By Rita Vainius
Click here for her FREE
PATTERN (shown above)
Janet Fenton, an only child, was not too spoiled, she takes
pains to insist! She spent her childhood living either on the
East Coast (NY) or the West (CA). Janet recalls life as a child
in Pasadena vividly - as a dream come true. Her father's business
( KTTV in CA and NBC-TV in NYC) exposed her to the early years
of television when the TV tube pointed to the ceiling, with a
mirror mounted at an angle in back, to reflect back the image.
After a 4 year stay in CA, the family moved back to NY (Long
Island), where Janet attended and finished high school. Then
she was off to Ohio Wesleyan University, a prestigious school,
where Janet learned how to study, meet deadlines and get to class
without falling too much on icy sidewalks. Proper young ladies
were not allowed to wear pants unless the temperature went below
10 degrees, so one often saw Janet sporting red rings where the
skin between her sox and skirt was exposed. You get the picture
- Janet hates the cold! While still in college, her dad was transferred
back to the West Coast and after graduation, Janet could hardly
wait to return to sunny California, the enchanted environs of
her childhood memories. In college Janet had majored in radio
and television. Her first job was at CBS-TV in the dungeon, otherwise
known as the mimeograph department. She reminisces, "Not
too exciting, BUT we did get to type Rawhide scripts and Clint
Eastwood was tops on my list!" At the first opportunity,
Janet applied for better position and was promoted to the Script
Department. Since she did not have enough seniority to withstand
a series of layoffs at CBS, she was assigned temporarily to Extra
Casting (another boring job) and then to Publicity where she
cut out newspaper clippings about CBS shows, personnel, artists,
etc. This was definitely not the life Janet had envisioned for
herself, "I could hardly justify my college education this
way!" She left and took a secretarial job at a theatrical
agency. Her three bosses were literary agents and represented
many well-known screen and TV personalities. When her boss joined
the Creative Management Agency (CMA), he took Janet with him.
She followed again when he signed on with Samuel Goldwyn Studios.
Here he was involved in a project for a joint-venture motion
picture to be produced in Switzerland. Janet was anticipating
accompanying him there, but alas, the production fell apart.
"Cafe Latte" by Ronda
Aherns (#AR 203)
"All Over Pepper Pillow" by Valentina Heishman
By this time Janet was married and she and her husband had
just bought a small house. Instead of getting another full time
job, Janet opted to stay home and "play house," thinking,
"Now I finally have time to pursue creative activities."
This was not just a pipe dream from "out-of-the-blue;"
handcrafts and artistic pursuits had always been a part of her
family tradition. Her grandmother was an expert seamstress, Janet's
own mother dabbled in art, one uncle was an artist and her father
played the piano. Soon her latent creative tendencies were in
full bloom and Janet attempted everything she could think of
- paper mache, macrame, decorative tile and rock pictures, crochet,
pop piano lessons, making paper flowers, sewing, as well as painting
and decorating the house. She kept her hand in the movie industry,
engaging in temp secretarial work, sometimes encountering and
working with fascinating characters such as Kirk Douglas and
"Horses" by Barbara Wallace (#BW733)
"Fawn Tapestry" by Katherine Parfet (#PF107)
"Giraffe" By Valentina Heishman (#VHA37)
One course Janet took, almost against her will, was needlepoint,
taught by Marlene Solomon. A well intentioned neighbor had "twisted
her arm" into trying it. Janet still associated this type
of stitching with "grandma's rose beige footstool."
The class, contrary to her expectations, changed that misconception
dramatically and set her on the journey that would bring to fruition
her true talents. She was actually so inspired that she herself
designed and stitched a piece as a gift. Then came the brainstorm,
"Why not paint and design needlepoint canvases to sell?"
The only dilemma was, that in spite of all the classes she had
taken, Janet didn't consider herself either an artist or a painter.
She did have a friend though (Barbara), whom she did consider
to be both. Janet proposed that together they start a business;
Janet's contribution would be to teach Barbara how to needlepoint,
if Barbara would, in turn, teach her how to paint...and that,
in 1972, was the very beginning of JB Designs.
"French Cross" Janice Gaynor (#JGN165)
Collection of Nutcrackers by JB Designs
contributed and pieces stitched by Alicia Lewis
"Stitcher's Nutcracker" (left) by JB Designs
(#CNT102) stitch guide courtesy of Shear Creations
"Merlin Nutcracker" by JB Designs (#CNT21)
Taking their extremely modest joint investment of $11, they
purchased some canvas, paint and brushes and came up with 10
original designs. They then made a cold call at the local needlepoint
shop. To their utter delight Janet and Barbara made their first
sale, one canvas for $10, which was promptly spent on a celebratory
lunch! Friends who wanted to learn needlepoint began calling
and classes were arranged and conducted either in their own homes
or hosted by interested students. Janet elaborates, "We
taught these people on our own kits... and gave each hostess
her choice of kit. Soon we had a substantial following and did
a considerable amount of custom designing." In 1980 Barbara
decided to take a leave from their venture and that left Janet
to fly solo or quit. She decided to sell only to stores and hired
a sales rep. One of her early reps was none other than Elaine
Warner! As Janet's design line grew, so did sales. When Janet's
son, Mick, began attending Valley Forge Military Academy near
Philadelphia, she would combine visits to him with sales calls
in surrounding areas. Her next move was to join the TNNA and,
in 1987, JB Designs exhibited at it's first trade show at the
Jacob Javits center in NY, acknowledging her readiness to make
the major the leap to the Big Time!
"Iris" by Marcy Covington (#MC2123)
In 1989, Janet added needlework totes to her line. She was
still working out of her home. When the JB line began to dominate
almost all the family's living space, Janet knew it was time
to take the next giant step and rent an office-warehouse. That
was 1993 and JB Designs is still firmly ensconced there. The
year 1996 heralded yet another major turning point; Janet purchased
Erico of California, a leading needlepoint manufacturer. Unlike
the JB line, which consists primarily of Janet's own designs,
along with those of her niece Hilary and a few other artists,
Erico is comprised of numerous very distinguished artists, including
Peter Ashe, Marcy Covington, David McCaskill, Katherine Parfet,
Raul del Rio, Janice Gaynor, Ronda Aherns, Sev Ickes and most
recently Valentina Heishman. JB Designs currently inventories
about 1500 designs as well as 25 styles of tote bags and accessories.
Consequently, they have almost outgrown their space, which was
already once doubled in 1993.
Totes and accessories by JB Designs
At heart, Janet is a dedicated and spirited good Samaritan.
Over the years she has generously donated time and energy to
worthy causes: Guiding Eye Dogs, the Volunteer League, sorority
groups and, most recently, as the chairman of the Needlepoint
Group, a committee of TNNA. As in the Sound of Music soundtrack,
"...Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...,"
here are a few of Janet's favorite things: animals (especially
her own 2 cats and 2 dogs (Golden Retrievers named JB and Leia.
JB even gets treated with acupuncture for his ailments - now
only a true Californian would think of that for a pet!), antiques,
Gone With the Wind, travel, genealogy, tennis, art, crafts, home
decorating, film, Jeopardy, e-mail, old photos, friends, everything
about 17th-18th century England, Amsterdam and Russia, music,
safari, "High Society," 20/20, Excel spreadsheets,
trade shows, her employees, her job, her company and of course,
needlepoint. She bemoans, "I rarely have the time these
days, however and that's why my e-mail address is j2bzy4this!"
Considering her interests, lifestyle and responsibilities, one
would hardly think she could keep up the pace. But just send
her an e-mail and you'll find the reply come back at the speed
of....well that depends on your own internet provider! Janet
is already on to the next task at hand....
18344 Oxnard Street #109
Tarzana, CA, 91356
Phone: (818) 776- 1787
Fax: (818) 776-0988