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Bloomin' Babies

Fledgling Clothing Line Swaths Tykes in One-of-a-Kind Vintage Fabrics

April 02, 1998|DENISE HAMILTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Even as a young girl, Shannon Allbright-Andrews liked to collect what she calls "girlie things." Over years of haunting flea markets and antique shops, she has amassed cupboards overflowing with delicately embroidered linen. Doilies and pillowcases. Antique tablecloths, table runners, tea towels and blankets.

Last year, Allbright-Andrews began spinning her linens into fashion gold when she started the Prettiest Baby, a line of hand-made, vintage-style clothing for infants, toddlers and children created from her extensive linen collection. The line, which ranges from $20 for bloomers and pantaloons to $65 for one-of-a-kind dresses, caught on quickly and is now available at stores such as Trellis in Studio City, Little Folk Art on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, Flicka on Larchmont Avenue in Hancock Park and Hallenbeck's General Store in North Hollywood.

"Shannon's things are absolutely unique," says Anita Hallenbeck, whose emporium is designed like an authentic, turn-of-the-century general store. "A lot of people come by, wanting me to stock their products. But for the most part, the handcrafted items I have are just hers."

A sunny 28-year-old who loves children and wants to have scads of her own, Allbright-Andrews works out of the dining room in her North Hollywood apartment, where the shelves are stuffed with colorful yarns, rolls of ribbon, vintage fabrics, jars of buttons and finished samples.

Perhaps it's in the genes. Allbright-Andrews is a fifth-generation quilter and knitter from Texas who learned those crafts from her mother and grandmother and still sews on the Singer sewing machine that her mother once used to make Allbright-Andrews' clothes.

An Army brat with a fighter pilot father, Allbright-Andrews spent much of her childhood in England, which only fortified her love of old things. She made her clothes all through college at Boise State University, where she studied theater, acting and costume designing. She moved to Los Angeles, like many people, to get into the entertainment industry. Along the way, her career took a different turn.

After her 1996 marriage to Pembrooke Andrews, she started making baby clothes for a hope chest because she didn't like what was available in the stores. From her nimble fingers they sprang: Hand-crocheted sweaters for boys and girls, Christening dresses, spring outfits in delicate pastels and corduroy dresses for winter.

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But friends clamored to buy each finished outfit, so Allbright-Andrews never did get her hope chest filled. By 1997, she was taking samples around to stores, which expressed so much interest that she was soon turning out 50 dresses a week during high season and hiring a stay-at-home mom to help her with the sewing. Much of her business is still word-of-mouth from people who want one-of-a-kind gifts.

Inlaid into the front of a white linen dress, for instance, might be an exquisite tea towel of a little girl with a pink umbrella, finished off with antique rose buttons and pink ribbon piping. There might be a floppy white hat adorned with vintage cloth flowers to go with it.

In the early days, many of the dresses and outfits were mainly white. But today, Allbright-Andrews is also experimenting with hand-dying soft linens in organic vegetable dyes and giving them whimsical names. A pale minty green color is called Simone Sprouts, for instance, because one of her favorite tyke models is 2 1/2-year-old Simone who adores Brussels sprouts. There is also Beau Kitty Peach, named after the sleek tabby who follows her around the apartment all day.

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Allbright-Andrews still combs swap meets and meets with dealers for vintage fabrics, buttons and lace. For now, the majority of her clothes are designed for girls, although the hand-knitted sweaters can be worn by little boys as well. For fall, Allbright-Andrews is introducing Christmas quilts for boys in red, white and blue with an abstract railroad pattern.

That is part of a Prettiest Baby bedroom line that will also include handmade lamps, embroidered pillows, sachets, "pillow bears" and picture frames drawn from old children's book illustrations, and, of course, the bits of antique fabric she has collected over the years.

How can she bear to part with those cherished pieces?

"I just want to see something being done with it," Allbright-Andrews explains. "The only time I get a little sad is when I make a dress with a unique tea towel or sheet and the end result is so beautiful, but I know I don't have enough materials to duplicate it. Then it's heartbreaking."

* To order a catalog, call (800) 770-0037.

Photo embellishment by REUBEN MUNOZ / Los Angeles Times

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