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Meet Our Guests: Ginny Buckley, Louise Ambrosi, Betty Johnson (with Pat, Kathy, Laura and Chris), Laura Ostdiek, Lynne Johnson, Asha Merchant, Mildred McKerley, Chris Cancila, Judy Ann Kennedy, Peggy Creighton

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.


Peggy Creighton, Talented Sew Powerful Volunteer

In this episode we are introduced to the many talents of Peggy Creighton. We journey through Peggy's early childhood, her career in education and library sciences, her advanced degrees, her publications and her life, post-retirement. Peggy brings these life experiences to Sew Powerful, realizing God has been preparing her for this work since early childhood. Peggy currently wears several Sew Powerful hats and we talk about all of them.


Atlanta, North Georgia mountains, Georgia State University, advanced degrees, books written, how to digitize, notecard project, philosophy of retirement, Atlanta Parent Magazine, masters degree in library media, doctorate in instructional technology, Pixie Faire, Frog Pond Toys, Frog Princess Fashions


Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Peggy Creighton


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.

Georgia State University,

Atlanta Parent Magazine,

Pixie Faire,

Frog Pond Toys on Facebook,

Frog Pond Fashions on Facebook,


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.


Jan 00:19

Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Peggy Creighton, and Peggy is a Sew Powerful volunteer. We're going to hear all about Peggy's background and the work that she does for Sew Powerful, and you're going to be amazed at what you hear. So, welcome Peggy Creighton, how are you today?


Peggy Creighton, Guest 00:17

I'm great, Jan, glad to be here. How are you?


Jan 00:17

I'm fine. And where are we talking to you from? Where do you live now?


Peggy 00:50

I live in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains just north of Atlanta, Georgia.


Jan 00:57

And are you from Georgia originally?


Peggy 01:00

I'm not. I was born in Virginia and lived there until we moved to Atlanta when I was in high school.


Jan 01:08

Oh, okay, so what about post high school? Did you go to college after that?


Peggy 01:13

I did. I went to Georgia State University and got my BS in education.


Jan 01:21

I know that the degrees don't stop there, tell us what else you've done in terms of earning advanced degrees.


Peggy 01:27

Well, I have to tell you, since I've got my BS in education, I became a teacher. And you know, one thing that teachers had to do was renew their certificate. So rather than just get a few hours here and there and everywhere, I just stayed in school and got piled up those degrees, pursued my interest. So, I have the BS in education. And then I got a Master's in early childhood and gifted education and then about halfway through my career, I became a school librarian and left the classroom. So, I went on and got my BS in library media. And then eventually I got my Master's in library media. And then I got my Doctorate in instructional technology.


Jan 02:16

So technically, you are Dr. Peggy Creighton.


Peggy 02:21

That's right, but nobody calls me that.


Jan 02:24

Well, I know but they should. And so, I'll have to be more deferential to you. So okay, so you're working full time, as a teacher. You are going to school part time to pursue additional learning and earning these degrees. But in the midst of all this, somehow you had time to do even more. So, you were writing. Tell us about that?


Peggy 02:49

Well, I've always enjoyed books and reading and researching. And when my kids were small, I took them on educational field trips. So, I would write about those experiences. I wrote for a local magazine, Atlanta Parent magazine, for two and a half years. I did the cover stories and the feature stories for that. And then later on, I used my writing experience to write for school library magazines. A number of those for many, many years. And then eventually I wrote books. I've published five books. And I guess you could call my dissertation a book; that would be my sixth book.


Jan 03:34

Obviously, you sew, you've been making purses for Sew Powerful, we know that. Tell us a little bit about your sewing background.


Peggy 03:42

Well, as long as I can remember, I wanted to sew for dolls. When I was a little girl, I had a little sewing kit. And I would make doll clothes for my Barbies, and my troll dolls and all these things. And when I was 11 years old, I got my very own industrial Singer sewing machine. And I basically taught myself how to sew. And I had that sewing machine for years and years until my son was born. I think the machine was 25 years old by then. And I've replaced it with another one, a Kenmore, that I had for 30 years after that. That was the beginning of how I got to be making purses for Sew Powerful.


Jan 04:28

Well, and I have to tell you, I have my mom's Singer, that's about 75 years old. So, if you get some of those older metal machines without the plastic parts, they live forever. Okay, so how did you first hear about Sew Powerful to begin with?


Peggy 04:47

Well, when my granddaughters were born, I wanted to make them a little cloth doll. And so, I began making little stuffed toys and dolls for my twin granddaughters. And then I had made so many, and they got to be an attention grabber when other people saw them, that I kept making them and selling them at craft fairs. And I was doing that for quite a while, making dolls and toys and selling them at craft fairs. And then I heard about Pixie Faire and the doll clothes they do there. And so, I became involved with Pixie Faire because I thought maybe I could sell some of my designs there.


Jan 05:26

So, you went to Pixie Faire, and that led you to Sew Powerful. Is that right?


Peggy 05:32

That's right. So, working for Pixie Faire, I very quickly learned about Sew Powerful and was inspired. The more I heard about it, the more I thought, well, this is something I'd really like to do. I'd love to give back. I've been so blessed in my life. And so, I read the book, and I found out who to talk to, and I contacted Sue Kirby and said, "Hey, I'd like to volunteer for Sew Powerful." And she said, "Well, we're glad to have you. What would you like to do?"


Jan 06:02

Well, don't tell us yet because we're going to get to all of that. But I want to explore Pixie Faire a little bit more.


Peggy 06:08



Jan 06:08

What is Pixie Faire?


Peggy 06:10

Well, Pixie Faire in a nutshell is the world's largest digital doll clothes market. And it's run by our very own Cinnamon Miles, the founder of Sew Powerful. And her brand on Pixie Faire is called Liberty Jane, which is named for her daughter. And Pixie Faire has over 100 designers that work and sell their goods there. And we all design patterns. We don't sell clothes or anything like that. We design the patterns for the dolls. And so, people come and buy their patterns for doll clothes there. And like I said, it's the largest doll clothes market in the world.


Jan 06:54

And what are your brands that you have listed on Pixie Faire?


Peggy 06:58

I have two brands there. I have Frog Pond Toys, which is my dolls and my toys that I made originally. And then Frog Princess Fashions, which is the doll clothes. And the frog has sort of an interesting story because we used to live on a mountain in the North Georgia mountains. And there was a frog pond that we looked out on and kind of the beauty of the nature and the surrounding area. There was my inspiration daily. So I use that in the name. But FROG is also an acronym, and it stands for Fully Relying On God. And I really believe that my company is inspired, and God is my co-pilot. And so, I wanted to have that reflected in my name.


Jan 07:43

Well, our listeners won't be able to see this. But you have just designed a pattern for a jacket for an 18-inch doll. Can you describe that for us, Peggy?


Peggy 07:56

Yes, this is my latest pattern on Pixie Faire, and it's just a little jacket that can be made in a solid or pieced fabric. I have some versions of it that are pieced together. But I think the the key feature of it is that it has machine embroidery to embellish it. There's a machine embroidery pattern. And there's embroidery on the back, and on the yoke, and on the hem band, and on the sleeves, and on the collar, and on the lapel, and even the buttonholes. It's a lot of fun to embellish with the embroidery, and I try to do that with most of my patterns. So, for everything I design, I'll do the sewing pattern, and then I'll design embroidery to go along with it. So, I have two patterns listed at once.


Jan 08:45

Well, so first of all, I wish that I could afford to have a jacket like that. But if that jacket were made and available for humans, it would be in the 900 to 1,000 dollar range. It's absolutely exquisite. So when you do embroidery designs tell us, what is that process, what is it called? And how do you do it?


Peggy 09:06

Um, my embroidery designs are digitized, and digitizing is an interesting process. So I start by making a drawing, a little sketch, and I perfect my drawing. I either draw it out on paper or I make it on the computer. I can draw either way. If I draw it on paper, then I'll finalize my drawing, and then I take a picture of it with my camera. So, I have a digital drawing. If I draw it on the computer. I work it out until I'm happy with it, and then I save that digital drawing. And so, I'll take the digital drawing into my digitizing software. And then I replace the drawing with stitches. And so, I put down stitches for the entire design, and the stitches can be long or short. They can be a satin stitch, or they can be a fill stitch or a variety of different ways that I can fill out that design. And that's what digitizing is. And in the software, you can digitize for just about any machine that's out there on the market. And then people can buy those and personalize them with their own colors and threads and things like that. It's a joy to do. It's fun.


Jan 10:21

And you know, Peggy describes this process, but I have to tell you, I've tried to digitize before, and it takes a lot more brain cells than I have, because you have to know how to lay down the base stitches, and what goes over, it and to choose the right stitch so that the sheen of the stitches give the right shadow and effect. It's a very complicated process, and I can attest to the fact that Peggy Creighton is a master at doing this.


Jan 10:51

So Peggy, why don't we take a quick break and when we come back let's talk a little bit more about the work you've done specifically for Sew Powerful.


Jan 11:02

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 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 12:06

Welcome back. We have been speaking with Peggy Creighton, who tells us about her life growing up in Georgia and Virginia. And then we were regaled with tales of her fabulous career and education and books that she's written. And then shortly after she retired, she began doing work for Pixie Faire. So, we're back here, and we're going to talk a little bit now with Peggy about the way she volunteers for Sew Powerful. Peggy, you have an interesting philosophy about what happens to people when they retire. Talk about that and how that led to your volunteer work and your work with Pixie Faire.


Peggy 12:50

Well, you know, there's kind of a shift you have to make when you go from the working world to retirement, at least there was for me. So, I had to find a way to fill my days when I was no longer working in the school library or working with children. I still wanted to feel valuable and feel like I was making an impact. And so I began to sew more because that was something I always enjoyed. And just pursue ways to fill my time. And I heard about Sew Powerful, and I felt like I could really make an impact there, and I could give back. I read Jason and Cinnamon's book and saw how they had formed Sew Powerful to give back, and I said I want to do that. I'd like to be involved. And so that's how I came to get involved with Sew Powerful. And that's why I did it.


Jan 13:43

So you started out making purses and note cards as a purse maker, right.


Peggy 13:50



Jan 13:51

And then it progressed from there. Tell us a little bit about the progression and your history with Sew Powerful so far.


Peggy 13:59

Okay. So, I started just making purses, and I had been doing craft shows as I was making my dolls and toys and things like that. So, I had a lot of experience with craft shows. And when I found out that Sew Powerful was having booths at shows us how I could do that, I could do that. So, my first show was a little arts and crafts show here in Atlanta. It was fairly big one actually. But we had a booth there, and it was pretty successful. So, I went from there to volunteering at the Houston quilt show with you, Jan. And that was quite an experience, and it prepared me for the next show that I did, which was the Sewing and Quilt Expo here in Atlanta. And that was right at the time the pandemic hit. So, unfortunately, we only had a day and a half at that show, and it was shut down. So, we're hoping we can be involved in more shows in the future.


Jan 15:01

And so besides volunteering at the shows you took on some other official duties as well, can you take us through that? And you alluded to that earlier when you wrote to Sue Kirby. Tell us all about that part.


Peggy 15:14

Yes. So, when I wrote to Sue, she was most gracious. And oh, yes, we'd love to have you and what would you like to do? And I told her I'd like do anything you need me to do. And so, she immediately posed the question, would I like to be a Regional Coordinator? So, I first volunteered for just the Atlanta area, but then later it expanded to


Jan 15:38

No, wait a minute, you volunteered for North Atlanta?


Peggy 15:42

Atlanta is a really big city.


Jan 15:45

Well, I know. But but this keeps getting better.


Peggy 15:48

Yeah. So, I started out with the North Atlanta area, because we were north of Atlanta, and it can take you three hours to drive just through the metro area. Anyway, so that eventually expanded to the whole Atlanta area, and then the Georgia region, and then the Southeast. And now I'm an area manager for the Southeast. So, I'm thrilled.


Jan 16:15

Yes, when Sew Powerful recognized this talent, we put our hooks into you. So besides making beautiful purses, you also have been writing note cards that go in each, and you were tapped last fall to lead a small team to expand the role of these notecards. Can you talk to us about that?


Peggy 16:41

Yes. So last fall, we put together a talented team of ladies. It was Samantha Fahy and Leslie Unruh and myself, and we took turns creating notecard tutorials. We share those in our Facebook group. And now we've posted them for the whole world to see on our Sew website. There are a dozen of those with many more to come. We hope to develop some videos and other things down the road. But that was a great start. And we hope that there'll be encouraging to people to see all the different ways that they could make note cards. Our notecards initially just were the little playing cards with the Sew Powerful logo and maybe a typed message on them. And so we'd like to inspire people to be as creative with the note cards as they are with the purses.


Jan 17:33

Well, and you have a philosophy about that. Because some people say, well, you know, I can sew but I'm not creative with paper crafts. What do you say to them?


Peggy 17:42

Well, I would say that if you are made in the image of God, who is our great creator, that you have creativity in you, and that he can inspire you and inspire your creativity. And I would say that everyone is creative, and don't belittle yourself or your talent. But beyond that, I would say that the note cards are so powerful, they have such an impact on our girls. And if you think about the girl that you're sending that note card to, you can think of a way to impact her life through that card. Anything that you send is going to be a gift to them, and they will love it. And the note cards can change a girl's life, you know, that message of hope and inspiration and encouragement can literally change her life and the lives of others beyond her. She shares them with her friends. Not only can you change her life, but maybe her children and her family and friends, and you don't know the impact that that card might have on that girl. So don't let what you feel is a lack of creativity get in the way of what you can do with those note cards.


Jan 18:55

Well, and there might be people who say, well, I am creative in paper crafts, but I can't sew. So, what do we say to those folks?


Peggy 19:03

We love those folks. We always need people to create note cards. Many times, we'll have a church group or a scout troop or something like that. They'll send in a box of purses, and we're so glad to get them but they don't have note cards. We always need extra note cards. Those are a true gift. We often have a group that will get together to sew. And some of the ladies are totally dedicated to the sewing and other people would like to participate. But they don't feel like they can sew, and so we invite them to come make note cards. It's a great way to involve all our paper crafty people, to involve kids and teens and things like that just to sit and write an inspirational note to a girl. And, wow, what a gift that is. I would love to be able to do that all day long. But I love to sew, too, so I'm torn.


Jan 19:58

Well, I know on the note card tutorial page, and you find it under the resources menu on the website. On the note card tutorial page is a link for writing prompts. So, if you're stuck, and you don't know what to say, it's my recollection that we have a two page list of different ways just to help people get started. Is that true?


Peggy 20:22

That's true. And that's a great way to get started. But don't stop there. Your personal message means a lot.


Jan 20:30



Peggy 20:30

We would love to have you write in your own words, but by all means, use what's there to get you started.


Jan 20:36

Well, as you continue to add new note card ideas every Monday.


Peggy 20:41

Yes, we try to show that there's so many ways you can personalize your notecards. And don't be limited by what's out there already. People are always coming up with new ideas to use buttons or little scraps of fabric or stray threads, you can weave all those together. And we've got a tutorial on that, by the way, to make a little scrap piece of fabric, all kinds of things you can do to be creative and don't limit yourself.


Jan 21:10

Yeah, well, and you know, I want to say Sew Powerful just developed the Service Project Starter Kit. So, if your organization would like to do a service project specifically for Sew Powerful, and you're an organization that does many different things, but you'd like to do one project for Sew Powerful, the service project starter kit is available by request on our website. And this making the note cards is one way that you can do a service project. You can make purses as a service project, or you could do both, and the starter kit will have everything you need in there to get you going. So, we encourage you to do that.


Jan 21:53

So Peggy, you've had many great experiences in your life. But you've shared with me that there's just been some things growing up, as you look back, you see how they relate to what you're doing now. Can you share that specifically how it relates to the note cards?


Peggy 22:12

Oh, yes, my father used to bring home scrap paper from his office. And I can remember as a little girl sitting with my sister and cutting and pasting and gluing and drawing on all that scrap paper. And we would spend hours doing that. We made all kinds of things, little paper purses, paper books, paper dolls. We played and played and played with just that paper. I laughed when I see my granddaughters doing the same thing today. It just thrills me to see them do that. But it also brings awe to my heart when I think about mighty God preparing me as a little bitty girl using that tape and glue and scissors, crafting little things. And that skill that He honed in me from early childhood He's now using to make notecards and inspire other people to be creative with note cards in Sew Powerful. And I'm just so grateful at His hand in my life. I can see it from the time I was a little girl until now, and how He's using that now is such a blessing.


Jan 23:23

And can you tell anybody who's thinking about getting started with Sew Powerful, but maybe they haven't done it yet? What would you say to them?


Peggy 23:33

I would say if you feel an interest or an urge, it could be that you're being pushed along into that role that may be that little nudge or that little urge you feel is God speaking to your heart, and calling you for this service and follow it. Who knows that that you were born for this time to serve? And I would say that whatever you might feel your talent level is, it may not be what other people feel. We have people working at all levels and we love everything we see. Just because you feel like someone else's purse is better than yours, it may not be. We have girls who like the plain purses just as much as girls who like the fancy purses. So don't let what you feel is your lack of talent hold you back. We need you. We want you. We appreciate you. This is a place where you can serve and grow, and you will make an impact. We need you here.


Jan 24:39

Certainly, absolutely. Well Peggy, thank you so very much for your time today. It's been a pleasure to talk with you and learn about your background and just hear how God has brought your many talents to bear right here at this moment on Sew Powerful so thank you for sharing that with us today.


Peggy 25:00

Thank you, Jan.


Jan 25:01

All right, we'll talk to you soon. Bye bye.


Peggy 25:04



Jan 25:07

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.


Meet Judy Kennedy

It seems Judy Ann Kennedy has been running a parallel course to Sew Powerful but it wasn't until the Spring of 2021 that our paths crossed. Judy is an accomplished bag maker, notecard maker and most importantly has a heart for mission work. Her missionary work in Russia and the Philippines involved educating children living in poverty, affected by natural disasters and those who never had the opportunity to hear God's Word. Amazing changes happened, but many were totally unexpected.


missionary in Russia, God in schools in Russia, Christian ethics and morals, missionary in the Philippines, orphanages, adoption, notecard making, postcard collecting, sewing for charity, San Francisco, Virginia


Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Judy Kennedy


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.


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.


Jan 00:21

Today we are blessed to be talking with Judy Kennedy. Judy is a relatively new Sew Powerful purse maker. But what she may lack in seniority with us, she has more than made up for it by participation. Let's get right to it and you'll see what I mean. Welcome, Judy Kennedy.


Judy Kennedy, Guest 00:43

Thank you, Jan. I'm excited.


Jan 00:45

We're so glad you're here. How are you today?


Judy 00:48

I'm great. I'm great. Enjoying the beautiful weather we have here and I'm ready.


Jan 00:55

Well, before I hit the record button, you shared with me what you've been praying about today. Share that with our listeners.


Judy 01:02

Well, I'm not great at public speaking, and to me this is kind of public. And I really have been praying this morning, and I had my husband pray for me as well, that this will be a time of glorifying God and not focusing on me. And that's what I'm really hoping will happen with this.


Jan 01:20

I'm sure that will be the case. So, let's get to know Judy a little bit better. Where are you from originally, Judy?


Jan 01:27

I was born in San Francisco, California. And right now, we're living in Virginia.


Jan 01:36

And so, we're going to get to the place between San Francisco and Virginia because a lot's happened. How long have you been in Virginia?


Judy 01:44

It was split up into two sections. We came here in 1990, were here for 10 years, were gone for a period of time that we'll talk about later, and then returned again in 2012 and have been here since then.


Jan 02:00

Okay. All right. So not a native Virginian but pretty close. It must feel like home after all this time. And so did you grow up in California?


Judy 02:10

Yes. In San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up in a suburban area just outside of San Francisco and went to school there as a child and up through college.


Jan 02:23

Okay, and where did you go to college?


Judy 02:25

UC Berkeley.


Jan 02:27

Okay. And you're married, when did you meet your husband?


Judy 02:32

Let's say that would have been in 1974. Yeah. And we married in 1982.


Jan 02:40

All right. You wanted to be sure. And where did you two meet?


Judy 02:45

We both were working at a bank and we met there. We were friends for a long time, and then eventually became loving marriage partners.


Jan 02:56

Oh, how wonderful. Well, and I met my husband where I was working on a part time job. So that's a very cool coincidence. And so, tell us a little bit about your sewing background. When did you learn to sew? How did you learn to sew?


Judy 03:10

Well, I started when I was about 10 years old. And I can remember it very clearly. My Mom decided that she wanted to help me learn to sew. And so, she got together about three of my girlfriends in the neighborhood and she started a sewing club for us. And believe it or not, to this day, I still have the apron that we made. I gathered the waistband and did an embroidery of my initial on the pocket. And she was very encouraging to me about that. And that's probably why I continued loving to sew. I really did. And she really instilled in me to do the absolute best that you can. And so that's what I always try to do.


Jan 04:02

Well, my mom always sewed and she taught me but when my Mom passed away and I went through her things, I found the apron that I made in Brownies. It was a white apron, it had green and white check ruffle and a green and white check waistband, and I never saw her wear it. I don't know that it was worthy of being worn. But, you know, it meant something to her. And then it really meant something to me that she had kept that.


Judy 04:30

Absolutely. That's wonderful.


Jan 04:31

Yeah, yeah. And so, what kind of things beyond the apron, what kind of things were you making originally?


Judy 04:38

Well, I do remember I made several dresses and blouses. She even taught me back then when we would have suits how to do the tailoring aspects of doing the collars and I really learned a lot from her. I didn't carry through with it for a while, but I still always remembered how I loved that. And actually, another memory that just came back to me is, I've always loved fabrics and colors with fabrics and textures of fabrics. And I remember (this was probably when I couldn't have been any more than about five years old) my mom gave me this little tiny piece of cloth. That was probably early rayon, maybe, I'm guessing, when it was first coming out. And I remember feeling it and the colors of it were so dramatic to me. I can still even remember that sensation, how much I loved playing with that little, tiny piece of fabric. It's just one of those memories.


Jan 05:46

Well, and you know, honestly, that's not surprising, having seen the photos of the purses you've made so far. I think it was your purse number four was the one that I really loved. And it had a floral design on the front and a trim, and just the most interesting, vibrant colors on the inside that were different patterns, but they all went together because you tied the color theme together. It was just such a beautiful purse.


Judy 06:18

Well, thank you, I appreciate that.


Jan 06:21

And you know, I think about a girl in Zambia who's going to pick that purse. They, you know, they spread them out on the table and the girl goes up and picks the purse she wants. And I can just imagine a lot of girls eyeing that purse and then they call them up one by one. And so, the girl who gets that is going to feel really blessed to have a Judy Kennedy original. Okay, let's get to the the really juicy part of the story here. You shared with me that you were busy in your life, but it wasn't until your early 40s that something really dramatic happened. Tell us about that.


Judy 07:00

Yes, I was just living my life as I would. And we moved California to Virginia. And it was a job change from my husband. And we didn't really know people. It was brand new for him and brand new for us, and we knew no one. But my husband remembered from his childhood that there's some awfully nice people in church. Maybe we should go to church and maybe we could meet some nice people there. So, there was a church that was just probably half a mile down the road. And we said, Okay, that looks like a nice one. And it was sort of like a Little House on the Prairie church. And we thought, Oh, boy, let's just let's try this one. Well, we walked in the door. And I can still remember thinking, Oh my, something's happening. And God really got a hold of me there. And within two years, we actually were missionaries in Russia. That was the first experience, and it was going to be just a year. And we we committed to a year, we came back to Virginia and realized that we had totally changed. God just really changed us. As a missionary, you naively go to a place thinking you're going to change others, but God is the one who changes you. And that's exactly what happened. So, we spent the next three years raising our support. And Jan, to be honest, I remember every time we'd have to go to a church or do a presentation. I was just as nervous then as I was this morning getting ready for this, but God always calms you down and gives you peace. So, we ended up raising our support and going to the Philippines for 12 years.


Jan 09:02

Okay, but let's back up a little bit to Russia here. So, what part of Russia were you in?


Judy 09:08

We were in far northern Russia. It's called Arkhangelsk (Archangel). And we were there for a year. And it was part of a program of 80 Christian organizations got together at the request of the Russian education department to bring God back into the schools. And so, we went to train teachers and work with teachers in a Christian Morals and Ethics program that had been put together. And we taught teachers to teach it to their children because the government realized that when they took God out of their country, it just collapsed and they wanted Him back.


Jan 09:47

Well, now was this when the Soviet Union became Russia again, was that that time?


Jan 09:51

Yeah, it was after the Berlin Wall fell. We were there from 1996 to 1997 and the program.


Jan 10:00

Did you speak Russian or?


Judy 10:02

No, no. And that's how God works, amazingly. We did not, and they didn't expect us to. But what they did was they would get interpreters, Russian students who wanted to learn English. And the incredible thing is, they were atheists just like everyone else. But by the end of this program, the majority of them had all become Christians, because they said the stories and heard the word so often that it became a part of them, too. It was just an amazing story.


Jan 10:36

Wow. That is wonderful. And so how many children do you think were affected by the work that you did there? Do you have any feel for that?


Judy 10:47

Well, my husband and I worked with three different groups. And here's the amazing thing. Beyond the rest of the amazement of this whole program, when we went there, like I said, I was a new Christian myself, just two years a believer. And my pleading with God was how can I, as a new Christian, really help anybody or relate or even tell anything? And it became clear to me that because I had not been a believer myself for so long, I could really relate to all these questions that people were asking, because those were my same questions. And so that's how He used me in that regard. It was really amazing. And the rest of it is, we were not supposed to teach children directly. The program and request had been to teach the teachers, but an atheist school principal came to us and said, I hear that you're in our city, and you're teaching English. And we said, Yes. And he said, well, I have a private language school. I'd like you to come and teach our students English. And we said, well, we will, but we will teach them Christian morals and ethics and use the Jesus film as part of our curriculum. And he said, I don't care what you teach them, just teach them English.


Jan 12:13

He didn't know what he was in for. Oh, my gosh, that's amazing. Okay, so you were in Russia for one year. Okay. And then you came back to the United States.


Judy 12:23



Jan 12:23

Virginia. Okay. And then you were raising funds for your next mission. Is that correct?


Jan 12:29

Right. When we came back, we realized that we had changed, and God had really worked in our hearts and knew that going back into the secular world jobs was just not gonna work for us anymore. So, we did raise support with an evangelical Christian mission agency. And so, we raised our support and were able to go to the Philippines.


Jan 12:53

Okay, hold that thought because we're going to take a quick break. And listeners, when we come back, you are going to hear an even more fascinating story as Judy relays her time in the Philippines and the parallels that she sees with Sew Powerful. So please stay tuned. Listen to our message here about the We Are Sew Powerful book, and we'll be back with you in just a minute.


Jan 13:21

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 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 14:25

Welcome back. We have been speaking with Judy Kennedy, a relatively new purse maker to Sew Powerful but a woman with a very interesting list of experiences and skills and talents. And she just relayed to us the time she spent in Russia as a missionary there teaching English and Christian morals and ethics there and the lives she touched and changed while she was in Russia. We're about to hear about the work she did in the Philippines. So, Judy, take it from there. You came back after a year in Russia, and you raise your support to go forward again. So, tell us what happened next.


Jan 15:09

When we came back, we spoke with our agency. And we thought that the place that we were supposed to go was going to be Ireland. And that was because I knew that I was not very good at learning new languages. And I thought, well, Ireland would be a great place to go. Well, it turns out that we raised our support, and we had raised it to go to Ireland. We were all ready to go. And then through all kinds of situations, it became clear to us that, that was not really where God wanted us to be. Keith and I, my husband, and I jokingly call it the "holy bait and switch". Because if I knew that I was going to another country where I might have to learn another language, I think I would have argued with God a lot more than I did. But He got me, and we went to the Philippines, because our agency understood that we felt that God was calling us to a different place. And they were fine with that. So, we went to the Philippines. And it was absolutely, exactly where God wanted us to be.


Jan 16:19

Okay, and so where were you in the Philippines?


Jan 16:22

We were in what's called Metro Manila. We were in the big urban area. There's quite a few cities that are all blended in together.


Jan 16:32

And what language do they speak there?


Judy 16:35

There are eight main languages in the Philippines. But in Manila area, it's mainly Tagalog. And we did learn a bit, but not enough to converse in it. But that was, again, the beauty of what God had called us to do, was to work with the Filipinos. And they were truly the ones that were going to be doing the work. And for me, I was more of an organizer helping them get started and the encourager for them to really do the work that needed to be done.


Jan 17:14

Explain a little bit of what your goal was in going into this urban area.


Judy 17:20

It was actually a new mission that our group started. And what's incredible to me of some parallels here with Sew Powerful is there was a woman her name was Edith. And she had been herself living on the streets for a while. She was in the church that we were affiliated with and she felt called to start a ministry to the street children. And she clearly knew what the life was like and knew what they needed, and not what we, as Westerners, wanted to provide, but what they needed because she had her own experience as well. And I can remember our field leader's wife invited Edith and me to her home, and we sat down at your kitchen table and Edith started to speak about this ministry that she felt that she was called to and wanted us to be a part of. And she was talking, and I was listening, and I actually lost my ability to speak. I really think that God took that away because he wanted me to listen to her and hear what she had to say. And she did and, and she kept looking at me waiting for me to say something. And finally, I got my voice back. And I said, Edith I've been waiting to find out what God has called me to do, and clearly this is what he wants me to be a part of. And so, we, together, started this ministry, and we would do so much praying and so much finding out what really he wanted us to do. This ministry has been going on now for 20 years. It started back in 2001. And the Filipinos are totally running the ministry now. And when I left the Philippines, it was in wonderful hands and it has expanded far more than anything that I could ever have done, being the Westerner there, because it really was something that they needed to do, and they needed to be the leadership. And it's so amazingly similar to what Sew Powerful is doing.


Jan 19:46

In what ways? Tell us about that.


Judy 19:48

Well, main focus is education of the children. And the way that happened was there were about 2,000 people that were living under a bridge. And that was where we would go every Saturday. And we would do Bible studies, we'd bring snacks, we would just love on the kids. And we continued, whether it was rain or shine, typhoon or not, we would be there. And I think the difference for those children was that others had gone, but not continued with it. They would go in and provide something and then they wouldn't be there anymore. And so being consistent with these children made all the difference in the world. And we ended up starting a tutoring program. And the kids would come to the church. We would have volunteers from the church, all Filipinos tutoring the children. We were able to get the church members to help support the children. And all they needed was, believe it or not, about $10 a month to continue their education. They needed their snack, they needed to buy their uniform, just very simple things. But the parents could not afford that. And so many of them would be out on the street trying to raise money to support the family. But if we could help them and get the children to stay in school without them having to do those expenses, then they were able to continue with their education.


Jan 21:27

Wow, that's amazing. And before we started recording, you shared with me that there was a particular blessing to your family while you were in the Philippines. Can you tell our listeners about that?


Judy 21:38

Yes, my husband is a great photographer. And he was asked by one of the members of the church to [go to] an orphanage to take pictures of the children because she wanted them to be able to go into foster homes, and hopefully be adopted. There wasn't much that was going on in this particular orphanage in that regard. So, we went and he took pictures. And that night as we were driving home, I said, and Keith agreed, I think it's more than pictures that we're supposed to be doing here. Making a long story short, we foster-parented and ended up adopting our daughter, Melody. She was 16 when she came into our home. Now she is 31 years old.


Jan 22:28



Judy 22:29

So she's been our daughter for 16 years. And we also have a granddaughter now too.


Jan 22:35

Oh wow. Oh, that's wonderful. And where does Melody live?


Judy 22:38

She still is in the Philippines.


Jan 22:40

In the Philippines. Uh huh.


Judy 22:42

And she and her husband and our granddaughter. She is a Filipino at heart, and we didn't necessarily adopt her to take her back to the United States. We adopted her because we loved her, and we wanted to give her an opportunity to be more than what she was in the orphanage. And we're just amazed at how she's become such a Christian woman raising her daughter in the same way. So, it's great.


Jan 23:07

When did you come back to the United States?


Judy 23:09

In 2012.


Jan 23:11

In 2012. And so that was the end of your mission work abroad, right?


Judy 23:16



Jan 23:17

So what have you been doing since 2012?


Judy 23:21

Well, believe it or not, I started making purses, but not for Sew Powerful. Actually, I started because I love to sew. And I actually did some sewing while we were in the Philippines. When they had a typhoon that came through, that was just devastating, I was able to take a lot of the clothing that had been donated and convert it to pillows and sheets. Many of the people lost everything in the flooding. And so I was able to do some sewing there and help them out in that way.


Jan 23:54

Well, and there's one more of your crafty skills I don't want to overlook and I found out about it because of your email address. But you know, in Sew Powerful we make purses and then we ask people to make note cards. And both of these seem to be in your wheelhouse. Judy, tell us about your notecard making.


Judy 24:14

Oh boy. Well, and that's what's just so amazing about this connection that I've made with Sew Powerful. I'm just so blessed about it. When I was a child about 12 years old, I started collecting postcards. I had inherited from several people, postcard collections that had started by others back about the turn of the 20th century. And the postcards, I just loved them. They were just beautiful, beautiful things. And I had this huge collection of postcards that I'd stored away for like 20 years and I started thinking about it and I thought, Man, what a waste. People need to enjoy these. So, I decided okay, I'll take these postcards and I'll turn them into greeting cards, note cards. So, I would mount them onto scrapbook paper and then have the note card blank inside, usually. But then I would make envelopes out of the scrap of paper that coordinated with the postcard. And then I ended up selling some of those through my brother who has a shop out in California, and they were big hits. They don't seem to be doing real well right now and I thought, wow, this is a perfect time to be able to use some of these for the girls in Zambia.


Jan 25:30

Oh, my gosh, what a connection. Well, we're going to wrap it up. But if you have a chance to meet or talk with Judy in person, I know there's a whole lot more stories there that we could explore. And I really look forward to trying to have a real face to face real meeting with you, Judy. But this has just been so fascinating and such a pleasure and you are truly a blessing to Sew Powerful. So, thank you for your time today.


Judy 26:00

Well, thank you, Jan and you, you have been a blessing to all, I know. Thank you very much.


Jan 26:05

Oh, that's very sweet. We'll see you soon. Bye bye.


Judy 26:08



Jan 26:11

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.


A Real Husband of a Sew Powerful Volunteer with Chris Cancila

I thought it was about time for you to meet my husband. In this episode, Chris gives the inside scoop on being married to a slightly obsessive Sew Powerful volunteer. Chris talks about the role he plays in supporting Sew Powerful and provides some great suggestions for ways spouses and family members of our volunteers can also contribute to the success of Sew Powerful.


Sew Powerful, sewing for charity, purses for charity, people living in poverty, Zambia, Jason Miles, Cinnamon Miles, St. Louis, Missouri, Houston, Texas, Agape Global, homelessness, ways to support Sew Powerful volunteers


Host: Jan Cancila

Guest: Chris Cancila


Agape Global,

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.


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.


Jan 00:20

Hello, welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. I've been wanting to do this topic for a long time. And the topic is the Real Husbands of Sew Powerful. And my first "victim" is my very own husband, Chris Cancila. We're going to hear about Sew Powerful from his perspective, from his point of view, being married to somebody who's a volunteer for Sew Powerful, and we'll just get it from a non-purse maker's point of view. So hi, Chris, how are you?


Chris Cancila, Guest 00:57

I'm just fine, thank you.


Jan 00:59

We've got to stop meeting like this.


Chris 01:02

I agree. But it's better than nothing.


Jan 01:06

That's true too. So let me just have you give a little background to people who are listening who may not know you. Where are you from originally?


Chris 01:17

I'm originally from St. Louis, Missouri.


Jan 01:20

Okay, and tell us a little bit about your family and your heritage, maybe.


Chris 01:24

Well, okay, so my father is a second-generation Italian and his father, my grandfather, came over from Italy, turn of the 20th century, and began raising a family in St. Louis. My mother is from Belgium. She met my father during the war, and came over after the war, and married him and has lived within United States until her passing a few years ago.


Jan 01:49

Okay, and your siblings.


Chris 01:51

I have three siblings. I have a brother and two sisters. My oldest sister lives in a little town called Washington, Missouri outside of St. Louis. My brother still resides in St. Louis, and my youngest sister lives just north of Fort Worth.


Jan 02:06

Okay. And you are married.


Chris 02:11

I am married and married to a very beautiful woman that I happened to meet 50 plus years ago. And we got married in 1970, just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary last year. And we have two children, two boys, and two granddaughters, teenagers. So, I'm very blessed.


Jan 02:31

Yeah. So how has COVID been for you, not being able to see family? How did you compensate for that?


Chris 02:39

Well, it's tough. You know, we've done Zoom meetings with our family and loved ones, but it's not the same. And lots of phone calls and text messages and phone discussions and that kind of thing. We're very happy just this past weekend, to be able to spend an entire day with my sons, daughter-in-law, my two granddaughters and we had a wonderful weekend spending time with them.


Jan 03:02

Yeah, it was pretty fun to be with our teenage granddaughters. They only had to leave once each to go get their nails done. So, we counted that as a win.


Jan 03:13

That's right, that's right.


Jan 03:14

And our younger son was also there. So, we had the whole family, maskless, because you and I have both of our shots.


Chris 03:21

Fully vaccinated.


Jan 03:22

Fully vaccinated. Okay, and tell us a little bit about your career or are you retired or working or what are you doing?


Chris 03:29

I am, at this point in my life, semi-retired. I work 20 hours a week for a general contractor in the Houston area; that keeps me plenty busy. And so, I have been in accounting finance for 40 plus years. I've been in a number of different roles from Certified Public Accountant to Controller to CFO to my current role as a part time controller for general contractor.


Jan 03:59

And who are the customers? Let's give a little plug to your business because I will say, Christmas of 2019, your company made a donation to Sew Powerful and Sew Powerful is very grateful. So, tell us a little bit about your company and why they made that donation.


Chris 04:21

I work for a company called Axis Builders. And the owners are two very strong Christian men who live their faith. And one of the ways they do that is each holiday season they poll their employees, and they say give us a charity you'd like us to donate money to in your name and we will do it. And so, I gave them Sew Powerful, and they made a very nice donation to Sew Powerful. And they believe in sharing in their blessings, and they do a wonderful job and they've been very kind to me. And it's really been a good example of how to live your faith. So I'm uplifted by that on a regular basis.


Jan 05:01

And who are their customers?


Chris 05:04

Our market space is not-for-profit entities. So, we do a lot of business for churches. We've done the faith center for a large Methodist Church. We've done worship centers for a number of churches, fellowship halls, that kind of thing. We've worked for governmental entities, fire departments, and we've also done work in schools. And we've done other not-for-profit type entities work for them as well. Just an example of God providing.


Jan 05:35

So the company builds and remodels. Is that right? They're a general contractor.


Chris 05:40

We do new buildings, we do renovations, and we do additions to existing facilities, all those things.


Jan 05:47

Okay, well, cool. So, so that's your background. And this seems so strange asking you these questions, because I already know all the answers. And I became involved in Sew Powerful back in 2014. I made five purses that first year. And I don't know that I talked about it to anybody, I don't even know, you may or may not even been aware that I was doing it, right?


Chris 06:11

Well I was aware you were doing something very small scale. Obviously, as you continue to do more and more, it became more increasingly apparent that this was something you are very committed to.


Jan 06:24

Yeah, right. Okay, well, and I'm interviewing you because you don't make purses. You don't sew but you...


Chris 06:34

I do not.


Jan 06:35

You certainly contribute to Sew Powerful. So, let's start with the financial aspect. Being a financial person, you take care of the finances for our family, and we make some donations. So, name a couple of good funds that the Cancilas participate in.


Chris 06:59

Well, specifically for Sew Powerful, we contribute to the Academic Success Fund. And that is one of the funds that provide scholarship monies so that the students can continue their education beyond the Needs Care School in Zambia.


Jan 07:16

And that money can go to girls or boys, right?


Chris 07:19

Yes, that is true, that is true.


Jan 07:22

Okay, what about a second fund? What what else do you participate in?


Chris 07:25

We are also Atelier Angels, which means we provide funds for the Purse Project so that they can pay the salaries of the people in Zambia and buy the materials for the products that they are producing in country for the students.


Jan 07:40

Okay. All right. Very good. And we can't quite see it on the screen here, but you're wearing a shirt that says Blessed are the Purse Makers. And so what are some of the other ways that people can contribute financially?


Chris 07:56

Well, I mean, you could buy books and t-shirts and, and also, I have, personally, and I would encourage other men whose spouses participate in the charity, you can provide volunteering at trade shows, at the quilt shows. I've done that, helping set up the booth, tear down the booth. I've driven stuff from Houston to Austin, helped unload the truck, then go and pick it up and go back to Houston to store here. So there's lots of opportunities to provide that kind of support.


Jan 08:28

Okay, well, now that we're pretty solid on your background, why don't we take a quick break and when we come back, we're going to explore some of the ways that you have talked about Sew Powerful in the community. And hopefully that can give some other people some ideas about how that might work for them. So listeners, please stay tuned, we'll be right back.


Jan 08:51

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 09:55

Welcome back. We have been speaking with my husband Chris, who is today's guest on the Sew Powerful podcast, and we've learned a little bit about his background, that he was originally from St. Louis, Missouri. He left out the part about his mom being a hero during World War II. And you'll have to meet my husband sometime and learn that very inspiring story. So Chris, right before the break we were talking about some different ways that people who do not sew could support Sew Powerful. And I'm going to just sort of give this lead-in and you go from there.


Jan 10:32

Chris and I, about four or five months ago, moved across town, and so we needed to get a new dentist and it was time for our checkup. So, we had an appointment at the same time. And at this particular dentist office, each of the dental chairs is in an open three-sided alcove. So, we were side by side, and I could hear there was conversation going on in the alcove next to me. I was with a hygienist in my little space, and he had a different hygienist over there. And I'm not paying much attention except that then my ears perked up when I started hearing the words "Sew Powerful". So, what prompted this conversation and what did you say?


Chris 11:15

Well, I was a new patient, and she was trying to get to know me a little bit. And I mentioned that my wife was an active supporter of this charity that's called Sew Powerful, and I helped her with that some. And then she asked what Sew Powerful was. And so, I was able to have a discussion with her about what Sew Powerful's mission was, how they worked and how you and so many other women make purses to support the project. And so we had a nice discussion about that.


Jan 11:41

Okay, so here's the real test. What did you say? What is Sew Powerful all about? What kind of description did you give?


Jan 11:48

Well I explained to her Sew Powerful is a Christian ministry to young girls in Africa, and specifically in Zambia, who are struggling with being able to complete their education. And I explained that if the girls don't finish seventh grade satisfactorily, that's the end of their education, it's over. And so, one of the problems these girls encounter is their inability to stay in school because they can't address certain basic feminine hygiene needs. And so, one of the things that Sew Powerful does is they make purses. And the reason they make purses is so that the girls can have a place to store their sanitary products while they're in school. And I explained in the Ngombe Compound where the school is, they actually make materials that go into the purses, and then the volunteers for the charity supply the purses. And so, you know, just a good discussion about that.


Jan 12:47



Chris 12:48

And she was really impressed.


Jan 12:49

Well, and and I have to say, I was so impressed, too, and so grateful that you did that. And, you know, men of a certain age, and I might say that you might be in that category, might not be too comfortable talking about menstrual health management, which is the reason the girls aren't going to school; they don't have the supplies, so they stay home. And we're trying to alleviate that, not only in the Ngombe Compound, but as we expand into other areas of Zambia.


Chris 13:21



Jan 13:21

But you know, for other husbands or men out there that may just feel uncomfortable with this topic, what do you say to them? I mean, you were just so forthright about it.


Chris 13:33

Well, it's a natural part of your existence, you know. These, these girls have needs that they need to be taken care of. And so, you know, you shouldn't be embarrassed to discuss those kinds of things. I mean, it's not like we're opening up a book and revealing some big dark secret. The only secret is that these poor girls don't have access to the products. So, I think it's important that we shine a light on these issues, and you shouldn't be embarrassed or ashamed to talk about those things. I mean, it's biology. It's basic human function. And so, I don't see any reason to be embarrassed by it.


Jan 14:11

Cool, thank you. Last week, or maybe it was the week before you happened to be at the post office handling some envelopes for Sew Powerful. And that brought up another discussion. So, tell our listeners what happened then.


Chris 14:25

Well, so I was at the post office and the lady behind the counter was, you know, I was buying postage. And so, she was printing out the stamps and putting them on there, checking the addresses and such. And so, she said, so what is this Sew Powerful? And I said, well I said, do you sew? She said, well, yeah, I sew. I said, well, Sew Powerful is a charity. Our purpose is to help girls in Zambia who are unable to continue their education because they don't have access to hygiene products. And so, volunteers make purses, then you send them to Zambia, and they have access to these materials. And then they can store the materials in these purses, and they're able to stay in school. So, it's just a very brief discussion. And you know, she, when she said she sewed, I said, you know, let me give you my wife's name and email address, and you can send her an email, and she can give you more information about the charity. So that's what we did.


Jan 15:24

Well, thank you for doing that. I have to admit, so far, I haven't gotten an email from her. But from now on, you're going to be walking around with some Sew Powerful cards.


Chris 15:34



Jan 15:35

That you can hand out and I'll put my email address right on there. Okay. So, what would you say to other husbands and people who don't sew for Sew Powerful? What would you say about how they might consider supporting Sew Powerful or their spouse or family member who does sew for Sew Powerful, what would you say?


Chris 16:00

Well, I think first thing, I would encourage you to appreciate the level of commitment and sacrifice that your spouse puts into this charity. I mean, I know you put in a tremendous amount of time on the charity, and then I am blessed to be able to help you with that. And I'm grateful you found an outlet that enables you to be passionate and committed about things because you guys may not realize this, but once Jan commits to something she's all in, there's no part way with her, you get all of her, whether you like it or not. And so that's, that's something I've always admired about her. And you know, I think you other spouses should admire your own partner's commitment to the charity and support it to your fullest. And that means being there for moral support. That means making sure that you can contribute financially to any extent that you can, and providing not only moral support, but actual physical support at shows or helping to ship stuff or whatever might come about. We put on a couple of TV shows together, you know, talking about Sew Powerful, been part of the audience at those shows. So, there's lots of opportunities to be able to, to provide assistance and moral support.


Jan 17:07

So you chose to attend the Sew Powerful Masterclass that Jason and Cinnamon Miles are conducting. And you did the first one by watching the video replay. But then after that you attended the next two in person. And as we record this, the fourth one hasn't happened yet, it will be this coming week, sort of simultaneously for publication. But on the first session, that was all about poverty and


Chris 17:37



Jan 17:38

I just found it very enlightening. Did you have any new takes on poverty after you listened to that session?


Chris 17:44

Yeah, I mean, my take on that: poverty is somewhat subjective, but particularly in developing countries. It is just absolutely devastating to people's lives. It interferes with your ability to have a basic human existence in many cases. And it's really something that we should all as a global community be concerned about. And I applaud Jason and Cinnamon and Sew Powerful for trying to address that need. But because we're so far away from it, it's very difficult to appreciate the gravity of the situation. But it's true. To hear stories of kids taking their lunch and, and eating half of it and then taking the rest home to share with the rest of their family. It touches your soul.


Jan 18:34

Well, you know, the other thing besides the financial poverty that struck me from that was other ways that we could be in poverty, spiritually, mentally, relationship-wise.


Chris 18:46

Sure, sure.


Jan 18:47

So sometimes when we see those who are struggling financially, they may be less in poverty in other areas of their lives than those of us who don't have food insecurity, for instance. So, to me that that was an eye-opening part of that presentation. The next Masterclass was the basics about Sew Powerful, a little bit about the history and chronologically how it all came together. Did you find new information by attending that?


Chris 19:18

Yeah, yeah, I knew some of the story. But it was good to hear it from the source, Jason and Cinnamon. The fact that they had been there and stumbled into this meeting with this woman, Esther, and all the developments from there and their desire to help out in whatever way they could. A) you know, I don't believe anything happens by coincidence. I think people are put together in situations and that's just God's hand working. And so, I think that's part of what happened with Jason and Cinnamon and Esther. But absent that, the story of how they came to support them to the level they are now, it was really inspiring to hear.


Jan 20:00

Okay, and the third session was how we can use our vocation or how God uses our gifts, and our experiences to help those in need. And I found that really interesting. And I think about your talents and gifts. Talk a little bit about that session and talk about Agape Global while you're at it.


Chris 20:25

Sure, so that session was like, again, I certainly appreciate the talent and skills of the purse makers. But you know, the way I can contribute in my small way, is I file the franchise tax return for Sew Powerful in Texas. It's not a big deal, but somebody has to do it, and I'm happy to do it. You know, it's no big deal. I think that it's important that we all have an understanding that there's something everybody can do to help in any way that's possible. And so, my way it is primarily financial.


Chris 20:59

You mentioned Agape Global, which is another charity that I volunteer for. And that's a local new charity here in Houston that is dedicated to providing food for homeless people. Like any large city, Houston has a problem with homeless people not having shelter, not having access to food on a regular basis. And so, what Agape Global tries to do is fill some of the gaps. I'm trying to get them started up as a charity, get their books set up. And then I have cooked for a couple of occasions that they have. I'm not a great cook, but I can make pasta. And so, you know, I made a bunch of spaghetti, and then take them to people there. And it was just my way of being able to help out.


Jan 21:42

Okay. Well, this has been a really nice discussion with my husband over Zoom. And, you know, we've been married for 50 years; we celebrated our anniversary last fall. And now you sort of know why I love this man and why we've been married for so long. And, you know, there's all kinds of ways that he supports me when I get in my zone, and I'm working on something. He'll make the dinner, or he'll take care of the dogs, or he'll run the errands, and he's just been so supportive. And I just want to publicly thank you, Chris, for doing that. It means a lot to me. So, thank you so much.


Chris 22:26

I'm always in awe of your ability to be there for people. You are one of the most caring, kindest people I've ever known. And the world's a better place with you being in it, so.


Jan 22:41

Right back at you, Chris Cancila. Well, normally I say I hope to see you soon, but since you're about 10 feet away from me, I know I'll see you soon.


Chris 22:51

There you go.


Jan 22:52

All right. Well, we're gonna sign off now. And thank you so much for doing this, Chris. I appreciate it.


Chris 22:57

It was great to be able to talk to you.


Jan 22:59

Bye bye.


Chris 23:00



Jan 23:03

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.


Hello Millie McKerley

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.


Gardening, Alberta Canada, Calgary Canada, Washington, DC, Virginia, Cortes Island, sewing for charity, sewing with denim,


Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Millie McKerley


Cortes Island, BC,

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.


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.


Jan 00:19

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.


Jan 00:41

Oh, we're so excited that you are here. Now, tell us where are you right now? Where do you live?


Millie 00:48

I live in Northern Virginia in what's called a metro DC area. It's about an hour out of Washington, DC.


Jan 00:56

Oh, wonderful. And are you a native Virginian?


Millie 01:00

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.


Jan 01:16

And is it warmer where you live now?


Millie 01:18

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.


Jan 01:28

Oh, nice. And is it too early to plant your garden now? Or do you have to wait?


Millie 01:32

Yeah, it's a little early. Our last frost date is the end of April here in Virginia.


Jan 01:39

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.


Millie 01:48



Jan 01:49

So when you were in Alberta, did you have your education there as well?


Millie 01:57

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.


Jan 02:20

Oh, and what was he studying?


Millie 02:23

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.


Jan 02:33

Oh, nice. All right, so you have a degree in marketing. So how did you apply that in your career life?


Millie 02:40

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.


Jan 03:09

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?


Millie 03:26

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.


Jan 04:14

That sounds a lot like Texas, maybe we'll get you to move here.


Millie 04:18

Yeah, I considered that.


Jan 04:20

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.


Millie 04:30

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...


Jan 04:55

Well, and let me ask you, I mean, we have lots of people in the Pacific Northwest. What was the name of this island?


Millie 05:02

It's called Cortes Island.


Jan 05:04

Oh, okay. Of course. Cortes Island. Okay. Oh, wonderful. Yeah, people are gonna know that. Yeah.


Millie 05:09

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.


Jan 05:18

Oh, nice. Yeah.


Millie 05:19

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.


Jan 06:32

Oh good for him. Do you have any children or pets?


Millie 06:36

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.


Jan 07:02

Yes. Well, you were at the graduation.


Millie 07:07



Jan 07:07



Millie 07:08

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.


Jan 07:32



Millie 07:33

Yeah, so she needs a little bit more coddling and training. Lots of training. Let's put it that way.


Jan 07:39

Sure. So how old is the new dog?


Millie 07:42

She's I think she's just a year.


Jan 07:44

Just a year.


Millie 07:46



Jan 07:46

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?


Millie 08:04

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.


Jan 08:28



Millie 08:28

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.


Jan 08:39

Oh, nice.


Millie 08:40

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.


Jan 08:57



Millie 08:57

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.


Jan 09:13

So you started out making dresses and clothing right? And have you continued with that line?


Millie 09:20

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.


Jan 10:26

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.


Jan 10:52

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 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 11:56

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?


Millie 12:19

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.


Jan 12:29

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?


Millie 12:42

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.


Jan 13:24

So what kind of charity work were you doing?


Millie 13:27

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.


Jan 14:43

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?


Millie 14:54

I started out with low numbers. You know, I looked it up. I started March of 2019.


Jan 15:01

So your two year anniversary here?


Millie 15:03

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.


Jan 15:21

Sure. And do you send your purses in periodically so that they can mention your name at the Facebook Live monthly events?


Millie 15:31

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.


Jan 16:05

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?


Millie 16:14

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.


Jan 16:41

How do you use Pinterest? In what way?


Millie 16:43

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.


Jan 17:14

Okay, all right. Well, we will do that. So. Okay, so on Pinterest Sew Powerful Purse Project under Millie McKerley, right?


Millie 17:22



Jan 17:23

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?


Millie 17:34

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.


Jan 18:17

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?


Millie 18:27

Yeah, I use denim for the body and the back.


Millie 18:31

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.


Jan 18:31



Jan 19:05

Okay, all right. And do you like the intermediate or the beginner-style purse body?


Millie 19:11

Well, I started with the intermediate. Is that the one with the gusset?


Jan 19:15

It is.


Millie 19:15

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.


Jan 19:36

Right, right.


Millie 19:40

I've made many mistakes, and my seam ripper was my friend at the beginning, a lot.


Jan 19:46



Millie 19:48

But the beginner pattern is where I'm at now.


Jan 19:51

Okay, and so I always ask everybody, are you team strap or team webbing?


Millie 19:57

Oh, team webbing all the way.


Jan 19:59

Yay! And since you're a fan of Home Sew for your denim, I presume you're getting your webbing from them as well.


Millie 20:07

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.


Jan 20:24

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?


Millie 20:36

Yes. Yes, I am. Yeah. And free shipping, I try to get my orders high enough to get the free shipping.


Jan 20:44

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?


Millie 21:00

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.


Millie 21:37

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.


Millie 22:45

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.


Jan 23:30

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?


Millie 23:58

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.


Jan 24:51

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.


Millie 25:15

Thank you, Jan. You too.


Jan 25:17

Okay. We'll talk to you soon. Bye bye.


Millie 25:20



Jan 25:23

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.


Meet Asha Merchant

Today's podcast comes from Mumbai, India. We meet Asha Merchant, who has made a very impressive number of Sew Powerful purses. Born and raised in Sri Lanka, Asha has also lived in India and the US. She earned a degree in Fashion Design, which was a natural fit for her creativity. Not in the podcast, but Asha shared with me how she has involved many others in Sew Powerful including the shipping company that sends her purses and friends and relatives who help write the notecards. Sewing purses for Sew Powerful has given Asha confidence that translates to other areas of her life. Sit back and enjoy learning about Asha's interesting life in India.


Mumbai India, Sew Powerful, sewing for charity, sewing ruffles, fashion design, mask making, webbing versus straps, self-discovery through sewing, 250 purses


Host: Jan Cancila
Guests: Asha Merchant


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.


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.


Jan 00:19

Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Asha Merchant. Asha is coming to us from Mumbai, India. And in case you didn't know, Mumbai is the seventh most populated city in the world with 20 million people. But we're privileged to speak with Asha today, one of the more important people in Mumbai, India. Hello, Asha. How are you?


Asha Merchant, Guest 00:51

Hello, Jan. I'm fine. How are you?


Jan 00:53

Good. Good. Thank you so much for doing this. It's 10 o'clock in the morning where I am on Sunday. What time is it where you are?


Asha 01:03

It's 8:30 PM on Sunday.


Jan 01:05

On Sunday. Okay, so we're on the same day. But there's that strange half-hour difference. Usually, time differences are on the hour, but we have a half-hour time difference. And so, you live in Mumbai. Have you always lived there? Tell us a little bit about your background and where you've lived.


Asha 01:23

So I've lived in Mumbai continuously for about the last 11 or 12 years. Before that, I was living in Bangalore, it's to the south of India. And before that, I was in Sri Lanka was where I was born and did my primary education. And in between, I visited the United States for about two years doing my undergrad, so to speak. And so, I've been shuttling around between India and Sri Lanka. You know, for the better part of my life, I was living in Texas in the United States, in Arlington, Texas.


Jan 02:01

Okay. All right. And you did some studies in the United States. What did you study?


Asha 02:06

So I did fashion design.


Jan 02:10



Asha 02:10

While in the US and I got an Associate's degree in the applied arts from Texas.


Jan 02:17

Why did you choose fashion design? What appealed to you about that degree?


Asha 02:22

I've always liked to dress up and growing up I would constantly be at the tailor's getting clothes stitched a certain way combining stuff. I've always been a very sort of creative hands-on kind of person with arts, crafts, drawing, sewing, you know, embroidery and stuff. And fashion designing seemed to me to be the natural choice. I mean, I enjoyed it a lot. It's quite challenging, but I did enjoy it.


Jan 02:52

Well, that's nice. And so, you enjoy sewing, I take it. And when did you learn to sew originally? It sounds like you were very creative. And that sounds like a great educational path for you. But when did you learn to sew?


Asha 03:08

So my first recollection of sewing was I think when I was in first or the second grade of my primary school. I still remember what they made. They had us making purple circular cloth with gold ruffles round it. We had to sew those ruffles on. I still remember it. I guess as kids you like a lot of bright stuff and shiny stuff. So, some of that stuff. So that was my first recollection of sewing, making that thing and I just remember it was a combination of purple and gold. Maybe that's why I liked it.


Jan 03:45

I'm surprised you like sewing after having to put all those ruffles on when you were a young child.


Asha 03:50

I love ruffles.


Jan 03:52

Oh, you love ruffles.


Asha 03:53

I love ruffles. In fact, I've put them on quite a few of my purses thinking okay, fine. Let me get rid of my whole fondness for ruffles. But no, that's what happened. I still love ruffles. I love laces. I love pleats.


Jan 04:05

So ruffles and pleats, well very cool. Okay, well tell us a little bit about your family.


Asha 04:13

So I'm the youngest in a family of three. I have two older siblings. There's a significant age gap between all of us. So, my sister was almost like a mom to me. She's 17 years older than me and my brother is about 13 years older. My parents are no more, and I am married with two grown up boys. And we live in Mumbai with my in-laws, with my father-in-law and mother-in-law. So that's what it is. My boys are taking their undergraduate program.


Jan 04:46

And where are they studying?


Asha 04:49

They're studying in Purdue University in Indiana, over in the States.


Jan 04:54



Asha 04:54

And they both over there.


Jan 04:56

Well, Kathleen Broadfoot is one of our purse makers, and she lives in the state of Indiana. And she's asked anyone who had a connection to Indiana to send a little piece of fabric, and she's making Indiana themed purses. So, I don't know that anybody with a Purdue connection has sent her fabric. But I did my undergraduate in college in Indiana. So, I sent her some fabrics.


Asha 05:22

I can send you some Purdue printed fabric as well. I made masks out of them. So, I think I'm going to send her some.


Jan 05:29

Oh, okay. Well, very, very cool. So yeah, let's talk about masks. What is the situation over there? And how are you helping with masks?


Asha 05:39

So, the situation currently is that we are entered the second wave, unfortunately. And so I hope we'll be able to get that situation under control. This started exactly a year ago, as you know, and masks were in short supply over here. So, I decided to make masks and I was making and giving people a lot of masks. That was a very interesting journey for me, because like that people don't like wearing masks.


Asha 06:06

So I set out to try and make the masks as attractive and as comfortable as possible so that people could wear them without fidgeting. If you remember, in the beginning, a lot of the stuff they would say was like don't touch your face, you know, clean your hands, don't touch your face. That was a common thing that was happening. And I would see people wearing masks and touching their face fidgeting, doing all the things they weren't supposed to.


Asha 06:32

So I started making a lot of experiments with masks looking at YouTube videos, you know, a lot of seamstresses have made thousands and thousands and thousands of masks and distributed them. I was very inspired by this. So yeah, so I made a lot of different masks.


Asha 06:49

Then we ran into a problem for my younger son. He's a big guy. And he found that the regular standard pleated mask never fitted him. He would put it and the elastic would snap right off. He couldn't breathe; it was pressing down on his nose. I kept trying different masks out, and he kept wearing them and giving me his feedback. And I also realized that masks are a bit like, sorry to say this, but underwear. One size doesn't suit everybody. So, I did a lot of innovating with it. That was that was a interesting journey. It's funny, but I am enjoying making them. So.


Jan 07:23



Asha 07:23

I just try to make it as comfortable as and as pretty as I can. So, anyone who is wearing it enjoys a not so pleasant experience.


Jan 07:32

Sure. Well and originally, they were just for function and now they're function plus fashion which should be perfect for you, so...


Jan 07:42

Yeah, I'll tell you what, why don't we take a quick break. And when we come back, we're going to talk with Asha about how she became involved with Sew Powerful and the way she supports it and why it's so important to her. So, listeners please stay tuned.


Jan 08:00

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 and designate Sew Powerful as your preferred charity, Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase right back to Sew Powerful.


Jan 09:00

And now back to our podcast. Welcome back. We've been speaking with Asha Merchant who is a Sew Powerful purse maker who lives in Mumbai, India. And Asha has been sharing with us a little bit about her background and family and life in Mumbai. And you probably recognize her name, maybe not her face, because you know on Facebook, we often just see the photos we post and the photos that I see are beautiful purses that Asha makes. Asha, how did you first hear about Sew Powerful?


Asha 09:42

I was looking for a purse pattern. So, I've always liked bags and purses, and I thought I'd like to make one, so I was looking on the net for some purse patterns. And that's how I came on Sew Powerful first, the 2015 beginner pattern. So that's how I came across it.


Asha 09:52

So the 2015 is what we now call the intermediate pattern. It was the pattern at the time, and what is it that you like about that particular pattern?


Asha 10:13

I like the intermediate one. I like the fact that there are a lot of pockets in it. So, you know, it's very functional for the person using it. And I like the fact that I can do so much with it. I mean with the flap, with the top part, with the bottom part, with the gussets, you can do a lot with it. So, it kind of brings out my creativity very nicely.


Jan 10:37

Well, I have to tell you, I had many problems with getting the gusset corners nice and smooth. And since you make so many can you give us a tip? What do you do to make those look so nice?


Asha 10:50

Mine weren't coming that smooth. But then I think I've looked at some of the tutorials. I keep pressing the fabric at every stage because I think it just gives a better finish. And and I used to earlier trim both the seams, the gusset seam as well as the purse seam. Then I think I went back and saw, I think it was a Sew Powerful video or one of the others, where they recommend that you trim only the gusset, only the gusset piece, not both, and that I found it sits a lot better.


Jan 11:23

Oh, well that is a good tip.


Asha 11:25

I actually love the gussets. Thanks to Sew Powerful gussets I can sew gussets very comfortably on other purses.


Jan 11:33

Oh, so, oh, okay. So you've applied some skills that you've gained making Sew Powerful purses to other sewing that you do. Is that what you're saying?


Asha 11:43

Absolutely. Sew Powerful has increased my confidence in sewing so much. I can't even begin to tell you how much.


Jan 11:54

Really, oh well that's really nice. Tell me if this makes any sense to you when I ask you this question. Are you team strap or team webbing? And do you know what I mean by that?


Asha 12:06

Yes, I do. I I do both.


Jan 12:09

You do both? Okay.


Asha 12:10

I do both. It depends on which state of mind I am in. If I'm in a state where I want to just do a whole lot of purses, then I go into team webbing, because that enables me to just, you know, get those purses out pretty fast. If I'm in a slightly okay, I'm going to, you know, maybe not do that many purses this time, then I go into team strap. Also, it depends on whether I'm in a position to get the webbing. The last year has been a bit hard to get materials and stuff. So, I've had to do more straps than webbing. But having said that, I just got three huge bundles of webbing. So, it's going to be webbing for a while now.


Jan 13:00

All right, and what colors did you get?


Asha 13:04

I bought maroon. I've got dark brown, and I've got an off-white color.


Jan 13:10

Oh, nice. Very nice. And so, when you make purses, are you thinking about the girls who are getting the purses? Are you imagining a girl holding the purse that you are making?


Asha 13:23



Jan 13:25

Yeah, yeah.


Asha 13:26

I refer to them as my girls.


Jan 13:28

Your girls. Oh, that is so nice. And what is it about the Sew Powerful program that appeals to you, Asha?


Asha 13:38

It gives me an opportunity to give back, you know, menstrual hygiene, educating girls. It's a big thing for me. I was privileged, blessed enough to have parents who spent whatever their resources to see that we bought a good education service, something that we took for granted, which I'm realizing that a lot of people can't do. So, you know, educating education is an answer to a lot of stuff. So, this gives me an opportunity to contribute in my way. I love to create. I love working with my hands. I love doing stuff and Sew Powerful has given me that opportunity. It's also made me discover a lot about myself, which I was quite surprised.


Jan 14:26

Oh, some self-discovery?


Asha 14:28

Lots of it.


Jan 14:30

Can you share something?


Asha 14:32

Sure. One of the main things was I feel like I don't have the patience to do something very complicated or stick to doing the same thing. I get very impatient. I keep even when my other creativity or when I make cards or anything. I keep wanting to do different stuff because I get bored doing the same thing.


Asha 14:53

What Sew Powerful has taught me is that practice can make you get better and better. It's something we've always been told. But this has taught me that, you know, the approach, I think if you get the technique, right, your speed goes a bit faster, that helps. And it's just opened up my imagination completely, because I see so many of the purses, and they're all unique. Each and every purse is unique. I mean, you can give, I realized that you can give five people the same fabric, and not even one purse would look the same. They all look different.


Asha 15:32

You know, so, so I realized that doing the same thing multiple times isn't actually boring. It's a lot of fun. There's a lot of learning, you know, and how you approach each for the feeling that kind of changes as you go on making more and more purses. Initially, you want to do something fun as to do a bit of trim, then I was like, no, let me make this sturdy. Because as you learn more, so you know, how you approach the process, the material you use, the colors you use, all that has undergone a change. So, it's been an interesting and a very fulfilling kind of journey. And I never thought I could see myself doing so many of the same thing. That was the biggest revelation.


Jan 16:13

Wow. You know, that is so insightful. And I haven't heard anyone acknowledge that. But I'm sure many of us feel that very same way. That, that’s really brilliant. Thank you for sharing that. Let me ask you this question. Do you know how many purses you've submitted to Sew Powerful? Do you have an idea, a rough idea?


Asha 16:36

Yeah, I think around 250 or a little bit more.


Jan 16:40



Asha 16:40

I'm not sure. But I think 250.


Jan 16:42

Wow, that's a lot of purses. So, somebody...


Asha 16:45

I kind of stopped counting.


Jan 16:49

Well, yeah, when you get in those high numbers, I could understand that. But for somebody who says, Well, you know, I can't start out making 250 purses. Or, you know, maybe this looks too challenging for me, what would you say to someone to help them get started?


Asha 17:05

So you don't have to make 250, you don't even have to make 20. Just to start with, just start with that one purse, just start making that one purse. Pick fabrics that you like, that you like looking at, you know, make a purse, which you'd like to use. Think of like, say, maybe you're making it for yourself or for somebody. Make a purse that you like, and just start with one purse with no expectations, and see where you go from there.


Asha 17:33

That's how I started. I couldn't stop, frankly. And there were times I just couldn't stop. Then, of course, I go through phases. But that's how I started, just to start that one purse. If you don't make even any other purses after that, which I highly doubt, that's fine. You've just made even that one purse, you know, made a difference, at least in that girl's life that gets it.


Jan 17:54

Well, right. And you know, what I always think is, the girl gets the purse, and she gets a chance at an education, which then changes her and the people around her and her community and the bigger world. So, I mean, it's like a pebble in a pond. One purse can make a difference well beyond even the one girl who gets it much less the 250 pebbles you've thrown in the pond and really made a huge difference.


Asha 18:24

It's been great. I'm very grateful. I'm sorry that like, again, with with masks, I'm sorry that people are in a situation that they need it. But it is how it is, and whatever we can do to make their lives better to help, we should do it.


Jan 18:44



Asha 18:45

That's how I feel.


Jan 18:46

Absolutely. Well, I'm going to throw this in here at the end. We didn't talk about one important member of your family. Tell us about Ginger. Who is Ginger?


Asha 18:56

So Ginger is my third child. She's the four legged furry one. She's nine and a half years old. She's the love of my life. I adopted her from the streets of Mumbai. And I love dogs. I wanted to be a vet. So I obviously didn't, but I've always loved animals, dogs particularly. So I mean, they say I say I rescued her, but I really don't who did the rescuing. She's just been wonderful to have in the house. Of course, having said that she's more of a cat in a dog's body. She doesn't like to be hugged and kissed and stuff. She can come and give us the hugs and the kisses. But that's on her terms. Not when we want to hug her. She's currently a little unwell. So [we're going to] the vet tomorrow and whatever it is, it's small and it passes soon.


Jan 19:45

Okay, well, we pray that she'll be feeling better soon. So, I felt like I would be remiss if I didn't give you a chance to talk a little bit about Ginger. So, again, thank you for your time and we look very forward to seeing your purse photos posted on Facebook. And I'm really hoping when all the pandemic is over that maybe you'll be able to travel, and we'll all be able to meet up someplace in person without masks. Wouldn't that be nice?


Asha 20:13

That would be lovely. It's on my bucket list to come for an unboxing party and help you all with that.


Jan 20:21

That would be fantastic.


Asha 20:22

I'm going to do that, then when it's safe for everybody to do that. Thank you so much for having me. It's been an honor and a privilege.


Jan 20:30

Thank, thank you, Asha. We'll talk to you soon. Thank you very much.


Jan 20:34

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.


Lynne Johnson, Purse Maker and Sew Much More

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.


Gonzaga basketball, Etsy shop, Sew Powerful, sewing for charity, Willy Wonka, Registered Nurse, Pixie Faire, Liberty Jane, Girl Scouts, Norwegian Folk dress


Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Lynne Johnson


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.

Pixie Faire,

Gonzaga University,


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.


Jan 00:20

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.


Jan 01:06

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?


Lynne 01:15

So I am originally from southeast Wisconsin along Lake Michigan. And so, I grew up in the Midwest.


Jan 01:21

You went to University of Wisconsin for your undergraduate degree. What did you study?


Lynne  01:28

So, I majored in nursing, and I'm actually a registered nurse.


Jan 01:32

Okay. And did you practice?


Lynne 01:35

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.


Jan 02:10

Oh, that's fantastic. And what did your husband study?


Lynne 02:14

So, he is a physician, and he's now an internal medicine hospitalist.


Jan 02:18

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?


Lynne 02:28

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.


Jan 02:52

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?


Lynne 03:02

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.


Lynne 03:37

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.


Lynne 04:22

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.


Jan 05:29

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.


Lynne 05:49

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.


Lynne 06:30

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.


Lynne 06:58

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.


Lynne 07:53

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.


Jan 08:28

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?


Lynne 08:36

My mother's name is Lois.


Jan 08:38

Lois. Okay. Would she mind if you gave her full name?


Lynne 08:41

Oh, probably not. Lois Peterson.


Jan 08:43

Okay. Lois Peterson. You think there's any chance she'll listen to your podcast?


Lynne 08:48

I can definitely give her the link.


Jan 08:51

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.


Lynne 09:01

It is a daffodil.


Jan 09:02

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.


Lynne 09:08

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.


Jan 10:05

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.


Lynne 10:20

Sounds good.


Jan 10:22

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 and designate Sew Powerful as your preferred charity, Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase right back to Sew Powerful.


Jan 11:23

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?


Lynne 11:50

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...


Jan 11:58

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 12:11



Jan 12:12

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?


Lynne 12:25

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.


Lynne 12:52

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.


Lynne 13:37

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.


Jan 15:05

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.


Lynne 15:16

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.


Jan 15:32

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?


Lynne 15:47

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.


Jan 16:19

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?


Lynne 16:36

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.


Lynne 17:06

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.


Jan 18:08

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?


Lynne 18:11

Kinda fun.


Lynne 18:28

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?


Lynne 19:06

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.


Jan 19:34

Well, okay, now you've got me curious about this buy nothing Facebook group. Tell us about that.


Lynne 19:40

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.


Jan 20:56

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.


Lynne 21:12

And delightful. Yep.


Jan 21:14

So how many purses did you make in 2020 for Sew Powerful?


Lynne 21:21

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.


Jan 21:52

Oh my gosh.


Lynne 21:53

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.


Jan 22:51

Well, but you didn't retire in 2021. You've been busy this year, too, right?


Lynne 22:57

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.


Jan 24:07

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?


Lynne 24:33

I do, ever since you guys first started it in February, and it works perfectly. I have no issues with it at all.


Jan 24:40

Yeah. And did you find it difficult or easy?


Lynne 24:43

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.


Jan 25:03

Oh, that's cool. Well, thanks for the little plug there on the packing slip.


Lynne 25:08

Of course.


Jan 25:09

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?


Lynne 25:38

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.


Lynne 26:13

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.


Lynne 26:42

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.


Jan 28:03

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.


Lynne 28:15

Thank you so much Jan, this has been fun.


Jan 28:38

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.


Meet Regional Coordinator Laura Ostdiek

This week we talk to our Omaha, Nebraska Regional Coordinator, Laura Ostdiek. Laura has a fascinating life story, including a history of decorating floats for the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. This has to be one of the most unusual hobbies we have encountered. Listen carefully because Laura reveals a very surprising secret about float decorating that you wouldn't suspect just by watching the parade. Floats aside, we will explore Laura's passion for Sew Powerful, making purses and volunteering beyond her responsibilities as a Regional Coordinator.


Sew Powerful, sewing for charity, fighting poverty, Rose Bowl Parade, parade floats, volunteer, Kuwait, Middle East, Nebraska, Pixie Faire, Liberty Jane


Host: Jan Cancila
Guests: Laura Ostdiek


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.

Pixie Faire,

Tournament of Roses Parade,


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.


Jan 00:18

Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Laura Ostdiek. Laura, as you may know, is the Regional Coordinator for Sew Powerful representing Omaha, Nebraska. But that's not the only hat that Laura wears, she has volunteered to serve on the Chapter Development Committee, and we'll chat about that in a moment. She was also one of the first people to sign up for the Speak Up for Sew Powerful training. And let me tell you, I think in the next version of this, Laura may end up being the instructor. She is a very gifted speaker. Laura has been working with Sew Powerful for a while, and we're going to delve in that including her very interesting background and what I just learned moments ago, the international locations where she's lived throughout her life. So welcome, Laura, how are you today?


Laura Ostdiek, Guest 01:12

I'm doing well, thanks, Jan. How are you?


Jan 01:14

I am fine. Thank you so very much. Let's just start out and talk about some of the places you've lived in your life. This is so fascinating. Where did you start out and sort of what happened here?


Laura 01:28

Well, I started out near Washington, DC, and then moved to upstate New York, and then Seattle. I went to college in Chicago and moved to LA. And then after a while I moved overseas to the Middle East and to Venezuela and then back to the States. So, I've been on East Coast, West Coast, kind of north, south and then overseas.


Jan 01:48

And now you're in the, almost the heart of the country, the very middle.


Laura 01:53



Jan 01:53

Wow. Well, and so which of these places did you find the most interesting?


Laura 02:00

Well, overseas is always an interesting experience because you learn a lot about yourself. You get exposed to different cultures and seeing them from the inside is always very fascinating.


Jan 02:12

And where did you live in the Middle East?


Laura 02:14

In Kuwait. And that was before and after the Iraq invasion, so we saw two sides of the country.


Jan 02:21

And as a woman living in Kuwait, how was that for you?


Laura 02:27

Kuwait is freer than some of the other countries, but you still dress very conservatively and mind your P's and Q's.


Jan 02:36

And so, what led you to make all these moves internationally?


Laura 02:42

My husband at the time was involved in the oil industry. And so those were two big members of OPEC. So, follow the money.


Jan 02:51

And were you working? Or were you just absorbing the culture while you were overseas?


Laura 02:56

I did have some jobs. One of them was working in the American School in Kuwait teaching computer literacy to the students, and some other odd jobs here and there, which again, is fascinating when you're working with the local people. A lot of the children were Americans, international students that was at the American school.


Laura 03:04

And, and you were teaching computer literacy. Do you have a degree in that field?


Laura 03:21

I have a degree in math, and then in Information Resources Management, which is kind of the link between the MBA and the very technical side of computers.


Jan 03:29

And so when you got back to the states, is that when you resumed your career?


Laura 03:35

Yes. And I worked as a software development project manager for years.


Jan 03:40

So for those of us who may not be into software development, what does the software development project manager do?


Laura 03:48

Mostly tell people when they need to have things done, kind of get people organized to all move in the same direction toward a similar goal.


Jan 03:58

So what are some of the examples of some kind of projects that you managed?


Laura 04:02

Well, we had a software package that handled the customer support and billing software for your cable company or your internet company. And so we would upgrade that as more features became available in those industries. And it's always interesting when you're trying to upgrade something that's already in place, you have to do a lot of regression testing to make sure you didn't break something that was already working.


Jan 04:25

Well, and, you know, having worked with you on a couple of different projects for Sew Powerful I can see how that background is applied here to Sew Powerful, and we're, we're so lucky to have found you. So speaking of which, when did you find Sew Powerful?


Laura 04:43

About 2017, I think. I was sewing doll clothes for granddaughter-to-be and I came across Pixie Faire and Liberty Jane, and then saw the purse pattern and just took off from there.


Jan 04:56

Yeah, lots of people come in through the Pixie Faire Liberty Jane door. So you mentioned a granddaughter. Tell us about your family.


Laura 05:03

Well, I have a stepson and stepdaughter and they're married, and each has two kids. So I've got three grandsons and one granddaughter, and they're lovely kids.


Jan 05:12

Oh, how nice. And do you get to use your sewing skills to benefit these grandchildren? Are they older than that?


Laura 05:20

Some of them. I've been making Batman capes and Superman capes, and then doll clothes, of course. And then curtains for bedrooms, things like that.


Jan 05:29

Yeah. How fun, how fun is that? I recently saw a picture of you that said, "Laura crafting". And I just got the idea that you do a lot more than sewing. Tell us what else you do besides using your sewing machine.


Laura 05:44

I work with paper. I borrowed my daughter-in-law's Cricut machine and had fun making some 3d paper flowers for a niece's bridal shower. That was lots of fun. Whatever catches my eye, I try. I do stained glass and things like that.


Jan 05:59

Oh, wow. I always wanted to try stained glass but have never really done it. So, you found Sew Powerful back in 2017. And what was it about Sew Powerful that resonated with you when you first heard about it?


Laura 06:14

The opportunity to help the girls get a better education.


Jan 06:20

Well, you have an advanced degree, I presume education is important to you.


Laura 06:24

It is, it is. And you know, I think girls get the short end of the stick with the whole period management thing. And we've had it very easy in the Western world. And anything we can do to make other girls lives easier in those lines; I think it's important.


Jan 06:40

So did you start making purses right away? Or did you think about it for a while?


Laura 06:45

Right away.


Jan 06:46

Right in. You were hooked. So I always have to ask my guests: Are you on Team Strap or Team Webbing?


Laura 06:53

Depends on how much of the fabric I have. If it's a heavier fabric the strap it's often too cumbersome to turn. But I just ordered 11 bolts of webbing, so that's gonna be the next several purses.


Jan 07:07



Laura 07:09



Jan 07:09

Did you get multiple colors or one color?


Laura 07:12

Multiple colors.


Jan 07:14

Multiple colors. Isn't that fun?


Laura 07:15

So now I get to go find fabric that goes with all these.


Jan 07:20

Yeah, I know sometimes I spend way more time trying to find the matching color webbing. I bought this fabric, well, I hadn't bought it. It was in my cart at JoAnn's too. And it was this shade of purple that I loved and I was determined to find a strap that would go with it. And I must have spent 20 minutes in the webbing aisle holding all these different color webbings up there. And I think I picked black because I didn't like the purples that they had. Why don't we take a quick break and when we come back let's talk a little bit more about your involvement with Sew Powerful. So, listeners, please stay tuned.


Jan 07:59

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 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 09:04

Welcome back. We have been speaking with Laura Ostdiek, who is the Regional Coordinator from Omaha, Nebraska, who's been sharing some really interesting background information with us. And there was one thing that I meant to ask you before the break and I didn't, and this is so fascinating. I'm just gonna give a little background here. This past Christmas, Christmas 2020, all the Regional Coordinators were on a Zoom call, and we were all sharing how Christmas 2020 was going to be different than most others because of COVID. And we were saying things like well, we can't visit family or, you know, my selection at the grocery store is very limited or whatever. And then we get to Laura and Laura says, I'm not going to be able to participate in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. And we're all like, what!? Tell us about what you do or have been doing for the Rose Parade, and how you got involved in all of that, Laura.


Laura 10:11

Well, close to 20, close to 30 years ago, I worked for a company that sponsored a float, and so they would give us time during that last week in December to work on the floats. And I liked it so much, I just kept going back.


Jan 10:24

Is this when you lived in L.A.?


Laura 10:26



Jan 10:27

Oh, okay. All right. Okay, so keep going. I'm sorry to interrupt.


Laura 10:30

So I just keep going back. I kept in touch with the right people. And I've been working with two particular crew chiefs for several years now. And so whatever float they're assigned to, I follow along with them.


Jan 10:41

And what is it that you do when you work on a float?


Laura 10:45

Mostly put the final touches on, the decorations. It's not just flowers, it can be seeds and leaves and rice and any natural material that gives the color and the texture that they're looking for on the float.


Jan 10:59

Okay, but is there a sketch that you're following? And glue? I mean, how does this work? I want to know the details.


Laura 11:07

So there's a huge steel structure and chassis that is the basis of the float and then that's covered with spray foam, or else kind of a paper mâché material that we can stick flowers into, or glue seeds and rice on to and it's painted. So, the part that's painted white is where we're going to put the rice and the part that's painted brown, maybe walnut shells, something like that. So, it's kind of like decorate by color, paint by number kind of thing.


Jan 11:35



Laura 11:36

But instead of using paint we're using natural materials.


Jan 11:40

And do they adhere with glue? Is that how you get them on there?


Laura 11:44

A lot of things adhere with glue. Some of the more hardy flowers are glued on but the more delicate ones like roses and irises are inserted into individual vials that are filled with water and Seven Up mixture; that sugar helps them stay a little longer. And then those are actually poked into the foam on the float.


Jan 12:03

You are kidding me. I look at those floats all the time and think now they couldn't have done that this morning because they wouldn't have had time. But yet the flowers all look so fresh. You have revealed a big secret here. So wow, that is incredible. And so, do you plan to continue to do that once travel restrictions are opened up?


Laura 12:25



Jan 12:26

Oh my gosh. So, have any of the floats you've worked on won any of the prizes?


Laura 12:32

Yeah, most of them have. We did Trader Joe's for many years, and those always won a prize because they're very extraordinary designs. But the last few years, it's been City of Hope, which deals with cancer patients. And those are really special because a lot of the people that have been involved with their recovery at City of Hope come to do some decorating. So that's pretty neat to meet them, interface with them. But I think my favorite was the Tuskegee Airmen float, because these gentlemen who flew in World War II are in their 80s and 90s. And they were there every day just to watch our progress and to greet the people. And they're just such accomplished gentlemen, it was a pleasure to meet them.


Jan 13:11

And then did they ride on the float during the parade?


Laura 13:14

They did.


Laura 13:15

No, you really have to work for the company that sponsors the float and have a special "in" for that. I have more fun sitting in the grandstands on New Year's Day watching all the floats. I think you get a better view of everything.


Jan 13:15

How nice. And have you ridden on a float?


Jan 13:30

And so I presume you have a very critical eye when you're looking at the float that those of us who just watch on TV don't have.


Laura 13:37

It's hard to be critical because they're all so beautiful.


Jan 13:41

Well, how nice. Okay, well, let's pivot a little bit and let's get back to Sew Powerful. You are serving on the Chapter Development Committee. And can you just tell our listeners briefly what we're trying to do on this Committee?


Laura 13:58

Well, we're trying to define what a Chapter might be: a gathering of people that get together to produce purses or note cards or both for Sew Powerful. So, we're trying to put a few parameters around that, that will encourage people to get together and increase our footprint, have more people join the Sew Powerful Purse Project.


Jan 14:19

Yeah. Okay. Well, and you volunteered to be the person to keep all the records for the Committee and I have to say, Laura has done an outstanding job. It's it's just really fantastic. You also signed up for Speak Up for Sew Powerful, which is a little six-part training program put together and led by Betty Johnson, who is one of our newer Regional Coordinators, but in Betty's former life she worked very closely with Toastmasters. So our program is loosely based on that, but of course oriented towards Sew Powerful. Why did you choose to sign up for Speak Up for Sew Powerful?


Laura 15:03

I thought it would be a good idea to have some practice and some canned speeches (if you want to call it that) some, like, 30-second and one-minute spiels that when people ask, What are you doing with the fabric? or What is this purse for? that I can speak very eloquently about that on the spur of the moment rather than hemming and hawing and trying to remember what it was I wanted to tell people.


Jan 15:26

Yes. And so during each of these sessions, all the participants give their 30-second or one minute talk. And then we do a blind voting and choose one of the talks to include in the training materials that are just the edited version of the class. And in the first class, Laura's talk was chosen. I think it was unanimous. It was really, really well done. Laura's a very eloquent speaker. And I'm very excited that you chose to sign up for this and that we have your example speeches. Your one-minute talk was also really very good. And so I think the progress of the course is, now we're about to do the two minute talk the following week. We have quite a few new members that joined Sew Powerful just today. We used to have four, five or six new people that joined the Facebook group. And today the list looked like 15 or more, maybe 20 people had joined. Do you have any thoughts about why we're getting more members joining our groups lately?


Laura 16:35

I hope that we're getting the message out there, that this is a really worthwhile project. I think people have been cooped up for a long time because of COVID-19 and they're looking for new things to do. And making purses is an excellent opportunity to use that fabric and also spend some time making something really, really cute.


Jan 16:54

Yeah, maybe this would be directed to people who are newer to Sew Powerful, but what is it that resonates with you? You talked a little bit about the menstrual health management portion of it. But can you elaborate on that a little bit?


Laura 17:10

That they're helping the the girls in Zambia, and not just the girls. That they're providing employment in their co-ops for the women who sew and make soap, the farming that they've started up, too. That's, it's more than just helping one portion of the population; it's spreading a lot farther than that.


Jan 17:29

Yeah, yeah. Okay. What purse do you typically make? Do you make the beginner or the intermediate or the combo? Or what do you do?


Laura 17:38

The combo. I graduated; I think mostly to the beginner pattern for the body of the purse but then I like to vary the flap. And I'll use any one of the designs for the flap.


Jan 17:50

And you have a go to embellishment or what do you like to do, Laura?


Laura 17:54

I have a whole stack of buttons that I've been given or found, and so there's all, usually a button. If not, ribbons and other things like that.


Jan 18:02

Okay, all right. Well, we will look for photos of purses with button embellishments. And we'll maybe know right away by seeing that, that's that that's a Laura Ostdiek original, a Laura Ostdiek original. So anyway. Well, Laura, thank you so much for your time today. It's been a pleasure speaking with you and learning about your fascinating background, your education, and the many ways that you volunteer for and support Sew Powerful. So, thank you so much.


Laura 18:35

Thank you, Jan, it's been a pleasure talking with you.


Jan 18:37

It's been fun talking with you as well.


Jan 18:41

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.


Survey Says with Jan Cancila

Our purse makers are a wealth of knowledge, and that knowledge was right there in front of us, untapped, until a light bulb went off. Instead of guessing, why not ask our purse making community what they would want in terms of forming local groups. Viola! The Local Growth Survey was born. Hundreds of you participated and you are probably curious about the results. Wonder no more. This episode provides the survey results and outlines next steps for creating Sew Powerful local groups. Thanks to all who participated in the survey and the dedicated volunteers serving on the committee to bring about the local groups!


Survey results, respondents’ countries of origin, how far people will travel to attend a group meeting, why people join sewing groups, how frequently people like to meet, suggestions


Host: Jan Cancila


Local Growth Survey, conducted by Sew Powerful, February 2021


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.


Jan 00:20

Hello, today's podcast is going to be a little bit different. You're not going to hear another voice, audibly, but you are going to hear the voices of those who took our Local Growth Survey. The survey lasted two weeks in the middle of February and I'm here today to give you the results. So let me give you a little background. There's a Committee that's working on, what can we do to expand the reach and engagement of purse makers with Sew Powerful? And the basic idea is having small groups of people who sew together in a community would reinforce the Sew Powerful message, create a bond, and also allow those folks to go out and talk about Sew Powerful with their friends and family as well.


Jan 01:20

So with that in mind, we put together a Committee and we had several meetings, and we tossed around ideas. Would these small groups like to have a lot of structure, officers, agendas, meetings, rules, dues, all those kinds of things? Or would would the main reason that people got together would be to form friendships and to sew and to do good for others? And we debated it back and forth and we were scratching our heads. And finally someone on the committee said, Why don't we survey all those people who produce purses for us already? And we're like, duh, why didn't we think about that two weeks ago? Anyway, we put together the survey. And a special thanks to those people who serve on the Committee that we call the CDC (and you know who you are) your work is very valuable. And we will be putting together some ideas, putting forth some ideas that will be based on the results of this survey. So let's get started.


Jan 02:29

One of the things that was important would be to have enough people take the survey that we would have statistically valid results. And I'm here to say, with several 100 respondents we are statistically valid. So here we go. So the first question, and if you took this survey, this is going to look familiar - and if you didn't, you also will be interested to hear what the results are. So Question One: At the time in-person gatherings are appropriate, how likely are you to regularly meet to share and sew with other Sew Powerful purse makers in your community, if you are aware of such a group? Now, we sort of wrestled with this question I'll, I'll admit, because, you know, it was, is this before, after or during COVID? So we put this little modifier at the beginning of the question, "at the time in-person gatherings are appropriate." So we left that up to each person to decide what that would be. And the good news is that 23% of the people who took the survey said they would be Very Likely to participate in such a group and 29% additionally said they would be Likely. So we have more than half of our respondents who are Likely or Very Likely to want to participate in groups. About a quarter of the people said they were Unsure. And so I would presume that if some of those who were unsure would eventually joined a group. We had 16% who are Unlikely and 10% who are Very Unlikely, so approximately a quarter of the people probably wouldn't be joining a group.


Jan 04:21

Question Two: How likely are you to invite a friend who currently does not sew for Sew Powerful to accompany you to such a group meeting? The good news is 45%, nearly half, said they were either Very Likely or Likely to invite a friend. So now we've got the core people attending, and then they're also including one of their, one or more of their friends to join them. 18% were Very Unlikely, 15% more Un-, were Unlikely. So again, maybe that's about a third would not invite a friend, but that's okay. We've we've got a lot of people who would encourage some of their friends to join Sew Powerful.


Jan 05:09

Question Three was very important to us. It says, How likely are you to host or lead others for sewing events and/or instruction for Sew Powerful? The good news is that 29% of the respondents would be Likely or Very Likely to do that. So we have people looking for leadership roles within Sew Powerful, and we're so excited to see such a strong number there. 27% were Unsure and 27% were Very Unlikely. So obviously, we've got a good representation on the spectrum of people who would like to lead and people who would simply like to attend.


Jan 05:53

Question Four: we wanted to figure out how often these local groups should meet. So the Question Four was, How frequently would you be willing to join others in a Sew Powerful sewing group? The most popular answer, with 47% responding, was Monthly, which was sort of what we expected. 36% said they would like to meet Quarterly. 7% enthusiastically would like to meet Once a week. And then we had 10%, who would not be joining a group. So I thought that was pretty telling, probably the most common group meeting would happen once a month.


Jan 06:38

Then we wanted to see who our respondents were and how currently engaged they were with Sew Powerful on on Facebook, in the Purse Project group. So the Question Five read, How frequently do you post comments or photos in the Sew Powerful Purse Project Facebook group? 19% Weekly, 19% Monthly, 25% Quarterly, but then 37% do not post. So we have a good number here where we have about 60% are very engaged with the Facebook group. And as you know, that is a place where we encourage others, we share information, news is announced there. So it was an interesting question with interesting results.


Jan 07:08

Now, Question Seven was the antithesis of Question Six, asking which of these very same parameters would you find least appealing? And so here are the top five things that people do not want as part of a Sew Powerful local group in order of their answer. 1) They did not want to compete on quantity or quality, no competitions. 2) They did not want elected officers, 3) They did not want to have rewards or recognition for their work; it's not about individuals, this is about giving to others, 5) And then the other answer was they did not want meeting agendas. So these two questions, Six and Seven, tell us that you are looking for local groups with friendship and sewing and not a lot of structure. So those two questions are extremely important to the committee as we try to put a definition around what is a Sew Powerful Local Group.


Jan 07:14

Question Six was a multiple choice question where the respondents got to choose up to five items. And the question was, Which of these parameters would you find most appealing in a group meeting? And so these are the top six that at least 25% selected. So and in order of popularity, the answers were 1) Service to others, 2) Opportunity for friendship, 3) Sharing materials and supplies, 4) A set meeting schedule or place, 5) Receiving sewing instructions, and 6) Presentation from experts. So those were the most popular descriptors of how these local meetings would take place.


Jan 09:35

Question Eight. In the past two years, have you submitted one or more purses to Sew Powerful? And the answer to this question: 66% Yes, and 34% No. But we didn't want to leave it at that. If you're answering No, we wanted to know why. And most people learned about the survey either from the Facebook Purse Project group or from the Sew Powerful newsletter. So so we wanted to delve a little deeper.


Jan 10:10

So Question Nine was, If you answered No to Question Eight, please check all that apply. And if you recall, Question Eight was, Have you submitted a purse in the last two years? So for the people who said No, the most common reason that they answered that was that they were just getting started. Maybe they've made some purses, they still have them at home, but they haven't sent them in. And that was the response from 59% of everyone who said No. 29% said, Lack of time or other priorities. And then I found this very interesting: 7% found the pattern difficult. Now, every now and then we'll see posts on the Facebook group that says they're stuck with the pattern that's too hard, they're giving up, things like that. But the people who answered our survey, there that wasn't a huge number, less than 10% are finding difficulty with the pattern. And I think for those who are having difficulty, I think after you make your first purse, I think that that difficulty certainly is diminished. The other options that people answered: Materials or shipping were too costly, 3%; I don't know about Sew Powerful, 1%; I do not sew 0% have answered that way. And then, The mission does not resonate with me - we did have one respondent who answered in that way. So there there we have it. So for not sending in purses, the most common reason was people are just getting started. They're new to Sew Powerful, they haven't had a chance to send them in yet.


Jan 11:58

Question Ten was, If you participate in any local sewing-oriented groups, tell us what you most enjoy about your group. So of all respondents, 31% actually answered this question that they do participate in other sewing groups. And so to find out what they liked about the group, so Sew Powerful can model our groups on other other groups that have good qualities, we asked this question. And 44% of the respondents said what they liked about their other sewing groups was the opportunity for friendships. 29% liked sewing together. 20% liked learning new skills. And then we had people liked being in a small group 4%, and then Show And Tell was 3%. So it was very interesting. There was another option where you could say Other, but I took all of those answers and they mostly they actually fell into all these existing buckets. So we move them there to get our percentages in this way for Question number Ten.


Jan 13:14

Question Eleven: If you have suggestions for how Sew Powerful can reach more purse makers, please share. Now because this was a survey, people were limited to 25 words or less to tell us what they thought. And we said, as a follow-up, if you're willing to provide your email address, we will contact you regarding your suggestion. So of all the people who provided suggestions, 55% did provide their email address and that leaves 45% who did not. I have shared with the Regional Coordinators, all the suggestions whether they were with or without an email address. But for the people who did provide their email address, I've corresponded with them right after the survey, and I asked if they would participate in a telephone discussion about their suggestion because again, the survey limited them to just 25 words. And we're hoping that we're going to get some tips and some ideas, some things that perhaps Sew Powerful has never pursued before, or find contacts to pursue ideas we had but didn't know how to get it started. So we're very excited, and the members of the Committee will be calling people who have provided their phone number as a follow-up to my email message to them. So we're very excited to get more details. I did provide the Regional Coordinators and the members of the Committee what those suggestions are, and they are available as part of the survey results for the Committee.


Jan 15:01

Question Twelve: If you would like to be notified when Sew Powerful groups begin forming, please provide your email address and location information. So 59% of everyone who took the survey wants to get an email when we start forming local groups, which I thought was really exciting. 41% did not provide an email address. But I think the third, just expecting that they'll be able to see announcements in the newsletter or in the Facebook group as a way that they will find out. But we do have the email addresses of the 59% of you who provided them. And you will be getting an email when these groups start forming. So thank you so much for providing that.


Jan 15:49

The next Question [Thirteen] was, How far would you be willing to travel to attend a Sew Powerful group meeting? Well, this is an international group. And so the answers were in miles/kilometers. And I know it's not a one-for-one, but in the interest of keeping it simple on the survey, the parameters were done as miles/kilometers. So zero to 10 miles/kilometers (and so I don't get my tongue all tangled up, I'm just going to say "miles" here for the rest of these) but zero to 10 miles, a quarter of the people said that they would travel up to 10 miles to attend a group meeting. Another third said that they would go up to 20 miles to attend a group meeting. So now we have almost 60%, who would would travel that distance. An additional 16% would travel up to 30 miles, and an additional 10% would be willing to drive more than 30 miles. So I presume these might be Sew Powerful purse makers who perhaps live in a more remote location where they're used to having to drive for most everything, but I thought that was really great. And we have 80% of the respondents who were willing to drive a good distance to get to a meeting. 6% said they would only attend a meeting virtually. And then 12% said they would be unlikely to join a group. So that's fairly consistent with the other answer we had earlier, where we had 10% who said they would not join. So somewhere in the 10 to 12% of the respondents are not looking to join a group.


Jan 17:41

So the people who provided their contact information, which was optional, also included their country. And so the responses came from Australia (2%), Canada (2%), the Netherlands (1%), United Kingdom (5%), the United States (54%). And then 36% of our respondents did not provide an answer.


Jan 18:13

So that was the survey results. It was put up just under two weeks, it was up for 13 days, which we've we felt like that gave us a good length of time to get responses, and for people to know about it from various means that we made it known. And we got about half of the responses the first week and half the responses the second week. So going forward, we're going to take this information and we are feeling much more confident about our way forward. And shortly, sometime probably in the month of April, we will be announcing that five groups of people that will be our Beta groups will be our testers of this concept, and we will learn from them. And we will put some parameters around what these groups are or are not, based on these survey results. And then based on the feedback we get from our testing groups, and then sometime in the summer, we're going to be opening it up. And we have zip codes from many people where we would be able to match people up with two or three, four or five other respondents who are nearby them based on how far they're they're willing to travel. And to start to get this going, our goal is, by the end of the year, to have several dozen of these groups actually in formation and many, many more going forward. As you know the goal for 2021 is to have 23,000 purses (if I, if I have that right), and you can imagine as we expand into Livingston in Zambia that the need for more purses is just going to increase every year. And our ability to get those purses and to have people maintain their work with Sew Powerful I think will be reinforced by being a member of a local community


Jan 20:19

Asa post script. I want to give the names of the volunteers who have dedicated their time and talents to the CDC Committee. And they are Jen Luton, Kathy Kitchen, Leslie Unruh, Torey Elwell, Sue Kirby, Elizabeth Mitman, Laura Ostdiek and Maryann Gubala. Your efforts are very much appreciated.


Jan 20:45

Thank you for your time today, but especially, thank you to everyone who participated in the survey. Your voice has been heard. We now have a clear path forward and working together, We Are Sew Powerful.


Jan 21:00

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