Meet the UK administrator for the Sew Powerful Purse Project group on Facebook. Besides keeping her eye on Facebook when we are sleeping over here in the US, Louise Ambrosi runs her own business creating custom purses (rather bags, as the British call them), is a mom, Sew Powerful purse/bag maker and aqua aerobic enthusiast. Louise lived, studied and married in South Africa before returning home to England. Hear more of her captivating life story in this week's podcast.
Sharing in Aqua Aerobics with Louise Ambrosi
IN THIS EPISODE
UK bag makers, Sew Sofia, Sew Powerful, seamstresses in the UK, people from South Africa, water aerobics, aqua aerobics classes, life in England
We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.
ABOUT THE SEW POWERFUL PODCAST
The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Louise Ambrosi
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.
This is the Sew Powerful Podcast's first transatlantic episode. Today we are talking with Louise Ambrosi, who lives in Leicestershire, England (that's in the United Kingdom). Louise is a Sew Powerful Purse Project Administrator for us on Facebook, and a Sew Powerful purse maker and boy, can she make purses. Besides recruiting new purse makers for Sew Powerful wherever she finds herself, Louise operates her own successful bag making company. We will explore that and more on today's episode. Welcome, Louise.
Louise Ambrosi, Guest 00:57
Hi, Jan. It's lovely to be here.
Oh it's so wonderful to have you here. We are talking to you because you wrote a story. You submitted a story and it was published in the second edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book. And I just found it so intriguing. And we're going to talk about that in just a second. But give us a little bit about your personal background. You have lived internationally. So tell us about that. It's so interesting.
Well, I'm British born. And I grew up in the Lake District up north and moved to South Africa, to Johannesburg in South Africa, when I was nine, and ended up spending the rest of my childhood there, up to university and then came back to England when I was 27 (I'm showing my age).
That's all right. What did you study in university?
I majored in languages. I did French and Italian and I went on to do a master's degree in translation. I've always had a passion for languages. I've dabbled in a bit of German, and Afrikaans was compulsory in South Africa. And also studied a couple of the tribal languages, Zulu and Sutu, when I was at school, so it's always been a passion to discover new languages.
Wow. Oh my gosh, that's so interesting. And my perception is that, compared to people who live in the US, Europeans are much more multilingual than people here, is that true?
I'm not so sure about England anymore. And they seem to not prioritize foreign languages as much in schools as they used to, which is a shame. It was quite important in South Africa, you had to learn an African language, you had to learn Afrikaans as well. So already in the school education it was embedded. And and then you had to learn a European language on top of that. It was quite important from the start.
Can you recall back to when you were a young girl and you first got to Johannesburg? Was was it culturally very different than your home when you moved there?
It was very different. I mean, moving from a northern, the the open countryside the in the Lake District, very cold, very damp and very, very small village type setting to the wide open spaces in Africa and big cities. You couldn't go anywhere without a car and nothing was within walking distance in in South Africa. So it was very, it was a surreal experience, really, just, initially it felt like a holiday because we had to live in a hotel until we had a house sorted out for us. So yeah, it was very strange times.
And what what brought your family to South Africa?
My dad was an electrical engineer, and he got a contract at a power station. So it was a three year contract, then it got extended another five years and we ended up just staying there and, because we loved the country that much, so yeah.
Did you have siblings?
I have a sister Joanne. She now lives up in Yorkshire and now she's a French and German teacher, so
Languages run in the family.
Languages run in the family, but she's also, she also has her own navigating business. She she climbs mountains, she rescues people off mountains.
Oh my goodness.
I feel safer at my sewing machine than doing the things that she does.
Wow. And so at age 27, what what brought you back home?
My parents and my sister left South Africa before me and my parents wanted to be closer to their mothers. I met and married my husband at university and I guess at that age, young graduates, we we were looking for opportunities, job opportunities wherever they were. He found a job at the Leicester University and we decided to come back.
Is his native country South Africa?
He's South African born but raised Italian, because his father's Italian. And in fact, we're raising our own children Italian as well to keep it keep up with the language
so they can speak to their grandparents in Italian as well.
And and so tell us about your children.
I have, well, Sofia is our eldest, she's now 15. Our son Aurelio is 11. They're growing up very quickly.
Well, and and we're going to get back to Sofia because her name is very important to your business.
Tell us about the work you do for Sew Powerful.
I've landed the Admin, the role of Admin in back in 2016. I I put a post up offering to collect purses in the UK because my friend Allison Hartshorn, and I were making a batch and I thought, Well, why don't we just put a big bundle together and I I'm happy to pay the shipping, if anyone else wants to jump on board. At the time, Kylie Gersekowski in Australia (she she handles the Australian collection) said to me, Oh, that's brilliant. In that case, I'll make you an Admin and I was kind of just thrown into the role of Admin on Facebook. I didn't mind a bit because I I was quite happy to offer my bag making expertise, I guess, and and enjoyed the social interaction and the banter while making the purses. So I just fell into the role.
I presume every now and then somebody spams the the Facebook group and you have to remove a post.
Yep, we have to keep our eye out for any weird posts. The the idea behind me being Admin in the UK and Kylie in Australia, and Jason and Cinnamon and Shirley in America is that we can handle, we we cover the, all time zones are covered so that at no one time is the group page left unattended. There's always someone keeping a watch and letting new members in, welcoming new members and also clamping down if there's anything unfortunate that crops up.
Yeah. Which I I presume doesn't happen too much, does it?
Doesn't actually happen too much.
We're very fortunate
We're very fortunate here. It's a very caring and friendly place to be and long may it continue.
Absolutely. Now you used the term "purse" a moment ago, but explain what the difference between a purse and a bag where you live.
A purse in British terms refers to your wallet, where where you keep your coins and your money, a coin purse, I suppose they would say. But usually a purse signifies a small accessory that you put in your bag or in your handbag, or your shoulder bag or your crossbody bag, whereas over there a purse is the bag,
which is quite weird.
And is a wallet a wallet?
Yeah, a wallet is usually the man's wallet but lately with all the foldable wallets that you get for your credit cards, women use the term wallet as well.
But more typically a woman would have a coin purse.
A purse, yeah.
Oh a purse. Okay. Okay, got it. See, your translation skills are already coming into play here. Okay, so in your story that you submitted, you talked about participating in aqua aerobics and so tell us a little bit: Do you still do that? But tell us about that.
Well, I I do still participate in aqua aerobics. Unfortunately, the swimming pool has been closed since March
owing to the virus and we're really waiting for that pool to reopen so we can get back in and get jogging. I've been doing aqua aerobics for a number of years and it's it's a great way to socialize and we're not really supposed to chat while we're doing the exercises. But the instructor can't stop us. He just he just grumbles or tells us to work harder if we're chatting a bit too much. Yeah, it's my time with my friends and we chat. We chat all about bag making, any new patterns we found, any fabric we've bought. Allison usually will tell me how many Sew Powerful purses she's made in the last month or week because she made, for every one person makes she probably makes about 10.
For Sew Powerful. But you're you're making bags, and I'll use your term, you're making bags for another reason which we're going to get to here in just a minute.
So you submitted your story, but you get an honorable mention in someone else's story in the book, which, which you didn't realize until I told you that, but Donna Moscinski in Chicago talked about being inspired by you. So talk about transatlantic. So she talked about what you did in 2016. And you do remember what that was?
I run my bag making business, so I'm I'm always making bags for customers, custom-made bags, selling bags. And I found I wasn't making enough time to make Sew Powerful purses. So I thought, well if I do a sew-along, that will give me the nudge for myself to make one because I will have to make a purse to show others how to make it. In the summer of 2016 I put an event up on the Facebook group saying, Who wants to join me to sew some purses? We'll call it the Great Big Sew Powerful Purse Sew-Along. I do remember Donna saying, Oh, thanks for giving me the nudge because I really haven't made any recently. And and this is just what I need to get focused again. And it'll be fun for us to all do it together.
So I think we had over 54 people join in, and I thought, well, if if we can end up with 50 purses by the end of the week, if if we all just do one purse each, that'll be great. And it will mean that I've made some, my contribution and others have as well. So that's how the sew-along evolved. And then we ended up doing another one. Well, I thought every summer, it seems, I close my order book for my bag business and I I think, well I still feel like sewing, I haven't quite, I don't want to put away my sewing machine as well. But it's summer, so I'm gonna do another sew-along so it happened 2016, 2017 and 2018. I ran sew-along. In 2018, that was with the help of Shirley Utz as well. And then she she ran one again in October 2019 for the the new beginner pattern. And then fortunately Cinnamon and Leslie ran a virtual sew-along just this past month, so I didn't have to, because they they did it for me.
Why don't we take a quick break, and when we come back, I want to ask you some more questions about the sew-along, the sew-alongs plural, because you've done several. And then we'll find out more about your bag making business. So let's take a break.
Have you gotten the second edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book? This updated version of the original bestseller (4.9 out of five stars by the way) is again authored by Sew Powerful co-founders, Jason and Cinnamon Miles. It is available on Amazon in paperback or for your Kindle reader. This latest edition is packed full of moving stories about how Sew Powerful came to be, the volunteers who make it happen, and the way this small movement has grown into a global mission to break the cycle of poverty through education and the dignity of work. And don't forget, when you place your order, if you use smile.amazon.com and designate Sew Powerful as your preferred charity, Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase right back to Sew Powerful. And now back to our podcast.
Welcome back. We've been speaking with Louise Ambrosi, and she's coming to us from United Kingdom. And she tells us she's just had a little bit of a downpour there so if you hear some raindrops in the background, you'll know why. Louise has conducted sew-alongs in the summer starting 2016 and then 2017 and 2018. You did three, right?
So describe this: was this live? Was this, were you on Facebook off and on? How did that work? Give us a little more detail.
Because the group covers members all over the world it wasn't live. I ran an event and the participants joined the event. And every day I said, Oh today we're going to do this page of the pattern or today we're going to decide on fabric choices. Show me what you've got and I'll show you what I've got. And then the next day I said, Oh we're going to be cutting out the pattern. We're going to be working on the flap, or we're going to be dealing with that gusset. And so people would know, if if they were, if they were behind on sewing, they knew what we were going to be doing so they could catch up and follow any tips along the way.
What was really nice about the sew-alongs was that we had lots of new people on board to try out the pattern for the first time. But quite a lot of experts sewers who had made many purses, but wanted to share their tips, specifically on production line sewing, how they cut out for 10 purses, or 20 purses, how they lay it all out, how they label all the pieces. And they have that little production line going to sew in bulk, which is also quite new to me. I usually sew one bag at a time or maybe a few, but never in big volume. That was really helpful to have the experts sewers on board as well. It was nice to have that interaction.
And Shirley Utz in America would deal with her timezone questions, and I would pick up the next day so it it worked out really well. I do remember one of the sew-alongs (I can't remember which one), but I actually had a lot of orders myself and I committed to doing the sew-along, but I was really nervous that I wouldn't be able to give the time to it. So I had my aqua aerobics buddy Allison Hartshon over for one of our little sewing sessions and chats, and she was making Sew Powerful purses. So we were taking photos of her purse for any steps that I couldn't get around to making in time. Whatever we were doing the next day, we would use her purse, not mine, because she was far ahead of me. So it worked out pretty well. In the end, we got the purses made.
Okay, so you talk about your business. You've just mentioned your business. What is the name of the business?
It's Sew Sofia, S E W Sofia, after my daughter Sofia.
Oh, how nice.
I remember the time I started the business there were many, quite a few Louises making handmade bags at the time. So I thought, No, I need to be a bit more original than Louise. And Sofia had a pretty ring to it.
It it sure does. But how did you hear about Sew Powerful to begin with?
I followed many bag designers, bag pattern designers on social media and I remember seeing a post from Two Pretty Poppets who make and sell bag patterns and the
Okay, timeout. Now we need a translation because: Two Pretty Poppets. "Poppets" is not a term that we use in the US, so could an you tell us what that means?
But think it means a doll, doll-like or little girl-like
A poppet is a girl
Yeah, yeah yeah. Okay. All right.
That's good. Okay, so you heard about it online and you started making purses. But what is your background in sewing?
I'm just self taught. I've always enjoyed sewing, I learned to sew on my grandma's vintage Singer, the hand-crank version. And I've always dabbled in sewing but it was only when we had our children that I I just started making presents for Sofia's friends, like kit bags for school and little tote bags to put a gift inside, like a book. And one of my friends said, Oh you could sell those. And I said, Really? And she said, Yes, in fact I want to order one from you, with an elephant on the pocket and a butterfly. And so it it just evolved like that and and I I set up my Facebook page and shared it with my friends and and my little sewing business took off.
Okay, and so tell us what you make in your business now.
All different kinds of bags really, for for grownups and children. So I I do enjoy working with different and functional fabrics like laminated cotton, because it's washable and wipe clean. And it makes a bag last longer. I like working in cork and faux leathers and interesting fabric combinations.
And where do you get the patterns for your bags? How how do you decide what to make?
Well, I originally used to buy patterns that I liked the look of, and there are so many bag designers out there now. And it's so easy to download a PDF pattern and have a go. But I have I have in the last few years been designing my own patterns as well, which I'd like to continue doing.
To make them totally unique and totally Sew Sofia branded patterns, right?
Yeah. Well, I figured, I love using certain patterns that are commonly used, but it's nice to be original as well. And and you have an Etsy shop, is that right? I do sell my bags and and now some fabric as well and my bag patterns by my Etsy shop and my website.
And you have, I think you have like, key fobs and some other accessories on there.
Yeah, and even Advent calendars. I I suppose sometimes I need a break from making bags and, or I have a lot of small bits of fabric that I can't really do much with. Then I make small accessories as well. And the latest request is making bags, pouches for masks because we all have to carry masks around now, so
Yeah, little pouches with wristlet straps. I think that's going to be the next big thing.
Well, oh, well, that's that's good to know. You're ahead of the curve over there. So have you been making masks as well?
Yes. I've been making masks since back in, what, April. So I've been working, sewing many, many masks to help people out.
Yeah, yeah. Well, I think anybody who has a friend who sews, the the friend who sews suddenly becomes a mask maker for their family and friends, right?
Yeah, I don't mind doing it. It's a good excuse to use up fabric that I wouldn't have used for making bags to sell. It's fabric that's been sitting around for a bit too long. That makes good use of it.
So you ship internationally. Is that correct?
I I do ship my bags out around the world. Yeah.
Well, that's cool. So spell out the name of the website where we can find your your products.
Okay, it's www dot sew (as in S E W) SOFIA dot CO dot UK (www.sewsofia.co.uk)
Okay. And that's your website. And then, Sew Sofia, spelled SOFIA is, we can find that on Etsy as well, correct?
Yes. that's correct.
Okay. All right. Well, that's fantastic.
So you you have your own business, you have a family, you are an Administrator for Sew Powerful, you make Sew Powerful purses, you do aqua aerobics, you sound like a very, very busy lady.
Pretty busy. I'm I'm happy, I'm comfortable. I'm not too hectic. What I do, I think with the the Sew Powerful Purse Facebook group is is such a friendly and caring group. And I think just just having a little interaction every day with whoever is on there, whoever happens to be making a purse, and having a little chat or helping someone out. It's, it makes it all worth it really, knowing that they're going out of their way to make a purse for a young girl. And even if I'm not making a purse that day, I can, or for a long while I can at least help them along.
Well, absolutely. Louise, it's been an absolute pleasure to get to talk with you. I've seen your name, you know, you're you're always there in the Facebook group and to be able to put a face with a name and just to hear your voice and to hear your story is just so inspiring. So thank you so much.
Thank you, Jan. It's been lovely chatting to you.
All right, you too. Well hopefully we'll talk again soon.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org that's SEW POWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns, or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at email@example.com.