Friday, November 28, 2008

Chateau News

Well, as winter is beginning to settle in, it's time to think about my planned getaway! I have been talking with Lizzie, our friend who owns the lovely 18th century Chateau Dumas in south west France. Together, we are ready to plan our first ever Textile Workshop. We are thinking of a seven night/six day chateau stay which would include outings to the flea market, vide greniers and brocantes as well as afternoon workshops and maybe even a field trip to the hat factory in Caussade.
All of our meals will be prepared for us - to give us more time to relax and create, walk the grounds, learn about wine and of course - hunt for old textiles! This is a planned escape for the woman who would like to live in France for a week, wake up to the smell of fresh croissants and see the fields of sunflowers that go on for miles. Mom - are you coming?
If you are interested in French General's Chateau Getaway, please leave me a comment with your e-mail or home address and I will send you the details, including room availability, travel suggestions and costs! The chateau has a limited amount of rooms, so sign ups will be on a first come basis.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Slice of Heaven on Earth

I'm in charge of the pies this Thanksgiving and if I lived anywhere else in the world, I would be home baking pies this morning. Since we are lucky enough to live blocks from one of the best pie houses around, I popped in and picked up my pies - just like that. House of Pies, on Vermont and Franklin in Los Angeles, bakes up some pretty fine pies from scratch. Old-school style - buttery crust, lots' of spice and real cream!

This time of year, they have pies piled up - I counted over 300 pies waiting to be picked up for the big day. Wherever you are today, if you are home baking, or out picking up pies - have a great Thanksgiving Day. Thank you for supporting French General and reading my thoughts on a (sometimes) daily basis!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sewing Stash Contest Update

Well, after many e-mails and a few pleas, our Sewing Stash Contest has been extended a bit. Instead of sending in your sewing beauty by the end of November....we are hoping that everyone can send in their piece by the end of January. It seems the holidays are creeping up on all of us and a sewing stash contest is getting pushed to the bottom of many lists! For those of you who have already sent your piece in, we will photograph and return before the holidays. For everyone else who was thinking of sending in a small craft sewn out of scraps - please take your time and send in by the end of January! Thanks for participating - so far the entries have been beautiful - I can't wait to see more! Feel free to e-mail me at if you have questions. Bonne Chance!

Monday, November 24, 2008

I Dream in French

Every once in a while I am asked why French General - why did we name our business French General? Do we have some strange obsession with Napoleon, Charlemagne, Henry IV, or Jean of Arc? No - although I do love the story of Jean of Arc and how she turned the tide of the Hundred Years' War by leading the French to victory at the famous Siege of Orléans. But besides that bit of fascination - I did not study French history. The name French General came to me one night while my mom and I were spending time in the south of France for her 60th birthday. We were staying at Chateau de Roussan and I woke up in the middle of the night with the name French General in my head. Just like that - it happened. Nobody really liked the name - in fact, some people thought it was a little absurd, naming a business after a dream. But, to me, it made perfect sense. We were opening our barn which was filled with treasures from our trips to France. We were trying to create an experience for people that they wouldn't be able to find unless they travelled to France. We aren't French - just generally French. A little bit of the French style with a dash of the general store. Just in case you were you know.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gems of New York

Last week, my trip to NY was so quick I barely had time to run into some of my old haunts - but I managed to squeeze in a few. If you find yourself in NY wondering what to do next, here's a short list of some of my favorite places:

Cupcake Cafe: Since the year I moved to NY back in 1988, this has been my favorite place for breakfast or just for a cupcake and a cup of tea. There is much debate over favorite types of cupcakes, but I choose these floral cupcakes any day over Magnolia! Cupcake Cafe now has two locations - I still prefer the whole in the wall on 9th Avenue between 40th and 41st Street.

Tinsel Trading: No longer a secret in New York, this vintage trim emporium is filled to the rafters with beautiful ribbons, flowers and hand-made gifts. I can spend hours and hours looking through all of Marcia's uncovered metallic fabric and threads. While visiting last week for the book signing, a designer came in and bought yards of beautiful old silver fabric and ribbon to make a wedding dress. I love the idea of a monochromatic metallic gown.

Fishs Eddy: I always love to pop into this old shop and see what they have uncovered in American dinnerware, glassware, and flatware. If you dig long enough and deep enough, you are sure to uncover some forgotten old childhood memory from your grandma's kitchen! When propping for our entertaining book, I found all sorts of old cake plates, tea sets and cranberry glass plates at this shop, that has grown over the years I have known it.

ABC Carpet and Home: Just across the street from Fishs Eddy - this five-story home store will keep you busy for hours! The first floor is always my favorite - filled with inspiration from around the world - I am continually in awe at the color coordinated and thematic displays. After you have exhausted yourself with inspiration overload - take a break at the tapas restaurant, Pipa, where you can have a snack with a glass of wine from the Basque country in Spain. ABC also has a bakery, a chocolate bar and a fine restaurant.

John Derian: No secret here - one of my favorite people and places to visit while in New York! John has filled his workshop with all of his wonderful art as well as brought in a handful of one-of-a-kind antiques and whatnots. Be sure to visit his newly opened textile shop, just a door or two down from the original.

Raouls: My favorite place to end the day with steak frites and a glass of red wine. Raouls was opened by two brothers from France years ago and continues to be one of the best French style bistros in Manhattan. Make reservations as soon as you get into town and hope that you can get a booth in the front dining room! Bon appetit!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sunday at the Shrine

Did you hear that I'm stepping out of my comfort zone? ("No, do tell" said the little mouse)

This Sunday, November 16th, I'll be teaching a class at Felt Club here in Los Angeles. All you have to do is arrive at the Shrine on Sunday, pick up one of our pretty jewelry kits and I'll show you how to put it all together!

Felt Club is an annual indie craft fair featuring some of the best and brightest of today's creative scene. A carefully juried show highlights a wide variety of handmade goods, including handbags and jewelry, baby gifts and paper products, clothing and housewares, one-of-a-kind plushies and original artwork. Felt Club also offers how-to workshops, craft supply swaps, and more.

Sunday, NOVEMBER 16, 11am-7pm
@ Shrine Auditorium Expo Center
700 W. 32nd St., LA CA 90007

If you live in Los Angeles, this is a wonderful way to start the holidays - supporting crafters and buying homemade!

(Thanks to Ryan Berkley and his lovely Animal in Suits collection - I thought they were they perfect way to announce my coming out!!)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tinsel Trading Fun

I'm off to New York - again! I feel so lucky to get back to my old stomping ground a couple of times a year. This time I am spending a whole day at one of my favorite places, Tinsel Trading.
This past summer, Marcia Ceppos, Tinsel's owner,  packed up her grandfather's business and moved it a whole block away. Doesn't sound too daunting...unless of course you we're one of the few lucky ones to have ever seen the basement!! Word on the street was they moved everything by laundry wagons - but that might just be an urban myth.
They have unpacked, decorated and primped the new store and I hear it is better than ever!
This Thursday, November 13th I'll be signing copies of Home Sewn and hosting a craft jam with Marcia in the evening. If you happen to be in mid-town, stop by, say hello and stick around for some fun! I hear Wendy Addison will be there also. Wendy is one of those few people who, when you meet her, you feel more grounded - so I like being around her as often as possible.
Book signing is from 12-2 on Thursday and our craft class is from 6:30-8:30 - call Marcia today (212 730 1030) if you would like to sign up for the class - Apron Adorned - just what everyone needs for the coming holiday season!

Ribbon Stories

Because there were so many wonderful stories and comments, I cannot limit myself to only sending out two boxes of ribbon!
So...four lucky names were drawn from the hat: Jill, Cat Allman, Joey's Mom and Suzan..and one story was so wonderful (I think it was the small bow taped to her daughters' head that did it) that Sally-Ann is our honorary winner! Thank you so much for sharing your stories and memories. To our five (!) lucky winners, please send me your favorite color palette and I will do my best to pack up each box of ribbon. Merci!

Friday, November 07, 2008

A Bit of Colored Ribbon

The first time I came upon a basement of old ribbon, I was on 38th Street in New York City looking for a yard or two of trim. As I walked into So Good, I was greeted by a rather gruff man named Danny who was almost buried underneath the spools of ribbon that were stacked as high as the ceiling. When my charm didn't work on Danny, a young man named Tony came out from the back and asked me what I needed. I tried to explain that I really liked all of their new ribbon but what I was really looking for was the old ribbon. They didn't think they had much. But after a little more prodding, Tony asked Danny if he could take me to the basement. Although this sounds a bit ominous, I knew it meant gold. A bit of haggling and a few rolled eyes between them, Danny finally said yes, "but only to look".
I spent the next six hours "looking" in the basement. Since no one ever came down to check on me, I took it upon myself to start pulling out every old spool I could uncover - stripes, picot, water marked taffeta, grosgrain and silk - everything from 1/2" woven ribbon with red polka dots to 6" black mourning ribbon. I left that day with more than a dozen large brown boxes filled with some of the treasures from So Good's basement.
Since then...all those 15 years ago....I stop in and see Danny and Tony whenever I am in New York, They greet me with a smile and an anticipated look on their face and they always ask "Are you going to the basement again?" - I don't think they ever forgot how excited and overcome I was when they left me down there on my own to rummage through their old stock. Every now and then, I pop down two flights of stairs and take a look around - but the stock has been picked over and replaced with newer items. We reminisce about the good old days and they fill me in on the latest news of the street.
These days, it's not so easy to uncover a basement full of antique ribbon, so I rely more and more on new ribbon dealers, here and in France. Yesterday, a box arrived with over 60 spools - every color of the rainbow. Napoleon said "A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon" - and I couldn't agree with him more.
For a fun weekend giveaway - we will choose two lucky winners who will each receive a box full of beautiful ribbon - their choice of color! Leave a comment below about your favorite bit of colored ribbon and Sofia will choose two lucky winners on Monday, November 10th! Bonne chance!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Toile de Jouy

I am on the hunt for some old toile. Toile (pronounced twahl) means "cloth" in French. “Toile de Jouy,” or “toiles de Jouy,” are terms that refer to fabric that was first manufactured at a factory in Jouy-en-Josas, a village located southwest of Paris, near Versailles. Founded in 1760 by Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf, (1738-1815), a textile entrepreneur, the factory site was chosen primarily because of its proximity to the clear running water of the Bièvre River. Mr. Oberkampf knew that water was a crucial element in the dyeing process. Only the highest quality goods were used in the production of the factory's printed fabrics made of cotton.
At first, the Oberkampf factory produced only floral designs block printed with wood blocks. In all, more than thirty thousand block print designs were utilized to print fabric there. Typical scenes of early toile fabric include dancers, people visiting and lounging, and dogs. Traditionally, each toile design had its own name, and that practice continues today.
This toile document sample probably dates to the mid-1800's and the red dye looks as if it hasn't faded a bit - a sure sign of a well printed toile.

Don't Forget To Vote!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Sewing Stash Contest

Years ago I would have considered my obsessive bead collecting habit out of control. Whenever I could, I would head up to Providence and fill up our Grand Wagoneer with boxes and boxes of old glass cabachons, beads and decorative goods. Since I was always able to constantly use the beads in my jewelry designs or put the beads into kits - I convinced myself that I was simply preserving the past and passing on my great finds to others. I had a few small bead boxes stored at home, so I could design jewelry whenever the mood struck me.
My fabric stash is a different story. I thought everything was going along fine and then one day this past week, I noticed my fabric stash had sort of become a part of my everyday life. Piles of old fabric have been stacked up in the living room and on the tables - for no other reason except that I like to look at them. The other day I couldn't sit down on the couch because of all of the patchwork squares I had uncovered at Quilt Market. I actually picked up a couple of the piles and put them on the floor to make space for me. The piles are still there.I thought about storing them in the armoire in the living room, but the last time I checked it was chock full of cloth. I thought French General was supposed to be my craft workshop - the place where I could actually store all of my old bits and pieces. Somewhere along the way I decided I couldn't go a whole night without looking at my scraps - and so, instead of me dropping the bags of fabric at FG, they come home with me and make little piles all over the house. I seem to be unable to pass up beautiful, antique fabric. And, I am already counting the days till the fabric show at the end of the month at Pickwick Gardens.
So here's the big idea...if you have a fabric stash - and I am sure most of you do, pull it out (or if you are like me, it's already out!) and use it. I know - it's an unusual concept - to actually use the very elements that we have been hoarding for years. This actually could be fun and could make up our first ever sewing contest.
A few rules: you must not buy your material, all of the elements must come from your stash - even the trim - and you must make something that will show off special bits off your stash. A patchwork bag, quilt, wall hanging, pillow or stuffed animal - anything that will let you look at your fabric collection on a daily basis without having to look at all of the piles!
Once you have completed your design, send it along to us at French General, along with details of the scraps you used. All designs will be photographed and then returned to you by the holidays.
Our Sewing Stash contest will run the month of November - plenty of time to dig out your scraps - and the winner will be chosen based on design and function by a group of stashers. The lucky winner will win a $100 gift certificate to French General, along with a copy of our new book, Home Sewn. All of the designs will be shown on our website along with your name and a link to your website and blog if you like.
Have fun, be creative....and...use your stash to make some cash!
Send your entry to us at:
French General 1621 Vista del Mar, Hollywood, California 90028