Black Material Geographies

0.75x 1x 1.25x 1.5x 2x 0:0000:38:21 Black Material Geographies

1x
0:00
00:38:21
Powered by the Simple Podcast Press Player

Lisa Woolfork is an associate professor of African American Literature and Culture. Her teaching and research explore Black women writers, the fiction of Black identity, trauma theory, and American slavery. She is the convener and founder of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black Lives Matter. She is also the host/producer of Stitch Please, a weekly audio podcast that centers on Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. In the summer of 2017, she became a founding member of Black Lives Matter Charlottesville. Actually, she is active in a variety of university and community initiatives, including the College Fellows Program to reshape the undergraduate general education curriculum.

Teju Adisa Farrar

Teju is an environmental equity consultant, speaker, and creator/host of the Black Material Geographies podcast. She centers on climate, racial, and distributive justice by sharing ideas on regenerative practices and co-collaborative design. Teju uses a social geographies perspective encouraging us to think about space, place, and identity. Teju’s lens includes sustainable fiber and fashion systems, urban ecologies, nature, history, activism, and art. She supports people, collectives, and organizations who are mapping / making alternative futures.

Insights from this episode:

  • How to reclaim the traditions that are valuable art and are valuable to us
  • How do we look at geography in relation to humans who identify as Black across the planet
  • Strategies to help people get economic independence and freedom so that they have to borrow from people and be forever indebted
  • Details on how to alleviate people from poverty and give them a platform for economic freedom
  • Why it is important to learn where the different textiles come from
  • How understanding the importance of making things for ourselves or where they come from can shift how we consume things

Quotes from the show:

  • “We need to know how to make things with our hands because that’s how we can support ourselves and live outside systems that don’t support us, that don’t value us and in many cases are violent to us and oppress us” – Teju Adisa Farrar in “Stitch Please”
  • “I don’t ever underestimate the joy and creativity that is involved in Black folks getting dressed, and especially Black women” – Teju Adisa Farrar in “Stitch Please”
  • “Black joy is our birthright. We live within systems of oppression that convince us constantly to devalue the things that we do, that are not connected to capitalism and patriarchy” – Lisa Woolfork in “Stitch Please”
  • “Freedom isn’t a secret; it is a practice” – Lisa Woolfork in “Stitch Please”
  • “When you get dressed, and you look the way you wanna look, and you wear the colors you wanna wear and texture, and the style, you feel good” – Teju Adisa Farrar in “Stitch Please”
  • “What you wear is like your armor” – Lisa Woolfork in “Stitch Please”
  • “Nature is constantly guiding us and resisting us and our efforts, and we can learn a lot about how the natural world operates” – Lisa Woolfork in “Stitch Please”
  • “Sustainability is how do we keep things in circulation for as long as possible” – Teju Adisa Farrar in “Stitch Please”
  • “Sustainability is if we cannot use it in the way we have been using it, can we use it in a different way and can we find a way to make it work, can we find someone who knows how to use it in a different way” – Teju Adisa Farrar in “Stitch Please”
  • “It just the human thing to do, to give people agency, dignity, leisure pleasure” – Teju Adisa Farrar in “Stitch Please”
  • “Making is one of the most important pleasures of human life” – Teju Adisa Farrar in “Stitch Please”

Resources Mentioned:

Black Material Geographies Podcast

Stay Connected:

Black Women Stitch Patreon

Lisa Woolfork

Instagram: Lisa Woolfork

Twitter: Lisa Woolfork

Teju Adisa Farrar

Website: tejuadisafarrar.com

Instagram: @misstej

Twitter: Teju Adisa-Farrar

Facebook: Teju Adisa-Farrar 

Read Full Transcript

Lisa Woolfork 0:10  

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 20 years of sewing 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. My name is Lisa Woolfork, I am your host. And as I say every week, this is a very special episode because I am talking today with Teju Adisa-Farrar who I think I consider, what Toni Cade Bambara would call, a culture worker. And that is one of the highest forms of memory-making and keeping and ancestral understandings. And she comes from a really deep tradition of making needlework of just beautiful and powerful Black maternal, creative, and empowered legacies. Teju is a writer, a geographer, a researcher, and a connector, and she is the host of the new podcast from Whetstone radio called "Black Material Geographies". And she joins us today from Brooklyn, New York. Thank you so much, Teju, for being with us today.

Teju Adisa-Farrar 1:33  

Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be speaking with you today.

Lisa Woolfork 1:36  

This is wonderful. Can you tell us a little bit about your, I ask this like, your sewing story? Like what is your sewing and making story? And how did that contribute to your study of black material geographies? 

Teju Adisa-Farrar 1:49  

Yes, I have always been creative child. When I was younger, I used to make my family clothing out of old pillowcases and sheets, and I would even make shoes out of cardboard boxes and scotch tape.

Lisa Woolfork 2:03  

Wow, wow.

Teju Adisa-Farrar 2:06  

I was committed lots of tearing and tying. And my mother taught us how to sew, like hand-sew pretty basic. But my grandmother was always making these amazing, quilted blankets, knit blankets, knit skirts, knit hat, needlepoint. And for some reason, we didn't get hold of that information. But I still got the information of like making things with your hand from what we already have. 

And so, as I learned how to hand-sew, I would sort of handsew, but it was still a lot of just putting different things together. And unfortunately, as I got older, it was just like, well, "You're smart, that's sort of a hobby, like, do fashion and crafting. That's in addition to school and education." And I was always a really good student. So that was always something that I was passionate about. But I never really got to cultivate it fully. But it was always so much a part of who I am. That translated into me thinking about how I want to dress myself. I wear a lot of my grandmother's clothes. Yes, my mother had a lot of outfits made for me and my siblings usually matching. I loved it. My sister did not. She is now ... well the age doesn't matter. But she's six years older than me. And so, dressing like her nine-year-old sister wasn't cool. For me? That was the coolest thing.

Lisa Woolfork 3:26  

Of course. It was like, look, look, look, this big girl is my sister. This my sister

Teju Adisa-Farrar 3:32  

and my brother would have a little vest or whatever, like African print textile. And so yes, I grew up with a very Afro centric household. My dad is an archaeologist & anthropologist and has literally hundreds of African shirts. So, textiles were really also a part of my upbringing. And so, it's more of like a making story than the sewing story. And as I get older, I'm like, I really want to learn how to sew patterns because that's something that I have never done.

Because I just didn't get that skill building and my grandmother, who was so much a part of my life, was always like education, education, education. Because to her that was the opportunity, especially being in the US. And so, there was things she was like, "You don't have to worry about this knitting, crocheting. Just keep doing your education." And so, I saw that she didn't value the art and craft that she made that was so much a part of our lives just like every blanket she made. There's just so many little things. Beanies when we went off to school on the East Coast, just all of these things that she was making that she would not consider art. She would just like "I like to keep my hands busy." I'm like, and "that's art, you make art." Yes, part of what I really discovered as an adult is reclaiming the value that she brought to the world into my life without even having known it. Just because it was part of her cultural upbringing. The show is really about reclaiming and my grandmother also, it's definitely an homage to her and reclaiming these traditions that are valuable. That are art. And that I think ultimately should continue on for generations because we need to know how to make things with our hands, because that's how we can support ourselves and live outside of these systems that don't support us that don't value us. And in many cases are violent to us and oppress us.

Lisa Woolfork 5:15  

That is so beautiful, and it aligns so well with some of the things that you observed. When you attended the Black Impossibility Conference at Princeton in 2018. I was so moved by your experience there. In the one way, I think that your writing becomes, as you say, as a connector. And that's where I see you as a connector. I felt that in reading your review of that conference, I felt like I learned a lot even though I wasn't there. And one of the things that I was really very moved by in your description was the need for Black joy, that Black joy is our birthright, that we live within systems of oppression that convinced us constantly, as you mentioned with your grandmother, to devalue, the things that we do that are not connected to capitalism and patriarchy, that are not connected to sustaining systems of oppression. And that is essentially how I started Black Women Stitch. It was this idea that I wanted a space to center Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing, I wanted to have a collection of folks with whom I could be my unapologetic, true self. And it reminds me of what Alexis Pauline Gumbs talks about one of my favorite quotes from her and she says, Freedom isn't a secret. It is a practice. Freedom isn't a secret. It is a practice. And after I read that I was like, oh my gosh, it just really reminded me that there's every single day we make choices that can get us closer to or farther away from or are an expression of liberation, just by living our regular lives, just by engaging in the practices that we love. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about some of the joy practices that you see as being connected to black material geographies, about the way that black folks create an occupied space.

Teju Adisa-Farrar 7:16  

I think getting dressed is one of -- 

Lisa Woolfork 7:19  

Girl, yes --

Teju Adisa-Farrar 7:20  

--joyful practices for 

Lisa Woolfork 7:22  

-- wake it up, wake it up, wake up, 

Teju Adisa-Farrar 7:24  

-- across the ages and across the planet black people get dressed. That's just something that we do. I know, in the US, especially in the Caribbean, because of colonialism, there is this connection to respectability politics. But even before that was a thing, speaking of the lacebark tree in Jamaica, enslaved women were adorning themselves with lace because they were not given nice cotton to wear. And so, they're like fine, we will make something else ourselves that makes us beautiful and feminine. Because you tell us we can't be so I do not ever underestimate the joy and creativity that is involved in black folks getting dressed, and especially Black women, and especially I would say also black queer people a form of expression of your values of yourself of your creativity. And by far, the fact that it makes you feel good. When you get dressed. And you look the way you want to look, and you were in the colors you want to wear and the textures and style you feel good. And so, I think a huge practice of joy and practice of freedom if we're using lessons, Pauline Gamble's because I love her as well is to get dressed and the way that you want to get dressed, wearing what you want to wear and walking out in the world and feeling powerful and feeling beautiful. Feeling Yourself.

Lisa Woolfork 8:37  

Yourself. Yes, yes, yes, yes. And I really appreciate that because I spoke earlier with Dr. Diana, and Jai Baird, and she is a Smithsonian curator and she created this exhibition, the "Will to Adorn". It was a conference and became I think, a book and it was about this very thing that black people and the ways in which we live our ordinary lives, the way that Beyonce talks about it, you know, the haircuts and the outfits, you know that so much damn swag that these become, as we've had fashion historians and other folks from Black Studies discuss, just as you said, that self-fashioning and self-making are forms of expression for black folks, because in some ways what you wear your armor, it's a way of feeling held, at least that's how I feel sometimes when I'm wearing something really fabulous that I've made. And it's like this could come from nobody else, as you describe in another writing on the conference, a form of self-sustainability. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more.... you have a beautiful episode in your podcast about the lacebark tree and how the tree itself, the lacebark tree that's indigenous to Jamaica, Hispaniola, and some of those other areas of the Caribbean and how like you said, Black women figured it out. They figured it out. They were like you are using us, you are trying to turn us into objects, you are trying to turn us into commodities, you have taken our labor, but you will never control the fullness of our human resilient spirit. And we are going to exercise the things that we can do to make ourselves feel good in the midst of this terrible situation. Can you talk a little bit about the lacebark tree and how the lace worked and how the lace was constructed? I thought that was fascinating.

Teju Adisa-Farrar 10:27  

The lacebark tree the only places that we know in the world that it has grown and still grows is Jamaica. It no longer exists according to research on Cuba, or on it also known as Hispaniola, which now has Haiti and Dominican Republic. However, what makes Jamaica unique is that it is the only place in which the tree was turned into lace that was used for fashion. Taino Indians throughout that region were using it to make baskets, to make rope, to make hammocks, but it was enslaved African women in Jamaica, specifically, who decided to make garments. And there's a long history in West Africa, of communities making bark cloth using trees to make cloth. So, there was already that knowledge. And then in addition, the knowledge and practices from the indigenous Taino Indians who are already in Jamaica was amalgamated in this process of creating lacebark. And so, there's a sort of lacebark tree that grows, you cut off a branch, you cut off a piece of it, and you peel back the layers of the bark. And in between the bark, at the core of the tree are these fibers and you have to gently pull out the fibers and stretch them and then you lay them out in the sun to dry, you bleach them because Jamaicans love white creamy lace, you bleach them, and then you're able to make these garments, entire suits were made from lacebark, veils, and dresses. And so, these enslaved women harvested the lacebark and made lace and dresses and even began selling it in markets, British Europeans were seeing this lace and they're like, how are they doing this, there was lacebark taken to the Queen, the Crown, the United Kingdom, wanted to manufacture lacebark. 

Lisa Woolfork 12:16  

Oh gosh

Teju Adisa-Farrar 12:17  

the tree itself resisted colonialism. Because of the process necessary to make the lacebark you can't manufacture it; it can't be done on a mass scale. So even the tree itself resisted that type of commodification of the gifts that it was giving to the woman who knew how to work with it and took the time and had the skills to do this laborious, weeks-long process to make this beautiful lace with which only to adorn yourself. It wasn't supposed to be functional; it was supposed to be beautiful, and well crafted. And that's what it was. And that was the opposite of what enslavement was bringing for enslaved Black women. It was beautiful. It was not about function or labor. And it cannot be commodified in the capitalist system. So, it's really a special magical tree, and made even more special by the enslaved Jamaican woman who harvested it and made these beautiful lace-like pieces

Lisa Woolfork 13:08  

that is so powerful. And I really appreciate the way that you identified the tree itself resisting commodification, because we know that colonialism, imperialism is greedy. And it is extractive. And the only reason to bring a piece of lacebark to the Queen is so that the Queen can see it. And then the Crown or the state can figure out how to either capture it, or reproduce it, of course, what they love to do, like with shea butter, extract it, and sell it back to us exactly. And so, this resistance is so powerful, because what it models is something we don't think about a lot, is that nature is constantly guiding us and resisting us and resisting efforts and that we can learn a lot from the way that the natural world operates. And this tree is just a really powerful story. I thank you for that. I wanted to see if you could shed some more light on the title of your podcast, "Black Material Geographies". I love the way that you are drawing out such an expansive view of the Diaspora in pulling in so many different resources, so many different stories. But I think I would love to hear more about material and geographies. And I think it's because materials remind me of where I grew up. I grew up in South Florida and a lot of folks with my mother sewed, my grandmother sewed, so I'm a fourth generation sewist and they use the word material to describe fabric. So, they say, hey, let's go pick up some material from Cloth World or wherever. And so, material for me has often meant fabric, but also the stuff of life, you know, and then geographies. It's so interesting to me, because I think the last time, I thought about geography was in the fourth grade where we had to memorize all the state's capitals. I had not thought about geography that much at all. Oh, since then I've I don't think I have maybe I have after you explain it to me, maybe I have done some of this. But I've not connected materials with geography or fabric with geography. And you've just given us such a beautiful example of the lacebark tree being so site-specific, this was a knowledge that only enslaved Jamaican women had, and that they have passed this down through generations. It's regional. It's so specific, and you can't just export, chop down the trees and take them all to England and make the stuff without pay

Teju Adisa-Farrar 15:31  

And all trees died. They - 

Lisa Woolfork 15:33  

wait, are you serious? 

Teju Adisa-Farrar 15:35  

Yeah, they brought seeds, they brought small trees, and they tried to plant them in greenhouses in the UK, and they all died. They did try to do that. Yep. 

Lisa Woolfork 15:43  

Wow.... 

Teju Adisa-Farrar 15:44  

that's imperialism for you,

Lisa Woolfork 15:45  

isn't it? And rather than saying, wow, these women have some really valuable knowledge? How about instead, we free them all? Let them live their regular lives,

Teju Adisa-Farrar 15:54  

right? And then pay them for their craft if want it

Lisa Woolfork 15:56  

Exactly that. But can you talk a bit more about what material geographies means and how it operates? What are the connections between materials and material culture or materials, fabric, and geography?

Teju Adisa-Farrar 16:09  

So, you're exactly right material in this case does refer to fabric, textiles, cloth. Those things that we make a lot of times from plant fibers, from natural fibers, sometimes from animals, In the case of wool. Sometimes they are factory made polyester, usually petroleum products, but materials in life is anything that we can physically touch that is made. Whether it's handmade, human made, or machine made. That is material. In this case, we are talking about textiles, fabrics, and cloth. And every material that we touch, whether its handmade, machine made has a variety of different geographies that have to be involved for it to come into being into the world for us to physically be able to touch it. Where are the cotton plants grown and who are they grown by that allow us to have cotton cloth, towels, shirts, pads? Who is tending to the sheep and shearing the sheep that make our wool who is spinning the yarn, turning it into the fabric that we buy at the cloth store? Each of the stages of how we make the materials happens in a specific place, and usually across different geographies and across different communities who are participating in the making of the things that we touch that construct our entire physical and social reality. So, material geography is basically just saying that in here and the materials that make up our lives are these different geographies that often we're not thinking about when we're thinking about the materials. But those geographies are crucial and central to the fact that we can live in a world with all of these wonderful textiles and fabrics and cloth. And in addition to that is expanding our ideas of geography really, the US does a disservice in understanding geography. I only started understanding geography. When I did my Master's in Europe, I did an Urban Studies program in which urban geography was the core of the program, urban geography, urban economic geography, cultural geography, environmental geography. And so, I started realizing that some of the things that I was trying to do and connecting the dots when I studied sociology, and my bachelor's degree was better done using geography, and the expansive way that it actually is as a type of study. It's not just about where things are, or even what they look like, or even how they're formed. Geography in the way that I do it, human geography, cultural geography is about our relationship to place, how the place developed over time, and how our interactions with that place both changes the site and changes ourselves in the process. So, we are sort of evolving along with the geographies that we're interacting with. And everything that we do in life interacts with some geography, whether we recognize it or not. So, part of what I hope to do as a geographer, is expand this idea of geography from just states and capitals, which I also learned in third, fourth grade, right? Like, what was the main economic system in that state? Was it rice? Where did rice come from? Who started planting rice? Who bought rice seeds? No. It's like people who bought rice, rice economy in the Carolinas, let's talk about, I don't know, Texas. What was the main economy of Texas? Oh, was it cotton, who knew how to grow cotton? Well, who was enslaved Africans because of West Africa, they had been basically growing and cultivating cotton since the 11th century? So actually, the enslaved Africans had more knowledge of the geography that they had never been to than the Europeans did, because tropical Africa is more like tropical America than Europe was like either of those places. So really, the economy in the United States is about not only the geographies which can grow certain crops, but also the people who came from a different geography who applied that knowledge to this place. So how do we talk about our materials not just in isolation but as in relationship to where they come from and who was cultivating them and who they think them and where we place the value. And the black part of the title is just how do we look at this from the perspective of humans who we identify as black across the planet.

Lisa Woolfork 16:34  

That is so fantastic and so rich and so powerful. September is National Sewing month and the Stitch Please Podcast is going to celebrate that like we celebrate every episode by centering Black women, girls and femmes in sewing for September however, we are going to be talking with Black women authors who are also sewist, so tune in for the month of September, and you will hear from writers like Bianca Springer, Akima Hapa, Leslie Ware, Olubunmi Sola, Rue De Perkovic, and more. So, listen out for September, and we will help you get your stitch together. 

Lisa Woolfork 21:01  

You are absolutely right that until very recently, I don't believe at least as Americans, that we thought very much about where our stuff comes from. And it wasn't until the COVID 19 crisis and pandemic, and things started to slow down because "Oh, guess what a person in this particular region is now sick". 

Teju Adisa-Farrar 21:25  

Yeah, 

Lisa Woolfork 21:26  

and the factories are struggling to keep up with the production and things are delayed and et cetera, et cetera, et you just did a fantastic episode on supply chain that really kind of brought home some of the same considerations that we hear from folks who do sustainable fashion, or who are very committed to having fashion be less harmful. We spoke with ASHA Barber who wrote her first book "Consumed" a few months ago, and she was talking about she was sharing such shocking information in terms of consumer goods and textile waste, and fast fashion being so lethal to the planet, the idea that this one company produces 40 different outfits per month that someone's supposed to buy. And consumer goods remain in circulation. Like if you buy a dress, for example, you might have it for less than a year. 1% of consumer goods, like textiles remain in circulation a year. You buy it, and it tears, and you throw it away, I was really moved by again, you mentioned that you were your grandmother's clothes, but you are a make-do and mend type person, it seems. I saw a recent post about "I need to find a tailor, I'm not throwing this out, I want to make it work." Can you talk a bit about the ways that sustainability seems to be practiced within your own family, you know, the idea of like self-sustaining and generating and making and preserving? Can you talk a little bit about your philosophy around mending and sustainability in particular, and how that emerged or showed up for you or how you practice those things?

Teju Adisa-Farrar 22:56  

Yeah, I think it's so interesting, this idea of we get a garment and then we throw it away, like where is away. And in episode five of my podcast, I talk about all of the secondhand clothing that is sent to Ghana and Haiti. Some of the clothing sent to Haiti was manufactured in Haiti for $2 a day and then we wear it for a few months. And then it's sent back to Haiti as secondhand clothing. And it got to they're getting like 15 million pounds of secondhand clothing a week that they can't even distribute. So often when we throw things away, they go to another geography that impacts black people and their environment. So again, even when we say throw away, where is the away part. So, for me, I try my best not to throw anything away, not to put anything in the landfill that doesn't have to be in the landfill. And a lot of this comes from growing up. I mean, my grandmother in my opinion, before there was zero waste as a movement and there was like YouTube white women, there was my grandmother's yard, she didn't throw anything away. The leftovers that we ate went to the dogs and the chickens and then the mangoes that were fell from the tree went to the cows across the street, there was no garbage collection in the place that she lived at that time. So, if you either had to burn your garbage or not really make garbage and she just really didn't make garbage. And if she had to make garbage, she would take it somewhere to a landfill like once every few months, but she really didn't have a lot of waste at all. Everything was reused. Once you couldn't where it became a rag or cloth once it can be used as a wrapper cloth and became a scrap and a quilt, every material has many lives. It didn't die. It had many lives. And so, on both sides of my family, we had hand me down clothes, we would take things to get altered, we would have things to get made. And so, growing up I felt very much like that was important. I didn't think of it as "we just have to do this because we don't have a lot of resources". I just thought it was important. And even now my mom sometimes makes fun of me because I have these things that I've had for years and she's like, why don't you just throw it away? I'm like, Yeah, not yet. They're still life in here. 

Lisa Woolfork 24:58  

You're like, "Mom where is away? There is not away. Where is Away?

Teju Adisa-Farrar 24:59  

She's like, you know your grandmother was something else. I was like exactly what she was onto something. And so yes, I absolutely get things altered. I've started mending things now more because I am trying to give myself more time to do the things that are important. And mending my clothes is one of them. Boots, I wear boots all the time I take my boots to the cobbler once every two years, once a year, I will have boots for literally decades, because it takes so much time, energy, and resources to make them and they're not bad just because they get scuffed or because the heel kind of falls off. There are literally cobblers who could put on entirely new heels. Why would we throw that away when it can be reused and have even new life again and again? And again. So, for me sustainability is how do we keep things in circulation as much as possible? Rather than it being a line? Take make waste? How do we make it a circle? And yes, eventually things have to be retired. But that's also why I do the work of sustainable fiber systems? How can we create things that can go back to the earth into the soil to become nutrients for the new plants that we're going to use to create our fibers for our clothing? So, sustainability? To me, it's like if we can't use it in a way that we haven't using it? Can we use it in a different way? And can we find a way to make it work? Or can we find someone else who knows how to use it in a different way. Because even if we don't know what to do with it, someone does, whether it's an upcycling designer, or a cobbler or anyone. I truly believe that we should think about how often we are discarding things, and why we feel like we could just discard things without having to think about it. And I would say for sure, in the US and probably in the Western world, Europe and Australia, we have the privilege to discard things at higher rates than any other people on the planet. Because I am absolutely certain that in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa, especially in traditional communities, you don't just throw things away, because also the things that you have so much meaning and have a story and someone you know made them with their hands. So, you wouldn't just throw away something your grandmother made, right? But if you buy it from Forever 21 or H&M, you don't have an emotional attachment to it in that way. So, it feels like you could just throw it away. So, I think it's also about the fact that we don't really know who makes our stuff or where it's made, we don't feel connected to the process. So therefore, we just take it for granted. And I try my best not to take anything for granted, especially the textiles and fabrics in my life.

Lisa Woolfork 27:31  

It's so beautiful that you remind us that materials have a history, they have a quote unquote life or life expectancy, that they have utility beyond their initial use, and that if we want to continue to exist on the planet, which I would appreciate. We want to continue to create and to build and to have art and to have our adornment, there is no away, there is no planet B. We need to make the space for that by living sustainably now, so that we can make sure that there are resources for later. That seems like a basic fundamental choice, and yet the seduction of capitalism and its mandatory consumption, to prove that you are being a good consumer. That's the identities not so much about being a quote unquote, citizen, it's about being a consumer and to show that you have the capacity to spend money on things all the time absolutely all the time. And that's one of the reasons that I'm so committed in my own sewing and my own scholarship, and my own teaching, my own practices, I find sewing so life giving, I find that it can take something that was meant to be dormant, like a plank of fabric, or some old T shirts. And it does give it new life also it's this kind of unique offering that only comes from me. Even if you and I bought the exact same pattern because I have high hopes that you are going to learn how to sew with patterns, and you're gonna get really great at it. And so, we might have the occasion where you and I might sew the same pattern, it's not going to look the same. It's going to be totally different. It's absolutely going to be different. And then you can be incredibly unique in your sewing and how that is an expression of identity but also an expression of community. I sew everything. I pretty much only wear clothes that I make. Everything, bras, underwear, the whole shebang. I don't know how to knit. I don't love knitting; I could knit to save my life. I really wonder what kind of really sick situation I would be in that someone would say, you better knit one purl two bitch or it's curtains for you. I can't imagine that someone would say that. But if they did, I could do it. Under duress, I can do it. But the thing that I love is sewing and it's taking these materials and to transfer them into other things and I want to take it back again to your essay "A Portrait of Grandma's Hands." You talked about your grandmother's making as a way for her to visualize something in her mind and make it come alive with her hands. And I think that transformative property is so powerful. 

And I also wanted to connect the work your grandmother did with Sugar Company and how she helped the workers organize a credit union for economic independence. But the thing that really got me was when she helped the company by telling them... I'm not sure there's a worker demand or she demanded this on behalf of the other workers. Telling them that they could use the grounds of the property for leisure when they weren't working. And that to me just seemed so radical instead of this plantation, instead of this place, this very large farm, just being for backbreaking labor, because sugar cane farming is brutal. 

Teju Adisa-Farrar 30:49  

No joke. It's no joke. It is brutal. 

Lisa Woolfork 30:51  

And if y'all don't know I urge you to read the farming of bones by Edwidge Danticat. I love that book, right? I love that book. Sugarcane farming. And they call it the farming of bones because sugarcane is hollow. Not those bones are hollow. But um, if it's the crack of the machete, hitting the cane that makes it sound bone, like it's cracking but the farming of bones is a gorgeous book. Sugarcane is a killer. In terms of like enslaved people's life expectancy - working in rice and working in sugarcane were some of the most difficult and extractive forms of forced labor. But it was this post emancipation for Jamaica when your grandmother was organizing?

Teju Adisa-Farrar 31:27  

its pre and post, because this was in the 60s and Jamaica gained independence in the 62.

Lisa Woolfork 31:32  

Ok pre & post, okay, but this idea that she was like, you need to open these grounds. So, the people who live and work here can rest. I just love that I could talk about that all day. Yes, you will, these beautiful grounds, we should be able to use this and not just be used by it. I just love that.

Teju Adisa-Farrar 31:50  

I think one of the many violence’s of racism and colonialism and enslavement is trying to remove black people from leisure, trying to not allow black people to have spaces of joy, rest, and leisure. And when we do call us lazy. So, while my grandmother, I don't think she would ever have referred to herself as radical in any way, but she simply was like these people create the profits for your company, they are the ones working these grounds and they can't even enjoy them with their family when they're not working. That's not right. For her it was about right and wrong. And she was like these people are the reason why you have value, why you have this property, why you have a company, why the UK has sugar and a tea and coffee culture. This is the reason why. So, the least, the very least you could do is allow these people spaces of leisure when they're not only adding value in profit to you that they actually don't get back in the form of wages. No wages that they were paid would equal the amount of value and profit that they added to that company, which did used to be a plantation, that estate came on the estate was a plantation, then it became a sugarcane factory. And then eventually that land was returned to Jamaica in probably is now owned by China at this point based on how imperialism continues to work. 

Teju Adisa-Farrar 33:05  

But at that time, my grandmother was like, Jamaicans need economic independence from Europeans. And they need beautiful places of leisure, because we live on this beautiful island that we can't enjoy because we're working to death. And so, for her, that was just the right thing to do. How do you get these people who are not making a lot of wages, some economic independence and freedom so that they don't have to borrow from this company and be forever indebted? That was a credit union. And then on top of that, how do you allow them to enjoy some, very small fruits of their labor, which is this beautiful ground that they maintain it create and should be able to enjoy what their families. What I would talk to my grandmother about these things, I would be in all with my mouth open. And she's just like, it's just the right thing to do. That's how God would have it. And I was like, and you're right. It's just the human thing to do. It's just a human thing to do to give people agency dignity and leisure and pleasure. To me. That is what humanity is about. And my grandmother and the way that she did things. That's what she was thinking about. How do we give each other dignity, humanity and agency independence were really important to her? 

Lisa Woolfork 34:07  

Oh, that's so beautiful. And it reminds me of Cornel West. And I think he says justice is what love looks like in public. And I'm also reading a book. I think it's Cole Riley. She says dignity is not something you give someone. It's something you affirm. I love that that really struck me because that's exactly what your grandmother was doing was affirming the dignity of these laborers of these folks, and also being a great model. Jamaicans should be able to enjoy the beauty of their country -

Teju Adisa-Farrar 34:39  

Their country 

Lisa Woolfork 34:40  

the beauty of their country. Yes, exactly. 

Their country with a capital T 

Teju Adisa-Farrar 34:44  

because you know, the Jamaicans trying to leave the Commonwealth. So, I just want to really be clear that it is their country and that it's not the UK's country, not the Crown's country, not the Queen's country.

Lisa Woolfork 34:52  

Excellent. That is all facts. And so, I want to ask you just one last question. The slogan of the "Stitch Please" podcast is that We will help you get your stitch together. I wanted to ask you Teju Adisa-Farrar, how would you advise our audience? What would be your words of wisdom to help us get our stitch together?

Teju Adisa-Farrar 35:12  

Learn about where the textiles in your life come from. And if you have the ability to make them for yourselves and people you love, and also teach people you love, to make them for themselves, if they so choose, continue to do that. I think that is so important. As I said, I'm learning to make all kinds of things, I make things out of wood, I've tried to learn how to sew patterns. Because making I think, is one of the most important pleasures of human life as my grandmother did, we can imagine something in our mind and then bring it to life using the environment around us. So, if you can continue to make things for yourself and others. And if you don't do that, you could learn where your things are made and how they're made and potentially shift how you buy things based on that. I think that would be a dream, I think that would be really important and will completely transform the way that we consume, because everything would have more meaning to us.

Lisa Woolfork 36:03  

And on that beautiful note, where can we find you? Where can we find you? And when is the podcast coming back? I think you just wrapped one season. So, when is the next one coming? And what can we expect from that?

Teju Adisa-Farrar 36:13  

Yes, so you can find me on my website www.tejuadisafarrar.com, which has a lot of my past writing and sort of all of my work. The one social media that I am committed to, although I don't believe social media is the revolution in anyway, is Instagram @misstej on my site, you can sign up for a newsletter. I only send it once a season because I personally don't like to get newsletters all the time. That's another way that you can keep track of what I'm doing. The final episode of season one comes out on Monday. I'm not sure about season two. I honestly don't know. It depends on a lot of different factors. But for now, please do listen to season one and send it to a friend and family.

Lisa Woolfork 36:55  

Thank you so much for being with us today. We are very grateful.

Teju Adisa-Farrar 36:59  

 Thank you for having me, Lisa. I'm so glad we had this conversation.

Lisa Woolfork 37:05  

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 blackwomenstitch@gmail.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 $2 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 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 and 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.

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.

You may also like...

Discount code SEWBLACKQC for 20% off at Spoonflower and 10% off at Crimson Tate.