Learn About Traditional Hawaiian Quilts

If you’re on a Hawaii family travel vacation, you’re probably going to see numerous Hawaiian quilts available for sale on the islands. While not as ancient as some of the islands’ other traditional crafts, quilt-making has been part of Hawaiian culture for at least 2 centuries.

Hawaii’s indigenous cloth-making materials don’t have the properties that allow them to be made into quilts, so from the beginning, Hawaiian quilts have been crafted using imported cloth. Nonetheless, the Hawaiian quilt can trace its ancestry to the ancient art of Kapa fabric-making, where the sub-layer of tree bark would be slowly beaten and formed into a paper-like cloth.

The distinguishing characteristic of the Hawaiian quilt is its use of symmetric patterns that are usually based on botanical motifs and island plants.

Other common quilt patterns involved Hawaiian legends and old island gods; some quilts were made to mourn a passed-on relative, or commemorate significant events.

Hawaiian quilt patterns were sometimes used as a form of tacit political protest, as well – after the islands’ native rulers were overthrown, it became illegal to display the Hawaiian flag or any symbol of the old monarchy, and quilt-makers would sometimes subtly incorporate these symbols into their products as a way to circumvent the ban. These old flag quilts are especially treasured and valuable, often fetching 5-figure prices.

Whether you buy a modern, applique-style Hawaiian quilt for your family, or go to the museum to see some of the authentic quilts from centuries past, the quilt is an interesting part of Hawaii’s cultural history that you shouldn’t miss!