Monday, July 4, 2011

Getting to Know Tracy McElfresh - Local Fashion Designer

Getting this post out to you on the 4th of July is really the best way I know how to celebrate! Seriously.

For a very long time now, I've been meaning to write this blog piece. I have been putting it off because, quite frankly, I was a little intimidated to write it and I wanted to do a good job. So Tracy McElfresh, accept my appologies and this is for you babe!

Interview with Tracy
Tracy, proudly displaying her rack of dresses for me.

"Cocktails Anyone" - $199.99
Who is Tracy McElfresh?
I first met Tracy when I was doing the PUSH charity fashion auction. Several of her designs were being auctioned off, and our mutual friend Teresa had been insisting (for several months) that I meet Tracy in person.  The wise Teresa knew that I would instantly want to befriend Tracy and get to know her because of our mutual love of fashion (and quite franky, Tracy is just a very cool person to know).

A couple of months back, well after the PUSH auction, Tracy and I were finally able to get some time to sit down and discuss her designs. She had been posting pictures of dresses that she had made from table cloths and I just had to know more about what inspired them. She told me via Facebook that people used to do this during the Depression, and that she took an interest. While talking to her in person I discovered that her passion for turning table linens into incredible works of art actually comes from her childhood. Her mother used to send Tracy and her friend Misty to the thrift store with $20 as a birthday celebration. Her mom still continues this tradition "It's your birthday, let's go to the thrift store!" but now Tracy looks for material, not only for her dresses but for her vintage Etsy Shop.

I was surprised to hear that her family actually has a long tradition in sewing. Her grandmother came to the US from Puerto Rico in 1963 and worked as a Seamstress in New York. Her grandmother taught her mother how to sew, and her mother taught Tracy. Knowing this, just looking around Tracy's house and her space you can see the influence - just notice her collection of antique sewing machines.

Interview with Tracy
Gorgeous Old Singer of Tracy's

"Hot For Teacher" - $149.99
How Did Tracy Go From Thrift Store Shopper to Fashion Designer?
Tracy began her designing career as many do, via altering clothing that she had. She talked to me about changing sleeves around, hemming dresses (including a prom dress which she sewed flowers onto). Although she had this experience from her child hood, she didn't really start sewing until her son was born (now 18). She even went through a painting phase, which she calls "Experimental Crafts". She says her painting never got the same praise that her dressmaking did and that fueled her desire to cultivate her talent in sewing.

Prices of Tracy's Work
She says she prices depending on the fabric (anywhere from around $15 to $100 for fabric and patter, other materials). Then her time goes into it. She also still does quite a bit of hand sewing that she describes as "little tiny perfect stitches that no one can see." And yes, those stitches (as Tracy says) are "IMPEACHABLE".

"Bon Voyage" Sundress - $99.99
Where Does Tracy Get Her Materials When They Aren't Table Cloths?
Tracy worked at a local Handcock fabrics for 8 years. She split with Hancock because while working there she wasn't allowed to promote herself. But she kept the job seasonally to get a discount all year. She credits her creativity with the exposure to people in the store and getting to see what they are doing, and just getting the chance to talk to people about their products. But once she quit, she put herself out there as a dressmaker proper. And we're very glad she did!

"Bootsy Collins" - $149.99
Incidentally, Tracy talked about how Hancock Fabrics was one of the few companies who filed for bankruptcy a while back and pulled out of it. She attributes it's survival to more people wanting to create special things for others during the recession, and (of course) the influence of Project Runway.

Does Tracy Offer Lessons?
She has done them in the past but now she does not have time. She does have the space, the expertise, the materials, the knowledge. Everything. You had better believe if she ever does have the time I'll be one of the first to sign up for her classes!

"Rockabilly Pin Up" - $129.99
Tracy Also Has a Day Job
Guess what? Our lovely designer is a nanny! She works a 50 hour job, watching the children of one of her friends, a recipe for disaster that actually turned out to be quite a good fit for her. While the children are napping she gets to cut out her patterns. She even has an ironing board and other such staples of the craft at her friend's house.

Tracy's Goals
Tracy has already achieved one of her goals for this year - getting published. She was written up in the Dayton Daily News recently. I had wanted to time this article for that, but alas I failed. Her other goals include working up to three fashion shows this year. We wish her well on that goal! She already has the PUSH show under her belt, after all.

Etsy - What Tracy Really Wants You To Know!
If you've ever browsed Tracy's Etsy shop you'll notice that all of the dresses are of a certain size. That's because the ones on Etsy she has made for herself. Coincidentally, her model (usually her sister) is the same size. However, Tracy is not just limited to a size 6 or a size 8. She's WILL make other sizes, but only for people who are local. That's because she does all of her fittings and wants the dress to be perfect.

For example, take a look at THIS dress Tracy made for our friend Teresa:

Teresa in Tracy McElfresh

Isn't that stunning on her? I loved it, and it fits Teresa beautifully. Tracy was actually working on this dress when I had my chance to speak with her, so to see the final product is awesome! Teresa and I spent a lot of time talking about how to accessorize it, different colored belts and shoes to wear with it. Well done, Tracy. Well done!

Will I Ever Get a Tracy McElfresh Original?
I certainly hope so! Due to Tracy's busy schedule, there's a lot about when she can fit me in. But we continue to talk on Facebook. One of these days the stars will align and I will proudly wear one of Tracy's designs.

See more of Tracy's Work on Etsy.

All images used here belong to Tracy McElfresh and were used with her permission (except the ones I took myself).