If you have been a quilter or sewist for more than a few months, you have most certainly encountered the name Nancy Zieman. If you reside somewhere in Wisconsin or neighboring states, you have probably made the pilgrimage to the Beaver Dam, WI store bearing her name, perhaps shopped at the big spring catalog sale and sewing weekend, or attended the Madison Quilt Expo also sponsored by Nancy's Notions. Somewhere in your stash of fabrics, sewing books, patterns, and instructional dvds and notions there is an item with Nancy's name attached. Perhaps, like me, you religiously record the Saturday morning episodes of Sewing with Nancy on public television, to be watched when you're in a sewing mood. I am fortunate enough to live only 30 minutes from the retail store, so I've been able to see the business grow over the years and have indulged myself in a few patterns, rulers, and such over the years. Although I've drooled over some of the classes offered, I have never taken any. Well that isn't quite true -- I did take one class from Nancy herself, before there was an empire and all those employees. Back in the early/mid-1980s I attended a seminar in downtown Beaver Dam --maybe fifteen women and Nancy herself. I am not even sure if she had her first warehouse at that time. It was her warmth and sincerity at that time that has made me a fan of her success for over 30 years. Naturally when I heard that she was writing an autobiography with the help of Marjorie Russell, I knew I would read the book. When I received an invitation to a book signing, I made the short trek in the frozen temperatures to hear Nancy tell about her life.
All that leads to today's book Seams Unlikely, an autobiography of this determined entrepreneur who turned an average "home economist" degree into a world recognized financial success. Actually, although you'll read about the expansion of the business over the years and Nancy's forays into new territory such as garment design for McCalls and machine embroidery design, most of the book covers the "back stage stories" -- a frank explanation of the bell palsy that left her face asymmetrical and her ego fragile, the blessings and hardships of growing up on a typical Wisconsin farm in the 1960s and 70s, dreams threatened by continuing health issues, and the lean days of first jobs.
What a compelling read which connected with me on so many levels! Let's begin with the rural setting. Farm chores, barn cats, gardening, and a life centered around the family's church and faith -- certainly sounds similar to my own early years. Just four years older than Nancy, I, too, found 4-H as a place where I could excel and the experiences there also helped shape my education, career, and leisure choices later in life. When Nancy described her first 4-H sewing project, I could see my own, almost identical to hers. (Sadly, I do not have the perfected talent she does). Her courage to strike out in her own business when very few women did is something I admire. Even she did not realize how big the dream could become. As she tells her story, readers will see just how wide a successful dream reaches into other people's lives. Many, many of Nancy's employees started with basic jobs and responsibilities, but grew in skills and talents over time. This is not just a success story of a wife and husband, but of the many others whose efforts behind the scene make all the "gears" move.
Although a few parts of the 300 pages are repetitive (something I often find in memoirs), I highly encourage fellow fabric/thread enthusiasts to seek out this book. I also suggest you follow Nancy's blog where she posts several sewing messages a week. You might also want to check out the special website set up for the book. And of course, you can replay episodes of the television series whenever you want from your computer.