Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Breadfruit? What's a Breadfruit?

Breadfruit, otherwise known as, Ulu (as it is named in Hawaiian), was one of the few subsistence plants the Polynesians brought with them when they sailed to the Hawaiian Islands. Over the centuries, Breadfruit contributed quietly to just about everything the Hawaiians needed to survive. The wood from the trunk was used to make drums, poi boards, surf boards, parts for the canoes, houses and furniture construction. Inner bark was used as a second grade tapa cloth, a type of decorated fabric used by the Hawaiians. Its leaves were used to polish utensils, bowls or kukui nuts (used in leis) because it was like a fine abrasive. The sap was used like glue, caulking, chewing gum and medicine. Lastly, it was an important source of starch and tasted potato-like or similar to bread when baked (hence the name).

My second to last blog featured some of the Hawaiian Quilt patterns I have been illustrating. In anticipation that I will begin to incorporate some of these illustrations into actual handmade things, I decided to try the patterns on wool felt. I've been working with wool fabric felt for about 4 or 5 years now and love the textural/tactile feeling of the natural fibers. Traditionally, most Hawaiian Quilt patterns are sewn cotton fabric appliques used on actual quilts for bedding. Recently, the patterns have become representational for Hawaii and been notably seen on mass produced items, such as pillows, shower curtains, ceramics, and other misc., etc.

The history of the Hawaiian Quilt dates quite far back and many exquisitely handmade quilts reside in the archives of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii. Distinctive for its radially symmetric patterns, a lot of the motifs work in stylized botanical designs. The applique is made from a single cut on folded fabric, much like the same method you would make a paper snowflake. Quilts are usually made with two solid colors, one for the background and one for the appliqued design. In addition to the appliqued motif, quilting stitches radiate outward originating from  the design in the center.

Hawaiian quilting derives from the kapa moe , an indigenous bed cover textile. Kapa was constructed from the inner bark of local trees. Traditional kapa (also called "Tapa" in Hawaii) was beaten and felted, then dyed in geometric patterns. However, kapa was not suitable for quilting and cotton was not grown in the Hawaiian Islands. It was the arrival the missionaries and the importation of their Western fabrics that cultivated quilting in Hawaii.

Coincidentally, like kapa moe, wool fabric felt is also essentially beaten and then dyed to create what is known as "felting" or "felt."  I work primarily with this type of material because of its wonderful malleable properties. I can achieve clean cuts with sharp scissors and hemming or binding of the seams is not necessary. Wool is not a popular fabric in Hawaii, for obvious reasons, however, it was my first choice when working on some new products for the upcoming winter season. In the future, I may try my hand at appliqueing the felt, much like I do with many of my other creations, but oh my! the intricacies! When I get my Husqvarna back from the shop with its fancy electronic setting and features, only then will I attempt that feat! In the meantime, I will burn some screens and screen print onto the wool.

In my photo above, you can see my Photoshop work to test the waters on what could be done with the Hawaiian Quilt patterns. These are simple yet beautiful pot holders. (The center potholder is the Breadfruit design.) However, plans are in the making for linen placemats for the table, sachets and, and....oh...the possibilities are endless! I think I will end things here. I hope you enjoy seeing how my illustrations can be translated into actual things you can use!

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