Needles in the Stacks: Homage to Nancy Zieman, pt. 2

Nancy Zieman on the set of "Sewing with Nancy" show
Nancy Zieman on the set of her TV show on Wisconsin Public Television in 2007

A few weeks ago, I posted the first half of our Needles in the Stacks series reviewing the books of the late Nancy Zieman. The FIT library has How-To sewing books published by more than a dozen famous sewing teacher-personalities.* Zieman was by far the most prolific of these. Our library has 15 items Zieman wrote, but she published more than 80 books and a similarly huge number of videos and DVDs. Zieman succumbed to cancer in September 2017, so it seemed fitting to remember her by the work she loved.

In the first post of this series, I began with some background on how Zieman began her teaching and publishing career. FIT Library’s purchases from many many titles focused on basic sewing techniques and helpful hints. Zieman also wrote about many topics that we did not purchase. She was an enthusiastic quilter and published many books on piecing techniques. Many of her blog posts discuss ways to organize sewing tools like scissors, ribbons, and bobbins. Other regular themes included surface embellishment, constructing doll clothes, teaching kids to sew, home furnishings, and serging and machine embroidery techniques. Her blog is a nexus of that passion for creating things and her entrepreneurial skills.

Zieman’s biography from her blog

The list in StyleCat of Zieman’s books in the FIT Library.

The list of Zieman’s work from WorldCat universal library catalog.


Sewing Express cover

Sewing Express, 1994

This is another from Zieman’s series of hardbound books published by Oxmoor House in the 1990s. I reviewed several of these in the first part of this post. Sewing Express continues Zieman’s quest to streamline sewing processes in order for readers to make personalized things more quickly. Zieman’s enthusiasm for sewing shows in all of these books.

Readers with a basic comfort with machine sewing construction and tools will benefit most from this title. Zieman wrote many compilations of helpful sewing tips like this one. This book reads very much like her 10-20-30 Minutes to Sew and The Best of Sewing With Nancy, which I reviewed in the first post.


Sleeve construction technique from Zieman's Sewing Express



The focus in this title on different garments, however. Here Zieman presents the (20th century) professional woman’s wardrobe basics: a point-collar single-breasted jacket, a point-collar front-button long-sleeved blouse, straight skirts, and tailored pants. To add versatility to these standard garments, she introduces ways to make them reversible, and gives step-by-step stitching instructions to construct them quickly.




Pattern layout technique from Zieman's Sewing Express




The garments in this book are pretty dated. There’s a section of decorative shirt plackets in ultrasuede that are badly 1990s, but the techniques are sound. In particular, Zieman’s presentation of the most efficient “order of operations” is genius. She truly took her own experience and made it available to anyone who wanted it.





501 Sewing Hints cover

501 Sewing Hints, 1995 and

Sewing with Nancy’s Favorite Hints, 2002

These are continuations of the theme of The Best of Sewing With Nancy, only in these two books, the tips come mainly from the Zieman’s TV viewers, giving it the feeling of a community collaboration in the best sense.

501 Sewing Hints is another in the hardback “Sewing with Nancy” series from Oxmoor House. Sewing with Nancy’s Favorite Hints is a paperback published by Krause Publications. Both books also have frequent notes from Nancy, giving definitions, or explanations, or, most fun, stories about how Nancy’s businesses got their starts.


Tips from Zieman's 501 Sewing Hints


The later book, Sewing with Nancy’s Favorite Hints, was published as a 20th anniversary celebration of Zieman’s television show. It features many guest spots with other sewing experts who’ve presented on Sewing with Nancy.







Sewing with Nancy's Favorite Hints cover



The 2002 book also contains a lot more hints about quilting projects. As Zieman’s show changed, it seems to have covered increasingly more quilting techniques.

Also not surprisingly, the later book includes a lot more images and graphic insets. These were likely easier thanks to improvements in graphic layout capabilities in the printing world.





Essential Sewing Guide cover

Essential Sewing Guide, 1998

Another theme that Zieman has revisited several times over her career is that of sewing basics. The teacher in her returns regularly to the beginning steps a new sewer needs to get started. I reviewed her Busy Woman’s Sewing Book in the first post, but the we have several of her later versions on this theme.






Thread choices from Zieman's Essential Sewing Guide

Essential Sewing Guide is another in the hardback series by Oxmoor House. This book is basic, but has greater breadth of sewing experiences than the earlier paperback. This book explains pins and pinning, sewing machine seams and hand sewing. It covers basics like pressing and specialized seams in great detail.

Zipper application from Zieman's Essential Sewing Guide



Like her other books, this is focused mainly on streamlined machine techniques, and includes shortcuts. However, it also includes details like “Crisp Collars”, “Durable Darts”, and “Streamlined Waistbands”. This book has absolutely retained its usefulness and would be a great reference for learning good sewing practices for the beginner or self-taught sewer. It has a helpful combination of photographs and graphics that make the how-to details clear.





Sew with Confidence cover

Sew with Confidence: A Beginner’s Guide to Basic Sewing, 2004

In or around 2004, Zieman and her work crew began a series of books titled “X…With Confidence”. We only have the Sew with Confidence edition, but she also published Serge with Confidence, Quilt with Confidence, and Pattern Fitting with Confidence, all published as ebooks in 2011. These were published in paperback format by Krause Publications, a Wisconsin publishing house specializing in guides for collectors.




Directions for cutting and marking from Zieman's Sew with Confidence

This has a broader and more basic scope than Essential Guide, above. This book contains more of the basic introductory material, with sections explaining sewing tools and machinery, some introduction to different types of fabrics, and an explanation of how to take measurements to choose the correct commercial pattern. One item I particularly appreciate is that she discusses sewing machine maintenance, a key step many beginning sewers don’t know about.

Pant construction from Zieman's Sewing with Confidence


Because this book begins with so much detail about tools, it has less detail about garment construction. It covers some basics, like casings and facings and putting in sleeves. But the goal appears to be to get the reader up and sewing promptly. The last third of it is directions for simple projects to help a beginner gain confidence. The projects are both simple and useful, a rarity for sewing how-to books. This book is a good helper for the self-taught sewer, but I personally feel some of the other general manuals I’ve reviewed here cover the basics and are better overall reference works, if your bookshelf is already full.


Pattern Fitting with ConfidenceZieman's Pattern Fitting with Confidence cover, 2009

Like the Sewing with Confidence, this book updates several of Zieman’s earlier books. The information in this book is covered well in Fitting Finesse and expanded from the Busy Woman’s Fitting Book. This is also in paperback format, with slightly sharper graphics than Fitting Finesse, but otherwise not much different. Both books have good basic fitting and alteration instructions, working from basic commercial pattern sources.




Bodice fitting problems from Zieman's Pattern Fitting with Confidence



This book uses colored line drawings to make its fitting points. Personally, I prefer photographs of the wrinkles produced by poor fit, but at least this book presents most of the standard fitting problems, along with their solutions. Like Zieman’s other books, this one assumes good working knowledge of machine sewing and use of commercial patterns. All the fitting instructions are given for applying changes to commercial patterns to personalize their fit.





Nancy's Favorite 101 Notions cover

Nancy’s Favorite 101 Notions: Sew, Quilt, and Embroider with Ease, 2010

This is a novel and useful volume. It takes advantage of both Nancy’s gazillion years of sewing advice and experience by focusing on her favorite tools instead of on techniques. It also capitalizes on her expertise and knowledge of the range of available tools. She began the sewing supplies company Nancy’s Notions early in her career, in 1979, so there are likely very few people who had her knowledge of available tools and their usage.




Measuring tools from Nancy's 101 Favorite Notions

This is also published by Krause Publications, in a paperback format. Instead of using photographs, it employs a quirky illustrative style to show everything. It gives the whole book a friendly, approachable feeling, but it will probably make the book look dated in 20 years.

Specialized sewing-machine feet from Nancy's 101 Favorite Notions




Nonetheless, this book is useful. By offering tools by function, this book helps connect problems that need solving with potential solutions. It also includes useful explanations of the differences between many similar tools, like types of scissors, pins, or thimbles. It includes quilting tools like rotary cutters and gridded rulers, and serging tools, like curved tweezers and thread nets. This book is well worth the time of all sewers, new or experienced.




Nancy Zieman’s Sewing A to ZNancy Zieman's Sewing A to Z cover, 2011

This book includes a lot of the basics of sewing, but organized alphabetically by name of tool or technique. It includes a lot of the same information in some of the express or hints books, but it’s in a new and more-useful format, I think. This is also published by Krause, but it has an innovation I love: it’s spiral bound so it will lie flat on the sewer’s work table. The graphics are zippily updated too, and look super sleek and modeled.





Zipper insertion instructions from Zieman's Sewing A to Z



This book is intended to be a reference, but items in it include construction how-to. E.g.”zippers” offers short instructions on inserting centered, lapped, and invisible zippers. The problem with books like this is that terminology is often different between people. What I might call “understitching” she calls “wrapped corners”. This sort of thing makes techniques tough to find if the reader is searching by name of, rather than by function, as many other books are organized.



Double needles tips from Zieman's Sewing from A to Z



Still, this book wins with it’s sharp graphics and short explanations. It presumes a good working knowledge of techniques, but would be good for answering construction or tools questions on the fly. For example, I have to look up how to put in zippers every time, since I only insert them once ever 3 or 4 years. This book would help with that.




This has been a great project, and given me a lot of respect for Nancy Zieman. I hope you will take a look at her books and videos and join me in celebration of the work of this phenomenally ambitious and prolific writer, teacher, and TV personality.

Nancy Zieman's view of TV cameras from her studio workspace

Rest in peace, Nancy Zieman.


* Lois Ericson, Sandra Betzina, Pati Palmer, Claire Shaeffer, and Gretchen Hirsch, just for starters.

This entry was posted in fashion, FIT Library, Needles in the Stacks, textiles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.