Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Happy Birthday, Nancy!

By Melissa Thompson Maher

Nancy Zieman
Nancy Zieman, long-time host of PBS’s Sewing with Nancy and basically, America’s most beloved sewing teacher, would have turned 65 on June 21 this year, had she not lost her battle with cancer in late 2017. It’s not her passing, though, that we want to focus on. On this birthday anniversary, what we choose to celebrate is her legacy of sharing the love of sewing with hundreds of thousands of people through her show, her 40+ books and countless patterns, and through her notions company, Nancy’s Notions.  

In fact, it is rare to find a stitcher or quilter who does not know of Nancy Zieman. She started out in 1970 with Nancy's Notions, a direct mail company she founded to sell sewing notions, supplies and accessories. 

Then she took her sewing mission to the small screen--television! In September 1982, she debuted on Wisconsin Public Television with her decidedly not flashy, straightforward and congenial program, Sewing with Nancy. The show became the longest running sewing program on North American television with 910 episodes filmed. According to her autobiography, she says "in terms of years, only (David) Letterman had a longer run." (Visit  to see archived episodes, technique videos and blog posts featuring many of her show’s guests and techniques.)

She went on to write more than 40 books on machine sewing and quilting, designed scores of patterns (some we carry at Hip Stitch!) and appear at countless sewing and quilting events, where she taught or presented information about sewing.

In recent years, as her two oldest granddaughters reached ages where they could learn to sew, Nancy focused on reaching the next generation of sewing enthusiasts. She developed some notions specifically for beginning or young stitchers, and wrote a kids book, The Flying Sewing Machine.

Nancy's last book, The Flying Sewing Machine
The Flying Sewing Machine takes place in the village of Sewland, where every afternoon at a quarter to 2, a policeman blows a whistle, the town stops and everyone goes to sew. The book debuted at Fall International Quilt Market in Houston last November, just as Nancy was announcing her retirement and only a few weeks before she died. The book, published by Martingale, was given to a few interested companies and industry media, and people were encouraged to blow a whistle at 1:45, and read a short excerpt from the book. And then in homage to Nancy, they were asked to give away the book to someone who could help a young person learn to sew. 

So at 1:45 pm each day of Fall Market last year, you really could hear whistles across the show floor, as people honored Nancy’s legacy.

The very last episode of Sewing With Nancy was “I Sew For Fun,” a show on team sewing with kids ages 5-9. And it featured Nancy and her granddaughters. She wrote about this in her farewell blog post, saying “I marvel at this miracle.”  (You can find that last episode here:

Join us at Hip Stitch Thursday, June 21 through Sunday, June 24, as we celebrate Nancy’s birthday and the sewing world she helped create. We’ll have specially packaged copies of her children’s book with a free fat quarter and selected notions will be on sale. And you just might hear a whistle at a quarter to two.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Row by Row 2018: Inspiration info from Block Designer Anita McSorley by Melissa Thompson Maher

What inspired you to create the design?

I was excited about “Sew Musical” with ideas coming easily. My first thoughts and designs incorporated the sock monkey (Hey! Hey! We’re the Monkees!) that Hip Stitch uses for advertising. But that is a generational thing that not all age groups would be able to relate to. I searched the internet for music titles and lyrics that might have a sewing/stitching connection, but there didn’t seem to be anything out there. Looking through a sketch pad I have, I found  quilt blocks I’d collected that were related to the southwest. The one I based the design on is called “Rocky Mountain High”. I don’t recall where I found the block to include in my sketch pad. Of course, I had to complicate the block by designing a rainbow behind the piano keys. The piano keys look difficult, but they are simple to paper piece.
what techniques does it include
When I showed sketches to Suzanne and Steve, they mentioned that some customers commented that most of the Row by Row blocks seemed to have a heavy use of appliqué. That why we decided to go with this one. The 18” x 18” block is comprised of 9 blocks set on point. Six of the blocks are paper pieced. Instructions are written for paper piecing but the maker can decide to cut out each piece with ¼” seam allowances and piece them that way. Three of the blocks at the base are to be machine appliquéd. They also can be hand appliquéd if the maker desires.

How many different shapes/fabrics?

The block uses 17 different fabrics and lots of pieces/shapes. Some of the 9 blocks have many pieces, some just a few. It’s too scary to count them!

I know this is your third block for Hip was it different to use the new configuration? (More flexible, harder?)

I love that we were given a choice of which shape/size we wanted to use this year. The object of this game being to collect many different blocks from many different shops allows the collector more flexibility in constructing a final product to showcase where they’ve been and what they collected. The 9” by 36” row was restrictive in what you could do with them after they were completed. I did look at the other sizes, but liked that the square was close in size to an album cover (not that everyone remembers what those were!)

How long have you been sewing? How long designing?

I learned to sew from my mother and grandmothers. I was 10 when I started making and designing doll clothes for my Miss Revlon doll. She was shorter than Barbie and better proportioned. I won ribbons at the county fair for several years until I moved on to sewing garments for myself. I made most of my clothes through junior high, high school and college. My first major at Eastern New Mexico University was Home Economics (when it was called that), with a second major in journalism. When I was in junior high, the mother of a friend was a seamstress who had a studio full of fabric and dress forms. Julie and I would spend hours draping our models and creating stories about where these ladies were going to wear our creations. That is such a wonderful memory.
I started quilting when my sons were young and I was a stay-at-home mom. I’ve been a fabric collector for a long time so there was never a lack of materials with which to play and experiment. I started designing my own quilts after moving to New Mexico in 1989. I’ve always loved quilts that other people design and make but always felt there was no point in remaking what someone else has done.

Anything else you'd like to say....?

I’ve really enjoyed the relationship I have with Suzanne and Steve at Hip Stitch. It’s exciting to see my Row by Row blocks in the store and to talk to quilters who have constructed what I created.