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) http://www.shop.dzgns.com/collections/shorte/products/shorte

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!”



In the Hoop Machine Embroidery – Part 1

This is a two-part series about In the Hoop Machine Embroidery. Part 1 introduces Reen Wilcoxson, Embroidery Garden Master. Next week Part 2 will introduce Sisters in Stitches.

Embroidery “In The Hoop” in action with Embroidery Garden. In the Hoop Embroidery Reen Wilxcoxson

Embroidery “In The Hoop” in action with Embroidery Garden.

You might think “In The Hoop” is basketball slang . . . or a reference to Scarlett O’Hara’s undergarments. But, if you love machine embroidery — you know “In The Hoop” is a sewing revolution.

According to Eileen Roche, Editor of Designs in Machine Embroidery, “In The Hoop” (ITH) is basically a technique that allows you to construct AND embroider a project, using your embroidery machine and software.

Eileen has created many ITH projects, such as a camera case, clutch, cellphone wristlet, etc. that are featured in books she’s written. Designs in Machine Embroidery has developed a software program that turns almost any quilt block into an “in the hoop” block. They also have a special ITH Block of the Month program for their dealers.

Reen Wilcoxson Embroidery Garden Master  In the Hoop Embroidery Reen Wilxcoxson

Reen Wilcoxson
Embroidery Garden Master

One of the most popular ITH teachers in the country, Reen Wilcoxson, started her sewing business by selling at craft shows. Her love of technology and early embrace of the embroidery machine is the basis of her business, Embroidery Garden.

In 1997, Reen saw an embroidery machine for the first time — and knew she had to have one. She wanted to create her own designs and she dove into the software. Her oldest son was going to college for computer science, so he built a simple website. In 2001, Reen started selling her embroidery designs online. She also started to develop simple ITH designs for lollipop holders, gift tags, etc.

Needle Holder, an Embroidery Garden Design. In the Hoop Embroidery Reen Wilxcoxson

Needle Holder, an Embroidery Garden Design.

“‘In The Hoop’ is just like sewing, but you have the constraint of a hoop. There are some things you cannot do but there are workarounds. Early on, I figured out that . . .

  • The embroidery machine stops for a color change.
  • Placement lines and machine stops can be created so a zipper or fabric can be machine stitched in place.
  • Fabrics can be placed on the back side of the hoop.
  • When the project is done stitching and removed from the hoop, you trim, then turn the item to the right side through an opening that was created in the digitizing.”

She figured out how to create fully lined items like purses, wallets, etc. (with no exposed seams inside) completely in the hoop of an embroidery machine. These designs usually require two turns.

“The big advantage to ITH designs is that you produce a consistent product that turns out every time with perfect stitching and placement of your embellishment. Your embroidery machine does all the work for you.”

As her reputation grew, Reen was invited to teach ITH techniques at embroidery conferences and sewing events. Her classes quickly sold out, and she made sure every student completed their projects. She takes pride in the fact that she has the ability to handle any size group, and some of her 2016 classes have been close to150 students. www.embroiderygarden.com

Embroidery Garden Designs, In the Hoop Machine Embroidery. In the Hoop Embroidery Reen Wilxcoxson

Next Week, Part 2: Sisters in Stitches


Nancy Zieman – Seams Unlikely

a099_Nancy_Zieman-copyNancy Zieman is the most recognized sewing personality in the world. Millions of women learned to sew while watching the inimitable Nancy Zieman on public television’s, Sewing with Nancy — the longest-running sewing series in the history of North American television.

Nancy’s love of sewing and teaching is rooted in Wisconsin’s 4-H program.  As a girl, she learned how to sew and how to demonstrate to a group. She had no way of knowing these skills would help build her confidence and one day help build a multi-million dollar business.

First and foremost — Nancy Zieman is a teacher. After college, she worked for a large sewing chain, where she honed her teaching skills. As a young newlywed, she became a freelance sewing instructor, traveling all over the Midwest.  She realized many of her students didn’t have access to the notions she was demonstrating. In 1979, with a typewriter on her kitchen table and a shelf of merchandise in the basement, she founded Nancy’s Notions — a direct mail company specializing in sewing notions and supplies.  The company was purchased by the Tacony Corporation in 2003.

abook-cover-largeNow, with her autobiography, Seams Unlikely, Nancy takes her viewers behind the scenes of her life. She shares about the Bell’s Palsy that not only affected her appearance, but also her esteem and physical abilities. Readers learn about the growth of Nancy professionally:  from addressing catalogs at the kitchen table to growing a multi-million dollar business — and personally:  marrying Rich, then growing a family through birth and adoption.

nancysuccessEileen Roche, Editor, Designs in Machine Embroidery Magazine, credits Nancy with inspiring her own love of sewing. After reading an early copy of Seams Unlikely, Eileen said,  “My first mistake in reading this book was starting it late at night – I couldn’t put it down and had an early flight the next day. My second mistake was in reading it on the plane where I uttered sympathetic groans, shed crocodile tears and let a few peals of laughter rip from my lungs in the company of a plane full of strangers. My third mistake was in assuming I knew everything about Nancy Zieman. Her success has been built on true grit, honesty and control of her destiny. She is the American success  story.”

Seams Unlikely will hit the bookstores in February 2014. If you are in the Pacific Northwest — you could attend the official launch at the Sewing & Stitchery Expo in Puyallup, Washington (February 27 & 28, March 1 & 2). Joanne Ross, Director of Sew Expo, says “Nancy Zieman, an artful business woman and educator, has done more for the sewing industry than any other.  Her enormous success is a result of very hard work and boundless enthusiasm for sewing, education, and for helping others. Seams Unlikely is another example of Nancy’s strong appetite for teaching and sharing. A great example of how to succeed in business.”

Bonne Swett, Nancy Zieman, Jan Potter and Rita Farro

Bonne Swett, Nancy Zieman, Jan Potter and Rita Farro

If you are a Sewing with Nancy fan — you will love reading this book.  Seams Unlikely  is also a wonderful gift idea for anybody who might be struggling with adversity. Or, obviously — for anybody who loves to sew.

To learn more visit www.seamsunlikely.com.