A Hawaiian quilt is a distinctive quilting style, originating on the Hawaiian Islands, that uses large-scale appliqué patterns. Motifs often feature stylized botanical designs in bold colors on a white background.
Quilting may have been introduced to the Hawaiian islands with the arrival of missionaries and Western fabrics in the 1820s, but Hawaiians quickly made the art form their own.
In my quest to include diverse art forms on ARHtistic License, I searched the internet for examples of Hawaiian quilts. I found the Poakalani & Co. website, the virtual home of an organization whose mission is to preserve the tradition and cultural legacy of Hawaiian quilting. Featured on the website are the quilts of Pat Gorelangton, who graciously answered my questions about this very distinctive form of quilting.
ARHtistic License: How long have you been quilting? Tell us how you first got started.
Pat Gorelangton: I started quilting over 30 years ago…mainly as a way to have some “quiet time”, what with three kids and a full-time job. I tried various styles of quilting, including patchwork when I lived in Texas, but when I came home to Hawaii, I decided Hawaiian quilting was where my passion was…and I’ve done that exclusively for the past 12 years.
AL: Your designs are a lot lacier than many of the Hawaiian appliqués I’ve seen. Native plants and blossoms seem to be a prevalent theme in your quilts (and they have certain traditional associations), but I also noticed geckos and koi. Do you use commercial patterns, or do you design your own?
PG: Yes, the main theme in Hawaiian quilting is floral, though I’m finding lately that leaves are interesting me more. I have been fortunate enough to have our beloved designer John Serrao [of Poakalani & Co.] in my life for 12 years, and I have mainly quilted his designs, though I have also created my own patterns (like the gecko quilt you mentioned) and used some commercial patterns.
AL: Do you start with a single cut of colored fabric, folded into eighths from the center, wedge style? How do you cut so accurately?
PG: Most Hawaiian designs are cut on the eighth, like the paper snowflakes we made in school. But some rectangular designs are folded in fourths. Sharp scissors are mandatory…mine is made by Clover.
(Note: click on smaller images to enlarge and see captions.)
AL: Do you needle turn your appliqué edges as you go, or do you baste the raw edges under in advance?
PG: After the pattern is pinned to the background, I baste it. Then I needle turn the edges as I am appliquéing.
AL: Do you quilt by hand or on a sewing machine? Do you quilt on a frame? Do you use any sort of guide for keeping the distance between rows consistent?
PG: All quilting is done by hand in Hawaiian quilting. Though I attach the first edge of the binding to the quilt by machine, I fold it over and finish it by hand. I use a 14″ hoop to quilt. Traditionally, the only guide you should use to keep the echo quilting lines consistent is your finger…your index finger if you want larger quilting lines, or your baby finger if you want them closer together. After a while, your eye is a pretty good judge of spacing. You should NEVER draw lines on your quilt.
AL: On the Poakalani website, I saw that some of your quilts have multiple colors, like the Ti Leaf. Do you have to cut out each piece separately? (I guess that’s a stupid question.) Also, I notice that you used a tropical print instead of a solid for the Violet. So beautiful! How do you make those design decisions?
PG: The Ti Leaf /Croton pattern is actually “reverse quilting”, as is the Gecko quilt. Usually, the pattern is cut and placed on top of the background fabric. In the reverse style, the colors are underneath…and the outline or silhouette is cut out of the fabric that represents the background, but is actually on top. You sort of have to think backward, haha. As to color choices, with the Ti Leaf, I tried to be as realistic as possible (the narrow leaf croton is a multicolored red, and the ti leaf is green). I happen to like batik colors, so I use them sometimes. However, batik fabric also hides your stitching, as do some calicoes, so if I want to [use stitches to] show a leaf pattern or a petal pattern in a flower, I always use a solid fabric.
AL: Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself, your quilts, or Hawaiian quilting?
PG: Since I’ve retired, quilting has taken over my life :-). My husband is very patient, as I quilt about 10 hours a day…definitely a passion! Around 6 or 7 years ago, I started taking on commissions, thanks to John’s daughter Cissy, who runs our Poakalani quilt group. She encouraged me to do that, and I’m very grateful, as it has given me the opportunity to make many people happy with their quilts. Sometimes, I have clients who want me to complete a quilt that was started many years ago, by a grandmother or aunt. I’ve finished quilts whose original maker has passed away, and those are very gratifying, as the families’ stories are always so touching. And many of my commissions have been graduation presents, retirement gifts, Christmas presents, etc. Always such happy occasions! I live in the heart of Waikiki, on the island of Oahu. About the quilts in my photos…some are John’s designs, some are mine. John recently passed and we are all so very sad. He was a great teacher and mentor, and a generous friend. We miss him so much. But Cissy has promised to continue our group meetings and perpetuate his legacy and that makes us happy.
Now it’s your turn. If you’d like to try one of John Serrao’s patterns, some are available as free PDF downloads. The first one includes detailed instructions.
Have you ever tried Hawaiian quilting? Share in the comments below. (I once made a 6-inch appliqué, but then my little daughter discovered my rotary cutter and sliced it up. <Sigh.> I suppose it’s time to try again…)