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Old Spanish Days seamstress puts her heart into every stitch

Old Spanish Days seamstress puts her heart in every stitch

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – When a Fiesta dancer wears a dress made by Maria De Los Angeles it often leaves a lasting impression.

The dancers say the dresses can really make a performance. Sometimes the seamstress cries tears of joy.

"I cry when I saw one of the dancers come out. She looked adorable and I start crying," Maria says.

Maria learned to sew in Mexico when she was a young mother. Fiesta creations are the majority of her business between March and August.

Her Santa Barbara shop feels intimate as dancers come and go for fittings year after year.

"One of the dancers, I've been making her dresses since she was 5 years old and now she is 18," Maria said

She loves when they return to visit and dancers often recognize her creations.

Due to the pandemic, the seamstress and owner of Madame Tailor on De La Vina Street in Santa Barbara couldn't watch the Spirit competition in-person.

Now, with many restrictions lifted, things will be different during Old Spanish Days events in August.

Savannah Hoover was named the 2021 Junior Spirit, and will be wearing more than half a dozen dresses made by Maria including white gowns.

"We have got to make it look nice, and pretty, and make the dancer able to dance," said Maria.

The designs are a collaboration. It begins with a sketch by Daniela Zermeño. 

“You kind of see a piece of fabric at first, and then you see the ending when the whole dress is made, and it is very beautiful,“ said 9-year-old Savannah.

Daniela Zermeño is Savannah's dance instructor. Her brother, Ryan Zermeño, was the only male Junior Spirit in the history of fiesta in 1998.

"He is working with the Junior Spirit on a special dance to present during Fiesta," said Daniela.

Maria is making more than 60 other dresses for flamenco dancers from the Zermeño Dance Academy in Goleta.

They cost about $300 each.

Dancer Mia Talaugon loves the color they chose this year.

"I have never had a purple dress before, purple is a favorite color, the low back and waist is really pretty," said Mia. "She is very creative and has so many ideas that just make Fiesta so enjoyable because to have a really good Fiesta, you have to like your dress."

Long sleeves and lace and really bright colors are in style this year, Maria says. But Spirit title holders are known for wearing white.

No one is supposed to see the white gowns before opening night.

"Every time the Spirit or Junior Spirit walks out on this stepping stool in their final dress we have tears in our eyes. She is amazing and she doesn't just do Fiesta work. She is an incredible seamstress with a very amazing attention to detail and I think that makes her very special and unique," Daniela Zermeño said.

Maria, who commutes from Oxnard, is working overtime.

"Working really hard, like 18 hours every day, with two helpers because it is a lot a lot of work."

She also comes to the rescue during wardrobe malfunctions.

"I have ripped a lot of dresses before, sometimes you have to learn to pull up your skirt before sitting down, sometimes when you arms go up, it rips," said Savannah.

Daniela calls Maria a miracle worker. She once fixed a dress right before an audition.

They think Maria's love for them is on full display when she creates the one-of-a-kind pieces.

"I'll know she is really happy and that makes me really happy," Savannah said.

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Tracy Lehr

Tracy Lehr is a reporter and the weekend anchor of NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Tracy, click here

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