Chapter One – The History of Quilting
Hawaiian quilting is said to have started when the wives of two chiefs were introduced to quilting by missionaries on board a boat. Hawaiians would not naturally have begun to quilt for domestic use, as quilts were not needed in the warm Hawaiian climate.
The missionaries showed the Hawaiians how to cut up fabrics into pieces and then sew them back together.
This the Hawaiians found rather wasteful, as they were careful with all their resources and didn’t understand the concept of cutting up a large piece of material, only to sew pieces of it back together, and then be left with bits that couldn’t be used.
Eventually, the Hawaiians found a way of using their own clothing fabric (called tapa) which they folded to achieve 1/4 or 1/8 patterns, and they gave any waste pieces back to the missionaries for them to use in their own quilting. This tapa was from tree bark.
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The unique nature of the Hawaiian quilting is clear in their use of local flora, and the spirit world as design influences for their quilts. Conceptually, they used quilts to record their environment, their departed love ones, and their still to be born.
Their quilts were also strongly about the Hawaiian identity and the identity of the individual members of their society.
The Hawaiian Gods, their rites and ceremonies, and their history, are all depicted in the wonderful Hawaiian quilts. Local events and major historical events were all beautifully detailed and preserved in their quilts. In fact, all their quilts have a story to tell, or a person to describe, or an act to preserve for posterity.
Quilts were not made in Hawaii just to keep the women busy or as a necessary domestic duty. Quilts in Hawaii are their history, and they predict the future too!
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One of the few nations to produce famous quilts that were never intended to keep them warm at night, the Hawaiian culture and history has instead been retained beautifully. Quilts continue to be made in Hawaii, with new designs constantly emerging. Here, quilts are both the history and the future in a very unique and valuable way.
The United Kingdom
Clearly a colder climate than Hawaii, the traditions of ‘make do and mend’ were such that for centuries, cloth was very valuable and not to be wasted. Long before any mechanical cloth production, every piece of cloth was made by hand or with simple weaving frames. Anything so time consuming to produce could only be treated with care and considered to be of value.
Long before the first settlers arrived in America, British women, and men were involved in patchwork and quilting, both for home and commercial benefit. So the history of quilting in Britain goes way back.
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There are records of padded clothing being made for soldiers to be worn underneath their armor to protect them from the metal, and also to provide warmth and comfort. And as far back as the fourteenth century, quilted fabrics were used as bed-covers and clothes.
There are examples of eighteenth century pieces of clothing that remain from noble and royal households. For example, an underskirt for a Scottish wedding is now part of the Heritage Collection of the Quilters Guild, and dated at 1764.
Although in the households run by nobles and royals, there were wonderful examples of luxurious and exquisite pieces of quilting, these were the minority. The very wealthy would import cloth from abroad and use it to display their wealth and social status.