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So Fiddly but Perhaps Worth It with Donna Moscinski


"Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach." This quote by poet Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a favorite of our guest, Donna Moscinski. It speaks to her heart as she shares her talents with a number of non-profits; but Donna feels it especially applies to our work with Sew Powerful. You will see a pattern of giving as you listen to Donna's fascinating story including her deep roots in Chicago and her love of all things sewing and quilting.


Chicago public schools, Eleanor Burns, Make a Quilt in a Day, Chicago Modern Quilt Guild, MQG, Mors bags, Project Night Night, Greater Chicago Food Depository, Sarah’s Inn, Teen Living, Road Home Project, International Quilt Festival, Sew Powerful, AAUW speaker, American Association of University Women


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.

Women Who Run with the Wolves, By Clarissa Pinkola Estes, © 1996, Ballantine Publishing, all rights reserved.


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: Donna Moscinski


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.


Jan 00:19

Today we have the honor of speaking with Donna Moscinski, who is a native Chicagoan. And we're going to learn more about that in a minute. But we are talking to Donna today because she submitted, and her story was published in the We Are Sew Powerful book. And in her story, there is a quote that I want to share with you. It was part of something written by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who is an honored poet from Ohio. And this is what Miss Estes says, "Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once. But of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach."


Jan 01:01

Isn't that amazing? That quote is the perfect motto for Donna Moscinski. And you're about to find out why. Hello, Donna Moscinski. How are you today?


Donna Moscinski, Guest 01:12

Hello, Jan, I am fine. I'm so honored that you asked me to be a part of this podcast.


Jan 01:18

Well, we're so honored that you submitted your story. And it was so interesting. And your background is so interesting. And as we've chatted here a few minutes before we started, we found that we have very many things in common. So, let's start out. You mentioned in an email that you sent me that you have many generations of Chicagoans in your family. How did this all happen?


Donna 01:42

Well, boy, I can go back to my great- great-grandparents on my mom's side. And I can go back on my dad's side, too. In fact, my dad's fourth generation family came from Wisconsin, so far away from Illinois. So it's just interesting that my husband and I have these very deep Chicago roots going back to the 1850s. I've got a contract of one of my grandfathers who was also a Chicago public school teacher. And it was just so interesting to have this piece of paper from 1898.


Donna 02:18

Well, sounds like the roots run very, very deep. So, you grew up in Chicago went to a large High School, but you decided to go out of state for college? How come?


Donna 02:29

Yeah, I'm part of the baby boom. We had huge high school classes. I graduated in '67 with 1100 other people and knew that I wanted a much different college experience. The church that we attended supported an accredited Bible College in East Tennessee, and that's where I wound up going to school for four years.


Jan 02:51

And was Tennessee different than Chicago?


Donna 02:54

Oh, my gosh, I had to learn to walk slower. I had to learn to talk slower. It was a paradigm shift. And then when I returned home, I had to learn to talk faster, and to walk that much different pace of life.


Jan 03:11

And so after college, you decided to return to Chicago?


Donna 03:14

I did; I returned to Chicago and couldn't find a teaching job. When I left for college, it was all we need teachers, we need teachers. By the time I graduated in '71 it was like, Oh, no, no, we don't, because the kids born in '46. '47, and '48 had filled those teaching jobs. So, I started graduate school, and then found my way into the Chicago system by substituting - full time substituting - for three years until I got my own classroom.


Jan 03:27

Oh how cool and what subject did you teach?


Donna 03:48

Always high school English.


Jan 03:50

High school English. hmm hmm. How interesting. So how long have you been sewing?


Donna 03:58

Well, I was lucky to grow up with a mom who even when I was five and six, I was using her Featherweight without threads just to make dots in paper. And by the time I was eight or nine she was wonderful about letting me be hands on. I was sewing various little things. I took a sewing machine to college, did you?


Jan 04:19

I found one in the attic of my sorority house. This was the era of miniskirts. So, every month, everybody wanted their skirts shorter and shorter. So, I ended up being the alteration lady of my sorority.


Donna 04:33

So I sewed all through college, but then when I started teaching and going to grad school that kind of fell away. But then, boy in 1982 I found an article by Eleanor Burns. I can make a quilt in a day. And it opened up a whole new world. And I've been sewing ever since. I think it's a control issue. Although my kids in the high school classroom, were good, sometimes I would sew before I went to school because when you put a piece of fabric down, it stayed. It didn't move. It didn't talk back to you. It didn't give you any excuses. So anyway, sewing's been a wonderful outlet in many ways.


Jan 05:14

So did you take up quilting right away as a result of that article?


Donna 05:18

Yes. Once I read that article, pretty soon, everyone I knew I had made a quilt. And then I started looking at different patterns. And at the time, there were a couple of television shows. I am a self-taught quilter. I did not take any classes. And yea, I just, you know, I continued quilting, until I retired. And then when I retired, that's when I started quilting full time.


Jan 05:45

And so, you've been retired about 15 years or so? Is that right?


Donna 05:49

2005. No more drives.


Jan 05:53

That's a good one. That is a good one. And so, since you've been retired, you've participated in a number of charity works besides Sew Powerful. I was really interested to hear about the Mors bag. And honestly, I had to look it up, because it's not very well known where I live, Now, perhaps people in other parts of the country are familiar with it but describe what a Mors bag is. And then what is your involvement with that organization?


Donna 06:21

I've got to say, first of all, that once I retired, I joined the Chicago Modern Quilt Guild, 2000. And that was life altering for me. These are my people, the women that I met there in 2009, are now my intimate friends. And the guild keeps growing and growing and growing. One of the friends I met is my quilter-buddy Wayne. And he and I are always exchanging ideas. And he was the one who said, "Oh, look at these, Mors bags." And it's all about trying to say no to plastic, saying no to paper. You take your own bags to the store. And I think that over the past 12 years, and I don't know whether you will agree with me on or not, I think society has gotten better about taking bags to stores and not relying on plastic. And the Mors bag effort, it's just a very simple bag. I've got a whole shelf of fabrics that are too ugly to use for anything else, but Mors bags, but you know, you put a handle on them. You keep 'em in your back pocket. You take it into Walgreens, into the grocery store. I want to make sure my bags are sturdy enough to carry a half gallon of milk and maybe you know a couple of other things. And the other thing is that the Mors bag website, the directions are right there. They're so clear. And my guild has made Mors bags twice in connection with the Greater Chicago Food Depository,


Donna 07:51

And you hand them out to as many people as you can?


Donna 07:55

I have many people in my life who have said, no more. I've got enough bags. So you give them to strangers, which is what the Mors bag organization suggests you do. People smile and go: Thank you, you know. Here don't use plastic, use one of these. Oh, okay,


Jan 08:16

Well. Cool. That's really interesting. Okay, so besides doing the work for Mors bag, you also made quilts for Project Night Night and give us a little information on that.


Donna 08:28

Well, the homeless issue is endemic throughout the US and in many parts of the world. So, we have shelters. And moms will come to the shelters and moms are taken care of, but they're often towing children with them. So, Project Night Night reaches out to homeless shelters. And for every mom who comes in with a kid, there are age-appropriate kits of a book, a quilt, and a stuffed animal, all in a bag so that kids can have something to keep them through this rough patch.


Jan 09:06

Sure. And you also participated with Sarah's Home by providing some toiletries? Tell us about that organization.


Donna 09:16

My guild meets in Oak Park and Sarah's Inn is a facility in Oak Park that again deals with women who are in transition, homeless women. And we've made just little little luxurious pouch sort of things you know, zippered pouches that have Chapstick, and maybe hand lotion, and a couple of shampoo samples. Just something to say hello. We care about you and you do okay.


Jan 09:43

Okay, and the list goes on. You also are doing quilts for Teen Living?


Donna 09:50

I loved this effort. You know kids are in foster care but what happens when foster care ends. Team Living is a transitional organization where it teaches kids vocational skills, home skills; how to account for your money; how to keep a house. And when kids graduate from this Teen Living course of study, they're given a basic toolkit and one of the things they like to give the kids is a quilt. And my guild made 23 quilts one year, full size quilts not baby quilts. You know, full size quilts, we thought that was fabulous.


Jan 10:30

Oh, that is so nice. And the last charity, well, the second to last that you have on your list, because we're going to talk about Sew Powerful, and your work there after the break. But you make quilts through another organization. Tell us about Road Home Project.


Donna 10:46

We have several women in our field who are connected with various VA centers. And you know, when veterans are sick or having difficulties or need to be recognized, this organization puts a very nice quilt that has a patriotic flavor into their hands. And it's nice that everybody can make a couple blocks, and somebody can put it together and then pretty soon there's a full quilt. And this is another charity that my guild has responded to.


Jan 11:18

Wow. That that sounds nice, and it sounds like you keep pretty busy. I can see over your shoulder that we're talking to you in your sewing studio. And tell us about how you converted the space that you originally had into this fabulous studio you have now.


Donna 11:36

Well, we live in a very modest two-bedroom one bathroom, stucco bungalow. It is perfect for us. And we had an attic, and the attic was where I sewed, I put in skylights. It was wonderful, but it was very small, darkly paneled. And so when I retired, we popped the top of this bungalow and I've got this wonderful space with no curtains and wonderful north facing windows and light and several machines and lots of surfaces that I keep covered. It is indeed my happy place.


Jan 12:16

Oh, it looks so nice. It looks so nice.


Jan 12:19

Donna, why don't we take a quick break and when we come back, we are going to explore the work and your devotion to Sew Powerful. So everybody, stay tuned, we're going to talk to Donna some more in just a minute here.


Jan 12:37

Have you gotten the second edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book? This updated version of the original best seller, 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 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.


Jan 13:41

Welcome back. We've been speaking with Donna Moscinski, and she has shared with us a long list of charitable projects that she participates in that make use of her sewing and quilting skills, and learned about her fascinating career as an English teacher. But now we're going to delve into her relationship with Sew Powerful. Donna, how did you hear about Sew Powerful to begin with?


Donna 14:09

Well, the same quilter buddy who told me about Mors bags. I don't know how the Sew Powerful purse came across his email. He sent it to me, and he says I don't want to do this. But do you? And I looked at it and I'll Yeah, I'll tell you what really hooked me and what's the whole menstrual hygiene education component.


Donna 14:33

You know, I talked earlier about going to a large high school; it was really large. And we had four minutes in passing. And sometimes you didn't have enough time to go to the bathroom. And I just remember having my periods and just always being petrified. And we're in a first world country so my heart just went out to the thought of anybody who had to stay home and miss school. So, this is what hooked me in. And I found the pattern. And I made one purse, kicking and screaming all the way through. I'm an experienced sewer. I'm an experienced bag maker, but to not have a model of of the purse and to just go through the pattern and the flap, and it was like what? You know, I printed out the pattern, and I finally finished it. But I remember thinking, you know, maybe I'll just send in money. And I persevered and made a second purse, got a little bit easier. Third and fourth purses, I'm still looking at every step of the direction, and sometimes I had that flap, reversed and had to rip it out. But I eventually did make my peace with the purse pattern.


Jan 15:51

And now we're talking about the pattern that we now call the intermediate purse.


Donna 15:55

Is that the one that has the little elastic?


Jan 15:58

Right, yeah.


Donna 15:59

So I, in fact, that's when I bought my first bodkin. I had such a supply of elastic when the mask making earlier this year started, I made that purse with the little flap the elastic underneath it, I made it very, very well. I did it again and again and again. But when the beginner version was released, I gotta tell you, Jan, that's when I embraced the plain flap with fabulous fabrics. And I've noticed so many women are doing piecing and embroidery and using their machines for fancy stitches. I think I'm much more productive, doing the simpler flap and not doing the elastic one.


Jan 16:45

I think I'm with you. I like the real estate on that flap that you can do something with, although you could do cute little things on the flap on the intermediate. And I never made the intermediate "B", the one with the little hook around the button on there. I always did the flap.


Donna 17:03

I made one. And I really liked doing that. I'm glad to have made the elastic pocket one. But I just love doing the beginner pattern.


Jan 17:16

Yeah, yeah, I'm with you. Just about the time I felt I perfected that elastic and got that that inverted plate in the front. I'm like, oh, I've got this. And then the beginner one came out. And I was like, well, I'll give that a try.


Donna 17:29

I am so impressed with women who embellish their purses. I love them but I am not an embellisher and I'm at peace with that. And I think I use fabric instead of embellishing so, yeah.


Jan 17:43

Well, I'm glad you brought that up because there was a discussion in the Facebook group a couple of weeks ago. Someone who felt discouraged because they weren't an embellisher. And you know, people were posting photos of works of art. And so as someone who's not an embellisher, but someone who continues to contribute a lot of purses, what is your point of view on that topic?


Donna 18:09

I think that we have to remember that the purses we're making are for girls who have tastes that are going to be extremely different. Some girls might like pastels; some girls might like bows. I think among all of the purse makers, we're making something for everybody's taste. Someone's gonna want the simple, someone's gonna want the embroidery. I think there's room for everything in this, especially knowing that some of the girls will give purses for their caretakers, as well. I think we've got everything covered because of the variety of purses we all do.


Jan 18:51

In your story you made I think you said nine purses, but then you took a break. Why did you stop making purses? Do you recall?


Donna 18:59

I had a serious health issue in 2015 and just completely laid out. And I don't know if it was 2015 or 2016, I think 2015, when Louise Ambrosi, from the UK was doing a sew-a-long and I just needed someone, something to light a fire under me. You know how you just kind of come to a dead stop and you can't move forward. Louise's sew-a-long: Okay, day one, pick fabrics. Okay. Day 2 cut them up. Okay, all right. Day three, and just to be able to pace myself and she really got me over my hump. And that's when I started sewing in batches. I don't make individual purses. I take a bunch of fabrics and I'll cut out five flaps; I'll cut out five sets of straps. I like making straps, by the way. I don't like using the webbing. I just enjoyed straps.


Jan 19:53

So so you're on Team strap. I'm on Team webbing.


Donna 19:57

Yeah. Well, I will use webbing, but I really prefer straps. I just appreciated the sew-a-long and getting me over the hump. And now I try to devote one month a year, this year, it's going to be two, where I just focus the studio on purses and just have purse parts all over the place. And it's fine. It's good. That's when I am most efficient.


Jan 20:23

When I talked to Louise and interviewed her for the podcast, she did for Sew Powerful, and I told her that her name was mentioned in your story, and actually, that was before the book was published, and she was totally surprised. And yeah, she was really honored and flattered that she had made a difference across the Atlantic Ocean by doing that sew-a-long,


Donna 20:46

And I've got to mention another name. I put stuff on Facebook, besides the Sew Powerful group we belong to. And my cousin, Betty had been looking at them and she finally went to Sew Powerful. She downloaded the pattern. And Betty, Betty Johnson, is cranking out purses like you wouldn't believe.


Jan 21:08

Yeah, I when you said Betty, I thought 'Oh, I wonder if she was talking about Betty Johnson'. Yeah. Well, hi, Betty Johnson. You've got to listen to this episode. Yeah, her purses are nice, really nice.


Donna 21:19

And she has really embraced it. I think when I first started sewing, I'm you know, is this organization on the up and up? Is this legit? So, you know, you do your research. I'll tell you meeting Jason and Cinnamon in 2019 at the International Quilt Festival, I was already reeled in at that point, but then I was really reeled in. They are the real deal. And I have so much respect and admiration for them. And I have to say I have to mention one more name. At the International Quilt Festival in Chicago, I met Kathleen Broadfoot. She drove up from Indianapolis to help man the IQF booth every day. And I really, really enjoyed getting to meet her. That was a very special time.


Donna 22:08

Well, and Donna, you're probably like me, we're we graduated from high schools the same year, but I mean, never in my wildest dreams did I think as a retired adult, that I would make such deep friendships. Because I mean, you just have this vision of your golden years, you know, sitting alone waiting for your family to come visit on Sunday afternoon or something. And it sounds like for you, and for me, it's been almost the opposite. Sometimes they'll say, well, sorry, I'm busy. Could you come another time?


Donna 22:42

Exactly. Yeah, yeah.


Jan 22:44

it's been great. You had made plans to come to the Modern Quilt show in Austin in February of 2020. But you canceled on us. Tell us why.


Donna 22:56

We had a snowstorm the day before Valentine's Day, February 13. And I went out to shovel, and I have a rather steep driveway and I just shoveled a path down, and I turned around to come back up and I fell. I fell on my knees but those are titanium and that didn't hurt. I was holding the shovel in one hand, but then I stopped my fall with my right wrist, and it shattered.


Donna 23:24

The next day I saw the surgeon and the day I was to get on the plane to go to Austin, I was in the operating room where she was putting in pins and plates. And luckily, I'm left-handed. However, I could not do anything with my right hand for six weeks for eight weeks. It was it was just brutal. It was miserable. And that's when the quarantining started.


Donna 23:51

Normally, I would be so happy to have to stay home and so I've got fabrics all over, thread, machines. I couldn't. I think after five or six weeks, I realized I could use the machine that had a knee lift and automatic scissors. But I couldn't cut with scissors, and I certainly couldn't cut any fabrics. I taught the non-sewing friend to come over and cut fabric for me. So, I had to find people to cut. I could sew but I couldn't cut threads off. So, one day it took me a whole day to make a mask. You know, but very gradually, I was able to regain the use of my hand until I fell again in June and broke the humerus of the same arm. I am just now about to leave physical therapy and it's been eight months; it's been brutal. But I think I'm now fully restored.


Jan 24:48

For our listeners Donna just wiggled all of her fingers so how does your hand and arm and wrist feel?


Donna 24:55

It feels very good. If I have an itch in the middle of my back. I had I have to use my left hand, although I'm hopeful that I will be able to have my right arm do that at some point.


Jan 25:06

It's the measure of success being able to reach in the middle of your back.


Donna 25:11

Yeah. Yeah.


Jan 25:11

And that may not have anything to do with your fall. It may have to do with our age.


Donna 25:16

Well, and I must say that both of these were accidents. It's not like I'm just falling down willy-nilly.


Jan 25:23

So Donna, can you look into your Chicago crystal ball there? And what do you see on your horizon and your involvement with Sew Powerful going forward?


Donna 25:35

In preparing for this, today, I was counting up how many purses I've made. And I think it's a little bit over 150 or so. I have spoken to women's groups. I spoke to a suburban women's group last year and took 20 purses with me. It was right before one of the mailing deadlines, lined up all these purses and my opening line with these women was I am not selling these. You may not buy these. But I want to tell you why I make them. And at that particular group, a couple of women put money into my hands, even though I said not to. And I use that for shipping. A couple of women started making purses. I'm speaking again for an AAUW group in a couple of months.


Jan 26:21

So am I! We should compare notes.


Donna 26:24

We should do that. Um, yeah, I think anything we can do to spread the mission. All the girls in my guild know what I do. I've got two other women who have expressed a mild interest. And I've shown them and two of them have come over for a day-long workshop sort of thing.


Donna 26:44

But this goes back to that opening quote from Estes about how we can't fix everything, but we can reach out to those who are within our grasp. And I think the girls in Lusaka are within my reach, thanks to Jason and Cinnamon. I think we're all doing something, and I think what's important is that we do something that we are passionate about and that we believe in. And for me, it's Sew Powerful. So there's certain charitable things my guild is doing that I may choose not to do, because I am doing the Sew Powerful purses. So speaking, sharing the word for Sew Powerful and increasing my own sewing, I think my next month will be December; that's going to be my Sew Powerful sew-a-long month.


Jan 27:36

That's fantastic. I'd like to conclude by reading the final paragraph that you wrote in the story that you submitted for the book. And when I read it, it gave me chills. So, listeners listen to, to Donna's words as we wrap this up today.


Jan 27:53

We live in such uneasy and violent times, and I have never felt more distressed. My solace is my faith and my sewing. This is a perfect time for me to be working on purses for Sew Powerful. We all sleep under the same stars.


Jan 28:12

Donna, thank you so very much for your time, it was an honor to finally meet you. And I look forward to comparing notes with you so that we can get our speeches in sync and have that going. So thank you have a great day.


Donna 28:26

Thanks, Jan. I really enjoyed talking with you as well.


Jan 28:29

All right, thank you so much.


Jan 28:32

If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at that's SEWPOWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse pattern 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.


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 Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at