top of page

Hawaiian History of Quilting

Most of you know I spent some time teaching in Hawaii last month! Well, I brought back a solid tan and a new understanding of Hawaiian quilting and it’s origins. I thought I would share what I learned with you :)

Hawaiians learned to quilt and sew from the first Christian missionaries. The first Hawaiian quilting circle was held early in 1820 on the decks of the ship Thaddeus with the royal wives of two reigning chiefs in attendance.

Prior to the arrival of the missionaries, Hawaiian clothing was made from kapa cloth. Kapa was made by pounding the inner bark of the paper mulberry plant. The first explorers thought the natives had already been exposed to the west, seeing their cloths and assumed they were made of cotton. Cotton was later grown on Oahu in the 19th century, and the woman learned to weave.

The missionaries sewed patchwork quilts, but Hawaiian women saw patchwork as too colorful, too busy, and the stitches too hard to see. They wanted the stitching to be the focal point of their quilts.

They developed their own style of quilting using a single piece of colored fabric, folded in eighths and cut to create a beautiful symmetrical pattern.

Did you know that Hawaiian Quilt Patterns have symbolic meaning? The Ulu or “Breadfruit” represents growth and prosperity. The Pineapple signifies hospitality, Taro equates to strength and the Mango embodies wishes granted. They didn’t depict animals or humans in their quilts, it was thought the animals’ spirits would be trapped and they would become restless.

The pattern is hand appliqued to the quilt top and the quilt is hand quilted. Stitching follows the contours of the design to the edges of the quilt, giving the illusion of the waves of the ocean. The rippling or “echo” effect is quilted freehand in rows a “finger-width” apart.

Queen Lili’uokalani

One of the most notable quilters in Hawaii was the queen herself! Queen Lili’uokalani succeeded her brother upon his death on January 20, 1891. She was determined to strengthen the political power of the Hawaiian monarchy. She was opposed and eventually imprisoned in her own palace under a sort of house arrest. While in confinement, she made this beautiful and elaborate crazy quilt. Each block tells a bit of the history and circumstances surrounding the tumultuous times she was living through.

The frail quilt is made of silk and cotton, polychrome silk embroidery threads, polychrome paint and silk-screened commemorative ribbons and hat bands, with printed cotton muslin interlining. The center block outlines the sequence of events that changed the course of Hawaiian history, including the stitched date the Provisional Government was put in place, when Queen Lili'uokalani was forced to step down.

Embroidered dates indicate the quilt was started in Oct of 1894 and completed after Liliuokalani's release in September 1895. (Tim Ryan, March 2003)

After this, a great wave of patriotism filled the hearts of Hawaiians. The streets were filled with men wearing hat bands inscribed Aloha ‘Aina (love of Country). Hawaiian woman busied themselves making flag patterned bed quilts.

Well, there's your weekend history lesson :) I hope you enjoyed that!

Happy Sunday, everyone!



Follow all my quilty adventures on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. Visit my website for free tutorials and tips. If you like my patterns, you can buy them on Etsy, and here on the website.

PS: I'd love you to leave a comment. Unfortunately, the new hosting software requires a login which is out of our control for the time being. (They are working on a comments section we hope will function more like the old one). For now, if you want to leave a comment, but don't want to login, you can always send an email to me at I'll get back to you as soon as I can.


Related Posts

See All

4 commenti

Good morning Krista, I enjoyed your post immensely because I am currently researching and gathering information about Hawaiian Quilting for an upcoming program at our non-profit local quilt guild in Pensacola Florida. We have a couple of ladies that have visited Hawaii to learn their methods, and their input has been very helpful, but your site is a great summary of the history and the process and I learned so much!

I would like to ask if I may use some of your info and pictures in a short presentation for our May Mini Luau. I would provide a link referencing your website to give you credit for the material, and also for anyone that wants to come learn an…

Mi piace

Thanks for sharing the history of Hawaiian quilting. We were there in January for the third time and I enjoyed looking at the various quilts. I did understand the missionaries wanted them to quilt the patchwork quilts, but the Hawaiians wanted something simpler with more meaning. I find this really fascinating about the choice of patterns and reasoning behind that as well as the hand quilting. I did purchase several books after returning home which gives patterns as well as some lengthy explanations. There doesn't seem to be enough time to study and replicate all of the wonderful things we see in this beautiful world we live in. I enjoy your tutorials, history and patterns. Thanks for sharing.

Mi piace

I recently visited Hawaii (the big island). We naturally add a tour of their quilt/fabric stores to our stay. My husband is a great guy. But, I wondered why the local style was 1 color blocks with appliqués stencil. Now I get it. Thank you. They are beautiful in they’re our way.

Mi piace

Very interesting post!! Love the crazy quilt too! Something I've always wanted to make.

Mi piace
bottom of page