Sometimes to find your life's true path, you have to stray outside the lines . . .
Scarlet Santana is never happier than when creating fabulous fashions for women of all shapes and sizes. Now, after years of hard work, she finally has the chance to live her dream and study under the hottest designer in New York. To raise money for her move, Scarlet opens an after-hours sewing school in a local record shop, teaching a type-A working mom whose rigid parenting style is causing her family to unravel and an enigmatic seamstress with a mysterious past.
But as stitches give way to secrets and classmates become friends, the women realize an important truth: There is no single pattern for a good life. Happiness is always a custom fit.
About the Author
Kathy Cano-Murillo is a lifelong writer and artist. Her crafts have been carried by hundreds of retailers, including Bloomingdales, Target, and Hallmark. She is a former entertainment reporter for The Arizona Republic, and has authored seven books, including Crafty Chica's Guide to Artful Sewing. She is the founder of CraftyChica.com, a wildly popular web site to inspire women to brighten their lives with clever craft ideas. She has a web series on LifetimeTV.com, and can be seen on HGTV and DIY Network. She has been profiled in The New York Times, USA Today and NPR, and now has an extensive Crafty Chica product line. Kathy lives in Phoenix, AZ, with her husband, two kids and five Chihuahuas. Her motto for life is "Crafts, drama and glitter".
Read an Excerpt
Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing
By Cano-Murillo, Kathy
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2011 Cano-Murillo, Kathy
All right reserved.
Driving along one of the busiest highways in the state, the cabbie slouched, relaxed as always. With one hand on the wheel, he glanced again in his rearview mirror.
He couldn’t take his eyes off them.
Three exquisite young women in sparkling, jewel-toned evening gowns. Each with a different flower—a lily, a rose, a daisy—behind her ear. Brilliant hair colors of Raquel brown, Liz black, and Lucy red. Beaming smiles of sisterhood. Even squished together in the backseat, the women’s enthusiasm didn’t waver.
He had picked them up in front of the Mission Hotel around midnight at the close of some fancy fashion event—the high-end, snooty kind that brought out all the socialites draped in furs and diamonds. The girls didn’t notice his taxi’s top light was off. One of them practically leaped in front of his car, waving, begging him to pull over. He couldn’t resist; their presence intrigued him.
He wasn’t one to eavesdrop on customer conversations, but their excited energy bubbled throughout the vehicle and reeled him in. They may have had similar features, but their personalities couldn’t have been more diverse.
“Three cheers for the lucky buttons! We did it!” cheered the redhead, shaking a small glass jar over her head. “I swear, I thought we’d blown our cover. But we actually pulled it off! Did you see how everyone gawked when Reese ordered the champagne in our honor?”
“You did it, not that old jar of buttons, and certainly not us,” remarked the girl with the wavy ebony tresses as she calmly adjusted the bodice of her teal dress. “You’re the one with the creativity and vision; we just helped you fine-tune the patterns and stitching. I’m happy for you—and beyond proud… but like I said before we left, don’t count on me to stick around in the business. Fashion is your dream, not mine. Next week I’m signing up for the Peace Corps. Travel the world and do some good for humanity.”
Next, the brunette spoke up in a high-pitched voice. “I’ll still help as long as you put me on the payroll. All I want is a normal, respectable life so I can raise my son.”
The redhead crossed her heart twice with her finger. “I know,” she said. “I promise to honor your wishes from here on out. With all my soul, thanks for helping me. I’m sorry I hurt you when I ran away. I’m so ashamed. I was so desperate to make it; I let go of everything I loved—my best friend, all my work, even myself—and worse… almost you two…”
The brunette leaned over, kissed the redhead’s cheek, and then took a stern tone. “We’re sisters. We’ll always be here to protect each other. And speaking of protecting—I saw you and Reese scribbling on paper. Please tell me you didn’t sign anything. You need to hire a lawyer to read the fine print, get the contract notarized in front of a witness, triple-check the royalty amounts—”
The cab made a swift lane change, jostling the girls. The brunette lunged up toward the taxi driver. “Hey, mister! Slow down up there. I want to get home in one piece!”
The cabbie, startled by her abruptness, agreed with a mini-nod of his head.
The redhead raised her chin. “Don’t worry, Mr. Reese is an honest businessman. Come spring, he’s going to put my designs in stores all over the country. All that matters is we made the deal. A shiny one!”
“Hopefully shiny enough to polish up your reputation after that sham of a marriage,” mumbled the brunette.
The redhead bowed her head. “It wasn’t a sham… I still love him.”
“No frowns tonight,” said the raven-haired girl, sliding her arm across to hug her sisters. “We’re celebrating a fresh start. Let’s focus on the positive, our little victories—they will add up to greatness.”
“I love that—‘little victories’!” gasped the redhead as she attempted to sit up tall to clap, but the sturdiness of her bouffant combined with the cab’s low roof prevented it. She turned to face the others. “After tonight we’re all going our separate ways, but we’ll always be united in spirit. Family. All of us together. Just like right here, in this taxi, smashed like sardines in a can. I love you girls!”
“I love you both too,” the brunette said, tilting her head and smirking.
“Why the guilty grin?” asked the redhead.
“Because we’re gonna be stinkin’ rich!” she replied, scrunching in her seat and rubbing her hands together like a miser. “I’m going to use every penny to send my baby to the finest schools!”
“Only the best for our little nephew,” agreed the redhead.
They all giggled and clumsily climbed across the seat to hug one another. Touched by the intensity of the moment, the driver spied in the rearview mirror once more. This time his eyes met with those of the redhead. He flinched. Instead of happiness, she wore an expression of five-alarm terror.
“Watch out!” the girls shouted in unison. “The road!”
Snapping his gaze forward, the driver realized he had weaved into oncoming traffic. He shouted obscenities over the women’s screams and overcorrected, causing the car to veer off the side of the road and, to his horror, down the side of a steep, dark embankment.
With twists of the steering wheel, the driver tried his best to keep the car from careening into the dark waters below, but the tire struck a large rock, which sent it and its passengers end over end into a violent roll.
A slow-motion montage of flailing limbs, hair, and flying glass filled the rearview mirror as the vehicle finally came to a crashing stop at the water’s edge. The deafening silence permeated the scene, only to be broken up by the faint sound of Bobby Vinton’s “Fly Me to the Moon” on the radio, as petals of lilies, roses, and daisies floated away into the night.
Thursday, September 15, 11:59 p.m.
Introducing: Miss Scarlet’s School of Patternless Sewing!
Hello, my dahling Daisy-ites!
Miss Scarlet at the controls to bunny up about the latest news flash from the DaisyForever.com headquarters!
Let’s start with some trivia. Did you know Daisy rarely used traditional patterns in her dress designs, instead opting for unconventional methods of measuring, draping, and shaping?
Well, dolls, to celebrate DaisyForever.com’s 10th birthday, I’m going to tap into that by taking on a new adventure so utterly fantabulous, Daisy would flash a wink or two.
Ready? Drumroll, please…
Miss Scarlet’s School of Patternless Sewing!
Hold on, put those flappers down, chickadees, and save the questions for the end.
What is my motivation for offering this closet-brightening, self-esteem-boosting, educational series? Miss Scarlet wants each and every one of you divas-in-the-rough to not only crack the shell of your ho-hum rut, but smash it to pieces like a cascarón on New Year’s Eve! I want all of you to sass up your attitude, turn some heads, drop some jaws, transform the stiffest of critics to Jell-O, and make people look at you and say, “I’ll have what she’s having!”
To do that, I’ll share what I know best: designing and making tailored clothes. Having a petite soda-pop-bottle silhouette myself, I’ve never been able to find my beloved Lana Turner–inspired frocks at secondhand shops, much less the mall. What could I do? Wear a polyester tracksuit and call it a day? I think not.
My Nana Eleanor, an educated activist for all things threaded, woven, and stitched, taught me early on that every curve of a woman’s body has a three-part novella to tell. And to fully appreciate the fleshy package God gave us, we must tune in—measuring tape in hand—to discover the tragedies and triumphs that exist from the top of our tresses to the edges of our toenails. I sure did. My body’s secret stories made me sob as much as cheer. I empowered myself to dissect my frame and stitch my own wardrobe from scratch.
Here’s the dealio, tutti-fruttis: I’m going to personally instruct you how to make custom clothes for your one-of-a-kind body. With Miss Scarlet tutorials, your gams will look longer than Betty Grable’s; your waist tighter than a Victorian corset, and your décolletage juicier than Jessica Rabbit’s. You’ll learn to design from instinct and explore the ins and outs of clothing construction. In this 12-week program, students of all skill levels will tackle assignments to learn the art of freeform sewing applied to practical wearables and accessories.
And it is all patternless… well, patternless in a traditional sense. No confusing, bland tissue paper here. We’ll hiss at militant guidelines of what is considered correct. In this class, your body is the head honcho to please; it is the only pattern that matters.
The program is $500, and I’ll gladly accept weekly payments. I’ll provide the sewing machines, but you’ll need to spring for your own fabric. I’ll throw in a gift bag from my own stash of vintage trims, plus extra one-on-one time each week if you need it. One of the shimmery highlights of my program is that it will be held at the swanky Carly Fontaine Studio in downtown Phoenix.
The atmosphere is metropolitan frou-frou and we’ll have a spacious area, professional worktables, massive overhead lighting, a 60-inch plasma TV so we can watch crafty cinema while we stitch, and best of all—there’s a catwalk! How did I swing this? Let’s just say being Ms. Fontaine’s right-hand threadmistress for the past two years has earned me a pot-o-perks. Oh, did I mention that I’ll also bring baked goods from La Purisima Bakery, home to the best apple empanadas in all of Glendale, Arizona? I hope all of these are reasons enough for you to sign up!
My faithful readers, here’s a nugget of personal news I’m proud to share: I am now one degree closer to Daisy de la Flora. Yours truly has finally been accepted into the Johnny Scissors Emerging Designers Program for next year!
For those of you newbies, Johnny “Scissors” Tijeras is Daisy de la Flora’s nephew and only surviving relative. Every year he presents the program for ten students where they are mentored at the Casa de la Flora headquarters in New York City. The program has been known to launch the careers of its participants. Thousands of dreamy dressmakers like moi apply, but only a few are selected each year. And after being rejected five times running, my boo-hoo days are over.
The tuition is very steep, thus the Patternless Sewing fees will help pay my way. I’ve also set up a donation widget to the left of your screen, for any millionaires out there who care to hook a girl up.
This summer, my life is about to change and I owe it all to Daisy for inspiring me to design from my heart. Every week I share light, fluffy recipes; sewing projects; and creativity exercises here, but now I want to show my gratitude to Daisy and take this blog to a deeper level. Therefore, I’m opening my treasure chest of Daisy clippings that I’ve accumulated throughout the past decade and I’m going to share them with you. I’ve kept them to myself all this time because… well, I guess the exclusivity made me feel closer to her. But Daisy, wherever she may be in the world, would not want that. Her story is golden and deserves to be told. I, Scarlet Santana, want to be the one to do it. And it’s perfect timing—this coming January is the 50th anniversary of Casa de la Flora!
Miss Scarlet’s School of Patternless Sewing begins soon. To enroll, ring me at the Carly Fontaine Studio, 555-796-2874.
Hop on it—limited seats!
Uh-oh, Scarlet thought.
Loose thread on the side seam of her tailored waist jacket. How could that be? She had meticulously stitched and steamed the masterpiece until four a.m. to appear pin sharp for her meeting with her boss, locally celebrated designer Carly Fontaine.
Scarlet’s Nana Eleanor had a superstition that if you pulled a loose thread and it came out short, something miraculous was about to happen. But if the seam unraveled—bad news could be expected. For all practical purposes, Scarlet decided not to touch the thread. She planned to leave Carly’s office with a promotion today and had no time to worry about the meaning of a silly piece of string.
Oh, what the heck.
She gently tugged the strand. Short!
Two years ago Scarlet Santana changed her career path to pursue fashion design and ever since, all the necessary components had fallen into place like flouncy rayon ruffles. An award-winning blog, a full-time gig at Arizona’s most noted fashion house, topped off with an upcoming New York City apprenticeship with one of the country’s hottest designers.
All because she loved to sew.
Running fabric through her machine without interruption brought Scarlet tranquillity. It served as her therapy when she needed to think through disagreements with her family or fantasize about walking the halls of Casa de la Flora headquarters. When Scarlet worked on her dresses, she couldn’t tell the difference between the moon or the sun, coffee from tea, or even if there were shoes on her feet.
Sketching, constructing, and embellishing clothing brought her happiness, and she refused to accept anything less. One way or another, she would make it her lifelong career.
Scarlet tried to rest comfortably in Carly’s reception area chair—a modern Spanish monstrosity that could pass as a bean bag with oars for arm rests. She likened it to Carly: intimidating. Once Scarlet finally found her sweet spot, she stared through the glass windows of Carly’s building and beyond the two lanes of traffic on Roosevelt Street. She sat still, her hands folded on her lap as she fixed her gaze on two statuesque blondes leaving the sandwich shop across the way. Scarlet imagined reconstructing their dresses with fancier necklines. The vision felt so real, Scarlet could hear the sewing machine already, as if it were right there by her side.
“Miss Scarlet, is that your phone buzzing from your purse?” asked Carly’s administrative assistant, Yoli.
Scarlet winked at her and retrieved her cell from her clutch. “Thanks, doll!” she sang out while glancing at the screen to see who was calling. She slouched just a hair and then took a deep, confident breath.
“Hi, Mom!” she answered merrily, in the hopes she could control the tone of the forthcoming conversation.
No such luck.
“If she doesn’t promote you,” her mother started, “it’s a sign from Nana Eleanor to get rid of that tacky rhinestone sewing basket of yours and get a real job!”
“Mom, Nana Eleanor is in a retirement home, not heaven. She isn’t sending me signs unless it’s through snail mail,” Scarlet said. To outsiders, it sounded like her mom, Jeane, had stomped all over Scarlet’s flower garden of self-esteem, but really, Scarlet knew her mom meant to pump her up.
“If she doesn’t promote you”… here Jeane meant it was due time that Scarlet upgraded to a more worthy position other than her current role as Carly Fontaine’s underappreciated sidekick.
“… it’s a sign from Nana Eleanor to get rid of that tacky rhinestone sewing basket…” Nana Eleanor had served as Scarlet’s sewing mentor since childhood. She taught the girl everything from proportion to basting to pinning to even measuring bodies with finger-walking and tight bear hugs. Most important, she instructed her granddaughter on how to make impeccable gowns from scratch with little to no resources.
Every Wednesday after school, Nana Eleanor and a then eight-year-old Scarlet took a ninety-minute bus ride to Neiman Marcus at the swanky Biltmore Fashion Park. After perusing the racks, they selected contrasting dresses, took them into the fitting room, turned them inside out and applied Nana’s reverse engineering method. After sketching a fabulous hybrid version, they returned home to make it. By her high school years, Scarlet was carrying out the tradition solo when she crunched inside the tiny stalls of Glendale thrift shops and designed vintage pinup-girl apparel.
Nana Eleanor loved the creative connection she shared with her granddaughter and as a gift for her eighteenth birthday, she presented an authentic 1962 Daisy de la Flora bejeweled straw handbag that had been converted into a sewing basket. The gift changed Scarlet’s life. She had been obsessed with all things Daisy ever since.
“… and get a real job,” Well… every mother thinks her child deserves more, right?
“Scarlet, did you hear me?” her mother snipped. “Promise me you’ll hot-tail it out of there if she doesn’t make you partner. Tell her you want your own office so you can brag about it at Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow!”
“I’ll give it my all, Mom, like I always do—the way you and Dad taught me,” Scarlet said graciously, pretending her mother had told her not to worry because she would win Carly over with her talent, skills, and charm. “It’ll go great. I practically run this operation. This promotion is a long time coming.”
“Even if she does promote you,” Jeane continued, “… now, don’t take this the wrong way, I’m only telling you straight because I love you… but I think you’re shortchanging yourself if you stay at that sweatshop. You deserve better. No child of mine should be sweeping the floor.”
Scarlet knew her mother had her own Dr. Phil style going on, but now she had gone too far, especially at a time when she should be sending good luck to her daughter, not cut-downs. She wondered if her mom, or any of her family for that matter, would ever take her life goals seriously.
“I mean it, mija,” Jeane continued. “You’re thirty, you should be wearing suits, not those cartoon dresses you make. And you should have bought a home by now. And a fancy car.”
Scarlet had had enough. “I am wearing a suit right now, and I do have a fancy car!” she whisper shouted so Yoli wouldn’t hear.
“Nana’s clunker Mercedes is fifty years old and stinks like vitamin E oil. You should sell it and put the money toward your school loans.”
“I’m not selling Nana’s last memento of freedom, Mom. You know the highlight of her week is our Sunday lunch dates. It would break her heart if I sold it,” Scarlet said, glancing at Yoli, who had positioned herself front and center, pretending to sort papers so she could eavesdrop. Both their heads perked up with the click of Carly’s doorknob.
“Mom, my meeting is about to start. I’ll call you later, OK?”
“Good luck, Scarlet. Knock ’er dead, and then pour sugar on her.”
That’s all it took to make Scarlet feel at ease. A sliver of a cheer from her mom always worked wonders. She knew her mom truly wanted her to be happy, even if her version of happiness, like most things, didn’t suit Scarlet’s taste.
“Thanks, Mom, I love you,” Scarlet said. But before she hung up, she heard, “Scarlet, wait!”
“Your sister can’t make the mashed potatoes for tomorrow. I told her you could—you know, since you’re single and have free time. We’ll need enough for forty people. By three o’clock. Thanks, mija.”
Scarlet sat across from her boss’s desk, anticipation peeking over both shoulders, as she watched Carly skim the personnel file, using a heavy gold pen to add notations. Scarlet couldn’t help but admire Carly’s glossy ink-black hair and how it hung straight and blunt on each side, as if someone had draped a silk scarf over her head. Even though she was full-blooded Mexicana, Scarlet thought she could pass as a taller version of a camera-ready Kimora Lee.
“You were fired from the night shift at Fabrictopia last year? Assaulting a customer? I didn’t know that,” Carly said, tapping her pen on the paper.
“Ha! Oh yeah… simple misunderstanding,” Scarlet explained, wondering how that information had ended up in her file. “I was demonstrating an easy way to use your arms to measure a body. I gently embraced this lady’s mother in a bear hug. How was I to know she had a bad case of shingles? She sorta freaked out on me and—”
“That’s enough,” Carly said, scribbling more notes. “You better not do that here.”
“Never have. Never will,” Scarlet said. With her ankles crossed and knees tilted together at the side, she kept her composure even though her heart was beating crazier than a caffeinated Chihuahua.
Carly paused halfway down the page and peered over her chunky white eyeglasses. “OK. Let’s do this. What do you want to talk to me about, Scarlet?”
“Well,” Scarlet began. “I originate and stitch all my ensembles, and each one is based off of fashion icons of the silver screen. This one I’m wearing is inspired by Kim Novak’s suit from Vertigo.” Scarlet smoothed her hands down her crisp gray lapels. “My Etsy store is quite the grandstand online. I also have three boutiques outside of Arizona that carry my other dresses. And I know you’ve seen my fashion blog, DaisyForever.com. Its horn has been tooted in USA Today and the Arizona Republic. I guess you could say I’m a star on the rise!”
Carly tilted her head, squinted, and nodded in faux fascination, as if she’d never heard any of it before (Scarlet made sure she heard it every day). Scarlet played along because she was over-the-moon proud to be one of her thirty employees. She worked her rump off to prove it.
She’d spent the first month at Carly Fontaine Studio unrolling bolts of fabric and trims to measure them for accuracy (something she now did from sight alone). She glued hundreds of sequins and feathers to headbands, fixed stubborn sergers, threaded a gazillion bobbins in advance, and sorted thousands of crystals by size and color. By the end of her first year, Scarlet had reorganized, upgraded, and improved the efficiency of Carly’s storage, production, fitting, and showcase rooms. Her second year brought on the title of Personal Assistant to Carly, which put Scarlet on call 24/7 for every crisis. Scarlet proved her value throughout the past two years and that’s why she knew Carly would offer her a promotion. If not partner, at least designer. If not designer, at least a raise.
Carly replaced the lid to her pen, slipped it in her black leather pencil cup at the corner of her desk, and closed the folder. She took a generous sip from her checkerboard-patterned mug, set it down, and smiled.
“Again, what would you like to discuss? We have five minutes left.”
“I want you to make me partner,” Scarlet said.
“Partner?” Carly repeated. “Well. That’s quite a big aspiration, seeing as I’ve never considered having one. I built this little empire while I went to school. And I did it all on my own. I would never bring on a partner. Even if I did, they’d have to have the gift, the experience, plus the degree to go with it. Why would I change that now?”
It was the million-dollar question Scarlet had been waiting for.
“Because… I am… a dress healer.”
Scarlet excitedly scooted her chair close to Carly’s desk, hunched over, and stared her down to ensure full attention.
“Carly, I’ve been designing and sewing since the third grade. I dream about designing. I’d rather sketch than… than… breathe! I don’t see fabric and thread as just fibers. To me, they are storied seasonings ready to be stitched into submission. My eyes devour colors, my mouth waters because I can practically taste them. I tune into each and every article of clothing I meet, deconstruct it in my head to create an improved version. I can apply all of this to your business and take it to a higher level.” She then looked dreamily toward the ceiling and raised her hands to form a frame. “We could combine our best traits into one line and call it… The Scarly.”
“I’m a dress healer too.” Carly shrugged, unimpressed.
Scarlet stiffened. “If that were true, you’d know that the A-line skirt you’re wearing is a half size too big.” The words spilled out of her mouth before she had a chance to stop it.
“Oh really,” Carly replied. “Well, it appears you’re coming apart at the seams. Is that a hole in your jacket or is that how Kim Novak wore it in the film?”
Scarlet clenched her teeth and grazed her hand over the side of her rib cage and, indeed, felt flesh.
Double darn! I should have never pulled that loose thread!
Carly released a sigh of boredom. “Request denied.” She leaned back in her wide black leather chair as if to wrap up the meeting.
“Maybe partner is out of the question—for now,” Scarlet pleaded. “But I should at least be promoted to designer. We both know my work hits a target market you haven’t been able to penetrate.”
“Out of the question, at least until you enroll in fashion courses,” Carly stated. “If you choose that path, I’ll gladly move your hours around your schedule. I’m sorry, Scarlet, that’s where I stand.”
Scarlet couldn’t believe her ears. Desperation bubbled up. “You know I have two degrees, both of them in coveted areas of engineering. One is in structural, isn’t that what dressmaking is? My other degree is chemical engineering, which lends itself to textile science.”
Carly shook her head. “Your spin won’t work on me.”
“In life, you have to stray outside the lines to stand out,” Scarlet said. “My engineering skills could be a secret weapon if only you opened your mind. Do you know I could be earning four times my pay right now? I gave that up for my love of the craft. I’m dedicated. I’m a valuable resource and I’m right here under your nose. I’m already considered an expert! You know the patternless sewing workshop series I’m teaching here? Well, it’s sold out!”
Carly’s eyes opened wider than jumbo buttons. “Workshop series? What do you mean, here?”
“Here, as in… the production room. I requested it months ago and you approved. I saved the e-mail.”
“I can’t allow a private workshop here,” Carly said. “I can’t risk the potential damage. I’d probably have to take out extra insurance. Those are lines I’m not about to cross.”
Scarlet stared blankly at that flashy gold pen resting in Carly’s pencil cup. Patternless Sewing began in three days. Twenty-four students and no place to put them. She wouldn’t dare cancel. Her credibility would be shot. Even worse, no Johnny Scissors tuition money.
“Scarlet, I do have some good news,” Carly announced. “You are doing an excellent job as my assistant. I’m giving you a ninety-five cent weekly pay increase.”
“$49.40 a year? Thank you,” Scarlet said as she rubbed her thumb over the hole in her jacket. One last thought came to her mind.
“What if I told you I was accepted into the Johnny Scissors Emerging Designers Program? What if I completed it and earned a fashion degree that way?” Scarlet asked.
Carly let out a mini snort, and rose to escort Scarlet out of her office. “Wouldn’t we all love to be accepted into that program? I’ve applied every year since college. I hear Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney are each starting rival programs. You’re so cute, Scarlet. The day you bring me a diploma from Johnny Scissors is the day I make you partner. Now, get back to work.”
Twenty-four hours later, Scarlet arrived at her parents’ Peoria home with a tub of creamy mashed potatoes in tow. On the drive over she vowed, as she always did, that under no circumstances would she bring up fashion, fabric, Carly Fontaine, or Daisy. Much less Johnny Scissors.
Thanksgiving dinner went like clockwork. The house was filled with chatty aunts in the kitchen, uncles clustered in front of the big-screen TV watching the football game, kids running rampant from one door to the next, and a dozen cousins downing beers on the back patio. Above all the small talk Nana Eleanor could be heard bragging about her latest doctor’s appointment. Ever since her early seventies, the only prescriptions her doctor required were a daily dose of fresh air, a multivitamin, and a weekly shopping spin with Scarlet around town in her Mercedes. Nana made up the last one, but no one dared question it.
By eight p.m., everyone had left except for immediate family. It was a Santana ritual. Scarlet’s older siblings, Charles and Eliza, sat at the kitchen table and took turns explaining, in detail, their current respective work projects. The conversation always ended with rounds of accolades for one another.
Scarlet listened to all their play-by-play anecdotes, knowing her turn to discuss her accomplishments would not arise. Her life choice had become the white elephant of family talk fests. One would think she’d shaved her head and married a female unicorn instead of choosing to work in fashion. The Santana clan considered her budding profession a joke, and the otherwise upbeat discussions turned into career intervention. To avoid headaches on all parts, Scarlet muted her own professional accounts and simply tuned into everyone else’s.
After her second serving of turkey, Scarlet joined her eldest brother, Charles, in an in-depth review of his latest work project: designing a solar-powered light system for a new public art sculpture that would sit atop Glendale’s tallest building.
“Traditional solar panels are so bulky and sci-fi-looking, they’ll distract from the beauty of the art piece,” he said. “Too bad that’s what we have to work with.”
Scarlet shrugged. “Why limit yourself to tradition?”
“Oh, here we go, little Scarlet’s going to save the day again,” Charles said with a wide smile.
“I will,” she replied, more confident than Donald Trump cashing a check.
“I know you will,” Charles nodded. “That’s why I said it.”
“Substitute the panels with that new stretchable solar-cell film that comes in different colors.” She winked at Charles and removed the pen from his shirt pocket. He slid a paper napkin her way so she could sketch her vision.
“See?” she said as she sketched. “Why not construct a seating area on top of the building to complement the sculpture? The solar-cell film will cover flake-shaped frames to provide the shade. The effect will cast a soft rainbow kaleidoscope of color for visitors to enjoy, plus keep the lights on at night. The best part? It will run off a brain the size of a quarter.”
Scarlet snapped the cap on Charles’s pen and slid it back into his pocket while everyone sat at the table in silence, amazed at her rapid-fire mash-up of creativity and critical thinking. Well, everyone except a bored Eliza, who pulled out her phone and began to text.
“Scarlet is as gifted as she is beautiful,” Scarlet’s father, Manny, announced. She gazed at him in appreciation. He had the same pride in his eyes as he had when she took first place at the science fair every year in middle school. She’d give anything to record this moment—and replay it whenever she felt inadequate.
“Thanks, Daddy,” she said.
“Now, if only she’d make this seamstress business a hobby and get back to engineering as her real job. Scarlet, you have enough patience to juggle both. It’s like I always say…”
Scarlet blew air out of the corner of her mouth and looked to the low popcorn ceiling. “ ‘To achieve success we must strive for balance in all we do.’ Yeah, Dad.”
“Hey, Scar,” Charles said. “My buddy at Metropolitan Advanced Systems said he’d love to hire you. He was really impressed with the freelance work you did for them last summer.”
Here it comes, she thought. Time to change the subject. Scarlet waved her hands in front of her face. “Nah, I’m cool, really. OK, kiddos, I’m going to clear the table for Mom’s pie. Everyone, pass plates to the right, please.”
Eliza, Scarlet’s older sister, shoved her plate to the left. “I’m so sure! What about me? Why are all of you always trying to help Scarlet when she doesn’t want it? I hate my job right now, I’d give anything to get one of those gigs!”
“You already have a good job, Eliza. But Scarlet is a natural talent who is undervalued by her current employer. She could sew circles around that Carly,” her father answered. “We’re presenting promising alternatives for her to consider.”
Scarlet didn’t acknowledge his comments as she removed the paper napkin from her burgundy pencil skirt. Dusting the crumbs from her baby pink angora cardigan, she stood, picked up the stack of plates, walked a few steps into her parents’ kitchen, and set them on the counter. She hoped that by the time she returned, they would have switched topics. She wiped her hands on a dishtowel and walked back into the dining room to find her mother serving huge chunks of chocolate-chip pumpkin pie on clear plastic dessert plates.
“Tell them about your big promotion, Scarlet!” she said.
Manny rose in his seat, appearing a smidgen impressed. “It’s about damn time. What is your new title? How much of a pay increase?”
Great, Scarlet thought. She couldn’t have asked for worse timing. She hated that in every other aspect of her life, she felt confident and ambitious, yet here, she couldn’t even make eye contact.
“Designer!” she replied, popping up her shoulders in exaggerated delight. “It takes effect right after I come back from the Johnny Scissors Emerging Designers Program this summer.”
“The what?” Eliza asked, squishing her face like a cartoon character, hamming up the scene. She took pleasure whenever Scarlet sat in the hot seat.
“I told all of you about it at Dad’s birthday party,” Scarlet reminded them, scooting up in her chair. “It’s an exclusive design academy in New York City led by the Johnny Scissors. He is going to be my mentor. Thousands applied, and I was one of the few selected.”
Scarlet knew she had already said too much when her father cleared his throat. Her mother continued to dish out the pie.
As always, Charles added his two cents. “Why would your boss make you go to New York just to get a promotion in Phoenix? That’s illogical. And how are you paying for it? You barely make enough to pay Nana rent and cover your living expenses, your school loans…”
“Scarlet does just fine,” Nana Eleanor said. “She’s quite the businesswoman. Aren’t you, mija?”
“Thanks, Nana, but never mind,” Scarlet said, gliding her fork into the soft, gooey layer of warm chocolate chips on her dessert. She wasn’t in the mood to fight, and at least she had the chocolate to soothe her spirit. A second piece would be in order. “Let’s just enjoy the pie.”
“I’ve seen your site, Scarlet,” Patricia, Charles’s wife, said as she lifted her fork to her lips. “It’s cute.”
At last, a ray of sunshine from the bleachers! “Really?”
“Yes! I searched online for a cheese ball recipe last year and DaisyForever.com came up.”
Laughter broke out around the table—except for Jeane, Manny, and Nana Eleanor.
“Award-winning cheese balls! Come and get ’em!” Eliza hollered.
Scarlet bit the inside of her cheek to keep from snapping at her sister. In as calm a voice as she could muster, she began to explain. “I share recipes sometimes, but mostly I offer ideas of how to live an artful life. I also show how to translate vintage fashion into contemporary wardrobes. I recently had some national press. Look, I’ll show you!” Scarlet started to rise to get her parents’ laptop from the other room. She’d show them the subscriber count, the award graphics, and even links to the recent USA Today article. That ought to cool their heels!
“It’s OK, Scar, we trust you,” Charles said, leaning back to put his hand on her wrist. “Good for you. I hope it brings you all the fame and fortune you desire.”
A surge of pride came over Scarlet. “Like I’ve been saying for the past two years, all I want is to make a living doing what makes me happy.”
Manny sighed and pushed his chair away from the table. “Have you ever heard the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt? ‘Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product.’ Put that through your serger and see what comes out.” He stood up and was about to leave the room when Nana Eleanor stood up too.
“That Eleanor is long gone,” she said, wagging her crooked finger. “However, this one is still alive, and she says with or without your blessing, our Scarlet is going to find her happy.”
Excerpted from Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing by Cano-Murillo, Kathy Copyright © 2011 by Cano-Murillo, Kathy. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing by Kathy Cano Murillo is an uplifting story about a woman with a dream, and the plans she makes and friends she has that help her to achieve it. Scarlet Santana is a sewing whiz with a vision that's off the beaten path. She's inspired by bright colors, bold pairings, Carmen Miranda, and Daisy de la Flora. Her dream is to become a famous fashion designer, and it's nearly realized when she is offered a coveted spot in the Johnny "Scissors" Tijeras Emerging Designers Program in New York City. Johnny just happens to be the nephew of her idol, reclusive designer Daisy de la Flora. The problems she runs into are lack of money (this is not a free program.she must pay thousands of dollars in order to participate), what it means to give something your all, and the lack of support from her family, who think she's wasting her life on this foolish dream. Scarlet needs cash, and she needs it fast in order to pay for her tuition in the prestigious Johnny Scissors Emerging Designers Program inNew York City. She decides to teach a patternless sewing class at the design studio of her boss, esteemed designer Carly Fontaine, but at the last minute, Carly reneges on the deal they had, and Scarlet is left with a lot of paying students, but without a suitable space. Coming to the rescue is hunky Marco Vega, owner of record store Vicious Vinyl, who just happens to have the space Scarlet needs, and is willing to do what it takes to get Scarlet to use the space.and notice him. Now that the class isn't at the prestigious Carly Fontaine design studio, some of her students have dropped out; okay, most of them have dropped out. But that's okay - Scarlet has a plan for raising the extra money she needs - she'll just work harder and longer! Her students are an eclectic bunch. There's workaholic Mary Theresa whose marriage is about as tangled as a wayward bobbin; Rosa, a seasoned seamstress herself who has ulterior motives for being in the class; Stephanie and Jennifer, teenage sisters - one of which wants to be in the class, and one who would rather be out playing sports; and "Ohliveyah", a single mom, just getting by, who is learning to live for herself after being stuck in a bad marriage. They learn to let go of their inhibitions, love themselves, and make time for each other, all while sewing beautiful clothes.without using a pattern. Scarlet's family cannot understand why she's going after this ridiculous dream. She has two degrees, and she could be a great engineer making a six figure salary instead of slaving away. Scarlet decides that avoidance is the best way to deal with this problem, but that creates even more of a rift in her family. She's not sure that she'll ever be able to get them to see that while she could be an engineer, she will be a great designer. Will Scarlet raise the money she needs? Will she uncover her friends' secrets? Will her family ever accept her for who she is? You need to read the book in order to find out! The story isn't only about Scarlet and her dreams. Kathy Cano Murillo does an excellent job at giving the reader things to think about in our own lives, most especially through the blog posts Scarlet writes on her Daisy Forever blog. The overall message of the book is to believe in yourself and to follow your dreams, and to make sure you take the time to enjoy the process and the special people in your life while you do that.
The perfect book for anyone who ever had a dream to live life creatively AND a beautiful story reminding us that a dream life is what we creatively make it! Can't wait for her next book!!!
There is no single pattern for a good life. Happiness is always custom fit.
Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing is a treat to read. Like Waking Up in the Land of Glitter, this book could be considered a quick read. Although, I choose to savor the tidbits of humor, lessons to learn and the glittery words of positivity Kathy sprinkles everywhere she goes. I anxiously awaited Cano-Murillo's newest book and hope to be able to continue to be insprired by her ability to make a person smile as they read.
The "Crafty Chica" has done it again with a fabulous novel about creativity and perseverance. I thoroughly enjoyed her first book in the series, Waking Up in The Land of Glitter, which not only featured women who took their crafting seriously, but also had a plot that would appeal to people who have no interest in the hobby. Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing achieves the same, masterfully. Scarlet Santana has a brilliant mind and a degree in engineering that could easily bring in enough money to afford her any creature comfort she desires. But Scarlet instead, much to her family's dismay, has decided to follow her heart and become a fashion designer. Until her big break comes, she toils away as a design assistant and blogs about her favorite designer and inspiration. When she gets a chance to study at a prestigious (and expensive) design program, she opens a sewing school to help raise the money to attend. This is a novel about sewing and secrets. The secrets (acknowledged and dormant) that bring her students to her class. Secret love. Secret ambition. At first it seems that this book has a lot of subplots, and it does, but Cano-Murillo is able to keep the reader from being overwhelmed and tie everything up at the end. Granted as a crafty-inclined person, I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect, but aside from that, this was an inspiring story about being true to yourself.
Scarlet is 30 years old, and even with two degrees in engineering, she has decided to forego that career and pursue one in fashion. Her Nana Eleanor taught her to sew at a very young age and she makes all of her own clothes. Daisy Forever is a tribute to her favorite designer - Daisy de la Flora from the 50's. Daisy was obsessed with Carmen Miranda and patterned many of her wild designs after Carmen's love of bright colors and sequins. She was also a recluse and her current designs at Casa de la Flora are handled by her newphew Johnny Scissors. He is known as the hottest designer in New York and is the one that Scarlet has won the opportunity to study under. Unfortunately, he is mediocre as a designer and is just in it for the money and fame. Scarlet starts her Patternless Sewing class to raise money for the tuition for Johnny's class. Only five students are chosen every year and she feels very lucky to be one of them. Especially since it is the 50th anniversary of Casa de la Flora. She currently works for a designer in Phoenix, Arizona who seems to have a talent for leading her employees on and never following through. She promised Carly the use of the studio for her class and cancels on her a week before, telling her the liability insurance would be outrageous. Scarlet just knows that she has to come up with the down payment for Johnny's tuition and find a new location for her class, so she takes about 50 LP's from her eclectic collection and goes to her favorite record store - Vega's Vicious Vinyl. She thinks she might have a crush on the owner, Marco, but where she never stops talking, he hardly talks at all. (He secretly has a crush on her too though!) A disastrous incident smashes most of her records as she goes into Marco's store, but it opens the door for a "working" relationship between Marco and Scarlet. He shows her an usused back room that would be perfect for her sewing class! After letting her students know about the class location switch - only five students remain - Mary Theresa, Olivia, Rosa, Stephanie and Jennifer. Mary Theresa is the type-A mom, and to tell you a little about her - she goes by Mary Theresa - not Mary or any alternative form whatsoever! She is also a workaholic and her husband is the one that stays home and takes care of their twins. She enrolls in the class as their therapist has recommend she take some sort of free-form art class to try to "lighten up" her outlook on life. Stephanie and Jennifer are sisters in high school. Rosa is an elderly woman who came to Phoenix just to take Scarlet's class. She is terminally ill and is keeping that secret from the class as well as the real reason she is taking Scarlet's class. Olivia rounds out the class as a divorced, single mom of one. In Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing you mainly learn about Scarlet, Rosa and Mary Theresa and how these women overcome their fears and bond to each other as close as family. They encourage each other and lean on one another. Scarlet, as she deals with a blooming relationship with Marco and a disintegrating relationship with her family - whom she doesn't feel supports her. Mary Theresa as she deals with her husband leaving her to go back to work in another town and a demotion at work cutting her hours and relocating her to work from home. And Rosa, who keeps her secrets close to heart in order to make her dream live on.
I was looking for a light book, enjoyable and easy. This was great! The characters were so well established that I felt I walked into the group and became one of them. Kept me reading until the end! Loved it, thank you Kathy!
Scarlet Santana believes that the past fuels her present despite the naysayers in her life and non-believers. Scarlet channels the greatness of designer Daisy de la Flora who revolutionized fashion in her Nana's time to help her see how great fashion should be envisioned. Daisy's life is shrouded in mystery and full of excitement and Scarlet is a living, breathing expert on all things Daisy right down to every little button on Daisy's dresses. Not knowing if Daisy is even alive still Scarlet believes that Daisy's designing spirit lives inside her and she has devoted her fashion sense and style in adoration of Daisy. Scarlet has also created a Daisy website and blog where she reminds her followers to chase those dreams and celebrate the little victories in your life and her readers are devoted and respond in kind to her positive attitude. It is not easy for Scarlet to always celebrate victories when her family is trying to move her onto another career path; her boss is a single-minded fashion diva not looking to mentor but mock Scarlet's ideas; and she is short on the money she needs to get into an exclusive design school in New York. But Scarlet moves past the difficulties and opens up a sewing class to raise the money and keep her dreams flourishing. Having lost her first location her second option proves to be even better, even if it is a record store add-on but the owner is one cute distraction. Scarlet doesn't care where she sews she just needs to sew, design and work at teaching others how to tap into their inner skills. Scarlet has the will power to make this happen and the students who want to learn how to create masterpieces using Scarlet's idea of sewing without a pattern. Scarlet may have her design ideas in the past but her business sense is in the future and she uses every idea to create innovative fashion creations and sewing fixes. As the class progresses and the students become friends and Scarlet continues to work on her vision of what life can become for everyone. She wants to take the framework of everything in her life and create something wonderful despite the negative thoughts and those that don't believe because she knows all this makes her what she is and can be. While on the way to New York one road block after another presents itself but Scarlet gets past them and the reward for her effort is one she could never have anticipated. This book is an honor to read because the more I read the more I believed this is not fiction but someone's biography of a life well lived. The story is well written, the characters enchanting and Scarlet a delight. You start by cheering her on and in the end celebrate her a huge victory that is well deserved. The sad part is the book must end because you really want to know how the world continues to see Scarlet once she is able to celebrate her small victories.