Ecclesiastical Sewing

Mary Mulari’s husband, Doug, is Mayor of Aurora, Minnesota. In February 2019, Mary went with him to a Regional Minnesota Mayors meeting up north, in a small town called Baxter.

While Doug was attending seminars, Mary was free to explore the town. Much to her surprise, she stumbled into a very unique sewing business. It wasn’t a charming quilt shop … or a sewing machine dealer. The sign said Ecclesiastical Sewing. Hmmm…

Mary’s has a pretty amazing career in the sewing industry, AND she’s a lifelong Lutheran. But she never thought about a mash-up between sewing and religion becoming a viable business.

So, whose idea was this?

The heroine of this sewing story is Carrie Roberts.

Like many of us, Carrie learned how to sew when she was a child. By the time she entered college, she was working part-time at a fabric store. She loved making display garments, and she became an accomplished seamstress. In 1982, she was accepted into the costume design program at the University of Minnesota. The classes in costume, fashion history, design, tailoring, draping, and flat pattern design took her skills to a whole new level.

Her first attempt at sewing religious vestments came during those college years. She was attending a church on campus, and the pastor asked if she could create a stole for him.

Remembering that first effort, Carrie says, I said yes, but I had no idea what that might entail. There were no stole patterns. So I created a pattern from one of his other stoles. I didn’t know what was used on the inside, so I selected a lambswool interfacing. There were no embroidery machines, no designs, and not much to work with. I saw an image of a lamb in an old vestment catalog, so I traced that lamb and using a combination of hand embroidery and machine satin stitching, created an emblem. The stole turned out okay, but I didn’t really know how it should be. My pastor wore that stole for years. Later that summer, I also created a chasuble for him. There were no clear patterns, no instructions, and finding fabrics in the correct colors was impossible. This was 35 years ago, there was no internet, no access to worldwide shopping, vintage books, designs, or patterns. I knew nothing of shoulder slant or how the shape should be.


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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?

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Recycle,Restyle,Refashion – Part 3 – Mary Mulari

Upcycle Recycle Logo & Definitions

Part 3 of the series: Recycle,Restyle,Refashion. For generations, women who sew have been recycling. They start with one thing and, with their sewing skills and imagination — a transformation results into a completely different thing. Patchwork quilting began because frugal women couldn’t afford to waste any bit of usable fabric. They needed to save money, and had to “make do” with materials on hand. In the process, they created something useful and beautiful that would be handed down from grandmother to daughter to granddaughter.

Over a period of four weeks you will have met four women who are as different as the things they choose to recycle . . . but what they share is the desire to give new life . . . transforming the ordinary and familiar into something extraordinary. There are as many names for it as there are different ways to do it. Whether you call it recycling, upcycling, refashion or restyling — the desire to create something new from something old has always existed in the soul of women and men who love to sew. And it is truly the perfect way for the past to touch the present and the future. The added benefit is that when you start with something like a sweater that your mother loved, or a shirt your Dad wore to work, or a doily your favorite Aunt embroidered — the project takes on a special meaning. It becomes a labor of love, and a treasured memory gift.


Mary Mulari lives in the Minnesota Northwood’s. In 1984, she got laid off from her teaching job. She started to experiment with various techniques for decorated sweatshirts, and developed classes on that topic for community education programs in area schools. She couldn’t have known it at the time — but those early classes about restyling plain sweatshirts became the basis of a very successful career in the sewing industry. Mary is one of the busiest, most well respected speakers in the country — and her seminars and workshops are often sold-out. She has written 20+ books on topics ranging from appliqué designs, zipper projects, machine embroidery techniques, travel gift ideas and Sew Green projects. Mary became the most frequent guest on the popular PBS series, Sewing With Nancy. Her interest in recycling and upcycling has always been at the core of her love of sewing and creating memory gifts.

Recycling gives new life to memories.

Recycling gives new life to memories.

Mary has a hard time listing her favorite recycled project. One would certainly have to be the table runner she made out of vintage doilies. “So many of us have our grandmother’s doilies, but they don’t fit in today’s world. But making a table runner brings them out of the drawers, and they become a topic of conversation. The handwork that went into making them is incredible, and it’s wonderful to be able to display and honor it.”

Last year, Mary wrote Second Chance T-Shirt Gifts — 15 projects, all designed to use a family’s collection of favorite t-shirts to make memory gifts. The ultimate, recycled memory gift is Mary’s unique spin on the ever-popular t-shirt quilt. Instead of trying to stabilize the t-shirts, Mary applied the technique of flannel ragged edge quilts. Because t-shirt fabric won’t fray — it is the perfect recycle marriage. Use flannel for the backside of the t-shirt squares, and BOOM — it’s an easy weekend project. You’ve turned those treasured t-shirts into a soft, washable, useable quilt, with almost no extra cost (no batting, sashing or long arm quilting required).

Fabric Panels

Yes, YOU Can Color the Dream Pillowcase Panel! ©2016 Riley Blake Designs and CRAYOLA™

Yes, YOU Can Color the Dream Pillowcase Panel!
©2016 Riley Blake Designs and CRAYOLA™

If you were a girl in the 1970’s, you may have loved Joni Mitchell and tie-dye, or maybe you were a Cher fan and bell bottoms and fringe were your groove. “Groovy” was a word you actually used.

While we were watching movies like JAWS or Annie Hall, there was a quiet revival taking place. 1976, America’s Bicentennial year, saw a rebirth of our national interest in quilting. If you want to learn more about the mover and shakers of the movement, read the excellent American Quiltmaking: 1970-2000 by Eleanor Levie (2004).

In those early days of the revival, piecing an entire quilt was out of the question for most modern women. It is hard to remember, but we didn’t have access to rotary cutters or mats until the 1980’s, which is why printed fabric panels played an important role in the initial resurgence of quilting. Many of us would be embarrassed by those early cheater quilts. We cringe when we remember using poly/cotton sheets for our quilt backs. But there is no question that 1970’s fabric panels served a purpose. They were the ON RAMP for today’s quilters and they helped spawn an entire industry of quality cutting tools, notions, patterns, books and beautiful, coordinated 100% cotton fabric collections.

When it comes to fabric panels — to quote a famous Virginia Slims campaign — YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY.

Loralie with her “Dog Gone” panels. Imagine these doggies traveling the world!”

Loralie with her “Dog Gone” panels. Imagine these doggies traveling the world!”

Loralie Harris of Loralie Designs says her whimsical fabric collections always begin with a panel. “The panel is the star of my play.” Once she knows who the star is, she gleefully casts the supporting characters. The coordinating fabrics could be stripes, flowers or polka dots — and there is always a “tossed” version of the original panel. Loralie says, “The inspiration for a panel can come at any moment! The most mundane, ordinary notion can strike and explode into a lively, fun story when illustrated in a panel. The ‘Nifty Nurse’ panel, my first panel is an example with each block expressing a different personality of a nurse which we have all experienced! This panel has been in print now for 13 years unchanged. My newest panel comes from my collection ‘Dog Gone’, the story of cute little doggies traveling the world with each block set in a different iconic location on the planet. A companion poem tells the fun tail!“

During the 2016 Spring International Quilt Market, Rhonda Pierce, ( Marketing Manager) attended the Joyce Hughes Schoolhouse session. A few weeks ago this blog shared the panel artistry of Joyce Hughes, a fiber artist from Pennsylvania. Starting with a simple fabric panel, Joyce adds thread, fiber and texture to create a unique work of art worthy of a gallery showing.

Using her unique thread painting techniques, Joyce created stunning art from Northcott fabric panels. Rhonda fell in love with the Northcott booth, photographing their impressive fabric panels.

Northcott Panels, Spring 2016 International Quilt Market

Northcott Panels, Spring 2016 International Quilt Market

Although many companies are creating fabric panels, Northcott has a unique history and point of view. According to Deborah Edwards, Design Director of Northcott, “Panels have always been featured in our collections, particularly juvenile collections.

Today’s fabric panels are very different from those of the 70’s, and we do consider them works of art. As technology allows, our panels are becoming more creative and complex. Digital panels are not limited to 24” or 36” and there is no limitation on color. In some instances we create running yardage that looks like a panel; this allows quilters to customize the size of their quilt.”

At Northcott, panel designs are created by the designer who creates the collection whether they are in house or independent artists. Sometimes a collection starts with the panel, other times the panel evolves after the coordinates.

According to Deborah, “We are focusing more on how panels can be used in different ways, either as a complete unit or deconstructed to create something completely new. People have less and less free time and panels allow them to make interesting quilts quickly. One of the biggest benefits to starting with a fabric panel is that the design choices have already been made. Without the panel, selecting fabrics for a project could take many hours, and it isn’t a process everybody enjoys. Panels get them RIGHT TO THE SEWING PART.”

Mary Mulari & Chatterbox Apron Panel by Penny Rose Fabrics.

Mary Mulari & Chatterbox Apron Panel by Penny Rose Fabrics.

Mary Mulari is a new player in the fabric panel world. Mary has written dozens of books covering a wide range of sewing topics: Sweatshirt makeovers, appliqué ideas, embroidery, home dec, and quick gift ideas. She has developed a very popular line of apron patterns. In 2015, she created a line of fabric based on her most popular apron pattern, The Church Ladies Apron.

For 10 years, the Church Ladies apron was Mary’s best-selling reversible apron pattern. She thought it would be a good choice for an apron panel since it fits on a yard of fabric. She also liked the idea of featuring several fabric prints on the panel so the apron would have coordinated parts, such as the neckbands, pockets, and ties, when it was sewn together. Making the panel the center of a fabric collection means that the reverse side of the apron can be made from one of the coordinating prints.

Mary proposed the idea to Penny Rose Fabrics, a sister company of Riley Blake. She worked with the fabric designers to collect vintage floral prints and the result was a collection with an updated vintage look. Mary Mulari’s delicate hand-lettered instructions are recognized by sewing enthusiasts all over the world who have been loyal fans of her patterns and books since the 1980’s. Her hand-lettering became her personal stamp on the Penny Rose apron panel.

Several buyers of the panel have said, “This is just like cutting out paper dolls!” All you have to do is layer the panel over one yard of the coordinating fabric and cut on the lines to “release” the two layers of the apron from fabric. You’ll have an apron made of first quality fabrics, a terrific gift to give at a bridal shower, birthday celebration, or any reason at all. Mary suggests using a piece of leftover fabric to trim a kitchen towel and adding it to the apron gift.

Apron panels make an excellent beginner sewing project because they’re so easy to cut out and sew together. Making the aprons reversible means you don’t have to sew all that pesky bias tape around the edges — a challenge for many who sew. Plus, a reversible apron is more durable and allows the option of wearing the apron on either side.

Mary Mulari’s second apron fabric panel collection, the Chatterbox Apron, will be available in September 2016. It has three colorways for the apron along with 18 coordinating prints.

Lillian is seven years old. Grandma Rita gave her a Featherweight sewing machine for her birthday, and it’s time to learn and practice some basic sewing skills. Cutting was the first big hurdle. Children are used to those rounded paper scissors — but making the transition to a REAL FABRIC SCISSORS was a scary idea for Grandma. And the question is — cut what? Sewing a mini- quilt would be a great first project, but the process was overwhelming. First, she has to pick out a pattern for her project, choose the fabrics that would go together, then measure and mark the little pieces, and cut straight lines. It didn’t sound like much fun.

Lilly learning to cut & sew in the real world.

Lilly learning to cut & sew in the real world.

Then, Grandma Rita found this FABRIC PANEL!! It’s called “Made with Love” designed by Greta Lyn for KANVAS Studio in association with Benartex. The cutting lines are printed on the fabric — so all Lilly has to do is make the scissors work (and keep her fingers out of the way).

Whether you are an accomplished quilt artist, an experienced seamstress or a rookie sewist — you should take another look at fabric panels. Today’s fabric panels are no longer just a quickie quilt. They can be the basis to create the most interesting, one-of-a-kind projects or gifts. Used intact or cut out and strategically placed, or even combined with other panel parts, the sky is the limit.

Fabric panels are bountiful. Start your search at
these sites, then buy from your local quilt shop.