Designing Hawaiian Kuiki

Designing Hawaiian Kuiki

Designing Hawaiian Kuiki  

In my last blog about Hawaiian kuiki, or quilts, I talked about the tradition handed down by grandmothers (tūtūs), mothers (makuahine), and aunties (‘anakē). These multigenerational traditions were once kept in the family (‘ohana) and not shared with outsiders. Today's Hawaiians share their art and we now have the privilege to participate in a beautiful tradition. 

It is widely believed your first quilt should be the breadfruit (‘ulu). This will bring a fruitful life with spiritual prosperity and wisdom for the quilter. It also ensures that Hawaiian quilting will be with you always. 

Ulu Breadfruit pattern on blue fabric

When it comes to designing your quilt, you can create your own design/pattern, purchase one, or download a free one from different online stores. There a so many, you may choose a nature scene or an eccentric random design. 

Traditional quilts had one color for the appliqué and a white sheet for the background. Most quilts were red on white because the red fabric and white sheets were most abundant, but other bright colors were used. Red on yellow was reserved for the ali'i ,royal family. At one time, it was considered bad luck to use more than one color fabric in your design. The design was to be cut from one piece of fabric. However, today, there are so many different colors and patterns mixed together. Multiple pieces are used to create terrific patterns. 

Square blocks are most common for beginners but rectangles, like bed covers, may be used too. Square patterns are folded into eight sections like a snowflake. Draw your design on one side of the snowflake. If you print or purchase a pattern you may only have a slice of the snowflake to trace onto your fabric.

                      Eighth fold with paper     Monstera pattern with sharp scissors     Folded fabric in eighths

Fold the appliqué fabric into eighths matching corners. Keep the folds crisp. This will help when you transfer the pattern and cut. You may trace the folded pattern onto the fabric or pin the paper pattern to the fabric. 

Using very sharp scissors, because you are cutting through eight layers, carefully cut along the lines, but you don’t have to be perfect. When you unfold the fabric it will have a beautiful symmetrical shape. 

Now fold your contrasting top fabric into quarters. Gently iron the fabric at the outside to create a guideline for the  appliqué fabric. Unfold the background fabric and line up the creases from both fabrics. 

             White folded fabric with ironed corners          Basting of Batik to white background

Using a contrasting color of thread, you will baste the  appliqué fabric with large stitches to keep the design from moving on the underlying fabric. Typically the basting stitch is a quarter inch away from the edge of the design. This is helpful when you begin to sew. 

Use a color thread that matches the appliqué piece for your top. Use a small needle and lightweight thread. I love silk thread because it is so strong for how thin it is. I use "Kimono Silk" from Superior Threads.                      Kimono silk thread spool  Fold the appliqué fabric 1/8th to 1/4th of the outer edge under with your needle. Fold approximately 1 inch under in advance. Sewing by hand, use a hidden stitch with about 8 to 12 stitches per inch. Don’t pull on the fabric too hard as this will cause the fabric to pucker. The stitch goes straight down from the top. Come back up from the back and get just a few threads of the design fabric.      

                                   Sewing Hidden stitch green batik on white fabric

I like to sew my top panel sitting with relaxing music or at a quiet time to reflect on my thoughts. It helps me relax and the time goes by quickly. You may want to sew an hour a day or a few hours a week. There is no hurry to complete the work. 

Next time we will discuss the assembly and quilting techniques of the Hawaiian Kuiki. Until then, enjoy your sewing with many wishes of peace and love. Aloha!


S. Geffre, April 30, 2021



J. Evans, Traditional Hawaiian Quilting PDF, (2019),, Jessica Evans, 22 April 2021

Museum of New Mexico Press and Michigan State University Museum, (1997), "To Honor and Comfort: Native Quilting Traditions", Edited by Marsha MacDowell, C. Kurt Dewhurst, Museum of New Mexico Press

K. Young, (October 28, 2002), A Stitch In Time, State of Hawai’i Department of labor and Industrial Relations,, access 12 April 2021

D. L. Rhodes, (November 15, 2001), Overview of Hawaiian History , greene/history5b.htm, 12 April 2021

D. Tahany, Differences in Polynesian Kapa/Tapa,, 15 April 2021

C. Fondi, (December 2017), The Legacy of the Breadfruit,, 16 April 2021

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