Na Pua o' Hawai`i
Linda B. Arthur, PhD, Guest Curator Ginny Meade, MS,
Horticultural Consultant University of Hawai`i at Manoa



Hawaiian quilts are a stunning visual testament to the collision of the Western and Polynesian worlds in the 19th Century. These quilts directly reflect the natural world of the islands, and the culture of the varied peoples who have inhabited the Hawaiian archipelago.  Hawaii's textiles and clothing, more than those of any other region, are intimately tied to their environment, and to the breathtaking beauty of the Islands.


Mary Cesar, Island of Oahu, Hawai`i  
Asian Anthuriums   12" x 60, " 1990s  
Made with over 20 different hand-dyed cotton fabrics, this wall hanging incorporates hand and machine quilting with hand appliqué. 3-D anthurium flowers applied to a quilted "vine".  The measurements of this quilt were directly taken from an old Japanese painted scroll. 
 Anthurium species known in Hawai’i probably originated in tropical America. Anthurium is in the same family as taro and monstera (swiss-cheese plant).  Cultivated varieties have been produced by selecting and hybridization on a large-scale basis, and many are highly prized and extremely expensive specimens.  Most well-known species are cultivated plants that appear as few to many leaves rising from an underground stem.  Leaves are long-stemmed, with heart-shaped blades.  From the leaf base emerges a long stem, topped with a shiny and brightly-colored structure called a bract.  Many anthuriums have red, heart-shaped bracts, but pink, purple, white, and mottled species have now been cultivated.  The actual flower is found on the long spike (spath) that emerges from the connection point of the bract.  The many small raised dots are actually individual flowers.  If the spike is pollinated, berries may develop, causing a warty, appearance.  Cut anthuriums last for weeks in water, and for months on the plant.  Their shiny, perfect appearance is often mistaken for artificial flowers.


Woodrose    44" x 44", 1990s.  
This quilt was made with hand dyed cotton fabrics, and techniques included both appliqué and machine quilting.  The design is an original design by the artist (Mary Cesar) who stated, "This pattern was designed to get the full impact of the dyed fabric.  I love the effects this fabric adds to contemporary Hawaiian quilt designs."    Woodrose vines are not considered a flower, but a problem in Hawaii as these vines take over other vegetation.  Woodrose designs take their inspiration not from the leafy vine, but from the woody seed pod, that somewhat resembles a rose.  
 Woodrose (Ipomea tuberosa syn. Operculian tuberosa), from Latin America, is known as pili-kai in Hawaiian.  Pili  is “to cling, touch, stick to”, and kai  means ocean. It is a member of the morning glory family.  The vining plant has attractive 2-inch long, yellow-orange tubular flowers, and is grown ornamentally in Hawai’i for its dry, brown, rose-shaped fruit.  Woodrose  fruit is used extensively in dried flower arrangements and wreaths.


Pele Honua Mea  56" x 56", 1990s  
Made with cotton, hand painted and satin fabrics, and embellished with metallic threads, yarns and beads, this quilt also incorporates machine appliqué and hand quilting. The face is a heat transfer of a manipulted photo.  The ohia lehua (lei mamo) in the borders represent Ohia and Lehua. Ohia rebuffed Pele's advances because of his love for Lehua.  In her anger Pele destroyed them both.  Later feeling remorse for her actions, Pele turned Ohia into a tree with a rough masculine bark, and Lehua into its delicate lacy flowers.  
Madame Pele is the revered goddess of the volcano, and a powerful ruler, garnering great respect and fear. The feather of an extinct bird, the mamo, was the prerogative of the ali`i, and was used only in cloaks, helmets, and lei. The mamo bird was a black Hawaiian honeycreeper, with only a few bright yellow feathers above and below the tail.  The safflower (false saffron-Carthamus tinctorius) an annually grown ornamental herb, has stiff, oval spine-toothed leaves and rounded flower heads with many small orange-yellow tubular flowers.  Mamo was once popular in Hawai’i, and was cultivated for its bright flowers, resembling the feathers of the mamo bird, which were made into lei.  Mamo flowers are rarely seen today.  The quilt name, Mamo Lei may depict lei of the feather or flower type.  Mamo was one of the classic patterns in the old days.


Malamalama    21" x 21", 1990s  by Mary Cesar, Oahu, HI 
This quilt was made with hand-dyed cotton fabrics, and both appliqué and quilting.  The design is of the kukui, which provided light to the old Hawaiians.  Malamalama means "light of knowledge".  An original design by the artist, this is a reduction of a pattern, generally made in wall hanging size.  
This design is probably allegorical, and depicts the Kukui, or candlenut tree (Aleurites moluccana).  Kukui is a large tree found throughout Hawai’i.  It is easily recognized in lower mountain ranges, because its leaves are pale and silvery (Aleurites, from the Greek, means “floury”.)  Leaves are covered with a whitish down, and may resemble a maple leaf with a long stem.  Flowers are small and whitish, and are strung with the leaves for lei in Molokai, whose color is silvery green.  Kukui nuts are walnut-like, with hard black shells, and are found one or two to a fruit.  Fruits are green turning to brown, fleshy but strong.  Nuts are strung into lei and used ornamentally.  However, “Malamalama” in Hawaiian, refers to lamp or light.  The oily kernal of the kukui was dried and strung on coconut leaf midribs to be used as candles, and the oil was extracted and burned in stone lamps.  Malamalama can be expanded to mean clear, bright, shining, the light of knowledge.  This quilt has an effect of light towards its center, as well as the appliqued motif, to suggest light in many ways.  The kukui is the state tree of Hawai’i.  Legend has it that, when Makalii, god of plenty, could not see the shark that had swallowed his brother, he chewed some kukui nut, spat it onto the water, and the water cleared.  A Hawaiian proverb says “When the kukui nut is spat on the water, the sea is smooth”-perhaps this is “pouring oil on troubled waters”?  
Monterey History and Art, on loan to the  
University of Hawaii's CTAHR Historic Textiles and Costume Collection


Pua Carnation  (variation) 86"x98".  1930s. 
In both design and coloration, this design is very similar to the Mokihana, produced on the island of Kauai.  The flowers are different, however, and though it looks like Mokihana, is actually a variation of the carnation.  The shade of green used for the appliqué is very typical of the 1930s quilts produced in Hawai`i, as is the use of echo quilting and a wool batting.  This quilt may very well have been produced on the Big Island of Hawai`i, where certain parts of the island get rather cold.  On this island, we actually have snow on the peak of Mauna Kea.  
The spicy-scented carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus L.), is known as the poni-mo’i in Hawaiian.  Poni means to crown, and mo’i means a king, so combined the meaning is coronation, which is thought to have developed due to a misunderstanding of pronunciation.  It is a native herb of the Mediterranean, and was introduced relatively recently to the islands.  It is often used for lei and bouquets.  The toothed edges of the petals are easily distinguishable as a quilt appliqué.


Margo Morgan, Island of Oahu, Hawaii 
Breadfruit  55" x 80", 1930s.  
This quilt was made by Lilla Robinson, a relative of the current owner, Margot Morgan.  The ‘ulu (breadfruit-Artocarpus communis Forst., Artocarpus altilis) was brought to Hawai’i by early Polynesians.  It is a tall tree (30 to 60 feet), with a trunk diameter of up to 2 feet.  Leaves are huge, dull green, and deeply lobed.  Ripe fruit is 5 to 8 inches in diameter, and weighs up to 10 pounds.  Breadfruit played an important role in daily Hawaiian life, providing shade, food, and wood for drums (pahu), surfboards, and canoe parts. The breadfruit pattern is one of the oldest and most popular, as it symbolizes abundant growth, food, and wisdom.  Hawaiian custom said that if your first quilt was ulu, your house would always be with food.  According to D.U. Kakalia, well-known Hawaiian quilter of the 1970’s, “to make an ulu motif means that you will always make another”.  
One legend says that Pele, the volcano goddess, became angry with Kamehameha because his offerings had not been generous enough, and she destroyed his grove of ‘ulu trees.  Another says that Niheu, a hero who displeased the gods by being mischievous and too enterprising, especially angered them by stealing a breadfruit that one of them used to roll thunder across the floor of the underworld. A story is told of a woman drying her bed coverings under an ulu tree.  When the sun cast the shadow of the leaves on the covering, is was so attractive that she made it into a quilt pattern.


Bombax  84" x84" 1997 
A Bombax tree (Bombax ellipticum), native to Mexico, grows in the central courtyard of Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu.  The tree loses all of its leaves, and then flowers from January to May, before leafing out begins.  It is said that the buds open with a slightly explosive sound.  The flowers are large, with 3-5 inch petals, purple on the outside, and downy-white inside.  The curl back to expose many long, pink stamens, joined at the base, giving the appearance of a bright pom-pom or shaving brush.


Red Ginger  85" x  96" 1940-1950  
Red Ginger (Alpinia purpurata) is called ‘awapuhi-‘ula’ula in Hawaiian, meaning very fiery red ginger (Pukui).  It is native to Pacific Islands from the Moluccas to New Caledonia and Yap.  Red ginger is a common ornamental in Hawai’i, where plants range from 4 to 10 feet in height.  Leafy stems terminate in a flower spike at least a foot long, consisting of numerous large, open, bright red bracts, accompanied by a small, inch-long narrow white flower.  Shorter inflorescences stand upright, while longer ones droop towards the ground.  The entire inflorescence, rather than the individual flowers, is used in large cut flower arrangements.  Red Ginger is not the edible ginger grown for spice, but its roots and stems are highly aromatic when cut.


Kawaiula Iliahi o Waimea 108" x108" 1987 by Margo Armitage Morgan, Honolulu, HI 
The Hawaiian translation of this title is: A fiery surface; “red water with surface of fire (a poetic description of the waters of Wai-mea Stream, Kauai, the waters of which after a storm are said to be red along one bank)”.  Iliahi is also the name given to all Hawaiian species of sandalwood (Santalum spp.).  These are shrubs or trees with fragrant wood, small pale-green leaves, small dull red or greenish flowers, and small fruits.  The inner bark is red.  Santalum are natives from India eastward to Hawai’i.  From 1790 to 1840, a green flowered species of native sandalwood was harvested extensively and sold to China for incense and furniture.  Today, this Hawaiian iliahi exists only in small mountain stands.  A red-flowered species with a red leaf stem is fairly common in dry forests of Waianae and the Koolau Range, Oahu. Hawaiians sometimes perfumed kapa with sandalwood, using it either powdered or in coconut oil.


Island Song (Hibiscus) 75 1/2" x 89." 1960s.  
Red appliqué is blindstitched to white cotton percales. Quilting is done with 6-8 stitches per inch. The batting may be polyester. Light blue dots defining quilting pattern are still visible on close inspection. This Hibiscus quilt is "Island Song," an early kit quilt for Hawaiian quilts. (Bucilla pattern no. 8099) Junereal Darlene Tom (a famous Hawaiian quilter, now deceased) designed it as the demo quilt made up from the pattern and from Herrschner's.  
This unusual quilt features the native Hawaiian hibiscus.  Tere are 1,000 species of herbs and trees in the hibiscus family, from temperate and tropical regions of the world.  In Hawai’i, over 33 varieties of hibiscus have been brought from other countries, and by crossing with one another and three native species, more than 5,000 varieties have been produced.  One of the loveliest native species, Hibiscus arnottianus,  is known as koki’o-ke’oke’o in Hawaiian.  It grows wild at altitudes between 1,000 and 3,000 feet, and is a small tree or tall shrub, 10 to 25 feet high.  Its leaves are round or lobed, with red veins and stems.  Flowers have delicate white petals 3 to 4 inches long surrounding a conspicuous red or white staminal column 4 to 6 inches long.  Unlike many hibiscus, koki’o has an exquisite, delicate fragrance, and flowers last for two days rather than one.  There is also a native yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus brackenridgei) known as ma’o-hau-hele, a red native (Hibiscus kokio) known as koki’o-‘ula’ula, and a pink (H. youngianus), known as hau-hele.  The yellow native is Hawaii’s state flower. 

I had  the two Hawaiian quilts which are one display and a third one which I thought was an unquilted coverlet  and had read some books on Hawaiian quilts before I found this Island Song quilt.  It fascinated and stumped me.  The floral central appliqué looked Hawaiian, but it had been stretched to a rectangular format.    The red on white reminded me of the classic Hawaiian color combination that I did not have.  Everything else was not right.  The quilting pattern was not Hawaiian.  The appliqué design had been sewn together from small pieces rather than made from a single large piece.   It had a red stripe framing the appliqué design. It felt light and fluffy like a department store quilt, but had a lot of hand stitching.   I liked the design and decided that it would fit into my own category of "Hawaiian like" quilts.  I was delighted when the Hawaiian Quilt Research Project wrote me that the quilt had been designed in Hawaii and and sold has a quilt kit in the 1960's.   To me it is a bridge or connection between the Hawaiian quilt and the mainland American quilt.    (Bob Lee). 


Mele Kalikimaka 
Poinsettia 80" x82"  before 1933. 
This plant has inspired many quilt motifs in Hawaii, because of it's bright red color.  In Mexico, the leaves, bark, and bracts are used medicinally, and American Indians are believed to have used the white, milky juice as a depilatory.  However, the juice may be poisonous to some, and care should be taken to avoid prolonged contact.  Other plants in the Euphorbia family include Pencil Plant, many weedy spurges that appear in lawns, and the Crown of Thorns.