How do you become part of American history? For Lisa Dobson, the seamstress for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, it happened one stitch at a time. On February 26th, Dobson was recognized during ceremonies at The Smithsonian when her hand-stitched uniform was one of several DCC artifacts donated to the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
"It still hasn't hit me that something I made with my own hands is now in The Smithsonian," says Dobson. "It's been important for me to be involved with such a recognized and respected brand. I love working to maintain the excellence of that brand. I also love working with the girls.
"When I'm making these uniforms for these girls, I'm not just think about doing my best work so that it's a beautiful product. I'm thinking about how important it is to the girl who is wearing the uniform. She worked her whole life to earn the right to wear that uniform and it's important to her. I really enjoy these girls and I'm happy for them. The girls and the entire Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders organization have never made me feel like they've taken my work for granted. They are always so grateful and so respectful."
The process of hand-crafting DCC uniforms starts months before training camp.
"I start in January, as soon as the football season ends I'm already thinking about the next season," notes Dobson. "I have other projects, too, so time management is a priority. It would take 10-to-12 hours to make one uniform if I made it start-to-finish, but I don't do each uniform straight through. I may take a full day to cut-out shorts and sew those guys. Then on a later day, I'll start on the vests. Or maybe I'll do cuffs one day, or work on collars another day. I do the blouses last.
"That's the process that works best for me. I'm so lucky that I get to work in my own studio. It's very Zen. It takes most of the spring to make around 25 uniforms. If I did them start-to-finish I would complete one and think, 'Oh gosh, I have 24 more to make!' It's better if I set a specific task for given days. I might be setting zippers in shorts and it's wonderful when you get it perfect without having to pull any stitches back out and reset. I do a lot of ripping. Sometimes it feels like you rip as much as you sew. But it's a process that I love and look forward to each year."
The iconic stars are the uniform's piece de resistance.
"There are 15 blue stars on each uniform and they're all attached by Velcro," notes Dobson. "I sit at a table, binge-watch a show, and trace-out stars on fuzzy Velcro. The stars are applied to the belt and the vest in the last stages of the uniform construction."
But before the stars are added, before the uniforms are completed, Dobson meets the DCC rookie hopefuls for 'Fittings Day'. Interaction with the girls is her favorite part of the job.
"Fittings Day is during Training Camp. I bring blank pieces which are completed shorts with no hem, completed vests with no fringe, and completed blouses with no cuffs. I look at the girls and estimate their sizes. For some girls, everything is perfect without doing a thing. Other girls, I put marks for anything that needs to be altered. Sometimes I have to re-cut a uniform to fit a girl's specific shape.
"About a month later, the complete uniform must be made for each girl. That's a special day for them, to finally wear their completed uniform. Plus, the makeup artist and hairstylist are there, so it's really the first day for these girls to see themselves as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader from head-to-toe with the uniform plus hair-and-makeup.
"That's a transforming day for so many of the rookies. They know what they're working for during Training Camp, and when they look in the mirror they see a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. It's great. That's the moment I sew for. That's the payoff."
But Dobson's job still isn't complete.
"Once the football season begins, when I'm watching the game, it's fun to see them perform. But I'm analyzing everything at that point, making sure everything looks good with their uniform. The job is never over."
During one of the games last December, Dobson was asked to come to the DCC locker room. It wasn't for an emergency repair of a wardrobe malfunction.
Dobson and Paula Van Wagoner, the fashion designer who created the iconic DCC uniform in 1972, were special guests of DCC director Kelli Finglass who told them about The Smithsonian's decision to add the DCC uniforms to the museum's collection.
In front of the entire DCC squad, Finglass invited Dobson and Van Wagoner to attend the donation ceremony in Washington, D.C. Dobson was surprised and delighted at the news of her work becoming an official part of American history.
"As I was sewing these uniforms, I had no idea one of them would end up in The Smithsonian," says Dobson. "When you set out to be a designer, you know you like to create and you know you like to solve problems. But I didn't go to school and think, 'One of these days, I'm going to be sewing for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders'. I didn't even think I was going to be sewing, I was just going to design. But having the chance to craft something that is recognized, and to see it in The Smithsonian, I'm still processing it."
Being honored at The Smithsonian was especially gratifying because Dobson was able to share the special moment with her family.
"My family has been so supportive and they're really proud of this recognition by The Smithsonian because it's such a cool thing. Over the years this has always been something mom has done and there are things I haven't been able to do because I was trying to meet deadlines. My work with the DCC has been part of my daughters' lives. My husband has been very patient because I get tense when I have a deadline. My oldest daughter and her husband live in New York City and they traveled to Washington, D.C. for the ceremony. It was great having family there.
"Now my stitches are part of history which proves that it pays off to do your best on everything that you do. The whole day at The Smithsonian I had to keep reminding myself, 'Yes, this is really happening!' It was a proud day for all of us associated with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders."