Bernice and John Peterson comment on the 1,000 berries hand-sewn onto a quilt during the Quilt Hawaii Conference at the Keauhou Sheraton Hotel & Spa in Keauhou, Hawaii. The quilt by Sigemi Obata of Kangawa, Japan, was one of nearly 100 on display during a five-day quilting conference.
Hawaiian culture sewed up in quilts
Traditional isle styles have become popular throughout the world
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii » Quilts typically are spread across a bed, a couch or even a wall.
Hawaiian-style quilts, with their distinctive snowflake patterns, have spread from New Hampshire to Japan.
Some 125 quilters from Hawaii, the mainland, Australia and New Zealand displayed their work yesterday and Saturday at the 14th Quilt Hawaii conference at the Keauhou Bay Sheraton Resort & Spa in Keauhou.
"We have so many Hawaiian-style quilts this year. They are just amazing," said Faye Labanaris, founder of Quilt Hawaii. "Hawaii quilts are becoming a bit more contemporary -- growing and changing. And, of course, this conference is so much all about sharing."
Mary Haunani Cesar of Oahu is considered one of Hawaii's premier quilters and has been surprised to see her quilt pattern catalogs show up in far-off places such as Turkey.
In addition to teaching at the conference and in regular classes on Oahu, Cesar travels the globe to share her craft.
"It's all about culture and history, beauty and history," she said. "It's another way to preserve and tell about our culture."
Cesar said the Hawaiian style can be defined simply as a symmetrical design based on eight -- essentially the shapes created by folding and cutting paper, then unfolding to reveal a snowflake pattern.
Hawaiian-style quilts typically include only two colors, including a plain background and the snowflakes in a different color.
This style has its origins with the wives of missionaries, who brought family heirloom quilts with them from the mainland 150 years ago.
"Memory of Heliconia," a quilt by Yasuko Someya of Saitama, Japan, also was on display at the conference.
Hawaiian women, already skilled and resourceful crafters, wanted to learn how to quilt. At first their task was to cut out the snowflakes.
While Hawaiian women likely did not relate well to the term "snowflake," they were familiar with similar dye stamp patterns used in tapa.
From there they adapted and developed their own style, which eventually was exported back to the mainland and beyond.
"For something to become tradition," Cesar said, "it had to be original once."
Labanaris has long been sharing her love of traditional Hawaiian-style quilting with students in her native Dover, N.H.
"I've been teaching for years and had always told my students we would visit Hawaii together one day," she said. "Eventually one of students said, 'Have you picked the day yet?' And that started it."
In 1992, Labanaris planned a 10-day tour of Oahu that included one lecture and a luncheon for 24 participants.
It was so successful, the group returned two years later for a conference in Waikoloa on the Big Island.
There, Labanaris talked Ellen Peters, also a New Hampshire resident, into partnering up and organizing regular conferences through Quilt Hawaii.
"There's such a variety of styles now, from the traditional one-color Hawaiian quilts to the newer ones with more color," Labanaris said.
Conference attendee and longtime quilter Robin Clarke, 42, of Temple City, Calif., said she is devoted to the Hawaiian style.
"I was always intrigued by all quilting, but I always said the Hawaiian style is the only one I'll ever do," she said.
Clarke, a cancer survivor, said she now is making quilts for other cancer survivors. Of course, only in the Hawaiian style.