20th Century, What I wear

The ‘Aloha ka Manini’ blouse

With a pygmy blue whale skeleton

I’ve been waiting to tell you about this garment for years.  From even before it existed – from the moment I laid eyes on the fabric.

Before you read the post though, you need to set the mood.  Put on  Aloha Ka Manini  (Love the fish, or ) 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 Hawai’i, 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.

A beach at home

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.

The beach now – Coastal views, Wellington, New Zealand

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.

Hawaiian fish fabric

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.  This winter was just the time to make something that would make me think of home, but in the happiest way.

Butterick 6223 in Hawaiian patterned voile

For this very special fabric I used one of my Grandmother’s patterns –  Butterick 6223, a cute, simple ’50s blouse with a very flattering scooped neck.  After cutting it out I had a moment of “oh no!  I think I own a better pattern for this”, but with the blouse sewn up I love it.  I’m glad I went with this pattern.

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 lime green bias binding, and then turned up and hand-stitched down (fabulous!).  I used white buttons up the front to mimic the white bubbles on the pattern.  The buttons are sewn on with no buttonholes – wide necklines + small bust = don’t need an openings.

Sea life and sea blouse

Thanks to three days of pouring rain, most of the photos were taken at Te Papa — the national museum.  I used my American accent to my advantage and asked visitors to take photos of me with the sea themed displays.  I’m sure they assumed I was a tourist!  I got very theme-y and paired it with shell earrings and a coral necklace that I bought before I knew how back the coral industry was (if you love our oceans don’t ever buy coral jewellery).

The one sad thing about this blouse is that the camera had a moment when I was trying to use the timer to get a few detail shots, and it may be dead.  :-(.  So this is the only where you can really see the fabric, and the way the words are printed both reverse and right side out:

Look at all the fishies!  

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:  5 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


  1. It is a lovely blouse and the coral necklace suits it. I’d never buy coral either, but I do own a coral necklace that my Grandmother bought many years ago before we all knew what coral harvesting did. Mine’s white and horribly spiky to wear, but I’ll never get rid of it simply because it was hers. It’s probably my only truly vintage piece.

  2. Lynne says

    The blouse is a delight! Love the fish! Yes, perfect for your holiday at home, and for Wellington later in the spring. At the moment you’d need a woolly singlet with it. 🙂

    Isn’t it a shame about coral? And shells. I used to say to people that I loved shells, and they would bring me shells – then I discovered that the ‘shells for tourists’ industry was pushing some species to extinction. Even finding them on the beach is a problem when we are trying to get tourists to work on the ‘leave only footprints; take only photographs’ philosophy.

    • Elise says

      It IS a shame about the shells and coral. I bought a few vintage pieces at my local hula supply store in Honolulu. They had acquired many older necklaces–but I can’t buy any, now. However, my adorable South Sudanese student sent me shell jewelry from his home country. It had a little tag, and I know that someone made them and made a little money from them–so important after the war, even if…

      Anyhow, I know what it is like to miss home. And I am very grateful to be in New Mexico, now, which is similar enough to my native Arizona that I feel good. I am sorry for your homesickness, though, Dreamstres. I hope that you have a lovely time next month!

  3. What a happy post! The beach you pictured is dreamy, the blouse is ducky (I can’t say fishy for that won’t work), and Te Papa Museum looks really cool.

    I entirely empathize with your homesick moments. Living in landlocked Kentucky, I am far from the enormous fjord-like lakes, streams, waterfalls, pines and maples and mists of my childhood Ithaca. Ah, for the lap of water on a soft gravel beach, oh for the sound of oar blade dipping in the inlet, sigh for the ripple and gurgle and drip of the trees letting raindrops fall into the stream in the little gorge next to our home.

    Very best, and here is to gentle waters and all the life they hold,


  4. Home-sickness must be a very bitter-sweet feeling. I’m glad you can use it in creative ways at least!

  5. A delightful setting of the scene and a magical blouse…I hope to swim in the Hawaiian ocean one day…I braved Seatoun in the summer! Once you’re in, the water is still embracing and it does seem mermaids are not too far off around the corner…

  6. Cornelia Moore says

    guys, you’re making me cry. I belong near water. I’ m in a mountain valley. at least the breezes are the same…

    I love the cut of the blouse, Leimomi, it’s perfect, and I’d wear just that cut, myself. I’d probably make some solids, a bright floral or two, and maybe some patterned…

  7. This post made me sad. As an expat, I, too, know what it feels like to be homesick. But since I grew up in the middle of a vast continent, never seeing salt water till I was 7 (and again at age 13), I don’t miss the ocean and am not drawn to it. In fact, it scares me a little. (I don’t understand tides.)

    I instead miss fresh water. I remember the euphoria of being on a canoe trip in New Zealand on a river, and realising the water didn’t smell. I also wish fervently for the change of seasons that the Antipodes lacks. Spring, and, even better, autumn — that’s what I miss. That, and fresh snowfall, where each tiny branch of each tree is covered with a fine bit of sticky white snow.

    That YouTube song made me sad, in a way only Celtic music has ere now.

    • I’m actually more of a fresh water girl than a sea girl – though I clearly love them both. Growing up during a drought, the sound of the stream outside me bedroom window meant that all was right with the world. When it stopped running, that was a worry. And like most children of the tropics I love the sound of rain on a tin roof!

      You long for seasons, I wish there weren’t any! We really did have diametrically opposite childhoods in some way. I’d love to see a fresh snowfall though. The only ones I have seen were in NYC – not exactly clean and pretty.

      Hawaiian music is pretty amazing – and it does remind me of some Celtic music.

      Also, you used ere now, which makes you awesome 😉

  8. That fabric is positively DELIGHTFUL! It is so beautiful paired with that blouse pattern – a fabulous combination and together they just sparkle! I love the addition of the white buttons, too. Well done, and I am glad to hear you get to go home in August! Hawaii is definitely one of the most beautiful places on the planet 🙂

  9. Heather from Canada says

    I loved this post. We are planning a vacation to Hawai’i in December 2013 and I cannot wait!! I got a sewing pattern from Pacifica Patterns for a vintage muumuu which I am planning to make – need to find just the right fabric which will be a challenge here in the Canadian Prairie and will probably involve the internets. Could you recommend other songs please? I absolutely loved these two and will be getting them from iTunes today to add to my “vacation” playlist. Thanks so much, they made me cry in a good way. PS I long to visit the land of Anne Shirley too, but living in such a massive country as Canada, airfare to PEI would be the same or more than flying to Hawai’i or Mexico. Sigh. Or we could drive nonstop for four days (one way).

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