[Originally from an earlier blog at konafarmgirl.com]
Consistent tension when weaving lauhala is necessary to create a nice even look. It is also necessary to use tension as a means to create shape. Unlike wool felt halts that can be steamed and shaped, lauhala does not contract or stretch the way felt can. While some creases and flattening can be ironed in during “blocking,” much of the shape, especially the brim, must be woven in using tension. One of the first challenges for a weaver is getting the feel for weaving an even flat brim. More challenging is knowing when and where to add koana to create a curved brim for a specific style. Cowboy hats are challenging in lauhala because we can’t just block the brim with the curved edges as if it were wool or beaver felt. The late master weaver Uncle Ed Kaneko was known for his papale Holo Lio (Hawaiian Cowboy hat – https://vimeo.com/190428276 at 3:52). Uncle Ed was the only person I knew that did the Holo Lio. Whenever someone contacted me through lauhalahats.com asking about papale Holo Lio, I always referred them to Uncle Ed at the Donkey Mill Art Center. As Uncle Ed’s health failed, I realized there may not be anyone who rides horses or has ranching roots that ulana. Maybe no more Holo Lio weavers who actually rode horses and experienced working cattle. I decided to figure out the Holo Lio so that that tradition may continue. There are probably others who make Holo Lio, but off hand, I don’t know if they would make them to sell or for custom orders. Holo Lio aren’t a popular style because they use a unique shaped ipu (block). Uncle Ed’s brother Uncle Herb supplies us weavers with ipu of various shapes and sizes at the annual Ka Ulu Lauhala Weaving Conference. Through Uncle Herb I was able to get my ipu Holo Lio.
My first try at a Holo Lio was especially challenged by my ambition to make it with “red” koana. I thought it would be cool to have a “red” Kona Lauhala Holo Lio as I used to ride horses and help work cattle at my 4-H Leader’s ranch near Kainaliu. The koana came from natural reddish brown sections of lau that I saved up for a year while gathering and cleaning from one particular puhala. Instead of using 20 inch or longer strips like in a regular papale, I was using 4 to 6 inch strips of that one color. This means lots of splicing and being careful not to pull too hard when weaving or else you pull out the splices, IYKYK. So weaving the brim with “tension” was difficult and I was not sure how to get the upturned edge sides like cowboys and Uncle Ed did. My second try was made using Tahitian lauhala. While the color of the lau isn’t as rich in shades of dark reddish brown, its hardiness is excellent to work with. The koana is not brittle and I can pull pretty hard without it breaking. Great for projects needing “tension.” The 2nd papale had a nice big brim. I got a better handle on the tension needed to curve the ‘ekeu (brim). I even put some ‘eke pattern on it.
For my third Holo Lio, I was using “red” koana again. My first Holo Lio is beautiful but on a 22 inch ipu, even with lots of adds, it was tight for my 22-1/2 inch head. So I tried again, this time doing two add rows instead of one before the string. I imagine if you are a weaver you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you aren’t a weaver, maybe you’ll be intrigued and take up the craft. I digress… With all the adds, weaving was squirrelly as the papale no longer fit the ipu. It shifted around. In the end, this papale fit my head comfortably, and I got the tension in the brim how I wanted. I confess, while doing the ‘ekeu I did hemo (take off, undo) a couple times when I realized the tension wasn’t right. Many weavers think hemo is bad, but sometimes one just has to hemo in order to learn and get it right.