When life-long sewer, Jill Riffe discovered Sew Powerful it wasn't long before she was churning out purses by the dozens. Listen as Jill shares a couple of unique tips that help her be efficient, yet still have fun making purses. You may have missed Jill in the past couple of years. She explains the life changing event that occurred but what led her to return to Sew Powerful, even volunteering at QuiltCon Phoenix from far away Minnesota.
Giving with Love and Compassion with Jill Riffe
IN THIS EPISODE
sewing, purses, machine embroidery, freezer paper, QuiltCon booth, Minnesota, Phoenix, seamstress, Lusaka, sewing machines, assembly line purse production
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.
Sew Powerful purse patterns: https://www.sewpowerful.org/collections/purse-pattern
QuiltCon Phoenix 2022: https://www.quiltcon.com/
Women’s Land Army: https://www.womenslandarmy.co.uk/
Army National Guard: https://www.nationalguard.com/
Juki Industrial Sewing Machines: https://juki.com/
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: Jill Riffe
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.
Hello Sew Powerful podcast listeners. Today I am going to introduce you to Jill Riffe. Jill is a Sew Powerful volunteer who has made lots of purses for Sew Powerful over the years. And this year for the first time ever, she was a volunteer at a quilt show when she went to QuiltCon in February of this year. So sit back; get comfortable. We're going to get to know Joe Riffe. Jill, how are you today?
Jill Riffe, Guest 00:49
Well, good. It's good to talk with you. Where are you? Where are we talking to you from?
I live in Savage, Minnesota. It's a Southwest suburb of Minneapolis.
Okay, and where did you grow up? Sort of give us the geography background here.
I grew up on a farm in south central South Dakota. My dad farmed. He was also a postal carrier. And my mother was an English war bride. My parents were married in England at the end of World War II, and then they came and made the farm there. And so, on the farm I had two sisters and a brother. We were pretty self-sufficient. And that's where I learned to sew. My mother was a seamstress. She joined the Women's Land Army when she was in England at 16 years of age. And so that's where she learned a lot of her domestic skills, grew up in an orphanage, never knew her parents. As with many young women back at that period of time, learned a lot of domestic skills. The men were off to war and the women were put to work with many different aspects of gardening, working with animals, they worked with heavy machinery, doing lots of things. And the interesting thing was, she said they never wasted thread, basting thread. They saved every piece of thread. They were issued one set of clothing a year. They had to mend anything that wore out. If your shoes or socks had holes in them, they had to fix and mend them. That's all they got. Anyway, so she made quilts. And my sister and I, she was a year older than me, we had a little sewing machine. It clamped onto the kitchen table, and we used mom's scraps and we were making doll clothes. I was four years old. And
Was was this a hand crank thing?
Yes, it was.
I had, I had one of those. Yeah,
My mother still has it. It's still in the original box. My mother is still living. She's 95 years old. And she still has that little sewing machine. Yeah. So, I don't remember ever not sewing. And just over the years, I grew up doing that. We were in 4-H. And so, sewing has been a love that I've retained down through the years.
When you were growing up, what kind of items did you so quilting and clothing? I presume?
Yeah, well, and I sewed my clothes too when I was growing up because if I wanted a new outfit, there wasn't money to buy a new outfit. It was you know, let's go see what we have in the fabric bin and make something.
So as an adult, you took up quilting, is that correct?
I didn't take up quilting until I actually retired from full time work. I was in my 50s.
Oh my goodness. Well, now tell us a little bit about your career. What did you do? What was your career?
Basically, I was a stay-at-home mom until all of my kids were in school. And then my husband and I together owned and operated a skilled nursing facility. He was an amazing administrator. And I worked as the social worker slash admission coordinator. And that's pretty much what we did for our career.
And was that in South Dakota?
That was in North Dakota. We moved to North Dakota in 1982 and bought the business and yeah, that's where we basically raised our family.
Jan Cancila 04:15
Jill, in Facebook, I saw a post that you said, "I'm back. I haven't been making purses for a couple of years." Would you share with us why that is? What's been going on for you for the last couple of years?
Well, after we retired, we did sell the business. We contemplated our next step in life. We enjoyed traveling a bit and we did spend some of the cold months in southern climes and then we finally decided to move to Minnesota to be closer to three of our four kids and grandkids. So, we made the move in 2018. A year later, he had a very unexpected brain bleed, stroke and he lived just 15 days. And so, I spent the next year with paperwork, kind of waded through the next step in my life and trying to figure out just day to day, lots of it's a blur. I had good church support; some amazing friends that we had already made. Oh, I should also mention that my husband had a dual career. He had 33 years in the Army National Guard and so that was also a very significant part of our life too, in the military. So anyway, you know, just needed time to work through that, but if it wasn't for my faith in God, I just probably wouldn't have made it through there. But I don't think I touched my sewing machine hardly at all that next year. A number of years ago, we made a trip to South Africa, visited a couple of areas of poverty. And I really get it; to see the most distressing poverty that there possibly can be on this earth, you just can't get it out of your mind. And it's just a part of me that, you know, just is there. And I've had a chance to participate in some volunteer opportunities just to give. And as part of part of what I enjoy is being able to give back of the talent I have that has to do with sewing. I love to sew. And so, I eventually started seeing some of these purses on the Sew Powerful page. They were getting more creative. And I have a stash of fabric, like we all do. He who has the most fabric wins, and but I'm only in second place. So now I'm just starting to dig through and make use of what I have. And I have quilt shop fabric, the really nice stuff. And I'm just thinking, you know, this will make a beautiful purse. I do a little machine embroidery along with it. And so, I incorporate some of the designs and yeah, I'm just really in a good place right now. I'm happy that I can do this.
So you do machine embroidery. Have you used any of the patterns that Peggy Creighton has developed for Sew Powerful?
I have downloaded I think all of them her design, but yes, I downloaded them all. And I'm, I'm going to be doing them.
Well, that's great. Well, and I know that that besides machine embroidery, you'd like to do machine embroidery applique. And so, the 'G is for Giraffe' is the latest one. And it's just so cute and fun to do. So, yes, we'll be looking for some pictures of those those purses from you. Well, and you know a while ago, I saw that you posted a tip about how you do your box corners. Can you describe that?
Well, I find that it's a little bit difficult for me to mark and cut out that three quarter inch box corner, either beforehand or to stitch up to it. So, I cut out a bunch of little three-quarter inch templates out of freezer paper. And so, I just iron them on to the corner, that bottom corner on either side, and then I sit down. And I can backspace when I get to the freezer paper template. And then I go the other way across the bottom and back. And then when I get it stitched all the way around, then I cut around that three-quarter inch template. And then I peel it off. I don't peel it off until I cut it out. And for me it saves a lot of time with matching up that box corner. And then when I do the bag front with that front pocket, I do the same thing. And I baste the pocket to the purse front. So, they're essentially all one piece and not slipping and sliding around. You don't have like three layers, you'll may have, again, two layers because they're basted. And so, then that works really good. The other thing I do too, is I have all of my Sew Powerful purse patterns on a freezer [paper] template. I've done that for a long time. I have them all on freezer paper and I just iron them onto my fabric, and I can cut out three or four at one time. And the straight pieces I use a rotary cutter but and I don't have to pin; I just cut them out and I peel off the freezer paper and reuse it. For me it saves a lot of time; I use a fabric marker and then I try to reuse the pattern 12 and 15 times.
Wow. Yeah. And you're cutting multiples at a time. So, I mean you you might be able to cut out 36, 48 purses after you made that one set. Well, that's a great tip that I never have thought of. And I've never heard anybody else doing that and so now our listeners hear about it on the podcast. So that's fantastic. You know, until recently I think you may have held the record for the most number of persons that fit in one of those gameboard boxes when you had 36 in recently, but unfortunately, your record has been broken. I wish I knew who it was, but somebody was able to fit 42 in in the last Sew Powerful Live. I saw box held up with 42, which I think they are the record holder. So that's fantastic. Now, when you make multiple purses, after you get them, all cut out with this great tip of using freezer paper, how do you like to assemble them? What is your technique for that?
Well, I do the assembly line. I might do four or five purses in the same color, I might topstitch maybe in a different color, just really stand out a little bit different from the other. But why do assembly line you know, I might just do all the flaps. And I'd like the the iron on interfacing, I have all of my interfacings cut for the various pieces. And so, I'll you know iron on all my interfacings. And then I'll sew the flaps together and turn them inside out. And I'll do all the pressing. And then I'll do all the topstitching. And I'll set those all aside. And then I might sew the facings to all the front pockets, that big front pocket and do the top stitching on those or if I'm going to embellish it or do some rick rack or something like that. Yeah, I just do them step by step by step. And then set them aside and right now I have 36 purses. The linings are all cut, the pockets are all finished. And it's just a matter of finishing the linings so I can get them into the purse and finish them off. So that's that's my assembly line. It's just how I do it.
This great, you know, some people like doing it that way and some people intensely dislike doing it that way. So that's always interesting to find out how people assemble their purse. Now, Jill, your picture was all over Facebook a couple of weeks ago because you volunteered to work in the booth at QuiltCon Phoenix. And this is so interesting to me because honestly, I didn't know where you lived. And I just assumed you were local to Phoenix. But no, we know from the beginning of this conversation you live in Minnesota. But sort of tell us what happened, how you decided to go to Phoenix.
Well, I was down in southern Missouri, staying with my family down there helping out with some family things. And I saw that Betty Johnson, I didn't know who Betty Johnson was, but she posted, "Help. I need some volunteers for QuiltCon Sew Powerful in Phoenix." And I called her, and I said I'm interested in helping. I live in Minnesota that I would be interested in helping and so anyway, we connected, and I just thought I can do this. I was going to go back home to Minnesota, and I did make arrangements to fly down, get lodging, rent a car, all of that. And so yeah, that's how that how came about. It was just a chance to go and to do and see firsthand how the whole vendor aspect of the Sew Powerful works.
Well, and you know, you shared with me that making the travel arrangements was something that your husband had always done when you had gone on trips before.
And this time you did all that. How was that?
Well, it went together okay. I'm familiar enough with Phoenix as far as where different places are. But I'm really pretty good with using my navigator on my phone, and my Google Maps and so long as I have that I'm usually pretty good. Yeah, I just thought I could do this. And I had my church sisters praying for me before I went and I said I want to do this, just pray for me that I you know, meet my time, my schedules. So, some of my friends said, you know, they were kind of jealous that I went to Arizona.
I have to tell you; I was at a salon getting my nails done before I went. And I was talking to a woman that was sitting next to me getting her nails done. We just struck up a conversation, that was here in Minnesota. And she said, "Why are you going to Arizona?" And I told her about Sew Powerful. And her daughter is a senior in high school, and she was sitting behind me. She got her daughter; she says I want you to hear about this. And so, I have her contact information. And I'm hoping maybe I can follow up with her a little bit more about it. So, you know, you just never know who you're going to run into along the way.
Well, that's great. So, you made contact with Betty and so then you did go to QuiltCon and volunteered in the booth. What's it like to work in the booth? What were your duties? What did you do?
Well, I wasn't able to do the Zoom pre training with her, but she emailed everything out. So, we kind of had an outline before we went as what was to be expected. And so, the booth was set up. I went in on the Thursday, that was the first day that the show was open. They had done some setting up on Wednesday. And we worked two-hour shifts, and Jason and Cinnamon were there. We had these 5x7 Sew Powerful brochures that we were handing out to the various people that attended the QuiltCon show. And course, the captive audience was quilters. The booth had a display of, was it 106 persons, I think, very nicely displayed. And there were some items for donations were webbing, Jason's book. And so, as the show participants would walk by, we would just stand by the booth and ask them, "Would you like to have a free purse pattern?" And you know, the word free kind of like, Yeah, everybody likes free things. And so, we would hand them the brochure and and you know, that would that would bring them in, and then we were able to tell them that just a real brief in a nutshell, what Sew Powerful was, the purpose of it, hygiene project. And then they could come into the booth. We'd invite them into the booth. They could look at the purses hanging on the booth wall. And then we also had on display the reusable menstrual pads that went into the purse, and so they could see you know, what the seamstress in Lusaka were making there. And it was also nice to point out that on the brochure that we were handing out, there's a picture of a girl wearing this dark blue sweater. And those sweaters were knitted by the seamstresses in Lusaka. So, it was nice to be able to tell them that they have these new industrialJuki machines that they use. So, they have good equipment and, you know, in empowers them to make for themselves and take pride in what they make and they have great equipment to make it.
So, it sounds like you had a lot of fun doing it. Is that true?
It was fun.
Yeah. And you got to meet people that you never would have met otherwise in person, because you all travel to Phoenix as the destination. So that was great. So, Jill, you've been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2018, according to your Facebook posts. What appeals to you about the ministry? And if somebody is listening to this, and they haven't decided to take that first step to make a purse, I want them to hear what appeals to you as maybe an inspiration for them to get started.
I guess for me is, I enjoy sewing, I enjoy color. I I like the idea that I can give without having to receive anything in return. I like the idea that this is a gift to a young girl, or maybe even you know a mother an adult that it might be the only thing in her entire life that she will have that's her own. That one gift, that one treasure that might be the only only tangible thing, they have that's theirs. For me, I just, I can't imagine what that must mean to them. And if somebody else could be a part of that and just realize it, you could be part of that giving, even if it's just one purse. If you make one and you never make another, but just make one and give it out of love, out of out of compassion. That's what it's all about.
Beautifully said Jill. Well, I want to thank you for your time today and hearing your very inspirational story. And I know you went through a very difficult time the last couple of years, and you have come out of it very strong and very inspirational. And so, somebody who's thinking of getting started or somebody who is alone, but wants to find the sisterhood that we all share here in Sew Powerful, I think you've made a very compelling argument for joining us. So, thank you very much and I appreciate your time.
Thank you, Jan, for having me.
Jan Cancila 19:38
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 SEWWPOWERFUL 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, as the Region 8 Chapter Manger. 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