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Using Clothes as Threads to the Past : Fashion: Newport Beach designer Sandra Benuska Moreno transforms curtains, blankets and other materials from the 1940s and '50s into garments with that old-time feel.

November 16, 1995|KATHY BRYANT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEWPORT BEACH — Sandra Benuska Moreno says her designs are more than just clothes. They are a way to reinvent the past.

"I label my clothes One Song, which means universe. Universe is a name I got from a Wayne Dwyer book that impressed me, since it showed how everything's connected. Since I'm working with used fabrics from the past and re-creating them into a whole new 'life,' I feel the name really fits," Moreno said.

For five years, Moreno has been transforming draperies, curtains, bedspreads, blankets and tablecloths from the 1940s and '50s into men's and women's shirts ($80 to $110), vests ($55 to $65) and barn jackets ($125). She also custom makes women's dresses using hand-dyed laces, sheets and tablecloths ($95 to $125) and girls' dresses ($48) from old aprons, handkerchiefs and pillowcases.

She accents them with vintage buttons and beads from her large collection from the turn of the century to the present.

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"I've always loved the old things because they've lasted so many years and they're still beautiful. They really have quality to them," she said. "I use anything that I think can be turned into something else. I especially love working with old cottons and linens because they make beautiful, comfortable garments."

At first Moreno designed jewelry using her bead and button collections. Then she started making girls' dresses out of handkerchiefs.

"Collecting old hankies was fun. I really enjoyed mixing and matching them," she said. "I went from that to aprons. And then to men's shirts."

For men's shirts, she dyes old damask tablecloths to reveal the highs and lows in the fabric and adds vintage buttons. They are soft and comfortable, and since she makes them large, they can be worn by men as shirts or by women as jackets.

The 39-year-old Newport Beach designer haunts flea markets, secondhand shops and garage sales for material.

She is always on the lookout for something different.

Fabrics of the '40s and '50s supply inspiration, she said. Drapery designs were based on a newfound love of "modernity" and the introduction of commercial hand-screen printing, which made it possible for geometric shapes and curves to be printed in bright colors. Often the fabric of choice was rayon because of its soft drape and luminous quality.

"When I see a piece of fabric I look for the wear in it and the colors," Moreno said. "Most of the time stains are no problem to get out. The biggest damage to fabric is from sun rot."

She performs a "sun test" by holding fabric in front of sunlight. The places where the light floods through are the weak spots.

If the fabric doesn't have any fragile spots, it passes that test. She then washes it, tugs and pulls on it and examines again.

"That's how I find out whether it can be made into a garment or not. If not, I cut it down and it becomes a pillow, backpack or hat. I don't like throwing anything away," she said. "And the trims are wonderful for pillows."

She divides the fabric into piles of solids and prints. "I then spend two days stacking and restacking fabrics while I decide if there's enough to do the front or the back or the sleeves. At that point, I piece it all together and hand-cut all the fabrics to make sure I get the best pieces in the garments and that they all match up."

After she has had the fabric sewn together, she enters what she calls her "button frenzy" to pick old buttons that are the right color and size for the clothes. Often these buttons are what make the garment special.

Moreno said her clothing and jewelry are successful because people are tired of looking and dressing like everyone else: "People of all ages can relate to my one-of-a-kind items."

Moreno's work is available at the Woods in Brentwood and Zen Home Stitchery in Costa Mesa, which is is hosting an open reception for her from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday. For more information, call (714) 631-5389.

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