Made in Maui County Festival is tailored for isle seamstress
Second-generation artist sews up unique items for heirloom gifts
For Patricia Huntley, sewing is like “second nature” as she grew up on Maui in her family’s shop, Sew Special, at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center.
Learning under her late grandmother, her mother and an aunt, the 35-year-old turned her sewing skills she began learning as a 4-year-old into her own livelihood.
Under the name Hapa Maui Designs, reflecting her Japanese and Caucasian ancestry, Huntley crafts one-of-a kind minky blankets for babies, burp cloths, hand-painted onesies, pillows, table runners and uses National Football League and Major League Baseball licensed material to make into pillow cases and other items. Pillows she makes include nautical themes, such as colorful coral and sea horses. Huntley crafts a variety of other items and also does custom sewing projects along with alterations.
Huntley believes that people are “getting back” into wanting products that are sewn or sewing for themselves.
“When I first started doing craft fairs back in 2008, no one bought stuff from me. They wanted the designer stuff. They were in the designer trend. (But) now they want more unique, one of a kind.”
For her third appearance at the Made in Maui County Festival this Friday and Saturday, Huntley will focus on her baby items. She is one of more than 140 Maui County vendors at the county’s largest products show presented by the County of Maui Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and the Maui Chamber of Commerce.
Overall, after her appearances in 2014 and 2015, Huntley said business went up around 50 percent. She said she received a lot of exposure and got more clientele that includes retail clients as well as individual customers.
Huntley said she has participated in the festival almost every year, because she supports local businesses and wants to help residents find unique items.
“It’s hard to find stuff on Maui,” she said.
With online retailer Amazon having an ever-growing reach, Huntley wants to do everything she can to help small businesses.
For this weekend’s show, Huntley’s baby items will include the minky blanket, which features a plush side and a special fabric design on the other side.
And usually no two are alike.
If one blanket has a certain color plush minky side, she will not do the same color minky with the same color fabric.
“That’s the nice part of working in a store,” Huntley said, referring to Sew Special, owned by her parents, Barbara and Roy Huntley. The store, a separate business, is her resource for materials at her fingertips. “You have that creative artistic outlet, where you can create what you want.”
Huntley’s onesies are hand painted with pineapples, a customer favorite, and she also paints pictures of succulents for the tiny tots. For baby boys, the onesies may include photos of teepees and fish.
Huntley also sells certified safe for baby teething rings that are also BPA free. (BPA stands for bisphenol A, an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and resins.)
Huntley crafts her own teething rings with colorful beads and pink, gray, yellow and turquoise pineapple charms and other designs.
At the festival, she also will sell swaddle blankets, some of which are made from bamboo cotton, which Huntley says “feels like butter.”
With her family’s shop as a resource, Huntley said she is able to acquire bamboo cotton fabrics in a variety of designs that cannot be found on Maui.
“They are different from baby stuff you can find in stores. I like to make them for the most part, one of a kind,” Huntley said.
She later added that she likes to make baby things special and unique as “each baby is different and unique.”
Like Huntley, all festival vendors must meet certain criteria to participate. This includes having their business based in Maui County and products offered for sale have to be made in the county and meet a minimum 51 percent of their value added in Hawaii, a news release said.
Huntley credits her sewing skills to her family, including her late grandmother, Susan Ohata, who attended a design school in Chicago.
Ohata used to critique her granddaughter’s sewing.
“I think that’s why now, I’m very, very picky about my sewing,” Huntley said.
She added that the best gifts she ever had were those handmade for her, including blankets and a futon, or Japanese quilted mattress.
Huntley initially set out of be a doctor like her grandfather, Seiya Ohata. But that did not work out.
She eventually returned home to help in the shop.
Huntley is committed to sewing and the business, as it keeps her “parents’ dream alive.”
She said it would be easy for her to choose her own career path, but she felt it would be selfish of her.
But by helping out at the shop and conducting her own business, she can incorporate the two.
Huntley said one of the rewarding things about her job are the reactions she gets from her customers.
Some of it includes customers coming back years later to her saying how their child still has a blanket Huntley had sewed for them.
Huntley says that when she sews custom blankets for preschoolers she asks the parents to come into the shop with their child to see parts of its making. Huntley can also have a child’s name be placed on the blankets.
“It’s so nice to see them get excited about what they are going to be taking to school, what is going to be made especially for them.”
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.
MADE IN MAUI COUNTY FESTIVAL
• Where: Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
• Exclusive Shopping Day. 1:30-6 p.m. Friday; $35 per person, 12 and under free; tickets may be purchased at MACC Box Office, by calling 242-7469 or going to MauiArts.org. Free parking at MACC and UH-Maui College paved lot along Wahinepio Avenue.
• Big Festival Day. 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday; $5 at the gate, children 12 and under free. Free parking at UH-Maui College grass lot; free shuttle service from War Memorial Gym to MACC, beginning 8 a.m. and running throughout the day with last shuttle leaving MACC at 4:45 p.m.
• Information. Go to www.MadeInMauiCountyFestival.com; email info@MadeInMauiCountyFestival.com; call 270-7710.