Success by design

Tracy McElfresh sews, up-cycles,
and blogs her fashion forward

McElfresh is fan of vivid colors and bold patterns in her designs.

By Liz Dougherty

It was Van Gogh who inspired Tracy McElfresh to grant herself permission to follow her dreams. Seeing an exhibit in Amsterdam and ruminating on the whirlwind of paints presented in diverse colors and layers sparked a turning point in her life. She said to herself, “I’m 35, there’s no reason I can’t do what I want.” Eleven years and many hundreds of dresses later, Tracy is still doing exactly what she wants.

In 2009, she first introduced her custom work and designs on Etsy, the popular crafting and art marketplace site. Building on the success of Sew Dayton, a sewing and fabric shop that Tracy operated from 2012-2016 along with former business partner Jesy Anderson, she launched Tracy’s Sewing Studio, located at the Rosewood Arts Centre in Kettering in 2017.

Reflecting on the four years she devoted to Sew Dayton, she says, “I met so many people and, through it, got people to know who I am.”

Her avenues of connectivity run broadly through the Dayton arts community. An active member of the Kettering Arts Council and Dayton Garment Designers Meetup, Tracy’s devout in her commitment to keep in tune with community residents, while reaching out to the world through social media.

To make it official, for her video blog “Tracy’s Sewing Studio,” McElfresh was named by Blogspot among the 50 Best Dressmaking Bloggers on the Planet for 2018, finishing 27th. She presents 1-minute videos with sewing ideas, tips and more, about once a week, along with thrice-daily social media posts.

To complement the sizable reach achieved through social media, she cites the telephone and basic communication skills as key to bringing in business. Time spent working at Hancock Fabrics, a fabric and craft retailer, afforded Tracy a deep appreciation for the art of customer service. Such experiences fuel current inspiration, as Tracy said, “I’m adamant about getting things done and over-delivering.”

The studio space at Rosewood provides a concrete balance to her active virtual community and creative networking ventures. Tracy’s Sewing Studio offers clothing alterations, custom creations, clothing replicas, costumes, sewing parties, and lessons for the beginner to the advanced.

The creative gene runs deep in the family. When her grandmother relocated to New York City from Puerto Rico in 1963, she made her living in a garment factory, then taught Tracy’s mother to sew. Growing up, her mother instilled a sense of resourcefulness by using her sewing skills to craft clothes and costumes for her children and their dolls. This appreciation led to Tracy’s transformation into “queen of the up-cycled gown,” as she is known among her followers. The green nature of the up-cycle resonates with a younger generation just now coming of age. “We have a whole younger group…who want value in what they already have.”

Among her popular lessons, she shows other stitchers how to create what she calls “the Insta-Dress Top.” Tracy counts efficiency and simplicity as reasons why this design is among her favorites. The project requires just an hour to complete and caters to the comfort and confidence levels of both beginner and experienced sewers. Instructions are also available via Etsy and video.

Education and historical reflections underscore Tracy’s ever-evolving body of work. They are universal themes that color her contribution to keeping Dayton fashionable. She values clothing designs that are relevant and accessible to all sizes and proportions. Her appreciation of vintage styles and period pieces is rooted in the idea that “you don’t want something that you’re going to wear for just a while.”

In terms of local support, champions run far and wide. “I have met so many supporters just by showing up and meeting people.” She counts Dayton mayor Nan Whaley her many loyal customers, and acknowledges the honor of creating replicas of period pieces for Dayton History/Carillon Historical Park. The Dayton arts community, online followers, friends, and family all support her work. A common thread is the reciprocal effect of her involvement in the arts, as she notes that “just about everybody I know is an artist of some sort.”

Last year, Tracy worked on the reconstruction of a historical jacket worn by Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), the World War II women’s branch of the United States Naval Reserve. Hundreds of individuals, based in Dayton, worked to produce decryptions of German Enigma traffic. Discerning the appropriate shades of blue are a focal point of the conversation, and as Tracy notes, in fashion, “The color is what is going to represent you most, because it’s what people are going to see first.”

And what’s next with the promise of warmer weather? “I am currently obsessed with designing and making swimwear,” Tracy reports. See you at the pool!

Tracy’s Sewing Studio is located at 2655 Olson Drive in Kettering. The hours of operation are Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., as well as Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for more information, visit or call 937.668.8108.

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  1. How to Rock a Color Wheel Panel Dress – Tracy's Sewing Studio - April 30, 2018

    […] You may have seen this Dress in the Dayton City Paper. […]

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