Dayton has an eclectic population of independent fashion designers and craftspeople. Today on Culture Couch, Renee Wilde introduces two local, independent business owners who are carving out a niche for themselves, with the support of each other, and their local community.
It’s the start of the work week, and at local designer and indie business owner Tracy McElfresh’s house in Kettering that means one thing: Crafty Monday.
Every Monday for the past four years, Tracy hosts an informal sewing party at her house, and today she and fellow designer Lawanda Stonerock are gathered in the small kitchen for coffee before gearing up to have some fun working on their personal sewing projects. There’s an ironing board set up in the kitchen and the table is piled with fabric, patterns, and three sewing machines.
"I am making an instra dress and Lawanda is making some of her art bags," says Tracy.
"Usually she and I try to get together and you know, maybe another person too that wants to come over on Mondays to sew and just work on their craft," says Lawanda.
Tracy and Lawanda are part of a small local community of independent craftspeople and designers. They met through a group called Handmade Dayton.
"It was a group for people who had ETSY shops that were online and it was like the first huge, handmade market," says Tracy.
"And I started seeing what she was doing," adds Lawanda. "And I got more inspired by that. So that’s where I kinda got started out was just getting inspired by some of the other local artists."
Tracy’s been an integral part of the local craft scene in Dayton. In addition to making about 65 dresses a year, Tracy teaches sewing classes throughout the community, makes vintage-era costumes for the Historic Carillon Park and serves on the Kettering Arts Council. Her mom got got her hooked on sewing at a young age.
"My family's originally from Puerto Rico," she says. "My grandmother came here in 1963 and she worked in the sweatshops sewing in the garment district of New York City, and she taught my mom to sew, and then my mom taught me to sew."
2017 is a gearing up to be a big year for Tracy. She and her former business partner closed their four year old sewing and vintage fabric shop in the Oregon District called Sew Dayton. And now she is focusing on her new business, Tracy’s Sewing Studio. Creating custom designs is one of her favorite things.
"It can be very interesting. So sometimes it’s custom wedding. If they want something vintage inspired or they want something themed. My favorite are the cosplay people, they’re a lot of fun to work with," says Tracy. "Cosplay is kind of a new movement where people dress up as characters. And then they all meet and hang out in their characters and do photographs and things like that."
2017 is also a big year for Lawanda. She just quit her job to focus full-time on her line of messenger bags, wristlets and beaded necklaces.
"I started really getting into this about six years ago," she says. "I did work for a retail place for 16 years, and I sewed at that time too, but, something was missing. I needed that creativity. I really wanted to do this full time. I had cancer in 2013, so after I got through that I thought, Ok, it’s time Lawanda."
An essential part of Lawanda’s cancer recovery was listening to her favorite band, Guided by Voices. So Lawanda was thrilled she will be making custom record bags for the band..
"The first couple of months were really scary, but you know I’m grateful for every day that I can do this. This year is going to be my year. Right now I have 46 items in stock and I’m building every day."
Tracy and Lawanda both say that being involved with other artists in the local design community is the key to success.
"Mary Katherine Burnside has a show twice a year called Clash, The Clash Fashion Show," says Tracy. "And I’ve met a few designers through there. And a lot of people if they’re just getting into designing it’s a good way for them to meet other designers and build their skills. I also have a group called the Dressmaker Meet-Up. We meet every four months. It’s gender friendly, male and female, any skill level. And the best way to increase your skill level on something is to surround yourself with people who are doing it."
"You can inspire them and it just spreads from there, and we love what we do," says Lawanda.
Tracy McElfresh will be one of the featured demonstrators at the upcoming Crafty Con at the Yellow Cab Building in Dayton on April 7th. You can find Lawanda Stonerock’s custom designed bags locally at Urban Handmade in Yellow Springs, which features over 65 local designers.
Culture Couch is our occasional series on the arts, made possible by a generous grant from the Ohio Arts Council.