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.

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