A creative contribution

K-State clothing studies student - Bill Varney

A former fashion teacher’s unique collection will aid students in creating distinctive pieces.

K-State clothing design students are moving fashion forward, thanks to a collection of unique fabrics and materials from the past.

After spending much of her life caring for her family, friends and community and teaching at Kansas State University, Laura Speer Varney is helping K-State students find their design voices long beyond her passing. In an unconventional gift to K-State, her husband shared the style maker’s lifelong collection of fabric and weaving supplies with today’s students.

The determined fashionista

Through her participation in 4-H as a child in Clearwater, Kansas, Laura developed a love of fashion, sewing and fiber arts that shaped her life.

“She wanted to be a buyer in a big store in New York City,” said her husband, Bill Varney. “But I came along, and that plan changed. She never did become a buyer, but she had excellent taste and knew fabrics. She sewed almost all her clothes, and later became enamored with weaving.”

Laura and Bill had plans to marry in the summer after he graduated from K-State in 1954 with a degree in business. Laura was a year behind him in school, but she was determined to get her degree before getting married and moving to Morocco for Bill’s military assignment.

She took 21 credit hours during the two-month summer session — a very heavy course load — so she could graduate right before their wedding.

That was the first of her three K-State degrees. Once the youngest of their four children was in kindergarten, Laura went back to K-State for a master’s and Ph.D. in clothing and textiles. She then taught for several years at K-State.

Legacy of teaching and love of fashion

When Laura passed away in February 2021 at the age of 87, Bill wanted to continue her legacy of teaching and helping others. So he donated many of her sewing and fiber arts items — a distinctive collection she assembled over a lifetime — to the Kansas State University Fashion Studies program and other local groups. “The generous donation of Laura Varney’s weaving supplies, textiles, buttons, yarn and other such materials will help our students produce high-quality design work during their time in the fashion studies program,” said Kelsie Doty, the Verna Sullivan-Marler professor in fashion studies. “This donation will also be used in the classroom and for outreach to continue the long tradition of teaching and research excellence in fashion studies.”  

In a “fast fashion” climate dominated by cheap fabrics and throwaway garments, this collection gives K-Staters unparalleled design freedom — working with materials that would be difficult to source on their own, such as out-of-production fabrics, unique handmade buttons and unusual textiles.

Thanks to a dedicated professor with a true eye for design, K-State students are creating a more stylish world.

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