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Hawaiian Quilting

Updated on April 8, 2013

The Unique Quilting Tradition of the Hawaiians...

Hawaiian quilting is different from other traditional forms of quilting. Originally, the native Hawaiian population was introduced to quilting in the early 19th century by visiting missionaries who attempted to teach the traditional method of piecing. This method however, was contrary to the cultural style of the Hawaiians who viewed the cutting and re-piecing of fabric to be a waste of time and materials so they modified the technique to fit their style.

Below, I will explain a bit more about the Hawaiian style of quilting and the customs that have accompanied the development of this unique quilting tradition.

The Hawaiian Quilting Technique

Hawaiian quilters take a single piece of fabric, fold it in quarters or eighths and cut out a pattern similar to cutting a paper snowflake. The resulting image is then appliqued onto a solid background. This folding method results in symmetrical motifs that repeat depending on how many times the fabric was folded. Traditionally, Hawaiian quilts are composed of only two colors, one for the appliqued design and one for the background.

In the example shown here, made between 1855 and 1887, you can see that the appliqued motif was folded only once (in half) and was cut from a single piece of fabric including the border. Beautiful, isn't it?

Hawaiian Inspiration

Hawaiian quilters take their inspiration from their surroundings frequently using plant and floral motifs such as the antherium flower, the ti plant and the hala tree just to name a few. Quilts are also designed with images symbolic of their religious beliefs. Historically, this was a way for the Hawaiians to preserve their heritage at a time when everything was changing with the influx of missionaries and people from all over the world. Also, quilts are created to commemorate events or in memory of loved ones who have died. They are created with a specific purpose and each one is unique. The designs are considered to embody the spirit of the maker so to duplicate a design is considered stealing.

The quilt shown here depicts the antherium, and goes outside traditional design with the incorporation of additional colors. The green appliqued portion is cut in one piece and the red and yellow accents are appliqued on top.

Hawaiian Quilt Customs

There are some interesting superstitions associated with Hawaiian quilts that exemplify the spiritualism of the Hawaiians. In Hawaii, you never sit on a quilt because they are treated with great respect due to the time invested and the belief that the quilt is the embodiment of the creator's spirit. To be respectful of the quilt demonstrated respect for the creator as well. You could sleep under the quilt, but never sit on top.

Another tradition is for the the quilter to sleep with the quilt one night before presenting it to the recipient. And when a person is ill it is said that if they sleep with a quilt all the love from that quilt will help heal them.

Finally, when designing a Hawaiian quilt, never create human figures, it is believed that the figures will walk and visit you at night.

I hope you enjoyed this introduction to the beautiful Hawaiian quilting tradition. Below, you will find links to more information about Hawaiian quilting including links to a few free projects.

Want to Learn How to Make a Hawaiian Quilt?
Start with these books

Hawaiian Quilting: Instructions and Full-Size Patterns for 20 Blocks (Dover Quilting)
Hawaiian Quilting: Instructions and Full-Size Patterns for 20 Blocks (Dover Quilting)

Detailed instructions, 20 full-size quilting blocks (each 18" square) for creating exotic floral motifs: orchid, waterlily, hibiscus, 17 others.

Hawaiian Applique
Hawaiian Applique

Each applique pattern reveals an intricate shape that is representative of the splendor and culture of the islands. Bold graphics, contrasting fabrics, and graceful quilting characterize projects, such as Hibiscus Orchid Lei and Winds of Change.


Hawaiian Quilt Bedding

Kauhale Living King Hawaiian Quilt bedding Comforter 100% cotton patchwork with two pillow shams
Kauhale Living King Hawaiian Quilt bedding Comforter 100% cotton patchwork with two pillow shams

This king size Hawaiian Patchwork Quilt set includes: one 102" x 96" Comforter and two 20" x 30" Shams. (Cushions sold separately) Available in two color choices: sage or blue. Designed by a Hawaii-based artist, this set features beautiful Hawaii's unique flora to create an inviting bedroom full of ALOHA. This set will make a fabulous gift for any occasion.


Hawaiian Quilting Inspiration

Hawaiian Quilting in Action...

What do you think of Hawaiian Quilts?

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    • mojoCNYartist profile image


      6 years ago from CNY

      These are pretty cool looking. I'm not a quilter, but I sure wouldn't mind owning one.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I had never even heard of Hawaiian quilting before, this is so interesting! It must take a ton of skill to cut and appliqu such intricate motifs. Great job on this lens.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I was not familiar with the Hawaiian style of quilting. How fascinating!

    • kathysart profile image


      8 years ago

      Ohh here we go, I was just at your other quilting lens and made comment about Hawaiian quilts. So nice to see them featured! ALOHA ... and angel blessed!

    • lesliesinclair profile image


      8 years ago

      Charming! They have such an appearance of structure, a firmness of pattern, that belies their stuffing inside.

    • Charmcrazey profile image

      Wanda Fitzgerald 

      9 years ago from Central Florida

      I've always enjoyed looking at Hawaiian quilts but never took the plunge into starting one. Lovely photos, blessed by the Quilting Neighborhood Squidoo Angel.

    • Senora M profile image

      Senora M 

      9 years ago

      Cool lens. I love quilting and recently read a book where they were doing Hawaiian quilting. Didn't know what it was really... :) Now I do! blessed by a squid angel

    • SciTechEditorDave profile image

      David Gardner 

      9 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Nice lens! I have relatives in Hawaiian (who are part Hawaiian--hapa and hapa hapa)... they have lots of Hawaiian quilts in their homes. Definitely thumbs-upped, favorited, liked, and lensrolled (to my lens Hawaii Vacation Tips. Now you have me wondering about the quilts we have in our home.

    • CCGAL profile image


      9 years ago

      I have loved Hawaiian Quilt designs ever since I saw a PBS special about them a long time ago - but I really enjoyed learning the backstory you've presented here - the Hawaiian customs associated with the quilting was fascinating to me. Very nice!

    • Surfie LM profile image

      Surfie LM 

      9 years ago

      Fantastic lens on Hawaiian quilts! That anthurium quilt is particularly spectacular. I would love to own one of these, but I can't imagine ever being able to create one myself.

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 

      10 years ago from Canada

      We saw some beautiful Hawaiian quilts when we were there. This page is beautiful, too.

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 

      10 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      very well explained! 5* and blessed.

    • ZenandChic profile image


      10 years ago

      These are cool! I love Hawaii! I am lensrolling this to my Aloha from Kauai lens and blessing it!

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 

      10 years ago from Croatia

      Love these patterns! They are very pretty and have an earth touch in them!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      10 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      What a fascinating history. I had no idea Hawaiian quilting was so different from the traditional pieced quilting my grandmother used to do. And the customs and superstitions are so interesting, especially about why you never create human figures... I'll share this lens with my daughter-in-law as she is now the 'quilter' in the family.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image


      10 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA



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