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By Jana Hill 

A sense of calm, stitch by stitch | Holiday Cheer

Reclaimed fabric bag-making turns into a goal of 1,000


Last updated 12/9/2020 at 12:19pm

Photo courtesy of Warner Blake

Karen Guzak stands in front of her handmade bags at Angel Arms Works in Snohomish.

Colorful bags adorn the wall of Angel Arms Works in Snohomish where former mayor and city councilmember Karen Guzak says she has "become the bag lady of Snohomish."

She retired from a 12-year commitment to public service last year, dedicating seven years as mayor from 2007 to 2019.

In early December, she was on bag number – approximately 800. The goal is 1,000. So, 200 left.

She has not counted lately. The repurposed fabric tote bag goal was an epiphany that came to her during the first shutdown of the pandemic.

Guzak is a painter and visual artist as well as a yoga teacher. Her yoga studio shows her aesthetic regard with visual gems that create experiential brushstrokes of beauty. When the bag idea came about, her studio was temporarily closed. And her yoga studio is temporarily closed again.

Guzak's motivation for a bag-making goal was tied to her public service. As a council- member, she was one of the driving forces behind a plastic bag ban in Snohomish that was lifted when the pandemic hit.

Snohomish banned plastic bags in 2019, as part of a trend statewide to reduce the proliferation of plastics. Thin single-use bags were switched out, and thicker, plastic bags intended for multiple uses were the fix.

Thin polyethylene bags are sometimes found in trees, on powerlines, and blowing through parks. Prior to the pandemic, many local governments reduced their plastic-burden by banning single-use bags.

Then in the spring of 2019, the attempt to reduce plastic proliferation took a backseat to the need to prevent germ spread, and the bag ban in Snohomish was lifted. Stores started using the thin, single-use plastic bags again.

"I had a Eureka moment with these fabrics. I'll make tote bags for my grocery shopping," she said.

The bags are sewn at her Angel Arms Works studio, which doubles as her home with husband and co-artist Warner Blake. Guzak creates by hand, measuring, cutting, pinning and joining the bag's parts by machine. She uses a serger for the finish work. She likes the bottom of the bag a little sturdier and wider. The amount of fabric, the combinations, and the finishing touches are what makes each bag unique.

"I'm always looking at what goes together, and sometimes I like the linings to be a real surprise," she said, describing inside stitching as often colorful and perhaps "something wild."

Guzak's totes are reusable, and made of reclaimed fabrics, giving new purpose to scraps that were once curtains, once tablecloths. Friends have gifted fabric to her and other sources are the thrift store and her own fabric collection.

Each bag takes about three and a half hours. The sewing started before the pandemic, but each stitch does bring a sense of peace. In the meditation part of yoga classes, students are instructed to bring the mind back to the breath, to rein in tangents and stay focused. But when lying flat on a yoga mat, a wandering mind is of little consequence. Sewing has meditative motivators such as straight lines and unpoked fingers.

"I do feel like sewing is ... a meditation for me," Guzak said. "(I) have to really pay attention because there's the beginning and end of every, every line, you know. So you can't go wandering off (mentally). You have to really focus."

Although the studio is closed, yoga continues. Like many yoga teachers in the pandemic, Guzak started live streaming yoga classes to stay in touch with students and offer yoga to those willing to take on a new method for practice.

Yoga lifestyle continues too. It asks for conservation and respect for the Earth. Guzak's bags align with that ethical code in "a commitment to reusing, recycling, reducing, and making beautiful things."

The passing of time is something all are tasked with, in the pandemic. The sewing and fabric collection are activities that help.

Sewing and yoga are both repetitive rhy-thmic movements that can be calming. In repetitive movements, the next moment is related to the last, and each stage is an action. Each stitch is a moment of predictable action, tying to what mental health caregivers call agency – ownership, control. One stitch, another stitch, all creating a string of actions and calming the mind.

The calming flow of repetitive action is "why we like rocking chairs," she said.

The bags, one by one, are each part of that unique practice of attentive action. She refers to sewing as a seated meditation that she combines with "continuing to teach at my yoga studio, where I promote an active range of physical activities and an abiding attention to self-care." 

The bags are mostly 18 inches tall by 24 inches wide, sell for about $35 to $40. A few are sold for $25. Guzak has offered pick-up or delivery – with limits.

If the buyer is too far away, "I'll let the U.S. Post Office deliver for me."

Her wares are available on her website, at


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