This “‘Ulu (Breadfruit)” Hawaiian quilt by Ruby Thompson was made circa 1950 for Jerry Coron. It is of cotton fabric with polyester batting, the applique and quilting are done by hand, and measures 116 inches by 106.5 inches. The museum received the quilt in 1991 as a gift from Bertha Coron, sister of Jerry Coron. (6209.1)

The art of quilting was introduced to Hawai‘i by American protestant missionaries who first arrived in 1820. The ladies of the mission taught sewing and their New England method of patchwork quilting. After cutting fabric for the production of clothing and other textile items, the cloth remnants are pieced together to create a patchwork quilt. In 19th century Hawai‘i, imported fabric was readily available and Hawaiian women were using full widths of fabric for their clothing so there were few remnants to make a patchwork quilt. Some may have seen cutting up fabric to sew it together again a waste of time.

Following the tradition of kapa, Hawaiian bark cloth, with its printed designs and patterns, Hawaiian quilts developed as whole cloth quilting, typically with a solid color fabric cut and appliqued onto a light colored fabric top with echo quilting following the contours of the applique. There are several stories on how these applique patterns first developed, with many derived from plants. The quilt motif above is the ‘ulu, or breadfruit. This distinctive pattern is typically green and recognizable as the silhouetted forms of the tree’s distinctive leaves and round fruit. It is considered one of the oldest Hawaiian quilt patterns.

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is an important food plant and was brought to Hawai‘i by early Polynesians. The tree can grow to a height of thirty feet and has distinctive broad lobed leaves. Breadfruit has many uses. The round fruit is an excellent food source with a high starch content. The wood can be used as timber and the leaves can be used as fine sandpaper in woodworking. The sap can be used as an adhesive and also has medicinal properties. The bark can be used to make kapa and cordage.

Some quilters state that the ‘ulu pattern symbolizes growth and nourishment and should be a quilter’s first pattern, hopefully encouraging growth in the new quilter and the continuity of the art.

– E. Tory Laitila, Curator of Textiles and Fashion

‘Ulu (Breadfruit)
Ruby Thompson
Hawai‘i, ca. 1950
Hawaiian quilt; cotton fabric, polyester batting, hand stitched applique, hand quilted, hand and machine stitched binding
Gift of Bertha Coron, 1991 (6209.1)