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CRAFTS : Personal Touch : Irvine Designer Weaves, Sews Her Casual Creations

April 15, 1993|ZAN DUBIN | Zan Dubin covers the arts for The Times Orange County Edition.

Diana Jahns says her mother threw up her hands the first time she tried to teach her daughter to sew.

"She said, 'Honey, let's just put it away until you're ready,' " recalls Jahns, who was 9 back then.

But about a year later, mother and daughter gave it another go, proving again that persistence pays. Today, at 41, Jahns is an accomplished clothing and jewelry designer represented by galleries in Orange and Los Angeles counties, and in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Southampton, N.Y.

Right now, the Irvine resident is concentrating on a line of loose-fitting cardigans, vests and coats made from cotton she hand weaves then hand sews.

The casual, washable garments favor natural, earthy hues and leave fussy adornment--often even buttons--behind.

"They're meant to be easy to wear and suitable for different occasions," Jahns said. "I'm trying to appeal to a broad spectrum of customer, and even sold some to men."

One variation, her sleeveless "sport vest," is a kicky adaptation of a common zippered sweat shirt.

"It seemed like a design that would have longevity," she said.

Jahns employs one assistant weaver but hopes to hire others to help put out the line. She'd like more time for one-of-a-kind creations.

"One-of-a-kind (production) is almost fantasy land in some ways," she said. "It gives me a chance to try out new ideas and techniques."

But repetitive work can be just as fulfilling.

"The weaving is very rhythmic," she said. "A six- or eight-hour day at the loom can go by really fast without being real boring, so in that sense, it's soothing and easy to go to, it's not as (mentally) taxing as the one-of-a-kind."

Jahns uses polymer clay (Fimo and Sculpey brands) to make beaded bracelets. But she doesn't care for the layering or cane method parroted by many Fimo enthusiasts. Her spontaneous, free-style designs--sometimes incorporating dice or beady plastic eyeballs--sport a distinctive look.

"In almost everything I do, I try to cut out a little spot in the market just for me," she said. "I subscribe to just about every (craft) magazine on the market to stay in touch."

Earrings and necklaces that incorporate her photographs of nature--clouds, clear water and wild mustard that grows near her house--are "an attempt to redefine preciousness," Jahns explained.

"Jewelry for the most part represents what people value in the way of material preciousness and the more money you have, the more gold, semi-precious and precious stones are contained in the jewelry you buy. My jewelry, with photographs of nature, represents another interpretation of preciousness."

Born in the San Fernando Valley, Jahns graduated from Newport Harbor High School after her mother, trained at a dressmaking school, taught her to sew.

In the following years, she learned to crochet, knit, draft clothing patterns and weave on a loom, the latter while she was an art student at Santa Barbara City College. Some of her previous fashions involved embroidery, beading, applique or fabrics she dyed or painted.

She has been selling her work in galleries since 1979 and moved to Irvine about eight years ago when her husband, Tim, got the job of education curator for the Irvine Fine Arts Center.

The Laguna Art Museum Store in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, and Swept Away, an Irvine boutique, carry her jewelry. Shebue, a Laguna Beach boutique, sells her clothing, which consumes the bulk of her time. She enjoys both crafts equally, however.

"Ultimately," she said, "the satisfaction comes from a kind of meditation I engage in whether I'm beading or hand-stitching or weaving."

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