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Introduction to The East Los Angeles Stitchers with Gloria Molina


Listen as the founder and dedicated members of TELAS (The East Los Angeles Stitcher) share how their organization came to be and the passion they have for Sew Powerful. They seemed to appear out of nowhere, sending in 292 purses in 2020. But it turns out they have been there all along, finding and supporting worthy causes every year. But Sew Powerful struct a chord when a few of the members happened upon the Sew Powerful booth at the 2019 International Quilt Festival in Houston. But they weren't just attendees. They had their own booth to display the amazing work they do, as they have displayed at Quilt Shows as far away as Australia. Now meeting by Zoom, the group hasn't slowed down one bit.


Latino culture in quilting, Gloria Molina in political office, alter quilts, masks for farmworkers, masks for homeless shelters, sewing for charity, patriotic quilts for veterans, quilt guild, Sew Powerful, Jane Tenorio-Coscarelli, International Quilt Festival Houston


The East Los Angeles Stitchers (TELAS),

Gloria Molina,

Road to California Quilt Show,

Ronald McDonald House,

International Quilt Festival in Houston,

Jane Tenorio-Coscarelli,


We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.


The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.


Host: Jan Cancila

Guest: Gloria Molina, Dolores Leone, Ellena Ruiz, Marina Palomino


Jan Cancila, Host 00:05

Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.


Jan 00:20

Today I have the honor of speaking with four members of The East Los Angeles Stitchers. These ladies have banded together and produced a huge number of purses for Sew Powerful. And honestly, until these purses arrived at the Sew Powerful headquarters in Renton, Washington, well honestly, we didn't know that The East Los Angeles Stitchers existed, but boy do they exist.


Jan 00:48

Today you're going to hear from Ellena Ruiz, who coordinated the effort to make the purses for Sew Powerful. You're going to meet Marina Palomino, who won the first-place contest they held for the most purses produced. Now the second-place winner couldn't be with us today. But in third place was Dolores Leone. You'll meet them, but you're also going to meet Gloria Molina.


Jan 01:15

Now, if you live in the Los Angeles area, you might be thinking well, I know Gloria Molina. She's had a 23 year career with the LA County Board of Supervisors. She worked in the White House with Jimmy Carter. She was the first Latina to be elected to statewide office. Is it that Gloria Molina? Yes ladies and gentlemen, it is that very Gloria Molina, quilter extraordinaire and founder of The East Los Angeles Stitchers joining us today.


Jan 01:48

Hello, ladies, welcome. We are so glad you're here. I think I'll start with you, Gloria, could you tell us the name of the organization and what it means?


Gloria Molina, Guest 01:58

All right. Well, the organization is called TELAS, which is an acronym for The East Los Angeles Stitchers. And basically, we're a group of Latinas. Some of us have been quilting for a number of years, and some of us are very new to it. But the whole mission of the organization was to start introducing the Latino culture into the world of quilting. We've been doing Latino themed quilts, and we try and do workshops and teach each other our own skill set and build that. But most of the time around Latino themes. I think we have celebrations, traditions, history that is really important. Plus, you know, the colors and everything, and we offer so we're very proud. We're about 65 people strong, we meet once a month, now we're of course meeting virtually through Zoom. But we're an exciting group of people, we enjoy making quilts. And of course, we have a philanthropy that we carry out every year. We're not a formal guild, we're just a group of women who get together and enjoy quilting.


Jan 02:56

And how long have you been doing this?


Gloria 02:59

Well, you know, it seems like we just started but I think it's been what about five or seven years? I'm not sure exactly. I should give keep better track of it. But every year, we get new members that join up. And we have people that participate. A lot of us have been with us from the very, very beginning.


Jan 03:16

So how do people find out about the organization?


Gloria 03:20

Well, we try and keep in touch and of course, word of mouth initially. But luckily, we have some members who are pretty good with web. And so, we have a Facebook page, we have a Groups page. And of course we have an Instagram page. And again, always trying to recruit new members and people who are interested. And of course, we do try and do a quilt show every couple of years and so we kind of showcase the work that we do.


Jan 03:45

Ah, quilt shows yes, Sew Powerful participates in quilt shows when they exist. Can you name a quilt show or two that you've been in?


Gloria 03:54

Well, of course we were part of the Houston International Quilt Show. We got a chance to participate there. We did a series of quilts called altar quilts, which are Day of the Dead quilts. And so, we were invited to exhibit our quilts there. And of course, that's when we came across Sew Powerful when we were in Houston.


Jan 04:12

Well, how about that? And I was in the booth, now not 24-7, and Houston is my hometown. But I remember those quilts, oh my goodness, I mean,


Gloria 04:21

That was us.


Jan 04:22

What a small world.


Gloria 04:23

It is a small world and we've been in others, we've had a chance to travel to Australia, to of course Mexico City. We've done a couple of shows there. And of course, one of the largest quilt shows here is Road to California, in Ontario. And we've also had a special exhibit there, where we did our Katrina quilts, which were also part of the exhibit there. So, every so often we do specialized quilts and we like to showcase like I said, are many of our Latino themes.


Jan 04:49

Okay, you mentioned that you did your meetings during the quarantine. Can somebody describe what one of those meetings might be like on Zoom. Were you actually quilting during your Zoom calls?


Ellena Ruiz, Guest 05:04

We actually didn't actually do hands on, but every month, Gloria will put on a little class to show us something new to do, she's marvelous at that, or someone will volunteer, or she'll assign someone to give a little tutorial. So that's always very helpful. And it's great, because, you know, when we meet, you know, when we were meeting, we do the Zoom exactly like we do our meetings, you know, introductions, announcements, you know, our show and tell, you know, it's been really good, it was a nice transition for us.


Jan 05:41

And before Zoom what kind of a facility were you meeting in?


Gloria 05:46

It's a community building. And of course, we originally it was okay, when we're 35 of us. But when we grew to 60 and 65, we were elbow to elbow it was very, very hard to sew there. And so now when we go back, we're gonna have to find a new facility that incorporate all of us, but it's in East LA, it's a community center, that is located in East LA.


Jan 06:08

Okay, Dolores,


Dolores Leone, Guest 06:10

I just wanted to add that another means of getting together was at our retreats. Gloria and a few others put together a couple of retreats a year where we actually rent a location. We stay there for three days. And all we do is sew and you learn so much from these talented women. It's just wonderful. I've always enjoyed that.


Jan 06:32

So how did everybody start quilting? What is your background in quilting or sewing, Marina?


Marina Palomino, Guest 06:40

I actually got invited to a meeting and my cousin sewed. And I knew that but I really, you know, didn't have too much interest in sewing at the time. And I happened to go to the meeting right after they had come from the retreat where they made the alter quilts. And they were displaying those, and I was really taken back and I thought wow, this is something that I really want to learn and be part of. So that was almost six years ago, and I've been back ever since then. And I actually didn't even know how to sew when I started going to TELAS.


Jan 07:12

Oh my goodness,


Marina 07:13

I had a sewing machine that I had bought to fix one dress that I never thought I think I fixed that one dress and then never use the sewing machine again. So I dusted that sewing machine off and visited a local craft store and bought a bunch of supplies. And I started quilting after that. So yeah, it's been really an amazing group. And just to piggyback on to our Zoom meetings, we've also had additional meetings that we hold throughout the month for Sew Powerful we had like a sew-along purse tutorial, because you know, the directions are a little challenging as far as the length of the pattern. So, I think initially was a bit intimidating for some of our members to tackle it. So, it helps just to sit there together and kind of figure out some of the steps and be able to share ideas and also get to see a visual, right? So, and that's also been like a great way to meet during quarantine because of course a lot of us are shut in and, what is that, I don't want to say shut in because shut in sounds negative, but you know, we've been trying to stay safe and be healthy. And it's been a good way to share and whatever's going on with us. And also, I think I've been able to clean my sewing room since this has begun. And also, and then of course also make like 85 purses also for Sew Powerful. So, it's been a lot of fun.


Jan 08:24

Well, that's great. Ellena, what is your background in sewing or quilting?


Ellena 08:28

Of course, I took sewing in junior high school many, many, many years ago. And I remember my first project was a pillow, a red polka dotted pillow. And after that, I just left it but once I became a mom, I started sewing for my children. I made their pajamas, I made little Mickey Mouse outfits, I did the whole thing. I was so into my children. And then I started sewing for my nieces and nephews. Then everybody wanted me to make them something. So that basically I did that for a lot of years. Of course, when they started school, I started getting involved in all their other life. And so, I left sewing for a while. Always was interested in quilting, but never had the time. I had three children, so I was always involved in all their activities.


Jan 09:12



Ellena 09:12

So how I got involved in quilting was I went to Road to California in 2017. And I met a wonderful lady, Jane. What's her last name?


Gloria 09:24



Ellena 09:27

Yeah, she's a wonderful quilter. She designs fabrics, she designs patterns, she's written books. And I was introduced to her and she told me about TELAS. I was like, why don't you come and visit this group and so I did and when I walked in there because I had visited other guilds I was already ready to start quilting. And when I walked in there was like, whoa, this is amazing. You know, it wasn't your ordinary quilts hanging. They were vibrant colors and just everything I loved, I loved, so that's how I got started on it.


Jan 10:00

Well, that's very interesting.


Ellena 10:02

I'm still I'm still learning. I'm still learning.


Jan 10:05

So it's a lifelong thing isn't it? Dolores, what about you?


Dolores 10:10

I never had an interest in sewing at all or quilting. My husband was a sewer. But I worked with Ellena and Gloria's sister Bertha at our job and Ellena would try and introduce me into her group and I don't want to have anything to do with it. I had no interest. But then when I saw some of the artwork that she produced, it really caught my attention, the colors, the Latino culture, and I found that maybe I can try this. So I have come to really enjoy sewing and the little quilting that I've learned so far. I'm one of the newer members of the group, but I've really, I really enjoy it.


Jan 10:50

And Gloria, what about you?


Gloria 10:53

You know, it's interesting, I've always been fascinated with sewing and enjoyed it. But I mean, I started wanting to learn about quilting. And I started looking up some books. I think my first book was Michael James, I didn't know he was a master quilter and an art quilter. And I tried to do some of his patterns, which were impossible to do because he's so advanced and so technical. But eventually, I joined up with Joanne's fabric stores and started taking little classes here and there, bumped into other Latinas and we started talking about getting together and sewing and little by little I joined the Glendale quilt guild and became member there. But still, there was always that idea of we wanted to do something more Latino themed. And so that's when we decided to come together and form our own little network and organization. And we've done it all along the lines of other guilds. But I must tell you, I'm a fanatical quilter, I quilt all the time, I enjoy making patterns. I've made various original patterns for the ladies to sew. I'm not very good at it. I'm not a perfectionist. But I love the process. When I looked at some of these purses that people made, I made five, by the way, I only made five, when I looked at the quality of the purses that they were making the ones that Marina and Patty and Dolores were making, I was just amazed at the high quality, the selection of fabrics and so on. But it's a process that I really enjoy. And I think what we have to offer the world of quilting as far as our culture and Latino themes, adds a lot to the world of quilting as well.


Jan 12:25

Well, I have to say, what happens is people make the purses, they send them in, they get re-boxed and go on to Zambia. And unless you post photos on the Sew Powerful Purse Project on Facebook, we don't know what you're doing. So outside of your group, I don't think anybody is seeing your purses. Now does anybody happen to have a purse right there they can hold up or describe?


Gloria 12:51

Marina has, she also has pictures? Marina do you have any?


Marina 12:54

I have some on Instagram that I posted because I think I had at first I was making them and turning them in at our meeting. And I think the last stretch when we didn't meet in person for like several months, I was just making them and putting them aside. And at that point, I went ahead and took pictures. The final group, I think I turned in was probably somewhere around 50 purses or so.


Jan 13:15



Marina 13:16

And I think all of those I took pictures of them collectively on the table. And then also I actually went and opened each of them up because I love color. I always wear black, but I love color. So it was a great opportunity to kind of mix all these different colors and just change things up. And I put different kind of funky lining, and I did some applique on some of them. So it was really just like a fun project to be able to audition all these different fabrics that I normally would never, I might put them together actually. But it was a very fun project because it was quick. If you didn't like something, you could change it up and mix something up. But, but yeah, I'll definitely share my Instagram page with you. And there's definitely pictures of some of the purses that I made there.


Jan 13:58

Oh, that would be great. Well, you know, the other day, somebody who was new to making purses posted a question and said, how much fabric does this purse take? And there were no answers because you don't just take yards of fabric, you take little pieces and put them together to create something colorful and beautiful. So it doesn't matter though, the littlest piece can be combined with something else to make just a beautiful creation.


Marina 14:21

It's true because I actually got some of my fabrics and I would just cut one piece out of the same color fabric and then I mixed some up with denim and I would cut other elements of the purse out of denim. So I actually have an inventory of all these different parts in different colors.


Jan 14:35

Why don't we take a quick break here, and when we come back we're going to talk a little bit more about how Sew Powerful was picked and some of the other projects this group has done, so stay tuned listeners.


Jan 14:51

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Jan 15:54

Welcome back. We have been speaking with members of The East Los Angeles Stitchers. Ladies, what are some of the other projects that you have done before you came to Sew Powerful?


Gloria 16:04

Well, what we did is prior to Sew Powerful, we did quite a few blankets probably numbering in the hundreds for the neonatal unit in our local hospital. And again, that was also a great project, the ladies all took part in it. We created a very quick quilt as you go kind of pattern along the way. And so we did all that project. And before that, remind me ladies, what did we do before our blankets?


Gloria 16:33

Well, the first philanthropy I was a part of was making the pillowcases. And I believe we did that for orphanages.


Gloria 16:41

We made the pillowcases for the Ronald McDonald House.


Ellena 16:45

So we did hundreds of those. And that was my first project, which got me really excited to start doing things. And then we did military quilts for the veterans.


Gloria 16:54

Oh, that's right, our patriotic quilts for the veterans.


Ellena 16:56

Yes, that was really, really nice. And those are the two that stick out in my head. I know we've done more


Gloria 17:02

Every year we try and adopt a different philanthropy as to what we're going to do and move forward. Along the way we of course have been making masks, we've made masks for the farmworkers here in California, we've made masks for the detention centers where the children are at that are being detained, we're making masks for homeless shelters. So, many of our ladies have been a part of it. And I think we probably are somewhere in the 900 masks that we have made, and we send them off to different locations, we sort of have stopped making them now because almost everyone is using a mask hopefully. But that was a big project that we started early part of last year, as well. And of course, we also just get a whole philanthropy and raising money for needy families in the east side. And we also were able to make some blankets for the probation kids, the kids that are in probation camps to give to their parents. We keep ourselves busy.


Jan 17:59

It sounds like it. Marina, did you have something you wanted to add to that?


Marina 18:03

You know, when the Pulse nightclub shooting happened? We also contributed I believe like several quilt tops to that also.


Gloria 18:12

We made the hearts.


Marina 18:13

For the families.


Jan 18:14

That's very nice. That's very nice. So who was it that first heard of Sew Powerful? Somebody from when you went to the Houston international quilt festival?


Ellena 18:25

Okay, how I got involved was we were at the Houston quilt show. And it had been a long day, you know, we're there displaying our, by our exhibit. And then a group of us met for dinner at one of the local restaurants and then two of our members brought up that they had visited your booth. And so, you know, was a long day, I was half listening. So, Gloria said, Well, that sounds like a really nice project for us. Why don't you girls get involved in that? Well, everyone starts backing down when Gloria starts talking, right? So, the night went on, whatever. And they happen to bring your pamphlets to dinner and pass them around. So, I took it back to the hotel room and I read about that. And it just, it just clenched my heart. I was like, I need to do something.


Ellena 19:18

So, I told Gloria I will do it. And then of course when I got home, I went on your website and and I just knew that I had to do something because I remember my own experiences. I had a real hard time when I was young. And I missed school. You know, I had to miss school. I just, it was just a horrible thing. And I thought to myself, here in my country, I have everything available to me. And I still had to miss school. And even though I had everything, you know handed to me, it was hard growing up, you're young and you just can't handle stuff like that. And I thought how horrible is it for these girls? You know they have nothing and and they're not getting educated. It's no, this can't be. So that's how I got started on it. And I just, you know, I had to do something about it.


Ellena 20:24

Then, of course, you know, was a long haul. But we did it. We ended up making 292 exactly, that's what we ended up sending, which I thought was remarkable because everybody was making masks as well, you know, and, and being shut in and, and not only when we were making masks for all these organizations and Gloria, I think it was over 1,000 you collected. But we also, we were also making them for our own families and friends. I know I made close to 200 just personal ones. So well, everyone's doing the same thing.


Jan 20:41

I always say I was waiting for it to be cool to know how to sew and 2020 people were coming out of the woodwork. Oh, you sew can you make me a mask? And so you saw Sew Powerful at the quilt festival. You came back, and then what, at the next meeting, you talked about it and said we ought to do this?


Gloria 21:01

Yes, I believe that was in October. So then in January, we introduced the project to everyone. Yeah. And then of course, we introduced it, passed out the pattern. We said, Hey, make some purses and bring them in for the February meeting because we would meet the first Saturday of each month. And we've got about maybe 18 that first month. And then after that, of course we were shut down. I don't think we met in March, right? I think it was March was our first Zoom. Yeah, little by little they were trickling in. And then when they got close to it, we're just like, hey, I need to mail these out. I need them by October and then boom, I just had purse after purse coming through.


Gloria 21:41

We did create a little incentive though; we did offer gift certificates to the winners. And so, I don't think that's what moved them to make so many. But it was an added bonus for many people, because they use their own fabrics. And they went out and purchase fabrics for this. And so, we created a little gift certificate for the first, second, and third place winners of whoever made the most purses.


Jan 22:04

And so who are those people?


Gloria 22:07

Well, Marina was a first-place winner. And she had 85. And then we had Patty Lopez, who is not with us today, but she had I believe 72 which she always wants to recount she doesn't trust Marina.


Jan 22:25

Boy that sounds familiar.


Ellena 22:28

And Dolores was our third-place winner she had I believe 30 Is that correct Dolores?


Dolores 22:33

Well remember, I was new to sewing. So, I was a lot slower than these ladies that have been involved such a long time,


Gloria 22:40

The quality of Dolores' purses - she would put little charms on the corner of all these on the flap It was really, really good looking and well done.


Jan 22:49

That's so exciting.


Ellena 22:51

I just wanted to say our group is just amazing. Like you could see like, when there's something introduced, everyone's like, looking at each other, like how am I get this done, and no, they come through all the time. And that's what's so wonderful about being a part of this group. You know, everyone gets together and with the pandemic, I've gotten to know more people. And personally, because aside from our monthly meetings, Marina puts on a Friday night Zoom meeting. And it's a very casual thing, and whoever wants to join joins and, and everyone's doing their own thing, sewing and you know, whatever, whatever your project is, and we have gotten to know each other more personal. It's just been a really wonderful experience being a part of the group.


Jan 23:37



Dolores 23:39

If you were to see the artwork that these ladies put together, they, they are amazing. They deserve to be in all of these quilt shows and the different places, even in the Los Angeles County Fair, which is one of our biggest fairs. They've been there as well. And I've always looked at them, but I never knew who the group was. But they always caught my attention because they always had a Latin theme to it. A project has to resonate with me, it has to mean something to me.


Dolores 24:07

And as we mentioned with the quilts for the neonatal care, Gloria actually, or Evi, which is another member actually took us to the neonatal unit and we actually gave our quilts to the mothers with their babies there. And that really meant a lot to me and was so powerful after it was explained to us, and we went into analyze it on everything that was involved. Education has always been important to me. It's a way to empowerment. And then when you see these young girls with all their obstacles, and if just this little purse will help them get the education that they need. It just made me very happy to participate


Jan 24:51

Oh I'm so glad. Yes, Elena.


Ellena 24:54

Well, I just wanted to say before I forget because Gloria mentioned that how she got started and how she got involved. And she'd made a little comment that she's not very good at it. No, she's very good at it. We all look up to her. And she's very talented. I mean, she'll see something, and she'll make a pattern for us. And it's just amazing. So, Gloria, she's done an amazing job with this whole group. So, I just wanted to make sure I didn't forget to say that. She's amazing. Amazing. And you should see what she comes up with. I'm sure she's got some quilts back there she can show you.


Gloria 25:30

Lots of quilts to do.


Jan 25:33

Well, and I have to ask, I mean, Gloria, you're sitting in front of shelves and shelves full of fabric. Where are you?


Gloria 25:40

I'm in my sewing room. And this is one side of the room, the other side of the room is equally as full. Regrettably, I'm a big collector of fabrics. Besides a quilt maker, I don't know what I'm going to do with all of these fabrics in my lifetime. I'm gonna have to start giving it away. But this year, I'm concentrating on finishing up quilts. I love to make quilt tops. And sometimes I don't get around to quilting them or binding them. So this year, I'm trying to at least do three or four quilts that are in my stack of 120 to get finished before I start a new one, although I'm itching to start a new one.


Jan 26:18

Wow, what I wanted to ask you a moment ago, have any of you seen the seven minute video of the girls in Zambia receiving the purses at their school?


Ellena 26:29

Yes, I have.


Jan 26:30

Yeah, a couple of people have. It might be worth showing your members just to tie a bow on this because it was filmed in Zambia in December of 2020. And they went out to one of the schools a distance out from the capital city. And the lady said, you're getting the purse. And they all knew what that meant. And they all were jumping, they were screaming, they were so happy. And that video just always touches my heart so much because it really brings to fruition the reason what we're doing and how much the girls appreciate receiving one of the purses and the contents that are in there.


Jan 27:12

Well, I have to say you ladies are amazing, and an inspiration and we want to see more of you. And if we can entice you to join the Sew Powerful Purse project group on Facebook. Please, please, please join and please post your photos there. Well, I want to thank Marina and Dolores and Ellena and Gloria for your time today. It's been a delight and honor to talk with you to learn about The East Los Angeles Stitchers and your many contributions to Sew Powerful and we thank you tremendously.


Gloria 27:48

And we just say it's been our pleasure; we thank you so much for giving us a little bit of recognition. I mean, I'm excited just because I've worked with Sew Powerful and just to see someone you know, a face, in person, is just great. Thank you. Thank you for this.


Jan 28:06

Thank you.


Ellena 28:06

Thank you for having us.


Marina 28:08

Yes, thank you. Thank you.


Jan 28:11

If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference. I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at that's SEWPOWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.


Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at