Teaching the basics of sewing wasn’t the fashion veteran’s first choice, but Bella Lofaso has been at it for 25 years. | Face to face


Bella Lofaso is holding a stuffed chicken. It’s just a little smaller than a baseball and it rests in her hand until she starts turning it around to show off the different patterned fabrics and the hand-stitched felt comb. “Everyone makes a chicken,” she says.

Lofaso is the owner of Bella’s Studio, an unassuming space tucked away in a storefront on Calle Principal in Monterey. It’s just big enough for one or two people to lay out materials and operate sewing machines – perfect for one-on-one instructions on needle and thread application.

The studio is a scaled-down version of the Lofaso couture salon that opened in 2010. After a long career in the industry – working with a sportswear company, time with another lingerie company, years creating everything from dresses to decorating, a stint teaching fashion and design at Carmel High School – Lofaso decided to dedicate his time to people learning the art, as well as those who need a table and guidance.

When the Weekly caught up with her at the boutique on a Monday morning, hovering over the table with a customer who had recently returned to the sewing machine after three decades, consulting on button options for a lime-green quilted jacket.

Lofaso has been sewing since she was a child (“there’s nothing I haven’t sewn,” she says). But teaching had never been a priority until he was asked to fill the role at Carmel High. She hesitated at first, seeing little appeal in a room full of teenagers. Now she admits 12 years in the classroom has been a blessing.

The tools she learned as a teacher apply to her business today. That’s why every newbie who walks into his store makes a chicken. “In this project, you will find everything you need to know about sewing,” says Lofaso.

Weekly: Why did you decide to downsize?

Lofaso: I was busy. I was at the point where you were expanding or downsizing. It’s a tough call. Then Covid hit. Luckily, I had enough reserves to carry me through. My idea was that a person could come here and have everything they needed. The requests are constant. People need advice.

Many people are hesitant to get into sewing.

One of the main reasons is probably the sewing machine. You do not know where to start. I use the analogy of the flip phone. Sewing followed technology. If you know the machine, you will use it. I have always told my students that sewing skills transfer in life. I’m an engineer at heart, and sewing is engineering. You take squares and rectangles and calculate how they fit together. When you start a project, you get information and make choices, you organize and plan. And you get something tangible.

Is it difficult to work with someone who has never done it?

I wouldn’t say it’s difficult. I put everyone on a machine right away and show them you can control it. You’re not going to sew your finger. All children also learn to embroider by hand. Then it’s about finding where your interests are.

Do you have any wounds to show?

No, I really got lucky. I was close, however. Accidents happen.

How did you start?

I was raised by my grandmother and she always sewed. I got it right. That’s all I did.

But she probably did it out of necessity. This is not the case today.

I’m shocked at how many people don’t know how to sew a button. But there is a movement, a response to fast fashion. There are people who reuse, reuse. It’s a good move. It is driven by overconsumption and the exploitation of workers in the garment industry. People wonder, “How can a T-shirt really cost $2?” And you have so many sites like Pinterest that promote creativity, which is great.

Do you make your own clothes?

I used to, but I don’t anymore. There are so many other things to do – bags, table decorations. Quilting is the big market.

What does sewing give?

It’s this inherent thing. Everyone wants to create. It may just be “I sewed on a button”, but you sew on one button, you sew on two. As I tell my students, success leads to success.

These old school skills are really appreciated. It is an expression of who you are. You can do it all your life, it will always be there.

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