The ‘Song of the Sea’ blouse

Last week the soundtrack to my fireworks and flowers blouse was just too depressing to post.  This week though I have the perfect soundtrack.  It may make you cry, but it will be with beauty and joy.  Put on Aloha Ka Manini (Love the fish) by the wonderful Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and then Ka Uluwehi o ke Kai (The Plants of the Sea) by Hapa.  These are the songs of my childhood, and the Hawai’ian songs of the sea.

I grew up in Hawaii, 10 minutes walk from the sea.  My parents were farmers – land people, but we kids loved the sea.  We went down to the beach every time they let us.  We snorkeled and swam and kayaked.  I knew the names of all the fishes, the kinds of seaweed and coral, the history of the fishponds that ringed the coast like stone necklaces.  I was in a hula halau (dance troop) for years.  I was never particularly good, but my favourite dance was always Ka Uluwehi o ke Kai, a hula in praise of the different seaweeds, and the joy of the ocean.

I still live by the sea, and love the beasts and plants of the water, but it’s a much colder, harsher water.  Ka Moana Nui ‘Akea (the Great Ocean of Light) has become Ka Moana Nui a Kiwa (the Great Ocean of the Explorer Kiwa).  Every year about this time I get very homesick for the ocean I grew up with.

Three years ago, just at this time of year, I walked into my favourite fabric store here in Wellington.  There in the corner was a bolt of the most amazing cotton voile in some of my favourite colours, patterned with Hawai’ian fish and sea life, and emblazoned with their names.  There was the striped kihikihi, the little manini, the delicious papio, the flying fish malolo, the spikey wana, the limpet, opihi, clinging to the rocks, the tiny hinalea, even my favourite: limu (seaweed).  All there, named and drawn.  I couldn’t pass it up.  Also, I may have cried.

I made a blouse for my mum out of it right away, but I saved a bit for something for me.  Now was just the time to make something that would make me think of home, but in the happiest way.

The blouse was easy peasy to put together – I used french seams, turned all the edges of my facings with a tiny rolled hem, and finished the sleeves with a rolled hem for a curvy seaweed effect.  The hem of the blouse is bound in bright green bias binding, and then turned up and hand-stitched down.  I used white buttons to mimic the white bubbles on the pattern.

Most of the photos were taken at Te Papa – the national museum.  I asked visitors to take photos of me with the sea themed displays, which is why they look so much like tourist shots!  The one sad thing about this blouse is that the camera toppled off the counter when I was trying to use the timer to get a few detail shots, and it may be dead.  :-(

Just the facts, Ma’am:

Fabric: 1 metre of 100% cotton voile patterned with Hawaiian sea life. $18

Pattern: Butterick 6223, from my Grandmother.

Year: early 1950s

Notions: 4 white plastic buttons (inherited from Nana), 2 vintage metal domes (thrifted or inherited), 1 metre of vintage green bias binding (thrifted, 20 cents)

Hours: 2.5  Lovely, fast and easy.

Make again?  Yes!  I love this blouse pattern, so easy, and flattering.  Next time I won’t size the pattern up though.

First worn: Monday for the first lecture of the semester (my lecture hall is so hot, and I get even hotter talking for an hour), and then for a quick photoshoot at Te Papa.

Wear again? Yes!  It probably won’t be warm enough to get away with it until at least October in Wellington, but I’ll be going home to Hawaii in August.  I hope they don’t think I’m a tourist!

Total cost: $18.20.  A lot for a blouse, but oh, that fabric!

(I’m not dancing hula, I’m showing you the film of the Colossal Squid)

 

Author

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.

19 Comments

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  1. I LOVE IT!!! Of COURSE you couldn’t resist that fabric and that pattern is adorable. I hope your camera lives…

  2. Absolutely adorable!

  3. I like the pattern of the fabric and the blouse. It’s funny how one of the buttons lines up to look like a fish eye.

  4. Hi Leimomi, this fabric had your name all over it. It looks like it puts a smile on your face.

  5. Great blog post with very interesting info about you and Hawaii. Love the part about the fabric find too. Your blouse is really cute!

  6. Nothing like living in a overseas to make you appreciate your homeland. Lovely story and I would have bought that fabric too! Have you heard you heard Christine Anu’s song “My Island Home” – she is an indegenious Austalian, from the Torres Straight Islands. That song always brings a tear to my eye. Hope Spring comes to you soon Leimomi x

    • Thank you. I think I always appreciated how lucky I was to have the childhood I had, and to be where I am from. But I’m also pretty realistic about the drawbacks to Hawaii ;-)

      I looked up ‘My Island Home’. It’s beautiful but quite pop-y. I want to hear some original Torres Islander music now.

  7. Gorgeous and a perfect location for showing it off! :)

  8. Love your blouse! And the photos are cool too!

  9. Very cute! I love that you’ve been adding a soundtrack to your posts. It’s really a nice touch and makes me feel like your posts are more of a conversation – like more personal. I really enjoy your anecdotes and your style. :)

  10. Lovely job Leimomi great fabric choice too, loved reading your story and may have to google your soundtrack. I hope your camera sparks up. Yikes.

  11. I love reading about your life in Hawaii. It honestly sounds like a fairy tale to me…I can’t believe someone actually grew up in such a wonderful place. When I was a child I had nothing but fields around – no water, no forests, just fields and streets that were lined by some measly plum and cherry trees. I totally understand why your home country so much. It sounds like such a wonderful place.
    The blouse looks great and I really like your pics, particularly the last one where you show us the Colossal Squid with such a pretty hula gesture. :)

  12. Great post! I can certainly see why you had to have that fabric. The top looks great and it’s always nice to have something special to remind you of home.