Vintage finds inspire 13th-generation seamstress in Kettering

Name: Tracy McElfresh (AKA TracySews or Turbo)

Hometown: Kettering

Studio: My studio is at Rosewood Art Center, 2655 Olson Drive, Kettering. I offer womenswear alterations by appointment and create clothing for fun every week.

What you make: I enjoy designing creative and tailored garments, including dresses, swimwear, separates and the occasional costume. I enjoy attention to detail, matching prints, interesting design elements, and putting my twist on vintage-inspired period garments. I also run a huge meet-up group that holds fabric swaps, The Dayton Garment Designers Meet Up, and I am currently the president of the Kettering Arts Council.

What is your background: My multicultural roots have made me a 13th-generation seamstress. My mother didn’t believe in buying anything new. I started refashioning thrift store clothing in 1986. Tapered jeans were the first thing my mother taught me.

Your process: This year’s goal is to design clothing from flat pattern blocks. These are blocks that I made with my measurements, which are my size, proportions, lengths and dimensions. Most clothing is made up of five blocks. Once you have those five blocks, they can be altered into any garment. The best part is these blocks are interchangeable. Think of them like the kid’s toy, Fashion Plates. It’s not easy. You need to have strong skills in sewing, garment construction, fit and fabric types. Be prepared to fail. Most garments in the fashion industry take four test samples before you have fit, grainline and proportion right.

What you love most about making: My favorite part of designing garments is puzzle-solving. Garment parts are similar to 3D puzzle pieces that all need to fit together perfectly! Wrapping my head around this takes weeks. My second favorite thing is the feeling I get when the garment is finished.

What inspires you: Most of my inspiration comes from old black-and-white films, vintage patterns and fashion-history programs.

Who has influenced you most and why: My abuela, Norma San Antonio. She moved from Puerto Rico sewing in the NYC garment district in the 1950s. She was always incredibly knowledgeable and proud of my skills.

Your most interesting project: My most interesting project is the butterfly dress, not to be confused with the beer-can butterfly dress. I have also designed a Luna Moth dress and a Cicada dress. Oh my! Then there is the swan dress and various dresses inspired by artist Frida Kahlo. All have sold. I have been making one a week for fun for well over a decade. I am obsessed!

The next project you want to tackle: Busting through my fabric stash one puzzle at a time. On my cutting table right now, there is NOLA Mardi Gras cotton fabric to make a 1940s WWII-era dress. I like that era due to the war’s fabrications. Many times the styles do not use a lot of fabric, are fitted, and can be constructed in a day once you solve fit.

Words of wisdom for other makers: My best advice for any crafter/artist, keep practicing; it’s dedication, determination and failure that teach us. You must let go of perfection to achieve greatness. My old oil painting teacher at Rosewood Art Center once said: “If you love painting, you will have a home studio, a work studio, and a studio in your car. If it’s a nice day, you’ll pull over, forget your responsibilities and spend the day painting.”

This was when I knew I wanted to be a garment designer and streamline that craft.

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