PORTLAND — Framed by the brightly lit window of the Madworld studio and boutique on Commercial Street, fashion designer Meredith Alex is bent over her Huskystar sewing machine, stitching together colorful panels of fabric.

She’s been at this perch since 4 p.m. and will keep going until 8 p.m., sewing pointy-toed Christmas stockings that the public is invited to fill before each one is donated to Toys for Tots and other charities.

Dressed as an elf, Alex has become a familiar sight to people who regularly walk or drive through this busy shopping district, and she merrily waves to all who catch her eye.

“Elves are industrious,” Alex said. “They love sugar. They’re colorful and quirky. So it fits into my Mad persona.”

Alex’s line of clothing and accessories is called Mad, which stands for Meredith Alex Design.

Every night since the beginning of this month, Alex has wrapped herself in a green sweater trimmed in faux fur, a Christmas-tree skirt fastened around her waist and a pair of high-heel Timberland boots on her feet. She has topped it all off with a vintage orange ski cap featuring the bird Woodstock from “Peanuts,” embellished with a sprig of real mistletoe.

Nearby, her helper (or “elflet,” as Alex calls her holiday assistants), is busy putting the finishing touches on the stockings.

“I cut the patterns,” said Aleka Greely, an elflet who is Alex’s daughter. “I stuff the toes and I add the jingle bells.”

The elflet is in charge of fetching bows and ribbons and anything else that Alex, a.k.a. the MadElf, may need during the four hours she sews stockings.

“It’s the fastest four hours of work, because people come in and we get to meet little kids,” Greely said. “I let them pick out which stocking they’d like to put (their donated toys) in.”

Alex is known for upcycling vintage fashions by adding her own modern spin on the designs. The same concept applies to the stockings, which are crafted from vintage fabric and decorated with ribbons and do-dads that Alex has collected over the years. The one-of-a-kind stockings sell in the Madworld shop for $45.

So far, Alex has made 27 Toys for Tots stockings, and they hang from hooks indicating the age and gender of the child who will receive the gifts. The hooks range from ages 0 to 1 to ages 17 to 18, and include a boys’ and girls’ version for each age group.

At her festive workbench, the MadElf is surrounded by bowls of multicolored pom poms, mugs overflowing with jingle bells, mini-cans of Moxie and glass jars brimming with candy, which she cheerfully shares with anyone who comes in to drop off gifts. Below the bench, a sign reads: “Elf Food Groups: 25% candy, 25% candy canes; 25% candy corn, 25% maple syrup.”

“My dentist is so psyched I’m doing this,” Alex jokes.

While her dentist may have misgivings about how she’s spending her evenings, Marine Staff Sgt. Joseph Justice, who coordinates Maine’s Toys for Tots program, admires Alex’s efforts.

“That’s definitely a unique thing she’s doing,” Justice said. “People usually don’t dress up.”

In 1947, the Marine Corps Reserve started the Toys for Tots program, which collects unwrapped toys to distribute as Christmas gifts to children. Last year, Justice collected more than 30,000 toys.

“This year we’re pushing (for) 50,000, maybe 60,000,” Justice said. “I’m optimistic.”

Justice and his team will come to the Madworld shop this week to pick up the stockings. However, Alex plans to continue making stockings and accepting gifts through Dec. 23. The additional stockings will be donated to other charities.

“I’m hoping the kids who get them will appreciate that it’s something homemade, local and stuffed with love,” Alex said.

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]