I find myself drawn back into the costume world, but how appropriate as this is the month of October and there are loads of costumes all over the place!  Even if costumes aren’t included in the items for sale in a particular store, you’re almost sure to be greeted with by a costumed mannequin or welcomed with hay bales and pumpkins.

On a sunny October morning, I find myself sitting across from another well-known in the costume world; Nancy Farris-Theé.  She watches me arrange my papers and notes.  I glance up at her and she smiles.  She’s a bit shy and I can tell she has braced herself for a barrage of questions.  We chat for a bit and I piece together that she grew up in the Mid-West (United States), moved to the West Coast and is now comfortably settled in a Mid-West community that seems to truly appreciate her presence.  My first question surprises her a little, but I can tell it’s one she has been asked before.


Goose Mother:  Nancy, how do you pronounce your last name?

Nancy Farris-Theé:  My last name “T-h-e-e” is pronounced to rhyme with “Kay”.  It does get kicked around for just four short letters!    

Goose Mother:  You’ve carved a niche for yourself as a Historic Clothing Specialist.  Was it the history that first attracted you or clothing design?

Nancy Farris-Theé:  I do enjoy history very much and I’ve always been  fascinated with clothing of earlier eras; how it was designed and constructed. The fashion demands of a given time is driven by so many different things. The sociology aspect is very interesting.

Actually, I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t have an interest in clothing design. By the time I was 12 or 13, I was making all my own clothing.  After school I would walk downtown to the drygoods store and dream over the pattern books. I could afford very little, so I learned to use a basic pattern and make all sorts of changes. That was the start of my learning ability to make and use a basic sloper.  By the time I entered high school, I was getting into some serious design work. In retrospect, I know that my home economics teacher was teaching college level sewing and design to those she recognized as having a desire and love of the work. After high school I headed for the West Coast to continue my education and peruse my passion. I wanted to design and I wanted to paint.   I wasn’t torn between the two; at that age I figured I could do both! I wanted to be a painter of great portraits. My portraits looked great; unfortunately they never looked like my subjects! So I concentrated on fashion and have continued that for many years, and paint landscapes for pleasure.

 When I returned to the Midwest, we did not yet have the tools and convenience of the internet. Still, it was a wonderful time for me to establish a sewing and design service. A lot of women were sewing then, and I had to work very hard at dispelling the mentality of ‘homemade’ as opposed to ‘custom and couture’. At that time I specialized in wedding attire and it was a great time for me. Eventually, with the consumers’ accessibility to very affordable, ready-made wedding wear, I found I couldn’t compete. I was somewhere between custom wedding designer and Vera Wang! So I made some career changes. I immersed myself in the research of historic clothing and historic sewing techniques. In reality, this was starting over. About this time I inherited some original Godeys and Petersons Magazines, and I was HOOKED! I devoted myself to building credibility in the historic community and eventually gained entry into museums and other venues with collections that are treasure troves of help and information.










 Goose Mother:  After seeing some of the original Godeys illustrations, that appears to be a very intricate and challenging era to launch into pattern making.  You didn’t find that era daunting in the least?

Nancy Farris-Theé:  Daunting? No, not really.  Interesting, definitely!  The fashion plates are beautiful and the illustrations and diagrams are very, very helpful.  But the construction is not given. This is why it is invaluable to be able to see extant clothing.  I always say, “it is great to see the insides.”

Every era of clothing differs. Casual observation reveals that.  But the bottom line to actually making a pattern is starting with a lot of paper and the right drafting tools.  And, very importantly, knowing fashion trends and changes of a given era.  For the eras I design within, I have basic slopers for each. This makes my work so much easier than having to reinvent the wheel each time.  Beyond that is where the fun begins and the research has paid off; knowing how to make needed changes to accommodate whatever is called for.

Goose Mother:  So, for those of us who are not familiar with pattern making, precisely what is a sloper and what is its function?

Nancy Farris-Theé:  A sloper is a permanent, basic tool made of a durable material that enables a designer to reuse it when designing a pattern.  Quilters use a template. It is rather like that. Some in design instruction refer to it as a pattern shaper.









Goose Mother:  Prior to designing historical clothing, your experience includes designing bridal gowns and hat making.  Both of those endeavors require a degree of skill.  Do you believe that those skills assisted you in your approach to historical clothing design, and how so?  

Nancy Farris-Theé:  I am a very visual, hands-on person. To me, anything I do is a learning experience that  helps me. I  have always had huge curiosity about the things that appeal to me. I come away with the question,”HOW DID THEY DO THAT?”  I want to know how things are made, and then set about learning how. Sewing and design always felt like a natural. Hat making was a fascination.  I didn’t just want to have millinery; I wanted to make it. One summer day my husband came home from work and found the hot tub full of straw hats on styrofoam heads floating. When he asked about them, I told him, “oh that; I’m blocking bonnets”. Of course he is used to my antics and is never surprised with that sort of thing around here! (she laughs)

Goose Mother:  That’s a funny story.  I sometimes wonder what goes through our mate’s head when they come home to find some strangeness.  Like are they thinking, “uh-oh, she’s lost it?” (we giggle)  In your experience and observations, where would you say the novice seamstress goes wrong when she attempts to “create” her own pattern?  

Nancy Farris-Theé:  First, few people actually know how to make a pattern as a professional drafter does.  And that’s OK.  It’s what keeps pattern companies and people like me in business! What most do is to start with a commercial  pattern they like and tweek it. And that’s a good thing. I always encourage creativity. The problem lies in the fact that patterns are standardized. However, the human body is not. The home seamstress starts by pinning the pattern on the costly fashion fabric, cuts it out, seams it up and hopes for the best. Too often resulting in a lot of picking out and re-seaming in an attempt to make necessary alterations; sometimes still resulting in a poor fit and disappointment and fabric with holes in it.  How to avoid this:

     1.   Remember always – it is easier to take in than to add in.

     2.  Always make a muslin first. Then make all necessary changes in the muslin.

     3.  First fit the muslin on over whatever undergarments that will be worn under the finished product.

     4.  Make a new pattern from the muslin with all revisions. Don’t be shy about doing whatever is needed on it. (Muslin is cheap. Write on it, mark on it – I have even taped strips to it. Sometimes that first trial is pretty messy looking. But ahh, the beauty and satisfaction of a lovely smooth final muslin).

Some comments I’ve overheard for not following these steps: It is too complicated and/or too time consuming.  

     1.  Making a muslin is very easy. It is one of the most rewarding things I  teach.

     2.  It saves time in the end. The seamstress is assured of a good fit by no need for further alterations.

     3.  And, it saves money by not having spoiled the expensive fashion fabric.  

I’m a believer in sharing knowledge.  It leaves so many happy sewers in my wake.  People write to me and say, “THANKS! I feel so professional and the fit was great.”

Goose Mother:  I can certainly vouch for all you’ve shared regarding making a muslin, having learned the hard way!  For awhile there, I thought my best friend was the seam ripper, which I affectionately call, Jack.  (laughter)

To be continued …

Honk, Honk!





























  • Val LaBore says:

    So now I know I’ve been pronouncing your name wrong just like everyone else. Nice to meet you, Nancy!
    I’ve been told I need to make a sloper for my shoulder and armseye, and upper arm to use for any future patterns. Its a task I’m still not sure how to do, since most of the different era bodices differ a bit (like more seams) but I understand the need for it.
    Looking forward to more installments here.

  • Pam Myers says:

    Beautiful post/blog to a beautiful lady I personally know Mrs Thee and she does excellent work and we have used her designs and patterns many times I have spent many afternoons with her at events and she has great character and even greater skills Kuddos Nancy

    • you girls make me blush -but thanks!
      Val -you are so helpful. Thank you for that.
      Pam -we have had some great times haven’t we? ( and need more!) Thank you for the lovely and generous compliments. Nancy