Five for Friday: Songs for Sewing To

I love music. I own a lot of music, in a huge range of genres.  My collection is, to say the least, random and eccentric.  I wouldn’t say I know a lot about music, I rarely even know the proper name for songs, and I certainly don’t know anything when it comes to making it, but I still love it.

My life has theme songs: certain pieces of music that play in my mind when I do certain things.

Here is my soundtrack to sewing:

1. Classical KDFC.

I didn’t grow up listening to classical music.  For some reason the classical radio station in Hawaii picks the most depressing, morose, dirgelike (and possibly just flat out dirge) classical music.  So I thought classical music was dire.  Then, working in a costume shop in the Bay Area when I was at university, we sewed to the San Francisco classical radio station, and I discovered that actually, classical music (and baroque music, and romantic music, and impressionist music) are all awesome.  So awesome that in retrospect I’m impressed that the Hawaii station managed to find so much bad classical music.

I still sew to the San Francisco classical music station, particularly for historical sewing.  Radio NZ plays fantastic classical music, and I listen to it in the car, but well, I’m a creature of habit and a romantic.  Listening to KDFC reminds me of the skills I learned, and the fabulous people I worked with.  Plus, the ads keep me connected with the states, both for good, bad, and bafflement.

2. And just to show you how random my musical choices are: And another one bites the dust – every time I finish a spool of thread (and since I use A LOT of thread, I hear this song in my head A LOT)

3. There is a hippie song that goes “For every problem there is a simple logical solution.  For every mountain there is a road not hard to find.  These situations were made for us to conquer / for the betterment of all mankind.”  It had lyrics about renewable solar energy being the solution to coal emissions and petrol running out, etc.

When I’m teaching sewing and a student says “What do I do!  It’s not working!” I hear the chorus of that song in my head, because with sewing machines, every problem does have a simple logical solution.  Have you threaded the machine properly?  Have you put the bobbin in properly?  Did you put the foot down?  Are you on the right stitch?  Yes to all of these and it’s still not working?  Congratulations!  You have a 1% of sewing problems problem!

I can play the tune in my head.  I am SURE it exists.  Only not according to YouTube, or the internet, or anyone I’ve asked.  Which is pretty amazing, because everything exists on youtube or in google at one point or another.

I finally had to go ask my parents about it, and it turns out that it is by one of my father’s favourite bands, Spirit, and it actually dates from 1990 (which explains why some of the lyrics are so modern) and I’ve found it on the internet.  So you can go listen to it.  And suddenly, it has so little relation to the reason it plays in my head!

4. Vampire Weekend’s The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance is the perfect song for sewing tailored shirts too, all pinstripes and pure Egyptian cotton.  I always feel pleasantly wicked sewing to it.

5. And finally, the ultimate sewing love song.  Avalanche City’s You and I.

Listen closely at the 1:20 mark.

Oh yeah.

Hula Girl

Every once in a while, when I’m hanging out with friends and we do the thing where you get on youtube and show each other cool videos, we end up watching hula videos, and my friends are always amazed, and I realise that while practically everyone has heard of hula, few people actually know what it really looks like.  The best representation you get of it outside of Hawaii may be the dancing scenes in Lilo and Stitch, which is kinds weird and sad when you think about it.

Practicing hula with my sister

Practicing hula with my sister

Like Lilo, I was in a hula hālau (a hula troop/school) as a child.  It’s just what little girls in Hawaii did, like little girls everywhere else take ballet.  I was never particularly good, but I enjoyed the grace of it, and the history and story behind each dance.  My baby sister was an amazing dancer, but being a haole (white) hula dancer in Hawaii is problematic.  As a dark haired Filipina or Japanese girl, you can dance professionally, and be in the best hālau (troops), but if you are pale skinned and have white-blond hair, you’ll be tucked in the back row, and you’ll never compete in the biggest hula festival in Hawaii: the Merrie Monarch Festival.  Because of this (and simply not being very good) I gave it up as a teenager, and have rarely danced in the last decade.  I did a hula for Mr D at our wedding (a Hawaii tradition) and danced for Nana’s 90th birthday, at her request, but mostly I just listen to Hawaiian music and feel homesick.

Dancing hula at my wedding,

Dancing a hula for Mr D at my wedding

There are actually two main distinct styles of hula: hula kahiko, the ancient hula, based on the pre-contact style of dancing, and hula ‘auana, the modern hula, which incorporates modern instruments, and Western influences.

Hula kahiko is more rhythmic, and is danced in modern interpretations of ancient Hawaiian dress: usually with the dancers in full skirts gathered to the waist with rows and rows of elastic.  Hula kahiko are dedicated to a god or goddess, or to a member of the ali’i (royalty).  The costumes and flowers worn with the dance are all symbolic.  In this example, the colours of the dancers tops and the spots on their pa’u (skirts), as well as the feathers in the ‘uli’uli rattles they dance with, all allude to the peacock, beloved of Princess Ka’i’ulani, who the dance is dedicated to.  Their yellow lei are also associated with the tragic princess, and their white petticoats and bloomers reflect the late Victorian dress she would have worn.

Hula ‘Auana are on many themes: they tell the story of a place, or of the writer’s love for a person.   There are even hula ‘auana in praise of all the authors favourite foods – or in mocking despair over the difficulties of their weekly exercise class.  Hula ‘auana can be soft and slow, or fast and ‘rascally’.

Though it isn’t as common in modern times, men also dance hula, both kahiko and ‘auana.  These days, men’s kahiko is slightly more prevalent, perhaps because it is visually more obviously manly, and perhaps (to put it rather crassly) because fit men in loincloths are generally popular ;-)

Steampunk hippo

I found this at an op shop.  It cost me 50 cents.  It’s adorable.  It stands 3.5cm high.  It’s made of some base metal.  Other than that, I know nothing.  Any idea when/where it comes from?  I’m guessing modern & recent.

Steampunk hippo

Look at his cute little hippo tush:

Steampunk hippo

And his mouth opens!

Steampunk hippo

He’s missing one of the screws on the hinges of his jaw.

Steampunk hippo

His head turns all the way around too, and all his feet and arms rotate.

Steampunk hippo

He has a thing on his head, so you could wear him as a pendant, and one last screw on his tush.

Steampunk hippo

When it comes to steampunk hippos, Felicity does not approve.  I think she is worried that he is cuter than she is.

Steampunk hippo & Felicity

When I tried to get her to pose with him she kept trying to knock him off the windowsill.

Steampunk hippo & Felicity

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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