Q&A: Deanna Springer, Moderator of The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show

August 27, 2021 Tara Lovdahl Leave a Comment

The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show brings quilt lovers of all skill levels together to learn more about and celebrate their craft. As we navigate through the pandemic, the 2021 Great Wisconsin Quilt Show will again offer a free, virtual experience from the safety and comfort of home, Sept. 9-11. 

In anticipation of this year’s event, PBS Wisconsin spoke with Deanna Springer of Nancy Zieman Productions, moderator and co-presenter of The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show. She shares her personal experience with the Quilt Show and how she sees quilting bring people together.

PBS Wisconsin: How many years have you been involved in The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show? How did it originally come together?

Deanna Springer: From inception. Nancy and I started meeting with our friends at PBS Wisconsin in probably 2002, 2003. We already had an existing sewing weekend expo annually every May, here in Beaver Dam. Our company, Nancy’s Notions at the time, would bring in industry reps and set up booths. It felt like a consumer show, but it was a big warehouse sale with educational seminars. And as a fundraising idea for PBS Wisconsin — we were partners in co-producing Sewing With Nancy — Nancy brought it to the PBS Wisconsin team that we could do a fundraiser like Garden Expo and do a quilt expo in the fall. 

That was the idea, and we were going to launch in 2004. We did brainstorming and study groups, and met with quilters, and we brought together people that are influencers in the quilt show world. We did a lot of planning and preparation on how this would work. So with PBS Wisconsin’s promotion and design and volunteer base — and we brought to the table the quilt show industry, and made the vendor contacts and sponsor contacts — it just came together. 

Nancy hit the brakes and said, “Let’s not do this in 2004, let’s launch in 2005.” She just had a feeling, so we all went with it. We had an extra year to prepare. And we launched out of the shoot successfully in the fall of 2005 with I think over 11,000 people in attendance that first year.

The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show at its beginnings, in 2005

PBS Wisconsin: How long have you been quilting?

Springer: I’ve been quilting since I was 6 years old. I started with my mom’s double knit scraps from sewing ’70s knit outfits. I made my first quilt for a doll. It was navy, blue and red double knit little squares, probably two-inch squares, and I just stitched them all together, and I made a quilt.

My grandmothers quilted and sewed, and my mom sewed. We’d hear the sewing machine humming at night, like on Christmas Eve, and the next morning we’d all have a new set of pajamas, the four of us girls. So sewing was always a part of my life. 

PBS Wisconsin: How did quilting lead you to Nancy Zieman Productions?

Springer: My family joined 4-H when I was 10 years old. It was just really exciting. I just had this natural ability to take flat fabric and turn it into something that you could wear or use. I enjoy the tactile nature of fabric and creating, and 4-H really gave me the confidence. You have to learn public speaking among all of the 4-H skills that you learn, and it just took me forward. 

After I was married, it was time for a career change, and I knew about Sewing With Nancy. I would see it on TV — it aired on channel 27 in Madison. 

I was in high school watching it, and our high school home ec took a field trip to the first Nancy’s Notions sewing weekend expo, which was actually like their grand opening of their new location on Declark Street. So, I sat in the front row with my home ec class and watched Nancy’s seminar in person. 

We lived 20 minutes away. I was born and raised in Columbus, and Nancy’s store was in Beaver Dam. So when it came time for a job change, they were expanding their retail store, and I saw an ad in the paper. I applied and was hired to work in the retail store. And that was 1989.

Springer moderates the 2021 Great Wisconsin Quilt Show

PBS Wisconsin: What is your favorite part of hosting the Quilt Show education sessions?

Springer: Just hosting the Quilt Show in general. It’s bringing people together like me, and it took me a few years to grow and realize what events really are. You’re bringing like-people together who want to spend time with people who are doing the same thing. When you’re totally absorbed in your hobby and everything you enjoy in your free time, and you’re amongst all these people who enjoy that too; it’s community.

PBS Wisconsin: Tell us more about how the Quilt Show brings quilters together.

Springer: When we gather for Quilt Show, we offer projects and challenges that help foster that sense of community. For example, the 4-H community quilt, Fourward Together, highlights collaboration and how quilting allows us to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. 

Even broader, the annual traveling quilt challenge helps us share our love of quilting nationwide. Quilts entered in this challenge are shared as an exhibit at other events across the country, and it’s great to see a piece of The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show continue beyond September.

Also, the special quilt exhibits during The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show highlight diversity and self-expression within the quilting community. This year’s special exhibit, “Racism: In the Face of Hate We Resist,” is a very powerful exhibit dealing with really difficult issues. But quilting is such a great medium for people to engage with. These exhibits challenge the viewer, but they provide a space for healing and hope for the artists, and ultimately the goal is to bring people together with appreciation for other people’s perspectives.

The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show Log Cabin Quilt Challenge traveling exhibit on display at Blue Bar Quilts in Middleton, Wisconsin

PBS Wisconsin: How have you seen the Quilt Show evolve over the years?

It grows and grows and there’s always something new every year that we need to share, a new technique, a new pattern, a new way of doing things or innovative fabrics. So, it’s ever-evolving.

We’re all-inclusive. We try to reach everyone, and it’s affordable. And now that we have an online virtual event facet, we reach even more people, and that’s been a true blessing. We’ve reached twice as many people as we have had before. That’s really exciting, that we have such a wide reach, and really, like the Sewing With Nancy audience, the television audience, it’s national. What was a Madison quilt show has gone to a Wisconsin quilt show, and now to a national quilt show. And really, Nancy’s legacy gift to PBS Wisconsin is The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show.

PBS Wisconsin: What kinds of things does Nancy Zieman Productions do to engage the quilting community outside of The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show?

Springer: We have the Nancy Zieman blog, social media, our patterns, books and our Stitch it! Sisters video series that we started. And Sewing With Nancy still airs on public television. Nancy started Sewing With Nancy in 1982. So in 2022, we will be celebrating 40 years of Sewing With Nancy. That’s quite an accomplishment. We will have a 2022 Great Wisconsin Quilt Show quilt challenge that will celebrate 40 years of Sewing With Nancy

We continue teaching Sewing With Nancy‘s methods, time-saving techniques and everything that she has done on television for over 30 years. We continue her legacy of teaching sewing, breaking it down in easy, step-by-step methods and throwing the old traditional ways out the window.

Nancy Zieman on the set of “Sewing With Nancy”

PBS Wisconsin: In what ways do you teach sewing differently?

Springer: Many people were taught in home ec in high school that you had to sew an apron, or I’ve heard other stories that people had to sew a dress. And it was just grueling for some people because there were so many rules. It had to be perfect. You had to rip out the seams and do it over and over again. I think part of it was, no matter how good it was, the teacher made you rip it out so you could experience reverse sewing. 

But we break the rules at Nancy Zieman Productions. We share fun and easy projects that you can create in an evening or two, from hand bags or lunch bags, casserole carriers and then quilts. We do small projects to large projects, small wall hanging quilts, large wall hanging quilts and serging projects. Anything that you can sew or create, we break it down and show you our easy, fun way to do it. Sewing should be fun! 

We also have our own tools that help make the learning process easier, like our no-hassle triangles ruler, patent pending. We have a quilting ruler that Nancy and I developed, and it hit the market recently and it’s been very successful. 

Stitch It! Sisters, from left to right, Deanna Springer, Denise Abel and Dana Casey. Image courtesy of Nancy Zieman Productions, LLC

PBS Wisconsin: What else is new with Nancy Zieman Productions?

Springer: Our biggest exciting news that we have to share is this fall in downtown Beaver Dam, in the Fine Arts district, we are opening a store in October. Nancy Zieman’s Sewing Studio will be located at 120 Front Street where we can teach sewing in our classroom and bring people together all year round with different classes. And we will have all of our patterns, projects and our many fabrics in the shop where we will create and share enthusiasm.

Our tagline is: sew, quilt, create. So, we’re makers, we’re creators. We want to share what we’re making with you because if we like it, we think you will like it, too.

PBS Wisconsin: How do you see quilting as a hobby or art form evolving? What does the future look like?

Springer: Sewing and quilting has always been around, as long as people have been wearing clothing or covering up with blankets. It’s a strong hobby, and we have always found it recession proof because when makers are forced to stay home, whether it’s a pandemic or economic issues, they create. Even in the winter, we see an uptick in sewing in the Midwest. You have to stay inside a little bit more so you’re creating things on your sewing machine. 

The industry is strong, and due to the recent pandemic, we have even more people sewing, getting out their sewing machines or buying a new sewing machine. The mask-making movement really brought a lot of people back to sewing, or introduced a lot of new people to sewing, and now they’re hooked. They want to sew things more than face masks. Sewing will always be here and we will always be here to support it.

Nancy Zieman posing with her Quilt to Give project

PBS Wisconsin: What’s one thing you especially hope people take away from The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show?

Springer: That community, you know, that we’re here for each other. Sewing is isolating. Quilting is isolating. You’re at home, you’re in your own sewing room or on your dining room table with your sewing machine, and it’s a pretty solo hobby. So we’re encouraged and excited to bring people together as a community of makers. 

It’s like when you go off to college and you meet people that are like you because you’re interested in going to school for the same thing. You belong, and you’ve found your place, and The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show is that for so many people. 

It’s also like a family reunion. Whether online or in-person, we come together, we sew quilts during Quilt to Give to donate to people in need. Everyone pitches in and sews a little bit of the quilt while we enjoy that sense of community. That really speaks to the community. They just want to make and help people through sewing and quilting. It’s healing, too. Quilting is healing, and the community is such a blessing.

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