Saturday, January 23, 2016

Kalakoa: Dressed for Success

Vintage dress made by Kiyomi of Hawaii
In pre-contact Hawaii, garments were made out of a material called Kapa. Native Hawaiians created the material with bast fibers, or the inner bark of certain trees; using wood mallets to beat the bark into sheets of thin fabric after soaking it in water. Before contact, women would wear kapa wraps from the waist down and sometimes over the shoulders, but from the waist up they were often unclothed. Men wore kapa loincloths.    

Vintage dress made by Liberty of Hawaii, gift of Madge Ziegler
During the early 1800s, fabrics such as silk and cotton began to arrive in Hawaii through the trade ships and the whaling industry. Around the 1820s and 1830s, New England missionaries arrived, introducing garment making to the islands, both dressmaking and tailoring. Loose fitting dresses called "Mother Hubbards" were modified to fit larger frames, and as the style evolved, a dress-like undergarment called a muumuu eventually became an outer garment. Today a muumuu is considered to be a loose fitting dress that hangs from the shoulders, often made of bright, floral fabric or Polynesian prints.

Vintage muumuu made by Kiyomi of Hawaii
The wave of tourism following World War II fueled the industry producing muumuus. Iolani Sportswear, established in 1953, had its own women's line developed by Kiyomi Hirose, called Kiyomi of Hawaii. Two vintage pieces from Kiyomi of Hawaii are among the garments in "Kalakoa, Discovering the Hawaiian Scrap Quilt" now on display at Latimer Quilt & Textile Center in Tillamook, Oregon.

The inclusion of the garments is a link to the garment industry, which produced the scraps found in the quilts. "Kalakoa, Discovering the Hawaiian Scrap Quilt" will be up through February. Latimer Quilt & Textile Center is located at 2105 Wilson River Loop in Tillamook, Oregon. If you are planning to visit, please make sure to inquire ahead of time about their winter hours. For more information, call 503-842-8622 or visit their website.

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