Saturday, September 29, 2007

Holey Shirt!! It’s a Guayabera!

This is Mario (below) wearing a Guayabera that I designed for Knit.1 Magazine (Green Issue, Summer 2007). This shirt is a tribute to my father. My friend Doug took these photos at Maha's Cafe, here in Prospect Heights. It's made with worsted weight Louet-Sales Euroflax Geneva (ginger, mustard, champaigne, charcoal). Mario and Doug used to play soccer in the park.



Guayabera (Cuba/Mexico), Mohom (Cambodia/Thailand) and Barong (Guam/Hawaii/Philippines) are tropical men's shirts. They are worn loose and untucked, they have detailed lace and embroidery on the chest panels. Mohom are more plain and collarless, usualy dyed blue and worn with an embroidered belt. Traditionally, all these shirts have no pockets.

Why no pockets? In the case of the Barong, it was illegal under Spanish rule for working class people to carry money or weapons, so pockets were excluded from garments to ensure this. This symbol of the common man was later elevated to adapt the stiff European collar, mother of pearl buttons, lace panels, and silk embroidery. Meanwhile the Guayabera evolved into the Hawaiian shirt, the Bowling shirt, then finally the the UPS delivery guy shirt.

I heard a podcast reviewing my Guayabera. Miriam Quinn (KnitScience, Episode 8) wanted to make it for her husband. She was disappointed to hear he wouldn't wear anything with holes in it. I wrote her that if she just made the center panels solid, it would make a very cool bowling shirt. No?



The open work is simple and geometric. I like diamonds, they keep their shape after a few washings. The moss stitch button facing is a good solution for reversable panels. The bottom side vents make it easier to grab your wallet or keys from you pockets. I added folded hems to the sleeves and body, it needed weight to stay flat. The shirt was made in panels that were crocheted together rather than sewn. The yarn itself is a bit slick and as with all linen it wrinkles, so it should be washed, blocked, and pressed into shape, unless you're into that just-outta-the-hamper look. The collar is edged with a small scallop in the lighter color for more separation from the shoulders. It can be butttoned closed up to the neck, but that would look super dorky.



My father passed away in February 2006. Through circustances beyond my control, I could not see him before he passed that winter. He left me a few things though: a ring and some of his Barong. His shirts are beautiful, hand-stitched lace worked on the front over sinamay (a banana palm fiber) with detailed embroidery over the body. Sinamay is a light translucent fabric. Ecrue in color, it has soft sepia stripes (a natural imperfection) that run vertically. It always smells sweet to me, like cut dried grass. But when I close me eyes and press the shirt to my face I can also smell a humid morning with breakfast from a Lion's Club meeting, movie popcorn, Florida Water, re-heated stale donuts, and the proud smell of a new Buick station wagon with every seat covered in plastic slip covers. Len, I miss you very much.

Although his shirts don't fit me, they hold much sentimental value. I thought if I ever had kids I'd like to pass these on. Am I going to be that 70 year-old guy in the park screaming "Throw daddy his pills NOW!"? Then there's "Plan B", which is to give them to my nephews Cory and Kai when they get older.
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