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Great Britain for Sew Powerful with Sandy Simm


Meet Sandy Simm, the Sew Powerful UK Regional Coordinator, as she extols the dedication and contributions of Team UK. An accidental internet search result became a lifeline for Sandy at a time when things were at their gloomiest. Sew Powerful turned things around for her and gave Sandy wings to soar and she's brought along several other purse makers on the journey. Lots of 'shout outs' in this episode so listen for your name.


Sew Powerful, Team UK, Leicestershire, Quilt Festival, Birmingham NEC


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.


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: Sandy Simm


Jan Cancila, Host 00:05

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 00:18

Today we have the pleasure of speaking with the UK Regional Coordinator, Sandy Simm who is coming to us from her home in England. And we're going to learn more about where she lives and what she does for Sew Powerful. Hello, Sandy Simm. How are you today?


Sandy Simm, Guest 00:37

Oh well, hello Jan. Very well, thank you. It's been a bit of a rainy cold day here in the UK. But well, we're all tucked up and warm.


Jan 00:49

Well, that sounds nice for a fall day. We've had a variety of weather systems in the United States. We've had a little bit of everything here recently. Tell me where are you right now? Where are we talking to you from?


Sandy 01:02

Well, I'm in a very tiny village called Kegworth in between Derbyshire and Leicestershire, but 100 miles away from London. It is in the Midlands.


Jan 01:16

Okay, and doesn't Louise Ambrosi live in Leicestershire.


Sandy 01:20

Yes, she's near to Leicestershire. We haven't met yet other than at the show last year. We wanted to get together for coffee. But unfortunately, we have the lockdown. Then, Ginny, she lives in a place called Bristol. And in fact, I've had a batch of her purses in today, I've still got them coming in.


Jan 01:45

Okay, we'll get to that in just a minute.


Sandy 01:45



Jan 01:46

But we're talking to you because you wrote a story, and it was selected and published in the "We Are Sew Powerful" book second edition. It's called Great Britain for Sew Powerful.


Sandy 01:58

Yes. That's it.


Jan 02:00

Yeah. It's really exciting. And in your story, you talked about your business and that you had to close it. Can you tell us about your business?


Sandy 02:10

Yes. I set up a little business making children's outfits. I had the business for about 20 years. But unfortunately, due to ill health, I had some heart problems and had to sell the business, had operation on my heart. And since then, everything, touch wood, has been pretty good. Unfortunately, I lost my mom at the same time. I think there was a lot of stress, you know, around that time as well which didn't help my heart situation. Yeah, I'm good now. Well, I'm trying to keep fit. This lockdown's not helping.


Jan 02:49

Exactly right. We're all struggling with that. About the time that you had to sell your business and you lost your mom.


Sandy 02:58



Jan 02:58

You were feeling at your lowest point, you came across Sew Powerful, right?


Sandy 03:03

Yes, absolutely. I was wondering, what am I going to do now. I can't see my life without sewing; without doing something. I'm not sure how, I think I was just browsing on the internet, and I came across this ad that said, 'Can you sew? Could you make a purse for us?' And of course, it was Sew Powerful. And there's not really been any looking back since then. It was emailing Jason and saying I could do this, and I can do that. I'll do all the admin everything, in UK and whatever.


Sandy 03:39

After we had one or two emails going backwards and forwards, and I've got all the patterns and just started to make them that first year. I think I was quite happy. I was going to post them all out to the US and everything. And well, I had 100 bags, and it was so expensive. I couldn't believe it. And I said I need help with this, please. You know, I never realized. So, Jason helped me out that first year, which was absolutely fantastic.


Jan 04:12

And what year was that? Do you remember the year?


Sandy 04:15

Well, this is my fifth year. So I suppose we're looking at about 2014-15.


Jan 04:23

Sure, right.


Sandy 04:25

Yes. 14. Yeah.


Jan 04:26

Well, you know, in your story, I really love what you said here. You said," I couldn't believe I had found something where I could put my talents to use without it costing me," because I mean you had just sold your business. You weren't in a place to make a big financial donation. You were able to donate your talents and time.


Sandy 04:45

Yes, absolutely. They were just asking me to give of my time and because I'd sold my business and you know with my health issues, I had loads of time on my hands. So yes, I sat down and started sewing. I loved it.


Jan 05:04

So what bag did you start with? Was it the intermediate?


Sandy 05:08

Well, yes, the beginner, the pattern wasn't out then. It was just the intermediate with two options of front flaps. So, I just made up a load of those with all the different flaps. Well, you know, some with one flap on and then some with the other flap on them. And that was the only choice we had then. And then a couple years after that, I think the beginner pattern came out.


Jan 05:32

So let's go back and talk about the history of the number of bags that, as you call it, Team UK has produced. So, the first year that you did it you sent in 100. Now, did you make all of those? Or did you have other people contribute?


Sandy 05:48

No, I did actually have one or two sent in. I did make the majority.


Jan 05:53

How did people know to send you the bags? And how did you sort of form that team at the very beginning?


Sandy 06:01

Well, I just kept writing out on Facebook. And that was about the only thing I sort of knew. And then if someone contacted me, I would talk to them about it and say could you pass this on. But also, what I did, I started clicking on the friends. And what happens then, and I still do it to this day. I can write to them and say happy birthday and message them and I send them Sew Powerful link and everything. And I believe it's picked up really from from doing that. I didn't go out doing it. I did it all on the computer and just getting the word out there really.


Jan 06:50

Oh, that's really a clever idea. And have people been receptive to receiving this information on Facebook Messenger?


Sandy 06:57

Oh, yes, absolutely. It's not 100%. I never expected it would be, but probably it might only be 30%. At least that 30% have probably said it's such a fantastic idea. I've read it. And I'm going to get involved. I'm going to send you some bags someday. And that's just how it's gone on.


Jan 07:22

I mean, 30% is a huge return on on your investment.


Sandy 07:25

Yes, it is. Yeah, it is an awful lot of birthdays, I do have them every day, but I've got a little set piece now that I can just copy and paste into the messages and the link comes up. So, it's quite quick for me to do.


Jan 07:44

Wow, well, that is very cool. And so, by doing that you tripled the number of purses that were produced by the second year, correct?


Sandy 07:52

That's right. Yes. Yes.


Jan 07:54

So, you had 300 the second year.


Sandy 07:56

Then we did 3, yeah.


Jan 07:57

And that would be 15-16. In 2017...


Sandy 08:01

We did four, I believe.


Jan 08:03

You said 450 in your story, we'll give you credit.


Sandy 08:06

Four fifty, yeah.


Jan 08:06

And then, okay, that was 17. 2018. Did you do 600? You had that goal?


Sandy 08:07

That's right. We did the six and then last year was eight.  


Jan 08:09

And now you have a huge shipment that will arrive in Seattle any day now. But it will have arrived by the time this podcast is produced.


Sandy 08:32

I'm hope I'm hoping so yes, I had a bit of a hiccup with the authorities here. But I've sorted all of that out today and they're actually flying tonight.


Jan 08:44

Okay, hold that thought because we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we're going to find out about the shipment that Sandy has on its way to the US and all the hoops that she's had to jump through to make that happen. So, stay tuned, we're going to talk with Sandy Simm some more after the break.


Jan 09:05

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 10:09

Welcome back. We have been speaking with Sandy Simm who is the Regional Coordinator in the UK. And right before the break, I interrupted Sandy so that we would have a little cliffhanger. And Sandy is going to tell us about the 2020 shipment that she just was able to get shipped off today. So Sandy, what happened? What was the hang up?


Sandy 10:33

Well, the the boxes were collected about three days ago. And I thought that they were going to be delivered Wednesday this week. And I found out today that they were on hold, because the paperwork the the Majesty's Government had not been completed properly. And I thought, 'Oh no.' I because I always leave that up to the shipping people. So, I started to get into it. And I rang the company. And what it was they thought that I was a business. So, I was due to pay our local taxes on it. And I said, No, no, I'm just a lady, I'm a pensioner. I send these bags off every year from the UK. And I'm an individual. And they said, Well, is it going to a company? I said, No, ‘It's going to a charity.’ Then perhaps you just write an email to them. And so, they accepted all of that. And they're now flying, apparently. So I was really relieved about that. I was upset as well, because they should have been there now. There were three great big boxes. They all were, what, 60 odd pounds each.


Jan 11:52

How many bags were in each box?


Sandy 11:54

300 in each. 3 boxes.


Jan 11:57

And so, you're sending 900?


Sandy 12:00

Well, the last one was 260, so it was 860.


Jan 12:06



Sandy 12:07

I sent 200 in May. And I've got another box waiting to be filled, which I'm hoping to post Monday. And it should be there before the ninth which is the deadline. So, we're definitely on our way to doing the 1500. So I'm not sure yet but fingers crossed. And I'm so proud of all the ladies and the sewers. And I just can't say how much of what I feel about it. I'm overwhelmed really, it's just fantastic.


Jan 12:41

Well, that's amazing. And congratulations to Team UK. You have one particular lady who has made quite a few bags, and she and her husband have overcome some health issues.


Sandy 12:55



Jan 12:55

Let's give a shout out to her and just tell us her story.


Sandy 12:59

Well, that's a wonderful lady. Her name's Jane Allen. And her and her husband were cleared of cancer last year. And she came to see me and brought all these boxes full of purses. And there were 400.


Jan 13:17

Oh, my goodness.


Sandy 13:19

400 purses.  


Jan 13:20

And she made 400 herself?


Sandy 13:22

She'd made them all on her own.


Jan 13:25

Oh my goodness.


Sandy 13:26

They're all different. And they're just fantastic. They're absolutely beautiful. I just can't believe it. Yeah, it was that was a bit overwhelming as well when she was here and we've said we'll try and get together later on when the lockdown's done and told me of a little fabric place to go and see that do really, really cheap fabric. So we'll be hopefully going on a shopping spree together sometime in the new year.


Jan 13:55

How fun would that be? Well, you know, in 2019, before the lockdown, you spearheaded the efforts for Sew Powerful to have a booth at the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham.


Sandy 14:11



Jan 14:12

Tell us about that.


Sandy 14:14

Well, I was a bit low and I thought, well, I'm going to throw myself into Sew Powerful, I need to do something, something big and get out there. I'd suffered a bit of a family loss and I wanted to get my mind out of it. And I thought well, the only thing I can do is probably go and try at the Festival of Quilts, which is in Birmingham. And it's one of the biggest quilting shows in Europe. And I thought well, it was going to be really expensive. I couldn't do it on my own money wise. But I was quite happy to do it on me own otherwise. And anyway, I wrote to Jason and said look, you know I'm happy to do this, but it is really gonna cost a lot. I will understand if you, you know, you don't want to put out that sort of money. Well, they had to think about it and everything. We did it. Yes, it was a yes. They paid for it. And then to top it all was Jason and Cinnamon came over to help out with it, which was just absolutely fantastic. So I got to meet them. Some of the other ladies came to the stall of course, to meet them too. And one wonderful lady Sandy Snowden, she actually helped me on the stall one day. Unfortunately, she died in August this year. But her husband sent me her eight purses that she had made before she died. And I have wrapped them up in a special bag. And asked Jason to give them a special mention for her. So it was sad to hear about her. But the show itself was absolutely fantastic. I loved every moment of it.


Jan 16:08

And this was a five day event, right?


Sandy 16:10

Yes, Sue Kirby, who helped me an awful lot with it and what to do, she said you won't be able to do five days, you know, and I said I will, I will, I'll be fine. Don't worry. Don't worry about me. And I did do all the five days actually, I just so loved meeting other people and talking about Sew Powerful. Such lovely people. And I think as well that that's why we got so many bags this year from that show, too.


Jan 16:43

Oh, good.


Sandy 16:44

Yes. from just the word. I don't think we made a lot of money, unfortunately. But we did get the word out there to quite a lot of people. Yeah.


Jan 16:56

Well, and I think the objective of a show is to recruit purse makers, make people aware of Sew Powerful, and not necessarily make money. But you know, maybe cover the cost of the booth, or you use the term stall. But here we will say yeah, stall or booth, same thing.


Sandy 17:17

Many, many years ago, I used to stand on markets and sell the goods that I made. They were called market stalls. You just visit each town or village, do sort of a circuit, and you go on every week and sell your goods. That's another idea for me in the future for Sew Powerful. I'm hoping to make some goods that I can sell, to donate the money to Sew Powerful, but also get the word out there too. So that's another, again, the lockdown came. And so, I'm starting to make a few little gifts now sort of peg bags and things like that. So hopefully I'll have a start for my market stores when they open again.


Jan 18:07

And so what do you have planned for 2021? Assuming, assuming that we're going to return somewhat to normal?


Sandy 18:16

Well, hopefully what I have planned this year was to try and get Sew Powerful into schools, travel around the country, really, giving talks, giving demonstrations of the purses, taking the patterns out to the schools.


Jan 18:34

Okay, and I have to stop you because you have to explain this because the schools in the UK still teach sewing as part of their curriculum, correct?


Sandy 18:44

Yes, absolutely. Yeah.


Jan 18:45

And they don't hardly do that here in the US. So what age group would this be that would be taking sewing classes?


Sandy 18:52

Well, you'd be looking at about 10- to 12-year-olds. Some of the pupils may be thinking of going on to design colleges, so they get the chance to learn how to sew from a young age. I mean, I learned from a very young age. I was about eight I think when I started to sew.


Jan 19:15

How did you learn to sew?


Sandy 19:16

Really trial and error. I had a very, very old Singer sewing machine that you had to, you treadled on but with your foot backwards and forwards.


Jan 19:26



Sandy 19:27

Have you ever seen them? They're not electric.


Jan 19:30

Right. We all know what a treadle sewing machine is. They they sell for about 100 times what they used to because now they're a collector’s item.


Sandy 19:38

I wish I'd have kept mine.


Jan 19:40



Sandy 19:41

But when my mum could see I was quite good at sewing, and it sort of ran in the family really. And she got me making her evening gowns because she used to go out ballroom dancing a lot.


Jan 19:54



Sandy 19:55

I used to make all her dance dresses and everything. So, she bought me an electric machine then.


Jan 20:03

Well, that was one way to upgrade your sewing machine.


Sandy 20:05



Jan 20:07

So besides ballgowns, what other kinds of things have you made?


Sandy 20:11

Well, my business was all about making stuff for children, but it was smocked. You know, the front on the front chest, with the smocking patterns and everything. I made boys and girls, and christening gowns and everything. The whole ethos of the business was to do with smocking, little fashion smocking.


Jan 20:33

And did you do that by hand?


Sandy 20:35

Yes. And then I learned how to do it on machine too.


Jan 20:40

Well, have you thought of putting smocking on any of the bags you make?


Sandy 20:43

No I haven't. It's very, very time consuming.


Jan 20:48



Sandy 20:50

I have got some patterns, and I had thought about doing it. But I've not got around to doing it yet.


Jan 20:57

Well, you'll have to try one and post the pictures that would be, that would be fun to see.


Sandy 21:02

Yes I will, I think.


Jan 21:04

Well, and that's the fun part of Facebook, even though we all may live thousands of miles apart, through Facebook, we can all be connected through Sew Powerful.


Sandy 21:15

It is absolutely. I mean, I think we'll be doing a Christmas with Zoom calls and whatever this year, so yeah, I must get my my camera and my skills bettered so that I can do a proper Zoom call.


Jan 21:32

Yeah, we haven't quite worked out what we're doing for Christmas yet. But yeah, it probably will involve a lot of zooming, so.


Sandy 21:39

I think it will, yeah.


Jan 21:41

Yeah. So, we can just hope and pray that things will be under control and everybody's health will be improved for 2021.


Sandy 21:49

I think so, I think so. It looks, it looks as if we're going into a second wave here in the UK, I think definitely we'll be locked down for Christmas. But you know, the second wave and then hopefully when we come out at that one, maybe February or March we'll be cleared and getting geared up for the spring of next year.


Jan 22:11

Now that would be great, wouldn't it?


Sandy 22:12

It would, yeah.


Jan 22:13

It would be really nice. Well, Sandy, I have to thank you so much for your time. Thank you for sharing your story and how inspirational the ladies in the UK are.


Sandy 22:25



Sandy 22:25



Jan 22:25

And the quantities that they're making and their dedication to Sew Powerful.


Jan 22:30

Great Britain for Sew Powerful was the name of your story. And...


Jan 22:34



Jan 22:35

You've really illustrated that. So, thank you.


Jan 22:38

We're flying.


Jan 22:39

You are, you are flying.


Sandy 22:41

Thank you. Thank you. It's been a lovely chat. I've really enjoyed it, Jan.


Jan 22:46

I have too. Thank you and I so look forward to meeting you in person one of these days, somehow, somewhere.


Sandy 22:51

Well one of these days I'm hoping to get over to see those girls in Lusaka. Maybe we'll both be going.


Sandy 22:58

Oh, wouldn't that be fun?


Sandy 22:59

That'll be great.


Jan 23:00

We'll have to work on that.


Jan 23:02

Alright. Okay, until then, Sandy Simm, you take care and thank you so much for your time.


Sandy 23:02

Yeah, I think so.  


Sandy 23:08

And you Jan too. Thank you. Bye-bye.


Jan 23:10

Bye bye.


Jan Cancila 23:13

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 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.


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