Saturday, January 21, 2017

1960s Hawaiian string quilt

string quilt, cottons, unknown maker, Honolulu, Hawaii, c. 1960, 62" x 78"
This dazzling 1960s string quilt came from a vintage shop in Honolulu. It includes a variety of mid-century Polynesian fabrics in pink, red, blue and gold with bits of black. Many of the scrap quilts from Hawaii include DayGlo fabrics, but this one does not. DayGlo appeared in garments around the middle 1960s. Shortly after, the hot colored scraps appeared in patchwork.

A string quilt is typically made with strips of fabric placed diagonally and sewn on a cloth foundation. Blocks are assembled in larger patterns, such as zigzags, squares or diamonds. Piecing on cloth foundation is a good way to keep things squared when using mixed fabrics cut on the bias. The maker of this quilt was very clever, coordinating the colors throughout the quilt. Easier said than done, since each block intersects with other blocks on at least two sides. Some blocks are surrounded with as many as eight other coordinating blocks.

There is a pink and white check strip running through the center of each block, surrounded by strips of red on both sides. That combination of elements is not where the organizing ended. The other strips are coordinated with the neighboring blocks to create a secondary diamond design. Each of the 63 nine-inch square blocks includes nine strips, a total of 567 strips but there are more patches than that. Some of the strips are made from more than one piece of fabric. There is no batting, but it is backed with flannel and loosely tacked together.

Friday, January 20, 2017

ho'oholo i ka wai lole lepo

The applique quilt from Kailua needed a bath. I wanted to see if the uneven tone in the appliqué fabric would improve, as well as the general appearance of the quilt.
After testing the fabric for colorfastness, the quilt was immersed in a cold water bath for a nice, long soak.

Second round, light washing with a very small amount of Dawn dish liquid. Dawn is a mild soap, good for removing dirt, grease and stains. It is concentrated, so you don't need a lot, just a little squirt. That's good because I'm running low.

More soaking, rinsing and soaking. I repeated this process until the water ran clear.

That was enough for one day. There's still work to be done. Lots of small brown spots to treat with sodium perborate and a Q-Tip. A few holes and burn marks to repair, and possibly another washing since there is still discoloration in the applique after this washing.

Better, but still more potential for improvement, in my opinion. The cheddar orange is colorfast, and should be able to withstand a little more washing. It will be interesting to see a photo when it is dry, to get an idea of the degree of improvement and how much more work it may take.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ka Ua Kani Lehua

"Ka Ua Kani Lehua" Hawaiian applique quilt, 80" x 81"
The box from Hawaii arrived yesterday, and the first quilt I pulled out was the cheddar orange and white appliqué quilt attributed to the Wilson family of Kailua. I have not been able to find a link to a maker in the family, and I'm starting to get the feeling the quilt may was purchased, but it would've been a long time ago.

There is some discoloration in the lower section of appliqué where the fabrics appear to have darkened. I will test the fabric for colorfastness, and if everything looks good, I will probably try to wash the quilt. It needs some TLC, there are also a few holes and burn marks, but before any restoration it needs to be as clean as possible. It's a lovely thing, worth the effort. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Modern Patchwork Magazine

The March/April 2017 issue of Modern Patchwork is coming soon, and I'm in it. I wrote an article about the ins and outs of collecting vintage quilts. To order a copy, click here.

yesterday's playlist for today

In the 1960s and 70s, our family had to be very thrifty. We survived on hand-me-downs, garage sales and a deep repertoire of casserole recipes. It wasn't so much about stretching a buck, more like a dime. Mom could feed a family of four with a can of SPAM, tomatoes and some spaghetti, and remarkably, she always made it feel like something special.

In the kitchen we listenened to the radio together. We never missed Joan Hamburg's bargain shopping segments on WOR, New York, the Rambling with Gambling show. I loved WABC, top 40 music, and many of yesterday's hits are still spinning around in my head. Times were tough when these songs were on the radio, but the music always helped.

Monday, January 16, 2017

coming soon: vintage Kamehameha shirt

Since my visit to Oahu last weekend, I have been looking at Hawaiian shirts online. There was a fun Kamehameha shirt available on eBay, so I bought it. Whenever the snow and ice melt enough for the mail truck to attempt coming up my street, maybe the shirt will arrive...and maybe it'll fit. 

I love the 1960s and 1970s Hawaiian shirts, especially the ones with really bright, neon colors. Can't wait for it to arrive. If it doesn't fit, I can still exhibit it with the scrap quilts.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

related designs

Yesterday I received an e-mail from my friend Janis. She was looking through her Hawaiian quilt books and found two designs that appear to be related to the design in my quilt. The first was a red and yellow quilt that appeared as a black and white image in "Hawaiian Quilts" by Stella M. Jones (pg. 29), a 1930s catalogue that was re-released in the 1990s. The other was a blue and cream quilt in "Hawaiian Quilt Masterpieces" by Robert Shaw (pg. 81).

my quilt, c. 1920, formerly owned by the Wilson Family of Kailua
My quilt came from an Ali'i Antiques of Kailua. I found it there a week ago. The shop owner said it came from the Wilson family, a prominent family in Kailua. Although I found links to obituaries from the last couple years, it's hard to be sure if it is the same family. Even if it is, they would not have been in Hawaii when the quilt was made, so perhaps they bought it. Or perhaps it is another Wilson family.

My conservative estimated circa date is 1920, but it could be a bit earlier. I'm sure it was made before 1930. It has the look, feel and construction of an earlier work. It is all hand appliqued and hand quilted, and it has that familiar age patina.

Both related designs found by Janis have significant similarities and differences compared with my quilt. The first, Ka Ua Kani Lehua (or Rain that Rustles Lehua Blossoms) was made for a member of the Brickwood Family before 1900. The red and yellow quilt is 78" x 84" and is part of the collection of the Honolulu Academy of the Arts.

The second, in Shaw's book, is blue applique on a cream background. It is 78" x 84", made in the 1940s or 50s, and in the book it was designated as part of a private collection. This quilt is remarkably similar to the red and yellow quilt, even though Hawaiians were not known to share their designs with other quiltmakers, as Janis pointed out to me.

There was another one on The Quilt Index, under several names including Ka Ua Ua Kani Lehua, but there was no date given with the quilt.

Lehua is one of the Hawaiian Islands. The crescent shaped Island is a barren tuff cone, part of the extinct Niʻihau volcano, and is due west of Kauai. 

Lehua is also a plant, Metrosideros Polymorpha, also known as ʻōhiʻa lehua. It is a species of flowering evergreen tree in the myrtle family, unique to the six largest islands of Hawaii. 

Well, that was an interesting surf. Thanks, Janis! I'll look forward to discovering more.