Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Side Show

Every month I pull out a box of old beads and work on coming up with next months notion theme. I've got all this beautiful, old cranberry, amethyst and aurora borealis glass that I am going to incorporate into a turn of the century French traveling circus story. Old man in the moon beads mixed with brass elephants and horseshoe charms. I've even got some old mother of pearl horseshoes to throw into the mix. It's a beautiful palette, but one I don't use often because purple and I don't always get along. But, these old dusty, milky shades of lavender and lilac seem to fit perfectly with the dark red berry colors.
I'll also pull into the mix some mercury glass and old metallic heart sequins, and maybe even some old pressed glass bull dog cabachons with crystal eyes. A little bit of everything - it's going to be a mixed up crazy month of notions - all under one tent. Stay tuned for our new mix of Traveling Side Show inspirations - available as soon the family returns from la concha in San Sebastian.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Shake it UP!

This morning Dawn and I were working at the shop and a roll, like a wave, came over us. I knew it was the real thing - and I hadn't been in one since I was a kid in 1971. I yelled "Earthquake!!" and ran to save the large glass apothecary jars that sit on the top shelves in the notion room. Holding on to at least four large jars, I thought, &;#%@#(&;@$! I didn't think the Quakehold would hold everything....all of the glass jars filled with beads, old flowers and stamens and...I panicked.
My second reaction was to yell out and see if Dawn was ok - but she didn't answer. She had already run outside and was yelling for me to get out of the house. What a rush! When we got outside we saw hundreds of construction guys in bright orange shirts racing down the emergency steps of the soon to be finished W Hotel at Hollywood and Vine. The foreman was yelling - "Everybody Down!!!!"  They were back to work within the hour and none of us felt any of the aftershocks.
I hope podunk doesn't mind if I borrow this picture, but I can imagine how these guys felt after a bit of a rumble in LA -- thankful they were ok and then a peaceful minute.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dance With A Stranger

When I moved to London, back in 1984, I escaped my job working for a representative of the House of Commons (wife!) - who smoked more cigarettes than I thought humanely possible - and took the tube to an old theater in Hampstead Heath. I was curious about a movie that was playing called Dance With a Stranger. Starring Miranda Richardson and Rupert Everett, the film was based on the true story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in Britain. Mike Newell's film concentrates on Ruth's short-lived relationship with motor-racing driver David Blakely, who she ultimately murders. I became obsessed. I loved this movie.  This is one of those films you can watch over and over.
According to screenonline, "Several film noir techniques are used to enhance the film's melancholic bleakness. Characters emerge from shadows, and are often photographed from unusual angles. The lighting is usually subdued, making colors appear surreal.  Much is made of Ellis's inability to see - she constantly needs to put her glasses on, but refuses, out of vanity, to wear them. Her blindness is a metaphor for her desire, which masks the reality of her situation."
If you can find it, I highly recommend it - just be prepared for the insanity.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Nifty Thrifty Dry Goods

Yesterday I had a group of Japanese women come to the shop - they were visiting Southern California to attend the International Quilt Festival, held in Long Beach. After much shopping, sign language and praise, they offered me a ticket to the festival. I had never been to the festival but was very interested since I will be attending the Quilt Market in Houston at the end of October.
The quilting world is huge - I had no idea. I spent the first 4 hours of the show walking the aisles, stopping at the vintage booths to admire the quilts and pick up a few scraps of old florals for inspiration. On my way out of the show, I noticed a booth that caught my eye, Nifty Thrifty Dry Goods. Not only was everything displayed by color, but I was amazed at the beautiful old and new stock of ribbons, trims, buttons, beads, patterns and pin cushions. I had to introduce myself to the owner, Susan Gower, I felt some sort of strange connection. I knew we both must have a love of the odd and unusual sewing notions.
According to Susan, "Nifty Thrifty has always been about the venerable in domestic useable art, the proven beauty of vintage “exquisitry” and the grace of antique notions."
I love it when what I do is validated by what someone else does - it makes me think that I am on the right track. Susan Gower has been selling vintage notions to the craft world for the past thirty years - which makes me think, she's on to something.
Visit Nifty Thrifty online or at one of the many shows they do - Susan will open up your eyes to a whole new world of craft. If you can't make it to one of her shows, be patient while she catches up with the 21st century and offers her goods online. It will be worth the wait.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Our New Book!

Well, after many months of writing, crafting, sewing and designing....our new book has finally arrived! As Casandra and I were busy cleaning up the shop today, a great big old box arrived from my editor at Chronicle Books. We put down the brooms and dusters and carefully looked through the box - filled with copies of our new book, sticker sets and stationery boxes. It's always great when a project finally comes to life. Home Sewn is a sewing book with over 30 projects and patterns for the home - all sewn out of our antique floral, hemp and linen textiles from France. In the next few weeks you will be able to order a signed copy from us at

P.S. Our book will be available everywhere in October

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My First Job

When I was 16 years old, I was lucky enough to get a job at our local marine park, Marineland of the Pacific.
Located at the tip of the beautiful Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles County, California, it was the largest oceanarium in the world. Opened in 1954, five million dollars were invested in the project to make it the most unusual cultural, educational and entertainment center on the Pacific Coast.
Every morning throughout the summer of 1981, I would ride my moped down the hill to the home of Shamu and Corky, the killer whales. I escorted "personalities" around the park (I remember Dustin Hoffman and his kids), collected tickets at the dolphin show and worked at the customer relations counter. Even back then, I thought it was a pretty cool job. Marineland closed down in the early nineties and shipped off the family of whales, dolphins and sea lions to Seaworld in San Diego. I still look out from my parents kitchen window when I am home and miss seeing where I used to work.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I'm writing out the menus for our entertaining book today. Is it wrong that a brioche loaf seems to be popping up at every meal? I just love the rich, sweet flavor and flaky texture. It can be used as a pastry or as a savory bread - either way it is best served with fresh butter. In France, the brioche, along with the croissant is sacred to breakfast and is floated down on rivers of hot chocolate or coffee. In fact, Marie Antoinette’s famous “Let them eat cake” was actually “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” Here's a picture of Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin's "Still Life with Brioche" painted in 1763, which hangs in the Louvre in Paris.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Throwing a Pot

I am taking another class at Barnsdall Art Center - Wheel Throwing 101. I missed the first class, so last Monday night was my first class. How hard can it be to catch up? It's just playing with mud - right? Let me be the first to say, throwing a pot, just a simple cylinder, is one of the hardest things I have ever done. The whole idea of centering and knowing when to pull up on the clay, then when to dip into it and begin to pull out - who knew!
The class is a good three hours, after about two, I realized that I was not going to throw a pot my first time on the wheel. I sat across from a woman who had brought her father. Slowly she taught him how to hold onto the clay with both hands, to keep the clay wet but not too wet, and most of all, to have patience with the clay. Her hands stayed clean - while mine were covered with mud. She knew when to quit and let her bowl be - while I continued to try to get mine perfect and constantly warped it out on one side. I will persevere, go back next week and start again.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Color Coral

I'm thinking about picking out one color and making it my theme color, my default color, my favorite color. I think I'm almost ready to commit.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Art de Famille

My sister told me the other day that I am raising Sofia to be an artist. I was so happy - because I thought all this craziness around her might not be so healthy. That got me thinking about how I was raised and how my parents raised a family of artists. All of my brothers and sisters have great talent, thanks to my mom and dad.
My mom is an artist and my dad exposed us to design by filling our home with art from around the world. I thought I would introduce some of the talent in my family. First up is John Meng. John studied architecture for many years and decided that a scheduled life was not for him. John is an artist in the true sense of the word. He is a master painter, crafter and all around general idea man. Here is a look at some of the paintings he has hung in my home the last few months.

I am struck by John's sense of color and balance - his paintings almost look as if they are photographs. His ability to add just enough detail without going overboard is what makes him a great artist.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Nearby the Sea

Every summer, my family and I visit my husband's family in San Sebastian - located on the Basque coast in northwest Spain. Lazy days on the beach, grilled sardines and cidre for lunch and late night tapas in the old part of town.
For many years, it took me a while to get used to this slow-paced life. I would arrive and want to go, see, do - and then it hit me - you don't go, see, do in San Sebastian. You walk along the promenade and run in to relatives you haven't seen in 12 years, you pick up fresh baguettes at noon, before the panaderia closes and you shop la Parte Vieja for espadrilles.
One summer, I was determined to find something exciting to do in San Sebastian. We walked up to the old Palacio de Aiete, an old home constructed by the Duke of Bailen in 1878. The palace became the summer home of King Alphonso XIII and his queen Maria Cristina until their own home, Palacio de Miramar was completed. From 1940-1975, Franco used the palace as his summer home.
Although closed to the public, we arrived to find a young boy outside the side entrance and asked if we could go inside. He explained to us in Spanish that there was a movie being filmed inside the palace and he had been hired to keep watch over the home from 6pm till 6am. I pleaded, begged and almost bribed him. He eventually said ok - I could go in, while Jon Z. kept him busy in conversation. I immediately ran up the grand staircase to the bedrooms - I wanted to see what the beds and linens were like. I was blown away. Nothing - nothing had been touched since Franco had departed 30 years earlier. It was as if the whole house had been boarded up and preserved. The liquor cabinet was fully stocked with old wine and cognac - I half expected to see a smoking cigar. Eventually I was called downstairs when the young boy got nervous - he probably thought I was looting the place. I don't think he would have believed me if I had told him, all I really wanted to see were the sheets!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Glass of Lillet and a Twist

Lillet (pronounced lee-lay), the aperitif of Bordeaux, is one of my favorite drinks. It was created in 1887 by brothers Paul and Raymond Lillet. Originally a very bitter white-wine-based apéritif (Kina Lillet), the quinine content was reduced in July of 1986. It now comes in both red (Lillet Rouge) and white (Lillet Blanc) varieties, and is typically served over ice, either on its own or with soda water. Drinks made with Lillet are traditionally garnished with a twist of orange. 
For the past 10 years, we have served Lillet at every French General event - and it has become something of a tradition. Red or white - people fall in love with it at first taste. According to legend, the Duchess of Windsor introduced Lillet to Parisian high society by demanding it at the hotels she stayed in. She was known to travel with a bottle of Lillet in her luggage. Molly told me that Ryan orders Lillet every time they are out for a meal - I love that - Lillet is fashionable again!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Day at the Prop House

We're getting ready to shoot our next entertaining book, so for inspiration and ideas, I spent some time at the local prop house here in Hollywood. Omega Cinema Props was built back in the 1960's and over the years they have acquired many of the smaller prop houses that used to be a staple in the film industry. Now, forty years later, Omega has the largest inventory of props anywhere in the entertainment industry. Three of their four locations are all located together on Santa Monica Boulevard - three huge warehouses that you could spend hours and hours getting lost in. I headed straight for the kitchen and dining area and was amazed to see the staggering amount of cups, plates, flatware, copper pots, teapots and cutting boards! I felt like I was rummaging through a really good antique shop - made better by the fact that everything was organized by category and time period. Omega also offers custom upholstery and window treatments. With an unlimited budget, you could create a 19th century French chateau kitchen in your own home....wouldn't that be something!

Friday, July 04, 2008

* Independence Day * New York Style *

Tonight, Molly and I are going to a roof garden to watch the fireworks set off over the East River. The Grucci brothers have been in the fireworks business since 1850. The first person in the family who started the business, is thought to be Angelo Lanzetta. Legend has it that he was an apprentice to an Italian fireworks family. He then went to America and passed the trade on to his son, whose nephew came into the business as an apprentice. This family of firework makers continues to make everyone oohh and aahh every year. Happy Fourth of July!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Past Employees

Sometimes, people come back into your life and say hello. I did it the other day to a guy I went to college with - he didn't recognize me. But he was named as one of Esquire's top ten best dressed real men. Today, a past employee of ours came in to Tinsel and said hello. I didn't recognize her. Donna was one of my very first employees and one of my very favorite. She had read about our current whereabouts on 38th Street and decided to pop over and say hello. It was such a great blast from the past - thanks Donna!  

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Bob Dylan

Today, with a little help from Molly, I remembered one of my favorite quotes....
"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do"....from the very fabulous, simple man - Bob Dylan.  
I used to keep this quote taped to the counter at French General in New York and I referred to it often.  Today, while we were digging, knee deep in the basement at Tinsel Trading, I realized how lucky I was to be doing exactly what I wanted to be doing.  When I met Marcia, from Tinsel, over 15 years ago, all I ever wanted to do was to get to the basement.  Today - as I ran up and down the stairs, covered in a layer of grime, I realized how lucky I was to be creating something exactly the way I had thought about it years ago.  It's funny when you get to a certain point in your life and you get to actually make decisions - how you want to live, work and play.  

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Off to New York

Molly and I are headed to New York - again! We're going back to collect all sorts of old notions and bits from Tinsel Trading for a new book we are working on with Chronicle Books. Small Beauties - our working title - will cover the history of Tinsel Trading and give ideas for crafting with their old metallic threads, sequins and tassels. Three days of digging in the basement - labeling each item and then shipping it back to Los Angeles to be photographed. Should be a lot of work - but work we love.  More details when we come up for air.