Friday, December 25, 2009

Warmth in one hour

This year the family decided no gifts for Christmas, but like everyone else, at the last moment, you know we all succumbed to the temptation of tradition. In a last minute flurry, I chose something for everyone. My last minute choice was to grab from the shelf at Fine Fabrics a square of warm, soft, cuddly fabric, each piece of which with large enough fibers to fringe easily. I cut each into a square by folding diagonally, meeting the selvage with the edge I wished to cut.

I jumped onto the sewing machine and sewed a sealing top stitch about 5/8" inside each cut edge. I created a fringed edge by pulling threads to the sealing stitch. Within about 1 hour, 1 hour, I had made 4 gifts.

I added a chenille rick rack as the sealing stitch on the red and black blanket on the far left.

Each member of our family received a warm blanket like those we used to call car blankets, but they work just as well when sitting on a couch with a good book before a warm fireplace.

From right to left, the
boucle and wool fabric used for these blankets are:

These and more can be found at

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wedding Clients

One of our clients, Danyel Dean, was kind enough to allow us to share with you pictures from her recent wedding. The wedding took place at the elegant San Ysidro Ranch, in the foothills over Montecito, California.

The dress was made using a soft blue silk heavy georgette, and lined with sik charmeuse. Both were 19 mm. The bodice overlay was made using a French Lace. All fabrics are available at

The dress was inspired by a satin silk organza, bias, tier skirt wedding dress she saw in a couture store window in Paris. Danyel made her interpretation in our sewing studio, and we cheared her on and assisted with fitting and construction advice.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

50th Annual NOGI Awards Gala Dress

On November 5, 2009, I was honored to attend the 50th Annual NOGI Awards Gala in Orlando, Florida.

Dating back to the 1950's, The NOGI is the oldest and most prestigious award in diving. An acronym for "New Orleans Grand Isle Fishing Tournament", which had an underwater division, and where the original statuette was bestowed upon its winners. Originally carved of balsa wood, then cast of polywood, in 2005, the statuette was updated by Wyland, and now is cast of lucite in molds of his making.

In 1993, The Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences (AUAS) was incorporated by the recipients of the past 33 years, and with ongoing sanction and support from the Underwater Society of America, the AUAS administers the NOGI, which each year is awarded to 4 individuals who have made a global impact on the exploration, enjoyment, safety, and preservation of the underwater world, and have distinguished themselves therefor in Arts, Science, Sports and Education and Service. My husband, Master Fin Designer and Underwater Photograph, Bob Evans (NOGI, Sports and Education, 2005) is the current President of the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences, and as such hosts its black tie Gala Awards ceremony. This gives me the opportunity to stretch my sewing ability and make a new gown annually.

What makes this endeavor extra fun is that Martha Watkins Gilkes, President of the Women Divers' Hall of Fame and proprietor of Fantasea Island Divers Scuba in Antigua, sharpens her needles and makes a gown as well. Our annual creation have become a friendly contest of sorts. I have to say, Martha took the night this year! I had anticipated this as much when she called me early in the year to inquire whether the mother of pearl shells completely covering the piece of Chanel couture fabric she found might have been harvested. If so, their impact on the ocean would be adverse, and it would not be appropriate to wear, particularly at this event. It took a bit of digging, but what she and we found is that the shells are harvested from California abalone farms - not far from Fine Fabrics store location!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

High Priestess of Humanity

There is a thread running at Artisanssquare about the prospect of living over 100 years, not as an anomaly, but as a sociological norm. I, for one, believe an aging population bulge will increase the sociological force of elders within our society. I also believe that the population increase that will inevitably coincide with this extended life span will accelerate our Earth becoming more species homogeneous. A sad fact is that we are not reading about increased longevity for species other than humans.

That started me thinking about the responsibility we will weld as "Elders Who Live Longer Than Those Before" in a world that is human, which brings us to the question of what it is to be human?

I grappled with answers that have great ethical value -- that of choice, to learn from our choices, to love and care for those whom we love..... To be honest, these qualities are not unique to humanity. There was but one answer I could find that made us uniquely human and that was clothes. We must clothe ourselves to live on Earth.

The Priests and Priestesses of "The Society of Elders Who Live Longer Than Those Before" in the species homogeneous Earth are those who make clothes. Fellow sewers I anoint you today!

A love for sewing is a spiritual awakening! Sew away!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

MidSummer Night's Dream

When is MidSummer? According to Wikipedia it is June 24, or the date on the Julian calendar associated with the Summer Solstice celebrations. I always took the designation literally and counted the days between the Summer Solstice, June 21, 2009, and the Autumnal Equinox, September 21, 2009. This literal MidSummer is August 5, 2009.

On this date, I would do my best to gather together my son and some of his neighborhood friends for a night of literary adventure. We would make cookies, dress up, pick a character, and sitting around an antique card table, read from William Shakespeare's play for as long as we could keep still.

This year, I decided that in Santa Barbara MidSummer is September. That is when it is the warmest. In fact, its downright hot! So, let's put on our finery, dance in the garden like nymphs in a MidSummer play.

New dress made using Vogue Pattern 8417. A lesson in how to make something as difficult as it can be. Twisting panels, sewn on the bias using 3-layers of silk chiffon and intricately beaded French Lace supported by a silk organza underlining.

Worn over a silk 4-ply under dress.

Over 150 fashion colors of Silk Chiffon, Silk Organza and Silk 4-ply are available at

Monday, September 7, 2009

What Makes a Classic?

Throughout the month of August, Fine Fabrics hosts a collection of lace and silk on loan from the Paris Showroom of Solstiss. 100's of Santa Barbara Fashionistas oh and ah and sigh as they examined each piece. Diverse in style and creative in every aspect, it surprised me when a client pulled out this piece and draped it over a simple navy sheath she brought in with the mission of finding a very special piece of fabric with which to make a coordinating jacket therefor.

It is an absolutely perfect piece! Subtle, lightweight with fluid drape, with colors and design that are without boundary.

A jacket with only shoulder seams and scallops wrapping around the hem, could be made with no more than 1/2 yard more than your bust measurement. Sleeves can be cut as long as you wish with their hem touting the eyelashes of the opposite selvage. The only seams to be sewn are the shoulder and armhole. Finish the neckline and front as you choose, maybe just rolled with a selvage of chiffon sewn within for support. Leave open or close with a cluster of matching beads buttons and loops made using navy silk thread.

A simple jacket made using this lace could be worn to a casual luncheon, as easily as it could be worn to a black tie party. That is what makes for a classic!

It is being hand beaded in France for her now, and expected to arrive in Santa Barbara in October. In the meantime, has in stock its sister ground lace in black.

More ideas to come.....

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rows Upon Rows of Ribbons

First shipment of custom fabric procured for clients attending Fine Fabrics 3rd Annual World's Finest Lace Show. This one is a soft cornflower silk, embellished with rows-upon-rows-upon rows of Silk Faille Ribbon sewn onto a soft piece of silk. Dominant color is deep royal. I think this one a must for holiday skirt.

Only limited quantities available.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wrap Me in Lace and Silk

We're wrapping up Fine Fabrics 3rd Annual World's Finest Lace Show, and I must say this year's show was a huge success. Clients, new and old, came from far and wide, and ooh'd and ahh'd, and let out a sigh as they pondered the creations they might make and wear, and marveled at the intricate hand work, creativity and details exhibited in each piece. Here is a list of the favorites, which we're adding to the collections of and are available for immediate delivery beginning mid-September:

A client selection from the Paris Haute Couture Collection from Solstiss Lace. Delicate chantilly ombre lace, light beige at one selvage, traveling through celadon, teal to black on the other selvage. Clients of Fine Fabrics are having made a peasant style blouse, the body of which is black and the hem, teal moving up to the face and nape of the neck in the back. The celadon meets the teal at the raglan seam, moving down to the light beige selvage at the sleeve hem. We love working with clients who have the style sophistication to discover the way to work with these exquisite pieces that can be worn as easily with jeans, as it can with a black velvet skirt.

More ideas to come.....

Friday, August 7, 2009

Solstiss Show Opening

The Santa Barbara Fiber Arts Guild enjoyed a sneak peak of the Paris Haute Couture collection from Solstiss, after enjoying an educational presentation by Jane Burge from SolstissBucol.

100's of guests arrived, most of whom live in Santa Barbara, but others visited from Ohio, Maryland, and Kande Hall and Len Grabiner traveled from the South Bay of Los Angeles to join Fine Fabrics for the opening of its 3rd Annual World's Finest Lace show.

Those are purses made by and using Solstiss lace in the background.

Many brought, or wore their own lace and beaded creations.

Santa Barbara's and Fine Fabrics' resident couture expert, Tim Carty gave draping presentations.

to the pleasing harp music of Signe Wilson.

Yep. That's a 2-pin drape of one of Fine Fabrics most beautiful pieces of embellished Solstiss lace. It dances in the light and coordinates with greens, violets, blues, copper browns as well as it does black.

My morning Masters swim buddies, Susan Dickinson and Gloria Ochoa graced us with the hostess skills and loaned us their French Florists' vase to hold the 50 very tall white Amaryllis cut from my home garden.

Santa Barbara Fashionista favorites will be posted to, some to prive' (contact susanne @ for access) throughout the month of August. Both will be updated daily. Fine Fabrics 3rd Annual World's Finest Lace Show is on exhibit through August 31, 2009.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rapelling from a Helicopter

It might be hard for someone who doesn't sew, or who never stretched the limits of their sewing ability, or who never cut into $687 per yard French beaded lace to understand that this isn't women sitting stiff backed in a circle with embroidery hoops in hand waiting for the men to come in from the hunt stuff. There is an adrenaline rush. Your heart pounds as that sewing machine needle pumps up and down through the layers of lace and silk, tracing the boundary of beads cut from the seam line. I imagine its not unlike the rush my son might get when he is rapelling from a helicopter on a mission as a member of the Sierra Madre Fire and Rescue Team, or the rush my husband might get when swooping down an undersea canyon wall.

Here is the progress I made today. May not look like much to someone who doesn't sew, but you just wait until next week, when I will wear this dress, completed at the opening reception for Fine Fabrics 3rd Annual World's Finest Lace Show.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bringing Out the Color

One of the benefits of owning Fine Fabrics is that when it comes time to make something for myself, I have, well you can see at what constitutes my fabric stash.....

We have a piece of Solstiss lace that has been teasing me. Many times I have pulled it from the shelf in an attempt to find the perfect color 4-ply silk crepe to match and use both to make a gown. Every time, the colors that worked best with the lace made me look, well, old.

To make myself something new to wear for the August 1 opening of Fine Fabrics 3rd Annual World's Finest Lace Event, I once again pulled down this piece of Solstiss Beaded Lace. This time, I pulled every piece of blue and green silk chiffon we had in the store. Bringing out the intricate detail and color of these very best of embellished laces is the enjoyment of working with them. I found that if I build layers of aqua, seafoam and turquoise chiffon, over a base of deep forest green 4-ply silk, the multiple colors - forest, moss, silver and teal - in this beaded lace POP!

The weight of the lace and 4-ply crepe are balanced by the flounce of the silk chiffon layers. I have the basis for a dress that I can wear for the opening of our August Lace Show.

I'll be cutting the fabric today and tracking my progress here during the next 2 weeks. You can see the finished product when you join us for the opening of our 3rd Annual World's Finest Lace Show. Contact Solstiss @ for an invitation to the opening.

The Paris Haute Couture Collection will visit Fine Fabrics of Santa Barbara through August 31, 2009. We are open Monday through Saturday, 11:00 am - 5:00 pm. Don't miss this exclusive opportunity to shop the World's Finest Lace.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Silk Appliqued Coat

All of Santa Barbara is getting excited in anticipation of what we will see at our 3rd Annual Lace Show. Solstiss is sending to us selections from the Paris Haute Couture Showroom that will be seen no where else. We, at Fine Fabrics, are honored to be the exclusive host of the collections' visit to the United States.

Today, two of our very special clients brought in a coat made using fabric custom made for, and procured from Fine Fabrics at last year's event. A black silk georgette, appliqued with a deep aubergine silk faille coat, designed and made by Letizia Alta Moda of Santa Barbara for her client Ceil Pulitzer. With their permission, I am sharing it with you here. If you are interested in seeing more unique pieces like this, please join us at Fine Fabrics 3rd Annual World's Finest Lace Exhibit.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Celebrity Fashion Fabrics

At Fine Fabrics we're busy preparing for our 3rd Annual World's Finest Lace Event. Someone asked whether there are any celebrities wearing garments made using Solstiss Lace. So I went to an authority on such matters - In Style - and reviewed their celebrity fashion gallery. What struck me was how many of the most striking garments were elegantly simple in design execution, but excelled in presence because they were made of exquisite fabrics. I chose a few examples of pieces that were made by top designers using Solstiss lace. These pieces exemplify the quality of fabrics made by Solstiss.

I encourage to look around "In Style's" "Look of the Day" gallery. All are fashion inspirations....... and we look forward to seeing you in Santa Barbara in August where you'll see 100's of fabrics and laces at Fine Fabrics, some even more exquisite than used to make the garments shown in the following list.

5th confirmed sighting is Isla Fisher in a green with black chantilly Solstiss lace overlay dress from Stella McCartney Winter 2009 collection at the Bruno LA premiere, June 25, 2009. The link is provided by Stella McCartney's Twitter Team.

Isla Fisher in a green and black lace mini dress from the Ste... on Twitpic

4th confirmed sighting is Kerry Washington in a Louis Vuitton bubble dress with Solstiss Lace overlay at The 2009 Costume Institute Gala, May 5, 2009 in New York City. You'll find a picture at more to come

Third confirmed sighting is Anne Hathaway at the Cartier 100th Anniversary Celebration in New York City in a Jill Stuart minidress made using Solstiss lace. You'll find a picture of it in the May 1, 2009 installment of "Look of the Day" at to come

Second confirmed sighting is Liv Tyler at the
Time 100 celebration in New York City in a Stella McCartney dress made using Solstiss lace. You'll find a picture of this "In Style" Editor's Pick dress in the May 6, 2009 installment of "Look of the Day" at

Our first confirmed sighting is of Gwyneth Paltrow in a stunning dress by Balmain from In Style's "Look of the Day" December 23, 2008..... more to come .......more to come

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Grant House for City Council

Santa Barbara City Mayor Marty Blum, Ms. Fine Fabrics (Susanne) and
Santa Barbara City Council Member Grant House

I met Grant House in 1985 when he recommended I buy a Bernina 1040 Sewing Machine. With its perfectly smooth stitch and stable motor hum, it is still my favorite machine. Today, Grant House announced his campaign to run for a second term as our representative to Santa Barbara City Council. My husband and I had the pleasure of joining he and his wife Peggy, Mayor Marty Blum and a cadre of Santa Barbara political officials to kick off his campaign for a second term as a Member of City Council of Santa Barbara. Need I say that I endorse his campaign? A small business man, a compassionate and supportive man, who knows as much about sewing machines as any and can sew too! How can anyone resist him?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Festive Attire Solutions

I decided to wear what I call my Indian fertility goddess because of the print, waterfall because of the effect of the metallic threads when they dance in the light, dress to the party suggesting "festive" attire on the invitation. That is a tough one. Every fashion blog I read interpreted "festive" as something less than cocktail. I had originally made this dress, worn with sparkling shoes and jewelery to wear to a black tie optional dinner. The resurgence of the maxi dress made this a perfect interpretation of "festive" for this season. There were a few younger than myself in classic halter maxi dresses at the event. The special guest singer at the event, Katie Gray wore one of these.

I chose to make my maxi dress with shear dolman sleeve and not-too-deep V neck at front and back. This is a much better interpretation for someone of my age and with my figure.

Our hostess was the fashion inspirational hit of the event. That is no surprise since she is a statuesque 6'1". Add 4" heels and WOW!

She wore a natural silk sheath with a deep cowl surrounding a plunging back. A terra cotta to rust wrap was casually draped over one shoulder. What was truly unique about the dress was the leather harness that held it in place across and down her back.

The challenge in designing, making or wearing a dress with a V-neck at front and back, like the dress I am wearing, or a bare back like that worn by our hostess is keeping it from slipping off the shoulders, opening at the side, or dropping down too low at center back. You hear stories about how sloppily designed gowns are taped into place on models bodies.

The harness treatment was novel and modern. A no more than 1/2" wide leather belt was buckled across our hostess' back. If I were to look at the dress from the inside, I wouldn't be surprised if I found a fitted under-dress to which the cowl is attached scooping down around the back. If you were full on top, the under-dress might include a bra inset that the belt might secure. A second belt T'd down the center back, no doubt to grab and hold the skirt in place at her lower back. A simple, but elegant, and truly great design that could be worn anywhere at anytime!

A number of years ago, I made a Kasper designed for Vogue Patterns deep cowl down the back dress for a New Year's Eve party. It was secured by a simple tie of the same fabric across the upper back, and cinched in with a ruched waistband around the hips. A large chiffon or organza bow tie might offer an updated version of this method. For a more demure approach, the back might be filled with lace, embroidered organza or chiffon.

A trick I employed with the double-"V" neckline of my Indian fertility goddess dress was to cut the neckline on the selvage. This kept it from stretching. It is silk chiffon and I wanted to leave the upper piece shear. I was able to finish this edge with a simple double-rolled hem. I lengthened the stitch to 3-1/2 on my machine settings, so I could pull it in a smidgen before securing to the dress front at front and back.

If the fabric has more bulk or it is to be lined or faced, then easing it onto a piece of very light weight seam binding to keep it from stretching and to pull it in against is a good idea. Dressmakers' rayon seam binding is a good choice. I also use the selvage from a piece of organza or chiffon. The neckline edge should be eased not enough to show gathers, but just enough to pull in instead of out.

My nature photographer husband did not want to appear like papparazzi, so we did not take a camera any further onto the Montecito estate grounds than where our cars were parked. I could have done without pictures of people and what they wore, but I wish I had a photograph of the table. It was set in a "u" shape on an outdoor patio. Each table setting had a crystal white wine, red wine, water and pleated blue champagne glass. Each table setting had 3-5 candles. The effect was worthy of Camelot. Indeed, it felt as if we were there.

The party was coordinated by Events by Phillipe. Need I say that the French meal was superb. Magician Rich Ferguson roved the party keeping all perky and at ease. Best of all were our host and hostess, with love for family and friends, and a passion for life that outshines even the most elegant of settings.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Angels Do Exist

In my quest to find the perfect source for everything related to sewing, I stumbled upon Marx's Tailoring Supply. If my memory serves me correctly Marx's Tailoring Supply was located at One Figueroa, or was it One Wilshire, in downtown Los Angeles. It doesn't really matter, but I remember the building name and address inlaid on the door step marking a grander time for the neighborhood. You won't find the showroom there now. Mrs. Marx was using a walker over 25 years ago, when I stumbled upon her showroom.

My father drove me there. Together, we listened to Mrs. Marx' life story as she pulled out felt, under collars, hymo, basting thread, silk thread on wooden spools, dressmaker quality rayon seam binding, and all these wonderful tailoring supplies that I had yet to find anywhere else.

One of my most precious procurements that day was a sterling silver thimble. Mrs. Marx pulled from her case the one that fit perfectly. The thimble was lost in the mid 1980's. I can remember where we lived and the car I was driving at the time. I remember tearing them apart in my quest to find this perfect thimble.

I was thinking about that thimble recently, and when I opened my sewing drawer, there it was. Now, I know I lost this thimble sometime during the mid 1980's. I cannot explain how it has now re-appeared some 20 years later. Its not as polished as I remember, but this magic thimble fits and works like the original. Guess it means I'm gearing up for some serious hand sewing!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Santa Barbara Jesusita Fire Day 5

The fire fighters received the natural reprieve they required to gain control over the Jesusita Fire. The winds have abated and the moist air of a marine layer moved in today. So have the politicians.

In the beginning of the week, press conferences were conducted by our local Fire Chief and Mayor. Now, an ensemble of beaurocrats all the way up to our Federal Congressperson stand en masse for this International photo opportunity huffing and puffing as if they were on the Jesusita Fire's front line about the funds, technological and personnel resources committed, and their final authorization to bring in the big guns, one of the two DC10's, designed to drop as much as 12,000 gallons of fire retardant at a time. It arrived yesterday. "The conditions have been met to use it effectively." Translated, "We moved as fast as we could, but the system is clogged by budgetary constraints and now, it is the politically correct time since natural conditions have changed so whatever we now do is nearly guaranteed to coincide with success."

There are going to be those now who huff and puff as if they are on the line fighting this fire that not enough was done, soon enough. In my humble opinion, and those who know me will vouch for the fact that I have no problem voicing it as of late, fighting this fire is a classic example of "man vs. nature." Something we have been doing since modern civilization began.

The Chumash Indians of this area moved to the beach when wild fires staked their claim of the hills. Then, the Chumash did not overpopulate, overdevelop or attempt to take control over their environment as we Modern civilites do.
It does not matter how much or how soon resources are committed, a wildfire cannot be stopped until nature cooperates. All that can be done is to contain it within its natural environment. That our firefighters did miraculously well.

You might say, at current count 75 homes were lost....... Yes. Peoples' lives are gravely affected by this loss. I feel very deeply for them and do not intend to belittle that loss. The lost structures were within relatively sparsely populated areas, and far more homes in these mountain foothill and canyon communities were saved by pre-planning, fire fighters' heroic efforts and luck, than were lost.

If you understand the population distribution and geography of Santa Barbara you will understand why I am expressing relief about the loss of 75 structures. Santa Barbara is roughly 3-4 miles wide and 12 miles long. It is bordered on the North and South by mountains and Ocean. Population density greatly increases as you move down from the canyon areas, into the foothills and down to the beach. Every panned shot of Santa Barbara illustrates, as does the satellite map prepared by Google for this event.

The Jesusita Fire engulfed the entire face of the mountains above Santa Barbara. As dramatic as the footage of burning hills may be, it is nothing compared to what might have been. At anytime, the wind could have shifted from onshore to offshore to force the flames down any one or more of the many canyons that were all at one time burning. That would have changed this technological man vs. nature fight, where aerial assaults of water and fire retardant drops can be conducted with limited damage. (The fire retardant may be more damaging than we know, but I'll leave that question to be answered when its not our savior.) Into hand to hand, house to house combat through densely populated exploding homes and businesses.

In a wildfire fight confined to its natural environment fire fighters bulldoze and cut fire breaks through chaparral that will reseed. Chaparral actually enjoys the pruning and fertilization the slash and burn provides. In a City, the fire fighters would have been mowing down homes on City streets. Talk about the political fall out of plowing down the wrong contributors' home!

The effect on air quality of burning chaparral and poison oak, although unhealthy, is nothing compared to the environmental fallout and health effects of the ash from a City full of burnt carpet, cars and god knows what went into the construction and is stored within the structures of a more than 200 year old City.

If fire fighters had not been successful in keeping the Jesusita Fire at bay, our one and only artery in and out of the City, Highway 101, would quickly become clogged and as recently happened in Australia when a fire ran through too quickly for evacuees to outrun, deadly. The rest of us would run for the beach. Some would drown as the crowds pushed them from the sand into the water.

That is what our firefighters prevented from happening by keeping the Jesusita Fire within the confines of its natural habitat. It was with confidence that they would do just that that we peacefully vacated our homes, and did our best to stay out of their way.

Yes. More than 30,000 of us are temporarily inconvenienced by the evacuation. In doing so, we had to make decisions about what was most important. There is something grounding and cathartic about doing just that. My husband, our dog and my life, everything else, I could let everything go and start from scratch. I might even find it a relief, a chance to rebuild and redefine myself. I love change.

My husband is much different than me. He is very attached to his pattern and a life of collecting photographs, artifacts, books and artwork. He would be greatly wounded by loss of any of these, let alone all. Among his "stuff" are fin designs and prototypes. He also has 1,000's of 35 mm slides and super 8 movie footage, along with log books and survey data documenting years of expeditions photo-documenting the life as it developed beneath the oil platforms of the Santa Barbara Channel, and the California Channel Islands.

His Channel Islands Collection includes images taken from within the seal rookeries, where he was given access by the National Parks Service before passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. These things are his creations and life. They are unique. They are irreplaceable. Their loss would have taken from my husband a part of his life that he cherishes. It would have also represented a great loss to humanity.

Just 2 weeks ago, we had written the Director of New York Museum of Modern Art to ask if they were interested in housing his photographic collection. We decided to start there since my husband's design, the Tan Delta Force Fin is already part of the permanent collections of their Department of Architecture and Design. Instead of waiting for a response, I think I will take this time, while local business in the store is slowed down due to the fire to expand the field of institutions to which we make this offer.

That is my resolution from the Jesusita Fire. I am going to find a safe home for my husband's Offshore Oil Platform and Channel Islands Collection of photographs. Maybe then next time we are asked to evacuate, and the fires will return, I will be able to bother to think about what is most important to me. Maybe that is not a such a good thing.

Its time now to get back to work. The mandatory evacuation order for our neighborhood has been lifted. We are free to return to our home, and I have a bride whose wedding dress I need to get made. Our fabric choices therefor are the subject of our next and much more germane to MsFineFabrics blog post.

I am thankful to my special friends, Ichak and Nurit Adizes, who made this adventure all too pleasant by offering us accommodations that rival the best spas in the World. But, even if I had to lay my head down on the floor of Fine Fabrics this entire week, as we did the first night of our evacuation, or in the back of our Volvo station wagon as many others did, I am thankful I am among the fortunate few that had the opportunity to be a refugee in the paradise called Santa Barbara.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Santa Barbara Jesusita Fire Day 4

The only thing more important to Santa Barbara politics than real estate is water. Property development is limited by water supply. The two issues work together to maintain a quaint, but elegant ambiance and a limited housing supply. High demand is fueled by almost perfect weather - 72 degrees and dry mean temperature, with Pacific Ocean and Channel Island views from almost every vantage point. Good old Keynsian economics work to keep Santa Barbara's pricing so high that only luck, legacy or privilege allows one to stay within the community.

The "almost" in our otherwise perfect weather includes the hot, dry winds, that periodically whip through the canyons. They raise temperatures and fuel fires, necessary to clear the chapparel that covers the mountains and wilderness areas that surround the City. In Los Angeles these winds are called "Santa Anas", the reason for which I could never figure out, but Santa Barbara is ever fearful of becoming a bedroom community of its Southern megopolis, so we call them "Sundowners".

Sundowners bring a hot, high pressure weather condition during the day. Grab your Summer clothes on the way out the door when that police bull horn announces that its time for your street to vacate. The winds funnel through the canyons and sweep through the City during the late afternoon and early evening. The winds fan fires, and the fires fuel the winds, and each intensify the other. And, that is what is working against the fire fighters in containing the Santa Barbara Jesusita Fire.

Its my theory that when enough ash meets with the moisture in the atmosphere over the Ocean, Mother nature will send in the rain drop troops that will finally quelch the fire. Not sure if a meteorologist would agree.

In the meantime, the fire fighters continue doing a helluva job at keeping the wall of flame from dropping down out of the upper canyon areas where winds are gusting, and population is sparse. I read a report in the Independent, our local weekly newspaper that a finger and spot of flame did make its way down into the San Roque neighborhood where we live, but that fire fighters heroically fought it out and back. Kudos again!

Due to limited water supply, the City has closed Los Banos, the pool at the harbor and shower which we were depending upon using during our stay at the offices of Force Fin and Fine Fabrics. So we've moved to a room in the guest house of a friend and client's Montecito estate. Their son is off at school, and another Refugee from the Eastern flank of the San Jesusita Fire is staying in his room. While we were there Painted Cave was added to the mandatory evacuation list, so our hostess called and invited this new group refugee friends who live there to join.
I'm sure we'll see them there tonight.

The community is rallying together to find homes for the other half that has been displaced.
Dos Pueblos High School where the American Red Cross had set up a shelter is full, and a secondary location has been set up at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I'm hearing that the hotels are full, but if that is your choice, check your insurance policy. Many provide for payment of your costs associated with displacement due to mandatory evacuation.

Our commercial property that houses Fine Fabrics and Force Fin are on the beach side of the 101 Freeway, and not at this time threatened by evacuation warning. Other than our real dog, Bonita, following us around, and the few of our most precious belongings we were able to fit in the car cluttering Force Fin's warehouse and Fine Fabric's sewing studio, business is as usual.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Santa Barbara Jesusita Fire Day 3

Winds are not cooperating with fire fighters, and now the entire hillside above the City of Santa Barbara is covered in smoke, ash and fire. A friend with a vantage point view across the City called us at work yesterday to say that things were heating up in San Roque Canyon, which is above our home. He wasn't kidding. The hillside less than 1/4 mile behind my home was ablaze, with winds blowing hard in an easterly direction.

The high winds that are damning those high on San Roque and Mission Canyons are so far our personal savior, but if they should shift to the South, then our home could be in trouble. Our neighbors were already packed up. They had received their reverse 911 calls, advising that our neighborhood had been placed under "mandatory evacuation". That is what it says. Its time to go. So, with winds blowing, and the hillside behind our house literally exploding ..... boom.... boom.... boom... as electrical transformers and contents of homes are consumed..... We loaded the car so full of photographs, paintings, books and sculptures that it dragged as we pulled out of the driveway.

At the last minute, we threw into our swim bags some clothes, and here my nearly completed SWAP was perfect and some toiletries. We made our way to our Santa Barbara Fabric Store to spend the night.
We are optimistic that our home will remain upwind; that it is stable in its condition on the flat lands of the San Roque neighborhood and it will survive.

I feel very deeply for my fellow Jesusista Fire refugees who are not and will not be as fortunate, but my husband and I are determined to stay productive and enjoy our temporary Santa Barbara refugee status. I plan to devote the rest of my Jesusita Fire blog entries as a blueprint for how to best enjoy our temporary displacement.

First is determining where to stay.

1. A number of hotels offer discount rates for fire evacuees. If you are lucky enough to be among the first wave of reservations, the Bacara has rooms for as little as $150 - $200 per night for e
2. Family and friends - slumber parties are the mood of the day.
3. American Red Cross has food and cots at Dos Pueblos High School.
4. Alternative properties. Santa Barbara is a real estate town, so many evacuees own more than one property. If not rented, then this is a good choice for those who need to feel personal security when displaced. Office couches serve under this category.
5. Homeless shelter - I hear some of the rooms have an Ocean view.
6. Find a bush or a spot on the beach not yet taken by the homeless.

We opted for 4 - On the floor of the studio loft above Fine Fabrics.

Second is determining where to stow the things in your car.

Third is determining where to bathe.

We swim with the Santa Barbara Swim Club Masters at Los Banos, in the Harbor every morning. Since they remodeled the locker rooms, the showers are actually nicer than those in our home. Swim bags were an indispensable save. Punch card admission to the pool is available for a nominal fee to Santa Barbara residents.

Fourth is determining where to eat.

We celebrated our first night out by sharing a King Crab at the Santa Barbara Shell Company at the end of Stearns Wharf. Then picked up a bottle of cognac at the still open after dinner Crown Liquors on Milpas and toasted to a nip before bed.

For breakfast after a short easy swim this morning, the air is getting a little thick with ash for physical exertion, we treated ourselves to a tourist size meal at Moby Dicks, also on Stearns Wharf.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Santa Barbara Jesusita Fire Day 2

Went to sleep last night to the chop-chop-chop of helicopters flying. A few pilots are issued night vision goggles to continue fighting fires throughout the night. Woke up at about 3:00 am to clear skies and silence. Thought that the fire was out, but this morning at sunrise you could see flames once again shooting up above the ridge at the top of Jesusita Trail.

So far the fire is not contained, but it has been kept within the wilderness border area of the Los Padres National Forest above Santa Barbara. No reports of structures lost. The City is quiet. Many schools are closed, including the one down the street from our home.

The Jesusita Fire is one for which fire fighters have trained well. Their training appears to have paid off. Kudos to their hard work.

To celebrate the fire fighters, I found 12 pages of images showing of firefighters in uniform.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Santa Barbara Jesusita Fire

Closed Fine Fabrics Santa Barbara Store early today. The Santa Barbara Jesusita Fire started in the canyon above our San Roque home. We're a few streets south of the evacuation line. We're sitting at the kitchen table. From here we have a view of the mountains, where smoke is billowing, helicopters are flying and dropping their buckets full of water and fire retardant. We're taking the time to get some work done that requires quiet concentration.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Suggested Attire for Parties

Event planners seem to be getting more and more creative about attire suggestions on invitations. And, I have to admit that a creative suggestion might tip the tables on my decision to attend the event. The invitations before me today suggest: "chic", "festive" and "dressy casual". What each of these mean in terms of what one wears is wide open to interpretation, and needs to be decided in conjunction with the time, place and purpose of the event.

The "dressy casual" event is a fundraiser for an orphanage and sister city to Santa Barbara invitation event for Kotor, Montenegro. It is for the early evening at a beach front estate home in Montecito, California. The question is which to emphasize, the "dressy" or the "casual"? So I'm taking a vote. What would you wear to such an event?

Fine Fabrics dressmaker Cindy whipped up a black and white dress from out-of-print Vogue Pattern 1010 using Marimeko inspired black & white cotton with lycra, brightened up with big round red buttons for the "dressy casual" event.

The "festive" event is a cocktail and dinner birthday party, at a mountainside estate home in Montecito, California. For this one, I keep thinking bright and ruffly, something that is flamenco inspired. I think this is because we are in Santa Barbara, and the big city event is our Old Spanish Days Fiesta, performance for which there is a world class flamenco competition. And, that makes flamenco inspired for a "festive" party corney this time of year. Most seem to interpret "festive" as made using bold and brightly colored fabrics. What would you wear to a "festive" cocktail and dinner party?

The "chic" event is already past. It was hosted by Wyland, at his Wyland Waikiki Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii. The suggested attire actually of "chic" added to our decision to fly over and attend. It was just too intriguing to see what people might consider as "chic" for a hotel poolside party in Honolulu. Pucci was the order of the evening. I had brought mine along, but opted to wear a chiffon tunic dripping with ribbon of varying colors and widths, over an Indian hand woven cross-dye dupioni long pencil skirt in mustard, with iridescent silk peeking out of its side front slit.

Friday, May 1, 2009

3-Dimensional Visualization

School teaches us to think linearly and to identify objects. School teaches us to visualize 2-dimensionally. My artist designer husband has taught me to see the world in what he would call its 4-dimensional glory. Design teaches us to see things in their (1) entirety, within their (2) environment, (3) function and (4) beauty from all perspectives.

Whether one drapes, draws and particularly when one works from a commercial pattern, there is a process of visualizing any fashion creation. When fledgling fashion designers embark on their first fashion sewing project, they visualize their creation floating around a body. Sewing patterns are linear interpretations of a 3-dimensional object. It is nearly impossible to visualize how the mound of folded tissue is going to become their drawn out, dreamed about creation. All have a blank stare when they unfold their first commercial fashion sewing pattern.

We start by separating the pattern pieces from one another, and identifying how they will go together on the body by pinning them into place on a dress form or mannequin.

For those who do not have access to a dress form, try tracing a body onto a large piece of card stock paper.

For this exercise, we used the cover of a binder full of artists' drawing stock. Cut the neck long, and fold it over a hanger. Then pin the pattern pieces into place.

Or, you can purchase from a visualization mannequin to which you can apply your flat pattern pieces.

These will not work for fitting, but they are great design tools for beginning or intermediate sewers.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

There are no bad mistakes, or why a muslin is ALWAYS important

"Muslin" is an inexpensive woven cotton fabric. Its fashion sewing purpose is to make a rough draft of a garment. This rough draft is also called a "muslin", whether made with muslin fabric or any other inexpensive fabric which you might choose to use. The garment muslin is used to confirm and adjust the pattern and design to fit, prior to cutting into the fashion fabric. I never thought that it should be done to confirm you are making the correct garment!

I had wanted to make myself a billowy, crunched crosswise at the hem skirt ever since I had to abort the plan for my cotton bias patchwork fabric. So, as part of my SWAP - Timmel's Sewing with a Plan - challenge at Artisanssquare, I planned to make a skirt from natural silk mugga inspired by this one that was made for a couture collector client of Fine Fabrics.

This client and I are very close in measurement. I had tried on skirts made for her in the past, so I knew whatever skirt I made using her patterns would fit me well. With more than 40 years of sewing experience behind me, I'm pretty good at visualizing the 3-dimensional garment from a flat pattern, but this pattern just did not look right. I couldn't figure out how the pleats would go together to give me cross side pleat look I was wanting. So, I waited until our dressmaker, Cindy was about to ask her how it went together. She quickly pulled in the pleats and with a flick of her wrist said, "Just go for it. We know it fits you and you'll see how it works when its on you." We would not have cut the muslin corner for a paying client, but I was anxious to get something made, so I did just that.

And here is my skirt. Fits perfectly. With the loop drape of the pleats it is a better use for the silk mugga than the planned pattern, which really shows itself with a more structured fabric. I love it. I'll live in it this Spring and Summer. But, it is a different skirt. As Cindy says, there really are no bad mistakes, but it demostrates that there is a purpose for making a muslin, even when you think you can get away without.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Incredible Growing Shirt

Or, why it is so important to stay neck edges, armholes and other piece edges that might stretch.

"Stay stitching" is a single line of stitching, through one layer of fabric, to stabilize the fabric, preventing it from becoming stretched or distorted. When I take the time to stay stitch, I will do so 1/8" within the seam line - on a 5/8" seam at the 1/2" line. In some cases, I'll sew in a strip of seam binding or my personal favorite, an organza or chiffon selvage strip. It is important to stay neck and armhole edges, bias seam lines where a zipper is to be inserted, and in the case of my shirt also along the back waistline edge.

I laughed when our dressmaker, Cindy gave a lecture about the importance of "stay stitching" for her Sewing Educator Certification course, but my "Incredible Growing Shirt" is a prime example of why this simple step, that one might think is such a bore it might be eliminated, is so important.

Its surprising how much this shirt distorted. Its a lightweight silk jersey, which is not the most stable of fabrics, but this is pretty extreme growth from stretching. This shirt is also an example of when you might use a fabric for your rough draft that handles similarly to the fabric to be used in the finished garment. The best dressmaker I know collects different fabrics that are deeply discounted on dump tables for her muslin garment drafts, and has a collection of all sorts of weaves and weights.

I made this muslin, with just that, a woven cotton muslin. It has no stretch. I left the side seam open to get the muslin on and off and pinned it shut for fitting. The shirt needed to be pinched in at the waistline by about 1-1/2". Other than that it fit well.

Now what must I do to salvage this shirt besides wearing it draped over my shoulders and dripping off my body. First, re-establish its new shoulder line, which in this case pulls in about 2" of fabric from the front and back neck.

Second, I can open the side seam and pull in the back at its waistline, and taper into the hemline, but I think I'll create a poet's shirt pleat at center back. I actually like that more than its simple straight look. Sometimes, its best to loosen up and creatively progress the design along the way.

Inaugural Party Hostess Gown

The completed Washington Inaugural Party Hostess Dress. The contrast and brightness of the image has been increased, virtually overexposing it you could see more of the detail. It is very monochromatic, which is part of the understated effect we wanted.

Our client's comment, "I should have had Fine Fabrics posted to my forehead for all the people who asked about my dress...... I was watching women pulling and adjusting their bustier and I was running around, free to move and comfortable."

We lined this gown with double knit jersey - yoga pant material - over which was draped 100% cotton interlock - t shirt fabric - and a beautiful, graphic and modern 35% silk and 65% rayon velvet burnout. Our client is California sporty in life and style and this inaugural party gown fits her. For more on its construction see "Washington DC Here We Come!"

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pretty in Pink and Other Cliches

Many years ago, I learned from an artist friend, Mei Shu, to give myself the gift of sewing for my birthday. Mei Shu created a painting for herself every birthday. Since then, my friends and family have learned not to throw a party on my behalf, and that I would stand them up for any luncheon they would try to arrange. My husband learned not to expect a special dinner. One year he was greatly disappointed to learn that I had run to the store to purchase Cotton Duck, and not one to roast.

This year, I allowed myself the time to be inspired by the beauty of my birthday garden. There are a few trees that were collected as birthday gifts. One of these is my pink magnolia. In February, when most of the Northern Hemisphere is hiding from the snow, my pink magnolia opens its saucer blooms announcing that Spring is here.

This year as I walked through the garden I found that the Magnolia was not alone. Nearly everything in bloom was a shade of pink.

The cosmos are obviously confused because they are not supposed to be here until Summer.

The garden inspired me to run astray and consider making myself a St. John knit inspired coat of pink ribbon tweed. Maybe pull the the ribbons and braid them for closures, but without much pink in my wardrobe, I could not stop there. I would have to then make myself a pair of pink cotton with lycra pants, and a new white broadcloth blouse....... and before I could stop myself, I'd be spending a birthday week of sewing new creative projects, something I cannot afford myself the luxury of this year.

So, this year I stayed focused and played my sewing practical. I completed items 2 and 3 for the 11 piece SWAP (Sewing With A Plan) Projects I am working my way through, along with many other women who frequent Artisanssquare. SWAP is part of a commitment to sew what works for my daily life for awhile. To create a wardrobe that allows for me at anytime to open my closet and be able to pick what is perfect to wear that day.

The pieces I completed are this Donna Karan suit made using Vogue sewing pattern 2064 out of a very stretchy and very comfortable rayon with lycra double knit. I highly recommend this pattern and design. The pants are easy to make as easy can be. There are no side seams, just side darts that keep a clean line on the hips and waist.

Construction involves pinning, cutting, sewing inner leg and crotch seams, adjusting fit, casing and threading elastic, hemming and your done! The top is a little more involved, but technique wise does not involve anything more. Just follow the instructions and you have a suit that can be worn from gym, to warehouse, to office, to dinner. It bridges the gap between casual and well-dressed. It works for hanging around the house and going out. Just what the closet ordered!