Hawaiians were introduced to patchwork quilts when American missionaries arrived from New England.
Before 1820, they covered themselves with kapa, made by beating and decorating the bark of wauke.
But according to legend, Hawaiian women questioned haole blankets made from manini pieces of fabric, so they developed their own art of hand quilting using symmetrical patterns inspired by island plants and trees.
This is the short version of a long story, but I need to move on because I want to tell you how Hawaiian quilting saved me.
In my generation, most mothers taught their daughters to sew, but not mine. She was the original “Tiger Mom” who demanded excellent grades so I could get into college. She always said, “They can take everything away from you, but not your education!”
She never elaborated who “they” were, but I got the point. So while she stitched and hemmed, I diagrammed sentences, memorized multiplication tables and conjugated verbs.
After fulfilling her wish by graduating from university and finding gainful employment, I came home often to visit. Whenever I was here in August, we went to Ho‘oku‘ikahi at Pu‘ukohola in Kawaihae, the annual cultural festival where we could learn lauhala weaving, ipu making, kapa beating and others. My mother sat at the Hawaiian quilting table as I flitted about, trying my hand at this and that while awaiting a turn to sail on the wa‘a in the bay at Pelekane. But eventually I made my way back to sit and talk story with the quilters.
This welcoming group always invited us to join them for their Ka Hui Kapa Apana O Waimea club meeting, and I promised I would. Mom silently snorted since I barely knew needle from thread, but I thought what would be more fun than pot-lucking once a month with these friendly folks in Waimea?
Once retired and back on the island, I made my way to the Ka Hui Kapa gatherings. They put up with my sitting around to wala‘au for the first meeting, then by the second, handed me cloth, needle and thread. Sewing was not in the plan, but I know how to throw form.
By the third meeting, the task-masters wanted to check progress on my pitiful pillow top. These gracious quilters didn’t buss out laughing, and instead offered helpful tips and gentle reassurance that this particular art takes time to learn.
At this point, I knew I had to get serious about Hawaiian quilting or stop pot-lucking with some new friends in Waimea. So I chose potluck and now, though still a beginner after 10 years, I’m hooked on kapa kuiki. Just don’t look closely my kapakahi stitches.
Thank goodness for Hawaiian quilting during this long slog of on-and-off COVID-19 shutdowns. When others binged on chocolate and television reruns, I sat on the lanai with my latest quilt pursuit, blissfully stitching away the hours.
It is a zen undertaking that soothes the soul and calms the nerves. By the time I turned on the TV to watch evening news, the peaceful pastime had lowered my blood pressure enough to provide a protective shield against nutso political antics and screaming meemies.
That is how Hawaiian quilting saved me during this pandemic. So what if my not-quite-ready-for-quilt-show projects collect in the closet. It’s the journey, not the destination, right?
Hope you have something that keeps you safe and sane as we head for another round in the battle with the Delta variant.
If not, I know just the thing.
Rochelle delaCruz was born in Hilo, graduated from Hilo High School, then left to go to college. After teaching for 30 years in Seattle, Wash., she retired and returned home to Hawaii. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears every other Monday.