By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Anselm Lum, 82, doing some stitching at his Kaimuki home,
has been quilting since the 1970s when he finished
a piece that his wife had started.

Man-Made Quilts

Needlework isn't just the realm
of women, as a new exhibit of quilts at the
Mission Houses Museum demonstrates

By Burl Burlingame

NOW that women can captain B-52s -- and can get cashiered out of the service for being as dumb as a man -- is it any surprise that men are sewing quilts?

Some of the best of local man-made quilts go on display tomorrow at the Mission Houses Museum in a show called "Na Kapa Kuiki Hawai'i Na Ka Lima Kane (Hawaiian Quilts by Men's Hands)."

Hawaiian quilting as a folk-art tradition began with the thrifty missionaries recycling scraps of cloth, and eventually became a way for women to express themselves artistically. Quilting can be done either as a solitary activity or with many hands helping simultaneously.

Anselm Lum, 82, always liked doing needlepoint and needlework to keep his fingers busy, and enjoyed "art day" at Central Grammar School when the kids turned flour sacks into decorative hand towels using basic cross-stitching. He eventually became a carpenter and a school construction inspector.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
From left, closeups of quilt "Kaahumanu" by Anselm Lau; Hana Pa'a
by Kimo Balai; and Naupaka Lihikai by Lau.

When wife Helen took a class in Hawaiian quilting in the 1970s, Lum picked up an unfinished project and finished it. Since then, he figures he's spent 13,000 hours quilting, usually while Helen worked in the evenings.

"It's just therapy for me," he said. "I'm retired, so I only work mornings. I don't want to be a couch potato! And there's nothing on TV to watch anyways."

By Sharon Balai, special to the Star-Bulletin
Kimo Balai, a young quilter at 45, is caught tending to
his craft in this photo taken by his wife, Sharon.

Lum's designs are traditional -- "I'm not trying to influence anyone!" -- and he figures the only method he uses that's different is the old carpenter's dictum to measure twice, cut once. "I do a lot of measurements. Some quilters do it by eye. Not me. I plot mine out."

Stan Yates, 51, a government expert on disabilities on Kauai, was "blown away" by the beauty and precise construction of Hawaiian quilts, and devoured every book he could find on the subject in the Lihue library. He began quilting in 1986, and by 1988 won a blue ribbon at the Kauai County Fair for a baby quilt design. He likes making quilts in which the positive and negative spaces are interlocked, like a Escher print, and in his spare time demonstrates quilting techniques at Kauai hotels.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Mai Poina 'Oe I'au by Kimo Balai.

Younger quilters include Kimo Balai, 45, a lineman for the Hawaii Electric Light Company who lives in Kamuela, Hawaii, and Lincoln Okita, 46, a Honolulu probation officer.

Balai's wife Sharon joined Ka Hui Kapa 'Apana O Waimea, a Big Island quilting group, in 1985, and Balai began paying dues so that he could partake in the refreshments brought by the women (the way to a man's hands is through his stomach?). A few years later, he became interested enough to learn, and since then has completed three quiltS. His first, called "Mai Poina 'Oe I'au (Don't You Forget Me)" was designed by Sharon to remind him that he is always on his busy wife's mind.

Okita began quilting in 1981, also as a husband-wife activity, when he and wife Jo Malmstrom-Okita were living on a Sioux reservation in South Dakota, and they became determined to make a Sioux star-quilt together for their bed. Okita began Hawaiian quilting in 1990 after seeing Elizabeth Akana's TV show about Hawaiian quilting techniques.

The precise stitching and obvious progress at the end of each session allows the quilter to get into a Zen zone of concentration, like a meditative state. "Quilting is my stress-reducer and provides me with a sense of concrete accomplishment that you usually don't get from social work," said Okita.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
The Mission Houses Museum quilt display
is open through July 12.

Quilt show

What: "Na Kapa Kuiki Hawai'i Na Ka Lima Kane (Hawaiian Quilts by Men's Hands)"
When: Tomorrow through July 12, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays
Where: Chamberlain House, Mission Houses Museum
Cost: $5; $4 for seniors, miliatry and residents; $2 for college students, $1 for children 4 to 8
Call: 531-0481

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