Wednesday mornings at the Kapa‘a Senior Center on Kou Street are abuzz with activity. In the generous breezeway at the center of the Kapa‘a Neighborhood Center, tables form an “L” where twenty women gather for their quilting class. In an adjacent room there’s a tai chi class, and right down the hall young parents gather for a meeting in one of the classrooms. From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. a variety of classes take place daily.
Today, the largest crowd gathers for Jane Vega’s instruction on appliqué quilting. This is the third Wednesday of the month, so there’s an additional table lined with pot luck dishes and a birthday cake. Today is kupuna Fusae Ohara’s ninetieth birthday.
Vega has been teaching quilting at the center for 19 years. She remembers when she wanted to learn to quilt over 50 years ago and the only thing that stood in her way was finding a willing teacher.
“The Hawaiians were secretive,” she said.
Sylvia Akana of Kapa‘a added, “The Hawaiians would hang their quilt upside-down so no one would steal their patterns — they didn’t want nobody else to learn.”
Vega took matters into her own hands by inviting fifteen other women interested in learning the art of Hawaiian appliqué to form a class.
“I called Hannah Baker at the University of Hawaii and invited her to Kaua‘i,” she said.
That was in 1959.
“For the next four summers Hannah came to Kaua‘i to teach fifteen Japanese ladies and myself,” Vega said.
In the four years that Baker came to Kaua‘i she shared all of her own patterns with Vega.
“I have over 100 of Hannah’s patterns still,” she said.
Vega teaches five days a week at senior centers all over the island. When Vega first started teaching at the centers they were governed by The Office of Elderly Affairs so all of her students were senior citizens. Three years ago, the center came under the umbrella of the Parks and Recreation Department so the 55 age limit was lifted.
“Anyone can come learn now,” said Vega.
Piles of fabric and baskets filled with sewing notions line the long tables next to plates brimming with noodles, musubi and birthday cake.
One of the youngsters of the group Mari Woody joined the class three years ago. Woody had done patchwork for 30 years and leapt at the opportunity to learn appliqué when she moved to Kaua‘i to be closer to her mother. Last year she made a queen size quilt that was auctioned off to raise money for the center.
Not only does this class offer instruction in a supportive atmosphere, it creates ‘ohana for this community.
“Most of us are single,” said Akana. “A lot of us are widows on a fixed income.”
Akana praises the center for also being a place to network.
“We help each other,” she said. “‘Ohana means when a fisherman goes fishing he catches what he can use and enough for his mom and the rest he shares with neighbors. ‘Lokahi’ means working together. This is lokahi — you malama your ‘ohana.”