt could have a representation of an earlier flag.

Flag quilts were thought to be very rare, and almost none are found on the mainland, but during the Hawaiian Quilt Research Project, many flag quilts were found. Almost every family that has Hawaiian quilts has a Flag Quilt, but these were often kept in secret, and handed down from generation to generation. Because of this I was very surprised to find on recently on eBay, and the seller has generously allowed me to use her pictures here.

Here is your chance to obtain a piece of history! You can see the auction here.

For pictures of Hawaiian quilts, as well as more resources, check out The Quilt Index.

A while ago I joined a doll quilt swap hosted by Christine over at Once Upon a Quilt, and my first swap partner was Cheryl from So Many Quilts, So Little Time. Things have been so hectic here for the last month that I never got around to posting Cheryl's sneak preview, so here it is.

And here is the wonderful quilt I got in exchange. Cheryl reproduced one from Mary Ghormley's collection for me. I just love it! Thank you so much Cheryl.

You can't go wrong with pink and brown. This is the first doll quilt I own, and now I want more. We have a second round with new partners starting soon.


Sue said...

What a fantastic interesting post Lisa. I knew nothing of the history of Hawaiian quilts.

Your doll quilt is fab! lucky girl.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for the history of Hawaiian quilts. Interesting. Glad you like your doll quilt. I love mine!

Cathy said...

Loved hearing about the Hawaiian quilts. Love the doll quilt you and Cheryl made. Looks like it was a fun swap. Hugs

Karen said...

The red and white quilts are beautiful! I have always thought of Hawaiian quilts as the large traditional applique quilts. I was not aware of the history that involved other styles.

Lori said...

I think the doll quilt exchenge was the best! You got a lovely one from Christine.
What a terrific quilt on ebay. I've never known a lot about hawaiian quilts- thanks for the education.

Vivian said...

WONDERFUL post, Lisa. I have a strong interest in the history of quilting, and I learned so much today. Someone standing in the shadows, drawing a quilt design seen on a clothes line -- now that's a visual I won't soon forget.

Your links led me to enjoyable blogs. I think I've found some new gals to follow.

Your doll quilt from Christine is sweet with a tangible vintage look, and I love the fabrics I see in yours for Cheryl.

(big sigh) -- yes, a wonderful post today.

YankeeQuilter said...

Great post...what always impressed me about the Hawaiian quilts is what a large piece of fabric they were working with when the appliqued.

Merilyn said...

I enjoyed reading your post about the history of quilts in Hawaii. I actually love their applique quilts, something very fresh about the white background, really shows off fine, precise work!!! You both did well with the doll quilt swap! I follow Cheryl's blog, she produces some lovely work too!

taylorsoutback said...

Your posting is just packed with fascinating information and quilt pictures. I was not aware that redwork techniques were utilized in Hawaiian quilting. I love Mary Ghormley's book Childhood Treasures and was able to see her collection when it was on display at the IQSC/University of Nebraska - this was a while back, before the museum was built. At the same time they had another exhibit called Scarlet and Cream - all red and white quilts...oh, be still my heart :o)!!
Great post - thank you for sharing!

Janet said...

What a fabulous informative post Lisa. I had no idea the flag quilts were so secret and the history of Hawaiian quilts is quite interesting.
Your doll quilt is fantastic, no wonder you're so thrilled.

Beth said...

A great history and textile lesson, Lisa. And such a sweet little doll quilt :-)