Black Material Geographies

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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

[00:00:00] Lisa Woolfork: Hello, stitchers. Welcome to stitch, please. The official podcast of black women's stitch, the sewing group, where black lives matter. I'm your host Lisa wool Fort 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.
[00:00:21] Lisa Woolfork: And get ready to get your stitch together. Hello everybody. And welcome to the stitch please podcast. My name is Lisa Wolf fork. I am your host. And as I say every week, this is a very special episode because I am talking today with Ted Adisa. Ferar who I think I consider her what Tony Kay Babar would call a culture worker.
[00:00:46] Lisa Woolfork: 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 of needle work of [00:01:00] just beautiful and powerful black, maternal, creative, and empowered legacies. Teju is a writer, a grapher, a researcher, and a connector.
[00:01:11] Lisa Woolfork: And she is the host of the new podcast from Wetstone radio called black material geographies. And she joins us today from Brooklyn, New York. Thank you so much. Teju for being with us today.
[00:01:22] Teju: Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be speaking with you today.
[00:01:25] Lisa Woolfork: This is wonderful. Can you tell us a little bit about your, I ask what like their sewing story? Like what is your sewing and making story and how did that contribute to your study of black material geographies? Yes.
[00:01:39] Teju: I have always been a creative child. When I was younger, I used to make my family clothing out of old pillowcase and sheets, and I would even make shoes out of cardboard boxes and scotch tape. Wow. Wow. I was committed, lots of tearing and tying, and my mother taught us how to [00:02:00] sew like hand. So pretty basic, but my grandmother was always making these amazing quilted blanket. Knit blankets, knit, skirts, knit, hat, needlepoint. And for some reason we didn't get all of that information, but I still got the information of like making things with your hands, from what we already have.
[00:02:21] Teju: And so, as I learned how to hand, so I would sort of hand so, 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 a smart, that's sort of a hobby. Like people wanna do. Fashion and crafting that's in addition to school and education.
[00:02:38] Teju: 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 wanna dress myself. I wear a lot of my grandmother's clothes. Yes. My mother had a lot of outfits made for me and my [00:03:00] sibling.
[00:03:00] Teju: Usually matching. I loved it. My sister did not she is now the age doesn't matter, but she's six years older than me. And so dressing like her nine year old. Oh, her 15 year old. Wasn't cool. For me. That was the coolest thing. Of
[00:03:15] Lisa Woolfork: course. I was like, look, look, look, this big girl is my sister and my brother would have the
[00:03:22] Teju: little vest or whatever.
[00:03:23] Teju: Like. African print textile. And so, yes, I grew up with a very Afrocentric household. My dad is archeologist anthropologist and has literally hundreds of African shirts. Mm. So African textiles was 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 wanna learn how to sew patterns.
[00:03:47] Teju: Wow. 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, [00:04:00] 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.
[00:04:08] Teju: And so I saw that she didn't value. The art and craft that she, that was so much a part of our lives. Just that 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.
[00:04:26] Teju: She would just like, oh, I like to keep my hands busy. I'm like, and that's art. You make art. Yes. Part of what I've really been discovering as an adult is reclaiming the value that she brought to the world and to my life without even having known it just because it was part of her cultural rigging. The show is really about reclaiming and my grandmother also, it's definitely an homage to her.
[00:04:47] Teju: And reclaiming these traditions that are valuable, that are our, and that I think ultimately shift continue on for generations because we need to know how to make things with our hands, cuz that's how we can support ourselves and live outside of these [00:05:00] systems that don't support us, that don't value us.
[00:05:01] Teju: And in many cases are violet to us and oppress us. That is
[00:05:05] Lisa Woolfork: 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. 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.
[00:05:24] Lisa Woolfork: 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 convince us constantly.
[00:05:48] Lisa Woolfork: 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 oppress. And that is essentially [00:06:00] how I started black women's stitch. It was this idea that I wanted a space to center, black women, girls, and fems in sewing.
[00:06:08] Lisa Woolfork: 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 gums talks about is one of my favorite quotes from her. And she says, freedom, isn't a secret. Hmm. It is a practice freedom. Isn't a secret. It is a practice. And after I read that, I was like, oh my gosh.
[00:06:35] Lisa Woolfork: 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 [00:07:00] connected to black material geographies, about the way that black folks create an occupy space.
[00:07:06] Lisa Woolfork: I think getting dressed is one of girl. Yes. Joyful practices from wake it up, wake it up, wake it up across
[00:07:14] Teju: the ages and across the planet, black people get dressed. That's just something that we do. I know in the us, especially, and in the Caribbean, because of colonialism, there is this connection to respectability politics.
[00:07:26] Teju: But even before, that was a thing. Speaking of the lace bark tree in Jamaica, enslaved women were adoring themselves with lace because they were not given nice cotton to wear. And so they were like, fine. We will make something else ourselves that makes us beautiful and feminine. Cuz you tell us we can't be.
[00:07:44] Teju: 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. [00:08:00] And by far the fact that it makes you feel good when you get dressed and you look the way you wanna look and you wearing the colors you wanna wear and the textures and style you feel good.
[00:08:09] Teju: And so I think a huge practice of joy and practice of freedom if we're using Alexis Pauline gun was because I love her as well is to get dressed in the way that you wanna get dressed, wearing which you wanna wear and walking out in the world and feeling powerful and feeling beautiful. Feeling yourself and feeling yourself
[00:08:28] Lisa Woolfork: yes, yes, yes, yes.
[00:08:30] Lisa Woolfork: And I really appreciate that because I spoke earlier with Dr. Diana and J Baird and she is a Smithsonian curator and she created this exhibition, the will to adorn. It was a conference and it became, I think, a book and it was about this very thing that black people in 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 [00:09:00] historians and other folks from black studies discuss just as you said, that self fashioning and self making are forms of expression for black.
[00:09:11] Lisa Woolfork: Because in some ways, what you wear is 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.
[00:09:28] Lisa Woolfork: And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more, you have a beautiful episode in your podcast about the lace spark tree and how the tree itself, the lace spark tree, that's indigenous to Jamaica, Angola, and some of those other areas of the Caribbean and how, like you said, black women figured it out.
[00:09:47] Lisa Woolfork: They figured it out. They were like, you are using. 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 [00:10:00] 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.
[00:10:09] Lisa Woolfork: Can you talk a little bit about the lace bark tree and how the. Worked and how the lace was constructed. I thought that was fascinating. So
[00:10:16] Teju: the lace bar 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 I E T also known as Espanola, which now has Haiti and Dominican Republic.
[00:10:33] Teju: However, what makes Jamaica unique is that it is the only place in which the tree. Turned into lace that was used for fashion Taino Indians throughout that region were using it to make fast fits, to make rope, to make hams, but it was enslaved African women in Jamaica, specifically who decided to make garments.
[00:10:54] Teju: And there's a long history in west Africa of communities making bar [00:11:00] cloth using trees to make cloth. So there was already that knowledge. And then in addition, the knowledge and practices from the indigenous Tao Indians who are already on Jamaica was amalgamated in this process of creating lace spark.
[00:11:15] Teju: And so there's this sort of lace spark tree that grows you cut off a bridge, you cut off a piece of it and you peel back. The layers of the bark and in between the bark and 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.
[00:11:35] Teju: You bleach them. Cuz Jamaicans love white creamy lace. You bleach them. And then you're able to make these garments entire suits were made from lace bark, veils and dresses. And so these enslaved women harvested the lace bark 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?
[00:11:58] Teju: There was lace bark taken to the [00:12:00] queen, the crown, the United Kingdom wanted to manufacture lace bark. Oh gosh. the tree itself resisted colonialism because of the process necessary to make the lace bark. You can't manufacture it. It can't be done on a mass scale. Wow. So
[00:12:15] Lisa Woolfork: even
[00:12:16] Teju: the tree itself resisted that type.
[00:12:18] Teju: Modification of the gifts that it was giving to the women who knew how to work with it. And who took the time and had the skills to do this laborious week 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.
[00:12:37] Teju: And that's what it was. And that was the opposite of what enslave. Was bringing forward enslaved black women. It was beautiful. It was not about functional labor and it could not be commodified in the capital system. So it's really a special, magical tree and made even more special by the enslaved Jamaican women who harvested it and made these beautiful lace
[00:12:56] Lisa Woolfork: like pieces that is so powerful.
[00:12:59] Lisa Woolfork: And I [00:13:00] really appreciate the way that you identified the tree itself, resisting commodification, because we know. Colonialism imperialism is greedy mm-hmm and it is extractive. And the only reason to bring a piece of lace bark 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.
[00:13:28] Lisa Woolfork: Of course, what they love to do, like with Shea butter, extract it and then sell it back. Exactly. . And so just 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.
[00:13:48] Lisa Woolfork: And this tree, it's just a really powerful story. And I thank you for that. I wanted to see if you could shed some more light on the title of your podcast, black material [00:14:00] geographies. I love the way that you are drawing out such an expansive view of the diaspora and pulling in so many different resources, so many different stories, but I think I would love to hear more about material.
[00:14:12] Lisa Woolfork: And geographies. And I think it's because materials reminds me of where I grew up. I grew up in south Florida and a lot of folks what my mother sew, my grandmother sewed. I'm a fourth generation sewist and they used the word material to describe fabric. so they say, Hey, let's go pick up some material from cloth world or wherever.
[00:14:32] Lisa Woolfork: And so material for me has often meant fabric, but also the stuff of life, you know? And then geographies is so interesting to me because I think the last time I thought about geography was in the fourth grade when we had to memorize all the state's capitals. I have not thought about geography that much at all since then.
[00:14:49] Lisa Woolfork: And I, I don't think I have, maybe I have, after you explained it to me, maybe I have done some of this, but I've not connected material. With geography or fabric with geography. And you've [00:15:00] just given us such a beautiful example of the lace bark tree being. So site specific, this was a knowledge that only enslaved Jamaican women had, and that they have passed this down through generations.
[00:15:11] Lisa Woolfork: 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 them. It's not possible.
[00:15:20] Teju: And all the trees. They
[00:15:22] Lisa Woolfork: that wait, are you serious?
[00:15:24] Teju: Yeah, they brought seeds. They brought small trees and they tried to plant them in greenhouses in the UK and they all died.
[00:15:30] Teju: They did try to do that. Yep. Wow. That's imperialism for you. Isn't it.
[00:15:36] Lisa Woolfork: And rather than saying, wow, these women have some really valuable knowledge. How about instead? We free them all, let them
[00:15:42] Teju: live their regular lives. Right. And then pay them for their craft. If we.
[00:15:46] Lisa Woolfork: Exactly that, but can you talk a bit more about what material geographies means and how it operates?
[00:15:52] Lisa Woolfork: What are the connections between materials and material, culture or material as fabric and
[00:15:57] Teju: geography? So you're exactly right. [00:16:00] 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.
[00:16:23] Teju: That is made, whether it's handmade, human made or machine made. That's a material. In this case, we are talking about textiles, fabrics, and cloths, and every material that we touch, whether it's 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.
[00:16:43] Teju: Where are the cotton plants grown and who are they grown by? That allow us to have cotton claw. Towels shirts, pants who is tending to the sheep and sharing the sheep that make our wool, who is spinning the yarn and [00:17:00] 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.
[00:17:16] Teju: That construct our entire physical and social reality. So material geographies, basically just saying that inherent 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.
[00:17:35] Teju: That we can live in a world with all of these wonderful textiles and fabrics and CLOs. 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.
[00:17:56] Teju: Urban geography, urban economic geography, culture, geography, [00:18:00] environmental geography. And so I started realizing that some of the things that I was trying to do in connecting the dots when I studied sociology and my bachelor's degree was better done using geography in the expansive way that it actually is.
[00:18:13] Teju: 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.
[00:18:32] Teju: 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 geography is expand this idea of geography from just states and capitals, which I also learned in third, fourth grade.
[00:18:53] Teju: right. Who. What was the main economic system in that state? Was it rice? Where did rice [00:19:00] come from? Who started plant rice? Who bought rice seeds. Oh, and liked people who brought rice seeds. That's right. 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?
[00:19:15] Teju: 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.
[00:19:33] Teju: 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 material? Not just in isolation, but as in relationship to where they come from and who was cultivating them and who making them and where we place the value and the black part of the title is just, how do [00:20:00] we look at this?
[00:20:00] Teju: From the perspective of humans who we identify as black across the planet.
[00:20:04] Lisa Woolfork: That is so fantastic and so rich and so powerful. September is national sewing month. And the St please podcast is gonna celebrate that. Like we celebrate every episode by centering black women, girls and fems in sewing for September.
[00:20:21] Lisa Woolfork: However, we are gonna be talking with black women authors who are also sewists. So tune in for the month of September, and you will hear from writers. Bianca Springer, Hakeem, Hapa, Leslie, we Olu bamy Sola, Ruda percovich and more so listen out for September and we will help you get your stitch together.
[00:20:50] Lisa Woolfork: You are absolutely right. That until very recently, I don't believe, at least as Americans that we thought very much about [00:21:00] where our stuff comes from and it wasn't until the COVID 19 crisis mm-hmm and pandemic and things started to slow down because, oh, guess what a person in this particular region is now.
[00:21:14] Lisa Woolfork: Yes. And the factories are struggling to keep up with the production and things are delayed and et cetera, et cetera. 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.
[00:21:36] Lisa Woolfork: We spoke with alga 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 that prep produces 40 different outfits per month, that someone's supposed to buy.
[00:21:57] Lisa Woolfork: And. Consumer goods remain in [00:22:00] 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 wore your grandmother's clothes, but you are a make do and mend type person.
[00:22:19] Lisa Woolfork: It. I saw a recent post about, I need to find a tailor cause I'm not throwing this out. I wanna make it work. Can you talk a bit about the ways that sustainability seem 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 practiced those?
[00:22:45] Teju: 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 [00:23:00] the clothing sent to Haiti was manufactured in Haiti for $2 a day. And then we wear it.
[00:23:05] Teju: For a few months. And then it sent back to Haiti as secondhand clothing and it got her, 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. In their environment.
[00:23:22] Teju: 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.
[00:23:39] Teju: And there was like YouTube, white woman. 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.
[00:23:56] Teju: So if you either had to burn your garbage or not really make garbage, then she just really [00:24:00] 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 wear it, it became a rag or a cloth.
[00:24:13] Teju: Once it couldn't be used as a rag or cloth then became a scrap and quilt. Every material had 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.
[00:24:32] Teju: I didn't think of it as we just have to do this. Cuz we don't have a lot of resources. I just thought it was important. And even now my mom sometimes makes fun of me cuz I have these things that I've had for years. And she's like, why don't you just throw it where I'm like. So there's still put life in here.
[00:24:47] Teju: You're like, mom, where is a way
[00:24:49] Lisa Woolfork: there is no away? Where
[00:24:50] Teju: is a way she's like, you know, your grandmother was something else. I was like, exactly, but she was onto something. And so, yes, I absolutely get things altered. I've [00:25:00] 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.
[00:25:08] Teju: 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 cuz they get scuffed or cuz the heel kind of falls off. They're literally cobbler who could put on entirely new heels.
[00:25:29] Teju: Why would we throw that away when it can be reused and have even new life again and again and again. So for. Sustainability is how do we keep things in circulation as much as possible, rather than it being aligned tape 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.
[00:25:53] Teju: 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. To create our [00:26:00] fibers for our clothing. So sustainability to me is like, if we can't use it in a way that we Haven been using it, can we use it in a different way? And can we find a way to make it work?
[00:26:10] Teju: Or can we find someone else who knows how to use it in a different way? Cause even if we don't know what to do with it, someone does, whether it's an up siling designer or a cobbler or anyone, I truly believe that we should think about how often we are discarding. And why we feel like we could just discard things without having to think about it.
[00:26:31] Teju: 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 American Africa, especially in traditional communities, you don't just throw things away because also the things that you have have so much meaning.
[00:26:51] Teju: 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 [00:27:00] and 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.
[00:27:10] Teju: 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.
[00:27:21] Lisa Woolfork: 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.
[00:27:34] Lisa Woolfork: And that if we want to continue to exist on the planet, which I would appreciate and we want to continue to create and to build and to have art and to have our adornments, there is no a way there is no planet be. 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 [00:28:00] choice.
[00:28:00] Lisa Woolfork: 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. All the time. Absolutely. All the time.
[00:28:20] Lisa Woolfork: And that's one of the reasons that I'm so committed in my own sewing, in my own scholarship, in 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. Also is 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 gonna learn how to sew with patterns and you're gonna get really great at it.
[00:28:55] Lisa Woolfork: And so we might have the occasion where you and I might sew the same pattern. It's not gonna look the [00:29:00] same. It's going to be totally different. Absolutely going to be different and you can be incredibly unique in your sewing and how that is an expression of identity, but also an expression of community.
[00:29:11] Lisa Woolfork: 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. Really sick situation. I would be in that someone would say you better knit one Pearl, two bitch, or it's curtains for you.
[00:29:30] Lisa Woolfork: I can't imagine that someone would say that, but if they did, I could do it. Mm-hmm under duress. I could do it. But the thing that I love is sewing and is taking these materials into, transfer them into other things. And I wanna 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.
[00:29:53] Lisa Woolfork: and make it come alive with her hands mm-hmm . And I think that transformative property is so [00:30:00] 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. Mm-hmm for economic independence. But the thing that really got me was when she helped the company, by telling them, I'm not sure if this a worker demand or if she demanded this on behalf of the other workers that they could use the grounds mm-hmm of the property for leisure.
[00:30:24] Lisa Woolfork: Yeah. When they weren't working. Mm-hmm . And that to me just seemed so radical instead of this plantation, instead of this place, this very large farm just being for backbreaking leg because sugar cane farming is brutal. No joke. It's no joke. It is brutal. And if y'all don't know, I urge you to read the farming of bones by ed beach D deco.
[00:30:45] Lisa Woolfork: Yeah. I love that book, right. I love that book, sugar cane farming, and they call it the farming of bones because sugar cane is hollow. Not that bones are hollow, but I dunno 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 [00:31:00] gorgeous book.
[00:31:00] Lisa Woolfork: Sugar cane is a killer in terms of like enslaved people's life expectancy, working in rice and working in sugar cane were some of the most difficult and extractive forms of forced labor. Wait, was this post emancipation for Jamaica? When you're a grandmother was organizing it's
[00:31:17] Teju: preed posts because this was in the sixties and Jamaica gain independence in the 60.
[00:31:21] Teju: So it was pre and
[00:31:22] Lisa Woolfork: 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. Mm-hmm . I just love that. I could talk about that all day. Yes, you will. This beautiful grounds. We should be able to use this and not just be used by it. I just love that.
[00:31:39] Lisa Woolfork: Mm-hmm . I think
[00:31:40] Teju: one of the many violences of racism, 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 calling us lazy. And so while my grandmother, I don't think she would ever have referred to herself as [00:32:00] radical in any way, but she simply was like, these people create the profit for your company.
[00:32:05] Teju: 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 or wrong. And she. 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 tea and coffee culture.
[00:32:22] Teju: 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 and profit to you, that they actually don't get back in the plumber wage. 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 out as the state was a plantation, then it became a sugar cane factory.
[00:32:47] Teju: And then eventually that land was returned to Jamaica and probably is now owned by China at this point, based on how imperialism continues to work. Mm. But at that time, my grandmother. Jamaicans need economic independence from [00:33:00] Europeans and they need beautiful places of leisure. Cuz we live on this beautiful island that we can't enjoy, cuz we're working to death.
[00:33:06] Teju: 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 this company and be forever ind. 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 and create, and she'd be able to enjoy with their families.
[00:33:29] Teju: When I would talk to my grandmother about these things, I would be in all with my mouth open and she was 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. 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.
[00:33:47] Teju: And my grandmother in the way that she did things, that's what she was thinking about. How do we give each other dignity, humanity, and agency independence was really important
[00:33:56] to
[00:33:56] Lisa Woolfork: her. Oh, that's so beautiful. And it reminds me of Cornell [00:34:00] west and I think he says justice is what love looks like in public mm-hmm and I'm also reading a book.
[00:34:06] Lisa Woolfork: I think it's Cole, Riley. She says dignity is not something you give someone it's something you affirm. Mm. I love them. 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, their country, the beauty of their country.
[00:34:30] Lisa Woolfork: Yes, exactly. Their country with a capital T cause
[00:34:33] Teju: you know, we're, Jamaica's trying to leave the Commonwealth. So I just wanna really be clear that it is their country and not the UK's country, not the Crown's country, not the Queens
[00:34:41] Lisa Woolfork: country. Excellent. That is all facts. And so I wanna ask you just one last question.
[00:34:46] Lisa Woolfork: The slogan of the stitch please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together. I wanted to ask you Taji Aisa Ferar. How would you advise our audience? What would be your words of wisdom to help us [00:35:00] get our stitch together?
[00:35:01] Teju: 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.
[00:35:10] Teju: 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 could imagine something in our mind and then bring it to life using the environment around us.
[00:35:33] Teju: 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 would completely transform the way that we consume, cuz everything would have more meaning to us.
[00:35:52] Lisa Woolfork: 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 [00:36:00] the next one coming in? What can we expect from that? Yeah. So you
[00:36:02] Teju: could find me on my website te you Adisa ferrari.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 any.
[00:36:16] Teju: Is Instagram at miss Tej 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 am doing. The final episode of season one comes out on Monday. I'm not sure about season two.
[00:36:36] Teju: 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 friended
[00:36:43] Lisa Woolfork: family. Thank you so much tan for being with us today. We are very grateful. Thank you
[00:36:48] Teju: for having me, Lisa. I'm so glad we had this conversation in.
[00:36:54] Lisa Woolfork: You've been listening to the stitch, please podcast the official podcast of black women's stitch, the sewing [00:37:00] group, where black lives matter.
[00:37:01] Lisa Woolfork: 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's stitch@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. And you can find black women ditch there in the Patreon directory.
[00:37:20] Lisa Woolfork: 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, really help the podcast by rating it and review. Anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them.
[00:37:41] Lisa Woolfork: 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.
[00:37:59] Lisa Woolfork: Come back next [00:38:00] 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.

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