Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hollywood Today

I love Hollywood and the old glamour that goes along with it. Lately though, I have been a little sad to see the agressive development that is happening all around me. Our little workshop is located in a parking lot kitty corner to the Pantages Theatre. This morning there was a huge fire at the nightclub on the corner of Hollywood and Vine - and two days ago there was a terrible fire at one of my favorite little restaurants, Off Vine. What is happening? Isn't it funny that with modern progress and development comes the realization that what we loved in the first place doesn't really fit the bill anymore? Well, let's see.....we still have Musso and Franks - where you can sit in a red-leather booth and watch the front door waiting for Jimmy Stewart to walk in. The Frolic Room is still with us - sandwiched a couple of doors down from the Pantages. Speaking of theatre's we still have the Henry Fonda - re-named The Music Box....that's a little funny, but at least they just decided to call it something different instead of getting rid of it. Couldn't they have done the same thing with the Palladium? That's right, the Palladium is coming down as we speak. Jackie Cohn used to dance there in the sixties. Everyone used to dance there in the eighties.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Largest Vintage Bead Dealer West of the Mississippi

About 10 years ago a man in cowboy boots and a black Stetson walked into French General and proclaimed that he was the "largest vintage bead dealer west of the Mississippi." Molly and I kind of looked at each other and thought - ok - we'll bite. A 70-ish year old renegade glass dealer - American Indian on his mother's side, who has been trading beads since the good old days, has become one of my favorite vendors over the years. Since then, I have spoken to him almost daily - sometimes twice a day - to talk about his latest bead dig or samples he is about to send to me. We always remind each other of our one great dig together and the one that got away. The dig we did began with a train ride to a Brooklyn apartment where we dug for over 5 hours - when we were finished we had found some of the most amazing vintage glass we had ever seen. Glass pearls, foiled leaves and embedded wire flowers - all elements that had been used in a line of glass jewelry during the 1940's and 50's. I felt like I was digging through my own collection - so many of the pieces I found that day were similar to what I had been using for years. A couple of months later he called and wanted to go back to Brooklyn and pack up the remainder of the collection - but I was moving to California that day and couldn't meet him. We still reminisce about this missed dig - I don't know if either of us will ever recover from what we think we left behind.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Flea Market Find

Last weekend mom, Molly, Sofia and I visited our local flea market - we dug through linen tablecloths, old black and white photos, french trim and glass jars....but the prize of the day went to Sofia...she found this wonderful pen and ink costume rendering. The dealer had cleared out a costume designer's home in the Hollywood Hills and had hundreds of old, original designs. Sofia chose this one - which is now hanging in her room. I like the look on this woman's face - as if she's saying "Oh God, here we go again....." or maybe "What was I thinking????" Either way - she's Sofia's headache now!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Notions Armoire

When we first started French General, a strapping, young boy walked into our shop on Crosby Street and told us we should sell armoires full of old notions, fabrics and trims. We laughed and shooed him out of the shop - he kept coming back and used to make us laugh till our sides split. We have become friends with this young (?) boy and have come to love him deeply and in fact, I don't think his idea of selling an armoire full of notions is so absurd....the more I think about it...the more I like it! We could the fill the shelves with old French tickings and trim and beads and buttons, a linen sheet or two and maybe even some feathers, millinery and chenille. The armoire will come complete with everything you ever wanted for your own curiosity cabinet!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Desert Oasis

If you have ever dreamed of packing up your life and escaping to the desert - I have a place for you!  Actually I have tried convincing my friends to buy this place so we each have a desert escape but there have been no takers! It's a small-ish place on the outskirts of Palm Springs - designed by John Lautner and built in 1947 in an off-beat town called Desert Hot Springs in California.

I think I have this romantic notion that we'll all board JZ's plane and fly out to the desert on the weekends. Never mind the fact that I don't fly with JZ and that I usually work on the weekends - but it sounds like something I would like to do. Something very Lucille and Desi and very California 1970's. A friend of ours even suggested that we move this motel back to Los Angeles - but I think Lautner designed the space for the desert and in the desert it should stay.

Oh well - meanwhile I will continue to go to my favorite spot in the desert - just down the road, the Desert Hot Springs Spa - famous for its' eight natural hot mineral pools. A poolside room complete with kitchenette can be yours for a song and dance.
An hour and half from Los Angeles - this is the perfect escape...with spa amenities on site. So I guess for now, I will give up the Lautner Motel - but if you do happen to buy it - let me know, so I can come out and visit while I am in the desert!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Flower Making

Today I received three big boxes -- all from New York millinery suppliers. The boxes just kept coming - funny how they all arrived on the same day. By the time I had opened up all three boxes I realized I had the makings to create flowers and I made flower making kits - complete with silk petals, stamens and mica.

So here's how you make these beautiful flowers:
Take six individual petals and layer them together, gently stitching them together in the center - lining up the center hole for the stamens. Take a bunch (4-6) of the two-headed stamens and fold them over and make a very stiff needle out of the the stem of the stamen.  Gently thread the stamens through the center of the flowers and then wrap with floral tape to keep in place. Mess around with the petals to rough them up and even fray the edges a bit.  Gently spray the flower with a simple spray glue and then dust with mica flakes for a bit of patina.  
I know this might all sound a bit daunting - so I will have these lovely flower making kits on-line at French General soon - attach a pin back and wear these florals on a jacket or place on top of a gift - either way they announce that Spring is finally here!

Thursday, April 24, 2008


French General is now only open on Fridays. Yes - we used to be open 5 days a week, but it was just too much for us to manage, so now we are open one day a week - Fridays. We are open from 11-3 or 4 or 5. My dad gave me a sign a long time ago to hang in the window at French General,  it has faded so you can barely read it, if you look closely it says: We are open unless we are closed. That about sums it up. When we can be open, we are - but most of the time our days are taken up with packing and shipping, designing the next jewelry kit - or even writing books. Sometimes we find time to run off to a great old basement we hear about to dig out all of the old beads, buttons and ribbon. But mostly, we are in the back room packing and shipping and working in the garden. So if you are planning on visiting our small shop - remember: we are open on Fridays from 11-3 or 4 or 5.  Come visit us if you happen to find yourself in the area (on a Friday!) - Merci.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Our Fine Feathered Friends

Birds. Feathers. Nests. Eggs. What is it about birds that we are all so crazy about? It's such a natural subject to decorate and craft with. I remember years ago when Molly and I would be at a flea market in France - we always grabbed anything with an aviary motif - dishware, textiles, old paper, even stuffed birds! Maybe we all wish we could fly off like the birds do - go south in the winter and have a nest full of chicks every Spring. Here's to the birds this Earth Day - may they thrive and live long!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Our Blooming Cactus

Big news at our house this weekend...our lonely little cactus - which blooms once a year - bloomed! The blossom itself - which is amazingly beautiful - was made more amazing by the fact that it bloomed on my dad's birthday (it usually comes out every year on Sofia's birthday) and it had many blooms instead of the usual one.  All year long I try to get rid of this cactus - because of it's bulbous, prickly exterior. But every time it blooms, we fall in love all over again and decide to keep it around for a bit longer.  Maybe this year we'll even plant it in a proper terra cotta pot - instead of the plastic bucket it came in.  There was a lot of hollering and yelling as we all gathered round to enjoy nature's finest. Happy Birthday Dad!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pin the Tail on the Cat

There really isn't much more to say.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Picked, Carded, Spun and Woven

Five years ago, we moved from New York to Los Angeles. We packed up a large car and drove from Memphis to New Orleans to Galveston to Odessa to Santa Fe to Prescott to Palm Springs and finally pulled into Hollywood. Along the way I collected two things: Acadian Weavings and Ganado Rugs.
The Acadianas, early French settlers in Maine, moved south to Louisiana in the 18th century and brought traditional spinning and weaving skills with them. The Cajun's (as they are known now) preferred to work with the cotton fibers as opposed to the wool due to the warm climate. Most brown cotton covers were picked, carded, spun and woven by a small group of woman - usually within the same house. We stayed at a wonderful, old plantation called Bois des Chenes where the armoires were filled with early primitive weavings from the surrounding areas. I learned all about these old weavings as well as the indigo that was planted nearby and used for the decorative stripes in some of the covers.

In Ganado, Arizona we happened upon the Hubbell Trading Post, 55 miles northwest of Gallup, New Mexico, on the Navajo Indian Reservation.
Opened in 1876 by John Hubbell, this was one of the original Indian trading posts for the Navajo's. He provided his Navajo customers with merchandise and food, while promoting Navajo arts and crafts to the remainder of the country.
Walking inside of this original trading post was like stepping back in time. I was overwhelmed by all of the antique and new weavings that were strewn about the rooms from floor to ceiling. I dug for a Ganado rug that I could afford and eventually found a beauty. I continued to look for these specialized weavings and found a few more on our drive through Arizona. The Ganado weavings are usually dominated by the color red and often have a geometric element along the border.
Although I collect French florals and tickings for French General - my heart belongs to the natural dyed weavings that were produced in America in the 18th and 19th century by the indigenous people and original settlers.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Loquat Tree

Our loquat tree at French General is laden with loquats - thousands of them! So I have decided to start cooking some chutneys and jams that I can enjoy throughout the year. If you happen to live around French General, come by and I'll send you home with a bag full of fruit...and then try this recipe:

Loquat Chutney

1 1/2 pounds loquats -- seeded
1 pound onion -- chopped
1/2 pound grated apple
1 pound sugar
2 teaspoons mustard
2 teaspoons salt
1 orange
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon molasses
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup vinegar
2 cups water
1/4 cup raisins

Wash, stone and cut up loquats into small pieces.
Prepare apples and onions.
Put all ingredients in a pot and boil gently until soft and a good color. Balance vinegar and sugar to your taste.
Pour into hot jars and seal.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mother's Daughter

I think I can pretty safely say "I am my mother's daughter" - but I don't know if the same is true about my Sofia. I love anything old and decrepit - Sofia loves anything new and shiny. I like to live in old houses with history, Sofia wants to live in a modern house filled with contemporary furniture and new tiles. I like old textiles, pottery and dishes - Sofia wants new sets of dinnerware from Ikea. On holiday, I want to spend time at the museums or in the old gardens, Sofia would rather find a trendy place to shop.  Oh well - as I continue to walk into the past, Sofia waltz's into the future....hopefully holding my hand!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hairless Animals

What else do you call these makeshift or stuffed animals that have little or no hair? Some people call them make-do's. Molly and I have always referred to them as the hairless animals - the ones whose hair has rubbed away. I've learned that the Amish stuffed animals were made out of a simple material - with no fur or hair whatsoever. These friendly critters were made out of scraps left over from used clothing - wool, cotton or felt. A button or two for the eyes and perhaps simple embroidery for the details....or not. I have a whole new appreciation for the early American stuffed animal. Sometimes the shapes are so odd that it's hard to make out what it was - a dog? a cat? a seal??

Friday, April 11, 2008

One Hundred Years Old

Sybil R. Marshall
Beatrice Sawyer
Melrose, Mass. 1908

This is my favorite portrait painting. I bought it 15 years ago in Nyack, New York from an art dealer. I paid $50.00 - which was a real stretch for me. The canvas is scratched up pretty bad and in desperate need of repair, but I love the big red bows, the red beads and the red dress. All this simple glamour and the placid expression on her face. Poor Sybil - she probably sat for hours and hours while Beatrice painted her portrait.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ribbons, Feathers and Flowers...oh my!

I took a trip downtown today to my favorite millinery shop in Los Angeles. The good old supply houses just don't get any better than this. Filled with layers and layers of dust, old boxes filled with silk flowers, velvet ribbon and odd birds constructed out of straw and feathers - this is the ultimate supplier of fancy goods.

The owner is rarely there in the early morning - but there is always the reliable Diego - who has worked there for over 10 years. Diego isn't really sure about me or why I go crazy when I see a box full of untouched stamens all perfectly hand-wrapped - but he does know that I like to make him get up on a ladder and pull down the 72 boxes of feathers so I can pick out the perfect hand-curled, hand-painted turquoise plumes. Diego's got a look on his face that seems to say - "la mujer loca" - and maybe he's right...I am crazy when it comes to old millinery supplies - maybe I was a milliner to the courtesans of the 16th century.
Meanwhile, I am piling up rolls and rolls of old grosgrain and velvet ribbon onto the counter and he's pulling off the original price stickers and saying "You know, this is really old - so I can't sell you this at 7 cents anymore." I know, I know you pay more for the old stuff - I get it!! Since Diego isn't the owner - there is no negotiating - which is the part I really enjoy. I like seeing if I can buy more and get a better deal. But with Diego, there is no deal. Instead, I get to roam on my own and dig through whatever I like for as long as I like because he's on to the next customer or phone call or cup of coffee. I keep thinking one of these days I won't be able to walk out with my arms filled with bags of vintage fruit or a box full of old straw flowers - one of these days the stock will dry up. But for now, there is plenty and I will continue to go back and find the old millinery that inspires me and keeps me thinking of the next great collection of goods.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Strawberry Emories

Made out of old cotton or velvet and stuffed with sand, these strawberries were used for needle sharpening and to keep the rust off of the shaft of the needle. I am going to try to make some out of old red velvet ribbon - and then dot with small yellow french knots - and maybe add a green chenille stem....

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Finally! We went to our first quinceanera ever - a Fiesta Rosa - a traditional coming of age celebration in the Hispanic culture. A friend's daughter turned 15 and we all gathered to celebrate - in a very traditional way. There was a thanksgiving mass - a Misa de acción de gracias, a Mexican priest, a court of girls (damas) dressed in burgundy, a very large birthday cake with bridges , lots of young boys (chamberlains) who had learned to waltz, and really good tequila! According to the formal rule,
Mexican girls cannot dance in a public event before their 15th birthday - so at the Quinceanera there is a traditional dance followed by a "surprise" dance which is usually a lively popular Latin dance. We danced till our feet hurt. ¡Gracias a la familia del Villanueva!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Upon One's Head....

For years I have collected old crowns, tiaras and wreaths. Made for the millinery industry in the twenties and thirties, these head pieces were commonly used for wedding and first communion ceremonies. Hand beaded crowns with delicate pearl and crystal drops were made in Paris during the 1920's and thirties. Wire based crowns can sometimes be found in fairly good condition - if they are a little bent out of shape the wire makes them easy to reshape.
The hand-sewn crowns are pretty enough for royalty. Sewn onto a form cut out of crinoline and then covered with silk, these beaded crowns are rare to find in perfect shape - many times the beading is coming undone or the silk has start to fray.
The wax crowns were made to resemble tiny orange blossoms sprays - small pale yellow petals and white pearly stamens. Wax crowns are perhaps the most delicate of all because eventually the petals and leaves melt and deteriorate. If you find a wax crown, treat it well by keeping it out of direct sunlight and away from moisture.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Les Fils d'Emile Deyrolle, Paris

There was an old shop in Paris on Rue du Bac, on the left bank, called Deyrolle. Opened more than 180 years ago, Deyrolle was a family owned business for many, many years that specialized in taxidermy. This wasn't your average taxidermy shop. Deyrolle was a collection of curiosities from turn of the century Paris. Filled with animals, birds, insects and seashells, this was one of the dusty old shops you could only dream about. Sadly, there was a terrible fire at Deyrolle last month - and many of the entomology collections have been lost forever. I remember the last time Molly and I visited Deyrolle, we convinced one of the cute French boys to let us into the stock room and we dug out all sorts of old tags, receipt books, sketch books and insect pins! He couldn't figure out why we wanted all of the old stuff when there were plenty of new items available. We had found our treasure and talked about our dig for weeks! If you never made it to Deyrolle - you missed a great old piece of French history - and if you were lucky enough to have visited this shop, consider yourself one of the lucky ones! They will eventually rebuild and reopen - they have issued a request for donations of entomological collections, stuffed animals, Deyrolle planks or old teaching materials. I will send back some of my gold for their collection.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Old Fruit

If you have ever longed for one of the fun, old hats from the forties - chances are it had some lovely old bit of celluloid fruit garnishing it. Bunches or clusters of old fruit are found at the bottom of the box usually - these are the delicate bits and pieces that were used to trim a springtime hat.
Old fruit was made out of all different materials - celluloid (a very thin plastic - which can become quite soft if it gets wet), felt, paper mache and silk. My favorite pieces are the old celluloid cherries - the colors are vibrant and you know they won't last forever - they are slowly disintegrating and will be gone forever...and ever.