Friday, May 30, 2008

Glass Fruit

For a while I was trying to pick up old venetian glass fruit beads at the flea market - the crusty old ones with the textured glass. Then one day, I just stopped seeing them - it seemed as if a whole lot of other venetian fruit fans were out there scooping up the glass before I saw it. So I started to look for other types of glass beads that could be used as fruit beads. English cut cherry red beads clustered together with an odd leaf turned into instant vintage cherries; old glass peach and Bakelite orange buttons looked like they were picked right off of the orchard tree; and old caned lemon druk beads were the perfect substitute for lemons. In the coming month at French General, we open up our collection of everything horticulture - fruits, berries, stamens, flowers, buds, leaves, stems, blossoms, seeds, and petals...we might even throw in a bird or two! A vast group of notions that are a little bit organic and a whole lotta Carmen Miranda. We're also adding a millinery section to offer all sorts of vintage velvet flowers and leaves, celluloid fruit and hand-made stamens. I never get tired of the botanical inspiration.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Glass Blowing in Williamsburg

My friend, Sue Etkin is an artist, glass designer and blower. With her husband, Brenden, they create beautiful, light-filled installations for hotels and private residences around the world. I went and visited their studio in Williamsburg while in New York.
Located in an old brick mill - complete with smokestacks - I took the open air elevator up to the fourth floor. Inside the studio are hand blown glass orbs of every shape and size.  Sketches of proposed projects as well as projects they have worked on over the years hang on the walls.
 Prototypes hang from the ceiling and the tables are covered with glass bubbles.  I was so excited to finally see their craft - I feel like I have been talking with them about their art for years - but had never seen the process of their work.  Sue worked for Andy Warhol for eight years - so there is a sense of classic New York art energy around her, Brenden and their loft on Greene Street. I am so lucky to have them as friends, just as Sofia was so lucky to have their daughter Celia as her best friend.  Read more about Celia's inspiration here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Old Reds

I love the color of dusty, old red - I think it's my favorite color. It's not easy to find these days as most reds are printed with a vibrant hue - and the old look is hard to reproduce. Walking through the flea markets in France, I search out the pile of old fabric that has been discarded for trash - there is usually one at every market. Sometimes, if I am lucky, I will find the scrap of color I am looking for. Many times it is part of an old curtain that has been faded, water damaged or even burned.
There is a dealer in Toulouse, an old farmer with few teeth and a wild smile, he packs his van with boxes and boxes of old linen sheets, 19th century paper bags and old farm tools. Last summer he brought a pile of textile scraps, probably dug out of an abandoned home. These little pieces of history were bought up immediately by myself, packed away and shipped off to French General in California. The farmer laughed and laughed - he couldn't believe that I actually paid him for the old scrap pile. When I finally got home and went through the pile, I found exactly what I was looking for: a small remnant of old faded red fabric - just big enough for me to make a lavender pillow. I can't wait to run into the farmer and his scrap pile again this summer.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Feather Flowers

Somewhere, a long time ago, someone came up with the idea of taking feathers and turning them into flowers - I kid you not - feathers were hand dyed, curled and then attached together to make the most delicate millinery flowers. The leaves of these flowers were also made out of curled feathers. There was actually a whole art of feather curling - to make individual feathers look lighter, fluffier, or to resemble petals and leaves.
Most of these flowers have not survived the years of being stored, moved around or attached to hats - but every once in a while I come upon a box full of old feather flowers. While in New York I found a box and was given a handful of them as a gift - the owner knew they wouldn't be around for long - as they were practically falling apart in her hand when she gave them to me.
The feathers stay intact, but the glue holding the flower together is usually flaking and disintegrating. These delicate feathers can sometimes be recycled into new pieces by adding a velvet petal or two. A little twisting here and there with floral tape and a new feather flower emerges.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Petite Apple Pies

Sofia and I did a little baking this weekend. We made up a recipe using puff pastry, mackintosh apples, butter, nutmeg, cinnamon - and a dash of lemon juice. First, we peeled, seeded and sliced 5 small apples. Meanwhile, we melted a half a stick of butter and added the small pieces of apple - and then threw in 4 tablespoons of brown sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of nutmeg. Stirring all together - we let the apples cook themselves down until they were soft but not mushy - about 12 minutes. Set aside and let cool down. After letting the puff pastry thaw out, open up both dough pieces and cut into 18 squares approximately 4"x4". Once apples have cooled, take a tablespoon or so of apples and set onto pastry square. Gently fold over side and pinch edges together - on all four sides. Try adding a slice of sharp cheddar cheese to a few for a more savory treat. Heat oven to 400 degrees and place 8 petite pies onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown.Let them cook all the way through so the pastry is light and flaky. These petite apple pies can be cooked the day ahead and warmed up when ready to eat. They are great with a cup of hot tea or a glass of cava.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Vintage Vendors

One of the first things Molly and I did when we arrived in New York was to head to our favorite flower maker and dig out dusty, old, faded faux botanical treasures. Early French velvet, hand-painted leaves, polka dot painted feathers, hand-pressed velvet cabbage roses, deep aubergine paper mache berries, green stem chenille and....boxes and boxes of old flowers, stamens and leaves that had been made in New York or imported from Paris. All of this from the same place where I once found an envelope full of cash hidden 75 years ago by the original owner. Pamela, the grandaughter of the owner, is closing up shop.
The next day I walked into one of my favorite old dealers on 37th Street and there were eight people packing up box after box of of vintage glass beads, sequins, buttons and trim. A close-out bead dealer in Texas had just purchased all of the old materials - that had been lying around for the past 80 years. I quickly ran around and filled up a few boxes - not even stopping to think about what I was going to do with it all...but like Easy said - "This is the last time you'll ever see this stuff" - and she knows I am a sucker for the color, the craft and the mortality of the bits and pieces.
If things couldn't get any worse....(relatively speaking) we visited a basement I have been trying to get into for 16 years. The owner will be moving soon and has to pack everything and move it one street south. The history, life and stories that were in that basement were overwhelming. Dense with trim, flowers and beads - Molly and I were almost speechless.
Every time I come back to New York, the business changes a little - this time more than ever.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New York City Bound

I am off to New York today. It's a funny place to visit - since I lived there for over 15 years - it feels like home, even though I don't have an actual home there anymore. I am going with Molly to help her at the New York Stationery Show. For four fun-filled days, we will be inside the Jacob Javitz Center, acting like we wouldn't want to be any place else in the world! Meanwhile, I will be counting the minutes till 5:00 when we can walk down 11th Avenue and go eat at my favorite restaurant of all time...Raouls. Located on Prince Street, in the heart of Soho, Raouls is what the great old steakhouses were like in the forties and fifties...beautiful cuts of filet mignon covered with crispy, thin frites. If we're lucky, we'll get to sit across from the painting of the lounging naked lady - an oversized painting that makes you want to drink scotch on the rocks. Before we hit Raouls, Molly and I will stop off at Ladder 5 located on 6th Avenue just north of Prince Street. Ladder 5, our local firehouse, lost 11 men on September 11th - men we looked up to, admired and even waved to when we were feeling flirty.  I have a heavy heart when I return to New York - but I am looking forward to seeing friends and a city that is always changing but fits like a glove.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Beet Roots

Growing up I hated milk, cooked carrots, tomatoes and beets. Saying that, I loved escargots, liver, smoked oysters and haggis. I have learned to drink milk (my parents bribed me with pet mice) and have been drinking it (moderately) ever since. Cooked carrots made by my father-in-law with a little butter, salt and pepper and cream turned me into a fan. Fresh tomatoes with basil and mozzarella is now one of my favorite salads. But the the biggest obstacle for me were the beets - I just didn't get it - they tasted too earthy, too dirty for me. And then I had a beet salad with pecans and Gorgonzola cheese and thought I had died and gone to heaven. Now, I am growing beet roots in my garden and cannot wait for them to break ground. I need to correct that last sentence - as of yesterday I was growing beets in my garden. Today, I went to check on them and they had all been pulled out of the ground by my gardener who thought they were weeds. Beets can't be grown overnight they can take up to 60 days to grow. I need to do two things, plant more beets and find a new gardener!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Linen Sheets

Have you ever slept under a linen sheet? If not, you are missing out on one of the greatest experiences. Sleeping under a linen sheet regulates your body temperature which means you will get better REM sleep. Our bodies go through different warm and cool phases - when we get too warm, we sweat and eventually feel a chill. This constant hot and cold pattern causes some people to wake up throughout the night. A linen sheet absorbs the sweat which allows our body to sleep through the temperature changes.
The old linen sheets from France - the early ones - are some of the finest linen ever woven - a pure fil linen sheet is cool to the touch and yet, keeps you warm in the winter. The heavier hemp or nettle sheets also absorb moisture but they take a little bit of getting used to as they are heavily textured. I have gotten in the habit of taking my sheets with me when I travel - and now, poor Sofia, also packs a sheet when she travels. Linen sheets are not inexpensive - the old saying is true - you get what you pay for. So next time you find your self having a bad case of insomnia or simply want to treat yourself to the best night's sleep - put on a linen top sheet and you'll thank me in the morning.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Mom

That's my mom - the cute one in the front. I am so lucky to see my mom on a regular basis - she comes to the shop and works, she brings me lunch and Lillet and she is always up for a good laugh! Thanks mom for being my best friend for the past 40 years - here's to the next 40!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Sailor's Song

When my mom was pregnant with me, my dad and her took a scenic trip through the Norwegian fjords. While on holiday, they heard a song, yes, a sailor's song, called Kari Waits for Me. The "me" is the sailor who is out at sea - while Kari (his gal) is waiting patiently for him back home.  Written for the 1958 cinemiracle-documentary Windjammer, this record immediately became a part of my families' record collection.  Growing up, I would listen to the song over and over all the while imagining I was the girl on the cover - the one on the right looked just like me - at least from the back of her head!  Not everyone has a song written about them, but for those of us that do - it's pretty special...even if it is a sailor's song!

Thursday, May 08, 2008


I love old, French monograms - hand-stitched on old hemp sheets or embroidered onto an old convent nightie - any letter will do. The small turkey-red cross stitched letters are some of my favorite monograms, but it's hard to pass up the beautiful white on white scrolled letters.  I also love when someone walks in the shop and their monogram is right on top of a pile of sheets and they get the biggest kick out of the fact that someone else actually stitched their monograms onto a sheet.  Some letters I see over and over - and some letters. like the letter K, are rarely seen in the French alphabet. As far as I know, this is because French is a Latin language and the letter K was rarely used in Greek words. And then there are the monogram ribbons....these were used to mark household linens and clothing before being sent out to be laundered. I bought a box full of these from my friend Elizabeth Baer years ago - and I am still digging through them to find initials I need!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Provenance, from the French word provenir, "to come from". Literally meaning - the origin of something - where something originated, was made, the history of something or someone. I love that word - provenance - it just sounds important.
I own this signed Fiore painting - I bought it from an art dealer in New York City, almost ten years ago. Joel, the dealer, bought it out of an upper east side brownstone. I know that this was painted by an artist named Joseph Fiore, who attended Black Mountain College under Josef Albers, Ilya Bolotowsky and Willem de Kooning, from 1946-1948. He then studied at the California School of Fine Art from 1948-49 and taught at Black Mountain College from 1949-1956. Besides all of this, I know very little about Joseph Fiore - other than I believe he is still alive. I wonder if he misses this painting.
About a year ago, Sofia and I came home after school and from the outside window, we saw that the painting had fallen off the dining room wall. The canvas was laying atop one of our dining room chairs and had been pierced by the two wooden finials that frame the back of the chair. Pierced! I ran in and let out a huge litany of my favorite curse words. The painting was slashed in two different places, 2-3" each slash. I thought my love affair with the painting was over - I mourned. And then one day, my brother John, who is a painter and general master crafter, repaired my painting! He lined the back of the two slashes with linen tape and then ever so gently, painted over the ripped canvas until the slashes disappeared.  I can't even remember where the canvas was pierced - it's invisible to the naked eye.  I hope Joseph would feel the same way.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Old Aprons

I collect old aprons - the really old, beat-up, left outside to rot aprons.  Usually these can be found in the scrap piles at flea markets, but every once in a while, you come across one that someone else thought was pretty special and you get charged way more than you'd pay for a brand new, pristine apron.  Take this old brown apron that Molly and I found in London.  As soon as Molly tried it on she actually channeled the original owner. All of a sudden, Molly knew the French butcher who was up at 3am everyday, down at the farm feeding his pigs and then making his way over to his old shop in the center of town.  The apron just fit.  That's what good, old aprons do - they fit right, the fibers are worn in in all the right places.  

Monday, May 05, 2008

Mexican Jumping Beans

The oldest area of Los Angeles is located downtown, "La Placita Olvera" across the street from Union Station. Olivera Street was converted to a colorful Mexican marketplace in 1930, although built in 1911 and originally called Sonora Town. Olivera Street has many treasures, including Avila Adobe, the oldest existing home in the city; La Golondria - known as the first restaurant in the city to serve authentic Mexican food and probably the best margaritas; huaraches, handmade Mexican leather sandals; brightly colored crepe paper flowers, and my favorite: Mexican jumping beans!
As kids, we used to visit Tijuana and pick up these shoes, flowers and beans - my dad was buying his own to 2 bottles of course! Nowadays, I take Sofia down to Olivera Street where she always finds a beautiful hand-embroidered Puebla dress and I find plenty of colorful souvenirs that remind me of my families' escapades to Mexico. Hitomale!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Weaving on Saturdays

I have started a weaving class at Barnsdall, our local art center in Hollywood.  Taught by a weaver that began weaving when weaving was cool - this class has made me want to run out and buy a huge floor loom and add a weaving room onto our house.  The first few classes we learned about the warp and how to "dress" the loom.  Threading the warp onto the loom is definitely tedious and time consuming - you can use any strong yarn, thread or string - I needed over 170 yards for a 12" wide x 72" long piece.  Now that almost everyone is on the loom, we are experimenting with different materials to weave the weft.  I actually decided to finish a piece that was started by someone a couple of years ago on one of the table looms.
So I have woven this simple piece with turquoise and green chenille, light blue cashmere and metallic thread.  One student in the class is cutting up old peach silk lingerie to weave into her warp - the possibilities are endless. I can't believe how quickly my piece has evolved - it's easy to fall into a relaxing rhythm and before you know it you've woven 20" or so.  Next I am going to try weaving a rug on one of the floor looms.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Paper Dresses

Another great way to save scraps of old fabric: cut out a dress shape from cardboard and paste down  cloth to fashion a dress, skirt or frilly blouse. Add ribbon, buttons or embroidery for more details. No doll necessary - just tack clothes lightly into a scrap book or frame colorful pieces together for charming artwork.  If you have saved some of your litte girls' baby clothes, and don't mind cutting one up - this is a great project for them to make a special keepsake.  Don't forget the fringe!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

l'amour de Paris

Here's one of our new charm kits - filled with old charms and souvenirs from Paris. If you have never tried one of our kits - this is a great one to start with - there's no wire wrapping, just gluing cabachons down to their respective fitting bezels and linking on with jump rings. Our jewelry kits include everything you need to make a necklace or bracelet - but they are limited since all of the materials we work with are vintage. If you ever spent a summer in Paris or dreamed of getting lost in the city of lights - l'amour de Paris kit is for you. This jewelry kit and a handful of souvenirs de Paris will be available on throughout the month of May.  Vive la France!