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Meet the Maker Month: Jess of JESS MESS

Hi, I’m Jess Dean! I am a seamstress and undergarment designer living and creating in Montreal. I create soft undergarments and lingerie for all bodies with sustainably sourced materials.

Where can I buy your stuff? http://shop.jessmess

What materials do you use? Carefully and locally sourced fabrics and bra notions from all over Canada. I try to think of several factors when I choose a material to work with: - What is it made out of? Is it a sustainable material? Is it breathable and comfortable? - Where did it come from and how did it travel to me? How far did it have to travel? - What values does the company have that in purchasing from? Do they treat their employees fairly? etc..

What are your hobbies outside of creating? I enjoy reading books, learning languages, walking, and practicing yoga.

What does being a Maker mean to you? I think it really means something different for everyone. For me, being a maker is about discovering myself and the world through art and the act of creating. It’s always been something that I’ve just done so I’ve never thought about much.

How have you developed your skills? Years ago my friend Sepo taught me to sew a pillow and I’ve been unstoppable ever since. It was my first project on a machine- a blue pillow with white polka dots sewn with cotton quilting material. She would tell me to slooooow down and not rush things and I remember being frustrated because all I wanted to do is make, make, make. She would make me tear apart my stitches and redo them until they were beautifully done. I hated this but it allowed me not to become too attached to a project and to hone in on my skills. She taught me this slow, meditative way of creating that is so essential to creating a beautiful garment. Every day I’m grateful for this message that my friend Sepo has taught me to install into my creative work. I made one of my first bras for her and I was beaming with pride when she said it was one of the most comfortable bras she had ever worn. Don’t get me wrong- sewing lingerie is not easy!! You need to be willing to practice and be patient and persistent. I took many lessons in Toronto and watched countless hours of instructional videos to get where I am today but it all started with that pillow. It was a lot of trial and error. I’m learning new things every day.

How have your life experiences shaped your art? I grew up in a rocky home and making art has always been a way to escape. I remember spending hours at my best friend’s house as a teenager and we would make things together, photographing each other and the world around us. We were so uninhibited and we used so many different mediums. I think we were both just angsty, crafty teens that wanted to escape our “small” northern hometown. These were Tumblr times and I ran a little fashion blog called JESS MESS. I was obsessed with the human body and fashion. My father is also creative and he really instilled this notion of making to survive in my identity. We were poor and he had these creative, random business ideas like using the leftover papers from my newspaper delivery job to make gift wrap. He was always up to something and I think in his own way he taught me resilience.

How has the pandemic impacted your creativity? I think like many people the pandemic offered a pause to reflect on my life. JESS MESS was created during the pandemic but I wouldn’t say it was because of the pandemic. JESS MESS started in a weird place but gave me so much happiness and good. In February of 2021, I moved to Montreal because I needed to start over. I was at one of the lowest points of my entire life and creating JESS MESS was an act of freedom, survival and reclaiming my identity. Being in the city gave me energy and life and all I wanted to do was make, make, make and I had one good skill: sewing underwear. JESS MESS gave me a purpose and something to focus my attention on when I thought I had lost everything. I’m healing now and I’m starting to slow down and come out of this sort of desperate, hurried way of making and I’m really excited to see how Jess mess will evolve in the future. I’m looking forward to 2022 and what it will bring.

How do you apply your creativity to other aspects of your life? I am a very visual person and so I need to make the space around me feel beautiful. I love spaces with natural light and filling them with art. I also love expressing my creativity in the way that I dress and present myself. I also love to express creativity through food and flavor. I love being in the kitchen and making and sharing food. Just last week my husband and I made some tacos together. He made tortilla shells and filling and I made this purple cabbage slaw dressed in lime and honey and the whole process felt so good.

What themes do you pursue in your work? Body positivity. Poor self-image is something that I have always struggled with. I want to make undergarments that are for all bodies and not just the societal standard. I want people to feel good and comfortable. I’m constantly working on tailoring this message and how I can get it across to people who follow my work. Sadly, I’ve had people approach me at markets and say “ wow I love your work but I can’t see my body in that”. We need to change this dialogue and that’s why you won’t see just one type of body or gender represented in my work.

What is your favorite thing you've created and why? The Sun and Moon set! I created this pattern and I am so damn proud of it. It’s a contrasting set with golden yellow and navy blue color blocking representing day and night. I feel like this piece is truly unique to JESS MESS and something you really wouldn’t see anywhere else.

Tell us about your first sale I have to be honest here: I hate the business side of things. I don’t like selling stuff. I don’t like creating marketing tools and advertisements and appealing to algorithms and all that jazz. It bores me and I’m definitely not as active as I should be on social media. Don’t get me wrong that doesn’t mean I’m not super happy and grateful when people buy a piece from me but that’s not what it’s about for me. The first time I sold a set it felt surreal that someone would pay money for my creative work let alone wear it. It gave a lot of confidence and even helped to pay for a few groceries :) However, I’d much rather see a person wear my work. This makes me giddy. The aspect I like most about makers markets is meeting and connecting with people- especially other creators.

What is your dream project? I’m a teacher by day and I want to bring this into my creative work. I want to teach people how to sew. I also love graphic design and so my plan for 2022 is to publish my Sun and Moon Pattern and make it available for public use.

Do you accept commissions? I do not because making lingerie is expensive and there are many elements that go into a project. For now, I just make what I want and if it is interesting to people that’s a happy little bonus. I do take custom sizing though in most things I create which allows me to keep my art size-inclusive and body positive.

Describe your creative process Morning pages have been essential to my practice. This is a practice developed by Julia Cameron where you essentially just free write 3 pages every morning. I have had so much important and necessary wisdom come from this practice including important insights on JESS MESS. I also create lists and vision boards. I love visually curating an idea on a well-thought-out vision board. My brain is sometimes going a mile a minute and lists help me to stay on track.

Describe your latest project Sew with Jess! I’ve been working behind the scenes on creating a pop-up sewing workshop here in Montreal. I have some workshops on sewing basics, serger essentials, sewing pillows in fun shapes and sizes, oversized ruffle collars, and the Sun and Moon Set. This is why I want to create a digital pattern book for the Sun and Moon Set so I can teach others how to make cute underwear :)

What are your long-term goals? Does anybody really know? I feel like my life is a constantly changing ebb and flow and I like that. I do want to learn to speak French confidently so that I can teach workshops in my second language. I also want to talk more about textile activism in my work and highlight sustainable efforts in the fashion industry. I would also like to move towards making more curated high-fashion pieces. These would be very special, one-of-a-kind pieces with poems and images embroidered onto them. I want to use more mediums in my work like embroidery thread and glass beads and pearls.

What steps are you taking to ensure your growth as a maker? I’m just taking things one day at a time in this crazy little thing called life. But I really do like making lists. This practice helps me to stay focused and meet my goals.

What inspires you? People. Nature. Colours. Flowers and fruit. Weird art.

What initially drew you to your craft? Sewing is challenging and you have to be willing to become unattached to your process in order to improve and perfect your craft. Maybe you will need to remake the same garment 5-6 times before you will perfect it and I love that challenge of constantly reflecting on and reworking your process.

What story do you want to tell with your work? I want to tell stories of bodily autonomy, body positivity, self-compassion, resilience and healing, and sustainability through my art.

Why are humans creative? Life would be rather dry if we weren’t innately creative, wouldn’t it?

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