Elena: The Sewing Queen

This is story 1 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Elena flaunting the dress and decorations she made at her Barbie themed birthday party!

Elena is known for her kawaii style and homemade outfits. Her life motto is to, “always be cute.” So it’s no surprise that her outfits are anything but basic! Elena strives to be different and takes every opportunity to showcase her creations to the public. Her love for sewing could be attributed to her maternal grandmother.

Elena was 7 years old when she sewed for the first time. When her grandma would visit from Mexico and stay with her family for a while, Elena noticed that she would always be working on a project. Her grandma would mostly hand stitch and use her sewing machine. Curious Elena would always ask her grandma what she was working on, and with time, her grandmother offered to teach her exactly what she was doing. In the Mexican culture, sewing is geared more towards women, so Elena’s grandma didn’t feel the need to teach her brothers. However, Elena strongly believes that sewing is a skill that everyone can benefit from.

The first project that her grandmother gave her was to embroider a flower. Her grandma drew a simple flower with leaves on a piece of cotton. Elena did her best to follow grandma’s pencil drawing and sew right on top of it. She remembers feeling excited about sewing independently because she knew the next step would be learning how to cross stitch. Why did she want to learn how to cross stitch? Because one of grandma’s cross stitch pattern books had an elephant wearing a party hat that she was dying to make. Making that cute elephant was definitely one of her goals, but she knew she had to master her basics first. With time, Elena eventually went on to make that elephant she so desperately wanted to make!

Young Elena proudly showing off her flower embroidery

From there on, Elena’s love for sewing grew. Her mom taught her how to use the sewing machine for the first time when she was 13 years old. Like her grandma, her mom would use her sewing machine for little projects here and there. Elena remembers all the times her mom helped her make Halloween costumes. She would participate in sewing up different parts of her costume, which gave her a sense of pride. Halloween is one of Elena’s favorite holidays and takes it very seriously with her outfits – a holiday meant for her creativity to shine.

By the time Elena was in high school, her interest in creating clothes for herself was at an all time high. The first garment she ever made was a strapless dress for her Senior Project. The Senior Project required all seniors at her high school to work with a mentor to learn a new skill. After learning that new skill, a final paper would have to be submitted. By this time, Elena was confident using the sewing machine, but didn’t know how to make a pattern and put it all together. Her mentor was a tailor who made men’s pants. Pattern making has been a skill she has continued to use ever since.

“He never really did womenswear, but he knew the pattern making basics, so together we made a very simple strapless dress with a sweetheart neckline and a straight short skirt,” Elena shared. “It was fun to create and made me feel confident about going into fashion design.”

When it came to choosing her major in college, Elena thought long and hard about what she’s passionate about and what she enjoys doing. Growing up, her mom always encouraged her to pursue a career in the medical field, specifically nursing. Elena didn’t quite know what she wanted to major in, but one thing she knew from the get was that she definitely wouldn’t be getting into the medical field. It took her a while to really sit and think about what route she wanted to take in college, but it all really boiled down to what she enjoyed doing on her free time.

“I took time to think what I like to do, and I landed on that I like to make things,” she said. “I say this vaguely because I did all types of crafts growing up: hand stitching, painting, paper crafts, corsage making, you name it! But overall, it was always me creating with my hands. But when I laid it all out, it all came down to fabrics being my most used medium of choice. This made it clear in my mind so I was able to choose and pursue fashion design!”

Elena and her models rocking her outfits for the college fashion show

Her parents were very unsure of her decision to pursue fashion. She understood that it’s typical for immigrant parents to want their children to pick “good” majors so they can get a job to make good money. To her parents, fashion design wasn’t a stable or profitable field. Even during her time in college, major already declared, her mom would voice her concerns, asking her daughter what she planned to do with a fashion degree. Being a good sport and knowing her parents were just worried, Elena would brush it off and jokingly troll them back saying, “beats nursing!” The disapproval and low-key shade continued on post-graduation, when she was on the hunt to find a job. But one thing about Elena – she is confident in every choice that she makes. She knows that at the end of the day, the only person that needs to be happy with her decisions is herself. Luckily, with time, Elena’s mom learned to be more supportive of her style and passions.

Elena’s style is anything but minimalistic. Everything she wears, creates, and showcases on her body are big, loud, colorful, and over the top! Elena describes her personality and style in 3 words: Kawaii, Camp, and Maximalism. Kawaii is the Japanese movement of everything and anything cute. This can be cartoon characters, pastel colors, bows, and anything adorable! Camp is self-exaggerated, not serious, and of course, fun! Elena achieves this style by wearing fun / odd things like birds in her hair, fun purses like a LEGO brick, and anything that is whimsical! Maximalism is doing the most at all times! To Elena, “More is always more!” If it’s not colorful, fun, loud, over the top, cute, or an attention grabber, Elena is not interested!

Elena has never felt insecure about showcasing her creations in public. Her favorite thing to do is wear a new design that she completed in public. She loves seeing people’s reactions when they compliment her and she confesses that she made it. Elena gets so happy when strangers and those around her admire and appreciate her work. Deep down, she also hopes her creativity inspires someone else to try sewing! Elena radiates confidence wherever she goes in whatever she wears. What’s important to her is that she dresses for herself and her own enjoyment. She doesn’t care what people think, but if they love it, even better!

Her style also comes with obsessions. Her current obsessions are Barbie and Baby Yoda. But just because these are her current obsessions, doesn’t mean she has forgotten about her past ones! The truth is, Elena never gets over anything that peaked her interest. She may have a couple of obsessions at the moment, but it just gets added to her list of things she’s in love with. When something from a past obsession comes up, Elena is reeled back in and enjoys it all over again. She keeps her long list of obsessions as inspiration to create. Though Elena has categorized her style in 3 main categories, her style could also be broken down in the different “eras” of her life.

In high school, Elena’s obsession was all about Rock music. Her all time favorite band was the band HIM. Anything the band members wore, she would do her best to find a piece that looked similar. In college, her Kawaii obsession started because she decided to watch all 200 episodes of Sailor Moon her Freshman / Sophomore year. She watched the show here and there as a kid, but never watched it in its entirety. Sailor Moon was her gateway into the Kawaii community. It definitely influenced her style completely, though she found it easy to adopt because her childhood obsessions were Sanrio and Pokémon. Post-College – Now, Elena’s current obsession is Drag Culture. It all started when a co-worker asked if she was keeping up with RuPaul’s Drag Race. She had watched earlier seasons, but fell off. She told her co-worker that she would re-watch them, and since then, the rest is history.

Elena on stage at The Warfield with Bianca Del Rio, wearing their matching Flames Dresses

“One of the best designs I made for an event would be my recreation of RuPaul’s Drag Race S6 winner, Bianca Del Rio’s Flames dress!,” Elena said when asked what designs she was most proud of. “I made it to wear at her ‘Not Today Satan’ tour stop in SF. At the meet and greet, she was so impressed that the copy was so good – she makes all her own drag outfits – she ended up inviting me on stage at The Warfield for a picture and everyone at the sold-out show got to see it!”

Now, Elena’s style is heavily influenced by Kawaii and Drag Culture. It fed into her love for Maximalism and Camp. The mutual love for RuPaul’s Drag Race got the 2 co-workers to have a friendship outside of the work environment. They would go to Drag shows in the city on the weekends and go see Rugirls, as well as other local talent. Some specific queens that have inspired Elena are: Bianca del Rio, Naomi Smalls, Bob the Drag Queen, Aquaria, and especially Valentina. Fashion wise, Valentina is what Elena strives to be. Through online and real life events, she has managed to fully immerse herself in all the styles she loves.

It’s safe to say that Elena has a very particular style and draws inspiration from so many sources. Her style is so playful, quirky, and unique that dating wise, it may be challenging to find someone that matches her style to a T. That was the case when she met her boyfriend, Sam. They shared in interest in video games on the Nintendo, but other than that commonality, the 2 lovebirds came from different backgrounds and styles. She describes their styles as polar opposites. Elena is all about coordinating outfits, and the very first time her and Sam matched was for a date to the Museum Of Ice Cream. She did a western pink look and made a matching bow tie for him to wear. Even though what he was wearing wasn’t anything flashy, he felt that it was a bit much and didn’t want to draw any attention. But with time, he saw how much dressing up meant to Elena and has learned to not only appreciate it, but go along with it.

Currently, Elena is balancing out her side passion of sewing with her current job. Her job is so flexible Post-Covid because it’s hybrid – work from home and in office. Now that she has some days of working from home, Elena finds herself working on garments during her breaks. She even found her rhythm noticing that she prefers to do work at night and projects during the day – a concept that would’ve never been a reality pre-pandemic.

One of Elena’s favorite pieces she made in college, Pop Tart Dress!

Generally, a simple design that she has done before or has the pattern for can take anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks to complete from beginning to end. If it’s a new pattern or something she hasn’t made before, it can take anywhere from 2.5 to 3 weeks. This all depends on multiple factors – when the garment is needed, if she has to get materials, how complicated it is to make, and if there’s anything going on in her personal life. If the project is for an event, Elena is very focused on sticking to the schedule to get it done on time, but if it’s a regular garment for no special occasion, she’s more relaxed getting it done. Elena is always working on a project, researching a project, or finding inspiration for the next design.

Once a garment or project is complete, Elena likes to give herself a mini break in-between. During this time, she is thinking of what to do next. This includes doing the research, looking up references, inspiration photos, and more. She admits that there are times where her mini breaks from project to project can be longer than her usual 1 – 2 weeks. Before the pandemic, Elena doesn’t recall a time where she had full on burnout with her projects. She remembers using the high of finishing a design to motivate her to start on the next project. Now 2 plus years into the pandemic, her creating fatigue is more apparent. After her Barbie themed birthday party, where she designed her dress, props, and goodies, Elena found herself in a rut. For 2 months she struggled to get in the mood to sew. It was to the point where she couldn’t even get herself to be in her sewing space at all. The burnout was really stressful, but she chose to focus her energy on other things that brought her joy, like journaling, playing Pokémon, and spending time with loved ones.

“I felt like if I spend the energy somewhere else, eventually I’ll get back to a clearer mindset and sew,” she said truthfully. “It took a while, but I can say that it did help, although I can still feel its effects. Now I’m just trying to find a better way to pace myself in projects to avoid burnout in the future… So, I do my best to rest in between projects but always try to keep something in mind.”

A common question that Elena gets asked often is if she plans to make her side passions a full-time job. In college, she did have an Etsy store where she sold her handmade hairclips, but eventually she had to close it down when school and work piled up. She thinks pursuing her creative passions full-time would be fun and exciting, but at the moment, she loves her job way too much to leave at this time. For the time being, she plans to continue to create mainly for herself. However, she is always down for a fun request. She doesn’t take custom requests often, but once in a while she will take up alterations, costume help, table centerpieces, and other fun crafts. The first time she made garments for someone other than herself was when 2 of her best friends graduated college. They asked if Elena could make and design both of their graduation dresses – she was a bit hesitant at first because she was so used to creating for herself, but in the end was glad she took on the projects because they both turned out beautiful.

Elena’s loves for creating doesn’t just stop at clothing. She will take one off commissions like making center pieces for parties or making corsages. She says that if she didn’t do fashion in school, she would’ve loved to pursue party planning or wedding planning. Themed parties have always been something that interested Elena, even at a young age. She would beg her mom to get the whole shebang at Party City – the matching plates, cups, napkins, tablecloth, signs, and anything that came in the full set. Recently, she even made all the decorations, props, and her outfit for her own birthday party. Of course it was focused on one of her current obsessions – Barbie! Parties hold a special place in Elena’s heart, and she always tries to perfect every project that she takes on.

Handmade dress on her cousin’s Ultima Moñeca

“Recently I did a Quince dress for a Build-a-Bear Dino for my cousin’s Quinceñera!,” She shares passionately. “Traditionally during the party, a Quinceñera is presented with ‘La Ultima Moñeca’ aka ‘The Last Doll.’ It is to signify that she is no longer a little girl and is now an adult who doesn’t play with toys. I let my cousin pick a stuffed animal from Build-a-Bear and I created a 1 to 1 dress based on her Quince dress!”

Social media is an important tool for Creatives to share their work. Elena confidently admits that she likes to promote her Instagram as if she has thousands of followers – even though she has yet to reach 1,000. Instagram is her platform of choice, and she uses it to showcase most of her projects. She makes it a point to post a new outfit when she wears it out and describes the process and inspiration behind the piece. Elena also likes to implement Instagram Stories to show the step by step process, then she posts the finished process as a highlight on her profile. She has taken a crack at Instagram Reels as well by pairing her videos and photos with songs that go with her theme or that has inspired her when making the piece. Elena has tried streaming herself sewing on Twitch in the past and loved that people were chatting and asking questions throughout the process. She hopes to start streaming again this year.

With all these ideas and future plans, Elena can’t put her finger on just one specific person that has supported her throughout her journey. She considers everyone in her inner circle to be someone who has been in her corner. She knows that everyone on the sidelines are rooting for her every step of the way. These people include her youngest brother, Jason, her close college friends, her “Babushkas,” her boyfriend, Sam, and of course, her grandma.

Elena’s advice to other creatives is: Do whatever makes you happy! As long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing, it will all be worthwhile. Her advice for fashion creatives is to remember to always make clothes for you. Elena wants fashion creatives to keep in mind that they are dressing either themselves or their ideal client, so if someone isn’t on board with what you create, it doesn’t matter because you’re not designing for them. She remembers that that’s the advice she had to follow in college. Fashion design made her happy, and she didn’t feel the need to explain to others why she chose this route.

Many creatives are usually asked, ‘are you able to make money off ‘Insert craft here‘?'” Elena said. “And I get it, especially if that is to become your field of work, you want to be able to make a living. But to me, the true goal is to make yourself happy. Pursue your craft and passions for self-happiness and fulfillment, with that money will follow.”   

Elena’s motto and goal in life is to always “Be Cute.” Through her style and designs, she wants to serve campy cute, maximal cute, kawaii cute, spooky cute, and any and every category of cute that there is. As a creative, her brain in constantly thinking of the next thing to create, and she is embracing every step of the way.

Elena happily posing for another photo

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