Makers and Menders Part III: Jenn Jones, Madame 2 Sew
Today, we continue our series Makers and Menders; stories about people who use their hands to create useful goods. So far, we've met a long-time Flagstaff wood worker, and we've also visited a family-run welding shop. Now, writers/producers Michael Collier and Rose Houk introduce us to Jenn Jones, a seamstress with a deeply creative flair.
Oscar Wilde once said "One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art." Jenn Jones is a seamstress who fits both molds.
'Yes, oh my gosh. You ask me what happens when I go into a Goodwill. There's so much. I couldn't tell all of it. That's why I do this. I am a thrift store fanatic. I am label savvy. If I see a label, like Catherine Malandrino - I found 2 of her dresses the other day. So, I'm gonna guy that. Why? Because that dress retails for $500 and you're selling it for 4 bucks. I do believe they call that a label whore.'
Jenn has sewn for more than a decade. She finds treasures at thrift stores and restores them to life. Not all are high fashion.
'I fitted Carharts to a working guy. I've also installed zippers going all the way up to the back of the leg, all the way up to the bend of the knee so that he could fit them over his motorcycle boots because he likes to have a good time. I've also had guys come in with suit coats and say, 'Please make me look like a rock star.' I've done that a few times.'
Probably more often, though, she sews for women. Jenn doesn't just make clothes. She makes images. She reads the lines on people's bodies the way a fortune teller reads their palms.
'There is no skinny. There is no fat. They're attitudes. Skinny is an attitude and fat is an attitude. We do have a lot of curvaceously spectacular ladies that come in and we like to make them feel spectacular.'
Jenn's roots in sewing started early. While studying theater costume design at the University of Arizona, she sewed handbags.
'The big thing in Tucson was that oversized tote bags were becoming really popular. We were taking old tablecloths and old vintage couches and tearing them apart and washing the fabric and making them into these cool tote bags. I got a business license and started my own business when I was 21 years old.'
Jenn returned to Flagstaff and established her shop in the historic Anderson Building. It's called - what else - Madame 2 Sew. It's cluttered with cloth. Scissors, scraps and sewing machines fill the work tables. Spools of thread - every color in the rainbow - grace the walls. She does alterations when people bring in clothes that don't fit quite right.
'You have to have specific things done to a garment to really make it fit you and make it incredible for your body type. And that's why I'm really passionate about the alteration side of my business.'
These days, she designs and makes dresses, pants, shirts. Each garment might take a month or six weeks to construct. She insists that clients come in for 4 or 5 fittings as the work progresses.
'For the first fitting, what we'll do is we'll get the base pattern out and put it together and it looks awful. And I have to warn people before they come in, 'Your first fitting is going to be a little strange. The garment is not going to be totally composed.' You start with these 2 huge squares on the person's body and it looks like they're wearing a gargantuan pillowcase.'
But with patience, a good eye and a careful needle, beautiful clothes emerge.
'I really, really love fitting clothes for people. They have this vision of themselves and how they want to look in that garment. By the time I'm done tweaking it, its what they want and it's their version of themselves.'
But even the most beautiful clothes must be functional.
'There's a lot of technical stuff getting applied with the machines and the choices you make in the construction. And also how that garment is going to operate. You can build this beautiful thing that they're going to wear, but if it doesn't move right, if it doesn't sit right, if it doesn't hug their body right, if they can't sit comfortably in it, if they can't walk around in it - what's the point?'
Functionality can take surprising form.
'I love silk. I don't think people realize how strong it is. And how resilient it is. And how it takes the needle. It's so challenging but when you accomplish what you want to accomplish with it, it's so satisfying.'
Studs Terkel - about as far from Oscar Wilde as you can get - once wrote, "I was constantly astonished by the extraordinary dreams of ordinary people."
'I will be sewing for the rest of my life. If I'm a seamstress for the rest of my life, I'm fine with that.'
Jen Jones isn't ordinary, but she's one of us. She makes things. Her dreams are anything but ordinary.