If you think Lynne Johnson's name sounds familiar, you must be a fan of the monthly Sew Powerful Live events on Facebook and YouTube. It seems every month Jason Miles calls out Lynne's name a time or two, recognizing her for submitting boxes of purses. You will enjoy getting to know Lynne and learn about her varied interests and accomplishments. Besides being a registered nurse and owning a small business, Lynn is a prolific purse maker for Sew Powerful. Lynne shares heartfelt stories about her mom, her husband and especially how Sew Powerful has been a life-line for her during the pandemic.
Lynne Johnson, Purse Maker and Sew Much More
IN THIS EPISODE
Gonzaga basketball, Etsy shop, Sew Powerful, sewing for charity, Willy Wonka, Registered Nurse, Pixie Faire, Liberty Jane, Girl Scouts, Norwegian Folk dress
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: Lynne Johnson
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.
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. Today I have this pleasure of speaking with Lynne Johnson. I've been wanting to talk to Lynne for a long time. And finally, today is the day. Lynne's name probably sounds familiar to you because if you are a member of the Sew Powerful Purse Project on Facebook, you see posts of Lynne's purses every few days, and she makes beautiful, beautiful purses. And she makes a lot of them. Lynne now lives in Washington State, but she has a very interesting background that we're going to explore and let's just get right to it. Welcome, Lynne Johnson. How are you today?
Lynne Johnson, Guest 01:01
I'm doing great, Jan. It's so nice to finally get to meet you virtually.
Yes, absolutely. Virtually virtually. Well, why don't we sort of start at the beginning, give our listeners a background. Where are you from originally?
So I am originally from southeast Wisconsin along Lake Michigan. And so, I grew up in the Midwest.
You went to University of Wisconsin for your undergraduate degree. What did you study?
So, I majored in nursing, and I'm actually a registered nurse.
Okay. And did you practice?
I did for a number of years, actually, initially in my hometown. And then my husband and I, when he graduated from college, we got married during college, moved to Galveston, Texas, and worked there for a few years. And he worked in the lab, and I worked as a nurse. And then he started medical school. And while I was working, I part of the time there ended up going back to graduate school as well. So, for a while, we had one of us in med school, one of us working full time, and I was also a grad student. And so now I have a master's degree in nursing as well.
Oh, that's fantastic. And what did your husband study?
So, he is a physician, and he's now an internal medicine hospitalist.
Oh, how nice. That's very good. So, people, I guess, assume he's a doctor, you're a nurse, they assume that you must have met at a hospital. But is that the case?
They always assume that, but we actually met in high school sitting behind each other in our Three Modern Writers class and didn't start dating until just about the end. But we actually went to our senior prom together, continued and got married partway through college, and we've been together for the whole thing ever since. So, it's been a pretty good partnership. We had a chance to grow up together and kind of create our life together.
Oh that is wonderful. That gave me goosebumps to hear that. That's really nice. That is really nice. So, Lynne, when did you start sewing?
Well, I kind of come from a family of seamstresses. My mother was always an expert seamstress, as was her mother. And I remember as a very young girl, maybe elementary age, my sister and I would go and have sleepovers at Grandma's house. And she would bring out her pile of scraps and trims and buttons and we would make little clothes for our Barbie dolls, which I have to say they were pretty crude. They were all done by hand. Some of them might have had the whole hospital gown situation where they looked fine from the front but might have been bare naked on the back.
But over time, that kind of improved, and I was in Girl Scouts. And I remember, and this was when I was 12 years old, because I recently found this photo. Our Girl Scout troop was involved in a Dolly Derby competition where we were given very bedraggled baby dolls that had been well, well-loved and now were kind of beyond their prime. And we were tasked with cleaning up the dolls as best we could. Some of them had paint on them and hair that kind of didn't exist. But we were to kind of fix them up and sew them an outfit to make them presentable to a young girl who did not have a doll. And so I actually won honorable mention as a 12-year-old in creating this little Dolly Derby doll.
And then over time, you know, sewed a few outfits. I had children, became definitely you know, the mom who sewed all the Halloween costumes, quilts for their beds. But the thing that finally brought me eventually to Sew Powerful, I have a little niece who's five years old and she had her little American Girl knockoff doll, but she didn't have any clothes for it. So, when it came to Christmas time, her mother, my sister, said, Well, maybe you could get her some doll clothes. But I thought well, there's no reason that Aunt Lynne can't make some doll clothes, and so I started looking for patterns. And my beginning ones weren't all that great. But over time, they got a little better and realized that all the best patterns really weren't the ones that I could find at the fabric store. So I started looking online. Before you know it, I found Liberty Jane, Pixie Faire, was both purchasing and downloading patterns. And then there was a little bit on there about sew a Sew Powerful purse and keep a girl in school and I thought, well, I wonder what this is. The rest is history.
The rest is history. Okay, we're gonna come there. But before we started recording here today, you shared some really interesting factoids about your mom. I'd like you to tell our listeners a little bit about your mom and what she does and how she indirectly contributes to Sew Powerful.
My mother is an incredible, incredible person, but also an incredible seamstress. And all throughout childhood was one of the moms who sewed our clothes and eventually sewed draperies for people. And now, in her later years, particularly after my father died, she really threw herself into quilting and did a lot of just traditional quilting, but then started getting into the art quilting, and would do things where she would take a photograph, and would have it digitally altered such that she could then quilt the picture. She also did a lot with hand painting fabrics, and hand dyeing fabrics, a lot of really creative stuff, and very beautiful.
So, when I hear about the Sew Powerful booth and all these different quilt fairs, my mom used to be at those quilt fairs and as a displayer. I mean, she was a participant, and they would always have different challenges. They'd be given some certain sort of fabric and told, okay, you have a challenge to do something on a nautical theme. And pretty soon we've got the sea captain and all the different textures. So, it's really interesting, the kind of sewing that she has done.
Well, now that she is quite a bit older, she still sews and does a lot for charities, but now she's switched to sewing children's quilts for children's hospitals. And so, a lot of times she will get fabrics donated to her that just aren't really appropriate for children, you know, flowers or things. So, then I'll get little care packages with that. But I've also been lucky enough to get some of the samples that she used when she was teaching classes on some of the art quilting; either hand painted designs that she's done, or a sample of a quilting technique. And she said, I don't know what I would do with these anymore. I'm like, it's perfect for me because I can put it on a flap, or I can put it on the inside. So, it's been a really, really fun way to incorporate something that she created to teach someone else that I can put it in the flap.
But the other thing that's really cool is my mom was a teacher for all of her career. And so the idea that that something that she's made is also going towards educating young girls, it's such a win win. And it's kind of a full circle kind of picture. I think it's I think it's a beautiful thing. So, I always on my little note cards when I've made a purse including something from my mother, I always include a little note that says that my eighty year old mother contributed a portion of this and as a teacher, she would be so glad to know that you're continuing your education.
Oh my gosh, your mom is an inspiration, and I love the idea of including her on the note card. What is your mother's name?
My mother's name is Lois.
Lois. Okay. Would she mind if you gave her full name?
Oh, probably not. Lois Peterson.
Okay. Lois Peterson. You think there's any chance she'll listen to your podcast?
I can definitely give her the link.
All right. Lois Peterson, I hope you're listening. Lynne over your left shoulder I can see a purse that has a hand-painted daffodil on there.
It is a daffodil.
Tell us about that purse, and people aren't going to be able to see it. But please describe it because it's really beautiful.
So with one of the most recent challenges, the Spring is Springing, course I just kind of looked through my variety of fabrics I had around and came up with things. And periodically I have a special box that I keep my samples from my mother, and I thought well, I wonder if there's anything in there, and sure enough, I go digging through the box and what do I find but there's actually a daffodil that she had hand painted in one of her classes. It's totally colorfast, totally permanent. And so now that is on the flap, it's otherwise upholstery fabric so it had to be pieced into place, but I do a ton of piecing. That's probably also one of the things you'll see on the Sew Powerful purse group. I do a lot of piecing on my flaps because I received, in part from her, a lot of just strips of very interesting kinds of fabric that on their own aren't big enough, but a whole bunch of strips together make a flap.
Absolutely. Well, that's fantastic. Why don't we take a quick break right now and when we come back, I want to talk a little bit more about the purses you make and why Sew Powerful is meaningful to you.
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And now back to our podcast. Welcome back. We've been speaking with Lynn Johnson. Lynne is one of Sew Powerful's most prolific purse makers, and Lynne was just sharing a little background on her mom. Was your mother, the one who taught you to sew originally? Was it your mom or your grandmother? Both?
No, I think probably my mother because she was the one I was around most. But, I mean, both both of them certainly were a part of it. But...
You know, that sounds so much like my background. My mother made all of my clothes and costumes. And so, I learned from her, but visits to Grandma's house also involved sewing, too, and learned her way of doing it as well.
Lynne, you've leveraged that requirement that your niece had for clothes for her American Girl doll into a little commercial enterprise that you have going on. Tell us about Lynmarie Originals. What is that?
So this was actually something that my grown children got me going on. So, I started out making the doll clothes for my niece, well actually I have two young nieces. And then I was just finding it so fun. Again, I was empty nested at this point. I had kind of temporarily retired from my nursing career. And so, I was just for fun just making the doll clothes and different people would get a hold of me and say, oh, could I have one? Could I buy one? Whatever.
And they're like, well, Mom, we want to help you make an Etsy shop. So, they helped me set up a little Etsy shop, which I've learned that in the world of Etsy, unless you really have a very strong social media presence, it's kind of hard to market yourself. But it did give me a way as different friends wanted to, you know, buy doll clothes that they could get a hold of me. But the most interesting thing that came about as a result of that store, is I've had a request, actually from my aunt, to make a Norwegian Bunad, which is a Norwegian folk dress, for an American Girl doll to be raffled off at her church in Wisconsin, because it's a very Norwegian church.
So, I keep thinking about this when I think of the challenges with Sew Powerful. That was my first big challenge. I'm like, well, there's certainly no pattern out there to make a Norwegian folk dress. So I started just looking at what do these look like? How could I create this? How can I create my own pattern? So that was the first thing. And the next thing that came out of it is somebody that was a friend of a friend knew about my Etsy shop and said, Well, my 10 year old granddaughter is going to be Willy Wonka in her school production. I would really love to surprise her with an outfit that matches hers. Do you think you could make a Willy Wonka outfit? And I thought, I don't have a clue if I can make a Willy Wonka outfit, but well let me see what I can do. Which also led into something else I do a lot for Sew Powerful. I couldn't find the right purple fabric I went to and this was pre-COVID so I could go to every kind of fabric store in town. There just wasn't the fabric that was the right texture and color of purple. So, I thought well, a thrift shop is simply all kinds of fabric just portioned out into you know small items that we call clothing. And it was actually a jacket that I found at a thrift store that was the right texture, the kind of buttery creamy soft fabric and the right color purple and well that jacket got turned into a very miniaturized jacket to be Willy Wonka for an 18-inch doll.
Wow. Well, and I noticed that in the Etsy shop, you had a little Valentine dress that had a pieced heart. Now that had to be very miniature.
And thankfully, I do have a book about paper piecing. And because you do start with paper, then you just shrink it on your computer. But I've done the very same thing. And I've used that very same pieced heart on the flaps of purses.
Cool. And now you live in Washington State and Gonzaga University is a local university that you support. So how did you support them through your Etsy shop?
Well, more like people I knew were asking, could I make cheerleading outfits for sports teams. And so that's kind of how that started up. Gonzaga basketball is one of the top ranked college basketball teams and happens to be in our hometown. So, I now have little cheerleader outfits with pom poms and all that are on my Etsy shop. I've also made Green Bay Packers once. Those went along with the Norwegian Bunads to Wisconsin back when that happened as well. So.
Very cool. Well, you know, I usually ask my guests, are you team strap or team webbing? And I anticipate that this is going to be one of the more unique answers that I've gotten to that question, Lynne. So how do you answer that question?
I'm kind of team both. Initially, before I even learned about Home Sew, all I did was make the straps. And I learned really quickly, I really don't like piecing the straps. If I do make a strap, it's only if somebody has given me yards and yards of fabric like seven or eight yards, that I can actually cut my full 52-inch strip, four inches wide, do the press in half, press the sides in that works out perfect. I love doing that.
Once I learned about the Home Sew straps, there's something very simple about that. But particularly when we had the rainbow challenge recently, we all end up with those six to seven inch scraps of our Home Sew webbing. I thought, well, that's so pretty though, you know, to combine them and I just wanted to be sturdy. So what I actually did was had just some cotton fabric that I cut two inches wide, pressed in about a half inch on each side, and then pressed it together. So you have got all sealed edges, you are one inches wide. Lay the webbing along top of it, pinned it all in place, zigzag where they meet up. And then as if it was regular old strapping that I was making, take your little edge stitch down each of the sides. And the one side will just be your plain cotton, but the other is this whole rainbow of the webbing straps. But then it's bright and colorful, very sturdy, and it's not wasteful.
I remember seeing that photo of that particular purse. That was really cool. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, and you know, you mentioned when you were making the Willy Wonka outfit that you went to a thrift shop. And I get the idea that maybe you upcycle to make these purses sort of in general. Is that an accurate assessment?
I love to upcycle and particularly since the whole COVID time too, I have not really been out to much of any stores. But even just seeing just the sturdiness of denim. And I have a 22-year-old son who obviously has outgrown a lot of jeans in his days. And like, well, there's no reason I couldn't use denim. I probably got the idea off the site first. And then now I'm part of a local buy nothing Facebook group. And I'll even just put in search of: Does anybody have any jeans that are too worn out for someone else, but that would still have usable fabric?
Here's what I do. And I share about Sew Powerful. And I will get people just saying, well, I've got about six pair would you like them? I'm like, yes, I'll come and get them. And so I've used jeans that way. I've gone to thrift stores and found tablecloths, pillowcases, all kinds of different things that just because they were designed for one purpose doesn't mean they couldn't be repurposed for something else.
Well, okay, now you've got me curious about this buy nothing Facebook group. Tell us about that.
So they are just local groups and they are based on like neighborhoods, but it's through Facebook. It's a non-monetary thing so that you can't sell things or buy things. But people offer up things that they have that they don't need, or you can request things that you're needing that maybe somebody else has to share. And in fact, I've gotten a ton of fabric from people on there too. And usually I let things sit for a little bit because I don't want to be greedy and take it all. But if nobody else is, like coming for it, then I'll you know, tag it and say, Well, I do make these charity purses, I can definitely use it. I've gotten a ton from there. Because a lot of times I'll see on our Sew Powerful purse group, a lot of people saying, you know, it cost so much to buy fabric. And I think, I don't know the last time I've bought any fabric because friends just say, Oh, hey, I've got this extra this and this, I'm not going to use it. Or somebody on the buy nothing site, or somebody will get a hold of me and they've got their old jeans that they can give up. It's kind of remarkable. There's fabric out there that you don't always have to purchase. And sometimes they're actually the more interesting ones too, I find.
Well, and you know, sometimes I shop my own closet. I've bought things that I thought would, you know, look so wonderful. And maybe, maybe I wore them once or twice or now they look a little dated, but cut up into a purse, they're absolutely perfect.
And delightful. Yep.
So how many purses did you make in 2020 for Sew Powerful?
2020, I really surprised myself. It was my third year of making purses. I should probably tell you so the first year I made purses was in 2018. I didn't learn about Sew Powerful probably until the summer, and I made 20. I set a goal for 10. And I made 20. I was pretty pleased with that. So 2019 I was hoping I would double that. Well, in fact, I made 100. But 2020, particularly with COVID and the lockdown and the stress of the world, I actually made 210 purses.
Oh my gosh.
And truly, I think sewing is part of what kept me sane most of this last year. You already heard my husband is a physician, my husband is a COVID doctor in the hospital. And I am a nurse so I know kind of the gravity what all this means. This was my way of feeling like I was occupied. I was doing something purposeful, something meaningful. Also something that could distract me from my concerns and worries and fears. And the idea that all of that could be turned around into something positive that can greatly affect somebody's life around the world. It kind of was a lifesaver for me as well. So it's a big number. But mostly it was a big number because this kind of became my job for the year for lack of knowing what else you could do. So it kind of was a sanity saver, maybe even a lifesaver.
Well, but you didn't retire in 2021. You've been busy this year, too, right?
I have been busy this year as well. Actually, I just counted up I've already made 82 this year, which is particularly surprising because I've had some orthopedic ailments. Recently, I had two hand surgeries; one the end of September, which put me in a long arm splint above my elbow for six weeks. So that was all of the fall. And two days before Christmas, they had to go back in and repair something different on that same wrist. So I was splinted. And three days before getting those stitches out, on January 3, I tripped, and I stumbled, and I broke my right ankle. So I've had three different issues so I wasn't even finally out of a splint to begin to sew until January 15. So the thought that I could actually be back to sewing and sewing this much. But even with all of that the idea of getting back to sewing was also part of getting back to being me and getting back part of my life and part of both my mental rehab and my physical rehab and now all my extremities are working again and and sewing is a part of what's been helping keep me sane.
Well, you know at every Sew Powerful Live, which airs the last Monday of every month at noon pacific time, Jason holds up boxes of people who have sent in purses and every time there's a box from Lynne Johnson, at least one if not more. And so I have to ask you, have you been using the packing slips when you've been sending in all these purses?
I do, ever since you guys first started it in February, and it works perfectly. I have no issues with it at all.
Yeah. And did you find it difficult or easy?
It's very easy. Just go to the website and pull down under Resources. And it's right there, easy to do. You submit the one online, print it, put the other one inside your box. I think we're making it easier for you guys by doing this, and it's super easy. There's nothing to it really.
Oh, that's cool. Well, thanks for the little plug there on the packing slip.
Any words of encouragement? You know, late this morning, I was looking at Facebook in another group. And somebody said, I feel so discouraged. I can't get motivated to sew. And I used that as an opportunity to suggest that they sew for Sew Powerful, but, you know, maybe they haven't started sewing for Sew Powerful; maybe they're thinking about doing it. And they're thinking, well, I can't make 82 purses in two or three months, but what would you say to them?
You know I think like everything else in life, you don't have to start with a big challenge. Everything is one step at a time, and one purse at a time, or if it's losing weight, it's one pound at a time. And I know for me, initially,when I brought up the pattern, and I'm a moderately good seamstress, but sometimes just reading the pattern can be kind of intimidating or challenging to people. I have to admit, when I first started this, I had my laptop in my sewing room. And I went step by step. I watched it, I did it, I paused it.
I kept going on that way. I did that for the first 20 purses. I mean, I sewed them right along with, now that was the intermediate one, because that's the only one we had at that point. But I've done it with both of them. So that's the one thing I would say is, if you don't feel like reading the instructions makes sense, watch the video. If you don't normally make purses or handbags, it is a little complicated, because there's the inside out, and there's the lining, and you can't just picture it in your mind. That's the first thing.
But I think the second thing, maybe people think that they're not good enough or and it's true, we see a lot of really spectacular beautiful purses posted through our group, which to me is the most inspiring thing because a lot of my ideas come from what I see other people do. But things don't all have to be super fancy or super intricate. I mean, the very simplest purse still fulfills the same function and has the same potential to change a young girl's life. You know, everybody starts somewhere, and a beautiful fabric alone is enough to do it. And the other thing I keep in mind, the first year that I submitted purses in 2018, the following year 2019, when Jason and Cinnamon were on site in Africa, giving out the purses, I was able to capture a picture of one of my purses in the arms of one of the girls. I printed it up, and I have it right in front of my sewing machine. It's the only picture I have of one of my purses in the arms of a girl. But that right there to me, it's like that makes the whole thing worthwhile. So even if it's not your purse, look at the videos on the website and see how excited they are. See what the purse and the contents are going to do to change their life. To me, that's that's the most inspiring thing I can ever have to encourage me to sew.
Well, Lynne, I have to thank you for your time today. You and your mom are an inspiration to us. And I appreciate your words of wisdom and encouragement, and of course, all of the purses you make, so thank you very much. It's been a pleasure speaking with you.
Thank you so much Jan, this has been fun.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org. That's SEW POWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.