Image courtesy of Salvage Public. Applique by Hattie Haliaka Kaehuanaole Kalili / Quilted by Pat Gorelangton.
Kapa kuiki, or Hawaiian quilts, have a storied lineage in the islands. Local quiltmakers keep the tradition of this instantly recognizable aesthetic alive with vibrant, custom creations.
Kapa kuiki is the opposite of fast fashion. Highly skilled quilters can spend up to two years or more tediously hand-stitching a Hawaiian quilt. The one-of-a-kind textile is meant to be passed down from one generation to the next, often capturing an important story. Oftentimes you’ll find them displayed proudly on a wall like a piece of artwork or neatly draped over the couch at tūtū’s house.
Hawaiian quilts, or kapa kuiki, have been iconic to the Hawaiian islands for more than 200 years. They often depict mirrored motifs inspired by nature, like the perennial ‘ulu leaves, to showcase balance and symmetry.
The bright colors of the patterns are a stark contrast to their traditionally white backdrops, creating the renowned kapa kuiki aesthetic.
In 1820, Christian missionaries brought the European techniques of sewing and patchwork to Hawaiians, who fused those methods with their own native way of producing textiles: kapa moe, a process of beating and felting together layers of wauke (paper mulberry).
Over the centuries, the practice evolved as woven cloth and other materials became more readily available. Nowadays, quilts are mostly made from 100 percent cotton or poly-blend fabrics.
Though the number of traditional quiltmakers have dwindled in the past few decades, quilting guilds continue to share the craft with younger generations. Here, we’ve curated a compilation of some Native Hawaiian and local quiltmakers who either sell or can make a custom kapa kuiki piece for you and your ‘ohana.
The kapa kuiki hui Poakalani & Co. is considered a stalwart of Hawaiian quilting. Its late founders John and Poakalani Serrao were master quilters who helped perpetuate the craft through their community quilting classes.
Today, their legacy continues in this collaboration with Salvage Public; clothing brand founders Joseph and Noah Serrao grew up with the quilts of their grand-uncle John. The label is Hawaiian-owned, helmed by the Serrao brothers and their childhood friend Nāpali Souza. A custom two-color quilt starts at $10,000 and has a turnaround time of six to eight months.
Based in South Kona on the Big Island, Catherine Wynne has been making Hawaiian quilts for over two decades.
When it comes to commissioned pieces, she works closely with her clients to design quilts, typically pictorial or memory quilts. She can also finish a family’s incomplete quilt by hand. Wynne charges by the inch. A hand-stitched queen-size Hawaiian quilt starts at around $1,800.
Although he originally hails from the continental U.S., Ric Stark has over 20 years of quiltmaking experience. He learned under the tutelage of Violet Hanako Suzuki-Hue, a skilled auntie who was known for quilt- and lei-making.
Working out of his ‘Ewa Beach, O‘ahu studio, Stark extensively interviews each client to craft a unique design for their custom quilt. Since his stitching is so intricate—he makes about 14 stitches an inch while most do six to eight—his quilts take about two years to complete and cost around $25,000.
A mainstay in Waikīkī that still hand quilts every item, the Hawaiian Quilt Collection has been around for over 33 years, making it the oldest retail quilt company in the islands. It was founded by Kailua-born John Michael Gillan who is said to have invented the kapa‘eke, a garment bag that incorporates Hawaiian quilt fabrics and patterns. A custom quilt starts at $2,070.