Saturday, March 31, 2007


I take a Hands-On Art History class.
A week and a half ago, we did a quick study of the art/handicrafts of the Hawai'ian Islands.

Suggested homework assignment ideas:
* Make a feather lei
* Make faux tapa (aka kapa) cloth. 'Modernize' the cloth, if desired
* Design your own Aloha Shirt
* Learn and dance a simple hula
* Play a song on the ukelele
* Weave a coconut palm frond or faux frond hat, bird, bowl etc.
* Do a painting, drawing or sculpture, etc. with an 'island theme'
* Using Hawai'ian imagery in any way shape or form

I decided to make faux tapa (I'm alllllll about faux these days!) - perhaps varying the traditional earthy colors by using bright or pastel colors on cotton fabric. I intended to sew an Aloha Shirt with the faux tapa.

As many of you know, the early conceptual stages of any project is rarely daunting. After all, most bright ideas look simple enough on paper, right? In theory, designing an Aloha Shirt seemed like it could be relatively easy to accomplish.
Find some fabric, create a simple design on it, stitch it up.

Then I began the project and was quickly reminded that the actual execution of an idea can become quite involved indeed. One thing can lead to another. Obstacles that pop up during the creative process need to be overcome. 'Mistakes' need to be dealt with in some manner: usually with re-do or cover up. This or that doesn't work out as planned. Try a different approach. Re-design as the creation morphs from one stage to the next.

This is what happened with my little Design-Your-Own-Aloha-Shirt project.
It turned out to be a heck of a lot of work.
And yes - I'm posting it here (in abbreviated form, if you can believe!) so you can read alllllllllllllllll about it.

The project involved:
- Searching the web for appropriate Polynesian/Hawai'ian symbols.
- Simplifying those images and sketching them into shapes that might translate into stamp-making.
- Creating the stamps: draw, then use an X-Acto knife/ small precision scissors to cut design out of a craft foam sheet, adhere that to foam core then adhere foam core to a block of scrap wood. Several attempts to get the materials to stick together failed, so I had to keep trying with different adhesives.
- Test stamping with Walnut Ink (too messy - may or may not fix to fabric)
- Rejuvenating old, dried out Fabrico Ink pads found in my rubber stamping larder. A light spray of water, allow to soak, turn pad upside-down overnight. Re-test for fabric fastness to see if I diluted the ink too much.
- Testing all six stamped images on paper to see if they look any good, how compatible they were with one another - then modifying the designs if they didn't or weren't.
- Purchase, pre-wash and iron cotton fabric
- Purchase sewing pattern
- Test stamping on scrap fabric, heat-set with iron, then do a wash test
- Cut out pattern
- Stamp each pattern piece - keeping mindful of matching design in rows, staying clear of seam allowances (fabric is a bit see through, so double print may show in seams)
- Being VERY MINDFUL that the stamped images on the patch pocket matched up with those on the left side of the shirt where pocket will be sewn.
- Use iron to heat- set ink all pieces
- Sew the thing together
- Choose buttons to match (these may be changed out later for cuter or cooler looking ones)
- Final pressing with iron.

TA- DA! - I ended up with a pretty darned cute Aloha Shirt (it's kid-sized, by the way).
- Labored stamping (Press/ Position/ Push. Press/ Position/ Push. Press/Position/ Push...) left me with very sore hand, arm, upper chest and neck muscles.
- I had (ouch) a fine time with this craft, really I did. Keep in mind that I always but always have a love/hate relationship with my work. I think it's a good idea to be aware of one's processes, don't you agree?

This project gave me an (even greater) appreciation for the amazing design skills of the Pacific Islanders.
Like early indigenous people everywhere, their very survival depended on how cleverly they worked with the natural resources available to them.
Their handicrafts reflected and defined the uniqueness of their lifestyle.

Form + Function = Practical Use, more often with aesthetics as an afterthought, worked in wherever it was possible.

Then there are those of us who follow, and are fortunate enough to do art and craft for the pure joy of it. We can base our own handicrafts from any aspect of a world of diverse cultures as well as from any time period.
Resources for our art-making ventures are here, there and everywhere (from books, in shops, on the internet, hidden away in the crafts closet).

Form + Function = Decorative and/or Practical and/or Wearable Art, often with a decided emphasis on aesthetics.

WhooooooHooooo, it's done!
Now I can hardly wait to slip this handmade custom designed shirt of Aloha on some poor unsuspecting size 4 kid.

Next week's project: Seminole patchwork!


Conn said...

i just showed this to John and his reaction to the matching buttons was "OH MY GOD"!

well i of course love this post... being that it is hawaiian and all. you always amaze me with your in depth entries. nice job on the blocks and printing.
i really like the bamboo block.

Lauren said...

My first thought of course was "Conn, did you see this?" But I see that you did.

Mom- the shirt is adorable, and the printed fabric is so great! Make pillows! Print a border onto tea towels and give them to all of your friends! Hand cutting stamps out of craft foam is a brilliant idea.

Conn said...


baffle said...

I'm ON IT!

Just as soon as my achey ouchy hurty
muscles are done recuperating from the strenuous stamping of this project!

I'm also going to invest in new VersaCraft (formerly known as Fabrico) ink pads - since mine are still on the dryish side.

So many good idees for us all to play with!
Thanks for your comments!