Say "Hello" to Millie McKerley. Millie is a native of Alberta, Canada but now lives just outside of Washington, DC. Millie worked in Finance until she decided to homeschool her son all the way through middle school. An avid gardener, quilter and generous contributor to a number of charities, Millie brings her love of sewing and helping others to Sew Powerful. You've seen photos of her many purses. Now you will get to meet the woman behind the creative purses and kind comments on Facebook.
Hello Millie McKerley
IN THIS EPISODE
Gardening, Alberta Canada, Calgary Canada, Washington, DC, Virginia, Cortes Island, sewing for charity, sewing with denim,
Cortes Island, BC, https://ourcortes.com/homepage
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: Millie McKerley
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 we are speaking with Millie McKerley, and you may have seen photos of Millie's purses that feature beautifully quilted flaps. We're going to learn how Millie does that and so much more today. Welcome, Millie. How are you today?
Millie McKereley, Guest 00:39
I'm great, Jan. I'm happy to be here.
Oh, we're so excited that you are here. Now, tell us where are you right now? Where do you live?
I live in Northern Virginia in what's called a metro DC area. It's about an hour out of Washington, DC.
Oh, wonderful. And are you a native Virginian?
Oh, no. I'm here from Alberta, Canada. And we settled here in 1999 when my husband took a job here. But I grew up in cold Canada.
And is it warmer where you live now?
Heck, yes. I love the weather. I love the weather here in Virginia. I am a gardener. And so, I really appreciate the extra months of gardening.
Oh, nice. And is it too early to plant your garden now? Or do you have to wait?
Yeah, it's a little early. Our last frost date is the end of April here in Virginia.
Well, I hope I didn't jump the gun. I did all my gardening this past weekend here in Texas. So, we have our fingers crossed that we're past our last frost date. So.
So when you were in Alberta, did you have your education there as well?
Yes, I did. I did all my schooling in Canada. So, I grew up in a small town in rural Alberta. And then I went to the University in the closest school, and then I transferred to the big city of Calgary where I went into business school and did my major in marketing. And I graduated there. Yep, that's where I met my husband.
Oh, and what was he studying?
He did two degrees. So, he started with English and then went back and did computer. So, I think I caught him at the end of his computer science degree.
Oh, nice. All right, so you have a degree in marketing. So how did you apply that in your career life?
Oh, that's funny, Jan, because I did not, I did not use it at all, not even one day. I entered directly into accounting and found out that I do like to be very precise with my numbers. And you'll see how I've applied it in my fabric world. But I do love numbers. And so, it was actually a really good fit. And the creativity part comes out in other parts of my life. So, it all works.
Well, you know, that sounds a little bit like my husband who studied marketing for three years and then ended up getting a finance degree and never worked a day in marketing in his life either. He has worked all of his career in finance. And so, what kind of industries have you worked in?
Well, I started in Canada, I did the oil and gas industry and I worked on some incredible projects there. Alberta tends to be a big oil producing province. So that was the industry to work in. Which if you had your business degree, so very easy to get work at that time because all the oil companies were centered in Calgary. So, it was lots of opportunities for, you know, all different facets. And I really, really enjoyed that industry. It was pretty lucrative, and it was exciting and lots of action with the consolidations of oil companies and layoffs and mergers. So, it was pretty, pretty interesting.
That sounds a lot like Texas, maybe we'll get you to move here.
Yeah, I considered that.
Cool. Well, and our last frost date is earlier than in Virginia. So anyway, you mentioned a husband. So, tell us a little bit about your family, Millie.
Sure. So, I met my husband, Paul, in a university, and he and I got married in an island north of Vancouver Island. It's gorgeous. His parents live out there full time. And so, we got married on what's called The Stead which is like a lagoon area. And it was just really beautiful wedding. It was a destination wedding. But...
Well, and let me ask you, I mean, we have lots of people in the Pacific Northwest. What was the name of this island?
It's called Cortes Island.
Oh, okay. Of course. Cortes Island. Okay. Oh, wonderful. Yeah, people are gonna know that. Yeah.
It's, oh, it's just lovely. It's hard to get to. You have to take three ferries to get there. But once you get there, it's beautiful.
Oh, nice. Yeah.
So, so I got married. And then in about a year, you know, we were young married. And I had just come back from a trip from India. And my family's originally from India. So, when you were visiting family, and I was just sort of reevaluating my life, and I thought, why not? My husband has a dual citizenship. I said, Why don't we look at going to the States? And he, he applied for a job at NASA, which was located in Greenbelt, Maryland. And we didn't even know where green where is Greenbelt? Where is Maryland? I have a friend in Philadelphia, and I realized how close that was. So I was very excited at the possibility of meeting up with her again. And so that's how we ended up here in the States. And he's moved around to different companies. He's a programmer. And so he was in the dot com craze, moved around with a few companies. And now he's settled with a contracting company for the defense system. And he has been at this company, I think, for about 10 years. So.
Oh good for him. Do you have any children or pets?
Yes, I have one son. His name is Aiden. And he graduated in 2020, during the infamous shutdown period, so he was home during his graduation. I homeschooled him from up to freshman year. And then he went into the school system. So he finished in school, but I really feel like I deserve most of that credit.
Yes. Well, you were at the graduation.
Then I have a dog. We lost our beloved lab of 13 years in August, and she was just a quiet presence, you know, and now we've replaced her with the opposite. She sort of got me all discombobulated, because she needs a lot of attention. And you know how it is with rescues. They come with some baggage, so.
Yeah, so she needs a little bit more coddling and training. Lots of training. Let's put it that way.
Sure. So how old is the new dog?
She's I think she's just a year.
Just a year.
Wow. Well, she's almost through that puppy phase, but maybe not quite. Well, clearly, you are an excellent seamstress, and we see your pictures of your purses. But how did you get started in sewing to begin with? What are your earliest memories of sewing?
My earliest memories would be like many. I watched my mom sew. My mom was an avid seamstress. And she sewed my clothes, my sister's clothes. We were only 14 months apart, and so my mom dressed us as twins. She loved to sew dresses for us until we were too old, she said, and started complaining about them.
But I would watch her do the sewing. And when my third sister came on the scene, which is a seven year age gap, I was able to pull the needle and thread and help my mom with the sewing of her dresses.
And so she introduced me to sewing. But my mum learned at old school which is not pattern, she would just look at a picture and be able to draft her own patterns.
So I thought she was advanced. But she thought I was advanced because I could follow a pattern paper. And knew what all the symbols meant, and we were both actually in awe of each other's skills.
So you started out making dresses and clothing right? And have you continued with that line?
Well, I sewed my son's clothes, so I was sewing right up until I decided I could not fit myself. I'm very good with the details and craftsmanship. But I sometimes lose the big picture. So I would make this beautiful blouse for myself and it'd be too tight, which gets me so mad. I was like, ahhh, so I started studying fitting and alterations, and I just was getting discouraged. And I met a friend in a master gardening class who said she quilted, and I thought, ah, who quilts? That's too exact for me. But we became fast friends, and I started watching her quilt. And I thought, well, I'll try. And you know with the help of her and how to pick things, and the supplies are really important. And I've come to this point where I've made a few quilts, and I've given them away. And I've really enjoyed quilting. And so now my stash is garments and quilting, so my sewing room is chock full.
Well that's fantastic. What an interesting sewing journey. Millie, why don't we take a quick break here and when we come back I want to explore your relationship to Sew Powerful and how that all came to be so that we can get a little background to understand the great work that you're doing there. So let's let's take a quick pause and listeners please stay tuned.
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 have been speaking with Millie McKerley who has been sharing her fascinating background, originally from Alberta, Canada, with a marketing degree that she applied to the world of finance. And then right before the break, she slipped in, oh yes, I was in a Master Gardener class. Are you a Master Gardener, Millie?
I was, and then I sort of let the certification drop over the years. But yeah, I studied it. And I was volunteering for 10 years.
Wow. You are a wealth of skills and inspiration. That's amazing. But now we're going to get back to Sew Powerful here. So how did you originally hear about Sew Powerful?
Well, I'm pretty sure it was on Facebook somewhere, I must have stumbled upon it. And I just started clicking around on the page. And once I saw the details of the program, I said, Okay, this is, I'm going gonna try this out. But I was very excited. Charity is a big part of my life. And I stay home, I don't work out of the home. And so pre-COVID I was doing a lot of charity work and volunteer work. And I've decided that this is where I want to put my time and efforts in. And if I can marry my love of sewing with charity work, it is just a win-win for everybody.
So what kind of charity work were you doing?
Well, I sew for my church. We have a sewing ministry. And we sew baptismal bibs and shoulder shawls for confirmation. And it's just nice to see pretty basic sewing, you know, I'm just hemming and attaching trim. So I started with that. And I got into a group of what I call Thursday charity sewing. And so every Thursday I would meet with a group of ladies at a house, and we would do quilts, and the quilts would be given away. She would organize wherever the quilts were needed. So I started working with some very, very talented quilters who are like professional long-armers or art quilters. I really felt really fortunate to have tapped into these very experienced ladies. So every Thursday I got my fix. So group sewing and it was all given to great charities. We did pillowcases that were given to children's hospital, and that stopped because of COVID. But I just finished sewing pillowcase dresses for Haiti. And that was fun. And Sew Powerful really is the major part of my charity efforts.
Well, and we see pictures of your purses all the time. You post a lot of pictures because I presume you make a lot of purses. Is that correct?
I started out with low numbers. You know, I looked it up. I started March of 2019.
So your two year anniversary here?
Yeah, it is. It's a solid two years. And so I sewed 17, and then 54. So I decided to double it this year. So I'm going for 100 purses this year, and I'm trying to split it up every month, like don't get overwhelmed by year end.
Sure. And do you send your purses in periodically so that they can mention your name at the Facebook Live monthly events?
Yeah, I've been very fortunate to see one of my purses being held up. And I was quite pleased because it was one of the more challenging flaps I had done. And so I was like, wow, she just picked the hardest one I've done. It was a chevron technique that Elizabeth Mitman has done and has wonderfully done a tutorial on the Facebook page. And I thought, let me give this a try. And it will be my first and last one because it was very time consuming, but pleased to see it on the unboxing.
Well, that's nice. And isn't it nice how somebody's example inspires the rest of us to try and learn a new technique?
Oh, yeah. I get inspired all the time, a lot. A lot of my inspiration does come from the pictures. And that's one of the reasons I post so frequently, is I hope to do the same for others. You know, I don't consider myself an artist. I'm just using the powers of my sewing machine and cool fabric and Pinterest. That's my secret, Pinterest.
How do you use Pinterest? In what way?
So that comes for inspiration. So they Pinterest is like a whole bunch of bookmarks. And I'm not sure if you've been on there, but it's just a wealth of information for those who are visually inclined like me. I see something, and I just think I'm gonna make a beautiful flap. And so I'll pin it to my Pinterest board and you're welcome to follow me on Pinterest. I have everything organized under Sew Powerful Purse Project. I do.
Okay, all right. Well, we will do that. So. Okay, so on Pinterest Sew Powerful Purse Project under Millie McKerley, right?
Okay, sure. Okay, so you're looking on Pinterest, you're not looking at purses, you're looking at just beautiful objects as an inspiration for the purses. Is that right?
Well, it's more finer tuned than that. I will actually go to denim purses. I love denim. And I like manipulating it. And so I just go there and I look how they embellish their denim purses. And a lot of them is with quilting fabrics. And sometimes it's with denim itself, which I haven't experimented with because I buy my denim from Home Sew. I don't have a variety of different shades of denim. So I'm kind of stuck, I guess, using denim, you know, different shades of blue on a flap, but hopefully my son will grow out of a few pairs of jeans.
Feed that boy. Feed that boy. Okay, so you're using the denim on the flap. What about for the body of the purse? What do you like to use for that?
Yeah, I use denim for the body and the back.
Yeah, I recently figured out how to piece the back so I can add another pop of fabric in the back. I know some of the ladies have done the slip pockets in the back. But I would have to slow down and really figure out how to do it like as far as dimensions and how to cut it up. So I like just for my purses, just adding that pieced border in the back, and I may start adding more piecing to the back but the denim is really on the flap, the front purse and the back purse.
Okay, all right. And do you like the intermediate or the beginner-style purse body?
Well, I started with the intermediate. Is that the one with the gusset?
Yeah, I did one, Jan, because that gusset scared me, and I could not get it looking nice. So I went to the beginners, and I felt comfortable doing blocks to bottoms I've done them on zip pouches. So that came to me much easier, and it made sense. And I did some of the beginner mistakes where I got the pockets that end up in the back.
I've made many mistakes, and my seam ripper was my friend at the beginning, a lot.
But the beginner pattern is where I'm at now.
Okay, and so I always ask everybody, are you team strap or team webbing?
Oh, team webbing all the way.
Yay! And since you're a fan of Home Sew for your denim, I presume you're getting your webbing from them as well.
Yes, yes, I am. And I have been using gray because I feel it's a good medium color. So if I have any lighter shades that will go and if I do dark, it'll go. And I've just discovered rainbow, which has become my favorite. So I may have to get only the 50 yard shanks of that.
Oh, my goodness, we'll have to look for rainbow webbing on your purses. And so I presume you're using the discount code SP10 to get your 10% discount on all your purchases?
Yes. Yes, I am. Yeah. And free shipping, I try to get my orders high enough to get the free shipping.
Okay, so little plug there for Home Sew. So you've talked to us about the purses you make? What impact would you say Sew Powerful has had on you personally? How do you relate to that, Millie?
Well, there's the creative side of it, and then the spiritual side. So let me address the creative side, which is the side you all see. And I have had fun with all the different techniques. As you've seen, I've had a year where I've slowed down, and I don't have too many outside distractions. So I've been really having fun with experimenting with different techniques and attachments of my machine. And that allows me to really have fun with the purses. So there's that side is just enjoying the creative.
But the spiritual side, which is the side that means a lot to me, when I can marry my passion for sewing and giving of myself to help others. It's my motto in life, you know. I, I really want to help those that I can. And if I can do it with my sewing, I feel this is where God has led me. And so I just feel Sew Powerful, it's the perfect fit for me. Then I pray for the girls, as I sew the purses. I pray for them as I write the note cards. I handwrite all my note cards, and I laminate them because I've heard that they treasure them. And so that means a lot to me that these girls really want the encouragement, and I believe I can try to encourage them through my words. And then talking about this cause, it's just a wonderful cause to support young ladies to keep them in school and give them a better future. And knowing that my little contribution is a step on their journey.
So yeah, I feel like just the whole organization, which I do want to learn more about, really touches me. And I feel like part of getting to be compassionate is also to feel the sadness, the depths of what that is. Even coming from India, I saw poverty there in the slums. And it's just mind boggling to even relate to that. And it just heartbreaking to see. So if I can be a part of making their lives a little brighter and being part of an organization that facilitates that I'm, I'm just happy to continue creating purses for Sew Powerful for many years to come.
Oh, Millie, thank you so much. That was so inspirational. I do have one more question for you. So if someone is listening to this podcast, and they're thinking about getting started, but they haven't made their first purse, and you talked about a couple of the the challenges that you've overcome in making purses, but what advice would you give to a beginner who's just starting out with Sew Powerful?
Well, I would say be kind to yourself, number one; to sew from your heart; keep it simple. Get a piece of fabric that really speaks to you. And whether it be an upcycled project or fabric you buy from a local quilting store, just find a fabric that's bright and colorful and makes you happy and just go slow. Make one purse and just keep your focus on that one purse instead of looking down the road. You'll get there. It's one purse at a time. And like I said it was addictive and a lot of ladies agreed with me. And I can testify that after you make your first purse, it won't be your last. Hang in there and keep trying with the purses.
Well, great words of wisdom. Millie, thank you so very much for your time today. It's been great getting to to know you, to meet the lady behind those gorgeous purses, and to see your kindness and the love that you put into this project is so much appreciated. Thank you again and have a really great day.
Thank you, Jan. You too.
Okay. We'll talk to you soon. Bye bye.
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 email@example.com.