When most teens care most about TikTok and social media influencers for whom the race for 1 million views often defines success, Madi Dunning, a 16-year-old from Encampment, Wyoming, is a throwback.
While many her age aspire to achieve online fame, Dunning has spent the past seven years mastering a traditional craft — the art of wool sewing.
And she’s become pretty dang good at it.
The beautiful coat and dress ensemble she made recently won the Junior Division of the National Make it With Wool competition, a first for Wyoming.
“This was a seven-year-long dream,” Dunning said. “I always wanted to go to nationals and I was hoping to get into at least the top five or 10, so I was really excited when I got first place.”
Dunning’s journey into the world of sewing started when she was only 9 years old. It was then she decided to trade in her music lessons for a needle and thread.
“I had been teaching her piano for about a year, and one day she said she didn’t want to learn piano anymore, but wanted to learn to sew,” said Lynda Johnson, her sewing coach. “She asked me if I would teach her and of course, I said yes. I was excited to teach her.”
A Simple Start
Johnson, who had been involved with the Make It With Wool competition for several decades, started Dunning with an assignment to sew a cotton dress. It wasn’t long she recognized Dunning’s talents and told her she should try the competition. So, they began working with wool.
“I think the big difference for me between working with wool and other fabrics is that wool comes from an animal,” Dunning said. “You can make the fabric yourself just by shearing a sheep. Wool is also easier, I think, to be creative with.”
Over the past seven years, Dunning has competed in various competitions and won multiple awards. In 2022, she secured victory at the state level in the Make it With Wool competition, earning her a spot in the nationals in 2023, where she won a place in the top 10.
Her accomplishments were spotlighted this year with a captivating green coat. Complementing this, Dunning sewed a stunning dress, garnering additional recognition by securing first place in the construction category.
Notably, the intricate machine embroidery adorning the coat not only seamlessly tied the two pieces together, but also earned her second place in machine embroidery.
“Out of everything, the machine embroidery was probably the most challenging for me because I had never done it before,” Dunning said. “That and the buttonholes on the coat. Buttonholes are always a challenge.”
One Busy Teen
Dunning’s creativity really shone through when she faced a material shortage for her chosen pattern.
Adjusting her design, she modified the coat by using black for the lapel and opting to forego the cuffs. Additionally, she tailored the sleeveless dress outlined in the pattern by adding charming puffy sleeves and making the square neckline round.
While working on her competition design, Dunning continued to maintain her school studies, balance two jobs and participate in a local town play.
“I was worried about her for a while there and whether she was going to be able to do it all,” said Dunning’s father Mark Dunning. “It was a lot. But she did it. I am so incredibly over-the-top proud of her. She worked so hard.”
Suzie Dunning also expressed immense pride in her daughter's achievements.
“I was honestly over-the-moon shocked, but also so happy and so proud of her,” she said. “She has worked so hard. And Lynda has truly been an inspiration and a mentor. They have worked together long and hard these last seven years to get Madi to this point. It gives me goosebumps to think about it. She did so amazing.”
As part of winning the competition, Dunning received $500 in cash and a $1,000 scholarship. Like student-athletes or musicians who practice and work out to become expert at what they’re passionate about, so does Dunning.
“It’s like athletes who focus on sports. This has been my passion, so instead of being focused on technology I’ve been focused on sewing and other creative things,” Dunning said. “Like, I am also involved in our town’s local drama club because I love acting too.”
Dunning plans to use the scholarship to attend college where she will likely study fashion design. However, she said she is “young and reserves the right to change my mind.”
“I think there’s a lot you can do with fashion design,” she said. “So I think no matter what, I will do something with that, but I’m young so I reserve the right to change my mind along the way.”
Wants To Be A Role Model
As part of winning the competition, Dunning will serve as the ambassador for the Make it with Wool competition for a year. During this time, she said she plans to leverage her position to inspire a new generation to embrace the art of sewing and help to foster an interest and appreciation for the traditional skill.
“I think no matter how much technology we have it’s always important to have different skills,” Dunning said. “I learned to sew, but I also learned discipline, patience, creativity and commitment. This takes a lot of creativity.
“Also, I have made so many real-world friends doing this. And I have traveled to so many different places, it has really broadened my horizons.”
Tracie Sullivan can be reached at: Tracies.Reporter@gmail.com