Posted by: jinniver | May 18, 2008

Aloha, sewing machine!

My husband’s unfortunate addiction can make my fiber arts life a little difficult.

A simple family trip to the fabric store can become an embarrassing disaster.  In our life before children, it was easier, because I could keep a close eye on Steve.  Now that we have an active 3-year-old and a 6-month-old that rides in arms, however, I can’t give him my full attention.  He’ll be behaving himself as I peruse my favorite batiks, making sure Jeffrey doesn’t pull every bolt of fabric off the shelf.  Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I’ll see that my son has wrapped himself up like a monochromatic mummy and my husband is nowhere to be seen.

Finding him isn’t difficult.  Once I’ve rescued my son I start towards the glow–that section of the fabric store where the wearing of sunglasses is strongly advised.  As expected, Steve will be standing there, a sheepish grin on his face as he holds out several of the most hideously, obnoxiously ugly bolts of fabric ever to inhabit a quilt store’s shelves:  “Wouldn’t this make an awesome Hawaiian shirt?”

I have to take some responsibility for this addiction.  While we were stationed out in Monterey, California at the Naval Postgraduate School, Steve was an engineering student (I was too sensible for that).  A number of the engineers brought with them the tradition of “Aloha Friday” (although they shifted it to Thursday) from Naval Station Pearl Harbor, which meant wearing Hawaiian shirts on Thursdays…the brighter, the better.  Steve enthusiastically joined in, but he couldn’t find shirts on the rack that were blinding enough for his tastes.  That’s when he got a bright idea–his wife made quilts, right?  How hard could it be for her to make him Hawaiian shirts?

Not a chance, I told him.  I don’t do clothing.  Period.  End of story.  Even when he’d come to the quilt shop with me and look longingly at fabric covered with 7 inch tropical flowers or bright pink flamingos, I wouldn’t budge.

What he didn’t know was that while he was taking night classes (because apparently engineering wasn’t tough enough so he was getting a second master’s degree) was that I was sewing him several Hawaiian shirts for Christmas.  Since I’d never done anything like this before, I wasn’t sure I’d get them all done in time.  So I decided to start with the sunglass flamingos.  Bright pink cartoony flamingos wearing oversized sunglasses peered out from a dark blue background on a fabric Steve had made clear was his favorite.

I skimmed the directions–note to the file:  not a good idea when you’ve never sewn clothing before–and was pretty sure I knew what to do.  I folded the fabric in half, right sides facing, pinned on the pattern pieces, and cut everything out.  I was feeling pretty cocky as I unpinned everything and started to lay out the shirt parts.  Then I saw what I had done and let out a string of profanity that would have made my old Senior Chief proud.

What had I skipped?  The section about directional fabric.  And the result?  The shirt known as the Australian Flamingos:

Unfortunately, I’d already cut everything, so there was no fabric left.  I had no choice but to sew together what I had.  For a long time, my only consolation was that Steve loved this shirt (to this day, it’s still his favorite).  He gets a kick out of the double take that people do when they see it, before asking, “Um…did you know your flamingos are upside down?”  He always looks down at his shirt and answers, “They’re right side up to me!”

I made 2 other shirts for that Christmas, and Steve was so excited about them that all the painful learning was worth it.  I made a few more after that, but haven’t sewn any in several years.  In the meantime, Steve has taken to wearing almost nothing but Hawaiian shirts for casual wear.  He always wears one into the ship in the morning–on his last ship, the crew took an unofficial poll to determine their favorite shirt; the Australian Flamingos won–and the constant wear has taken a toll.  Collars are beginning to fray and worn spots are developing in places.  So when I asked Steve what he wanted for his birthday, I was unsurprised to hear the usual answer:  “More Hawaiian shirts!”

So, against my better judgement, I gave Steve a “gift certificate” for 2 Hawaiian shirts–this allowed him to select his own fabric.  It was actually pretty funny to see him when we walked into one of our local quilt stores (LQS), because now I know what I look like walking into an LQS or LYS to buy something for one of my own projects.  We’d barely gotten inside the door when I saw the perfect fabric:  flamingos, of course, in a neon pink, on a background of neon blue water with neon green palm trees.  He adored it.  I pointed out a few other potential fabrics, but Steve suddenly seemed unenthusiastic.  “Don’t you like it?” I asked about one.

“Well, I can only get one more,” he said.  I caught the hopeful note in his voice.

“How many would you like to get?” I asked.

“A half a dozen?”

“Six?  Your certificate is for two!”  I looked at him for a moment.  “How about we split the difference?”

So we came home with:

My eyes…they bleed.

And because I apparently didn’t feel as though I had enough unfinished projects planned, I had another surprise for Steve.  I’d planned not to tell him about it until it was all said and done, but that ended up being impossible with his standing right next to me as I had the fabric cut.  Even my non-sewing husband realized 7 yards seemed like an awful lot for one shirt…but the additional fabric is for a matching shirt for our son and matching jumper for our daughter.  The 2 bottom fabrics are too large of a scale for even a toddler shirt, so I’m only doing the matching outfits for the flamingos and smaller flowers.

I guess I’d better get started…



  1. Loved your story. I agree the flamingo shirt is right side up …… for DH. LOL

  2. Popped in from twitter… REALLY dig the shirts… I hope my wife doesn’t blame you for any shopping I may do in the near future… (actually, she knows me well enough to know who to blame 8>)

  3. I love it! My husband looks for the craziest Hawaiian shirts when we visit the thrift stores. It never occurred to me to make him some – maybe because I quilt, I don’t actually sew!. I love the upside-down flamingos, and his answer was perfect when asked about it! He’s a keeper. :^)

  4. You deserve the Best wife award! That is a great story and the smile on hubbys face is priceless. Now if you get your kids craving the same bright fabrics you may have a whole new career!

  5. […]  Jen has kindly shown a picture of the hem before the two edges get knit together, and has appropriately picked a very cute, summery yellow color for her t-shirt! Check out her post here and you may also want to check out her next post about her husband’s rather colorful taste in t-shirts. […]

  6. Aloha, we just stopped by tell you that we admire your husbands willingness to wear his upside down flamingo shirt. But don’t feel bad, sewing had made some silly mistakes with a few of our early Hawaiian shirts


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