My Aunty Vi comes from an old Hawaiian lineage with values that are much different from those, which prevail today. From the stories and things shared with me over the years, I know that she was born into a family with a history of shamanic healing (ke kahuna). As such, Aunty is always somewhat secretive and hidden. She was always adamant about preserving her own anonymity. In 2012 Aunty passed, and with her passing I am assured that I now have permission to acknowledge her and give her due credit in my quilting story.
Violet Hue was born and raised in Puna on the Big Island. She was the grand-daughter of Kaliko Kaaukai; the daughter of Grace Violet Wilson (I do not know her father's first name). Aunty learned the craft of Hawaiian quilting as a young girl, helping Tutu and her Aunty to put together quilts in the "locked", spare bedroom. Aunty taught American and Hawaiian quilting for over thirty years in the Hilo and Kea`au Senior Centers.
While Aunty protected her own anonymity, she encouraged me to move forward gradually in a modern spirit. During the two and a half years that I worked on my first kapa, I was instructed to keep my work hidden, not to show or make it public. But as the years and quilts progressed, she gradually lifted that kapu. Finally, in 2008 when I showed the quilt “E O ka Liko” and received a first-place, blue ribbon, Aunty gave me her blessing and released me from her tutorage. “Yes, you may show your work. Yes, you may sell your quilts. Yes, please do teach and perpetuate what I have passed to you!”
Aunty learned in the typical Hawaiian tradition. As a young girl, she was "invited" to assist her grandmother and her aunt in preparing kapa for sewing. She remembers one room of the small house in Kalapana. The door was always closed and she never knew what was inside. One day her grandmother (Tutu) opened the door and told her to come in and help. Over several years she learned and assisted with the cutting and basting of family quilts, which Tutu then quilted. Although Aunty did not actually quilt as a young girl, she learned the craft. Many years later, when first teaching American quilting classes in a Hilo seniors' center, Aunty realized that she knew how to assemble and make a Hawaiian quilt. Aunty decribes herself as an American quilter, but she taught Hawaiian quilting and completed five bed-size kapa, using patterns from her own family.
Learning Hawaiian quilting from Aunty Vi has been a rare and treasured experience, which is difficult to translate into English words. I learned the craft in traditional, Hawaiian manner-- more by experiential doing, less by book or instruction. I learned to quilt during countless Tuesday morning classes at the senior center in Kea`au. At the time I always thought I was idling a morning away with light-hearted talk and always-hearty spread of Hawaiian and Japanese foods for lunch. Often, I was simply unaware that I was "learning" how to quilt. I would bring my work and ask a question or two of Aunty. I would pitch in and help with the group project of the day. But it always felt more like a social gathering than any kind of tutoring.
Aunty retired from teaching class in 2005. And perhaps it was only after her retirement that I realized how much had been taught-- how much I had learned-- how deeply this one Hawaiian woman had touched and impacted the purpose and direction of my life.
In 2002-2003 I lived and worked in Honolulu. I was finishing my quilting on my second quilt, "Ke Kukui o Keawe". I needed someone to help me to create a pattern for my third quilt, which I knew would be a liko lehua quilt for Aunty Vi. But I no longer had a connection with an artist to help me draw the pattern.
Dear friend and fellow quilter, Betty Stickney, suggested that I join one of the classes of her teacher, Luika Kamaka. I knew Luika-- loved and respected her work. I also knew that all of her students quilted, using Luika's designs.
But with encouragement from Betty, I approached Luika and asked if she would assist me in designing my quilt. She responded with her generous, sharing way, "Why, of course! Come to Enchanted Lakes on Tuesday evening and we will work it out."
I remember so well that first class. I sat down across the table from Luika. She asked me a couple questions and then began to sketch with pencil on paper. After drawing for a few minutes, she looked at me.
"Well, yes," I replied, "but I see the pattern more this way-- like an `o`o bird sitting in the middle of the `ohi`a forest."
Luika wrinkled her face and held my gaze. She turned the paper 180 degrees, slid it toward me, and handed me the pencil. Touching her hand to her heart, she exclaimed, "You have the pattern right here! You can draw your own design!"
And so began some six long months of sketching and jotting and wadding up countless pieces of rejected sketching. It was pure agony. I wanted to quit and go hire an artist. But I couldn't disappoint Luika. So I continued... and continued... and continued.
Months later, one Saturday afternoon at home alone, I suddenly saw the whole thing before me in my mind. I ran and pulled out pencil and paper and I began to draw. Two hours later I stepped back and beheld my first Hawaiian quilt design, "E O ka Liko".
Sometimes, thank you is not enough. But what else can I say? Luika left us in 2007. She taught hundreds of students in her classes on `Oahu over a thirty-year period. As an artist Luika created countless quilt patterns, which have her unique, graceful flow in their design. Her patterns, like her person, reach out to welcome and to embrace with that gracious, Hawaiian aloha.
Luika, we all hold you in our hearts. And your students continue to stitch loving thoughts of Luika Kamaka in their quilting.
Oh! And, yes, Luika, as I promised you, one of my next quilts will be a hibiscus design, dedicated to you!
This adage aptly introduces Didi, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."
In 2007 I had begun working on "Ke Kukui o Lani ka `Ula", my fourth quilt. My quilting skills had progressed, yet I struggled to achieve perfect, even stitches and I could not stitch anything finer than 12 stitches per inch. That spring I saw a flyer for Quilt Hawaii 2007, a quilt exhibition show to be held in Keauhou on Kona side of Hawaii island. Reading through the class offerings, I saw a class titled "That Perfect Stitch", to be taught by Diedra McElroy. Early in my quilting I had read and devoured a book, "That Perfect Stitch", written by Didi's mother, Roxanne McElroy. I HAD to take this class.
I did join Didi's class in June, 2007. One of those moments that are caught in our memory, I remember Didi's opening remarks that summer morning. "Good morning, quilters! I am Didi McElroy. This class is "That Perfect Stitch". Before we begin, I need to speak a word about how I teach. Although it may not be true for all of you, I teach this class with the presumption that you are a quilter, who wants to perfect your work. I presume that you as my student have a dream that one day you will create a quilt, which will be admitted into the American Quilters' Society annual show in Paducah, Kentucky. This show is the ultimate goal for a hand quilter. Admission to the show in Paducah means you are working as a world-class quilter among the top 5% of quilters...."
I WAS HOOKED! I soaked up the teacher's words like a sponge in that class. A year later I took two of Didi's classes. With Didi's tutoring I made giant leaps forward in my workmanship. With my applique, I was able to achieve sharp points, crisp valleys, smooth arches and near-perfect circles. My quilting stitch finally attained my long-held goal of even, precise stitches of 13-14 stitches per inch. Thanks to Didi and her tutoring, I now quilt as I dreamed of doing.
When I attended my second classes in the summer of 2008, I had finished #4 kukui quilt. I had begun my next project, a kahili/fan quilt, dedicated to Queen Liliuokalani. I was working on the applique of my new design, but I was struggling with color and tension and stitching. So I asked Didi and spent a valuable hour of her time for a one-on-one consult about my new project.
That hour was indeed transformative. As a result of our time together, I put aside that $500 piece of fabric and started anew.
I poured every bit of knowledge that I had gained from Didi's classes into my new piece. I commissioned Kathy Lukens, a fabric-dyer artist in Waimea on the Big Island. After months of trial swatches Kathy and I achieved a lightly-batiked fabric in a regal interpretation of the monarchy's red and yellow.
Three years later the finished result is "He Pua Kalaunu o Liliu", my fifth bed kapa, juried and accepted to be displayed in April, 2012 at the annual, international AQS show in Paducah, Kentucky. In that accomplishment I hope that I am acknowledging and thanking Didi-- as well as all of my teachers and fellow quilters, who continue to encourage me to "Kulia i ka nu`u", ("Strive for the summit").