Thursday, January 26, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Discovering the Hawaiian Scrap Quilt

Two years ago, I thought I might be on the trail of something good. It was a quilt from Hawaii on eBay, and it came with a story.

The quilt was nothing like the traditional Hawaiian applique quilts. It was crazy pieced on a cloth foundation, scrappy, and made of tropical print fabrics. It was backed and bound but there was no batting and it was not quilted. 

There was a very similar quilt already in my collection. Its origins were not as clear as the eBay quilt, since it came from a dealer who picked it up at an estate sale. But it was really the same thing.

The story about the eBay quilt was worth pursuing, as it turned out. It led to an undocumented tradition of scrap quilts made in Hawaii through the mid-century period. 

Groups of women called "tutus" gathered to make the quilts for craft fairs and church bazaars. They used scraps of fabrics from aloha shirts and muumuus. 

The seller of the eBay quilt wrote about the use of Hawaiian scraps, and there was talk about Hawaiian shirt collectors being unhappy that valuable vintage items were cut up for quilts. 

A little more poking around revealed the quiltmakers used scraps, but the scraps came from the factories producing the aloha shirts and muumuus rather than garments being cut up. 

I collected, keeping quiet about it until there were enough materials for a small exhibit. Not a lot of competing bidders, nobody was collecting the quilts. They just didn't come along every day. 

The first display went up about a year after I found the quilt on eBay. I published a research article in an academic newsletter, and feature articles in two magazines. 

The most recent development in my Hawaiian scrap quilt journey was a trip to Oahu earlier this month. It was illuminating, and fun to pound the pavement for a change.

For many years, I wished to find a Hawaiian quilt for my collection. So, the moral of the story is: be careful what you wish could turn out to be something much more than you ever imagined. 

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