Hot! The “Subversive Hawaiianism” pyjama twofer


OK ladies (and the occasional gentleman), this post is going to take a little prep on your part.  Open another tab and put on this song.  If it finishes and you are still reading and haven’t started crying from the sheer beauty of it, this one is nice.  So is this one.

Right, theme music in place, let’s talk about this week’s garments.

I found this week’s vacation theme very tricky.  It’s the middle of winter in NZ right now, and it’s cold, and horrible, and dark, and I have chilblains (really: you can see how red and swollen my pinkie is in the picture above).  My body is not suited to living in a cold, dark, climate, and neither is my temperament.  I’m a child of warm weather: of sunny skies, white sand beaches and tropical fruit.  A child of the loveliest place in the world.  I’m from Hawai’i, and this time of year I miss it so much it hurts.

So when the theme came up, I had a little pity party and said “I don’t want to make vacation clothes!  I just want to go home and I don’t get to go home until August and right now it is cold and wet and dark and all I want to do is curl up in bed and try to stay warm”  Sniff, sniff, boo-hoo.

Then I dragged myself out of bed and realised that unless I was going to look like a scruffy rag-bag until August, I needed to make new pyjamas.  So at least I could make new pyjamas for this challenge, and have a holiday in bed.

To cheer myself up, I picked the two happiest, brightest, home-y est fabrics in my stash (home is Hawai’i, and home is where the heart is) in my favourite Hawaiian blues & greens for pyjama bottoms.

Heart printed tabby-weave cotton in too-bright, too-bold tones

Unfortunately, the first one was a little too bright and happy.  Like Sheldon with his Star Wars sheets, I just didn’t think I could actually sleep with that print.  So I had a brainstorm, and sewed the fabric inside out.  I love sewing fabric inside out: the muted wrong side of prints is often so much more interesting than the bold ‘right’ side.  I can trace this obessesion directly back to Hawaii.  It’s traditional to sew Hawaiian business shirts (yes, there are formal Hawaiian shirts, business Hawaiian shirts, casual Hawaiian shirts, and then the Hawaiian shirts that only tourists wear – and anyone from Hawaii can tell you which is which at a glance) with the ‘wrong’ side of the fabric out.  The look dates back to the 1930s, when shirt manufacturers in Hawaii felt that the prints supplied by Mainland manufacturers were too bright and tacky, and needed to be toned down.

Pyjama pants #1 – reverse fabric

I love this photo. It’s very odalisque – only ridiculously modest!

So, I’d managed to slip a little Hawai’i into my first pair of pyjama pants.  How could I Hawai’ian up the 2nd pair, the heart-lattice waffle-knit?

For this one, I took my inspiration from the skirts that are worn to dance hula kahiko (old-style hula).  I was in a hula halau for my entire childhood, and made dozens of these skirts for various events and performances.  They are basic rectangles of fabric, gathered at the top, but made interesting by the multiple rows of elastic gathering at the waist.

Hula dancers, Moloka’i, HI, May 2009

I cut the pyjamas almost like the first pair, but omitted the side seams because of the ease of the knit fabric, and with a couple of extra inches at the waist.  Then I folded over the waistband for 5cm, and sewed four channels for 1cm wide elastic to run through (a little less than the 6 that is usually used in hula kahiko skirts, but more than you’d generally do for pyjama pants for sure).

Hearts & lattices waffle-knit cotton with 4-row waistband

Felicity and I and my newest machine – Nana’s 1940s Singer in it’s wooden table

Threading the elastic through I was suddenly overwhelmed with memories of how much I had loathed sewing hula skirts.  Those multiple elastic channels suck!  Trying to keep the elastic from twisting, making every length the same, evenly distributing the gathers.  Gah!  I’m glad I don’t have to do that anymore!

Multiple rows of elastic

For the photoshoot I simply bribed Mr D into taking a bunch of pictures of me before bed.  To set the mood I put on some Iz and Hapa and Kealii Reichel, got out my copy of Armine von Tempski’s Born in Paradise (my very favourite book in the word), settled in for a good read and tried to get Felicity to cooperate and pose with me.

I don’t think she likes you guys.  She poses beautifully for my blog, but every time I try to do a Sew Weekly photoshoot with her she tries to bite me.  What’s up with that?

Attack cat

They may be simple, but I’ll loving my warm, comfy, practical pyjama pants, and I particularly love the bits of subversive Hawaii’ianism I slipped in. I usually go for subversive historicism, but this may be even better!

Best book ever

Just the facts, Ma’am:

Fabric: 1.5m heart print plain tabby-weave cotton ($3m), 1.2m heart-lattice print waffle-knit cotton ($1.50 for the lot at an op-shop).

Pattern: My own, based on cutting apart my old worn out pyjama bottoms and using them as a pattern

Year: modern

Notions: thread, elastic from Nana’s stash

Hours: 1.5 hours each

First worn?: Sat 16 June, to sleep in, and Sun, 17 June, to sleep in (very boring, I know!)

Wear again?: Yep. Almost daily (or nightly, to be more precise)

Make again?: Yep.  Every time I need more pyjama pants!

Total cost: $4.50

The red book is ‘The Wilders of Waikiki’ – a great memoir



Leimomi Oakes - The Dreamstress

Leimomi Oakes learned to sew as a child in Hawaii, and hasn't spent a day without doing it in the-more-years-than-she-would-like-to-admit-to since. When she was 18 she was nicknamed 'The Dreamstress' and bought the domain name, and now she's stuck with it. After getting degrees in Art History, Costume Design and International Relations she worked in a number of fabulous museums before going freelance as a textile and fashion historian and historical seamstress. She lives in Wellington New Zealand with a lovely husband and a world-famous cat.


Comments are closed.

  1. Oh Leimomi,this is really beautiful music and I am really almost crying because one can really feel in this post how much you miss Hawaii (I would have never thought it gets sooo cold in NZ!) My husband is from the Bay Area which is a lot less warm than Hawaii, of course, but still warm compared to the German climate…my husband misses California very badly in winter, particularly in February when his mother starts telling us that they have spring already while we still have at least another 6 weeks of winter ahead of us. The first winter he lived in Berlin he just wouldn’t stop asking me when winter would finally be over although we still had 2.5 months left then…He lost countless mittens, scarves and hats because he wasn’t used to wearing them. It took me years to teach him how to wrap a scarf around one’s neck so that absolutely no skin is exposed to the cold. We were going to visit California just now but had to cancel the trip because he was offered employment and we just couldn’t turn that down. He hasn’t been home for 2 years and reading your post reminds me of how much he misses California at times and how much he has sacrificed to live with me. You expatriots for love are such admirable people!
    PS: The pj pants are great although I have to say I don’t think at all that the pattern is too bright but I am quite the extremist when it comes to bright colors…

    • Thank you. It’s not that it get’s so cold (nowhere near German cold) in New Zealand, but that most houses aren’t insulated, and don’t have central heating, and the cold is a damp cold, which really chills.

      I’m sorry to hear your DH isn’t able to get home. It’s been two years since I’ve been home, and I know how hard it is. I hope he’s able to go home soon.

  2. Oh dear, and it’s the first time in ages we’re having a full-on ‘proper’ winter here, too! You poor thing. :-( (And if you haven’t already, get thee to Glassons and stock up on merino long-sleeved tops! Or to Levana to stock up on merino to make merino long-sleeved tops. I couldn’t get through a Wellington winter without them.)

    Love the PJ’s – pretty colours, and they look super comfy.

    I’m giggling to myself about the Wellington thing here too – I just submitted my post for the week and our photo shoots are scarily similar, haha! ;-)

    • Funny, it’s my 7th full winter here, and I actually think this is one of the mildest we’ve had so far. A few very cold days, but not much of the pouring rain and driving southerly winds yet.

      I did the Glassons/Max merino thing the first few years, but it didn’t work for me. The tops are so thin, and they use the cheapest, lowest grade of merino, so they are still scratchy and not that warm. I just felt like an itchy, slightly warmer but still really cold, sausage. For the last few years rather than doing the Kiwi ‘wear a merino with summer clothes under it’ I’ve gone for knit silk camisole unders, and then regular shirts, topped by thick sweaters or wool jackets (so basically ‘wear summer clothes with warm stuff over’, and I’m a much happier camper.

      And it’s definitely the week for loungewear in bed with a book. Lots of us went for it!

  3. Love the idea of having theme music to listen to while reading a post! So smart. Hang in there! You’ll make it to August. :) How interesting about the various types of Hawaiian shirts, too! This was a very interesting post.

  4. Beautiful post and garments~ Love the pj pants they look very comfortable and I love the prints!

  5. Love your pj’s.. So sorry your missing home [dont blame you, such a beautiful home region].. But you did an excellent job on the theme.. And how nice to have 2 new pair of pj’s to wear … Happy sewing..and stay warm..

  6. Thank you so much for the beautiful post. Like you, I am a child of the islands, now living far away from home (in the pacific northwest). And even though it is summer, here, WA state has been having a very wet spring/early summer. I miss the warmth with all my heart. The song that always gets to me is “White Sandy Beach” sung by Iz; a haunting melody that always makes me miss my hometown of Kailua.

  7. Aww yeah, I think we’re going to have a pj club going this week! Rock on! Great job on yours. Both prints are awesome. I really like the hearts with that green top. Very cute!

  8. They are lovely pjs. I forget that its winter down there. I hope it warms up a bit soon.

  9. love the PJ’s. It’s cold and raining and miserable in the UK and it is supposed to be summer!!! Your cat is really cute too.

  10. What a treat to listen to the music of your homeland as I read your post. I actually got a little teary-eyed as I could relate to your longing for home in your pictures and words. I hope those super cute pj pants help get you through the long cold season. Love your kitty! Maybe she wants you to make her some little booties to wear on the Sew Weekly :)

    • Awwwww…I hope it was a good teary-eyed. I am pretty sure Felicity doesn’t want anything to do with booties, but she does like inspecting each new piece of fabric as it comes out and giving her opinion on it (the more expensive it is the more she likes it, and she wants nothing to do with synthetics).

  11. Wow! I, too, am a wahine from Hawaii! (My family moved there for 6.5 years, so I spent my early childhood there.) I love the pic of you on the bed with your kitty! Classic cute pin-up!

  12. Beautiful Music,
    Beautiful Cat – I have one the same colour
    Beautiful PJ’s too