Hawaiian style of quilting has international appeal
By Karin Stanton
By Karin Stanton
KAILUA, Kona, Hawai'i — Quilts usually spread across a bed, a couch or even a wall.
Hawaiian-style quilts, with their distinctive snowflake patterns, have spread from New Hampshire to Japan.
Some 125 quilters from Hawai'i, the Mainland, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are displaying their work this weekend at the 14th Quilt Hawaii conference at the Keauhou Bay Sheraton Resort & Spa in Keauhou.
"We have so many Hawaiian-style quilts this year. They are just amazing," said Faye Labanaris, founder of Quilt Hawaii. "Hawai'i quilts are becoming a bit more contemporary — growing and changing. And, of course, this conference is so much all about sharing."
Mary Haunani Cesar, of Kailua, O'ahu, is considered one of Hawai'i's premier quilters and has been surprised to see her quilt pattern catalogs show up in far-off places such as Turkey.
In addition to teaching at this weekend's conference and in regular classes on O'ahu, Cesar travels the globe to share her craft.
"It's another way to preserve and tell about our culture," she said.
Cesar said the Hawaiian style can be defined simply as a symmetrical design based on eight — essentially the shapes created by folding and cutting paper, then unfolding to reveal a snowflake pattern.
Hawaiian-style quilts usually include only two colors, including a plain background and the snowflakes in a different color.
This style has its origins with the wives of missionaries, who brought family heirloom quilts with them from the Mainland 150 years ago. Hawaiian women, already skilled and resourceful crafters, wanted to learn how to quilt.
At first, their task was to cut out the snowflakes. While Hawaiian women likely did not relate well to the term "snowflake," they were familiar with similar dye stamp patterns used in tapa.
From there, they adapted and developed their own style, which eventually was exported back to the Mainland and beyond.
Labanaris has long shared her love of traditional Hawaiian-style quilting with students in her native Dover, N.H.
"I've been teaching for years and had always told my students we would visit Hawai'i together one day," she said. "Eventually one of students said, 'Have you picked the day yet?' And that started it."
In 1992, Labanaris planned a 10-day tour of O'ahu that included one lecture and a luncheon for 24 participants.
It was so successful, the group returned two years later for a conference in Waikoloa on the Big Island.
There, Labanaris talked Ellen Peters, also a New Hampshire resident, into partnering up and organizing regular conferences through Quilt Hawaii.
This year is the 14th conference, which lasts five days and features 40 workshops covering topics and techniques for using machines, hand sewing, ribbon, painting, Japanese fabrics and Hawaiian styles.
Quilters also will compete in an "Ugly Fabric Contest," then auction off the ugliest to benefit a breast cancer charity.
About 20 of the quilts on display are for sale, ranging in price from $100 to $4,000.