Garden of Delights – Part I

Vancouver Skyline

Vancouver’s skyline (looking eastward) from Stanley Park.

Vancouver as a vacation destination?

When my husband first proposed it, my first thought was — really?  Vancouver wasn’t in my top 10 bucket list, but then, neither was Australia when we went.  As I thought about it, I wasn’t sure. But I’m always game to explore a new destination.  And, I knew I wanted to escape the heat of  New Jersey from this summer, so anyplace north of the US seemed like a good idea.  As I began getting used to the idea, I began to wonder what kind of unexpected experiences would I find.  And, most importantly, what kind of sewing shops and fashion would I find in Vancouver and Victoria?

Canada — I have begun to find — has so much to offer.  It doesn’t require crossing an ocean to get there and we generally speak the same language!  I’ve enjoyed Montreal and Quebec, but, little did I know of the delightful experiences that awaited us in British Columbia! I do love an adventure. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that when I travel not only do I like looking up fabric/sewing spaces, but anything that soothes my soul and inspires the mind.

We started our journey in the city of Vancouver, British Columbia.  Fresh sea breezes, beautiful tall buildings, water, mountains in the background and seagulls were what greeted us each day.  Seagulls!  Am I in a city or at the beach?  I love the sound of seagulls and woke up every morning listening to them from our apartment window.


The Teahouse in Stanley Park


Some of the gardens in Stanley Park

Our first day in Vancouver beckoned with cloudless blue skies and moderate temperatures.  We decided to take advantage of the great outdoors for our first excursion in Vancouver.  Two blocks from our apartment was Stanley Park — rated the #1 park in the world.  For my New Yorker friends, Stanley Park is larger than Central Park by about 20%.

It includes miles of hiking/biking trails, an aquarium, beaches, fine restaurants, dense forest with some old growth trees, a lighthouse, cultural interests and plenty of fresh clean air.  After spending our first day getting our bearings and walking until we couldn’t take another step, we found some lovely shops and boutiques. I’ll highlight two below…

2016-08-30-12-48-34Button Button…. Who has the button?  One of our first foray’s was to this specialty button shop of the same name (pictured here on the left).  It is a well organized and colorized button boutique. Let me say that if you can not find the color you want or something you like, you are not looking close enough.  Great care has been taken here with a touch of good humor.  Warm and friendly help is available as well.  I had fun exploring the containers and dreaming of the garments they could be attached to!

aritziaAritzia…. This Vancouver-based fashion boutique caught my eye while we explored the West End neighborhood that was our short term home. The fashions displayed in the windows were spot-on in terms of fall trends. Naturally, I had to enter and explore further! I adored the oversized sweaters and boyfriend jackets. They were in yummy  fall colors like merlot, plum and  forest green.  The colors popped amid neutrals such as stone, grey and black. I noticed fun trends like a tabard vest, bat-winged sweaters and knit ruana’s. After making a few purchases myself I was informed that NYC has a couple locations!  Guess it takes a vacation to notice things afresh.

img_6262Before leaving Vancouver  to go to Vancouver  Island we explored The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) and the Nitobe Garden both located on the property of University of British Columbia (UBC).  This large campus of UBC is beautifully situated along the water, south of downtown with mountain views and the MOA has a expansive native american offering from various pacific tribes.
Upon entering the Nitobe meditation garden one could immediately feel at peace strolling along the winding paths

Nitobe Gardens

Nitobe Gardens

amongst falling water , trees and other greenery situated around a large pond. The path is intentionally laid out to signify life’s journey with its ups and downs. A guide given with admission explains many of the sights along the paths so that one can understand the significance of the placement many of the objects have.

I  could have spent hours in contemplation here, but alas we had a ferry to catch to Victoria.  My next blog will focus on our trip where we explore Victoria and Vancouver Island…


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A little whimsy along the way!

CreativFestival Connie , a dear friend and fellow sewista, asked if I would like to check out the Creativ Festival in Toronto, an expo dedicated all things creative.  Naturally, I said sure!  I was in the mood for an adventure and I really like Canada.  Toronto would be a new experience — yea.  Let’s explore!

When you embark on a journey you never really know what to expect or what tidbits of inspiration you will find. Well, I will tell you I feel richer for this experience. So here’s why…

The festival  was purely an experiment. The web site was not very user friendly.  I felt we blindly entered into it.  It wasn’t expensive, so we felt, “How could we go wrong?” Airfare was great and thanks to Connie and we had an awesome place to call home for a long weekend.

Before I continue, I need to explain that my reason for sewing is for fashionable clothing, to express myself and to look the best I can.  Hence my website’s tag line, “Make it. Wear it. Look your Best!”   I also love teaching others and sharing my passion.  Others love the art of quilting, but, I figure if you can’t wear it, why bother. Well there is another aspect to consider and it was apparent in everything I was attracted to during this exploration weekend — Whimsy!

Yes, turns out I am just a big kid.  Furthermore, my spirit was calling out for it even before this trip.

LindamacPheeOne of the attractions for me in attending these expos are the workshops.  However, there were not many garment sewing workshops to attend in this spring event.  For us, the main attraction was Linda McPhee.  She is so fun!  And, not only was she fun — and creative — but funny!  She opened by talking about herself and family and let us know that her husband was a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman. So with visions of the actor Nelson Eddy (look him up in Wikipedia)… dancing in my head, I had growing expectations that she was going to at least be fun.  And she didn’t disappoint!

JacketLinda came out wearing a bright colored, crazy jacket.  And, one of the things she demonstrated was an brightly colored, applique bird.  Yes, I said bird!  The Happy Bird Kit is an almost complete bird kit that she sells.  happy bird kitAll one needs is the stuffing, needle, glue and thread.  If you are a cat owner, your cat will love it!  Watch out friends you may just receive one in the mail!  She delights in making them and sending them to people.

What else was a part of her workshop…  How about drawing with bleach on your denim?  Brilliant! Also a foil printing application that leaves a shiny design on your fabric. Awesome!  Furthermore, you are the designer! Designed by you and made by you — yours will truly be unique.  And, she had fun playing with fabrics!

MonkeyWhat tickled my fancy next (after Linda) was a monkey. Found at one of the vendor booths and having nothing to do with clothing, this adorable creature comes from the book Tildas Toy Box.  For me, it was love at first sight.   How could you not look at this and not have a smile on your face?  He might be worth hanging around for those days you need a smile!

After we had our fill of the Festival it was time to check out some fabric shops. With a little investigation, we found the Toronto fabric district.  It was worth the visit. It was in an area called Queens West, for the same reasons reasons New Yorker’s coin areas such as SoHo and Noho. Actually this area had a very Greenwich Village feel with hip eateries and boutiques in amongst the fabric shops.  My personal favorite was a shop called Trendy. Attracted to novelty, I spied a pink faux  Mongolian fur fabric. Seriously I have not been able to stop thinking about it and hav e spent time in the airport starting to sketch my ideas!

On our last day in Toronto we explored an area called Yorkville. Yorkville is like putting Fith Avenue department stores and Madison Ave boutiques together.

Would I find whimsy there?  Absolutely!

Pink TartanMy favorite experience happened in a boutique called Pink Tartan. The name already sounded fun even before we entered the store.  The saleswoman was very nice and extremely informative with all the collections.  She delighted in pointing out design details that made each garment stand out. My call outs were the Pink Tarten private label blouse. Trimmed in narrow Petersham ribbon for impeccable detail this tailored shirt.  It had pink neon thread used for the buttonholes!

And, the shoes.  What woman does not like shoes? I was introduced to a line named Giannico. Most of the shoes in this capsule collection were decorated with lips. So unexpected, yet so super!  This line is designed by a 2oyr old designer from Milan. Not surprising his idol is Manolo Blanik — the king of sexy shoes.

DressOne of our last foreys took us into one department store that interested me, Holt Renfrew. This is not a name found in the States, so naturally I felt they would have a different point of view in their merchandise selection.  An in-store display for Brunello Cucinelli captured my attention. Simple but clever in design, was a black dress on a mannequin that at first glance had a beaded neckline. Not so, the beading was actually sewn onto a long length of the same fabric that tied at the back of the neck to form a necklace. From the back, the long lengths of fabric capture one’s curiosity that you must walk around!

And  with this my whimsy came full circle.  It was soon time to return home and bask in the whimsy and creative ideas I had seen.  Look for some things to pop up in my shop!





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Inspiration — from within

Where do you seek inspiration?

I’ve found inspiration comes in many forms and from many places.  One of the places I find inspiration is in visiting new places — hence this blog!  When I travel I am always seeking out new fabric and retail shops. My husband is very tolerate of this and I am grateful for his patience. However, I haven’t done much traveling abroad recently so I am left seeking inspiration in other ways.  This left me with the question of where I could look for inspiration.  I decided to seek sewing inspiration from within my own shop!

One of the things that has been challenging in finding inspiration is our wonky weather.  Winter has certainly been strange this year.  So it is not Spring yet.  Athleisure-StyleSnow today, sixty degrees two days ago.  Crazy!  How to dress and what to wear?  Looking for my next sewing project I returned to a burda style magazine from the fall of 2015.

Seeking newness and seasonless in my wardrobe, I found some inspiration in the magazine I have in the shop.    Pictured to the right, what I found was something easy to put together, along with the promise of comfort — an Athleisure style!

Top_webAthleisure has been all the talk lately.  It combines hints of stylish sportswear, dressed up for a one outfit choice for the day.  Ready for any occasion — from gym to office!  I’ve decided to make a new outfit with a choice of a silk fabric silk and knit bands for contrast. I could wear this top over jeans, skirt or yoga pants. A modern Pollack Once finished, I was truly admiring the results. This pattern will have to be made again in this paint splattered printed silk!

Now that this top is complete moving onto the skirt!



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Almost Heaven in NYC

Alabama Chanin popup store

Alabama Chanin popup store

Today was one of those special times that you just did not want to end!  I had the privilege of attending an Alabama Chanin Workshop in NYC — close to home.

Her books have been my introduction and they have been an obsession of mine for a couple of years now.  But not really understanding how to get started, I’ve only just drooled over the photos and her blogs!

What is all the fuss about?

You see, Natalie Chanin is a champion of “slow fashion” — and of paying her employees a living wage. Not only does Alabama Chanin make custom clothes, but she also makes her patterns and methods available to anyone who wants to make, do and/or learn her techniques themselves.

As a result, Alabama Chanin designs are gorgeous works of wearable art and as individual as the people who make them!  Her designs are handmade. The fabric is stenciled, appliqued, embroidered and beaded. Sometimes one or the other or a combination of all.  And, all her clothes are made from 100% organic cotton jersey that has been grown, milled and dyed here in the United States!

Alabama Chanin designs are not quick to produce, but are part journey and part art, reveling in the beauty of the finished product.

Now back to the workshop…

Finished headband from the workshop and book cover I'm currently working on.

Finished headband (top) and book cover (from the workshop) I’m currently working on.

After a short train ride to NYC, I found myself in heaven at a large table covered with an indigo linen cloth surrounded by a group of 15 or so women.  Most are wearing an Alabama Chanin article of clothing made by themselves.  All have needle and thread in hand ready to work on an Alabama Chanin project.

For the next two hours we sat, sewed and listened — content to hear Natalie teach us about the physics of sewing, the history of the sewing needle and the production of cotton.

The time just flew by and soon it was time to wrap up.  Sewing — especially hand sewing as I am discovering — has a zen like quality to it.

It is relaxing,  portable and doesn’t require a lot of equipment.

While on vacation this summer take your mind off other things, find a peaceful spot and give it a go.  There is no right or wrong, you can do a little or a lot.  You can put it down and pick up right where you left off.  And be creative!  To learn more check out the Alabama Chanin website and journal or pick up one of her inspirational books.  My favorite is “Studio Style.”

And, if you are so inclined, check out  the Just Make it Sew website as we plan to begin offering her fabric products in the fall of 2015.

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A Jewel in the Snow

People thought we were crazy for wanting to travel to Boston.

The news made it sound like snowmagedon had arrived and that it would be impossible to get around. While I am adventurous, we were uncertain about making the trip.  I’m here to say, don’t believe everything you see on the news.  Kudos to the city of Boston for a great job in making this fair city travelable after so many snow storms!

Exhibit-introSo, to get to the point , why did I want to go to Boston?  Primarily for the costume exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  The topic — Hollywood Glamour and Fashion.  This exhibit is a jewel, and as a long term fashionista, I for one am glad it was not missed.

The exhibit itself is not large but jewels do not have to be large to shine. The fashions and jewels were worn by some of the most glamorous actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood such as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, Carol Lombard, Mae West and Claudette Colbert. And to prove they did, film clips were shown of these stars in their gowns.

Black-dressNot only was this eye candy to me but a bit of a learning experience.  Were you aware that Chanel designed some clothes for a few films?  The collaboration did not last because her clothes did not have the glamour that is thought of as “Hollywood” material but they were never the less beautiful and timeless as this black silk satin and silk net gown. Surely if I had an event worthy of such a dress it would be perfectly smashing.

Schiaparelli-DressA less revealing number was designed for Mae West by Schiaparelli. Schiaparelli was later inspired to use Mae West’s curvaceous figure as the design for her perfume bottle for “Shocking”.   These are just some of the tidbits of information the exhibit included.  I found the descriptions in this exhibit — and really all of MFA — to be very informative!

Banton-dressBeing this is Oscar time, my vote for the most glam “Hollywood” ensemble would have to be this number designed by Travis Banton for Marlene Dietrich in the movie “Desire”.  In my opinion this duet of figure revealing silk and chiffon with the drama of chiffon and fur trim wrap embodies Hollywood Glamour.  It took me back to being a young girl and spending Sunday afternoon’s watching these black and white movies just so I could see what the actresses wore!

So, moral of the story, don’t let a little snow or the media hype keep you from finding your own jewel.

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Fortuny and Venitian fabrics

CAM00509Ever since I was twenty I have been interested in visiting Venice.  In particular I’ve wanted to visit the Fortuny Museum!  I have been especially fascinated by the delicately pleated silk that defines a Fortuny fabric.  Cam00437cropThus my interest in this leg of our trip.  As we exited our water taxi there was a banner advertising the Fortuny Museum.  It must be providential!

Later, after checking into our hotel and having dinner, on our evening stroll through Venice, we passed a lovely shop displaying merchandise that had a Fortuny style.  The name of this shop was Venetia Studium and it happened to be on my list of fabric shops to look up while on holiday.  Though this shop did not appear to sell fabrics by the yard, the textiles used were absolutely beautiful!

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871 – 1949) was known as the ‘magician of Venice’ he was a man of prodigious talent and wide ranging interests.  Though known today as a fashion designer, Fortuny was also a painter, engraver, architect, photographer, set designer, lighting technician and inventor.  The museum highlighted all these aspects of his life. Sadly only one article of clothing was shown, but it was made from his  famous pleated silk with beaded edges. (The Fortuny style is also highlighted in the most recent issue of Threads magazine.)

cam00511cropReturning to Venetia Studium we see many examples of reproductions for purchase. Pleated scarves of many colors in silk, satin and velvet.  There were also painted velvet handbags with Fortuny inspired prints.  We found a number of different locations of the same shop with each location focusing on a different aspect of design and style. One location displayed a pleated silk camisole and velvet jacket.  There were Fortuny designed lighting fixtures, some covered in silk and others painted for the home as well as large lamps for stage lighting that look like something found in a light house.  Venetia Studium owns the patent for the lights and continues to produce them in Venice.

IMG_3643Next shop on my list was Jesurum.  They did not sell fabric by the yard either but what I found here was as special as the last. This shop sold merchandise to dress the bed (linens) and you for night time as well as the table and bath (lingerie).  There were fine examples of bedding with lace and embroidered edges in monotone color of grey and beige.  This shop was pure luxury.  One item I spied was an embroidered silk chiffon robe with lace trim! The workmanship was beautiful.  The lace was woven into the silk trim and not sewn on top of of the fabric. Amazing!

Isn’t it interesting how you can search for something and not find it, but that when you stop looking you find the thing you seek?  That was how I finally found the two shops that were on my list for Venice.  There was also a welcome surprise find in a shop named Mario IMG_3654Bevilacqua.  This small shop was full of examples of hand woven textiles for the home in the Venitian style.

Have you ever felt a hand woven silk velvet?  I can tell you, it is heavenly!  The shop owner explained (as I looked at a photo album of their fashions) that Dolce and Gabbana have used some of their textiles in their runway collection of couple of years ago.  This is a very untraditional way of using what is a very traditional Venitian textile design — also made in a traditional way that has survived hundreds of years.  Having said that you now know the importance and pride the Italians take in their craftsmanship, no matter what area they are involved in.  In all forms of craftsmanship — from cooking, to lace making , to glass making and textiles, to name a few, there is a pride in craft that comes through in what they do.

Arrividerchi Venezia!

P.S.  Didn’t see enough photos of our journey?  Check out our Facebook page and see more photos from our trip and the places/shops we visited.



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Will you sign my guest book?

IMG_3030Prior to leaving the states, I did some homework before we left on our journey and had marked one place in particular that would be a destination in Florence — Casa Dei Tessuti.  We have been having quite the luck finding our destinations without much trying and this place was no different.  As soon as we said that it was time to find it, we looked up and (literally) there it was — one block off the main square from the cathedral!

IMG_3038The immediate impression from the windows and on walking in the door was that this shop has a regal quality about it, that would not disappoint with its designer fabrics.  No sooner had I inspected the first row of fabrics and identified names such as Armani, Ungaro and Valentino, than we were greeted by a gentleman named Romano.  He asked us (in Italian) if we spoke Italian and sadly we responded very little. He said, “Good.  I speak English but do not get to practice much.”  This was how our experience began — with a personal touch.

Me and Romano

Me and Romano

Romano is a lively man, proud of his family’s business of 85 years and proud of his Florence.  In a short 30 minutes, he gave us the history of father’s business, showed us the family photo and told us that he, his brother Romolo and his son are carrying on the tradition.  He has photos of Sophia Loren, Cher, Venus Williams and others who have visited and perhaps made purchases and a series of 35 guestbooks signed by countless numbers of people.  Of course, people come here for the top quality fabric will you find, but perhaps the real treasure is Romano and the personal touch they offer!

He invites you in as though you were part of a family.  He shared with us how he met his bride and joyfully tells us that he just celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary — in February!  He confides that before he was introduced to his wife that he had seven girlfriends!  (I can see why as charming as he is.)  He wanted to know how we met and what is our occupation.  With this invitation I explained that I own an apparel fabric boutique and teach people to sew.  Romano then began to gently impart his philosophy and observations in life. “People don’t take care in how they dress.  The fabric that you wear is your second skin.  It should be uniquely you and show your personality, your creativity (your style).  Too much black he says and people wearing the same things like chickens following one another.”  What they do in his shop is advise the customer on what would look best for them.

A beaded pink silk chiffon with marabou feathers

A beaded pink silk chiffon with marabou feathers

He advises, you build a relationship and that is what keeps the business going.  He proudly shows us his latest guest book.   It was a big leather bound journal at least two inches thick. Thirty-five of them he says he has, signed by famous and not so famous people alike.   I believes he remembers most of them and has a story to go along with each signature!  He read some of the entries in this last book and told us about many of the people in this book.  Soon, we are invited to join this long list of visitors and customers and made to feel special, as though I a celebrity.

It was now closing time and before we leave we are invited to come back.  We felt so special that by that time that you think “yes,”  you certainly will be back (even though a meter of the pink silk jacquard Valentino fabric costs $345 a metre.) Yes, we may well be back.

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