Blog Post

The Loss of a Mentor

Yesterday, I took a super early flight into St Louis for a week of filming with the Baby Lock crew. I have to say, of all of my filming gigs, Baby Lock is my favorite. I’ve mentioned before that the two people I work with are both a class act, top of their field and absolutely great humans. They have both helped to shape my career and challenge me to be better both in front of the camera and away from it. We talk about every topic under the sun and I learn from their perspectives all while getting better at my job. I am so blessed and look forward to our time together in the “video closet”.

This week has been a tough, somber week at the Baby Lock office. I’d barely taken my coat off when someone came in and announced that Nancy Zieman had passed away earlier that morning. This is on the heels of the announcement that an incredibly talented, spirited and well loved member of the Baby Lock training team passed away last Thursday after losing her battle with the same vicious and unrelenting disease that took Nancy’s life.

Like so many people my age, I grew up listening to my mom watching “Sewing with Nancy” and “Quilt in a Day” with Eleanor Burns. At the time, it was like torture to my two brothers and I! “MOM! Why do you watch this EVERY DAY?? Can we turn on the cartoons yet?!” Nancy was always on. My mom learned so much about her craft from her, I had no idea how much I would learn from her about life just a couple of decades later.

The first time I met Nancy was on a dealer incentive trip for Baby Lock. Being Baby Lock’s first real “SpokesWoman” and every sewers favorite, she was invited to join these trips. I remember all of the excitement in the lobby of the hotel as the retailers clamored around and whispered, “Nancy’s Here!!” In the lobby that day, I heard her tell a funny story about a TSA agent in the airport:

Nancy is going through security, a young TSA agent recognizes her and says, “YOU… I hate you!”

Nancy, looks astonished. I believe she asked him, “Why?”

TSA Agent: “My mom used to make me watch your show!”

In that moment, I felt such a hilarious mix of emotions. First, how could somebody say something so awful to one of the kindest women on earth? Really, people say she was kind, I had no idea the depths of that until I worked with her. Truly, a great, thoughtful person at her core and an excellent leader. My second thought/emotion, “Oh my gosh, I totally understand where that kid was coming from!” Of course, I didn’t say that out loud.

Nancy and I had a couple of fun interactions on that trip and spoke politely, but not really personally. A few years later, Baby Lock hosted the first “Common Threads” retreat. This is where they bring in their industry representatives, bloggers, authors, “Sewlebrities”, etc. The whole time I was there I was so grateful but confused as to why they would invite me – I’m a nobody! Some key people at Baby lock have seen something in me that they wanted to cultivate since we first began working together. Something I didn’t have the confidence to see. I feel, and hope, in my heart that Nancy saw that, too.

On the last day of the retreat, we play a speed dating game of sorts where we sit across the table from another attendee for 60 seconds to talk. When it was my turn to sit with Nancy, I had no idea what to say. I always felt like everyone must ask her the same questions and I didn’t want to waste her time. So, I asked her, “Starting out in the industry as I am – teaching, doing video work, writing, etc – what is the one piece of advice you think I need?” Her answer was so simple, but so impactful, “Don’t do anything you aren’t comfortable with.” Of all of the industry advice, video tips, teaching tips, etc she could share, it was that one simple phrase and boy did it mean the world to me.

Since then, I have found myself in situations where I was asked to do things that didn’t feel right. Any number of things but to name a few: working with people I don’t feel are ethical, representing companies that don’t have my best interest at heart, sewing or teaching publicly on other machine brands, just to name a few.

I am a single mom. I need my income. That is not a gripe or pity grab on my part, but a fact and variable in all of my decisions. Since that moment with Nancy, her words have run through my mind each time I’ve had to say no to something because I didn’t feel comfortable with it. Decisions that could have negatively impacted my relationship with companies that I work with. In the end, I’ve never felt bad about saying no, nor have I been penalized or suffered ill consequences, knock on wood! In fact, nearly every time I have said no or expressed concern and explained my position in an honest and open minded way, a fair compromise has been found.

I got to work with Nancy one more time on a larger scale. She, Pat Sloan and I were asked to host a live web launch of the Destiny 2 for Baby Lock. The three of us spent 3 days together strategizing, practicing and just getting to know each other. I saw Nancy, literally, in a board room planning the days’ events and was blown away at how she considered every single aspect of the launch. Angles monumental to the success of the filming that a viewer( and, in some case, I myself) would never have thought to consider.

That night, Pat, Nancy, her husband and I all went out for dinner. Yes, I got to ride in Nancy Zieman’s minivan!! When we pulled in, some other driver got annoyed that her husband pulled into our parking spot and the other driver gave Nancy an awful look and mouthed something through the windows. I immediately felt defensive like I would have if someone yelled at my mom! “Don’t you know who this is?? How dare you! This is Nancy Zieman!” We all laughed, to me she was a superstar! To the other driver, and to Nancy in a lot of ways, she was just another person riding in a car. At dinner that night, Nancy was wonderful, she cared to ask about my family and my career and shared a lot of insight with me. I’ve worked with several “famous Sewlebrities” and while most are very polite, not all of them have taken such an interest in me as a person. She made me feel special and cared for.

I read “Seams Unlikely” Nancy’s auto biography. Everyone talks about what a trailblazer and inspiration she has been in this industry, but having had the opportunity to spend a little time with her, work with her and read her book, I saw how she was so much more than “Nancy the Star”. She was a good human. A kind soul. A faithful Christian. A trusted friend and colleague. A daughter, wife, mother, grandmother. Just a beautiful person who lead by example and became a mentor to me. I will forever be thankful for having been able to work in her presence, learn from her wisdom, and witness her grace.

As Nancy would say, “Bye, for now…”

8 thoughts on “The Loss of a Mentor

  1. Thank you so much for this blog post. I’ve only gotten to “know” Nancy for the last couple of years, even though my sister has raved about her forever. I just soak up her videos. I, also, read her autobiography and was so inspired. Her kindness, knowledge and sense of humor will be missed so much and your writing really confirmed my feelings about her.

  2. I so agree and I didn’t even have the chance to meet or speak with her. I watched her show and then paid even more attention after one of my daughters developed Bell’s Palsy following a car accident. I was at Baby Lock before the D2 launch, trying to catch a glimpse of Nancy as the event was finalized. I studied under Margo and watched her smile even tho she was hurting. Even from my distance, the world is not quite as bright this week.

  3. Was so sorry to hear of Nancy’s passing. She was a true crusader. Her faith in God helped her get through this. I started sewing as a kid. Learned so much from Nancy. Praying for family. Text in peace. You will be greatly missed. ?

  4. Ii’m sure there are countless others who have stories about Nancy’s kindness and graciousness. Her segments at the end of each show were always inspiring and her true spirit shone through each time she shared with us on TV. Will miss her!

  5. Very few days go by when I am not reminded of my love of watching the Sewing with Nancy shows. With my home in Tennessee, it is virtually impossible to have an opportunity to visit the Beaver Dam area, but she seemed to be so approachable that it felt as if she was a good friend. She is the most innovative person to ever sit down behind a sewing machine. Her TV show set the bar that all other sewing themed TV programs strive to reach. She continues to be an inspiration as a sewer, mother, wife and Christian. She is truly missed.

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