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Hawaiian Quilt Wisdom Everyone Can Adopt

On our last day in Hawaii, we drove our Jeep up to the beach eerily named Gas Chambers on the northern shore of Oahu. For several hours, we sat spellbound by the surfers riding waves over 10 feet high. They displayed mastery and grace on the water, and visually, it was a spectacle I will never forget. In fact, it was one of the most poignant memories of the trip, though for quite a while afterwards, I couldn’t figure out why.

The rest of our adventure was bound up in stunning textiles, from kapa (the traditional cloth of Hawaii) to patriotic flag quilts, which flourished around the time of annexation to the United States, and iconic floral designs recognised the world over. Before traveling to Hawaii, I was very aware that these traditional appliqué quilts were, and continue to be, huge endeavors to undertake. Every design element of the quilt top is neatly turned under with a barely visible stitch made by hand, and then, all the layers are quilted in an echo formation. For context, people tend to talk in years as opposed to months when discussing the process in detail!

We soaked up these truly gorgeous quilts for many days. In terms of color, design, and execution, they did not disappoint. We learned each step of the process from masters, so we could share it in our workshop. We heard moving stories behind the shapes captured in striking silhouettes and how they connected to the landscape and history of the makers’ homeland. But what was the “spirit of Hawaii,” in essence? How could we make sense of the full experience and share it with others? 

Well, rather surprisingly, it was the surfers rather than the quilters who eventually led me to the answer!

The spirit of Hawaii is to feel at peace with the passage of time. If you wish to manifest a beautiful design from nature in quilt form, you begin the process, savor each stitch, and one day, your vision will be a tangible reality. Nothing is holding you back, nor is anything demanding that you know when the project will be complete. Equally, to feel the euphoria of riding challenging waves with confidence, the first step is to get into the water. Allow your body to tune into the rhythm of nature, don’t give up when it gets rough, and in the years to come, you will create something beautiful together. On reflection, not once when talking to a quilter in Hawaii did it cross my mind to ask the question, “But how long did this quilt take to make?” 

Why? Because for every person we met, the process was so engaging—if not even spiritual—that time was the furthest thing from everybody’s mind.

If we could adopt a little of the Hawaiian spirit in our own creative practices, who knows what personal heights each of us could reach?

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