When The Student Is Ready, The Teacher Appears

When The Student Is Ready, The Teacher Appears

Today as I was paging through our delivered paper edition of the New York Times, I came across an article on the life of Nancy Zieman who had a show on public television called “Sewing with Nancy” that ran for 35 years. I had never heard of her or the show though I was riveted by the article and the memories it stirred.

From the age of twelve, sewing became my creative outlet and a way to have nice clothes when funds were slim and time was plenty.

It was the summer of 1968 and I was too young to work and old enough to be bored. I begged my mother to sign me up for summer school so I could take a variety of courses that included sewing lessons at the local high school.

Remembering the first time I entered the Home Economics room filled with Pfaff sewing machines, the calm dignity of the teacher captivated me as she talked about sewing machine quality to one of her former students. She then began the instruction on how to read a pattern, select a design, decide on fabric and begin the task of creating a garment. As I ventured to our local fabric store to buy material for my dress pattern, I can still recall the weave of the brown fabric with the sprays of white daisies woven throughout.

I have two sewing machines that belonged to my grandmothers. Grandma Caroline worked in NYC’s garment district in the 1930s as a supervisor in a men’s suiting assembler. Grandma Mary Jane’s machine came to me at the insistence of her daughter, my Aunt Patricia, who also sewed, since she knew I enjoyed sewing, too. These master craftswomen became my inspiration to create too.

My sewing journeys took me from simple dresses to more elaborate frocks as the demands to dress up increased over the years though funds were less available for store bought gowns. I reveled in my ability to turn a bolt of fabric into a new creation. My sewing expertise included tailoring jackets, lining coats and creating bound buttonholes. I’ve sewed curtains for my home, Halloween costumes for my children and tailored men’s jackets for my husband.

Though sewing gave me great joy, I juggled a corporate job, child rearing and house duties and time got more precious. Eventually the sewing stopped. The machines got put away in their wooden cases and forgotten.

Nancy’s life remembered in today’s NY Times, a life that had never crossed mine, brought back my summer and sewing memories, grandmothers’ and aunt’s encouragement, and the memory of creative joys.

So, here’s to Nancy Zieman, who’s life story, told by Neil Genzlinger, brought back memories of tissue-thin patterns, pinked fabric edges, cutting on the bias and skirts with flounce.

And more than the clothing creations recalled, it is the knowledge that anything is possible with the right teacher instructing a curious and willing student.


Nancy Zieman, 64, the Genial Star of the Long-Running “Sewing With Nancy”, Nov 22, 2017 by Neil Genzlinger


Clark’s Six Drawer Spool Cabinet –  owned and photographed by Joyce M. Sullivan