My So Charmed Life

Surrealism, Africa, Holland, and Me


I’ve been making a lot of dresses based on the Piece of Cake frock pattern by Jody Pearl of Sew Outside the Lines and when the above pictured African wax print textile (lower fabric) arrived at my attelier (purchased here) , I decided to make something in a queenly maxi length. I also became utterly obsessed with this gorgeous fabric, searching high and low for info about it. Is it genuine wax print or fake? Most importantly, what ARE those strange objects and why do I find them so impossibly alluring?

My research deadended and I sort of gave up, and then, while searching for more textiles on Etsy, I came upon the above (purchased here). Uhhhh, wait a minute! That’s MY textile. And I like it even better in this crazy colorway! I immediately contacted the lovely seller, Angela, who came forth with loads of info about the The Gallery of Poems textile collection from Vlisco, renowned Dutch (not African) textile manufacturer.

Here is Vlisco’s description of their 2011 Collection: GALLERY OF POEMS: DRAMATIC ROMANTICISM

Once upon a time, Vlisco created a mysterious new fabric collection called ‘Gallery of Poems’. Dreams wander, floating into your own fairyland. Step into a new world and view the designs as objects of inspiration. Some designs will magically transform into a piece of art, adding a romantic touch to the poetic drama, while others illustrate a surrealistic passing of time. The decorative collection is intensified by a flamboyant colour palette. ‘Gallery of Poems’ makes you feel like a fairytale beauty.

This is where I about fell on the floor. Surrealism? Although this is another story for another time, suffice to say that at age 14 I came under the influence of members of the American Surrealist Movement (one of whom remains one of my oldest friends), and my life at that point was forever changed. Thus, it seemed that my locating this textile, and the subsequent journey into the world of high-fashion African wax prints, was deeply connected to other aspects of my life as an artist.

Of course, me being me, it doesn’t end there. The above video from Vlisco is absolutely fascinating, explaining the wax print process (pattern ends up on BOTH sides of the cloth) and a lot about the history of the company. These fabrics are so incredible, words can not express. Vibrant color, a slightly stiff substantial hand, and beyond gorgeously weird concepts that combine traditional African imagery with modern Western icons in a global village collision that makes my head spin. Pricing aligns with the incredibleness… yardage is sold only x6 yards and at $15 per, + shipping from the UK… OMG. Here’s your source; Vogue Fabrics UK.

I’m obsessing over the four textiles shown here.

Know someone who might want to share yardage? Put them in touch, ASAP!

Because I….

…want to make more dresses!

PS: Added bonus video; How to tie tradtional African Gele (head wrap):

CHARMING CHAT: Art & Design with Cathy Cervantes


Jodi: Cathy, it’s so lovely to sit down to tea with you! And, you have SO many cool objéts; I want them all! Can you tell me about your collections?

Cathy: It’s kind of like I have been in this deep acquiring coma for the last 30 years, and I am starting to wake up! I have gathered things that I love, or feel they need love, and just made room for them. I find, when I really look at stuff, they have alot in common…color, texture, scale, etc. Now I am at a phase where I am thinning out the herd and only keeping what I really really love, and only letting something in that is “worthy!” That doesn’t apply to textiles or stuff that I use in my art, it is still wide open. And bowls. And circus stuff. And donkey stuff. But, still, it’s the colors that draw me, whether it’s mid-century, kitsch, Monterey, Santa Fe or industrial. And you know we love sharing our treasures with each other, don’t we?????

Jodi: Yes we sure do!! And, I completely know what you mean. It’s so incredible to be at a point in life where you trust your instincts for art and design. My collections are eclectic too, yet somehow these things look cool together and there are indefinable threads that connect it all. I think this happens in our professional lives as designers too, right? Our ways of organizing information, using colors and fonts and such? You and I share the schizo life of artist/designer, among other things. Are we lucky or cursed?! And… who is Trixie?!

Cathy: You know, when I first went freelance about 7 years ago, I had this notion that I could actually meld the two together, and found some artists like Kitten Chops and Lauri Rosenwald who actually seemed to be able to do that. But then I just fell into the normal routine of grinding out my graphic design, and trying to paint on weekends. I continued to feel very frustrated and honestly wanted to give up both. But something happened when I got a job recently that allowed me to use both my talents in one piece and I was totally excited about. Kinda like falling in love with your husband again, you know what I mean? So, my goal is to do that. Oh, and Trixie is my alter-ego. I was a cowgirl in a past life.

Jodi: I can see you as a cowgirl, for sure. You know it is so tempting to want to always combine the art and design sides, but personally, I also feel ok with these things being separate in my life. That said, I can think of several projects I’ve been involved in that really tapped into both, and those were truly very satisfying indeed. What types of design clients do you have for Trixie Design Studios and does your work for them influence your art? Alternately, does your work as an artist influence your client-based design work?

Cathy: I am very fortunate to have some great clients, almost all non-profits, who give me lots of leeway and trust me, as I trust them. So, now it is just a matter of trusting myself and not editing, which I often do, both in art and design. It is amazing to me that finally, at 54, I’m thinking that I do pretty good stuff and have something to offer.

Jodi: Well, I’ve always known you have lots to offer. You know, we have such similar clients, non-profits etc.. and I too love that feeling of making a solid contribution to the people I work for (who are, in turn, doing such great work for the world). It’s interesting… people like us seem to have active/developed right and left brain functions. We can handle ourselves in business but are wildly creative too. Do you have any insights on how this may have occurred for you?

Cathy: Ahem, I am not sure I got the whole money/savings /billings/plan for retirement thing going so well…but, I am a good business woman! I think I am good at spotting trends and also working with people and really understanding humans. I also have worked with the best and I just copy them. When I worked at the agency I was at in San Diego, my office was across from the owner’s, and I would listen to the way she spoke to the clients, with strength and respect, and I just learned to copy it. Other than that, I just go with my Mission Statement of “do good work for good people” so if something doesn’t fit both of those categories, I won’t do the work.

Jodi: Designfarm’s tagline is “uncommon solutions for the common good.” May the force be with us! With regard to our fine arts, people might notice that although our work is very different, we have some common subject matter. Tell us about the roots of your circus obsession.

Cathy: It’s strange, because I have this love for circus stuff and rodeo stuff, but I can’t come to terms with how animals are treated in either one! So, I will just stick with the visuals and, again, colors and textures. I have no idea why it appeals to me so much, but my eyes are like lasers when I latch on to something with circus imagery. Maybe it’s the red and white striped awnings? What is it for you?

Jodi: I went to the circus a lot as a kid and it literally scared the crap out of me and made me cry! There’s something about that attraction/repulsion aspect that draws me to these things that are supposed to be oodles of fun, but that also feel uncontrolled and crazy and weird, with a darkness underlying. Your work has an edge but I also love your sun-drenched color palettes. Is there a regional / cultural (ie, Left Coast) influence? Along with carnivals, what else inspires you?

Cathy: When I was little, there was a show on TV called “Wanderlust” about a husband and wife traveling the southwest in their camper. I was blown away with the images of the desert. I felt that is was home for me. I have sinced traveled alot through Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, and that is where I find peace. (Funny, I know, for a girl who has lived at the beach her whole life!) I also LOVE anything “Old Mexico” like in old movies, paintings, textiles, etc. I have a friend from Mexico City who says my paintings remind her of home, so I consider that a real compliment.

Jodi: I’ve only visited the southwest once on holiday and I remember when I first got there how incredibly different the entire landscape looked. I was sort of blown away by all the… endless brown. And the seguaros in Arizona, and how dry the heat felt compared to our swampy summers in DC. So, how do you get your paintings out there into the world? Tell us about shows or online venues. Where can charming readers see more of your work? And I heard something about you doing smaller pieces that can… ahem… be more easily mailed to the other coast…?

Cathy: I have done a miserable job of selling my own work. My website & blog has not be updated in a year, as are the other artists’ sites I subscribe to. We are doing our Cinco de Wino again, where myself, two other artist friends and a couple who have their own wine label get together on Cinco de Mayo, have food, wine tasting and show my work. I did a small show in Santa Fe, and have had pieces in shows at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art. It’s hard to find venues for my art here in San Clemente, since everyone looks for beachy, palm tree, plein air stuff, and my stuff is so different.

Jodi: Wow, OCCA looks really cool! Selling seems to be the most challenging aspect for artists. I know it is for me too; pricing things is so challenging, and half the time I want to just keep what I make! When we first met, it seemed that every time we chatted, we learned about more similarities in our lives. We each have a 14 year old daughter… how does being a mom fit into your creative and working life?

Cathy: No way would I ever feel the strength and security to pursue what I want in life if it wasn’t for my daughter and my husband. And my sister. I feel like I have a responsibility to show my daughter what it is to set and achieve your goals and dreams. And she teaches me everyday how to look at life from many different sides. I am always blown away by the things she says. Of course there is that “working mom” guilt thing, but it comes in waves. As I am yelling at her to get outside and play and not end up on the computer all day in your pjs without a shower, she turns to me and says, uh, mom…that is YOU not me. I was standing there, in my pjs, no shower, no makeup, having worked all day on my computer. So there.

Jodi: Oh, I hear that! Shower? Who needs it?! And, it’s interesting to see my daughter growing up with such creative parents… artists, designers, craftistas, and musicians. My kid is lots more math/science than I ever was, but there are still times that she gets a creativity bug and just HAS to knit a scarf or make a skirt or draw. I know what you mean about family support too… it’s truly been important to me. Do you have any advice for designers who want to pursue their fine arts muse? Anything that has worked in allowing you to do both?

Cathy: Yeah, don’t wait as long as I did to get this going! Seriously, trust yourself, work hard, pay your dues and stick by your guns. Everyone knows it has to be a labor of love. One of my artist friends once said, when I asked him if his fine art business was going to work… “Well, what else could I do?” Lastly, like my husband always tells me, “Paint for yourself.”

Jodi: I completely agree… no waiting! Life is short; make art; follow your dream… NOW! What’s on the soundtrack at Trixie Design? Is it different for painting?

Cathy: Complete and utter silence! Except when I open my windows to let in the birdsong, which I love. I cannot be distracted by sounds of any kind, it’s weird. One of my OCD things. But, when I paint, I can have some music going. I tend towards old hillbilly country, bluegrass, folky, but also like 70’s funk and soul, 80’s punk and some of the new music my daughter listens to. Old Joni Mitchell is good for painting.

Jodi: I have to have silence when I’m working on professional stuff, graphic design. I’m so affected by music that I literally can’t think when I’m listening. But I love it when I’m doing more repetitive tasks like putting together designed jewelry or sewing. Thank you Cathy, for being such a dear friend and such an incredibly talented artist! And for sharing your thoughts with me and my charming readers today!

A New (to me) Designer to Love


So I get a call the other evening from a vintage shop owner who knows me well and she says: I got this really odd coat in and I think it has your name on it. I take such calls seriously. Went in the next day and scored the above-pictured divine asymmetrical muslin garment by Ivan Grundahl. For $20. Perfect fit.

At home I did some research and found out that Grundahl is a major veteran designer from Denmark, whose work is coveted by avant garde fashionistas the world over.

Here are a bunch of photos I found online… his collections are consistent over several years… neutral colors, lots of black, romantic, gothy, asymmetrical, lots of tulle, often shown with clunky gun-boots. Swoon.

Here is the lovely back of my Grundahl coat. I’m going to guess that it is a few years old, came from a ready-to-wear collection, and likely sold for about $400+ new. SCORE!

Beautiful Forever: A Necklace


Did I say something about no longer doing custom work? LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE. Pictured in this post, a custom mixed media necklace commissioned by a group of lovely midwestern ladies for a mutual friend who is beautiful forever. Happy Birthday, Amy.

Vintage silk sari fiber from India, wire, glass beads, vintage rhinestone chain and buttons. Hand forged clasp.

And a gorgeous vintage chandelier crystal focal. More of these pretty necklaces might just be available at So Charmed soon and large lucious photos are available for viewing on flickr.

My Domestic Life: 10 fun photos from ’round the house


Bedroom: Thrifted fabrics awaiting (and providing) inspiration.

Foyer between designfarm office and so charmed studio: The Molly Shrine, featuring painting by Carrie Mitchell (center) and self portrait collage with braids by Molly (age 7ish).

Entrance to basement at bottom of stairs: One of several household baseball shrines.

Dining room: Flowers from the BF. Weekly. No, I’m not kidding.

Bathroom upstairs: Favorite bling photo for Jody Pearl’s weekly JaM blog post.

Bathroom upstairs: Favorite bling photo #2 for Jody Pearl’s weekly JaM blog post.

Bathroom upstairs: Favorite bling photo #3 for Jody Pearl’s weekly JaM blog post.

Bathroom upstairs: Yes, it’s the back of the toilet. Yes, that’s a book entitled “Zen Judaism.” Yes, that’s a kleenex box cover handcrafted by Bethy in the shape of a piece of coconut cake.

Bedroom: The cavalry is coming, ie, Jodi’s boots. Details added 4.14: From front to back: Molly’s old riding boots, Fly London, my oldest boots, pole climbers by NaNa… have been all over the world with me, blue vintage riding boots, burgundy vintage riding boots.

Bedroom: The cavalry is coming Part 2, ie, MORE of Jodi’s boots. Details added 4/14: from back to front, thrifted Frye engineers, Fluevogs from SF with coolest blue lining, thrifted Harley harness boots… fit like a DREAM and were nearly new when found, newest boots: Frye tan lace ups.

Fabric, Part 2: Spoonflower!


Those of you who follow my ramblings on Facebook and my pins on Pinterest, know that I’ve taken a sewing detour of late and have been making the prettiest little dresses using Jody Pearl’s Piece of Cake frock and tunic pattern. Pictured above is my favorite cake to-date worn by me, and featuring a crushed velvet top and yardsale damask (art deco) skirt. Not to mention vintage French faux-fur trim… it is quite the confection! You can see the rest of the cakes in progress and finished/worn over on flickr.

Meanwhile, I spend an inordinate amount of time scouring the world (real life AND virtual) for textiles; a recent post highlighted an obsession with Japanese prints and I’ve been haunting my local thrifts for curtains and bedspreads! This post will highlight fabrics found on Spoonflower; an incredible web site that allows anyone to design and upload/sell their own textiles. And there is truly GORGEOUS stuff to be had.

One of the coolest things about the cake dresses is pairing the fabrics so I’m going to upload these images in order of possible pairings. I love odd color combos and on Spoonflower I seem to fall in love with some very macabre, outre textiles!

First pairing of flies and skulls. Second is a pair by the same artist and I actually like the similarity of color with the difference in imagery… busses and telephone wires.

Above, an odd rococo pairing with squids ‘n roses (like guns ‘n roses only better)! Apologies for not linking all the swatches, they are easy to find by searching Spoonflower and ARE linked over on my Pinterest Craft Board.

Cities (Tokyo) and wolves… I LOVE this pair.

Bones! Scary Forests! The mind reels with possibility. Spoonflower, btw, is print on demand. They offer eight fabric choices and you can obtain a swatchbook for just a dollar, which I’ve done. The fabrics are pricey (but I think it’s worth it to support the designers), starting at $16.20 per yard for quilting weight Kona cotton and going up to $34.20 per yard for silk crepe de chine, which I will NOT be ordering. For the cake dresses I recommend either the Kona, or (and especially) the linen-cotton blend which will be similar to the Japanese fabrics I’ve used and work really well to hold pleats, giving the frock nice fit/form.

Bangle Stacks at Art & Soul DC


Hey local peeps! In what can only be described as a truly rare event in my life, I’ll be making a public appearance at the lovely boutique Art & Soul, in downtown Washington, DC, for their April Girls Night Out event, this Thursday 4/5, 6-9 pm.

My jewelry will be for sale at the shop, including three sets of bangle stacks. Pictured above, Cake Bangle Stack, which features vintage rhinestones and millinery in a sugary confection.

Should you prefer your jewelry spicy rather than sweet, don’t miss out on Bombay Bangle Stack, pictured above and below.

Owner, Marjorie, also acquired the Everywhere You Go Bangle Stack, formerly listed over on my site, an elegant grouping to accompany you on adventures.

All of these boho gypsy-esque bangle stacks feature vintage sari silk ribbon from my collection along with an assemblage of curated beads, charms and other goodies. Hope to see some of you at Art & Soul!

WIP: Piece of Cake Dress


A few weeks ago I posted about a terrific pattern I’d discovered; a dress called the Piece of Cake (by Jody Pearl of Sew Outside the Lines). Pictured above is my dress in progress!

The hardest part of this (I think) is the slight altering to the pattern that I worked through this week. I went between sizes for the top, and opened the front neck and arm holes a little. Super easy, really.

You may remember my excitement over Japanese fabrics I’d located on etsy, and yes, I did end up ordering some. However, for this first dress, I don’t want to start cutting into $18 per yard (GASP) linen, hence the above pictured mid-century table cloth I dug out of my dining room sideboard. It’s really lovely! And I was able to avoid the holes! The top fabric looks mid-century, but I’m not sure; it may be reproduction. It was a pair of pajama bottoms — already cut up a bit — scored at a yard sale.

I’m going out to buy seam binding tape (any ideas for color??) and if you missed by facebook post on how to sew seam binding, here is a terrific and very funny video on the subject:

This is truly just so exciting and fun. I am enjoying it immensely and finding that I mostly do have the patience to do things slowly and with care. Sewing commences this weekend… wish me luck!

Hey, I Can Totally do “pretty!”


Lots of artists struggle over the concept of creative voice… you know, that indefinable thing that makes your work your own. I seem to have a handful of voices, which makes me either versatile… or schizophrenic. And, either way, it’s ok with me; in fact I embrace the idea of taking various directions with jewelry.

This week I attended an important client event where I wanted to bring along little thank-you gifts for my three contacts… smart, gorgeous women whom I adore working with. Since the event was a dressy downtown DC affair, I thought I’d go the pretty route instead of the quirky route.

Each pair was designed specifically for the recipient. There are crystal embellished freshwater pearls, heavily faceted cut glass Czech beads in amazing colors and even some 18kt gold vermeil findings. GLAMOUROSITY!

CORSET TUTORIAL: Steal this Idea… I Did!


If you love corsets but find them awfully expensive, here’s a great simple corset you can make yourself. With NO sewing! I saw it in a shop window here in Takoma Park and immediately thought: I can do that!

The most challenging part of this project is locating the vintage army surplus spats you’ll need. The ones I used are from WWI and were scored on Etsy for about $20. I’ve seen them on ebay as well, sometimes as much as $40-$45… still not prohibitive and lots less than a corset which will run you hundreds (not that I would know :).

Step 1: Acquire a single pair of spats. Step 2: Lace them up. You have just made a gorgeous steampunky corset. 

A note about fit… the spats tend to be small through the curvy waist part. My teenage daughter can fit into this with the front nearly laced closed, and she’s a skinny minnie, size 0-2. On me (30 waist, size 6), the front is pretty open. I was dubious about the cloth fabric laces in the front… but it turns out that it really works if you’re going to wear it more open, as it forms sort of a “panel” in the front (as shown in middle photo). And I do like the girly color with the manly spats. So, I think 30-31 waist might be the maximum for a single pair of spats/corset. HOWEVER, there’s nothing that says you can’t add another pair, lacing up the sides… right?

Oh, and that furry neck thing in the top photo is a collar I knitted. Another no-brainer of a project for the craft inspired-yet-impatient/challenged!

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