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.”

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).

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.

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