Thursday, May 4, 2017

about the Hawaiian scrap quilts & exhibition

1970s Hawaiian scrap quilt / also my first 1970s quilt
In my recent podcast interview on Collecting Culture, Liz Logan asked about the Hawaiian scrap quilts and the exhibition. My mind was racing that day, and I kept going off subject. So, I thought I would offer a few more details and some photos here.

1960s bedcover, string-pieced on cloth foundation
and edge finished with no backing
Hawaiian scrap quilts, also known to locals as patchwork blankets, represent a distinct branch of quiltmaking in Hawaii, but the tradition is undocumented by historians and very far removed from the familiar botanical applique quiltmaking tradition.
"Ka Ua Kani Lehua"
early 20th century Hawaiian applique quilt, Wilson family of Kailua
In some ways, this branch of Hawaiian quiltmaking faces an uphill battle for recognition because there is already a distinct style of quiltmaking recognized as purely Hawaiian-- the Hawaiian appliqué quilt. This type of quilt is ordinarily made with two cotton solids, large central applique designs featuring botanical motifs, and rippling echo quilting. Hawaiian scrap quilts look nothing like the applique quilts, but they still look distinctly Hawaiian.

The seller of this piece shared the story of the tradition.
I discovered this colorful branch of Hawaiian quiltmaking when an eBay seller had a story about the tradition and the women who made the quilts in the item description for a quilt I purchased. From there, I began asking questions, and learned the scrap quilts were made through the mid-century period and some people still make them today. These objects are primarily foundation-pieced, edge-finished and backed bedcovers with no batting or quilting.

vintage Hawaiian shirt purchased in Honolulu
When I first started learning about Hawaiian scrap quilts, I came across a blog post from a collector of Hawaiian shirts. The collector was very disturbed to discover one of these quilts at a flea market in Hawaii. The quilt included fabrics from high-end, vintage Hawaiian shirts.

Hawaiian scrap quilt made of triangles, edge finished with vintage fabric
After asking lots of questions about the potential sources of materials, I learned the garment industry in Hawaii produced scraps, and the quilts were made from those. Given a consistent source of scraps, it was not likely Hawaiians would cut up useable garments to make these quilts.

1960s string-pieced Hawaiian scrap quilt
In a way, it changed how I saw the quilts. I started seeing the shapes of the scraps, recognizing them as cutaways. Certain designs kept showing up, such as string-pieced, concentric squares on point, made of long, narrow strips. Within the tradition there were distinct trends relating to overall design aesthetic, color choice and construction.

1970s string-pieced Hawaiian bedcover, no batting or backing
It is not easy to collect these objects. They are beloved by their owners, kept by families and often used until they fall apart. Within a year, I was able to gather enough material to have a small exhibition at Latimer Quilt & Textile Center in Tillamook, Oregon.

2016 exhibition at Latimer Quilt & Textile Center, Tillamook, Oregon
"Kalakoa, Discovering the Hawaiian Scrap Quilt" was on display January and February, 2016, and there was an exhibition catalogue, a research article in the American Quilt Study Group newsletter, and an article in Generation Q Magazine. Later in the year there was an article in Quilters Newsletter Magazine.

"Kalakoa, Discovering the Hawaiian Scrap Quilt"
Referring to the widely recognized traditions, the exhibition included small reproductions of the typical Hawaiian applique and flag quilt hanging above the doorway. There were scrap quilts all around the rest of the gallery, mixed with garments and other ephemeral objects.


The show was a success, and since then, I have added some pieces to the collection and continued to learn about the tradition, as well as general Hawaiian culture.

scrap quilt found in a vintage shop in Honolulu

In January, I went to Oahu for a few days, visited all the vintage shops I could find and sent a big box home.

vintage shopping, mostly in Honolulu and Kailua
It was a beautiful but brief visit, and I enjoyed local food and a fantastic view of the marina near the Hilton Hawaiian Village at Waikiki Beach.

onolicious plate lunch with kalua pig, lomi lomi salmon and fresh poi
Foodland poke bar
view from the penthouse balcony
Of course, there is much more to say about the Hawaiian scrap quilts, the exhibition, and the whole journey. Get me started on the subject, and I'd probably go on and on about it forever.
Sharing these vibrant artifacts from a such beloved culture is the opportunity of a lifetime. I hope it sends me back to Hawaii many more times, and I hope the quilts can bring a little slice of Hawaii to other places around the world.

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