Born to Italian parents who had come to Montreal during the early 20th century wave of immigration, Angelina di Bello learned to sew at a very young age from her mother, who had been a dressmaker in Italy. In Montreal, she began training with Alice Poirier and Albina Matteini, and then took classes at the Société des Ouvrières Catholiques, where, in 1938, she earned a certificate in cutting and sewing from the Quebec Department of Public Instruction. Throughout her career, she continued to learn, notably taking specialized courses at the National School of Dress Design in Chicago (1947) and the Istituto Secoli in Milan (1974).
She got her first job in 1936, working for Ida Desmarais, the prestigious Montreal designer who employed 42 workers at the time. After the war, in 1946, Angelina Ravenda married Luigi di Bello and opened her own dressmaking salon on Peel Street.
She quickly attracted a large clientele and had to hire help (at one point she had up to 26 employees). As she trained them, she realized that she had a talent for teaching.
After honing her skills for many years, in 1961 she officially opened her dressmaking school at 1441 Crescent Street.
Noting the tremendous popularity of her classes, in 1964 CBC television asked her to host a 10-minute weekly sewing show. It was the start of a significant media career. For over 30 years, she shared her many sewing tips with thousands of North American viewers. Following her regular appearances on the CBC shows Calendar and Doyle’s Diary, in 1968 Télé-Métropole recruited her to host several weekly shows until 1979. In 1970, she began hosting half-hour show called Doigts de fée, broadcast five days a week by CFCM-TV in Quebec City and CHLT-TV in Sherbrooke. The series went on to run for four years. Her show Pins and Needles appeared on TVOntario from 1976 to 1997 and was broadcast by several other channels in Canada and the United States.
From 1982 to 1985, she wrote a sewing column for the Journal de Montréal. To complement her teaching activities and efforts to popularize sewing, Angelina di Bello also wrote sewing books.
First published in 1970, Angelina di Bello haute couture sold 20,000 copies in just a few months and was approved by the Quebec Ministry of Education in 1972.
Canadian fabric distributors recognized her many achievements by giving her the Golden Thimble Award in 1973. Early in their careers, well-known designers like Marielle Fleury and Giovanni d’Amico either worked with Angelina di Bello or took classes from her.
More importantly, thousands of women can thank Angelina di Bello for teaching them how to sew and introducing them to the joys of sewing.
“Di Bello, Angelina (Ravenda-Di Bello)”, in Cent soixante femmes du Québec : 1834 à 1994, Montreal, Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, section Jacques-Viger, 1996, p. 185.
Cynthia Cooper, McCord Museum
© McCord Museum 2020