Friday, February 14, 2014

Seams Unlikely by Nancy Zieman: Book Review

Did you know that Nancy Zieman has just published an autobiography? I'm thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Seams Unlikely. I was sent an advance copy of the book, and it's a very entertaining read.

Nancy is a household name when it comes to sewing, and it's interesting to read about the way she forged her path. The first part of her book focuses on her childhood on a farm, when she was faced with several health challenges. Bell's Palsy caused a dramatic change in her facial structure when she was just a baby, and she was troubled with debilitating knee issues. It's fascinating to read about her issues with self-confidence, since she's now such a public figure. When she was first offered a guest post on a TV show, Nancy was convinced she couldn't do it because of her face. How far she's come! Not only is her show Sewing with Nancy the longest-running PBS show, but she's basically a poster child for sewing: she has her own life-sized cardboard cutouts at sewing expos. I think most women will be able to relate to Nancy's feelings of inadequacy and self-consciousness--and be inspired by her ability to work through it.

Two-year-old Nancy: she's a cat person too!

My favorite parts of the book, by far, was learning about how Nancy came to her chosen career. She was working as a freelance home economist long before it was common to be one's own boss--especially as a woman. As she writes:
Looking back from the perspective of what has happened in the four decades since that time, I realize now that what I was doing was a rarity. Today, there are many careers in which people commute to work from home offices, making proximity to a workplace of less importance than a good internet connection. In 1979, though, computers were in their infancy and cell phones were props for science fiction movies.
Nancy comes from a traditional background (in terms of gender roles), but her actions demonstrate that she was very much part of a movement of women gaining independence in business. She was once turned down for a small business loan because her husband's name wasn't on the application and fought against the decision. (She got the loan.)

Nancy's early career shows the incredible importance of self-motivation--she hired her own production crews and bought time on a television station to make Sewing with Nancy. She never waited for opportunities to be handed to her. Her career was a three-prong structure: the show, her mail order company Nancy's Notions, and offering sewing seminars. Her business grew so rapidly that her husband joined her company as vice-president.

Of course, there are lots of fun sewing tidbits:

  • Nancy developed her sewing and teaching skills in 4-H. She recorded all the minute details of her sewing projects in her 4-H record book, which she still has today. In 1970, she made a Vogue pantsuit from a olive and green houndstooth wool, ordered from a mail order fabric company for $45 for fabric and lining--the most she had ever spent on a sewing project. Her suit was selected as a state finalist in the 4-H Dress Revue, but she wasn't able to make the competition because of health issues. 
  • Nancy really wanted to buy (rather than make) her wedding dress but couldn't justify the cost. She ended up making her dress out of something called a Qiana knit, which was new to the market (and apparently long gone from the market!). 
  • She was a manager in a fabric store at the height of the craze for sewing with double knits: "Double knits were a hot commodity in the late 70s. A full-page ad ran every Sunday in The Chicago Tribune and suburban papers. Monday morning there would be lines and lines of women waiting to shop, especially for the dollar a yard double knits."
Reading this book was like getting to have a long chat with a mentor that I really respect. I appreciate Nancy taking the time to pass on her experiences. Maybe I'll even get to meet her one of these days!

Read more about the book and enter to win one of 20 copies on Nancy's website by leaving a comment there. Good luck!

Here are all stops for the blog tour:

Seams Unlikely Autobiography by Nancy Zieman
February 4          Nancy Zieman 
February 5          Eileen Roche
February 5          Pat Sloan
February 6          Melissa Stramel
February 6          The Long Ladies
February 6          Tori Thompson
February 7          Amy Barickman
February 7          Melissa Mora
February 8          Shari Butler
February 8          Vicki Christensen
February 9          Carolina Moore
February 9          Kate Mclvor
February 10          Amy Ellis
February 10          Melissa Mortenson
February 11          Ilene Miller
February 12         Liz Hicks
February 11          Julie Herman
February 12          Bill Gardner
February 12          Elizabeth Evans
February 13          Amy Webb
February 13          Lindsay Wilkes
February 14          Gertie Hirsch
February 14          Veronica Philips
February 15          Jenny Gabriel
February 15          Laura Wasilowski
February 16          Frieda Anderson
February 16          Rita Farro
February 17          Cindy Cloward
February 17          Joan Hawley
February 17          Patty Young
February 18          Nancy Zieman


  1. Thank you for doing a review on Nancy's book. Twenty four years ago Nancy's sewing show was what I waited for on Saturday mornings. I only had the community at my local (small) fabric store and Nancy! I still have the booklets she published (in black and white) that went along with the programs. It was her catalog that brought me many of the sewing notions that I still use today!!! I even bought my wonderful sewing machine cabinet from her!!!! Now to think about it, I bought my Rowenta iron from her!!!!
    What an influence Nancy Zieman is to the sewing community.
    I am also so very grateful for our community of bloggers!!!!! What a great group of people who are so willing to share and teach others. Thank you Gertie for continuing to pave a path for sewers!!!!

  2. I pre-ordered Nancy's book when I got word of it - and I read it immediately after I got it. I can describe Nancy in one word - gracious. I wrote her a letter over 20 years ago and she called me and left a message on my answering machine (of all days, I wasn't at home!). She has lived through all her challenges and come out on the other side. I highly recommend her inspirational autobiography!

  3. So nice, I can't wait to read this book!

  4. For many years, my sewing motto is "What would Nancy do?" I have most of her books and that is where I always go when I am stumped. On an interesting side note, her brother has become a mentor to my son. So, awesomeness must run in the family.

  5. I remember waiting in line with my mom at a small fabric store for the $1 a yard double knit sale. She'd buy and buy (like any sewer at a fabric sale), then when my dad wasn't home my sister, mom and I would drag it all in the house. LOL

  6. We record Sewing with Nancy early on Saturday morning. My husband usually waits till I am settled in the recliner with a cup of coffee and then turns on "My sewing show" (which he secretly watches. I can not wait to get my hands on a copy of her book. Nancy is truly and inspiration to all sewers!

  7. I can't believe Nancy made her wedding dress out of Qiana too! I think she is around my age. I made my wedding dress out of Qiana. It was a silky nylon knit with a satiny shimmer, draped well, and it came in various weights. I made my wedding dress out of a heavier weight, and I made my matron of honor's dress out of it as well. It was easy to cut and sew, and very comfortable to wear. I also made a red dress out of a lighter weight and wore it for years. Qiana was nothing like polyester knits, although I sewed my fair share of those too. They were popular because they didn't wrinkle, because even in the 70's you still had to iron Perma Press clothes. I am sorry Qiana is long gone. I made my wedding dress because it was my dream and I wanted something simple and sophisticated, and I didn't even use a wedding dress pattern! The wedding dresses in the late 70's had poufy skirts and lot of frills, and as I am short, I would have been overwhelmed. I have several of Nancy's sewing books and I learned a lot from her show and books, and over the years, I have ordered many notions, etc. from her because she carries items not available locally. And thanks to you, Gertie, I bought the Santa Fe dress pattern from Nancy's Notions and the Sewing with Knits book. I've made the pattern twice, and they are the most comfortable dresses I own. I also bought your book and can't wait to use those patterns.

    1. Cynthia --

      Although I never wore any Qiana, I seem to remember that it snagged way too easily. (I may be remembering wrong, but I believe I saw Qiana dresses in stores and Qiana yardage in shops with snags in them.) Did it work better for you?

    2. MelanHelen, I didn't seem to have any problems with snags but I remember even polyester knits snagged. I always checked yardage for snags before I bought it and still do.

  8. I remember watching Nancy from the very first show that she taped in her dining room. At that time the "Women's Lib" movement was gaining momentum and it was considered very old fashioned to sew one's own clothes. But let me tell you everyone I worked with wanted my uniforms. I was a nurse. I was cute, let me tell you because pant suits were finally permitted and very hard to find. Not for me and many of the techniques that I used to customize my uniforms came from ideas gleaned from Nancy! I also had the honor of meeting her at a sewing expo and took a couple classes from her. I was amazed because she is so attractive and tall in person, television does not do her justice. And as mentioned above, she is gracious. A lovely person. I have almost every book she has written and have such great respect for a pioneer in our craft.

  9. Nancy inspires. My eldest grandchild is 8 & just getting her feet underneath as regards reading. This book will be on her shelf to read.

  10. She is an inspiration, I have spent many hrs watching her shows. Glad she has another book out. Thank you for being part of her giveaway.

  11. One of my son's watched a show about Nancy a year or two ago. He was really impressed. I was also shocked at how she was able to make it. She is an inspiration. I also love her show when we can get it in Northern California.

  12. I've loved sewing since high school, and Nancy's show (and books) were one of the things that showed me hand made clothing did not need to look home made! And now that I know she's a cat person, well! So cool, thanks for sharing!

  13. i've never heard of Nancy - I guess cause I'm from Australia, but she sounds so interesting! thank you for sharing!

  14. Loved hearing about that book. Quiana was like slinky but more stable; we used to make wrap skirts and dresses out of it. I remember as a teenager making one of the first Butterick "Young Designer" patterns by Betsy Johnson out of Quiana. What I really liked from the era was bonded was like it already had fusible on it, so no raveling.

  15. As a poor apparel design student in the late '70s, Quiana was my go to fabric. It was relatively inexpensive, and it draped and shimmered like silk. it was nylon, not poly, so it was not hot and clammy to wear. And as for the old double knit polyesters of that era, it has returned with a vengeance in the form of Ponte Knits, what was old is new again!

  16. Nancy's most revolutionary idea to me is her method of 5-10-15 minutes to sew. It transformed sewing from a Planned and exhausting Saturday marathon that I never actually get to, to a set of easy tasks that I can accomplish throughout the week. This has resulted in far more projects actually finished. I'm dying to read her autobiography.

  17. Oh, Nancy! She taught me a lot about sewing! I always watched her shows and I always learned something, even though I'd been sewing quite some time I started watching Sewing with Nancy.

    Qiana oh Qiana. I had many a dress named Qiana! I had this long flowing black Qiana dress that was a Marlo Thomas pattern. The neck line reached my belly button, but the wrap belt provided discretion. I think there are pictures somewhere of me standing out in the snow in that getup. Scandalous!

    1. Something about my comment seems awkward. Try to go with it. :)

  18. Qiana! I has a sherbet green qiana gown Momma made me when I was invited to a fancy dress event in college. I remember hand finishing the voluminous hem after she shipped it to me.

    I've been a Zieman fan for many a year. She was particularly important after I started sewing again and found myself confused by new fabrics, interfacing, stabilizers, notions....

  19. I adore Nancy, and always look to her for sewing advice. Now I can see what a truly marvelous person she is, I am so glad she wrote this book. Looking forward to reading it.

  20. How exciting that she decided to publish an autobiography. I have been reading about a quilter named Mary Schaefer who has inspired many and found the book fascinating. Not the usual read, but it is really nice to know a little more about the history of these interesting women.

  21. Have watched Nancy for many years. Have so much respect for her, and have learned SO MUCH from her!

  22. her show is not the longest running pbs show... it's the longest running show about sewing. Sesame Street is about 10 years older and even that show is not the longest running show on PBS.

  23. On numerous occasions, I have written my local PBS station and requested they carry Ms. Zieman's show. Alas, they have yet to take my suggestion.

  24. Wow it sounds like a fantastic read... even just for the stories or the history.

  25. I admire Nancy! She's a great exemple and inspiration for indepence women! Always trust your own creativity [with a little help from Nancy...].

  26. Have always looked at Nancy as a mentor as well! Love her Nancy's Notions and have been a frequent and enthusiastic customer through the years. Thanks for the review! Another book to put on my reading list!

  27. How exciting it would be to meet, Nancy!! I swear I would be tongue-tied and googly-eyed!! ♥

  28. I've watched Nancy whenever possible since the early 1980s, and am so happy she keeps returning to garment sewing. And that while the show is sponsored by a sewing machine company, it hasn't turned into an advertisement for them. I've never met her, but something about her delivery and interaction with her guests has always said "classy" to me. I'd love to meet her someday.

    Some of her shows are available on the internet - I don't recall right now if they're on the PBS site, or Nancy's Notions site though.

  29. What an inspiring story! I'm in the UK where we don't have Nancy's programmes on TV, unfortunately, but I have a couple of her books and have seen a couple of shows on the Internet.

  30. I was shocked when I tried to reserve Nancy's new book at my local library and couldn't find it. They don't own it yet, but it is now on their "books to buy" list. Since I recommended it, I'll be one of the first to check it out! I have loved watching Nancy over the years. Kudo's to her parents for raising her like any other child, despite her challenges. Seeing her success on television, where looks are supposedly everything, should be an inspiration to all of us.

  31. In college I made a great dress for an ROTC formal out of peach Qiana--it fit and draped beautifully, but didn't have the luxe of silk, as I discovered later.

  32. In my head, Quiana was first made popular in the UK, by designer Mary Quant. That's not what the history books say, alas for my memory. It was one of the first widely available jersey knits for home sewists. I'm sure that at least one of my college choir dresses was made of Quiana, anywhere from 1976-1980. Like many artificial fibers, it wore like iron even after being stained and picked. And, like many faux fibers, it held sweat stink like nobody's business.

  33. I own a lot of Nancy Zieman books that my mother (an avid sewer) bought during the 80s and 90s. My mother passed when I was young so those books and Nancy's show hold a special place in my heart.

  34. This post is interesting! I used to sew, and actually stopped sewing in the 70's when double knits became the big thing. (hated them.) And when I was shopping for a wedding gown in 1977, all the gowns were Qiana...which I also hated! I was able to get alovely dress from Priscilla of Boston with a moire taffeta skirt and a lace and chiffon bodice. Dated now, but very lovely at the time.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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