Polynesian Christmas: Hawaiian Quilts


It was love at first sight.

I fell in love with Hawaiian quilts with the very first one I saw. I had previously only been ambivalent about quilting. Yet there I was gawking over this hand-stitched wonder.

Obviously this is a colonial infusion into the culture. However I find the nature-inspired geometric designs a perfect call back to the designs from the tapa cloth. I’m fascinated by the evolution of a culture to reflect modern amenities while maintaining special aspects of the tradition.

My adoration of the art form has never waned since that first sight. I love Hawaiian quilts most of all quilts.

Realistically I know I’m never going to do a full-sized quilt. However, after I dithered for many years I finally decided I could do a pillowcase. Using this very detailed step-by-step tutorial, I mustered up the courage to begin.

Not long after I started I found out we were moving. Along with the rest of my worldly possessions, my barely-begun project wallowed in a box. Finally a year and a half after starting I gave myself the pep talk I needed to finish. For once I would FINISH a project that was for me and not for someone else. And I would do so before Christmas so it could be part of my Polynesian Christmas.

The applique designs are always inspired by nature and often geometric in design. I immediately noticed that my work couldn’t possibly be perfectly symmetrical. However, I noticed the leaves that inspired the design aren’t perfectly symmetrical either. Nothing in nature is perfect. I’m learning not to sweat it that I’m not perfect either.

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Embracing the irregularities in nature I accentuated them in the leaves.

I found the repetition of the little tiny stitches to be very calming. The predictability allowed my mind to wander, organize, and empty. Thus my nightly ritual of doing a little bit after putting my youngest to bed became therapeutic for me. I made wave after wave of echo stitches. In doing so I realized that just like the ocean waves, my stitches smoothed out the edges of my work. And the work itself smoothed out my rough emotions.

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My goal was to complete this pillow by Christmas, as a gift to myself. As you can see I did not finish. But in the spirit of self compassion I’ve decided that’s totally fine. I have completed the longest, hardest work already. I can add a border and do the backside with the sewing machine pretty quickly. Hopefully over the break. (I’ll post a photo when I do!)

When I first laid eyes on the work done by the master quilters, I was in awe. The intricacy, the detail, and the time involved astounded me. Not until I made my own attempts did I learn how much the process could positively impact my heart. Working on this pillowcase gave me opportunities to practice self-compassion with my mistakes. Self care became a regular practice. Mele Kalikimaka to me, in so many ways.

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Interestingly, while at Iolani Palace last year I learned that Hawaiians also made crazy quilts. Queen Liliuokalani’s quilt that she made during her imprisonment stopped me in my tracks. I felt so much poignancy looking upon this quilt she made from her own clothes.

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This post is part of our month-long exploration into Polynesian Christmas traditions and inspirations. See the whole collection of activities and discoveries here.

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