my obsession with Hawaiian-inspired quilts

Big Island Blossoms by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio. A modern, Hawaiian-inspired quilt.


Seven years ago, I visited Hawaii for the first time. As a wedding gift a few years earlier, Jason and I were given a week at a timeshare anywhere in the world. Our plan was to visit Europe. The timing didn’t work out—the only time we could coordinate travel with other things happening in our lives at the time was the winter. We desperately wanted to visit someplace warm. Hawaii was one of the last places on our bucket list to travel to, but I am so grateful that life got in the way of our travel plans. We immediately fell in love with with the islands and the laid back culture. Since that trip, we’ve returned four times.

I also fell in love with Hawaiian quilts that can be found everywhere on the islands — on display in museums and swanky hotels, in stores, and of course at local quilt shops. Many of the quilts are mass produced and imported but the original, handcrafted quilts can be spotted. The craftsmanship of the hand needle-turn applique and quilting is remarkable. Equally as impressive are the design of the motifs and the color choices. Many of the traditional Hawaiian quilts use solid colors in bold ways.

During one of my early visits, I signed up to take a Hawaiian quilt needle-turn applique workshop at a local quilt shop. Unfortunately the class was cancelled because of low enrollment, but the shop staff encouraged me to try it on my own. I walked out of the shop with some advice and a kit and was ready to make my own Hawaiian mini-quilt! I needle-turn appliqued throughout that entire vacation. The craftsmanship in parts of that mini-quilt aren’t pretty but I powered through and picked up some tips and tricks online. I even tried hand quilting—something I rarely do which is probably the reason why the mini-quilt is unfinished. You can see that parts of the mini quilt are still pin basted.

As part of the preparation for last trip I took to the Big Island in early 2016, I designed a Hawaiian inspired quilt that I could work on while traveling. After playing around with a number of motifs, I decided to go with what I later named Big Island Blossoms.
Hawaiian inspired modern quilt. Design of Big Island Blossoms by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio

Before the trip, I machine pieced the curved background of the blocks. I also cut, pinned and basted the applique to make nine blocks to take with me.
Preparing a modern, Hawaiian-inspired quilt. Design of Big Island Blossoms by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio

The applique started in the airport (with a pit stop at QuiltCon 2016 in Pasadena, CA)…
A modern, Hawaiian inspired needle-turn applique quilt. Big Island Blossoms by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio

… and continued poolside on the West Coast of the Big Island.
A modern, Hawaiian inspired needle-turn applique quilt. Big Island Blossoms by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio

By the time I returned home a few weeks later, I had all nine blocks complete.
Work in progress: a modern, Hawaiian inspired needle-turn applique quilt. Big Island Blossoms by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio

After living with the block arrangement on my design wall for a couple of weeks, I decided it needed to be bigger. I made a combination of seven additional half and quarter blocks. Once they were complete, the hand appliqued blocks were machine pieced together.

And then came quilting—lots of echo quilting with my walking foot.
Quilting in progress: a modern, Hawaiian inspired needle-turn applique quilt. Big Island Blossoms by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio

The finishing touch was attaching the binding— a print from the Shimmer Collection by Jennifer Sampou. One of my favorites! I also used this print for the back.
Binding. Big Island Blossoms by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio

Big Island Blossoms by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio. A modern, Hawaiian-inspired quilt.

Behind the scenes of how I photograph my quilts:
Behind the scenes photoshoot of Big Island Blossoms by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio. A modern, Hawaiian-inspired quilt.

About a year after I started Big Island Blossoms, it was at QuiltCon 2017 in Savannah, GA.
QuiltCon 2017—Big Island Blossoms by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio. A modern, Hawaiian-inspired quilt.

Looking for inspiration to start your own Hawaiian-inspired quilt? I’d love to have you join me in one of my Hawaiian Applique Made Modern workshops.
Check out my teaching schedule or contact me if you’re interested in me teaching at your guild or shop. I love sharing this technique with others and my students have enjoyed the process!

Hawaiian Applique Made Modern Workshop by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio.
Hawaiian Applique Made Modern Workshop by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio.

Student work in a Hawaiian Applique Made Modern Workshop by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio.

Pat Ryan, shopkeeper of Ryco, Inc. with Big Island Blossom by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio. A modern, Hawaiian-inspired quilt.
Pat Ryan, shopkeeper of Ryco, Inc. color coordinating with a Big Island Blossom pillow by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio.

Be sure to check out the segment I filmed for Fresh Quilting all about designing your own Hawaiian inspired quilt.

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