Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Queen Imprisoned

You know this story - a Queen imprisoned by the current government because she is a threat to their claim of authority.  Many of her people band together to help her regain her rightful place as the legitimate sovereign.  She is allowed to live in a stately home with her ladies-in-waiting, but is imprisoned, make no mistake!  With much time on her hands, and knowing herself to be the rightful ruler of this land, she undertakes to produce a lasting legacy - through her embroidery.  She and her ladies begin a large project...  But wait - this is not England in 1568, and it is not Mary Queen of Scots!  

Queen Lili'uokalani of Hawaii is the person who was imprisoned, by none other than the United States government, as they prepared to take the Hawaiian Islands as a US holding!  The year is 1895, and Lydia Lili'uokalani, after a rushed trial held in her own throne room, 
is sentenced to five years of hard labor!  This sentence was quickly amended to house arrest and she was held in one room of her home - Iolani Palace.
While detained, she and her companions began the project - a crazy quilt!  
The times were very Victorian, and Hawaiian  rulers had long been friends of Queen Victoria.  She was godmother to the little boy who would have been King Kamehameha V if he had lived.  The family had an affection for the Queen of England, and their homes were decorated in a way that would be familiar to any Victorian person of means.  
These two rooms are in Queen Emma's Summer Palace - a relatively modest vacation home for King Kamehameha IV and his beautiful wife, Emma.
The crazy quilt is finely embroidered and embellished.  In the center square, are the words: "Imprisoned at Iolani Palace ... We began the quilt here ..."  
Squares are made from scraps of clothing and ribbon that  belonged to Queen Lili'uokalani - the quilt is at once Victorian and distinctly Hawaiian - a piece of history now on view at Iolani Palace, in the very room in which it was made.

The grand hall of Iolani Palace above and the dining room below.
It was my pleasure and honor to see this quilt on my recent vacation to Honolulu.  As a rule, I like to find whatever needlework there is to see in museums wherever I go, but  I never thought I'd find a crazy quilt in Hawaii!  It's beautiful, and its sad legacy is extremely poignant. If you get a chance - please do go to see it.  Because photographs are not allowed in the palace, we have to make do with postcard views, but in general, postcard photography is better than mine anyway!
I will continue to tell about my travels in another post later on - there was one other major piece of textile history which was fascinating, and for which I was allowed to take photographs!



  1. Thank you so much for the wonderful pictures and story! I love Hawaiian quilts so much, and Hawaiian history too. I've only visited the big island, and that but once. Maybe someday I'll be lucky enough to see the palace and the crazy quilt. I hope so!

  2. A wonderful and intriguing post, thanks for your input and making time to share such a rich HI historical background:)

  3. not to long ago i saw a great special on about Hawaii. it was amazing, history can be beautiful as the quilt and then terrbily unjust. thanks for sharing.

  4. Oh, I wish I'd seen it -I would have loved to have arrived knowing a little more history...


  5. Ya'll sure can tell a story and make a person want to go and read the whole thing :) You know I've always enjoyed your travels and how you describe them, Julie, both in our group and now on your blog. You keep traveling and talking...I'll keep listening :)

  6. Very interesting! I just read a few articles in selvedge magazine about quiltmaking...

  7. Thanks for posting those photos and info. I have been to the Palace recently and really enjoyed it. It's lovely to see some of it again in your photo's here, especially that amazing quilt the Queen made! :-)


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