Tuesday, February 7, 2012

hawaiian quilting

Some years ago I was visiting my grandma on Maui when she decided she would no longer be doing handwork. It had become too difficult to see up close to thread needles.

She passed me some fabric and also two unfinished pillows with Hawaiian quilting patterns on them. I don't think I can write well enough about the history of Hawaiian quilting to do it justice. Instead, I'll direct you here, where I'm sorry to discover that Poakalani Serrao, the woman who was probably the most prolific writer and teacher on the subject, has recently passed away.
I wish now that I had taken the time to iron them (but I guess I don't wish it enough to redo!). Grandma's pattern template sits in the lower left corner of each square so that you can see how the folding turns this little 45° wedge into the beautiful symmetry of the design. What is less clear from the photo is that the template was traced from her friend's copy onto a grocery bag; and that the cloth is a very coarse, but brightly dyed cotton. This is the fabric I always associated with Hawaii as a child. Now you can buy fine quilting cotton printed with orchids and other florals, but my memories of fabric shopping with my mom and grandma were all about these solids and a few simple prints in equally bold colors.

Grandma's pillows are both in the ulu (breadfruit) pattern. It seems to be the pattern that one sees the most, perhaps because it is fairly simple with nice curves or perhaps because, according to Poakalani, there is a tradition that once you make an ulu quilt you will never want for life's necessities. The ulu pattern is so strongly associated with Hawaii that it is even on a pair of earrings I bought when C was a baby.
My friend M has been making Hawaiian quilt squares recently and when she asked me to take a Hawaiian quilting class with her, I jumped. We went to the LQS last Sunday when everyone else was in Superbowl preparation mode.

The teacher likened it to cutting out paper snowflakes in school and sure enough, I had flashbacks of being in school: taking too long to decide on a pattern, talking too much, and suddenly realizing I was miles behind everyone else when we were supposed to be moving on. I came home with my piece only half-basted where the rest of the class was well into their needle turning. Oh well. My slowness is not really news.

Here is the design I'll be working on. The fabric choices are not traditional, since I was pulling from my stash the morning of the class. Can you guess what the pattern is called?


  1. So beautiful! I'm going to guess 'sea turtle'.

  2. Love it Suzie! Sofia yelled out honus the second we looked at your beautiful pattern.

    1. I should have known Sofia would spot this! :)

  3. You guys are good. I totally missed it! I see it now, though - beautiful!


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