Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Hawaii Chronicles: fiber of a different sort

For all you fiber addicts out there (and I know who you are), here's a beautiful native Hawaiian craft I discovered at Honolulu's Bishop Museum: lauhala weaving. These particular hats and baskets were made by Elizabeth Maluihi Lee, a "Living Treasure of Hawaii" and a native of Kona, the Big Island (where the volcanos still erupt but more on that another day). She once traded her gorgeous hats (which she learned to make at the age of 10!) for salt, kerosene and matches at a local store. Now they sell for thousands of dollars and reside in museums.

The fiber (which is very durable and resistant to rot) used in lauhala weaving comes from hala, or pandanus, trees, which were once plentiful on the Big Island but are now falling to development. The leaves are picked after they turn brown and then cleaned and prepped, a process which constitutes about three-quarters of the weaver's job. Once the hala is pliable, it takes one to two days to make a hat.

Photo: crescent baskets

Originally lauhala weaving was purely functional. Farm workers needed hats to protect them from the sun and baskets to put the coffee beans in. Mats and fans are also woven from the hala fibers but hats are the crowning (sorry, bad pun alert!) project for a lauhala weaver. Only a select few rise to that level. (Equivalent to lace knitting perhaps?)

Elizabeth Lee saw knowledge of this Hawaiian craft beginning to disappear so she started the Ka Ulu Lauhala o Kona Weaving Conference on Kona, the center of lauhala. It now attracts weavers from all over the Hawaiian Islands and the world. I'd love to see the gorgeous artifacts that gathering must produce!

Has anyone here done weaving with a similar sort of fiber? I'd love to hear more about it!

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Blogger Sorka said...

Oooh we didn't make it to the Bishop Museum I would have loved to.. hey.. that leaves more for next time!!!
PS.. got the package with the book and yarn Thanks!!

8:03 PM  
Blogger Fran Baker said...

Oh, Nancy, that is some lovely weaving. I've forwarded our blog link to a new friend who is a weaver herself. Are you still in the islands or have you returned to reality? Whichever, hope you had a fab time.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

Fran, I'm back from Hawaii, alas! Editing the massive number of digital photos I took allows me to revisit the pleasures of paradise. Hope your friend enjoys the weaving pix!

Sorka, the Bishop Museum has some very cool artifacts and the old building itself is worth a visit with its gorgeous woodwork and chandelier.

10:41 PM  

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