Back to School Sewing

First episode of the Black Women Stitch podcast 🙂
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Garments madefor this year’s Back to School Sewing:
Three shirts using Simplicity 8753

One dress using Simplicity 8732

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Lisa: 00:14 Hey stitchers, welcome to Stitch Please. The official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where black lives matter. I'm Lisa Woolfork, your host coming to you from Charlottesville, Virginia. I am a fourth generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I'm happy to be here and looking forward to today's conversation.
Music: 00:36 [music]
Lisa: 00:55 Our family's tradition of back to school sewing dates back to my own early days as a child as well as the early days of my family with my husband and my children. When I was little, my mother would dress me and my two youngest sisters alike. Uh, we were pretty close in age. My youngest sisters, the two of them were born in the same calendar year: One was born in January and the other one's born in December, so they looked a lot alike. They were both young, um, and I was three years older, but she still put us all three in the same dresses. She would make the same dresses for us. And thinking back on it now, I think it's really very sweet and very endearing. I'm not sure how much I appreciated it when I was a child myself. I'm also not sure how much I noticed one way or the other, but I did like this idea of us being presented as a family together.
Lisa: 01:53 She did not sew for herself, um, this is one of the challenges that we'll talk about in a future episode about lack of size, inclusivity, um, in sewing. But she did enjoy sewing for us. So the matching outfits in my estimations now were a visual symbol of our unity, of our belongingness with each other and for each other. My mother was and remains a big proponent of sisterhood. She doesn't have to do that now, of course. But when we were little, she was very much trying to keep us from arguing with each other, keep us from fighting with each other, keep us, you know, together. And who knows if the sewing of the matching outfits was part of that. But it was, it seemed to be a principle that she was interested in preserving a sense of family unity and the matching outfits help to do that visually, at least.
Lisa: 02:51 So when it came time for me to have my own family and I was also very much interested in sewing at started sewing pretty aggressively in graduate school. I too wanted to pass on that same tradition. One of the reasons that it became important to make the back to school outfits are matching a coordinate and clothes from my family was that our family was and is a multiracial family. I am black, my husband is white, our kids are black. Something that we noticed from the earliest days with the kids was that when I was with the kids as their mother, no one ever doubted that I was their mother. Um, I'm dark skin, black woman and 4C hair. Um, and my kids are lighter skin than I am with, I don't know what the letters are, 3B hair, 3c hair, I dunno, but their hair is, uh, less curly than mine.
Lisa: 03:52 And so no one ever doubted that I was their mother. However, when my husband would take them out places it was, he would get all types of comments, uh, wondering if these were his kids, et Cetera, et cetera. Now you can look at some of the photos and um, one of our boys looks almost exactly like him, whereas the other one looks a lot like me. Of course, they both look just like themselves. They don't look like anybody else. They're each individual people. But when they were very small, we needed something to kind of communicate, um, that we were family, that we were together and that became useful for my husband as well. This is not the topic of today's episode, so I'm not going to go into it. However, I did begin what I called "Matching Outfits For The Multiracial Family," which I thought was very clever and hilarious and it was alliteration, which I also liked.
Lisa: 04:49 But what became useful or what became obvious to me was what I was trying to do was to use my sewing to disrupt this racial field, this racist allegory that talked about what family and what belonging meant and what belonging and family could look like. Particularly as we know with the history of America, there have been white men with black children since there has been an America. And since before there has been America and someone like myself who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson, the great irony that uh, people around us could not compute that my white husband had these children. It was appalling to me. So the back to school tradition is, as I said, a piece of the "Matching Outfits For The Multiracial Family" and it's just another intervention with my sewing as an art and a craft and knowing that these things are also can be very loaded social issues as well as showing a beautiful sign of love and intimacy and solidarity for our family.
Lisa: 06:02 Back To School Sewing has always been near and dear to my heart, mostly because school has been near and dear to my heart. I was a straight up black nerd all the way from kindergarten through right this minute when I was small. I used to beg to go to summer school in the summer instead of going to camp because camp was outside in, summer school was inside and you got to read books. So I would always choose to go to summer school over going to camp. So now as a professor, my life is pretty much dominated and has long been by an academic schedule. I know most people have different ways of scheduling. They have nine to fives, they have eight to eights. Um, they do three 12 hour days. But for me it's always been the semester. And so it's been wonderful to be able to bring sewing into that and to do that also for myself, my husband and my kids back to school, sewing marks and important transition, it lets me ease into the, into the semester in a less anxiety provoking way. Even though I still get kind of stressed out about the beginning of school. I also love the beginning of school. When I was little. I loved going to buy the Trapper Keepers. I loved getting new notebooks and new pens and new clothes was a big part of that. But that's a lot less interesting to me now as an adult, especially as an adult who sews about 90% of her old clothes. So this notion of back to school shopping is wonderful for me for office supplies but not as exciting for apparel. So the back to school sewing became a way for me to contribute something to create something to present a look, a mood for the start of the semester.
Lisa: 07:50 And then as my kids got older, I started to do that for them as well. I've been selling back to school, looks for my boys since my youngest boy who was now an 11th grader was in kindergarten. Um, the same is true for my older boy who was now a junior in college. He started when he was in fourth grade and so there's like, it's a cute picture on the Instagram page of the two of them in their first back to school outfits. One was in kindergarten, I was in fourth grade and they were going to the same school for the first and only time. Our city schools are ranged such the elementary is only K [kindergaren] through four [fourth grade]. So this would be the only time the boys were in school together. And so I wanted them to have something special to remember that by, or maybe I just wanted to have something special to remember that back. I'm fortunate to be joined by my boys today on this very first podcast. Um, my older boy and younger boy both agreed to participate in the podcast with the enthusiasm one might estimate from a 15 year old and a 20 year old, but they're here and they're gonna talk a little bit about what the back to school shirt tradition has meant for them. Um, and I will get you in touch with them in a minute. Stay tuned.
Music: 09:03 Oh, oh [vocalizing, music]
Lisa: 09:13 Stitch please, the black women stitch podcast talks a lot about sewing, but if you'd like to see some of what we're discussing, we invite you to follow us on the socials. On Facebook, you can find us at Stitch Please. And on Instagram you can find us at black women's ditch on Instagram, you'll find a lot of great pictures and compelling social commentary. In addition, you can participate in a weekly live Instagram chat at 3:00 PM on Thursdays at eastern standard time. So follow us on the socials. On Facebook, it's Stitch Please and Instagram at Black Women Stitch and get your stitch together.
Lisa: 09:54 Thank you very much Riley, for agreeing to be on this first episode of the black women's ditch stitch. Please podcast. I'm very glad to have you on board for this first episode. I wanted to ask you just a few questions about our first day of school tradition of wearing the me made shirts or ..... You know, this year I'm thinking actually not about not making a dress for myself and making a different type of outfit.
Riley: 10:23 Okay.
Lisa: 10:24 But can you tell me some of your thoughts about the shirts over the years?
Riley: 10:29 Well, I don't know. I think it's nice kind of having a nice shirt to start off the year, you know, like a, um, like, you know, looking at your best and all that. So yeah, I think, I think it's nice, you know, to have matching outfits and got to having just a nicer, nicer first day of school, uniform.
Lisa: 10:52 I always loved making those things. Actually I'm making Ryan's right now and then I'm going to make yours afterwards and try to mail it to you on Thursday so you'll have...
Riley: 11:03 yeah. School starts on Monday, so [inaudible] Oh yeah, it should get there.
Lisa: 11:09 Yeah, I will. Um, I could always try to finish it so that I could mail it tomorrow. Even Do you have to be at classes on Monday. Yes. Classes start Monday. Okay. So I will, uh, really put a hustle on so I can get it to you. I mean, it's, we, it really means a lot to me for you to have it on the first day for the reasons that you described. Um, have you, do you ever remember anything or any particular shirt that you, that you liked or that you didn't like or that, um, do you have any memories of anything like that? I liked the green one.
Riley: 11:47 You did that one time that had like the, uh, the kind of like this, the, um, the kind of design things on them. I don't know what the correct sewing term is, but um,
Lisa: 11:58 oh, embroidery!, It had, an embroidered placket. Yeah,
Riley: 12:03 yes. Oh I wasn't going to get that on a guess. And um, yeah, I think those are really cool. I like those green ones that those look really nice and um, uh, memories about, uh, I mean I know re for freshman year of college, um, the, uh, my, that's the class my um, American architecture class, a professor, said "Oh wow, I really like your shirt cause the design kind of looks like buildings." And I was like, yes, thank you. Even though, I don't know if it was that was it or if that was what you were going for or not, but you know, hey, it helped. Maybe it helped me get a good grade in the class. I Dunno. Maybe,
Lisa: 12:50 well, that makes me feel good, what I was going for was "inexpensive fabric that I could buy a lot of."
Riley: 12:59 Oh yeah. That's a nice theme.
Lisa: 13:01 That was my theme. Um, but actually I remember that one because that was fabric that I got from Ikea and I had gone there after we had moved you in for the summer program, so, and so it was, it was kind of symbolic in that way from me, um, to get this fabric to you for your first day of college. And this was also right after the events of August 2017, um, with the, um, with the white supremacist terror attacks. And I remember thinking, I am going to finish these shirts no matter what. And I did. And so I felt really, I felt really good about that and I was glad that you liked it. Um, do you, do you ever recall any comments from friends or anything? The reason I'm asking is that a lot of people have asked me like, "how did you get your boys to wear the things can make or how did you get your boys to wear a shirt like this? My kids would never", um, so what would you say to, um, something like that or what is your opinion on it?
Riley: 14:16 Great. Well, I do think that at least the first few times, I thought the shirts were super, super cheesy and like, you know, like I thought it was kind of goofy that we had matching outfits on the first day. But I mean, you know, I think, I think that was more when I was in like middle school and stuff, you know, and like, everyone's like insecure about how they look and how people are gonna think about it, but a lot. But when I went on the first day with the shirts, everyone said they really, not just teachers, like other people said they really liked it, thought it was a cool shirt. So that kind of dissuaded that, I mean, my friends are not or have never been people who've cared about outfits. They're what you've, I've got no like comments from like close friends about the shirts, not as a bad thing. It's just not what they does that really fashion really isn't something they care about. So yeah, I can say the same too. So, um, you know, but from other people from just around, from like walking down the hallway and stuff, they liked it. And then, you know, ever since I've been getting kind of similar comments like, oh, that's a nice shirt. Yeah, I think that's, it's Kinda Nice, you know.
Lisa: 15:21 Yeah. And I've been doing this since you were in the fourth grade. Um, and I think maybe when you were in the fourth grade, like you didn't notice or didn't think about it, but once I, as you said, once you started middle school and the stand and people can, kids can be so mean and, um, can care about these things and you really, you really didn't really care about those kinds of things, um, about like clothes and fashion and stuff. And my thought was, well, if they don't care about what they wear, then I could just put them in anything, you know. So that worked out great for everybody. Um, so I'm not gonna keep you, you know, you are trying to settle into, you have a work that you're trying to get done for your orientation program and stuff. Um, but um, I was, I'm happy that I was able to talk with you about this ritual that we've done or it's not a ritual, I guess a tradition...
Riley: 16:17 That sounds weird,
Lisa: 16:18 Huh?
Riley: 16:20 Yeah, that sounds weird...
Lisa: 16:20 Makes it sound like we're all going, "Ahhhh" [vocalizing]
Riley: 16:24 Mom, stop. People are going to hear this...
Lisa: 16:27 People ARE going to hear this cause this is going to be on my podcast.
Riley: 16:30 You have your podcast and it's embarrassing when you just start doing random stuff . It's like, you have your first appearance on the worldwide web and yeah. You're...It's not,'s... First to ... first impressions are everything.
Lisa: 16:43 Well I think this is going to make a great first impression because you are an engaging young man.
Riley: 16:49 Mom!
Lisa: 16:52 and you have been wearing me made or mom made clothes for your whole life. And um, I just, I know that there's people who would like to start these kind of things for their kids. Do you have any advice for moms or dads who sow and want to make things for their kids or to do a traditional like this? Do you have any advice for them?
Riley: 17:15 Well, I mean, I know that you, you already brought up that you started when we were in fourth grade and it doesn't mean that it became a tradition from there, but you know, if that fourth grade window has passed already, I mean, like, just force them to, you know, like, I mean you're, you are, I mean, I guess speaking to the other podcasts that I mean you are the parent in the house. So, you know, just, just, just, just force him to wear the thing. I don't know. I'm not going to be a good parent, but you know, that's, I guess that's my advice. I mean, I think you did that once or twice. I think Ryan, if he was being, you know, kind of if he was kind of defiant about wearing the shirt and you just kinda was like, oh you get, well you have to. So you know,
Lisa: 17:57 I don't think out he was ever defiant about wearing the shirt. He became defiant about some of the fabrics. And so my, my strategy was to let him choose the fabrics because he cared so much about it. Um, I let him choose the fabric for the last two years and it's worked well because I'm thinking, "Well, he's clearly invested enough that he's willing to do it, but it has to be on his terms". But then last year even dad agreed. Dad was like, the fabric Ryan chose was better than the fabric you chose..
Riley: 17:57 Oh really?
Lisa: 18:34 Yeah.
Riley: 18:35 Wow. Straight to your face?
Lisa: 18:36 Kind of like that. Like it was pretty direct so, and I had to admit it was way more expensive than what I wanted.
Riley: 18:45 That's Ryan!
Lisa: 18:45 but it was very nice fabric. It was really nice. And this year's fabric is really growing on me. I'm working on it right now and it's pretty cool.
Riley: 18:55 Okay.
Lisa: 18:57 You shall see. My hope is now instead of trying to get it to you or mail it on Thursday...
Riley: 19:04 Getting here on Thursday is fine for three days.
Lisa: 19:07 today is Tuesday. So it's not going to get there on Thursday. I'm going to mail it on...
Riley: 19:12 well mail it on Thursday, it's fine. It'll probably make it.
Lisa: 19:14 well I'm not sure. That seems to me that feels like it's cutting it too close. I'd rather try to get it to you, I'd rather try to mail it Wednesday afternoon and that way I can do it, um, I can send it a two day mail and it should arrive on Saturday. That's what I'm going to try. I would like it to arrive to you on Saturday. Is there anything else you need that I could also send?
Riley: 19:38 Mom you're still recording. Are we having a normal call? Or are you having a podcast call?
Lisa: 19:43 This is still on podcast, but I'm going to edit this so cause I know how to edit now.
Riley: 19:47 Okay.
Lisa: 19:48 Well, I certainly fooled him. I do know how to edit, just not very well at all. This is my first podcast, so there's going to be some hiccups. And by the time I got to the editing stage I thought that was pretty cute. So I decided to leave it in. Speaking of "pretty cute," we're going to get to my youngest son who will talk to us about his impressions of the back to school shirt tradition. Here he is. H
Lisa: 20:14 Hello everyone. This is an interview with my son Ryan, who is 15 years old and today he started his first day of 11th grade wearing a me made shirt that I have made for him. This is part of our family's back to school tradition that we've had for many years since Ryan was in kindergarten. So it's actually, I guess his 12th Year of wearing a me made shirt to school on the first day.
Lisa: 20:41 Hello Ryan. Welcome.
Ryan: 20:44 Thank you for having me.
Lisa: 20:45 Thank you for agreeing to do this. Can you talk a little bit about your opinions of the shirt tradition?
Ryan: 20:54 I really like this shirt tradition, I think it's a good tradition in a lot of families should keep doing it.
Lisa: 21:00 Um, and so do you have any memories of wearing the shirts to school?
Ryan: 21:07 I don't have any memories.
Lisa: 21:10 What are your thoughts about the tradition?
Ryan: 21:12 My thoughts on the tradition is that I really like the tradition. I think it's a good tradition and it's something that keeps our family together.
Lisa: 21:18 That's very sweet. Um, do you have any favorite shirts from the past 12 years that you remember?
Ryan: 21:25 I think the one that mom made this year is my favorite shirt.
Lisa: 21:29 I like this one too. And you might recall you chose the fabric for this shirt. What made you choose this fabric?
Ryan: 21:36 It's a fabric that I would wear more often.
Lisa: 21:39 And um, it's pretty subtle. It's gray with red dots that people are interested. You can see it on the black women's stitch Instagram page. Uh, what made you choose this fabric?
Ryan: 21:51 And this one is more subtle and I like pattern that's on it.
Lisa: 21:54 Do you have any advice for other families or other kids, um, or other, other parents or people who sell that might want to sell these kinds of outfits for their young kids or for their kids? Any advice?
Ryan: 22:06 Plan your time wisely so you aren't staying up all night trying to fix, try and plan your time wisely so you aren't spending the entire night trying to finish it.
Lisa: 22:18 It was definitely something I did this time. I did not play it wisely. And what would you say to kids who might be uh, embarrassed or uneasy about wearing clothes that were made by their parents?
Ryan: 22:31 Just wear it.
Lisa: 22:31 Why?
Ryan: 22:34 it's something that your mom put a lot of work into and you should wear it to show appreciation.
Lisa: 22:40 Is that why you wear the things that make you to show appreciation or because do because they're all,
Ryan: 22:45 No. It's to show love.
Lisa: 22:47 To show love. That's a beautiful sentiment on which to end this very first episode of the Black Women Stitch podcast Stitch Please. I so because I love it. I love my kids, I love my family and friends and it's also really great to be able to sew and share that sewing or that love of sewing with people who really appreciate it. I'm not always the best at sewing for other people. I don't particularly love that my sewing is much more self care sewing than it is commercial sewing, but it is something that I do really value and when I do give it away, it is always something that is special for me and hopefully special for them.
Lisa: 23:33 It's also nice to think about sewing as a symbol. Sewing represent an external expression of love and intimacy. This is what I hope to achieve with our families back to school sewing tradition. Thanks so much for joining us for this week's episode of Stitch Please. The black woman's stitch podcast, you can support the project and a lot of ways. One of them is at our Patreon site under Black Women Stitch. Another way is to tell friends about the podcast and another way is to rate review and subscribe to the podcast. If you'd like to reach out to us, you can email us at Thanks so much. Happy stitching. Come back and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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