My Life : The Early Years

Do you ever wonder about the people whose blogs you read? What their backgrounds are? How they came to be doing what it is they are doing? I do. And here is my story……well, the beginning part anyway….

My mom , myself, and my brother at The Grand Canyon. Boy was I chubby!

I started off life as a child in the Hollywood of the 1970’s which is very different than it is today. My brother, myself and I lived in a little bungalow that Gary Cooper had once lived in, tucked off of Sunset Boulevard, near the corner of Sunset & Vine. My dad was a sound editor at the local movie studios and my mom was a budding artist. Funnily enough, they had both hitchhiked to California, my mom to San Francisco to be a hippie, and my Dad to Los Angeles to catch a boat to Japan to take photographs, which he never did. They met on the beach in Venice beach.

We were warned as children not to go up to Sunset Blvd. There were girls walking up and down the street there, wearing short shorts and big high heels. I thought they looked like Barbie dolls.

My dad, myself, and my brother in the 1970’s

My mother didn’t really sew much, although she knew how. Her generation had been taught in school in Home Economics classes. Those classes had been cut out of Los Angeles public school curriculum by the time I was in middle school. However, my mom did have a small business making and designing screen printed punk rock T shirts for a local boutique in Hollywood called Poseur down on Melrose. I used to love helping her hang her creations outside on the line to dry. Sid Vicious, The Clash….she made the coolest T shirts! Mom stopped making her t shirts around the time she and my dad split up when I was 12 or 13 when she went to work full time as a curtain and drapery designer.

My mom did have an old sewing machine and as a 13 year old punk rocker, I wanted to make a cool skirt I had envisioned. So I got her old Kenmore out and proceeded to jam the whole thing up. I was so frustrated I put it away and didn’t pick it up again until I was 18.
I had signed up for a beginning sewing class at my community college. My crowning achievement in that class was a straight skirt with a zipper and a detached waistband. I was so proud of myself!

Me as a punk kid in the eighties.

When I was 20 my world was shattered when my brother Ian was shot and killed by some local gang members in a random drive by shooting a few blocks from our home. I had to identify him in the morgue of the hospital so my mom wouldn’t have to.

His friends who were there and the neighbors who witnessed the incident were afraid to come forward to identify the killers because they were afraid of retribution from the street gang. But one of my brothers’ friends who was there was brave and did come forward. It was known that there were several gang members involved but only one could be positively identified by my brothers’ friend. This brave and loyal friend and his entire family had to go into a witness protection program and moved away. I didn’t see them again until my the trial of Ian’s killer.

After I ran into my brothers’ killers’ twin brother at the local car wash one day, I decided to leave LA for what I though was for good. I sold my car, dropped out of college and moved alone to Florence, Italy at the age of 20. I now realize that I was suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, but at the time it seemed like the only logical thing to do.

The car I sold so I could move to Italy

While in Italy, I studied Italian and art history at the local Italian University. It was just what I needed. To get away and forget for a little while.
When I came back the following fall for the trial, I knew that what I wanted to do with my future was design clothing. So I signed up for a program at FIDM, a fashion design school in downtown LA. Somehow I made it through. Although my brothers’ killer was convicted for life, I still have to visit the prison every five years for his parole hearings and relive the incident all over again. It’s always so surreal to see this guy, around my age, who is spending his life behind bars for what he did to my brother.

 One night while I was still a fashion student and working various part time jobs in fashion, I met my future husband while out dancing with my girlfriends at a club. The next chapter of my life was soon to come….
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  1. says

    Wow, Justine. You’ve been through a lot. What a remarkable person you are; I bet your brother cherished having you as a sister. God bless.

  2. says

    You have experienced so much Justine and shows just how strong you really are. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  3. Mie@Sewing Like Mad says

    Yes, I always wonder that….but I never imagined yours to be so dramatic. Wow! Now I understand where you get the courage to write those great this-is-really-the-truth-posts which I love.
    Respect Justine!
    And btw your youngest looks EXACTLY like a way less chubby you on the first photo – so funny!

  4. says

    Wow. I’m sorry for the loss of your brother and the continued re-living of that moment each time you have to attend parole hearings.((hugs)) Thank you for sharing…it’s always interesting to hear about the background of people you admire!


  5. sewVery says

    I know it took a lot of courage to share that with the world. It’s a blessing that you were able to find a creative outlet to help you heal. Sending you lots of hugs, my friend!

  6. Olga says

    I always wondered what happened… just seemed like one day you guys were gone……I know I had moved out before it happened but it always felt like a fog when I looked back…..thanks for being brave enough to tell your story. Ian was an original. His memory lives on through you and your family…..he would be proud.

    • Justine of SewCountryChick says

      Hi Olga ! I didn’t know you read my blog! I will e mail you!

    • Olga says

      I read your amazing blog all the time! I love every inch of it! I love all the DIY and the photographs are fantastic! Yes, please email me! My sis and I would love to see you and catch up one day when you have the chance. We do go to Camarillo and Ventura from time to time so maybe one day soon make a date….?

  7. says

    Thanks for sharing your story, I admire you for the courage you have in sharing something so personal, not everyone can do that. My heart goes out to you and what you must have to go through every time you attend the parole hearings. Your brother would be proud of you!

  8. Marie says

    You’re very brave and honest for sharing a glimpse of your challenging past, but I (like everyone else reading I’m sure) admire you for it. You’re an incredible woman for putting your life back together and for dedicating so much time to your beautiful blog. I hope you share the next chapter of your life with us soon!

  9. Sew Blessed Maw says

    Justine, You and your brother were both adorable kids.. SO cute .. I am so sorry to hear about your brother..What a terrible traggedy, and so sad that you had to identify him..You are an amazing girl, and so smart. You took and went to school and made your life what it is today.. I am so proud of you.. Your story was so heart felt. My prayers go out to you for the hurt you have gone through and the hurt of each trip to that prison and having to relive it.
    I always do wonder about my blogging friends.. In the “real world”, what are they really like? One day,I will share who Judy really is. thank you so much for such a caring heart felt blog..May God bless you and help you and your family. Hugs.

  10. Another Sewing Scientist says

    What a heartfelt and honest post. I know you eluded to this history in a previous post, but now that you’ve filled out the story a bit, it’s all the more heartbreaking. I have one sibling and I can’t imagine having to go through that, especially at a young age. Thank you for sharing, and I hope that you don’t have to face the parole board for a long time.

    BTW, what year were you in Florence? I was there in 1992, so I wonder if we ever crossed paths….

  11. says

    Those photos are so cool! Your youngest daughter looks just like you 🙂
    I never would have imagined what you have been through ~ thanks for sharing your background and I am looking forward to reading the next part of your story.

  12. says

    That must have been a difficult post to write, Justine! You went through a lot at a very young age. Having survived the ordeal, has no doubt helped to make you the strong person that you are today. It’s always interesting to read how people become interested in sewing and fashion, although your post certainly didn’t pan out as expected. Your youngest daughter looks like you do sitting in the stroller.

    • Justine of SewCountryChick says

      I know Pam. i realize it seemed like a happy go lucky post in the beginning and the WHAM I drop this bomb on everyone. Sorry about that. It happened so long ago and I have told the story so many times, sometimes I forget how shocking it must seem to others,

  13. Bri says

    I’m sorry to hear about the pain you have had to repeatedly go through, you are a strong woman.

  14. Kelley Dibble says

    This post is inspiring for many reasons. Courage is the first word that comes to mind. I often ask people, “What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?” It sounds as if your life has been enriched by courage.

    You’re right– we should not only wonder and ask others we admire about their life; we should share about our own. We never know that for someone our encouragement, our testimony, our living witness that life is worth living, is just what they needed, that we can be a positive influence, that we need each others’ stories and experiences. They just might be the right word at the right time.


  15. Karen Gass says

    What an amazing and inspiring story, Justine, you’ve really been through a lot for such a young age. But I am a firm believer that our past experiences (even when they are bad or hard to go through) take a huge part in forming who we are now. And it’s quite obvious those experiences formed you into a loving and caring person. I’m sure you cherish your family just a bit more, because you realize how fragile that thread is. I’m so glad you shared your story. Let us know when you have to go to the hearings, and we’ll keep you in our prayers. Hugs… karen

  16. says

    Justine! You have such an interesting story and the photographs are priceless.

    SO many things to comment on both wonderful and sad… I am so sorry about your brother. Truly I am. I can’t imagine reliving that each time you go to a parole hearing.

    Your parents—I want to know more!


  17. says

    You have lived such an adventurous and interesting life, although I can see some of it was through coping with such tragedy. Such a loss. So you are a true Southern California girl! Hollywood in the 70s – now that had to be cool!

  18. says

    Thank you for sharing a part of your story here. I don’t know how anyone would manage to come out the other side of such sadness and become such a positive person. Wow is all that I can say. You have a wonderful blog, I will definitely be following your page with interest, Gem from

  19. says

    Thank you for sharing your story. I pop by your blog a few times a week and it is indeed interesting to read about the bloggers themselves!

  20. says

    Justine, I read this when you first posted it, but I didn’t know how to comment. Having to deal with those hearings every 5 years must be very difficult and bring all the memories crashing back. You really are amazing and very courageous. I love the pictures you posted and the peek into your childhood. x Angela

  21. Leslie says

    Hi from New Zealand, Justine! Phew, I feel for you. It’s heartbreaking and senseless and changed life forever for two families. I hope having your own good-sized family fills some of the gap but when I see something like your story I often think, “the wrong one died.” Not in favour of capital punishment just that two lives were lost, the victim and the perpetrator. Kindest best wishes, Leslie