Saturday, November 29, 2008


Where do you get yours?
In this post, I'll be talking about finding ideas for designs for painting Christmas gifts.
With fabric paint, you can personalize just about anything:  Napkins, aprons, jeans, t-shirts, things you can buy inexpensively and spruce up in your own way.  Metallic paints (available at most arts and craft stores) provide the best color saturation and show up on most fabrics.  With such paint brands as Lumiere by Jacquard and Delta Glitter Stuff for fabric, the sky is the limit.  Add Aleene's OK to Wash-It Fabric Bond glue and fake jewels and beads can be added to the mix.  
So now you're staring at your blank canvas and have no idea where to start.  But you can find inspiration for your designs almost everywhere you look.  Here is a photo of one of my house plants.  Leaves and berries are the basis for so many patterns.  I visited a Victorian "castle" this weekend and was overwhelmed by the ornate designs that covered each surface, most with vines and leaves and flowers of some kind.  Pictured to the right is wallpaper that I saw in an art deco hotel.  It has such an interesting take on paisleys and swirls I had to document it.  Below are photos of details of the stone wall surrounding the Bethesda Fountain in New York.  Usually, the fountain gets all my attention but for some reason that day, I really studied the other stone work.  I realized that I have walked past these amazing designs for years without noticing that though the wall is fairly symmetrical and seemingly repetitive, each of these little stone carvings is slightly different, it's own gorgeous ornate design.  

So the best thing to do once you've decided on an inspiration is to find a practice scrap.  I like to paint freehand, but stencils and sketching out your design with a washable pencil is a great option.  Mistakes are difficult to wipe off.  I compare this process with music improvisation, where turning your mistakes into brilliant choices and uniqueness is key.
Finishing requires air drying (read the directions on the bottle for drying time) and then ironing to set.  The end result of a painted design is less time consuming than embroidery and can be more striking or more subtle, depending on your color choices.  

Pictured here are my own projects and experimentation with this design technique:  a jean jacket and jeans.  They have held up to machine washing.  For my Holiday gifts this year, I am considering sewing some napkins (use 100% cotton fabric)(lots of hemming, but pretty easy once you get used to the first one) and then painting the corners in simple designs, each slightly different like the Central Park Wall stone work above.  The thing about cloth napkins, too, is that it cuts down on the amount of paper towels that fill land fills.  I love using them every day.

Have fun!  Let me know where your design inspiration comes from!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lady Godiva

Dear Leenya,
I just visited your blog and understand that you offer advice.  Here is my problem:
I don't enjoy shopping, am not a thrift store person, and cannot sew.  All of my clothes are old and falling apart.  I used to have a personal shopper (a gay male friend you and I share in common) but we have not lived together for 13 years.  What should I do?
- Woman on the Verge of Being Lady Godiva

Dear On the Verge,
Wow.  Starting from scratch.  I love a good challenge!  Buckle your seat belts...  
First of all, let's look on the bright side.  This is an opportunity for a fresh start!  It sounds like you have nothing to stubbornly hold onto or cherish for sentimental reasons and therefore, making an entire change is going to be easy!  Now, since you're writing to me and not Martha Stewart or Sarah Palin's former personal shoppers, I'm also assuming that your funds are limited.  Some might look at these challenges as daunting, even paralyzing, but I see them as a chance to relocate your creativity and imagination bones.   Break free!  But not in a Lady Godiva kind of way.  Save that for the summer season.
I hear you about about losing your Fairy God Roommate.  There is nothing like shopping with your bestest gay friend (Hi Chad, I miss you!) but don't despair!  Once you are able to commit a bit of time to your personal makeover, you'll get into the spirit.  Think of it as a gift to yourself and you deserve it!  It sounds like you've been denying yourself for far too long.
Start with  PILIBST.
Is her spellcheck on the fritz, you ask?
Why, no!  In fact, it stands for:

3. LIST     

PILIBST.  It's kind of fun to say!

1.  PURGE  First, take all of your clothes out of your closet and making a giant mountain in the middle of your room.  This could get messy but that's okay.  Separate any less-than-flattering and ill-fitting clothes in a DONATE pile  (large saved shopping bags come in handy at this point).  Actually try things on.  There should be clothes flying around the room at this point.  Good rules of thumb here are:  If you haven't worn it in a year, there's a reason for that.  I know, your ex-boyfriend bought it for you or it might fit when you lose five pounds, but consider that after you drop it off at the Salvation Army tomorrow, someone else could be enjoying it or using it to keep warm.  Keep thinking, "new start" (and PILIBST)  and zap zing ta-da!  You have room in your closet for your new wardrobe!  That alone should help psych you out for shopping!
2.  INVENTORY   Look at the pile that is left including shoes and accessories (Sounds like yours is going to be small indeed, On the Verge).  
3.  LIST  Actually grab a notepad and pen and start writing down what is missing from your KEEP pile.  Record your present sizes.  This will minimize the time you waste shopping and will help focus your search.  Here's a list of wardrobe basics that should go on the list if you don't see them (workout clothes are necessary but are not part of this post):
Cute Jeans:  Medium rise, either boot cut, straight leg, wide leg or skinny, dark washes are most flattering
Pants Suit that you can split up and wear as separates
Black or Solid Color Turtleneck  and Cardigan Sweaters (wrap sweaters are a flattering alternative) and Separates
Tank Tops and Camisoles that are long enough to cover the hips
Button-up White Shirt, at least one, tailored and fitted in the waist, ruffles, anyone?
Modern Print Dresses and Skirts, knee length is best
Tall Leather Boots, black or brown
Pointy Toe Pumps, high or kitten heel
Ballet Flats, metallics or animal prints are fun...
Big Belt that can be cinched tight or loosened to fall across the hips, black or brown
Dress Slacks in a neutral color, should fall from the hip, not tight in the leg
And while we're at it, let's talk color.  What's your favorite?  What seems to be predominant in the KEEP pile?  Find the average and begin a scheme.  Since we are building you a starting wardrobe, it would be great to have items that could all mix and match with each other (and not in an 80's way, if you know what I mean...).  Is Black your Neutral?  Nowadays, you can make anything into a neutral (color is the new black) but that is a bit of an advanced technique.  Brown and Black are wonderful places to start.  Then, do you prefer muted Earth tones, like cranberry, sage, and purple, or are you more of a pastel girl?  Your natural coloring is a good gage, but if you're brunette and love Navy, don't let rules limit you completely.  You'll add a splash of red for pop in the accessories.  
4.  INSPIRATION  Though I try to get my current events and interesting reading from almost anything else, I pick up a fashion magazine every once in a while.  Vogue can be intimidating and hard to translate into every day fashions, but Elle and Cosmopolitan always have some good "What's New This Season" articles.   Fold over the page of what you like.  It's a good place to get ideas of how to put together things you already have in a new way as well.  Also, I do love a good makeover show and one of the most helpful, I think, is What Not To Wear on TLC (8pm Friday nights with reruns at noon weekdays). The hosts, Stacey and Clinton, are hilarious, but if you watch how they take into account each unique fashion victim's style issues, it's all about packaging, about presenting your best self to the world in a way that is accessible to every size and shape.
5.  BUDGET  If you have two hundred dollars to commit to updating your wardrobe, that's a good starting point, believe it or not.  Just know that the boots, suit, and jeans will take up the most of this amount.  I brought my Mom shopping and after just two hours and two hundred dollars, we had started a good collection of staples for her.  It was a Mom Makeover!
6. SHOPPING  Yes, you can.  And you can learn to love it!  From now on, there is a treasure out there (your new wardrobe) and you are going to find it.  And I won't make you start at Thrift Stores.  Thrift Shopping takes technique and practice and you will work up to it, I promise.  But in the meantime,  Overstock is going to be your friend.  
Now some people recommend Outlet Malls but I find them a bit of a trap and not much more "bargain" than a sale at Macy's (which is nothing to shake a stick at but I find department stores exhausting).  Going to Old Navy and H & M for basics is great,  but then head to Daffy's, TJ Maxx, Century 21, Marshalls, Filene's Basement, and Strawberry and if you're feeling daring, Conway.  DSW Shoe Warehouse is good for discounted shoes  and for jeans, you should try Blues or OMG on 8th Ave. in the 30's.  Oh, that we could shell out the hundreds of dollars it would take to own Sevens and Lucky's, but you won't need those jeans 'cause you can find up-to-date Levi's in the aforementioned stores.  
I hate to say it, but try things on. In the dressing room in front of a mirror.  Ask fellow shoppers and sales people what they think.  It's frustrating and time consuming, but it will save you time in the long run, and if you you can't return, money as well.  If you wear low maintenance clothing, changing won't feel so tedious.
Look for easy care.  I love silk and cashmere, but if you have to dry clean it every time you wear it it can become expensive.  
HOLIDAY TIP:  Didn't find the perfect belt or turtleneck?  Why not add them to your Christmas List when your Mom or Aunt calls to ask what you need?  
7.  TAILOR  You are not the only one who can't sew.  And even if you can sew, sometimes it's better to outsource alterations to the professionals (like shoe repair it can be worth it).  Hems and bringing the waist in are easy and inexpensive operations and can make the difference between clothing you'll wear and those that become a permanent fixture on a hanger in the back of your closet.
And that brings us to the end of PILIBST.
WHEW!  I feel like Superman after he made the world spin backwards on its axis to save Lois Lane's life!  But, On the Verge, you are going to feel and look like a million bucks  in your new wardrobe  and no one has to know that it cost significantly less than that!  I mean, Lady Godiva is so "last millennium".  Have fun and let me know how it goes...  

Monday, November 24, 2008

NPR backtrack

National Public Radio featured a fabulous interview this weekend with Tina Seamonster who hosts a website about homemade gifts.  She also talks about searching Google for instructions, some including video footage, on hundreds of craft ideas.  (Feel free to leave links in comments for your favorites) 
I loved all the comments posted on about this subject... Apparently, homemade and creative gifts are now all the rage.  Who knew?  
Oh yeah, we did!

Deck the Halls

No, I'm not going to write about cutting snowflakes out of newspaper or stringing popcorn and cranberries to trim your tree, though those are always cheap, fun  ways to start decorating for the holidays.  Today I'm posting about your next step:  Overstock and 99 Cent Stores.
Okay, who hasn't been to Jack's World?  
There are two:  One at 110 W. 32nd St. between 6th and 7th and the other at 45 W. 45th St. between 5th and 6th Ave. and if you're looking for unique and practically free Christmas decorations and gifts, run, don't walk!  It is also great for beauty products and gourmet food items, believe it or not, but in this post, I'm talking holidays.  
Obviously you'll look for tree ornaments (you never know what you'll find), wrapping paper and gift bags (more than half the regular price), gourmet candy and chocolate, and  stockings (I found the cutest beaded ones this year for 9.99!) but there is 
also a plethora of garlands and faux greenery (pictured here in both photos).  Rifle through the linens as well, as table runners (pictured here adorning my living room mirror) can be used creatively.  Some years, there is an extra amazing selection of tree skirts in modern designs.  I bought three 
boxes of Christmas Ball ornaments a couple of years ago that I pile into my large assortment of vases from opening nights gone past and create festive holiday sculptures (an idea I stole from my sister-in-law, Marie).   Instead of your standard red and green, I've chosen purple, terra cotta, and gold for my holiday accents.  Silver and blue are another creative alternative.
Don't forget to score the aisles of kitchenware and toys 
for your Christmas list.  With all the bargains, it's easy to forget what you came for,  but go any other time besides lunch hour and after work and you won't feel overwhelmed.  
While you're there, pick up some clothespins (most likely a packet for 99 cents) and some festive ribbon to string across your apartment (idea courtesy of my friend Elizabeth).  Hang your holiday cards from it instead of stuffing them in a drawer this year.  The cards add a holiday flair and every day, you'll be reminded how popular you are!  My holiday gift to you:  I've given you yet another way to multitask!  

Monday, November 17, 2008

Water Water Everywhere...

Caution:  What I'm about to post about is a shocking proposal but here goes.  
I'm talking water.  
Think back, way back to a time long long ago, a time when we would drink water from the tap.  We would turn our faucet on and fresh, clean, potable water would just flow freely into our glasses or from drinking fountains and our thirst would be no more. It was a simpler time, a time when we didn't fill our already over-burdened land fills with empty bottles made of petroleum-based plastics that put us deeper and deeper into a dependency on Middle Eastern oil.  We brought water bottles and filled them as needed with this life-giving substance and no one ever imagined that we would pay more for bottled water than we would for soda or milk or even gas.  Water was free.  Remember those days?  
Oh, wait.  Water is still free, or for those who pay a  nominal monthly charge for water use, practically free.
And by some miracle, in most parts of the United States, tap water is completely drinkable and often delicious.  
We should never waste it or take it for granted, as fresh unpolluted water is a rare commodity that should be conserved and protected, but while it is still an option, we should not buy bottled water.  Ever.  
Start now.  Invest in a water bottle, or at the very least, refill the bottle that you bought yesterday and bring it with you tomorrow.  Now I think that the taste of New York City tap 
water rivals even Colorado mountain water, but if you live in a place that provides less-than-perfect water flowing from your pipes, use that Brita Filter (for sale at half the price at Jack's 99 Cent World on 45th St. between 5th and 6th Ave.)  in your refrigerator and fill your water bottle up with that.  It takes one more extra thought a day, but we could reduce our landfills by a significant amount and yes, use less foreign oil.
I know, it's crazy talk.  But we have power as consumers, more than we know.  And it's another way to save money.  See how I always come back to that?
Okay, is anyone else thirsty for a long tall drink of water?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tighten Your Belt

  Last night, I was heading to another of Ted's opening night parties  and I had nothing to wear! 
Okay, I have plenty to wear but I was in one of those moods.  You know the feeling.  Flipping through my dresses, I didn't feel like wearing something I'd worn before.  I mean, who wants to show up on in the same outfit more than once?  On the other hand, now is not the time to be spending money on new clothes.
It was obviously time to experiment with putting things together in a new way.   So many things have come back in style (the thrifter's dream!) but what items from days of yore can be reworked and what should we let fade into nostalgia?
I worked for a wardrobe supervisor at college one summer and I remember her talking about the 60's retro revival at the time.  "If you were able to wear it the first time around, you're too old to wear it when it comes back in style."  Doris did teach me how to sew a professional hem, God rest her soul, but I beg to differ on her style advice.  You just have to know what you can get away with.

shoulder pads
too much matchy matchy
pure polyester, unless the print and style are just too hard to resist...

skinny jeans
cuffed or cropped boots
tall boots (no square heels or toes), high heel or low heel
large geometric earrings
multiple bracelets
oversized movie star sunglasses
costume jewelry
leggings and legwarmers (not for the faint at heart, and even harder to pull off if you're over thirty)
oversized sweaters
pencil skirts
tab collar or tie sash collar flowing blouses, look for gathers at the yoke and sleeves
oversized belts

Yes, the belt is back!  And it's a great way to add a fresh look to wardrobe staples.  It's a hard one for me to get used to again, especially since low rise jeans have put the emphasis away from the real waist for so long.  It feels strange to have something cinched around my middle and I can't help but feel I'm breaking up the line.   You know, the line you try to create, the illusion of the hourglass...  But I'm branching out! Patent leather is a great look this fall and sometimes I'll even layer two belts, one over the other.  If I don't feel like I have the perfect belt, I'll throw on three at a time and knot them instead of buckle them.  It gives a great layered look with boots. Even a scarf can act as a belt, tied on like an obie or a cummerbund.  Give it a try.   Go ahead tighten your belt!  
So the outfit I wore last night (pictured above) consisted of things I already had in my closet: 
brown leather boots I found at Beacon's Closet in Williamsburg for 25 dollars
a grey wool and spandex pencil skirt that I took in on the sides for 8 dollars
(try it on inside out and pin, undo the hem and waistband if needed, then sew and re-hem)
a violet 80's blouse that I darted in the waist, front and back, and shortened the long sleeves to the cap sleeves for 5 dollars
vintage necklace and bracelet from Love Saves the Day in the Village for 8 dollars
Grandma's earrings
a long brown wool trench that I found at the, you guessed it, Salvation Army Coat Sale for 30 dollars
a big brown belt, cinched tight, of course, from Salvation Army for 2 dollars

A stylish new outfit to wear to Ted's opening night party:  Seventy Eight Dollars.
Getting the chance to be inspired by my husband's acting once again:  Priceless.  

Sunday, November 9, 2008

First Stop Holiday Shop

If you're able to spend money this season on gifts, a great place to start is by supporting local artists.  Here are some suggestions:

Actorcraft Fair
Tia Zorne
Erin Reiter, "Stem Jewels"
Marie Koch, Jewelry & Visual Art
Sarah Jane Nelson Millan Jewelry Design, Life is Rosey 
Holiday CD's
American Modern Ensemble, Three Holiday CD's
Boyd's for Praise Company, "Joy in the Morning Light"
Original Music
featuring Leenya:
the Chillbillies
Please feel free to add to this list in the comments... No self promotion is shameless in this post!
Pass the art around!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

It's That Time Again.

So you've just finished putting away your Hallowe'en Costume (homemade from thrift store finds  and recycled items, of course) and we know the election results...  Time to start making our holiday gifts!  
And why not?  If there was ever a time to make your holiday gifts, this is it!   Many a Christmas season past, I procrastinated my holiday shopping until well into December  and while waiting in some line for an hour and a half I would make a pledge that next year, next year, I would plan ahead and make my gifts again like I used to when I was  a kid.  
I was just talking with my cousin Molly about this over dinner last night.  Our Moms were the ones who got us making our own gifts, partly because money always seemed tight, but also because handmade gifts can mean so much more than something storebought.  Making gifts takes time, but it's time spent getting into the Spirit of giving and less time spent waiting in lines shopping.  Even diehard shoppers can lose the spirit in holiday shopper crowds.  
First, make your list and check it twice.  Of course your parents, siblings,  and your spouse get something unique from the money you save making gifts for others, but 30 or so of your family, friends and coworkers would be titillated by a small one-of-a-kind gift.
I have so many great family Holiday  memories involving glitter, felt, and the occasional applehead doll.  Mom and I would set up a little assembly line and an ornament that hangs on a relative's family tree thirty years later would be created.  Could the same be said about that click of your mouse at  
The year we purchased our cabin, Ted and I made ornaments out of leather scraps that I had saved.  I painted them with fabric paint to look like our little "gingerbread house".   Ted bored holes in their tips and red ribbon looped around for tree hang-age.  I still see them in friends and relatives' houses during the holiday season!   They are such a great reminder of a milestone in our lives and they were extremely inexpensive to ship.  
This last year, I recorded a CD of holiday music on Garage Band on my iMac.  I was able to make   thirty five copies with a festive label and CD case that served as a holiday card of sorts.  I also was able to email mp3's from the CD to people as a Holiday E-Card.  I can picture that this would be a great gift idea from young parents.  Even if you go into a studio, for just a couple hundered dollars you could record your child singing or talking and relatives could cherish it for decades. 
How many of you reading have too much stuff?  Me.  I have too much stuff.   My husband and my parents have too much stuff.  There's nothing wrong this year with sending a card that indicates that money has been donated in your loved one's name to your favorite charity.  Or why not send a homemade gift certificate offering a personal  service (tailoring, accounting, balloon tying)?  Or a movie night?  It's time to get creative, people.   No worries.  Next season you'll be able to purchase the newest useless expensive gadget from Brookstone or Christie's again.  Why not use this season to search your soul?

Friday, November 7, 2008


It was a moment in America's history, a moment when we were looking for a leader.  
We had been attacked and after 9/11, our president was going to tell us how to carry on.  We listened and we believed.  I mean, who wouldn't want to live in a reality where buying whatever we want regardless of our income could save the Nation?   We took it to heart and went deep into an unprecedented debt that has brought us to the greatest economic crisis in our lifetimes. 
Now, it may be true that measuring our buying power will tell us the health of our economy.   Chris Matthews  said today before  Barack Obama's first press conference as President Elect that we can't all turn into Ebenezer Scrooge now, hiding our money under the mattress.  Conversely, we are being called for the first time in decades to sacrifice in other ways besides sending our sons and daughters to fight over seas.  
So how does this all relate to my theories of Future Style, in living Ren?  
For me, it's about priority.  It's about putting our hard earned dollars into our future, not into worn out past policies.  
It's like with energy.  We have reached the future.  We can video phone and communicate in unbelievable ways.  We can fly, but we are still fueled by the inefficient, polluting energy source caused by burning stuff .  Scientists are finally looking to nature to try to find out how trees have been living for hundreds of years at a time just by storing sunlight.  This is what I'm talking about.   Looking at old things in a totally new way.  It's getting excited about having a new puzzle to solve.
How can you be money-wise and not be a Scrooge?  I suppose it's a balance but it's not an impossible one and it's not reserved for us low income-ers.  I watched a show on HGTV last night about a woman who made her house out of a recycled 737 Jet.  I'm sure it wasn't a cheap way to build a house (it was also beautifully designed), but  it involved focusing her finances, prioritizing where her money was spent.  
Maybe my ideas of saving money can help someone spend money where it counts, like buying energy efficient appliances, or building with recycled products and heat saving windows.  Maybe you don't have to wait to make a million dollars to live your dreams as well as give money to charity.  Hopefully, my artist's perspective can help someone live a fulfilling life while getting out of debt.  
I can dream, can't I?    

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Measuring the Drapes

There comes a time in everyone's life when you wonder, is it too soon?  Can I truly begin to picture what my life could be, or will I get my hopes up, only to have my dreams be crushed?  When can we start measuring the drapes?  
And the answer is, as soon as possible.
Creative visualization is one of the best ways to start redesigning your life.  When looking for apartments or houses, I spend time with each promising choice and picture how it could become home.  I do take measurements, lots of them.  I choose color schemes (see previous post, Change) and imagine storage possibilities as well as what of my furniture can fit, what get's donated, and treasures that I have yet to find.  I window shop Restoration Hardware and browse Pottery Barn catalogues.  I take note of what catches my eye, but I know that I will eventually have more fun treasure hunting in thrift stores, Ikea, and even street shopping.    Then I spend time daydreaming.   I draw up several different floor plans and make lists.  I'm definitely a list girl... I even imagine entertaining there.  Even if it the rental or sale doesn't work out this time, I'm that much closer to imagining the perfect space.  
Then, before you know it, you're there, standing in the middle of your new bare floors, surrounded by unpacked boxes and possibilities.  All of your cynicism and negative thinking seemed such a waste of energy.  Anything is possible from now on.  And it all started by measuring the drapes...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I told you I'd let you know when the next Coat Sale at the Salvation Army at 536 W. 46th St. happens and it's upon us!  Get up early THIS SATURDAY, November 8th.  It opens at 9:00am and goes throught to 5:00pm.  Re-read my previous post for more instructions... 
And if you're wondering What Leenya Would Do, I definitely WOULD go, that is, IF I had any room in my closet! 
Have fun!