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Getting to Know Natalie Wellman


With a degree in Fashion and Merchandising, it is no surprise that Natalie Wellman was instantly drawn to Sew Powerful back in 2015. Since that time, she has challenged herself to make many, many purses including making a purse a day during the month of January. Don't be fooled by the quantity of purses Natalie sends to Sew Powerful every year. She is all about quality and the photos of her purses prove it. In this episode Natalie will share some tips about how to bring Sew Powerful to the attention of members of other groups on social media so they too will join us in making Sew Powerful purses for our girls in Zambia.


Cameron University, Huntsville, Alabama, Prince Edward Island, Mackinac Island, Nantahala Gorge train, embroidery machines, in the hoop embroidery, Sew Powerful


Cameron University,

Nantahala Gorge Train,

A Bit of Stitch,

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: Natalie Wellman


Jan Cancila, Host 00:07

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 00:24

Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. Today we are speaking with Natalie Wellman. And you might recognize that name because Natalie is a contributor of many photos and many beautiful purses to Sew Powerful. We are going to talk about her interesting background, the travels, the family, the interesting place that she lives, but we're also going to talk about her devotion to Sew Powerful. Hello, Natalie, how are you today?


Natalie Wellman, Guest 00:54

I'm fine. How are you?


Jan 00:56

Oh, just fantastic. Tell us a little bit about your background. You have a degree that seems like it's a perfect fit for the volunteer work you do for Sew Powerful.


Natalie 01:08

Yes, I have a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics and I specialized in the fashion and merchandising part of that degree.


Jan 01:16

Oh, that's very cool. And where did you go to school?


Natalie 01:19

Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma.


Jan 01:23

Oh, okay. I didn't know about Cameron University. Okay. And you are married with some children, right?


Natalie 01:31



Jan 01:32

Tell us about your family.


Natalie 01:33

I have four children, one biological, three adopted children, and married for 43 years. And I have four grandchildren, two girls and two boys.


Jan 01:47

That sounds like those family members can keep you busy. Do they live nearby?


Natalie 01:52

Yes. They all live here in Huntsville, or around our area. No one's more than 45 minutes away.


Jan 02:00

Oh my gosh. That's wonderful. That's wonderful. And how old are the grandchildren?


Natalie 02:05

6, 3, 1 and a half, and four months.


Jan 02:11

Oh my gosh, those are such fun ages. That's fantastic. So, you mentioned that you live near Huntsville. Tell us a little bit about where you live.


Natalie 02:20

I live in a small community called New Hope, Alabama. It's southeast of Huntsville, and we live out on 13 acres.


Jan 02:28

I've seen pictures on Facebook and I called it a lake but you corrected me. Tell me about this body of water on your property.


Natalie 02:36

It's just a little pond. Maybe my pictures make it look bigger, but it's a little pond in the back of our property with lots of wildlife.


Jan 02:45

Oh, it looks really beautiful. And on this 13 acre farm do you have animals?


Natalie 02:51

Yes, we do. We have two horses, chickens, dogs and cats.


Jan 03:00

And do you ride?


Natalie 03:02

I do. I haven't recently. I have a horse that I've had for 24 years. And then I have a pony that the grandkids play with a lot.


Jan 03:11

Oh, how fun. And they don't have ponies at their home, right?


Natalie 03:15

No, they have to come see Nonna to play with the horses and the chickens.


Jan 03:19

That sounds like a good plan. I understand you and your husband like to travel as well. And I guess during the last year that probably didn't happen much. But what are some of the places that you visited?


Natalie 03:33

I guess my favorite place was Prince Edward Island. We went up there about four or five years ago. And we've been to Mackinac Island in Michigan. And we had the opportunity to go to Germany one time. We always try to go a couple of years someplace. We've been at the Cayman Islands and Virgin Islands and...


Jan 03:56

I'm seeing an island theme here. Well, when you live in a beautiful part of the country, I imagine you take shorter trips around the southeast United States as well, right?


Natalie 04:10

We do. The last one we took we went to the Nantahala Gorge train up in Bryson City, North Carolina for a couple days. And then we just found a canyon down in South Georgia that we never even knew existed, and that was just like a day trip on the way to Florida to visit with my mom for a couple of hours.


Jan 04:34

Oh, how nice. How nice. Now you have a hobby of embroidery which, I share that hobby with you. I think we're in a couple of Facebook groups focused on embroidery. And it sort of started clicking for me that you were using embroidery on a lot of your purses. But talk to me about why you like embroidery and what are some of the things that you've done with it besides the work you do for Sew Powerful.


Natalie 05:01

Well, when they first came out with embroidery machines, maybe 20 something years ago, I bought a Pfaff because I just loved the look of embroidery. And at that time, I embroidered things for my kids, then they got too old. So, it was more towels and things like that. Now that I have grandkids, they all get a birthday shirt and birthday presents and Christmas presents and, you know, all my family have gotten embroidered things. I just recently upgraded to a new Brother as my Pfaff was getting old and software was outdated, so I upgraded. And since then, I have put so many stitches on this one.


Jan 05:48

Okay, so I have a Brother too. So, what model do you have?


Natalie 05:52

I have the Innovis.


Jan 05:55

Nice, very nice. Yeah, well, that's really fun. So, I found A Bit of Stitch through a newsletter, where they had digitized making the beginner flap for the Sew Powerful purse in the hoop. And for our listeners who don't embroider, can you explain what "in the hoop" means?


Natalie 06:20

Basically, the whole flap of your purse is done on your embroidery machine. You have to have a 6 by 10 hoop in order to do this. But basically, you put a stabilizer down and I use a thin piece of batting. And then I lay my flat cover on top of that. And they had two different designs that you can do, one was a lattice design, and one was a stippling design. And you do that, embroider that piece, and then you just put your lining on upside down. It sews around that and then turn your flap and you're done. That was a game changer for me because I cannot sew a straight line for anything.


Jan 07:10

Well, I was having trouble getting my two corners rounded equally. And I mean, when you do it in the hoop, I mean it's all computer controlled. So, it's...


Natalie 07:22



Jan 07:23

Perfect. It's perfect. Well, and the other thing you can do is after it does the stippling or the lattice, is you can add another design, which you typically do and so you have to use your software and insert that in there, right?


Natalie 07:36

Insert it there and then you move the last stitch that adds the lining to your purse to the very last thing. First time I did it, I forgot to do that. Oh my gosh.


Jan 07:51

Yeah. So, the the embroidery design ends up attaching the lining to the front of the purse inside out. Yeah. And then also that program from A Bit of Stitch also allows you to do the small slip pocket in the hoop. Did you do that?


Natalie 08:08

I've never done that. That, it seemed to me, was a waste of stabilizer.


Jan 08:17

Well, I'll be honest with you, I did it once. And it seemed to take longer to do it in the hoop than on my sewing machine. And so even though it was a little fancier than I would have typically done, I didn't think for an inside slip pocket it was worth the effort. So, it is available. And I'm not saying anything bad about it, but it just wasn't my favorite thing. I've done several [flaps] like that, I really like it. And interesting was to use a piece of fine-wale corduroy. And so, when I did the lattice design, it almost made it look like velvet. I mean, it really turned out pretty. Yeah, so it's nice and yet still nice and durable and washable. Natalie, why don't we take a quick break here and when we come back, we're going to explore the work that you've done for Sew Powerful, and we will talk to you in just a minute. Listeners, please stay tuned.


Jan 09:17

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 10:21

Welcome back. We have been speaking with Natalie Wellman who has a very interesting background. And she lives on a little mini farm in New Hope, Alabama with chickens and horses and cats and dogs and a beautiful pond that she shares pictures of at sunset from time to time. And we're delighted to talk to Natalie today. Natalie, when did you first hear about Sew Powerful?


Natalie 10:51

I think it might have been 2015. I was looking back through Facebook and couldn't find the exact date. But I just loved the idea of making purses and saw it and downloaded the intermediate purse. And I think it took me a while before I made that first purse. And I think that was the only purse that I did that year. But I just kept on trying. And I think the second year I doubled it. And this is probably my fourth year, fourth or fifth year of making the purses.


Jan 11:32

And typically, how many purses do you make in a year?


Natalie 11:36

Um, this year was only about 55. Last year I did 104. And I tried to double it each year as I was doing it. This year is 156.


Jan 11:51

Oh my gosh. Well, and think about that. That's 156 girls, whose lives you've changed. So that's fantastic. And while you're making the purse, are you thinking about what that means to a girl in Zambia, when she gets the purse?


Natalie 12:10

I am. When I first read about Sew Powerful, it just really hit me. You know, I didn't ever have a problem of not having supplies, but I missed a lot of school growing up. I would be sick for two to three days.


Jan 12:28

Oh gosh.


Natalie 12:29

And so, I just can remember just missing so much school because of that. But we moved a lot when I was a kid. And the first school we went to, they didn't have doors on the bathroom.


Jan 12:44

Oh my goodness.


Natalie 12:45

I didn't want to go to school, I wanted to stay home. So, it just really struck me that these girls had nothing. And they were still trying, you know, to go to school. So, it's just been on my heart to do this.


Jan 12:59

You know well, that's fantastic. And have you had any thoughts about those people making soap or the people working on the farm and how this thing sort of all ties together?


Natalie 13:11

Oh, I think that is wonderful, teaching them to help themselves, you know. You can give them a fish but if you teach them how to fish, it changes their world, you know. They're a part of it, we're not just handing them something; they're able to support their families by what we're doing.


Jan 13:32

Now you post the photos of your finished purses on Facebook. And I know that there's a lot of people who actually don't do that. But I think there's a big benefit to that. And I think you might agree with that as well. Why do you post the pictures of your purses?


Natalie 13:51

I think it encourages other people. And I post them in different groups, too, like in the different embroidery groups that I've been in and people are like, Wow, tell me about that organization. What can we do? How can we get involved? And so, I've done fundraisers that way because they see it and they see, well, that's a neat charity and they go look at it. And oh, I could do that. Even if they can't so they can see other things they can do.


Jan 14:24

Well, and you and I belong to a Facebook group outside of Sew Powerful and if I recall this right, some lady said, I like to sew but I just can't get motivated to sew. If only, if only there was a good cause. And I think you're the person that stepped in and told this woman about Sew Powerful and as a result, I don't know about her, but several other people from that group have joined. Is that right?


Natalie 14:50

That is correct.


Jan 14:52

Yeah, you have to be careful talking about another group inside, you know, another group. You don't want to get into selling because those are usually against the rules. So how did you position this so that it was acceptable in that group, but yet informational?


Natalie 15:09

Well, most of the groups that I did this in, they weren't actually the person who sold the items, they had blessing groups or fan groups. Now some of them have actually said, What do you do for charity work? And so, you know, if you're showing the design, and you're showing what design you use, and then how you use it, and I feel like if someone says, oh, what organization is this? Then I can put it in. I haven't had to delete it yet. So, I guess we're doing okay.


Jan 15:45

Yeah, I know. And it's a little bit tricky, but you hate to miss that opportunity. And as a result of those postings, we've had several people join, and you just never know when somebody who has seen that is still thinking about joining, and they may still become a member of the Sew Powerful community. And they may be listening to your podcast right now thinking, Oh, yeah, I remember her and her nice post. Now, when you make your purse, and I have to ask this of everyone, are you on Team Strap or Team Webbing?


Natalie 16:18

Team Webbing.


Jan 16:21

Me too, but why, why?



Oh, every once in a while, I will make a strap if I don't have a webbing, but the strap, to me, takes forever. I know there are shorter shortcuts to make it. And if I don't have a webbing that will match, then I will make a strap. But I'm more in the creative part of making the purse and not just the construction of making the purse. And the Team Strap is too construction in my opinion. I've seen ones that they've put decorative stitching on them but I'm kind of ADD.


Jan 17:06

Well, I've put decorative stitching on my webbing, so you don't have to rule that out. And so that's funny that you say that so enthusiastically because our guest for the podcast last week, Pat Quigley, is adamantly Team Strap. So, she loves making straps. It's always interesting to hear people's point of view on that. For anybody who is listening today, and maybe they haven't jumped in and started making a purse yet. I know you said you know it took you a while to make that first one. But what kind of advice would you give somebody who's thinking about making a purse for Sew Powerful, but they really haven't done it yet?


Natalie 17:47

I definitely say that the beginner purse that they just came out with in 2018. That one is so much easier than the ones that they first came out with. And just jump in. And there are so many different videos that you can watch. Now just pick the material and go with it. And once you start making them, I sometimes would rather do, I've got all these projects for grandkids and I look at them and I'm like, no I'm gonna go make a purse.


Jan 18:24

And do you make one at a time? Or do you cut out multiples and then sew, or how do you...


Natalie 18:29

I make one at a time.


Jan 18:31

One at a time. Yeah.


Natalie 18:32

I have tried the multiples. And I have to make them all different. I can't make three or four purses that look exactly alike. I think it's also the ADD. I just, they all have to be different. And so, I've got this stack of material that's different. And I just pull them and hope they work together.


Jan 18:54

Well, and I don't know if you do this or not, but I have fabric in my bins. And I look at it and I go, Oh yeah, I use that for a lining on a purse three years ago. I can't use that again. I must make another trip to the fabric store, or now it's like, order it online. Oh, I don't know what's wrong with me, but I guess I just like to buy fabric.


Natalie 19:13

With the embroidery I can make them, still make them different.


Jan 19:16

Well, that's true.


Natalie 19:17

I just made one that I use the same material, I think I used for my very first purse.


Jan 19:24

Oh, well there goes my excuse out the window now.


Natalie 19:27

And this is the new pattern so I'm okay.


Jan 19:30

I'm not going to let my husband listen to this podcast because I'll say, Well, I can't repeat this fabric. Natalie, thank you so much for your time today and for all that you do for Sew Powerful. It was an honor to meet you because I've seen all your work and, you know, you feel like you know somebody from seeing all the Facebook posts, but you don't really, and so having this opportunity to talk to you has really been nice. So, thank you very much.


Natalie 19:59

Thank you. Thank you for having me.


Jan 20:01

You're more than welcome. We hope to talk to you soon. Have a good day.


Natalie 20:04

All righty. Bye bye.


Jan 20:05

Bye bye.


Jan 20:07

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