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Meet the Nieratkos

The 80s Were Sew Cool

Dalila Acuña is celebrating the decade by embroidering pillows with images from 80s pop culture.
Photos by Matt Sharkey

Photos by Matt Sharkey

Everybody loves the 80s, right? It was arguably the goofiest decade in history in terms of music, fashion, and film, and for Dalila Acuña, it was the defining time in her life. (You may or may not recognize Acuña as one of the two girls sharing a schnitzel in my recent Skinem​a column.)

The classic, screwball comedies of that era are her fondest childhood memories, the actors of that time her first crushes. Twenty-four years later she still obsesses over the high hair and carefree days of her youth-so much so that she often makes her husband dress up as her various teenage dream lovers. She even moved to Winona Ryder's hometown in the hope that Johnny Depp will again seek her warm embrace but find Dalila waiting there instead.


Lately the artist has been trying to harness her fixation with the 80s in a healthy (albeit drunk) manner, by sewing odes to her favorite scenes from 80s movies into pillows and bags. The local buzz in San Francisco for her pop-culture-themed blankets and pillow cases has earned her a show at the Book & Job Gallery opening today, October 30. We caught up with Johnny Depp's stalker to talk about her upcoming show, Cry Baby, as well as the dangers of sewing while drunk.

VICE: Why such a fascination with the 80s?
Dalila Acuña: It's kind of a mix of 80s and early 90s, but I grabbed on to it because my parents made us go without TV for a big chunk of our childhood. We had a TV, but we didn't have cable. We got two channels-like in National Lampoon's European Vacation: "Cheese or snow." My dad would bring home VHS movies and pizza on Fridays. They were such super hippies that the fact that we got pizza and some kind of caffeine-free soda was huge. So we'd watch these shitty B-rated movies that my dad picked out for us over and over and over again because we didn't have TV. So it's not a fascination with the era itself so much as it is a weird nostalgia I have for being a kid, and not giving a shit, and laying on a crappy brown carpet in our living room with the awful wood paneling, and my little brother and I watching Strange BrewSpace BallsYoung Frankenstein, and all those kinds of comedies over and over again.


Why do you think no one makes good screwball comedies anymore? It seems like any attempt at a laugh-a-minute comedy is always one of those shitty spoofs like Scary Movie, where they can't even come up with their own silly plotlines.
I think it's because everyone is so serious and too cool for a crappy comedy. Maybe there's just too much media and people don't find the same stuff funny anymore because they're exposed to too much? Everybody always tries to make their comedies into a crappy love story in one way or another these days, and there's always this weird sex element. In the 80s, the sex was kind of minimal, aside from some random flashing of tits.

How did you get into sewing? Did you start with the aim of sewing 80s pop culture icons?
My first sewing experience was in English class in high school, and we had to create a book cover for The Scarlett Letter. I sewed an A on the front of mine, and it took me forever. It sucks because I really liked that English teacher, but he ended up having sex with some high schooler in 1997. He got busted at a senior party sleeping with a student, and he had a wife and kid. But he was the best teacher. And totally not attractive at all.

More recently I was trying to embroider but didn't know how, so it was a process of teaching myself. My mom embroidered. She was supposed to show me how to do it, but she never did. So I kind of taught myself. I actually had two boyfriends in high school who knew how to use sewing machines, and I would beg them to teach me how to use them, but they never did. Then, when I was 23, a bunch of my girlfriends got together and bought me a sewing machine for my birthday, and I had to figure out how to use it on my own. All these years later, I kind of know how to use it, but not really; I don't know all the special functions. But it all started with me making family pieces, and then it turned into making joke pieces for friends-like making the Ghostface Killah and Elvis blankets for your sons. It spiraled from there.


But no grandmother to show you the trade?
No, and that's another person that wouldn't help me. I'm really frustrated because just recently I was going through all my grandmother's linens, and she had all these pieces with embroidered flowers on them. It turns out that it was shit she had made. She stopped embroidering a long time ago, and here I am trying to figure it out and I have all these people around me who know how to do it.

Ha! Damn! Was she killed in a fiery car wreck and you can't get the information from her now?
No, she's still alive, she just doesn't want to teach me. She's like, "That was back in the day. You had to sew everything for yourself if you wanted it to look nice. Now you can order anything you want online-with free shipping! Why would I bother?" So she doesn't derive joy from embroidery. It was just out of necessity, a product of the era. Whereas, I really love sewing.

You don't seem to love it at the moment. You seem extremely stressed out over this art show tomorrow night.
I do it all the time for fun when there are no time constraints. Now I'm under the pressure of a deadline, and it's stressful. Don't people say, "Don't do what you love as a career or it's going to ruin it for you…"? When I agreed to do the show, I only had three Space Balls pillows done. Now with one day left, I have 24 pillowcases in various sizes, and I'm not done yet. Some of the pillows are really big-like 17" x 17"-and then I have some smaller ones that are 11" x 14". And they're all functional. One of them is a cross-stitched piece that I did of my face inside a TV, and then I sewed all my 80s crushes from when I was 13. So that took a really long time. I was super obsessed with Patrick Swayze from Dirty Dancing and Johnny Depp from Cry-Baby. So I sewed all of their faces in hearts and all my loves will be around the outside of the TV.


Who are your other childhood crushes?
It's those two, Ferris Bueller, and the one that I haven't finished is Lloyd Dobbler from Say Anything.

Who was your favorite?
Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby, hands down. I think every girl had a crush on Johnny Depp. But Cry-Baby was such a shitty, glorious movie. He was all decked out in his 50s gear. Plus, all those shitty songs in that movie, and his little tear drop on his eye.

Which of your childhood crushes would you still bang in 2014?
Still Johnny Depp for sure. He still looks good.

How about Patrick Swayze?
Now that he's dead? I don't know. Necrophilia really isn't my thing.

Do you get aroused while sewing your crushes?
A little. Johnny Depp is pretty hot, even in cross stitch. I'd still hang out with a sewn version of Johnny Depp.

Any masturbation during the sewing of Johnny Depp?
No, I was too focused. But I thought about it later on. And I had my husband dress as a greaser like in Cry-Baby that night, with a leather jacket, a pompadour, and nothing else. One thing I would like to point out is that we recently moved to Petaluma, California, because Winona Ryder is from Petaluma. And she dated Johnny Depp, so I'm just getting closer and closer to him. I've been moving from place to place where he's lived and hoping that he'll show up. He's not even from here, just his old ex-girlfriend is, but who knows? Maybe he'll seek her out and I'll be here instead. I'm just hoping some day he returns…


I'm told your prefer to sew when you're highly intoxicated. How hard is it to sew a straight line when drunk?
Yes, it is my preferred method of sewing. You can't really do it sober. But sewing a straight line drunk is very difficult. That's when you go for a zig-zag stitch. I've fucked up quite a few times while drinking, and if you look on the back of the pillow, you'll see that the sewing machine that I've had forever has been dying on me. It skips a stitch every now and again. I feel like it's my special, personal touch. Also, when sewing drunk, there will be blood. I poke myself often and always have bloody fingers.

Is this really about recapturing your youth, or is it about easing into old age? Because sewing is such a grandma thing to do.
It's definitely about nostalgia. I'm trying to remember what it was like to be younger, when you didn't have a care in the world except to think about what it was going to be like when Johnny Depp made out with you. But the truth is I've basically been 50 years old my entire life. I'd much rather sit by myself and drink wine and sew and read a book and eat prunes than do anything people my age might be doing. I'm basically a hermit, and I don't like to exercise or move a lot.

Follow Dalila on Instagram.

Follow Chris on Twitter: @Nieratko.