Long Thread Podcast: Eileen Lee (classic)

Season 9, Episode 6: How does a textile tradition die—and how can it be saved? Hawaiian quilting developed as a unique art less than two centuries ago, but a tradition of secrecy put it in danger until one woman decided to preserve it.

Anne Merrow May 18, 2024 - 4 min read

Long Thread Podcast: Eileen Lee (classic) Primary Image

Subscribe to The Long Thread Podcast:

A career professional at Levi Strauss & Company, Eileen Lee learned about dyeing, weaving, and sewing on an international scale: giant factories full of loud looms weaving 2/2 twill, pattern pieces cut out of four-foot-high stacks of cloth, and no possibility of adding a tuck here or a dart there without retooling. During her years in the industry, Eileen saw major shifts in the market for the company's signature product, as their target customer began to look elsewhere and their manufacturing shifted overseas.

A century ago, Eileen's grandmother saw a tradition on the cusp of changing, even disappearing. Hawaiian quilting grew from the basic stitches taught by Christian missionaries into a distinct cultural tradition, with large appliqué motifs and echo quilting lines. But the quilters who made these quilts didn't share them outside their families; some quilts were burned to keep their designs a secret. Hannah Ku´umililani Cummings Baker threw open her cache of quilt designs and taught the skill to anyone who cared to learn, creating both a wider market and a fresh generation of quilters. One of her students was her granddaughter Eileen, who wrote about Hannah in PieceWork Summer 2021.

After managing a yarn store and creating a weaving studio, Eileen now teaches spnning, weaving, and knitting in her own fiber business, Mz Fiber. From her grandmother's tutelage to a career in mass-market textiles to her current studio and teaching practice, Eileen Lee's story is woven and stitched together.

This episode is brought to you by:

TreenwaySilks logo

Treenway Silks is where weavers, spinners, knitters and stitchers find the silk they love. Select from the largest variety of silk spinning fibers, silk yarn, and silk threads & ribbons at TreenwaySilks.com. You'll discover a rainbow of colors, thoughtfully hand-dyed in Colorado. Love natural? Treenway's array of wild silks provide choices beyond white.

If you love silk, you'll love Treenway Silks, where superior quality and customer service are guaranteed.

Yarn Barn of Kansas logo

You’re ready to start a new project but don’t have the right yarn. Or you have the yarn but not the right tool. Yarn Barn of Kansas can help! They stock a wide range of materials and equipment for knitting, weaving, spinning, and crochet. They ship all over the country, usually within a day or two of receiving the order.

Plan your project this week, start working on it next week! See yarnbarn-ks.com to get started.

Brown Sheep Company is a four-generation family business bringing you high quality wool and natural fiber yarns. We spin and dye U.S.-grown wool into hundreds of vibrant colors at our mill in western Nebraska. Our mill has something to offer for every craft, from our well-known knitting and crochet yarns to wool roving for spinning and felting. We offer U.S-made needlepoint yarn as well as yarn on cones for weaving. Learn more about our company and products at BrownSheep.com.

"Hannah Ku´umililani Cummings Baker A Hawaiian Quilt Legacy"PieceWork online article
"Ulu: Pattern for a Hawaiian Quilted Pillow" (All Access Exclusive)
Eileen Lee's studio, Mz Fiber