Bella Lofaso holds a stuffed chicken. It’s just a bit smaller than a baseball and it rests in her hand until she begins turning it to show off the different patterned fabrics and the hand-sewn felt comb. “Everybody makes a chicken,” she says.
Lofaso is the owner of Bella’s Studio, an unpretentious space tucked into a storefront on Calle Principal in Monterey. It’s just large enough for one or two people to spread out materials and operate sewing machines – perfect for one-on-one instruction in the application of needle and thread.
The studio is a scaled-down version of the stitch lounge Lofaso opened in 2010. After a long career in the industry – work with a sportswear company, time with another firm making lingerie, years creating everything from dresses to decor, a stint teaching fashion and design at Carmel High School – Lofaso decided to dedicate her time to individuals learning the art, as well as those needing a table and some guidance.
When the Weekly caught up with her at the shop on a Monday morning she hovered over the table with a client who recently returned to the sewing machine after three decades, consulting about button options for a lime green quilted jacket.
Lofaso has been sewing since she was a child (“there isn’t anything I haven’t sewn,” she says). But teaching had never been a priority until she was asked to fill the role at Carmel High. She balked at first, seeing little appeal in a room full of teenagers. Now she admits that 12 years in the classroom was a blessing.
The tools she gained as a teacher apply to her business today. That’s why every first-timer who enters her shop makes a chicken. “In this one project is everything you need to know about sewing,” Lofaso explains.
Weekly: Why did you decide to scale down?
Lofaso: I was busy. I was at the point where you either expand or downsize. That’s a tough call. Then Covid hit. Fortunately I had enough reserve to carry me through. My idea was that a person could come in here and have everything they need. Inquiries are constant. People need advice.
A lot of people are hesitant to take on sewing.
One of the main reasons is probably the sewing machine. You don’t know where to start with it. I use the analogy of the flip phone. Sewing has kept up with technology. If you know the machine, you will use it. I always told my students that sewing skills transfer to life. I’m an engineer at heart, and sewing is engineering. You take squares and rectangles and compute how they go together. When starting a project you acquire information and make choices, you organize and plan. And you get something tangible.
Is it hard to work with someone who has never done it?
I wouldn’t say it’s hard. I get everyone on a machine right away and show them you can control it. You are not going to sew your finger. All the kids also learn how to hand embroider. Then it’s a matter of finding where your interests are.
Do you have wounds to show?
No, I’ve been really lucky. I’ve been close, though. Accidents do happen.
How did you get started?
I was raised by my grandmother and she always sewed. I took right to it. That’s all I’ve done.
But she probably did it out of necessity. That’s not the case today.
I’m shocked at the number of people who can’t sew on a button. But there’s a movement, a response to fast fashion. There are people who are reusing, repurposing. It’s a good movement. It’s driven by over-consumerism and 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 make – bags, table decor. Quilting is the big market.
What does sewing give back?
It’s that inherent thing. Everyone wants to create. It may only be “I sewed on a button,” but you sew on one button, you’ll sew on two. Like I tell my students, success leads to success.
Those old-school skills are really valued. It’s an expression of who you are. You can do it for a lifetime, it will always be around.