Hawaiian Quilts

Antennae for Design The Descendants

Saturday night we went to see The Descendants and I found this movie enjoyable on many levels. The cinematography, of lush Hawaiian landscapes, was gorgeous. Lingering close-up shots of the actors and dreamy transitions added to the telling of story. Interesting, too, were the clips of suburban Honolulu neighborhoods. Never having been to Hawaii, the film was an eye opener—I don’t imagine Honolulu neighborhoods as a typical L.A. hillside suburb, nor downtown Honolulu with eight lane highways jammed with choking traffic.

Vintage Hawaiian Quilt

The set designs by Matt Callahan mirrored the story beautifully, and I found much inspiration in the furnishings and fabrics, including vintage rattan furniture, appliqué pillows, and bark cloth curtains. Several authentic Hawaiian quilts added a unique touch, and one quilt in particular played a leading role in the telling of the story. The main characters comprise a modern day family descended from a Hawaiian princess. Early in the film, we see a sunny golden yellow and white, slightly tattered and homey, quilt arrayed over the mom, who is lying in a hospital bed, in a coma and dying. The quilt has been brought from the family home to the hospital to provide comfort. In the final scene, the father and children make their way one by one to the family sofa, and eventually all are cozy under the same Hawaiian quilt, watching television together, and sharing bowls ice cream.

What we think of as the classic Hawaiian quilt is characterized by a bold, radial symmetric design (similar to that of a snowflake) or bold, stylized design drawn from nature. The motifs are often times cut from one piece of cloth, unlike patchwork quilts, which are assembled from many smaller pieces of fabric. The design motif is then appliquéd to a contrasting background. And, unlike patchwork quilts, with quilting stitches worked in parallel diagonal, straight, or circular lines, Hawaiian quilters practice “echo” or outline quilting. The stitches follow the inner and outer contours of the design motif.

Much information can be found on Goolge about the history of Hawaiian quilts. Images courtesy of Google search.

The Descendants is based on the book of the same name, written by Kaui Hart Hemmings.

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