Hawaiian Whole Cloth Quilting


Bark Cloth, Kapa Moe, early 19th century

Whole cloth quilts derive from  kapa moe, a Hawaiian textile that was traditionally made from wauke, or paper mulberry bark. The bark was beaten until soft and then dyed to create geometric patterns. The finished product was used as a bed covering. With the introduction of machine produced fabrics, tree bark was replaced with cotton and the tradition evolved.

Today, wholecloth quilts are made from two pieces of fabric: the background and the  applique. The applique design is made from a single cut on folded fabric. This technique creates a perfectly symmetrical design. The applique is then positioned on top of the background and hand-stitched along the contours. Hawaiian quilt designs often feature a stylized version of a plant or flower.


Applique Process, by Karen Barry, 2018 Photo courtesey of Okan Arts

Vocabulary Words: 
  • Kapa Moe: a traditional Hawaiin bedcloth made from treebark which is beaten and felted to achieve softness and then dyed and stamped with a pattern.
  • Wauke: the bark of mulberry trees.
  • Applique: ornamental needlework in which pieces of fabric are sewn or stuck onto a large piece of fabric to form pictures or patterns.