Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Princess of the Sea

Key West -- My friend, Meg Cabot, asked me to decorate a tiara to celebrate the upcoming publication of Forever Princess, her final book in the Princess Diaries series. The New York public library will benefit from the proceeds of an on-line auction of these "celebrity" decorated tiaras during the month of January. The idea sounded like fun so I said, Count me in. That was last summer.

Toward the end of summer I was asked where the tiara should be sent. By then it was clear I'd never find the time until I got to Key West which I thought would be mid-October. But then...well, I started to get really busy. By the time I got around to the tiara the deadline was approaching. Since Meg and I both live in Key West I was thinking of a sea theme -- you know, shells and star fish. But I wanted it to sparkle, like Meg. So I went for Swarovski crystals instead, in Key West colors -- the blues and greens of the sea -- with mother of pearl, rhinestones, and a silver centerpiece. Sounds good, right? Read on...

The Saturday before my family was due to arrive for the holidays was my last free day. It was then or never! But decorating the tiara proved to be harder and more time consuming than I could have imagined. I worked all day, took a quick break for a pasta supper, then continued into the night.

At the time I was quite proud of myself. The last time I'd use that much glue was 40-something years ago when Larry and Randy were little children and I was designing and making wall hangings for children's bedrooms (I refer to this as my first career). I can't believe I had the chutzpah back then to pack up a suitcase of sample "felt pictures" as I called my creations, take the bus into New York (from my home in suburban New Jersey) and march into Bloomingdale's. Somehow, I found my way to the children's accessories buyer (maybe it was the children's furniture accessories buyer?) who looked at my work and said Yes! I can still remember the thrill of hearing him say he wanted to carry two designs, one for boys - a red and blue toy soldier - and one for girls - a ballerina. (Talk about your basic stereotypes!) Each would be a special order featuring the child's name and colors to compliment his/her bedroom. I would be paid $9 apiece. Nevermind that I had to buy the materials and ship the finished products or that Bloomingdales was selling them for $18 (50% markup was common, still is). Even so, I would make a few dollars on each. I was ecstatic!

For a year I sat in my basement workshop and turned out "felt pictures." Larry and his friend, Laurie Murphy, would sit on the floor and play with scraps of fabric and trim. Soon word got out and I began to get orders from friends and friends of friends. I had a small (make that very small) business. Eventually I grew bored and the skin on my fingers started to peel from the Elmer's glue. With my profits (about $350 as I remember it) I bought an electric typewriter. Soon after, I started to write. But before then I created one last design for my college roommate's second baby, a boy, Jordan.

Here's where things get strange. While I was gluing crystals onto the tiara, my college roommate, Sondra Snyder, was cleaning out her attic and came across the felt picture I'd sent to her for Jordan's room. She surprised me with this photo....

First thing I thought when I saw it was, where are the toddlers' hands? Why aren't they on the floor? Then I thought, it's a good thing I started writing!

Cut to the present --

When I called Meg to tell her I'd finished the tiara and was packing it in bubble wrap for its trip to New York, she told me I could see some of the other tiaras online. Big mistake! When I went to the website and saw what Bobby Brown (the makeup guru) had designed, not to mention some of the other fantastic creations, I crumpled. There was no way I was sending in my tiara which now looked pathetic to me -- make that less than pathetic. I was so relieved I hadn't sent it off. I wanted a do-over. If only I'd checked out the website first, I told myself, surely I'd have come up with something more original. But now there wasn't time. Either I had to send in my tiara as it was or...wait! Maybe I could improve it by adding a lining. Yes...something in deep blue or purple to set off the stones. But where was I going to find a piece of fabric in just the right color?

Enter our friend and house helper, Marianne, who knew just the thing.
My old (and favorite) tank top, one I like to wear to tap class. I agreed, the color was perfect. And I had other old t-shirts to wear to tap class. So I cut a few inches off the bottom -- just enough to glue (more glue!) to the inside of the tiara. Surely this would do the trick!

Ummm...let's just say it was an improvement.

I know what you're thinking -- that it's good I found another career! But try to remember the money from the auction goes to a worthy cause -- the Young Adult section of the NY public library. And it's a lot more sparkly in person. Really.
P.S. On a recent interview with Renee Montaigne on Morning Edition (NPR) I talked about making Felt Pictures. Now that you know what they looked like you'll understand when I say how naive I was at the time.