Sew Dayton: Where Hand Made Trends Are So Dayton

Sew Dayton: Where Hand Made Trends Are So Dayton
Tara Pettit

As we all know, fashion trends have a tendency to recycle themselves back into society, bringing with them timeless styles that have been created and kept alive by the influence of past generations. With the classic styles we have seen brought back to life in the past decade and in light of generational movements like eco-friendly and simpler living, it makes sense to preserve the ageless art and practice of crafting our own clothing, not only to prevent the loss of such a vital practice, but as a means to further inspire innovation and creativity to a long-held household tradition.

The ‘almost lost art’ of sewing as a household practice is exactly what design artists and seamstresses, Jesy Andeson and Tracy McElfresh, have sought to preserve with their creative business endeavor, Sew Dayton, a start-up dedicated to teaching and showcasing handmade clothing designs. This is the first business of its kind in the Dayton area, helping people of all ages, with any level of sewing experience, in their current projects and to further develop personal seamstressing skills.

Through public classes and private lessons and as a source for high quality fabrics, patterns and project ideas, Sew Dayton aims to focus the Dayton community and surrounding areas back towards highly creative, handmade, quality fashion.

Tell me about your business, Sew Dayton.

Jesy: I created Jkessel Design in 2008 while I worked for corporate America. Then in Oct. 2011, after 11.5 years, my job was eliminated and I needed to figure out which road I wanted to take, the road back to a salaried corporate job or to follow my dreams. I discussed this with my fiancé at the time, and he told me to do what would make me happy. So I pursued my dream of working for myself selling on Etsy and at craft shows.

I met Tracy in Nov. 2011, hitting it off creatively with her right away. We kept talking about sewing, asking each others’ opinions on projects. Then Tracy approached me with the idea of signing up for activated spaces to open our own shop. I was elated! I agreed and we worked for 6 months on business plans, funding, location scouting, and marketing ourselves.

When we were accepted to the Activated Spaces Pop-Up program, we were both so excited and accomplished opening our shop in three weeks after signing a lease!

Tracy: I’ve been working from home, making custom-ordered dresses, for a couple of years and am ready to grow into a new space and branch out in the community with Sew Dayton.

Tell me about your roles and your daily schedules. What are your responsibilities?

Jesy: Tracy and I are both filling the roles of customer service, owner, payroll, social media, marketing, banking, purchasing and planning. I come from an accounting and logistics background, which helps.

We both have clientele that we previously worked with and are now bringing in some new people. Tracy makes custom made-to-fit party dresses, alterations and cute wool hats (among a list of other things). I specialize in accessories, such as purses, bags, totes, Kindle/iPad cases, clutches, makeup bags, zipper pouches, etc. I also paint, teach art classes, work in graphic design and photography.

Tracy: Jesy and I are “wearing many hats right now.” We are working the books, balancing custom orders, ordering fabrics, etc. Networking is huge for us right now, and we are also creating cool and cute classes.

How did you get to this point in your career?

Jesy: I have always worked on the side, helping people with design work, sewing a bag for a granddaughter’s birthday or a commissioned painting. But after my full-time job was eliminated, I used the tools from my previous job and dove into learning all I could about owning a small business and selling products online. I believe natural progression and a lot of hard work got me to this point in my career. I have had the support I needed from my family and friends and put pride into everything I make.

Tracy: I worked at a local fabric shop for eight years and learned, hands-on, the ins and outs of dressmaking. I am a third generation seamstress, and that helps.

What do you feel passionate about at work?

Jesy: Customer service is number 1. Listening, understanding and helping our customers is what we love to do. Tracy and I are passionate about the art of sewing. Going into a shop where none of the employees can answer a question about a sewing foot that I need to get, or which fabric will work best with a pattern, is frustrating. When I started sewing, I relied on the Internet and blogs for answers. It was hard to find anyone who knew answers here in Dayton.

Tracy: I am passionate about great customer service and really understanding what my customer needs, as well as product presentation and looking at things from a positive attitude.

What do you find most challenging?

Jesy: Trying to get all I want done in a day. Tracy and I both tend to take stuff home to finish or Tracy will definitely come in early a lot to get a jump-start on a project. It feels like time flies while we are working and the next thing we know, it’s 7:00 and time to close. It’s great, but we both want to get more things done in a day than we do now.

Tracy: When I sew, I lose all track of time.

How does your work relate to and positively serve the Dayton community?

Jesy: There is nothing like our shop (yet) in Dayton. People have to drive to Columbus or shop online for the fabrics we carry. Also, we will be providing classes on accessories, quilting and garment construction. Right now, in Dayton, the most you can get for a class is quilting or a making tote bag. We want to empower those who want to sew to be able to make exactly what they want.

Tracy: People keep saying our work is a lost art, although there is a huge demand for classes and sharing our knowledge.

How would you like to see your job develop in relation to the community?

Jesy: I would love to see us doing more events that help the community. Tracy and I are working on an event for We Care Arts, which happens to be a fashion show. Maybe at some point we can work with the job center to get some people that want to learn easy mending. We are looking to schedule Girl Scout group classes and mother/daughter classes.

I would love to see Sew Dayton become a staple of Dayton, where people are driving from another city to see us, and then they realize everything else that is here. I think it could be a great way to get people coming downtown again, like it was before.

Tracy: I would like to see Jesy and I be able to give back to the community, succeed and make many more great relationships.

Sew Dayton is a part of the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan to help launch local businesses down the path of successful entrepreneurship, while revitalizing downtown abandoned storefronts. Activated Spaces is the child project developed to foster these business goals and the backing organization that enabled Sew Dayton to integrate into the larger business community. Jesy and Tracy can be contacted through

about the author
Tara Pettit pursued journalism at Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism. She broke free from her hometown mold by becoming an impassioned cultural observer and writer. Tara found herself drawn to environmental and social justice reporting and has written for various publications, including the InterActivist, Athens Messenger, Collective for Women, Southeast Ohio, and BookPage. She considers herself a sort of “ramblin’ woman” who dabbles in many different activities and projects, which often lead her to her next literary idea. Currently, Tara is a writing partner with the United Nations, and has been devoting many of her freelance writing projects to her interests in Ayurveda, nature and social justice.