This episode will inspire you the next time you sit at your sewing machine, work at your craft table or even cook your signature meal. The Sew Powerful Massachusetts Regional Coordinator has a philosophy about creativity. Listen as Maryann Gubala talks about the source of creative impulses for all of us. She shares her interesting family background, how she contributes at the non-profit where she works but also how she uses her God-given skills and talents to make a difference for girls in Zambia. As Maryann says, 'Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.'
Stitchin' with a Mission with Maryann Gubala
IN THIS EPISODE
Sew Powerful, fabric, purse, creative impulses, sewing, creativity, crafting, seamstress from Massachusetts
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: Mary Ann Gubala
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. God is an incredible artist. He made everything from the vibrant and breathtaking sunset, to the tiniest little flower petal. From the innumerable stars in the sky to each pebble on the ground. From the largest whale to the smallest insect. He created our physical forms with numerous hairs on our head; intricately put together sinews and bones; brains that allow so much more than basic life functions; fingers that can feel, hold and create and organs that all work together to sustain life. He continues to create every day as he creates in our souls. He takes the broken pieces of our sin sick hearts and souls and makes us new. These eloquent words were written by Mary Ann Gabala. Mary Ann is the Regional Coordinator in Massachusetts for Sew Powerful, and she wrote a story called "Stitchin' with a Mission," and Mary Ann's story was selected and published in the We Are Sew Powerful book and we are talking with Mary Ann, the author of those eloquent words. Mary Ann, how are you today?
Mary Ann 01:37
Good. How are you?
Oh, I am fine. Now you are the Regional Coordinator for Massachusetts. Where do you live in Massachusetts?
Mary Ann 01:45
I'm in western Massachusetts, near the Springfield area.
Mm hmm. And as we are talking today, it's early November. Do you have beautiful colorful leaves?
Mary Ann 01:58
It's just about the end of peak foliage. But we did in October. And it was a really great, beautiful, colorful year.
Very nice, very nice. Talk to me a little bit about your childhood. Did you grew up in Massachusetts?
Mary Ann 02:13
Yes, I did.
And tell us about your family background.
Mary Ann 02:18
Well, I have lived in Western Mass. My entire life. I've always been a little bit of a creative person. Even as a small child I love like my arts and crafts. I loved drawing and painting, paper crafting. And when I was really probably still in elementary school, I tried to teach myself how to hand sew. It didn't work out too great, but I tried. And then in middle school, my parents paid for me to go to sewing lessons. And I've been sewing and crafting ever since.
And you had a particular family member that you were close to. Who was that?
Mary Ann 02:52
My Mor Mor, which literally means mother's mother in Swedish. She was born and raised in Sweden and very proud of her Swedish heritage as well as her adopted country, America. She was incredibly talented and skilled in so many hand crafts and everything. She was a great seamstress, and she knitted and crocheted and all of that. And I actually still sew on her sewing machine today. And she also gave me, you know, my first sewing supplies. I mean, she didn't teach me how to sew. But she's the reason why I was able to sew before I have an income of my own, or anything like that. So even though she's been gone for a while now, I still have that connection to her through sewing and everything.
We did an interview with you back in the Spring when we did "Meet a Purse Maker," and I think in that video you showed us the sewing machine that had belonged to your Mor Mor, right? Yep. And is that the one we see over your shoulder there? Right here. There it is.
Mary Ann 03:49
The Husqvarna Viking.
Oh, right. And how old is it, do you think?
Mary Ann 03:52
It's actually probably not that old. She had bought herself a new one, probably in the 90s at some point. She just never really made friends with it. So it was almost like new when I got it, but it's still pretty awesome that it had that connection.
Oh, Yeah, that is great. So you graduated from high school and you enrolled in college? Where did you go for college?
Mary Ann 04:14
I went to Western New England University in Springfield.
Okay, and what did you study?
Mary Ann 04:20
I was a communications major with a concentration in media theory and production and a minor in Spanish. A little bit of a mouthful there.
Yeah, exactly. And so while you were in college as a student in your spare time, it sounds like you were sort of scrolling through social media. And what were some of the sites that you liked in particular?
Mary Ann 04:43
I loved looking at craft blogs and things like that or even on social media following different creative and crafty people. It's a great way to find inspiration. And it is how I discovered Sew Powerful. I think it was kind of random but maybe also not random. I don't really 100% know when or how exactly I came across Sew Powerful. I think it had to do with Sew Powerful's connection to Liberty Jane clothing, the company with Cinnamon and Jason. I grew up with American Girl dolls, and I was always loving to craft for them and sew for them and everything. So every once in a while, even as an adult, I like look through those types of social media feeds just to kind of admire the clothing and everything.
Well, and you said, maybe it wasn't random. It sounds like you feel that your faith guides you and you talk in your intro about your creativity as a God given gift. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Mary Ann 05:42
Well, I mean, as you read the first paragraph of that story at the beginning, you know, obviously God is an incredible creator. And since we're made in His image, it's not surprising that we have creative impulses. And those creative impulses take many different forms for many different people. For some people, the things that come to mind when you think of creativity, like drawing or painting or music. For other people, it's, you know, other forms like teaching or engineering or even parenting. And for me, it takes many forms too, you know, I use it at work my hobbies, I use it with sewing. And one way for me to be creative is through you know, sewing and crafting and whatever form of creativity somebody has, whatever skills or talents or resources that they have. I believe that the important thing is that they use those to make and do things that glorify God, that help other people, that show people that you care, that make a difference or that matter.
You mentioned work: where do you work, Mary Ann?
Mary Ann 06:42
I currently work at a living history museum that portrays life in early 19th century rural New England. We have a bunch of different buildings from all across New England. And we have costumed historians who demonstrate things and activities of daily life from that time period, like blacksmithing, hearth cooking, farming, pottery, all those different things. I work behind the scenes. I manage our social media and our website and do some video work and a bunch of other stuff. And as I kind of alluded to before, creativity is really important there because I'm always having to come up with new content or new ways to portray information that we're always talking about. There's definitely no shortage of it. But, still.
And this is a nonprofit, right?
Mary Ann 07:28
It is a nonprofit.
And give us the exact name of the museum.
Mary Ann 07:32
It is Old Sturbridge Village
Say that one more time.
Mary Ann 07:36
Old Sturbridge Village.
Okay. And is there a website?
Mary Ann 07:40
All right, we will check it out. And we will know that Mary Ann is the creative force behind what we're seeing there. And how did COVID affect the operations of the museum?
Mary Ann 07:52
Oh, it's definitely impacted the museum big time. We shut down like many other businesses in March, and we were completely closed for several months. And the majority of our staff were working remotely, although there were a handful of staff, not me, that were on site because you know, we have things like animals to take care of, and security and all that kind of stuff. We reopened to the public in July, with capacity limitations, and a completely different form of the visitor experience. We moved many of our costume historians outside rather than inside the buildings. That's one great thing about being an open air museum is we have all this outdoor space so we can be open and be safe and be a place of both education and entertainment for families who are feeling really pent up from being stuck at home all day.
And I would think that would be a place that a lot of schools would take the kids on a field trip. Is that right?
Mary Ann 08:46
Under normal circumstances, yes. Last year, I believe we had 40,000 kids come on field trips in the entire year. Obviously, right now, many schools are remote. And even if they are in person, they're not doing things like field trips. We actually just launched the first phase of 3D tours online to help kind of be something in the meantime, while those kids can't necessarily make it to the village. You know, it's obviously it's not the same as visiting in person, but we're trying to reach out and connect with those students in whatever way we can.
So what is the 3D tour?
Mary Ann 09:22
These were filmed with a special 3D photography camera, I don't really know exactly how that all works. But you can basically explore.We chose seven buildings for this first phase. And so you can go in, you can see everything, you can get really up close to even artifacts and stuff, even things that you wouldn't normally be able to even if you were visiting in person. And then there's like little pins that have little snippets of information or objects from our collection or videos from some of our costumed historians talking about what you're seeing in that space. And about that topic and you know, again about the time period,
Wow, that sounds like a really creative solution and it sounds like that's something that maybe it could be ongoing even when things open back up.
Mary Ann 10:03
But like I said, this is the first phase, we plan to add more buildings, we plan to add lesson plans, probably more content even to the buildings that we already have up. It's an ongoing process. And it's a lot of teamwork.
Wow. Well, that sounds really cool. Well, I want to get back a little bit to when you came across Sew Powerful, and you probably saw the ad on the Liberty Jane site and and pursued it, that seems to be one of the more common ways that people hear about Sew Powerful, but tell us what your reaction was when you started reading about the school girls in Zambia,
Mary Ann 10:37
Reading about the girls in Zambia really just pulled at my heart. I've always had a little bit of a soft spot for that age group, like Middle School, teenage girls. It's a really difficult time period for pretty much everybody, regardless of circumstances. I certainly wouldn't want to go back to that time in my life. But as a college student, it also really pulled at my heart in another way, because I realized how fortunate I was to not only have completed high school, but to be in college and to have that opportunity and to be able to continue my life as normal, even after puberty. And what made me realize that there's so many people in this world, especially girls, who do not have that opportunity. And I knew I had to be involved.
You know, you said something in your story. You said, "I know that I would not have felt comfortable going to school at all, if I had to miss school for one week, every month." Talk a little bit about that.
Mary Ann 11:33
I mean, in middle school, particularly I didn't want anyone to know when it was that time of the month. And if you're skipping one week of school every month, it's pretty obvious the reason why. And that's embarrassing and awkward, especially at that age. It's completely natural. But it's still awkward at that time. And in addition, it would obviously be really difficult on the schooling. I mean, I hated being out for one day when I was sick. I can't imagine having to be out for a week, you know, every month. I just can't fathom it.
Right trying to keep up with your studies and missing all of that school. Sounds like you would have to be ultra-determined to overcome that kind of an obstacle, I would think.
Mary Ann 12:19
Yeah. Why don't we pause for a quick break. And when we come back, we're going to talk with Mary Ann more about her involvement with Sew Powerful and get some more words of wisdom from her. So join me in just a minute here. 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 Mary Ann Gubala, who is the Massachusetts Regional Coordinator for Sew Powerful. She has been sharing with us the fascinating job she holds at a nonprofit museum there near her hometown. Mary Ann, we were talking about your reaction when you first heard about Sew Powerful and the girls there. So, you're a busy college student. I can remember being in college and just feeling some days like I didn't even have time to breathe or sleep, let alone make a purse for a charity. But somehow you found time to do this. How did you do that? Why did you do that?
Mary Ann 14:22
Well, because Sew Powerful is such a flexible program. I mean, when I was in college, there were times where I was not sewing a single purse for maybe multiple months, especially around finals time. Like I didn't have time for that. But then in summer and on breaks and maybe at the beginning of the semester, I had time. And so that's when I was able to be involved. It wasn't something like where I had to commit to the same day, every week, or every month or anything like that. So it's something that I could fit into my schedule whenever I had the time. And that's another reason why I got involved because it was something I could do.
Yeah, and you talked about a lyric from a favorite song called Polaris What is that song? And what is it about that song that helps you relate to Sew Powerful?
Mary Ann 15:05
It's a song by a band called Remedy Drive. And the lead singer in particular is actually really involved in a lot of really important missions. He's actually involved in helping relieve human trafficking. So there's one lyric in the song where he says "ripples turned to tidal waves." And that's kind of like a little bit of a motto for me now, you know. It's so easy to be overwhelmed by all the need in this world, and nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something. And if everybody does something, those ripples can indeed, turn into tidal waves, as the song says.
That was a great song to quote. You talk about the creativity you're able to exercise when you make purses for Sew Powerful. Tell us a little bit about that. And what makes you feel creative. You're talking about using probably one basic pattern doing it over and over, yet you feel creative doing that?
Mary Ann 16:02
Yeah, definitely. I mean, at this point I've probably made (I actually don't know how many I've made) but I've probably made about 100. And after a while doing the same pattern over and over again, does get a little boring, but it's kind of become a canvas for me, especially the beginner pattern with the basic flap, if you will, because there's endless possibilities of embellishment and fabric combinations. You can use all sorts of different techniques. I've done applique ones, I've done crazy, quote ones, I've combined all sorts of different fabrics and different embellishments. I've made some inspired by friends or family members, I've made some that were inspired by songs or just like other things that I was thinking about, in my day-to-day life.
Yeah, give us an example of a purse you made that was inspired by a person. What did that person look like?
Mary Ann 16:52
Well, there's a couple. So one was I actually made in honor of my Mor Mor around her birthday; it was a few years after she passed away. And I used the fabric - panties were one of her favorite flowers. And it was actually fairly simple. But it was just like the fabric choices that really kind of were the thing that reminded me of that person. Another one, I chose fabric that was in a color scheme that a friend of mine really liked. But then to make it extra special, I included things like a little bit of a music note trim and some special buttons, and everything that just kind of made me think of that person.
I know that when we did the interview with you in the Spring, you talked about a technique called scrap busting. So, tell us what that is. And have you made some persons using that technique?
Mary Ann 17:40
Oh, yeah, I've made a lot of versus you doing a little bit of scrap busting. Basically, it's just taking a bunch of different fabrics, small pieces that may not be really that big enough for a lot of other projects and just combining them to make them into a beautiful purse. And sometimes it's as simple as making each piece of the purse, a different fabric. And just having obviously those fabrics coordinate. Other times it's using little pieces of fabric to make kind of like an applique image. One time I made a mountain scape using triangular scraps of fabric. Another type is just crazy quilting them together. It's definitely one of a kind. But if you do it right, and with colors, that kind of coordinate, and whatever, it makes a beautiful purse.
Well, Mary Ann, I have to say you are one of our younger regional coordinators, Many regional coordinators take on this role after they're retired but you're doing this while you're actively involved in your career. What would you say to other people who might be thinking of volunteering, but they feel like, Oh, I'm just so busy.
Mary Ann 18:46
I mean, that's definitely a genuine concern. Not everybody's going to be able to but as I said earlier, it is really a flexible program and your involvement is gonna vary for different people, and it's gonna look different for different people. But again, everybody can do something and whether it's making one purse, and like, that's it, that's still great. That's one purse, it's gonna change one girl's life, right? And together we are as we say, Sew Powerful.
In your story, you conclude by saying that you look forward to making more purses for many years to come. So clearly, you're committed to doing this.
Mary Ann 19:23
Five years now.
Oh, you've been doing it for five years?
Mary Ann 19:27
Yeah. Oh, well, that's fantastic. In your story, your final paragraph, again is a very inspirational conclusion that I'd like to read as we wrap up our talk here today. So what you said was, "I was created to create, and I'm thrilled to join others from around the world to stitch with a mission. Every person I make is a reminder that while none of us can do everything, all of us can use our creative impulses and skills to do something." That reminds me of the quote you had from the song Polaris that talked about ripples turned into tidal waves. And so, is that an example of where that song has sort of inspired your thinking about just doing a little bit when you can?
Mary Ann 20:20
Oh, definitely. And in the song, there's actually other lyrics, and I'm not gonna be able to recite them off the top of my head. But the singer gives examples of some of the ways that different people can be doing something to help other people. He mentions, like a photographer, taking photos, to share stories, and to help spread the word about something. And he talks about himself having, you know, a voice that he's gonna use in his song lyrics to inspire and again spread the word and that kind of stuff. And to some people that may not look like physically serving, but it is, it's playing a role. And, again, everybody's different talents and skills are needed, particularly when you're dealing with a big issue, like keeping girls in school.
Absolutely. Well, Mary Ann, I thank you very much, initially for taking the time to write this story, but for making the purses and sharing your techniques and just giving us another perspective on why you do what you do. And another way for those of us who also make purses or contributed in other ways to think about our contribution as well. So thank you very much and have a great day.
Mary Ann 21:32
Talk to you 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 Sewpowerful.org. The website has great information about the organization is 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.