Nancy Zieman, one of the best, brightest lights in the sewing industry, has passed away. The founder of Nancy’s Notions, creative spokesperson for Tacony and Baby Lock, esteemed book author with Krause Publications and Martingale, and host of PBS’ “Sewing With Nancy,” Nancy Zieman was a visionary.
Nancy Zieman has welcomed more people to sewing—and encouraged them to keep going or come back to it—than you could possibly count. Even people with no interest in sewing whatsoever knew who she was and learned from her.
Recently, when I was packing up my house to move to Colorado, one of the movers was asking about all the fabric I had, and what in the world was this thing?
“A notions caddy,” I said. “From the 1940s.”
“Is that for, like, sewing?”
“Sure is, for holding sewing supplies,” I said, then went on to explain that I was a quilter.
He lit up, saying that just the other day, he was flipping through TV channels, and ended up watching a show on PBS, with this blonde lady—her face was paralyzed on one side, or something—and she was just sewing and talking.
Now, he’d never so much as touched a sewing machine in his life, he told me, but the next thing he knew, half an hour had passed, and he was pretty sure he could make a quilt.
I grinned. “That’s Nancy Zieman, all right.”
It’s a testament to Nancy’s ability to shine that she has been on television since 1982, despite the partial paralysis of her face due to Bell’s palsy. As she wrote in 2011, after finding out that her facial paralysis was a top Internet search, “It’s just one of the unique features that makes me–me!”
She inhabited so many different layers of the sewing world, in addition to “Sewing With Nancy.” I worked with her through Krause Publications, a longtime publisher of her sewing books. Collaborating with her was a true pleasure, in part because she was one of the kindest, most professional, most on-time authors ever.
And, of course, the journey started with Nancy’s Notions, an incredibly successful notions business that she eventually sold to Tacony, staying on as creative spokesperson. Nancy’s quest for good techniques and useful tools made a deep impression on me. If she recommended it, you know it was a notion worth owning.
One time, when we were comparing seam rolls and tailor’s hams to feature in a book, she reminisced about a seam roll she had made in the early days by rolling up magazines, and stitching a cover around it. That homemade seam roll held up for years and years. When she finally gave it up in favor of a “professional” seam roll, it was still in great shape.
Curious, she unpicked the seams, and was delighted to find sewing patterns from magazines from the 1960s inside—all still in good shape. “There were some wonderful designs in there,” she said.
I’m not sure why that memory has kept coming back to me today, as I see all the posts on social media honoring Nancy. Maybe it’s because the memory shows how much FUN she had with sewing, for all the years she’d been at it—she found constant joy in sewing, and in sharing sewing, over a long and fruitful career.
Thank you, Nancy, for sharing that joy of sewing, and inspiring us all.