The History and Impact of 4-H

(Originally published in SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW #76.)


Since 4-H began more than 100 years ago, it has become the nation’s largest youth development organization. The 4-H idea is simple: help young people and their families gain the skills needed to be proactive forces in their communities and develop ideas for a more innovative economy.

In the late 1800s, adults in the farming community did not readily accept new agricultural developments. But university researchers discovered young people were open to new thinking and would experiment with new ideas and share their experiences with adults.

The passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 created the Cooperative Extension System at USDA and nationalized 4-H. By 1924, 4-H clubs were formed and the clover emblem was adopted. The four H’s stand for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health.

Chances are, even if you were never a member, your life has been impacted by 4-H in many ways, especially if you love to sew.

For starters, if not for 4-H, we might never have known Nancy Zieman. Can you imagine a world without 30 years of Sewing with Nancy?


Click HERE to read the full story on

Eileen Roche – Designs in Machine Embroidery

(Originally published February 2015 in SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW #15. Article written by Rita Farro.)


Eileen with Nancy Zieman on the set of “Sewing With Nancy.”

Eileen with Nancy Zieman on the set of “Sewing With Nancy.”

Eileen Roche with her sister Marie Zinno.

Eileen Roche with her
sister Marie Zinno.

Eileen is a prolific author and one of the most popular speakers in the sewing industry.  She was the first person to teach machine embroidery as a guest on Sewing with Nancy, and her list of accomplishments is impressive.

Besides being a frequent guest on Sewing with Nancy and It’s Sew Easy, Eileen is a BERNINA Ambassador, an expert on Baby Lock and Brother machines.  She was the first teacher to present a class on machine embroidery on Craftsy and now has two classes — with over 12,000 students.

Considered a pioneer in developing techniques to combine quilting with machine embroidery   —   her first book — Contemporary Machine Embroidered Quilts, quickly became a bestseller.  Because of her easy writing style, clear directions, and innovative techniques, she has gone on to write many more books about machine embroidery:

•    Machine-Embroidered Fashions
•    Machine-Embroidered Accessories
•    In the Hoop Tool Kit Book
•    Designer Denim
•    Machine Embroidered Monograms for the Home (co-authored with her sister Marie)
•    Designer Handbags (co-authored w/ Nancy Zieman)
•    Designer Handbags 2 (co-authored w/ Nancy Zieman)
•    Machine Embroidered Quilting and Appliqué
•    The Stitching Sisters Guide to Embroidery Studio Organization (also with Marie)
•    Machine Embroidery in 6 Easy Lessons
•    Today’s Crazy Quilting with Your Embroidery Machine

Recent Issues of Designs in Machine Embroidery.

Recent Issues of
Designs in Machine Embroidery.

Designs in Machine Embroidery has earned a reputation as the most beautiful magazine in the sewing world.  The articles are widely varied and embrace embroiderers at all levels, from beginning to advanced, but it’s the exquisite photography that takes DIME to the next level.  Eileen has always believed that to be really appreciated — the finished embroidered projects must be photographed as they will be used.  She uses models for the garments — and beds to show the quilts. Eileen also writes a blog that receives 58,000 viewers per month.

You might think all that would be enough to keep her busy — but you would be wrong.  Eileen’s real passion is inventing new embroidery products.  She has designed software programs for lettering, quilting, digitizing and piecing in the hoop.  When Eileen encounters a problem, she creates a solution.  She says, “during my first guest appearance on Sewing with Nancy, I got an idea for my first patent:  the Angle Finder.”

Her list of inventions continues to grow:

•    Snap Hoop
•    Snap Hoop Monster
•    Quick Snap for multi-needle machines
•    Target Rulers
•    Target Stickers
•    Print & Stick Target Paper
•    Stipple! Collections – a patented digitizing technique
•    Perfect Alignment Laser (PAL)
•    Bird’s Nest Tool
•    Stitcher’s Hardware
•    Hoop Guard
•    shortE: the embroidery short arm with a long reach. (Basically, a quilting frame that your embroidery machine sits on while the frame holds the quilt – brand new, and a real game-changer)

Eileen buried in books.

Eileen buried in books.

So, how does somebody accidentally become the world’s premier, a foremost authority on machine embroidery?

Eileen Roche grew up on the Jersey Shore — in a small seasonal beach town, Wildwood Crest, New Jersey.  She was the third of six sisters — no brothers.  Her family had a popular Irish bar that was a hit with the summer crowd from Philadelphia and its neighboring suburbs.  Everyone in their town had a small business — restaurants, motels, bars, amusement centers.  So she grew up in an entrepreneurial atmosphere where everyone worked 18 hour days for five months straight. The other seven months, many of the islanders were idle or in Florida at their winter homes.

Eileen says, “It taught me not to be afraid of hard work and if you had an idea the only thing standing between you and the idea was idleness. If you wanted to make something happen, you had to make it happen.

Neither of my parents had a college degree but both of them wanted each of their daughters to get a degree. They pushed us to get off that island and see the world, to find a career that made us financially responsible. And we did — today, five of us have a bachelor’s degree, three have master’s and one has a doctorate — from Harvard!

My first sister went off to college and became a teacher, the second a nurse.  I always had to be different — maybe being the middle child.  So I took a different path.   I received a degree in Sports Administration and worked in college athletics — the University of San Diego, DePaul University and Temple University.  I learned a lot in those days — I learned how to write, how to manage large events, how to promote events (some with mass appeals like NCAA men’s basketball and others with little appeal such as women’s fencing).  I worked ridiculously long hours for ten months a year. I liked it, but . . . the pay was terrible and there were 20 young men lurking outside of my office at any time who would do my job for no pay. They were raving fans and I wasn’t.

So I moved into the private sector and spent a year with an ad agency. Fast forward, I got married and had a house to decorate with a very small budget. So I took a sewing class — and fell absolutely in love with the whole process. There was very little education available at the time —1988 — so I did all the research I possibly could and taught myself how to sew. I furthered my knowledge by watching Sewing with Nancy!  A short time later, I began to teach home dec in a local dealership.  When the Janome 8000 came out, the dealer asked me to teach a class on machine embroidery, I said, ‘I don’t know anything about it.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, no one does.’ I made more mistakes than I had successes and eventually started a newsletter on machine embroidery, Creative News, in 1994.

In 1998, I was teaching at a dealer training event and met Gary Gardner, who was the founding owner of Great Notions. We immediately shared a vision of a magazine on machine embroidery for the home user. It was a radical move — more radical than we knew at the time.  Six months later we put out the first issue of  Designs in Machine Embroidery in January 1999.  

Initially, I worked from Philadelphia and traveled to Dallas once a quarter. The art team was in Dallas and as the business grew, those trips became more frequent and longer in length. In 2001, Gary sat me down and said, “If we’re really going to make this endeavor work, it needs your full attention and that needs to happen here in Dallas.” My husband and I made the decision to move and off we went to Dallas in 2001.

Marie and Eileen, The Stitching Sisters at the Alamo.

Marie and Eileen, The Stitching Sisters at the Alamo.

As my workload expanded, I encouraged my sister Marie to start teaching with me.  She had already learned how to embroider and bought a multi-needle machine shortly after they were introduced by Baby Lock.  By 2007, she was building her commercial embroidery business and had just authored Machine Embroidery for Babies & Tots (Krause).  At our first Stitching Sisters events, she was nervous and acted as a true assistant.  Eventually, she became very comfortable in front of an audience. We thrive on creating an atmosphere of learning and fun.  It’s quite obvious we are sisters and the audience loves that.

On the personal side, we’ve toured the US together — we have spent many a Saturday night in a romantic location — with each other!  We joke about that and wish our husbands were with us. It has brought us very close, we feel blessed to have had the opportunity to help dealers grow their business, meet thousands of embroiderers, tour the US and have fun in the process. Don’t get me wrong, there’s been plenty of stress, long hours and TONS of hard work (that seems to keep chasing me!) but all in all, it’s been a blast.

Working with other talented people like my sister has taught me that you can do good things on your own, but if you want to do great things, team up with others. I learned this first through my partnership with Gary Gardner, with my cherished relationship with Nancy Zieman and my lifelong bond with my sister Marie.  


It’s no surprise to many that I’ve worked on so many different projects with Nancy and Marie, but it might be new to you to learn of the staff at DIME. I have been blessed with a fantastic, hard-working support team. Each is so talented in their own right and take full ownership of their duties — there’s no babysitting at DIME!  We have been together for years — some of us a full sixteen years.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of many!”

Mary Mulari — “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman with a Sewing Machine”

Mary Mulari

Mary Mulari

(Originally published October 2014, Inspired to SEW. Written by Rita Farro.)


One of the busiest sewing teachers in America — Mary Mulari is the author of 28 sewing books, most recently, All Occasion Fabric Wraps.

Growing up, Mary always thought she would be a teacher.  After college, she taught junior high English.  She and her husband also had a retail sporting goods store in Aurora, Minnesota where they sold sweatshirts.  In an effort to boost sales at their store, Mary was inspired to create a sweatshirt decorating class for local community education.  The classes became so popular, she self- published her first book, Designer Sweatshirts.

Mary Mulari and Nancy Zieman

Mary Mulari and Nancy Zieman

At that time, Nancy Zieman was living in Minnesota and she was also teaching community ed classes.  They became friends and stayed in touch after Nancy moved back to Wisconsin.  When Nancy started her mail-order notions company, Mary sent her a copy of Designer Sweatshirts. The rest (as they say) is history!!  Mary has been Nancy Zieman’s most frequent guest on Sewing With Nancy.  To date, she has made 52 appearances.

Where do you get your inspiration for new books or topics for Sewing with Nancy?

Mary:  I am an avid reader.  I love books, magazines, and catalogs. I am always sketching, even when I’m waiting in airports or on vacation at the lake.  Sometimes the stones on the shore will inspire me, or the carpeting in a hotel will give me an idea for a new design.  I usually carry a small notebook, but sometimes I tear out an article or sketch an idea on a restaurant paper napkin, etc.  I put those sketches or notes in a large tabbed three-ring binder.

aaimage-1If you had to pick your favorite project on Sewing With Nancy — what would it be?

Mary:  The ZIPPER RIBBON TOTE.  I still remember the reaction of the college students who operate the cameras because they were fascinated by the project.  Unlike anything I’ve ever shown — it brought them out from behind the cameras to see how it worked . . . .

Mary’s sewing inspirations have morphed and changed over the years.  Her interest in turning ordinary sweatshirts into stylish fashion garments led to an enthusiasm for appliqué, and she has been credited with reinventing machine appliqué.  At some point, Mary was inspired by vintage aprons, which led to her popular best-selling line of apron patterns.  Each apron is reversible and takes two one-yard cuts of fabric.  Her most popular pattern, The Church Ladies Apron, has sold over 60,000 copies. Her newest apron is called the Family Girls Apron Pattern, with sizes for mom, grandma, daughters, and dolls, and is available at a retailer near you.


aa2014-09-17-12.54In November 2014, Mary made a guest appearance on Sewing With Nancy which focused on her new book, All Occasion Fabric Wraps.  Mary loves wraps or shawls that can be easily carried wherever you go.  Wraps also make wonderful gifts (one of her favorite topics). They are perfect for travel (she’s written several books about travel gear). They can be embellished or personalized with machine embroidery or appliqué (she is, after all, the Appliqué QUEEN). You can recycle wool sweaters or your mother’s vintage wool coat into a beautiful new wrap. (Recycling has been a recurring Mary Mulari theme for several years.)

What does sewing bring to your life?

Mary:   Sewing satisfies a need for me.  It produces a creative buzz in my life.  I don’t think there is anything more powerful and satisfying than MAKING a gift with your own hands and skills.  Sewing allows me to personalize any gift and knowing how to sew means I can fix things and solve problems.  One of my favorite quotes is, “Never underestimate the power of a woman with a sewing machine.”

Who is Deanna Springer?

Celebrating Nancy Zieman Exhibit,
Winneconne WI, 2019.

Millions all around the world think of Nancy Zieman every time they sit down at their sewing machine. We welcomed her into our homes, and she became our trusted friend who patiently taught us everything we wanted to know.

It is impossible to measure the scope or depth of Nancy Zieman’s influence in the sewing world. Nancy died from cancer in November, 2017, but her impact didn’t stop then.

Because of the popularity of Sewing With Nancy, every newcomer in the sewing industry came knocking on her door. Nancy had a special gift for recognizing talent, and for 30 years, she laid out the welcome mat and opened her door for scores of sewing speakers, pattern designers, quilt teachers and fashion sewists hoping to make their mark. If there was a “Who’s Who” in the Sewing Industry, 90% of the “Sewing Stars” listed would credit Nancy Zieman with giving them their first big break.

Eileen Roche and Nancy Zieman on set.

For example, Eileen Roche, Editor of Designs in Machine Embroidery Magazine, has become one of the world’s foremost, well respected authorities on sewing machine embroidery.

“Nancy catapulted my career and business into existence. Appearing on Sewing With Nancy put Designs in Machine Embroidery on the map. Our almost 20-year relationship evolved from strictly business to a cherished friendship. I learned how to focus on the customer, identify consumer needs and find the ‘hole’ in the marketplace. Personally, she taught me how to develop strong business relationships that truly benefited both parties, how to juggle home life with business responsibilities, how to take pride in work, how to overcome shortcomings and how to trust in the Lord. Nancy was a born leader but at her core, she was a kind, Christian woman, and I was honored to know her.”

Mary Mulari and Nancy Zieman on set.

As Nancy’s most frequent guest on Sewing With Nancy, Mary Mulari became one of the most popular speakers in the sewing industry. She presents seminars to sold-out audiences at sewing guilds, shops, and the largest consumer sewing shows all over the country. She’s written dozens of bestselling books on various sewing topics, machine appliqué, designer sweatshirts, recycling, quick gifts, and, most recently, her clever reversible apron patterns.

“I met Nancy when she taught evening sewing classes through Community Education in northern Minnesota. She lived in my neck of the woods for about three years. After she moved back to Wisconsin, I sent my first collection of Designer Sweatshirts and she showed them on her cable television program. And from there, the rest is history, and I was launched into the sewing biz.

Nancy invited me to be her guest on Sewing With Nancy and encouraged me to develop new topics and projects for television and for my own publications. She invited me to teach at Nancy’s Notions Sewing Weekend and suggested that I apply to teach at the Sewing and Stitchery Expo in Puyallup WA. She’s responsible for anything good in my sewing reputation. That I can also call her my friend is more than a bonus.”

Deanna Springer moves
Nancy Zieman Productions forward.

We’ll never know the full measure of Nancy’s inspiration within the sewing industry, but one thing is clear: The Nancy Zieman brand has gone on. Nancy always said,

“The proverb ‘it takes a village’ applies to life in general. My village is a tight-knit group of talented people who have worked with me over many decades.

My TV program should be called, Sewing With Nancy, Donna, Pat, Laure, Kate, Diane, Deanna, Lois, Sharen, Gail, and Erica. They comprised the dedicated village that shares a love of sewing and quilting. To them I extend my appreciation and give a heartfelt thank you for being loyal members of my team and great friends.”

The good news is that Nancy’s village has been splendidly carrying on with her brand.

One of Nancy’s unique skills was picking the right people for the job at hand. And the person now driving the Nancy Zieman brand is Deanna Springer.

So, who is Deanna Springer?

Click HERE to read the full story at


Quilting on the Next Level: What are the Judges Looking For?

Klaudeen Hansen, May 2014, National Quilt Association Show, Columbus OH Quilt in background Saffron Splendor by Pat Holly

Klaudeen Hansen, May 2014,
National Quilt Association Show, Columbus OH
Quilt in background Saffron Splendor by Pat Holly

So, what are the judges looking for? To figure that out, we turned to Klaudeen Hansen, who has judged over 38,000 quilts. Nancy Zieman credited Klaudeen with the standardization of quilt judging, and called her the “mother of modern quilt shows.” Klaudeen is in the Who’s Who of American Quilting, and her quilts have been in invitational shows in the US and Europe.

Klaudeen says, “I grew up with 4-H, and was used to having my work judged. I was the helper person at the county fair, pinning on the ribbons, etc. I often thought the judging was completely arbitrary. There really was no rhyme or reason to how they picked the winning quilt. Even as a kid, it seemed to me there should be criteria.”

In the 1980’s, Klaudeen was teaching quilt making and encouraging her students to enter quilt shows. The AQS began to offer some very big prize money. Klaudeen was making quilts and entering them into contests. The National Quilting Association wanted to develop a pilot program to certify judges, and Klaudeen submitted a syllabus. She spent the next twelve years teaching people all over the United States how to judge quilts.

In an interview with Nancy Zieman (, Klaudeen discussed the judging process for quilts and the five basic things judges seek:

  1. Cleanliness
  2. A balanced composition with a sense of proportion and scale
  3. Quiltmaker’s expertise
  4. Alignment – straight
  5. Finishing features

So, are you ready to take your quilting to the next level? You may be surprised to find out what’s in it for you.


Quilting on the Next Level: Enter a Quilt Show

Quilting on the Next Level: How Do You Start?

Quilting on the Next Level: What are the Judges Looking For?

Quilting on the Next Level: Example Quilt Exhibits, OSQE