Maurine King




Maurine King




Maurine King


Diane Hom

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Honolulu, Hawaii


Diane Hom


Diane Hom (DH): I want you to tell me about this quilt that you have brought today. Did you make it?

Maurine King (MK): Yes.

DH: And, what's the name of that pattern?

MK: It's called Double Pinwheel.

DH: And is this hand crocheted--I'm sorry, hand quilted or machine quilted?

MK: Its machine pieced and hand quilted.

DH: Okay.

MK: And the quilting design is called Baptist Fan.

DH: Baptist Fan? I never heard of that.

MK: It's concentric circles: I think it's also called Methodist Fan.

DH: Whichever you choose! [both talking at the same time.] Whichever religion you were when you made it. [laughs.]

DH: When did you make this quilt?

MK: Several years ago.

DH: And what materials did you use? Are you one of those quilters who go to the store and choose new fabric? Or do you use what you have?

MK: No. Part of my philosophy of quilting is to recycle, to conserve, to use what is given to me, and people give me so many beautiful scraps. [for this quilt.] A friend named Mary Eleanor Kong gave me the plaid scraps, and Alice Bento, who has a garment factory, gave me the teal scraps. I may actually have bought the rose chintz for the sashing.

DH: Oh, it's beautiful. What special meaning does this particular quilt have for you?

MK: It's inspired by one that my grandmother made, which you can see here. It's also the Double Pinwheel, but much larger and the same quilting pattern, as well. It was probably made in the '50s. I would guess that some of it is feed sacks that she had from when my grandfather was a farmer. This particular grandmother, by the way, was a descendent of a Revolutionary soldier--a French Huguenot who had come to this country as a refugee in 1764. I believe she was his great granddaughter.

DH: Oh, okay. Wow. So, grandma designed this one in the '50s and quilted it, and then you used that quilt as your inspiration for this one that we're looking at today.

MK: Right.

DH: Okay. When did you learn to quilt and where?

MK: I remember at a rather early age, someone gave me some squares, and I sewed a few of them together. But that particular grandmother, when I was a teenager, came to visit from Texas to California, and she brought with her stack of quilt squares, which she [pieced.] all the way across on the train. She taught me how to make the Trip Around the World pattern. And while she was there, I made some blocks. She took them back home and put them together in a quilt, which I still have. Except for that, I'm self-taught by the trial-and-error method- books, magazine, TV programs.

DH: So about how old were you when you began this first quilting experience?

MK: I was in high school when she came to visit that time.

DH: Oh. And so, this is who taught you to quilt. Are there a lot of quilters among your friends and family?

MK: Most of them in my family have died. I have four aunts still living. One of them is a quilter. She's in her nineties. She still has quilt orders, probably more than she can fill. Her most popular pattern in Dresden Plate.

DH: I never heard of that one.

MK: Big ones.

DH: Wow, okay. Do you quilt with other women, or do you belong to any quilting group?

MK: No, I'm a loner. But I do enjoy going every year to the Hawaii Quilters' Guild Show at the Honolulu Academy of Arts for inspiration.

DH: Oh. How many hours a week do you quilt?

MK: Oh. [laughs.] Of course, it depends on the week. There are some when I must put in twenty at least. Occasionally I don't get to do any, but then I feel deprived. Quilting is a process. You don't just sit down and make a quilt. I will cut scraps. I have boxes of three-inch squares, two-and-a-half inch squares, boxes of just strips, boxes of two or three colors that might make a good quilt someday. Rotary cutters are wonderful inventions that make us all more productive. Then there are times when I'll sit down and do the machine sewing, do the piecing--make a big mess and then get some basted together. Quilting itself is slow, but it's not messy. So, I usually have some in all those stages of production.

DH: Have you ever raffled or donated a quilt for a silent auction?

MK: Yes. I have donated to my college, the school where I work, American Friends Service Committee, Kalihi-Palama Health Center [for that purpose.].

DH: Great. Why is quilting important to your life?

MK: I like to look at quilts. They are very satisfying to me, and the process of doing it is very satisfying. It's also a connectedness with my grandparents, with my heritage. I didn't tell you about my other grandmother. She was a bit older and was a meticulous craftswoman. The grandmother who made this, as you can see, they are strictly utilitarian and maybe a little primitive, but she still had a boisterous sense of color. But my maternal grandmother was a serious woman, and she was taught to sew by her mother, who was brought up in a Shaker orphanage. And she lived only till my grandmother was eleven, so she had taught her all the skills - crocheting, knitting, sewing--before grandma was eleven. And this has helped me understand family dynamics, why she was upset when she couldn't teach me to knit when I was five, and why she and my mother, who was not a perfectionist, didn't make a success of passing down that skill. She made beautiful quilts, and all my cousins and I regret that we just wore them out sleeping under them. None of us has one of those beautiful quilts.

DH: Hmm. That happened in my family a lot, too. Do your quilts reflect our state- Hawaii--at all?

MK: I don't do traditional Hawaiian quilting. My goal is to use up scraps, not to make scraps. But sometimes I use local, what we call aloha, prints in my patchworks.

DH: What aspects of quilting do you enjoy? I think you've touched on some of these aspects already. Because the opposite question is 'what aspects do you least enjoy?' [laughter.]

MK: Working with color, I think, is what I like and playing with designs. All of it can be a bit painful. Sewing at the machine gives me a backache, and if you hand quilt too long your fingers get sore, so you have to pace yourself and divide it up. I enjoy it all in small amounts at a time. [laughs.]

DH: In what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning to women's history in America?

MK: Oh, I think it's an art form that women who never considered themselves artists, who worked hard and were poor, could express themselves, their sense of beauty. Then it was also preserving the scraps of their lives- their children's clothes, uniforms, what was going on around them. And you can also see the diffusion of patterns as people moved across the country or met other quilters, and this affected how they quilted.

DH: What has happened to the quilts you have made or those of your friends and family? We know some of your grandmother's were used up for utilitarian reasons. How about your own quilts?

MK: I make them mostly for clinics and shelters. And some are as far away as Kyrghyzstan in Asia, in shelters and orphanages, because I have a former student who is a missionary there. Some are in a shelter in Comer, Georgia, called Jubilee. Some are in community health clinics, homeless shelters, places like that here in town.

DH: So, this quilt that we're looking at here--

MK: This is at River of Life homeless shelter in Honolulu.

DH: I've seen it many times when I have gone down there to work myself. Do you think quilting is an art that we are going to preserve? Do you see this as something lasting into the future?

MK: Yes. It declined and then, as you probably know, the Bicentennial gave it a boost. Just judging by the range of quilt books, quilt magazines, quilt shops, quilt TV shows. It's thriving, and it's going in many different directions.

DH: Do you think quilting is an art or a craft?

MK: Both.

DH: What is the most important part of a quilt's design? You've already talked about how you like to play with color.

MK: I think color and matching patterns--putting a variety of patterns together. I don't plan a quilt and go buy material. I look in my boxes and see what I have. People give me so many scraps that a good deal of my time is spent funneling those on to other quilt projects--place like the Philippines. Some of what people give me isn't quiltable, so I try to give that for other purposes. But I am given more than I could use in my whole lifetime. So, I have to keep it going. But in the process, I do a lot of washing, ironing, sorting. I'll perhaps see a print that speaks to me, and then I'll start going through the solid boxes to find things that will match it. I may have to go shopping to buy backings, but it's the challenge of taking things that you already have and doing something with them that appeals to me that this is stuff that would otherwise be thrown out that I've made something of.

DH: How long does it take you complete a quilt from inception to completion, on average?

MK: That's hard to say because I have them in various stages of construction. I just made one in three weeks. It's a wall quilt; it would be less than a twin-size bed, a little less. And that included cutting, piecing, and quilting and binding--the whole thing.

DH: And that was a commissioned quilt.

MK: Commissioned. Yes.

DH: I think you've already answered this question. Where do you get your ideas for your designs?

MK: I have a whole shelf of books over there and stacks of magazines. I go to the quilt show every year, as I mentioned, and when I travel my friends know to take me to quilt shops and quilt shows. So, you get them all over.

DH: Do you spend a lot of time planning out the design or choosing the colors?

MK: When I start on that, I have what I call a creative fit. For instance, when my friends came to town three weeks ago and asked me to make this quilt. I may even lose a few hours' sleep over it, and sleeping is one of the things I usually do very well. But this is all going around in my head, and then I'm pulling out all the boxes. I actually had to go do a little shopping for that one to find some blue and yellow. So, it's a creative spasm if you want [laughter.] that starts one off. Or I may have one that I've been thinking about for years and have just been throwing some things in a box, or even have made the blocks. And finally, they come out and they get put together. One of my most interesting quilts, the only one that was designed by a professional artist, Jonathan Busse, whom we both taught, is the Veggie Quilt. He drew sketches of vegetables. I thought they would be just simple, stylized things that I could appliqué, but he had them beautifully shaded. Well, I didn't know how to shade them. So, I gave them back to him and he shaded them with fabric pen, just zillions of little cross-hatchings, so that they look almost real. That's hanging in a doctor's office at Kalihi-Palama Health Center.

DH: Well, I think we're here at the end of our questions. But is there anything else that you would like to add to your interview, anything that we have neglected to talk about?

MK: I think that a couple of other points, if I have a philosophy of quilting. One is to recycle and conserve. The other is to keep it simple. I see these very elaborate and cutesy quilts. They don't appeal to me. I use traditional patterns, but I try to use them in fresh ways. And I strongly believe that quilts should be used and hung where they will give joy and not collected and just stored away. So that's what I try to do turn all these scraps I've been given into something that will make other people happy and keep it going.

DH: Okay. Thank you.

[tape ends.]


“Maurine King,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,