Quilts have a long history and every place that quilting has gone added more and more of it. Not only that, it added more variety to existing quilt designs. By the 18th century quilting has spread throughout the world. The cultures, which love quilting, have their own variation already. Only a few isolated pockets of humanity did not of quilting yet. Who knew that one such pocket would create designs that proved so popular.
In the 19th century, the 1820’s to be more exact, missionaries visited Hawaii to teach them about Christian ways. They also taught the Hawaiians the craft of quilting. In the beginning, quilting did not catch on with the islanders. The warmth a quilt provided wasn’t needed. Plus, they considered it wasteful. The missionaries cut up large pieces of cloth and sewed them back together to make quilts. Importing expensive cloth and not using all of it didn’t appeal to people used to scarce resources.
It wasn’t until Hawaiians adapted the kapa, a traditional cloth made from the inner bark of local trees, that quilting began to take off. The kapa moe was a bedcovering made form kapa. It was made of many layers, just like a quilt. But it wasn’t connected on all sides like the traditional quilt. Tropical weather made it necessity that the layers of a kapa moe be adjustable. It was connected only on one end. It was sometimes scented with flower petals between the layers.
Unlike their traditional flowing designs, Hawaiian appliqué designs have more similarities with imported geometric designs. The foreigners’ crafts became an inspiration. In some kapa moe, echoes of the French fleur-de-lis can be found.
While the beginning of quilting in Hawaii was heavily influenced by the merchants and missionaries that came there, Hawaiian appliqué retained its soul. The designs remained grounded on Hawaiian soil. The designs expressed Hawaii’s flora and fauna. Tradition has it that when beginning quilting, the first pattern that one must make is the breadfruit. The religion and spirituality of the islands also found its way into the appliqué designs. Apart from that, Hawaii also became enamored with flag quilts. They used the Hawaiian flag and the symbols of the old royalty of Hawaii.
Hawaiian appliqué designs are considered very beautiful. Many compare the appliqué’s geometric pattern to a snowflake. It has the same intricacy and symmetry. The most intricate traditionally made quilts can take up to three years in the making and require up to a million hand stitches. These are definitely not simple nor are they for beginning quilters. However, it would be a nice challenge to make one someday.