By Léo Azambuja

The artists of Garden Isle Quilters art show, left to right, Jeni Hardy, Toni Wass, Julie Fregeau, Lesley Morris and m. Lea Ingram. Photo by Léo Azambuja

The great late Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt once said “art is a line around your thoughts.” A group of five artists who convey their creativity in quilt-making would rather tell you that art is a thread around the fabric of your thoughts.

“I love the feel and color of the fabrics, and when it is quilted it gets dimensional. When I take my drawings and paintings, and transfer them to fabric and quilt them, the results to me are magical. I quilt because it feeds my soul,” said m. Lea Ingram, one of the artists in the Garden Isle Quilters group who will be showing — and selling — their art during a week-long exhibit in Lihu‘e later this month.

The quilting tradition in Hawai‘i started soon after the first missionaries arrived in the islands on March 30, 1820. Since then, Hawaiian quilt-making has evolved into its own unique style, featuring local motifs and island pride. A quilt has basically three main parts: a fluffy batting sandwiched between the top and the back. The top has an elaborate design, which could be anything; geometric, floral and even a painting. The back is usually a single piece. And then there is the stitching holding it all together, which is called the quilting.

Lesley Morris’ quilts in last year’s Garden Isle Quilters exhibit. Contributed photo

Today, quilting in Hawai‘i has burst into a kaleidoscope of styles and vibrant colors. And that’s exactly what the Garden Isle Quilters will be offering to local residents and visitors at their show at the Kaua‘i Society of Artists at Kukui Grove Center from Aug. 20 to 26.

“Seeing five different visions of quilting and art is inspiring and uplifting. These works are all created from our hearts by five women who love what we do,” Ingram said. “Our work is meant to be shared. Perhaps it will open your eyes to the good that is in this world or at the very least leave you with a positive, hopeful outlook on life.”

The Garden Isle Quilters exhibit is meant to be a little different than a usual art show, because it’s also a sale. If someone wants to buy a piece, they can pay it and take it right there and then, whereas in a regular art exhibit, you would leave the piece hanging for the duration of the show before taking it home.

The bad thing is that once it’s sold, a piece is taken off and won’t be seen anymore. But the good thing is that the group has a lot of additional quilts to hang once quilts are sold. So, if you like something, grab it. If there isn’t anything you connected with, just come back the next day, and you might find something new that speaks to you.

Winds of Change, by m. Lea Ingram. Contributed photo

This is the second year in a row that the Garden Isle Quilters hold an exhibit. Besides Ingram, the other quilt artists are Julie Fregeau, Jeni Hardy, Lesley Morris and Toni Wass. The show is free, and there will be always at least two artists sitting at the exhibit, so you can chat with them and ask questions about their quilts.

Hardy said “it’s all about the process.” She enjoys doing geometric designs, placing colors as a way of building wonderful patterns. She also loves quilting because it gives her a chance to meet fellow quilters on Kaua‘i, with everyone supporting each other.

“It is wonderful what art is made here on Kaua‘i,” Hardy said. “We all have our different styles and enjoy different methods.”

Fregeau’s art shows her talent to adapt to patterns and styles.

”I’m always changing something, it may be the color, the layout, the design or simply taking an old fashioned design and using modern fabrics. I just want to change it up,” said Fregeau, adding people should come to the exhibit to see “art,” not just quilts. Every piece at the show, she said, will be unique and original.

Wass enjoys both modern and traditional quilting. She humbly says she doesn’t consider her quilting style unique, only to add she has not explored “all areas of the art form.” And explored she has, crafting wearable quilts, as well as hand bags and totes. Wass took her first quilting class in 2000. A seamstress for many years, she said quilting is a “natural progression” from sewing in general.

Cardinal, by m. Lea Ingram, featured in the 2020 Garden Isle Quilters exhibit. Contributed photo

“I truly believe in becoming well versed in all areas of the skill,” Wass said. “I branched out into quilting and bag-making as time went on. Now, I enjoy the artful expression of creating a quilt while exploring design and color theory while making something useful to comfort and keep warm.”

Morris said she loves the creative process, and how “anything goes.”

“I can start with an idea, then the quilt’s own ideas will take over. It’s magic, it’s what art is,” said Morris, adding she loves seeing the quilts she is making come to life.

Without following a particular style — every quilt Morris makes is completely different from another — she says her quilts stand out because they are unusual and intense. She incorporates so much quilting into her quilts that some may even be considered “thread painting,” she said.

Catwalk, a quilt by Lesley Morris, featured in the 2020 Garden Isle Quilters exhibit. Contributed photo

Besides being a quilter, Ingram is also a painter, which translates to the quilts she creates. She loves to transfer her paintings to fabric to craft her quilts. Her art is unique, she said, because they are a reflection of her, of how she sees the world, which is in line with her idea that nothing in this world is truly unique, except for the personal spin we put on things.

“I love the actual process of creating something that comes from within me, seeing the fabrics come to life and take on a life of their own,” Ingram said.

Together these artists have more than a century of combined experience in quilt-making. Ingram has been sewing clothes since she was three years old, but got into quilting in 1999. Fregeau has 25 years of experience quilting. Hardy took her first class in 1975, so she has been quilting for 46 years. Morris made her first quilt seven years ago, for a family member’s first-born, but she had been sewing since she was a young girl. Wass has been quilting since 2000, and got serious into quilting after opening her own fabric store in 2004.

“Tingle your senses for fiber art. View five different quilters work and their many and varied styles of quilting art and expression, from traditional to modern to contemporary. Every one of these ladies has something magnificent to offer, and you should do them the honor of cruising thru the show,” Wass said.

The Garden Isle Quilt exhibit and sale is at the Kaua‘i Society of Artists at Kukui Grove Center in Lihu‘e. The opening reception is Aug. 20 from 5 to 8 p.m., when you will be able to meet all the quilters. The show runs Aug. 20-26, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance is free. Quilts purchased can be carried away, and shipping is available. They accept credit cards.

Call Ingram at (808) 652-2261 or visit for more information. Find Garden Isle Quilters on Facebook.




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