What I wear

The ‘Subversive Hawaiianism’ pyjama pants

Felicity is suspicious of my red, swollen fingers

Dear Readers, 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 post.

The theme on Sew Weekly this week is ‘vacation’ (I know, how very American!) and I found it 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.  As you may know, 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 (but yay!  I’m going home in 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 pyjama pants.  So at least I could make new pyjamas for the 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.  They are totally not even remotely historical, and that is great.  Sometimes I need to be not historical!

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 fabri  

I love this photo. It’s deliciously 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 upward 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 its 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.

Clearly she likes you, dear readers, and isn’t so hot on the Sew Weekly crowd.  She poses beautifully for photoshoots that I intend for this blog, but every time I try to do a Sew Weekly photoshoot with her she tries to bite me.

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

And the insides?  The first pair, the tabby-weave, are fully finished with French seams, the waffle-knit is finished with my overlocker.

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


  1. I just loved reading this post on Sew Weekly! I’ve noticed your pretty sewing before, but reading this post was like getting to know you! 🙂 I’ve lived abroad for years, and I know what it’s like to really miss certain visceral memories of home. I’m following your blog now and really enjoying!

  2. That second-to-last photo, with Felicity gazing solemly and smugly at you, is amazing.

  3. Yes, winter in NZ is pretty bad. Fun Hawaiian pyjama pants are the perfect thing to take your mind off it and the waffle knit pair looks really warm. Myself, I don’t mind that it’s cold, but the dampness really gets to me. My paints and glues and lacquers refuse to dry.

    • You’re absolutely right that it’s not the cold, it’s the damp. I’ve lived in places that were just as cold (SF & NY) but the dry cold is so much easier on your body. The insulation and central heating don’t hurt either!

      • Ain’t that the truth! I can imagine our substandard insulation came as an unpleasant surprise after living in Hawaii.

        • Actually, after Hawaii was nothing – I had no idea about insulation coming from Hawaii – I thought cold was just like this. It was only in comparison to SF and NY that NZ was a dreadful shock 😉

  4. Cute pajamas! Also now I’m really intrigued as to what business and formal hawaiian shirts look like….

  5. Zach says

    Aww, I’m sorry you’re feeling bad! I know the feeling of wanting to be back home. You just have continual Wizard of Oz moments (Auntie Em!). It’s so weird trying to imagine a freezing winter here; I feel like there’s one heat wave after another where I’m at (now I’m thinking of Marilyn Monroe!). I usually don’t reverse fabric, but I did for a (not so historically accurate) petticoat I did recently; the blue floral print was just too ugly, bright and way to blue. It opened a door to a whole new world!

    On a side note, I am also curious of the different types of true Hawaiian shirts!

    • Me, too! Maybe when you’re back in Hawai’i you can take pics of different Hawai’ian shirts.

      (Have you noticed your readers’ interest in the whole being-from-an-exotic-Pacific-island* thing? Because I certainly have it!)

      *and i ain’t talkin’ ’bout aotearoa

  6. Awesome PJ’s! The second last photo, the look on Felicity’s face says “SOON.”
    Teehheheheeh ;-P

  7. I completely agree – Hawai’i is the most beautiful place on Earth – no other place I have been to could even compare.

    Your PJ pants are so lovely, and I love hearing that there are so many different kinds of Hawaiian prints and you are able to pick out the tourists easily – I’ll need to watch for this the next time I visit!

    I am sending you warmth from Chicago – I will gladly give it to you 🙂

  8. Having moved four times in the last six years, I totally know what you mean about homesickness! It seems like every time I finally get settled into a place, it’s time to uproot and move again, and then I get to add more people/places to the “To Miss” list. I’m glad you get to go back in August…hang in there!

    Walnut has the same attack cat moods and pose that Felicity has!

  9. OK, so starting to read this post took some effort. I started tearing from the sheer beauty of it about two seconds into the song.

    I like this sort of subversive. No, scratch that, I LOVE this sort of subversive.

    And if home is where the heart is, I’m another person who only goes home on vacation. Even though I’ve lived elsewhere all my life, my home is in the (Bohemian-Moravian) Highlands, which I’ve just come back from. Good luck with your home vacation!

    • Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed the music, and I love that you love the music. I’ve just been reading Gertrude Lawrence’s autobiography, ‘A Star Danced’ and she talks about her home, London, and how sometimes there is a place that you irrevocably belong to, wherever you live. I’d love to go to the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands someday. They sound beautiful.

      • The township of Lomnice I wrote about a while back on my blog is on the outskirts of Bohemian-Moravian Highlands. (Maybe geologically it’s somewhere else, I don’t know.)

        There are some fantastic historical places there, like the Zelená hora church and others build by Jan Blažej Santini (father calls it “the area where Santini went on a spree” which really puts it well), but I really just love the landscape. 🙂

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