Local seamstress notches 50 years of sewing

Photo by Lizzie Blumenthal Nancy Dunlap, seamstress and owner of Madwoman Marketplace displays memorabilia from 50-years of sewing.

 Combing her love for playful patterns and quality fabrics, seamstress Nancy Dunlap successfully owns and operates Madwoman Marketplace as both a clothing store and tailoring headquarters. For those who have not visited the colorful shop, it carries a variety of one-of-a-kind, hand-picked clothing items and accessories, but it’s what happens behind the scenes where Dunlap uses her 50 years of sewing talent to tailor to the needs of the community. Though she has never advertised her business, she admits she is always busy. Coincidently, she also never thought sewing would be part of her career. “There’s such a niche for it here. But I never wanted it to be a career. My mom said ‘… if you start sewing for people you ‘re not going to be able to sew anything for yourself,’” Dunlap said. Just like many kids who grew up in rural areas, Dunlap learned her trade while participating in the 4-H club at the age of 10. 4-H provides great education in various fields. Growing up in Torrington, WY she entered sewing competitions and took her trade very seriously. “It’s not like how things are today, where kids can do their own thing and progress at their own rate. There were always style shows and quite the protocol involved. [Today], the sewing aspect has changed with far less importance to clothing construction,” Dunlap said. From sewing aprons, to skirts and in the 9th year tailoring, Dunlap’s talents in 4-H progressed each year.

Looking back at award-winning work from her childhood, Dunlap is still surprised at what she created. “I have newspaper clippings and think I cannot believe I did this when I was a kid. It was like wow.” At a young age, Dunlap married and had three kids. Because clothes were more costly in comparison to today, she started sewing for her children and friends. In her 30’s she went to haute couture training, where she learned invaluable training about fashion, patterns and design. Living in Kalispell in 1991, she started “Fronz Bonz” fleece line of hats accessories, jackets, vests and children’s wear. “I developed some really outstanding patterns, a few of them I continue to make because they’re just tried and trued patterns,” Dunlap stated. It wasn’t until she moved to Red Lodge 15 years ago, that she realized more and more the need for her services. Eventually, she made it her full-time career.

Nicole Barlow of Red Lodge started to use Dunlap’s services when she was first located above Dancing Willows and did not have the clothing shop attached. But, the need for more space forced Dunlap’s business to grow and now customers like Barlow can both utilize her tailoring skills and enjoy the clothing store. “Nancy and Madwoman is always a pleasure to go and see. She has a great selection of fun and unusual clothes, not the typical Montana attire. The best finds are hidden on the back rack. My girls also find accessories they can’t live without. She can also fix, mend and create just about anything,” Barlow stated. Despite her preference for the design aspect of the industry, Dunlap has truly served the clothing alteration and repair needs in town and is grateful for the support. “We do what we have to do here. I never thought I’d be doing this because I would much rather design and do the really fun parts of it, rather than crotch repair,” Dunlap said jokingly.

However, Dunlap’s creativity continues to flow with a list of ideas about clothes she hopes to one day produce. “I’ve got so much stuff I want to make things into. I want to convert my patterns and repurpose things I have on hand. That’s one thing that’s fun and you have that diversity of fabrics so they’re all going to look different. I don’t want things to look like it came from Wal Mart. Now people want their clothes to look like there was a hand connection with it,” said Dunlap. Because of her busy schedule and desire to spend more time with her family, Dunlap recently enlisted the help of Hailey DeMarvois, co-founder of Roscoe Outdoor clothing with a background in design and pattern making. “It’s important to me to have enough time to watch my grandkids grow and be a part of their lives,” Dunlap said. “If I got some relief from other people, which I knew what was going to happen, I’d be able to have some family time.” With a seemingly growing demand for Dunlap’s veteran services, Madwoman Marketplace is an important business in the Red Lodge landscape.

“I want my customers to know that I really appreciate their support, and that while I haven’t had much time lately to work on personal goals, I have truly enjoyed the time I’ve spend with them and their clothing needs, as well as opening a store front business which was something I always thought that I’d liked to do,” Dunlap said.