Meet Tracy Jean
“When I was a little girl, my mom used to sew all the time, and she made matching clothes for all of us kids. I learned to sew by watching my mom. I don’t really remember not knowing how to sew.”
– Tracy Jean
“I started making bathing suits,” she said. “Back then, there was no such thing as stretchy spandex in bright colors. So, as soon as that came to the fabric stores, I was drawn to it. Not many people were sewing with spandex at the time, but that didn’t stop me. I started designing bathing suits, sewing them, and selling them in high school for extra money.”
After raising her five fabulous children, Tracy went on to get a Fashion Design degree from Fashion Careers College in San Diego, and began designing her own collections. She ended up working in the theatrical world, building costumes for the world-renowned Old Globe Theatre in San Diego’s Balboa Park, the San Diego Opera, and the La Jolla Playhouse, working seasonally at all three places for over 10 years.
“I was hired as a stitcher, and then every year, that would progress to working with more advanced people on more advanced work. I learned the difference between fashion patterning and costume patterning. In fashion, people aren't going to wear things hundreds of times like they do in theatre, so costumes have to be built much more sturdy in order to last through many performances and different actors.” Tracy quickly discovered that costuming and working in costume shops is something that requires hands-on experience to learn and become confident in.
“I don't think there's a school anywhere where you can just start working and making costumes for big productions. You can learn the technical things, the terms and the vocabulary, but you can't really learn how to be part of a costume shop, without really working in a costume shop. So I’ve had hands on experience that you just can’t get from a school or a book.”
Tracy became the Costume Shop Manager for San Diego Opera, which taught her an entirely new set of skills. “I learned how to be a manager and a teacher, which was really good for me,” she said. “That’s something that I took to quickly, and it’s helped me quite a bit in my current career.”
Then, in 2017, while visiting family in Utah, an interesting opportunity presented itself to Tracy. The Hale Center Theatre in West Valley City, Utah, was building a fabulous new theatre in Sandy, Utah. It seemed exciting and fresh! Tracy, always seeking new opportunities and fresh ideas, contacted the shop. They were behind and needed her as soon as possible to get a show ready to open at the brand new theatre. It was called “Forever Plaid.” She fitted and reworked a bunch of plaid coats that very week, and was able to help each costume fit the actors perfectly. Then, she returned to her life in San Diego. All the while, the new theatre was being built and finished in Utah.
During another visit about 7 months later, she went to see the newly finished theatre. The costume shop was in need again! They wanted Tracy to move to Utah to build costumes, right away.
“It all happened very quickly,” she said. “I loved living in my home town of San Diego, but the Hale Centre Theatre asked if she could come right now. It was all very exciting!” So, Tracy agreed to the offer and packed up her life. One month later, she moved to Utah, for an exciting full-time costuming position at Hale Centre Theatre - One of the largest and most successful theatres in the Western United States.
One of Tracy’s greatest strengths is her ability to help costume designers realize their vision in practical terms.
Costuming for the Old Globe Theater
“A lot of young designers don't really know how to sew well. They're really good at drawing beautiful renderings and they can see what they want, but they just don't know how to three-dimensionalize it, or make it into a real thing. There are practical considerations that new designers don’t always consider. Yes, the dress may be lovely, but how is the actress going to get into it for a quick change? And how can we make that fabric stronger so it lasts the whole run of the show?”
During her time at the Hale Centre Theatre, Tracy reignited her passion for teaching. “Even as I was working in the shop, teaching has always been a big part of what I do,” Tracy smiled. “It may not have been in the job description, but it’s always been important to me to pass on what I’ve learned over the years.”
With Hale Center Theatre hit hard by the pandemic, Tracy has had more time to develop new and innovative ways to teach sewing.
“Right now, I’m building a sewing skills sample book,” she said. “I can take a student from the very simple, beginning sewing skills and techniques, all the way to the tough sewing skills and techniques that most stitchers never learn.” Tracy sees this as a way to pay forward all of the opportunities that she has been given. “I have worked with so many seriously talented people! I feel that it’s time for me to give back,” Tracy said. “I want to teach people how to sew, and share my knowledge to keep alive the dying art of quality couture sewing skills. I’m very excited to see what happens next.”
Currently, Tracy offers several classes, teaching beginning to advanced sewing skills, fun sewing, costume shop sewing skills, knitting, crochet, and much more! Sign up and get your sewing going – You too can become a super stitcher!
Costuming for the Hale Centre Theatre