Lisa Woolfork 0:00
It's National Sewing Month. And we are talking with Lesley Ware and Hekima Hapa, co-authors of Black Girls Sew the book. Thank you so much to our Patreon supporters and those of you who are helping us reach two hundred additional Patreon supporters by the end of twenty twenty-two. The money you give to Black Women Stitch sustains a community of Black creatives, artists, and content makers. Thank you for your support. Here we go.
Hello, stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast with more than twenty years of selling experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I am your host, Lisa Woolfork. And as I say every week, this is a very special episode, because this episode features the two geniuses behind Black Girls Sew, the book. I'm talking, of course, about Hekima Hapa and Leslie Ware. Welcome Hekima and Lesley to the program. Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today.
Hekima Hapa 1:33
Thank you, Lisa.
Lesley Ware 1:34
Yeah, thanks for having us.
Lisa Woolfork 1:35
This book is a beauty. It is utterly beautiful from top to bottom. The cover is glossy and shiny and smooth and just amazing. And then when you flip through the pages, it's like an artwork. It's like an art coffee table book but one that's really also meant to be used. And so I think the book is such a beautiful hybrid of patterns, instructions, history, fashion. It's one book that does many things and does all of those things well. So congratulations, and that leads me to my first question: How did you all come up with the idea of a book? I know Hekima had been working with Black Girls Sew and starting this wonderful youth organization that's teaching fashion principles and sewing to young folks. How did the book come about?
Hekima Hapa 2:31
So I think that the book was always in the making, but it was very important that friendship that me and Lesley were able to put together. And at last we worked, we met, started with Lycrocell using one of Lesley's works, both having the same general mission. And then us just discussing how I would always jokingly say to Lesley, "You should ghostwrite a book for me." And here it is!
Lisa Woolfork 2:55
Oh, that's beautiful. Lesley was like, "I ain't ghostwriting nothing, sis. I'm putting my name on it!"
Hekima Hapa 3:01
Lisa Woolfork 3:02
Tell me, Lesley, what did you bring to the creative process? Hekima, you brought your organization. You brought the young folks who were doing the sewing. Lesley, how did you get involved?
Lesley Ware 3:12
Well, this book is my fifth. So it was a lot of fun for me just to kind of take a lot of this feels that I've gotten from working on other books. So lessons that I like learned and like things that did in the previous books like bringing them here. So it's just really taking all the stuff that I have learned from past books and like bringing it to this amazing book. However you said it—an artbook. I think there's a lot of the lessons that I, again, have learned have been able to shine through in the Black Girls Sew book. I would just say it's all the creative stuff from the past.
Lisa Woolfork 3:48
I really appreciate how the book does so many things. And one of the things I really like about it is the way that it talks about some fashion icons. And one in here that I have is Zelda Wynn Valdes because she's such an important figure in fashion overall, but also specifically, I think, for New York and Harlem. And through the work that she did with communities through the HARYOU-ACT that created this wonderful program. I ended up actually interviewing somebody who worked with her, who was taught to sew by her.
Lesley Ware 4:22
Lisa Woolfork 4:23
This was Dr. Diana N'Diaye Baird. She's a Smithsonian curator. She's from New York. I mean, like, honestly, could you imagine learning the sew from Zelda Wynn Valdes? I can't imagine. So I'm excited that I talked to somebody who knew her in real life and learned from her. And then to see her again in your book is just like, yes! How did you decide which fashion icons to include in the book? Was this something that you all had a list of to begin? Like, how did you make those choices?
Lesley Ware 4:52
Yeah, I have a list of all these like heroes who I am inspired by, who are people who I feel like just haven't had enough shine. And then they're kind of like these hidden figures in fashion because we always didn't have the platforms or if we weren't given the recognition. And so I wanted to do a podcast a few years ago that's just telling the stories of these people. And so when the opportunity came around to do this book with Black Girls Sew, I like pulled out that list, and then Hekima and I decided which ones, because we couldn't include them all. But maybe that can be another book.
Lisa Woolfork 5:26
That's the next book, the sequel.
Lesley Ware 5:28
There's so much to learn from like all of these stories. And so we just narrowed it down to some of the ones that we thought were the most important to tell right now.
Lisa Woolfork 5:37
I absolutely love that. And the idea of bringing in folks like Patrick Kelly, like all of these wonderful figures that we should know more about, that should be household names. That should be because it's such an important part of how we get to do what we do now. And so I love that the book brought that forward. I also had a question about why you thought it was important to bring in textile history, because that's something that I thought was also a really great contribution. Like talking about denim, for example. I thought the whole essay "Denim" was really good. And I just wondered if you wanted to talk a little bit more about that, and why textile history is important, especially the African American lessons or experiences with textiles that might be different from the mainstream history of the textile. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Hekima Hapa 6:30
I was gonna say for me, denim in particular, when you think about as a resource how much water it takes to produce them. So the idea of it being like a main staple in my own line, it's very important. I talk to the children all the time about how easy it is to upcycle denim. and how easily and readily available it is. But it's not something easy to produce. So for me, it's really important that we think about it historically, the connection to it being cotton, how our ancestors are here. I think it's important when we talk about fashion and aesthetic, denim is a big part of that.
Lisa Woolfork 7:04
Absolutely. Lesley, how about you? Like, why was it important? I was really surprised, I guess I had not made this connection between denim and what the book describes as "Negro cloth" as something that was really prevalent to be used by enslaved folks. Can you talk a little bit or shed a little light on that history of that background? Because I think...
Lesley Ware 7:22
Lisa Woolfork 7:23
...it's a great comment about the resources it takes to make denim right now, and why it's useful to kind of repurpose what we have. But back in the day, like hundreds of years ago, there was another thing with denim that's also significant. And I thought that was really clever to bring that forward,
Lesley Ware 7:38
When I think about denim, like Black girl stylists has these amazing denim pieces. And denim is like a really easy material for kids to like upcycle with because it's so durable. And so I knew that we really wanted to focus on denim. And then I really started thinking about my dad, who turned eighty-eight years old last month and his relationship to denim. Some of the stories that I heard from him growing up about denim. And he didn't always wear denim. And that denim had this kind of association to poor people or sharecropping or just these stories that are attached to it that we don't think about anymore necessarily associated with denim because it's just all a part of American culture and popular culture and just what we wear. And so I thought that it would be important to highlight it and to give that textile moment in the book where we could dig a little bit deeper into its history.
Lisa Woolfork 8:33
I really do love that. And you talk about this in the context of jeans have a long history with Blacks in America prior to sharecropping days, denim was referred to as clothes for Negros and explaining what sharecropping was. Explaining how denim dress was the dividing factor between who was seen as valuable or wealthy or upper class and who wasn't. And then what it meant to reclaim that and reinvigorate that legacy to acknowledge and move forward at the same time. It's really very, very powerful. And also to get this really rich cultural background to the denim pieces that you're already creating and that the students are already doing, which I think is really beautiful. I really also thought in addition to the way that you do textile history and fashion icons, I just gotta say, this book is so unusual and rich and unique. And why I think it's absolutely essential is because you incorporate both fashion and Black cultural knowledge. It is a very unique and powerful combination, unusual, and, I think, even unprecedented, honestly, to find color theory and the racist history of denim in the same book, and to have that book to be for children. And it's a smashing success. Can you talk about this unique aspect of bringing in like, here's color theory, but you talk about color theory in a way that connects it back to the diaspora? I don't know, it's just really beautiful. Can you share a bit about that unique combination of bringing in both the fashion knowledge and the Black cultural knowledge? Why is it important that kids know how to do both?
Lesley Ware 8:33
I get an opportunity to do anything, especially like working on books in my head, I don't know if I'm gonna be able to do this again. It's like, I just want to give it like everything that I possibly can and that we can, because I'm like, girls need to know that this is the moment that we have. And so sometimes it feels like it could be two or three books.
Lisa Woolfork 10:18
Lesley Ware 10:18
Or like, you just have to just do a lot with what you have because this is the chance that we have right now. And so for me and like my thinking around pulling the book together, and even all these things are like in the proposal, some of them were taken out, because the editor was like, "Okay, like, we can't do all of these things." But everything that they left in for us, we tried to accomplish it. Maybe we didn't go as far as we could with it, but at least the nuggets are there where you can go and explore and find out more on your own. So we just wanted to pique curiosity in a way that will lead to something else—more learning. But yeah, I think it was just really about this is our opportunity. Let's get as much information to girls as we can in one book.
Lisa Woolfork 11:24
It really is. Hekima, how about you? How do you feel about the compressed nature of your book? There's a lot of great information in there. And was there some that you left on the table? If you were like, "Dang it! I wish we could have put this in there"?
Hekima Hapa 11:36
I think I share in the same sentiment. It's...who knows if we'll ever be able to do this again. Get as much in as possible, make it feel like an encyclopedia, make it feel like a textbook. So you can keep rediscovering different aspects of it. You can use it for your camps, you can use it for your classrooms. It can really be a reference piece.
Lisa Woolfork 11:54
I absolutely agree. I absolutely agree. And you can see if you look at my copy, I've got these little tabs.
Hekima Hapa 12:01
I love it. I love the tabs!
Lesley Ware 12:03
I love it! Can you send us a picture of that?
Lisa Woolfork 12:06
I need bookmarks! Really like, there's only two bookmarks because I only made four bookmarks. So I got two for one book and two for another. But there are many things I'm going to come back to and pay more attention to. Now, there's so much that you teach and share in this book. Can you share one lesson each that each of you all learned in the process? Is there something that you like, now that this is all done, it's over the book is finished, it's gorgeous, it's on shelves, it's in stores, it's in the hands of consumers who are very enthusiastic like myself—what did you learn from the process? What did you take away?
Hekima Hapa 12:42
I know for me personally, I learned a lot of patience, a lot of trusting the process. I think that there are parts and portions of the book that were not necessarily in my personal control that I had to trust that Lesley's direction and leadership was going to have the outcome that it did. So that would be my biggest lesson is really like, trusting the person that you trusted this baby to knows exactly what she's doing.
Lisa Woolfork 13:08
Excellent. That's excellent. Lesley, how about you?
Lesley Ware 13:10
I think writing a book in the pandemic is challenging because you're dealing with all of the things that are happening. We couldn't leave our houses. When we did the photo shoots, we were under certain restrictions because of like, masking and.... Just even sourcing fabric was difficult because the fabric stores weren't even open when we first started doing this. And so what I thought it would be easier to write a book in a pandemic, because oh, we're just in the house. But it ended up having its pros and cons because I imagined us being more collaborative, because when we signed the deal, it was right before the pandemic happened. So I was like, I want to be at Hekima's once a week, and we're gonna get to test these things out. And they it just ended up being Zoom files and text messages and Google documents because we were both in Brooklyn, but not really able to have hangouts. So I think for me, a big lesson was just the logistics of writing a book in a pandemic. It presents challenges and opportunities, but we made it happen despite all of that.
Lisa Woolfork 14:12
Y'all, your book was a pandemic baby.
Hekima Hapa 14:15
It definitely was.
Lisa Woolfork 14:16
You know how they say them pandemic babies are built different. Your book is a pandemic baby, because it's so wonderful. It is such a gorgeous gift. I'm gonna take a quick pause here to remind folks who are on Patreon and are seeing what I'm seeing.
Hey, friends, hey. I wanted to share a little bit about the abundance of the Stitch Please podcast. The growth of the podcast has been so exponential that the work has exceeded what I am able to do, and this is where you come in. To retain the joy practice and the liberatory vision of the podcast, and to not have it reproduce capitalist extraction and overwhelm, I am recalibrating the Black Women Stitch Patreon for increased sustained financial support. You can find links to the Black Women Stitch Patreon in the show notes, and be on the lookout for more information as the recalibration unfolds. And thank you for your support.
I am coming to you with these two beautiful Black women, who I think are in their own space of business. I think Lesley is coming to you from The Dressing Room, which is located in Times Square, New York City, of all places, and I think, Hekima, are you at your Makerspace?
Hekima Hapa 15:34
I'm at Black Girl Magic Street, Tompkins Avenue in Brooklyn
Lisa Woolfork 15:38
It's located right there. You know everyone wonders where Black Girl Magic is, but, you know, it has an actual address.
Hekima Hapa 15:43
It does. It's three eighty-four Tompkins Avenue.
Lisa Woolfork 15:46
That is exactly where Hekima is coming from. Tell me, y'all, about how was it balancing, managing your own work, right? Because this is your pandemic baby, but it's also not your only child. How do you manage balancing this beautiful shop, the Art to Ware, the studio, the gallery, all the one of the things that you're doing, Lesley, and then all of the teachering that you do, Hekima—the teaching, the fashion shows, the direction, working with the kids, and getting their materials together. How did you manage to balance all of that and write a book?
Hekima Hapa 16:18
So I will say one: Lesley was able to keep me on task, which is quite the task. But two: that it gave us something to look forward to. Well, the first year during the pandemic, we weren't able to have summer camp. So that was a different space for me because I have been doing in-person summer camp for seven years at that point. To me, I get to recharge with the children during the summer and makes me more creative and reignites my passion for sewing. And I wasn't able to get that. But the book was able to do that.
Lisa Woolfork 16:46
That's beautiful. It enhanced what you were doing. It didn't like detract or distract from it. How about you?
Hekima Hapa 16:53
Lisa Woolfork 16:53
How'd that work for you?
Lesley Ware 16:54
I think the book really helped me to have a routine. So a lot of my friends in the pandemic were like, "We just slept the whole time." We were having a hard time feeling inspired and creative. And for me this book, man, okay, you need to get up every morning at six a.m. because I was also teaching fashion design at a high school on Zoom during the pandemic. So I would get up at six and work on the book until nine, and then I'd do my teaching at the school, and then work on the book. So it was like, I think I love what Hekima said about just something to look forward to. So something that we're working on now that would come to light later on down the road. But I think for me it was a routine. So like, I could have easily just been like, with a kitten and eating cheese puffs, but instead I actually worked on something that means something and that we have now. And so for me it was about just routine and having something else to do besides being in the house and be worried and be unproductive. So I'm like thankful to Abrams for believing in this project and our editor, Meredith [unclear], and Hekima for working with me and entrusting me with this baby.
Lisa Woolfork 18:05
It's so wonderful. I have to ask y'all: What was it like being on "Good Morning America"? First of all, did you have to get up very early? I can tell already that Lesley does not care about getting up early.
Lesley Ware 18:16
Lesley is not a morning person.
Hekima Hapa 18:19
Lesley does care about getting up early, but I'll get up if I have to.
Lisa Woolfork 18:23
But how do you maintain the six-to-nine-a.m. work schedule on the regular? I guess this is what you have to look forward to. For me...
Lesley Ware 18:30
Lisa Woolfork 18:31
...six a.m., I'm just turning over good.
Lesley Ware 18:34
"Good Morning America" was fine. We actually shot the segment—was it at four o'clock? It was in the afternoon on a Friday.
Lisa Woolfork 18:42
Lesley Ware 18:42
So it was not in the morning. I enjoyed it. I thought it was great. It was different than what we imagined again, because it's still a pandemic. And so we thought we're gonna be indoors, we thought it would look a little differently. But we had to tape it outside. It was raining. So if you can't see that there was someone holding an umbrella like, we had to wipe ourselves off, but we got through it. And I think it was great. It was such a cool experience to be on "Good Morning America." Hekima, what was it like for you? We haven't talked about this.
Hekima Hapa 19:14
I think it was fantastic. The experience itself, like she said, was kind of unorthodox. What I love most about it was I don't talk to many people from the small town that I grew up in. I've been in New York City for a really long time. And this was one time that they got to see what I do. My first viewing of it was someone who filmed their television and sent it to my one childhood friend and said, "Isn't this your friend?" And so I just thought that was pretty special. She tagged me on Facebook. I don't use my birth name, and so they like, wrote my government name, and they were like, "I think this is who this is!" But the best part about it was that they just acknowledged the fact that my mom taught me to sew. A lot of the comments was like, "Oh, her mom was an awesome seamstress. I can see how that made sense." So that made me feel really good.
Lisa Woolfork 19:57
Oh, that's so beautiful.
Lesley Ware 19:59
I agree with Hekima too like, it was for me my family is "What are you doing in New York? Why aren't you just using your degree? You're opening a store?" And so like, being on "Good Morning America" was very validating. Because if it's like TV, that means that it's real and that you're doing something that is worthwhile. My dad finally all came together and like everyone from church was calling her. She was like, upset that I didn't tell her sooner, oh, like you don't have cable. I knew you would find out eventually,
Lisa Woolfork 20:29
it's really beautiful to see that the book that you've created is something that's so generative. It's not just one thing; it is really an invitation to a process of imagination and curiosity and creativity, and making and doing and dreaming. It's really wonderful. And I think the book itself is like a love letter to Black girls. That's something that I really love about it. And so I wonder if you have any ideas or thoughts about what you want folks to take away from the book? I feel like it's a book that's given a lot of gifts. And I wonder what are some of your hopes that people will take away with it after reading and experiencing projects and stuff?
Hekima Hapa 21:13
I think for me, it's just the possibilities—the possibilities of who you can be, because you have the "Hidden Figures" portion of it. It's the imagination portion of it that has sparked. So it's just really like, you can do anything. You can do anything within fashion, you can do anything just in general. But I want you to close that cover and feel like I'm gonna go back again and again, and there's always gonna be something that it sparks.
Lisa Woolfork 21:35
I love it.
Lesley Ware 21:36
I do too. I just wrote down anything is possible. So basically, the same thing that Hekima just said. I always say a lot of the books that I write and projects that I worked on are things that I wish I would have had as a girl because like, I came to fashion in a different way. And I probably would have just jumped right into it if I knew that it was something that could be like career and the thing that you could develop and make a lot of money doing if you do it the right way or make connections. And so anyway, I think I want girls to just say, take this and run with it and, yes, know that anything is possible.
Lisa Woolfork 22:11
Anything is possible. That is so beautiful. I'm going to ask you one last question. This is the question I asked everybody. I forgot to tell you I was going to ask you this, so surprise! It's easy. The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that "we will help you get your stitch together." I'm going to ask each of you, what advice would you give to someone to help them get their stitch together? So think about that for a second. And I think I'll start with Lesley: What advice would you give to someone to help them get their stitch together?
Lesley Ware 22:41
Like stitch together in sewing? Or stitch together as in life? Or stitch together as a love? Just any...?
Lisa Woolfork 22:49
Yes, any all, all in none, whatever it means to you, whatever advice or wisdom you would give somebody to help them get their stitch together. Like someone's just like, "I'm in need of direction. I don't know what to do. I wish I had some good advice." And then Lesley says this...
Lesley Ware 23:03
Write it down. So I do have like, all these little notebooks. I keep notebooks in my tote bag, at my desk—I'm just always writing things down. And even if I don't look back at them frequently, they just magically happen. And for a while I was taking notes on my phone. And I felt like things weren't happening digitally for me. And so I recently went back to just paper and pen. So I would say to get your stitch together, you got to write it down and that'll help it come to fruition.
Lisa Woolfork 23:34
I love it. I love that—write it down. How about you, Hekima?
Hekima Hapa 23:38
I would say keep trying. Keep trying. This is the first book that I've personally been a part of writing, but it's something I've wanted to do probably for a lifetime. I have a really good sister, and she reminds me constantly like, "You told me 20 years ago, you were gonna write a book." She said, "I remember you were pissed off with fashion design. You walked out of your shop and slammed the door. Came behind you to make sure you were okay. And you blurted that out of your mouth." So I would say just keep trying. Even when it seems impossible, it doesn't seem like it's gonna happen, whether it's stitching and you're making a garment or it's really like the stitching in life. Just keep trying.
Lisa Woolfork 24:12
Y'all, thank you. And on that note, I am so grateful to have had this conversation with Lesley Ware and Hekima Hapa about this gorgeous pandemic baby of a book, "Black Girls Sew." It says "Projects and Patterns to Stitch and Make Your Own," but it is a love letter to Black girls. It is a manual for everybody. And I thank you both so much for bringing it to the world. Thank you.
Lesley Ware 24:40
Thank you for having us, Lisa.
Hekima Hapa 24:42
Thank you, Lisa.
Lisa Woolfork 24:43
You've been listening to the Stitch Please podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you supporting us by listening to the podcast. If you'd like to reach out to us with questions, you can contact us at Black Women Stitch at Gmail dot com. If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patreon, P-A-T-R-E-O-N. And you can find Black Women Stitch there, in the Patreon directory. And for as little as two dollars a month you can help support the project with things like editing, transcripts, and other things to strengthen the podcast. And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really, really help the podcast by rating it and reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So I know that not all podcast directories or services allow for reviews. But for those who do, for those that have like a star rating or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us at the Stitch Please podcast, that is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. Come back next week, and we'll help you get your stitch together.