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. Welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. And as I say every week this is a very special episode. This is a special episode for a number of reasons. The main reason of course, is that we have Carol Ware with us today. And when I tell you that Carol is a soloist of exquisite skill and talent, I am not exaggerating. Yes, chef's kiss, "mwa". In addition, however, one of the things I really try to do when, you know, getting ready to do an interview I always, of course, follow the people's work. I kind of have an idea of the kind of sewing they do and what they're really good at. I try to prep questions and topics in advance. I like to make sure people are very comfortable and welcomed. One thing I did in fact forget to do after I did all of this prep was to give Carol the link for our conversation. I absolutely forgot to send it to her. This also resulted in me staring at a blank computer screen for 52 minutes going. Oh dear. I wish I had Carol's phone number. Carol has been very gracious to make the podcast episode actually happened by clicking on the link and coming. I must also add that friends, if you are a Patreon supporter, congratulations. Because you get to see Carol's sewing corner. She is sitting here right in it. She's got her best press at her stage right ready to go. And it says Carol Sewing Corner. She's got her tape dispenser that looks like a nice three inch heel. Quite lovely. I too look amazing. I have managed to figure out the lighting for the first time ever in life. And this is the best I have ever looked on camera. I feel like I should be in that movie Moonlight, that I should get some kind of award for- when I tell you how long I have studied lighting because I'm a nerd. I got handouts. I got booklets. I got what [unclear] still look a hot mess until today. So I'm gonna attribute this to my increasing skill. But I'm gonna attribute 95% of it to Carol, Carol being here, Carol's radiant smile, Carol's remarkable skill. Welcome, Carol Crocker Ware, where thank you so much for being with us today.
Thank you for having me today. I totally appreciate the invitation. I've been waiting.
Lisa Woolfork 3:07
Well, I mean, I hope you knew I was gonna get to you eventually. I figured. I was like, one day. These circles are getting smaller. I know more people that know her now. This is gonna be great. So I have long wanted to talk to you because you are such an innovative and careful sewist. I think that there are folks who like to sew a lot of stuff. They like to produce a lot of stuff and that volume sometimes is more prioritized than the well, "quality" makes me feel like a snob. I'm not trying to be a snob. I'm trying to say that, well, I guess I am. It's important to pay attention to details. And there are some sewists that really prioritize that. And you want the inside of your garment to look as good as the outside. And I always find those folks so admirable. Because by pushing themselves to produce really great work, and then to share that with other people, it inspires me to want to do better work as well. So that is what I absolutely see in what you are doing. And I am so excited to talk to you today about all the stuff that you are doing. But can we start with some of the beginning or the backstory. How did you come to sewing?
The backstory for me was I wanted to make my son a robe. I've always loved sewing. It's always been there, sixth grade, but in high school, I wasn't allowed to do homework because I was in the band. And there was no way that I was dropping band instead of sewing. So we're only allowed one elective that was either band or Spanish or sewing. So it was the band for me because I was in high school and I love to be in the band. So sewing had to wait. I always admired the girls that did the song class. So I always wanted to know what they were making or whatever. Fast forward so many years. I've wanted to make my son a robe. My mom had an old sewing machine. I went to her house and I gave it a whirl and Elmo was upside down on the whole, on the whole robe.
Lisa Woolfork 5:08
Oh my gosh.
My husband was like, don't let him wear that nowhere else but here.
Lisa Woolfork 5:12
Did he notice? What was his response to upside down Elmo?
What he saw Elmo was right side up when he looked down. He was excited.
Lisa Woolfork 5:20
He's like, "He's always looking at me!"
So he loved it.
Lisa Woolfork 5:24
I would have said, "I did that on purpose."
You know what, it would have been okay. But he was upside down on the sleeves, the front, the back, and then right side up on one sleeve. So he was only right on one sleeve. He was upside down everywhere else. But after that, I took my son to Joann. I was going to buy buttons. And I had just gotten laid off from my job. I had been laid off probably for about two weeks. And I saw a sign that said 'sewing classes.' So I was like, well I'm not gonna be doing nothing for the next few Wednesday's, let me just sign up. And after the first class I was hooked.
Lisa Woolfork 5:57
So I have been sewing nonstop for 23 plus years.
Lisa Woolfork 6:05
What happened is, a lot of people, 'Oh I had kids or stopped sewing for a year' or 'I took a break'. I've never taken a break. So I've been sewing literally, since I've learned. And sew every day, pretty much.
Lisa Woolfork 6:18
Yes, I heard this very interesting phrase. And it said, amateurs practice until they stop getting it wrong. Because you know, they're playing to not get it wrong. Whereas professionals are practicing until they can't do anything, but get it right. The practice is to get it right. So there comes the unsewing. When it's not right, there comes this you do it over and over and over. Do you think that your son's attachment to sewing is something you were able to get because you started with him when he was so young? Because you said you also ended up sewing this robe when he was little. And then you sewed prom outfits when he was a teenager and in high school. So that's a really long time to sew for a child. Is that something you've been able to do throughout his childhood?
Throughout his childhood and part of his adulthood. So when he was a wee, I would take him to the JOANN. I would get a bolt of fur fabric and put it on the front of the car. So he would have something to play with. I'd go grab maybe some football or basketball buttons and let him play with those. And sometimes he would sleep right on the fabric because it was so soft and that would allow me a long time. And what I realized I had to get him involved. One time I caught myself running upstairs to grab something to drink. He was downstairs in the basement and my sewing room in the house that I had at the time. I come back and he was shaking a whole bottle of the Fray Check. You know how a [unclear] get hard? Yes, he emptied a whole bottle of Fray Check on some fabric. I was like, "Okay, no." I'm like, I'm trying to learn how to do this and he can't destroy the things that I'm doing. So I got him involved in the shopping process. And it worked. So now he's my muse. He's always been my muse. So everybody who has little girls, they sew buttons and bows. I was sewing Dungeons and Dragons, pajama pants and
Lisa Woolfork 8:18
Right, right, right. That's what I was doing. I think for him, me sewing for him, It's normal. One time he was like, "We have pajama day at school." And I was like, "Well, let's went to the store and get you some pajamas." And he shot me and look like I was like, "Well, what's what's a look?" What do you mean, "we're gonna go...?" I don't want to buy them.
Lisa Woolfork 8:39
Excuse me, mom. Have you met me? I do not do retail. The name of this episode is going to be couture sewing. Why would I have a couture sewing mama and then I gotta go to a doggone mall to get some pajamas. No, ma'am.
I've created a little monster. When he wants a project- and this is from, beginning five years old is the first time he picked his old fabric. He was fine. For his kindergarten pictures I got the shoes, and the shoes are my inspiration. And I made his whole outfit. I made him a shirt, a vest, pants. The shirt even had a little pocket square in it. So he picked the fabric. I let him. We went to the fabric store. And then he didn't pick the cheap stuff. That's a killer. He never picks the cheaper fabric. It's always the good stuff. So in a way, I'm excited that he picks the good stuff. But then I'm like, well wait a minute now.
Lisa Woolfork 9:29
Well, I mean, you're the one that gave him this good taste. So he's like, 'Why do I have to get bargain basement fabrics? Let's honor your work. Mom. Let's honor your work right by choosing the expensive fabrics. Okay, can we do that?'
And I have to get it, because that's what he wants. He picks his own buttons. He picks the finishings. Everything he does he picks on his own, but the one thing that I will say about Casey is he doesn't overrun his welcome. So usually when he asks me for a project it's few and far between, and then I know what something he really wants. And when I ask him- because I am queen selfish sew now because of the business. I sew for nobody else but myself. When he asks for a project and he comes in here to get fitted, and when I say 'Listen, I need you to come in here. I need to fit you for these pants.' He comes in here when I'm ready, arms up, arms down, step back, bend over. He does everything I tell him until I say, "Okay, I'm done." He doesn't say, "Are you finished?"
Lisa Woolfork 10:34
No, exactly. He's like, 'let me be efficient.'
No, never, ever. He's the best customer ever. So I do not mind sewing for him. Not at all.
Lisa Woolfork 10:45
And I love that you have created a child who is make worthy. Someone who values what you do, is proud of the things that you do and your skills, and I think that makes it easy to say 'yes."
Lisa Woolfork 10:58
When someone, a loved one, or a family member asks, we're happy to say yes. But let's get to talking about your group. So you have a Facebook group, Carol's Sewing Corner, and you talked a lot about working with your son and kind of getting to know what his needs are, how to get him involved in the process. How on earth do you manage a Facebook group with more than three people in it?
So the Facebook group is something that came along, when a group mustered up, a bigger group mustered up. I was like, 'let me go out here and catch some of these people. Maybe I can teach them some of what I know. So my group became more of a teaching ground. So my own thing here is 'let me share my skill with everybody.' I've been in the business. I've done this. I've done that. I've been around for a long time. You don't have to pay me. I just want you to love and learn the sewing craft the way I did. I want you to love it the way I did. I want to see what you're doing. Ask me questions. Maybe I can help you make that bottom of your robe a perfect corner. Maybe I can help you do your collars a little easier. Maybe I can show you some of the tricks and the tips and the things that I do to get my finishing so on point. So Carol's Sewing Corner is free advice, join the group, you'll get some free advice. And we have a good time in the group. I run it through zoom. I'm my only moderator, so that way I don't have to answer to anybody. And then my sewalongs. Here's the key to my sew along. I don't have a sewalong unless it is something I want to make for myself.
Lisa Woolfork 12:39
That is very smart. It's smart.
I need a dress for two weeks from now. So I'll tell everybody, hey, I'm sewing this here dress. Do y'all want to do a sewalong? And I say 'sure!' and then we have sew along.
Lisa Woolfork 12:52
Oh, I love it. I love it. Because what you're doing is you're curating something for yourself. You have high standards. You are not going to make something raggedy or ugly. You know, you're absolutely not going to do that. So the fact that you have chosen a project and people can choose to participate or not. And lots of people do choose to participate. I think that's really good. I think that's as it should be. Because your Facebook group shouldn't be like a burden. It should be like a service. That's what I hear you saying. I hear you saying that you're not trying to monetize. You were never trying to monetize as you started. You already have an income that you're getting from sewing. Your love of the craft exceeds your relationship to it for work. Tell me how do you keep that enthusiasm alive? You know, like, I would imagine that if you sew all day long, you're sewing for other people,how do you keep that spark that says 'I still love sewing' alive?
First of all, it's my therapy. And second of all, I am a lover of outfits and clothes. And I mean since day one since I can remember. So my thing is, 'okay, let me go to the store. I would really like to make this.' So when I first started my goal was I needed to look like I bought it, because if I were it, I'm so used to my friend seeing me all dressed up or whatever. I never wanted to hear, you know, 'Oh I heard you were sewing. So did you make that?' I heard, you know, 'you made that.' I was not game for that at all. So when I make an outfit or garment, it could be a pair of pajamas, it could be an apron- I don't care when I see it. I'm just like, 'yeah!' I get as excited with every project I do. And now with this sewing group, when I see people post, and they've learned something from me, I'm even more excited. So my fire is ignited literally every day when I start a project and I'm working through it. You know, working through it I'm getting my therapy and then at the end when I see the finished project and it's turned up nicely, it's clean on the inside, and people are like, 'wow!' I'm like, 'okay!' And I love to be out on the internet cheering everybody on. But I did learn that sometimes you can't comment all the time. But anyway, I've been there and done that, right. So that's what my group is for. So I can talk to the people in my group and say, 'Hey, listen, let me tell you what you could do a little bit better to get this working for you or to get this right.' So in my group I don't have to worry about getting cussed out, you know.
Lisa Woolfork 15:36
Right. Because also, not everybody is in a learning space. Some people want the outcome without the skill, you know?
Lisa Woolfork 15:37
That's a challenge. I think that it really does take a special person to create a learning environment where people can ask questions, and something where it's okay not to know something. Like I didn't know what this was. I didn't know what a clapper was. I didn't know what a tailor's ham was. I didn't know that that's what these things were for. And I think it's too far in between that people are able to kind of be vulnerable with what they don't know and not feel like they would be embarrassed or feel like they're behind or something.
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And that's what I want, everybody to feel comfortable because that's the main thing that I do, because when we do specialized garments, I'll do a zoom class. If I feel like maybe this is above some people's level. Then I do a zoom class to answer questions. We do Q&A and everything. But I tell everybody 'Okay, you're doing your muslin, post it. Let people see the issues that you're having, because that same thing may be going on with them.' This is a group that we need to learn from. So if you're just showing me your muslin, I already know, but Suzy may not know who's got a body just like yours.
So it's a great way for people to post their work and to break out of that shy shell. A lot of people are scared to post, but now we got muslins posted. We have all the people and crochet, purses, bags. I don't care, if you got some stitching and use a sewing machine, put it out there and let people see what you're doing. Let them ask questions. That's how we learn. I had to learn strictly from books. I wish YouTube University was around when I started, but it wasn't. So I had to read a lot of books. And you know, I used to watch, luckily for me, Nancy Zieman [unclear] all of those ladies were on before I learned how to sew. I used to just watch them for entertainment because I just thought Nancy Zieman was so captivating.
Lisa Woolfork 18:59
You know, I met her in real life.
Lisa Woolfork 19:02
I went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and they tape the show there. And then she had this huge warehouse in either Janesville or Appleton, Wisconsin. We went out there and Riley- who's now 24- was a baby in a stroller, and I walked around and she either came up to me or I came up to her, and she was like, 'hi', and she was talking to the baby. I was like, ' It's just Nancy Zieman [unclear]!" I mean, honestly.
I would love to have met her.
Lisa Woolfork 19:30
It was very special. It was a very special time. But you know, let me ask you this question. Based on your decades of sewing experience, tell me your thoughts on the difference between the TikTok sewing community and the Instagram sewing community. Now you all might not know that Carol and I, I think, we connected first on Instagram. Black Women Stitch itself was first launched on Instagram as a digital project. All I wanted to do was to find other Black sewists. I wanted to promote other Black sewists. I wanted to find some community where I would be safe and comfortable, and at the time, 2018, that was Instagram. But now here we are in 2023. And last week, we had Carmen on talking about the Black Sewing Network. And I know that you are a new member. I am a new member, and 'member' is very informal. There's no dues or anything, you know. But tell me your thoughts on- now that we have so much information you can learn from YouTube, you can learn from Facebook- what do you think the differences are between the way that sewing is organized on Instagram versus how it works on Tik Tok?
Instagram is way more reserved and for some reason, I get a feeling that the creative space is not really their jam. I mean, you get to post and see all kinds of fancy stuff. The lives are cut down. The stories though, I love the IG story. So I'm an avid poster on the IG stories, because people like to see my process. And I found out that a lot of people like to wake up to my stories because I stay up all night a lot of times. So that's kind of nice. But on TikTok, the following is huge. It took me three and a half weeks to get 1000 followers, and everybody really respects my craft and my talent. I've gone live twice on TikTok, and the room was full. When I go live on Instagram I may get at max 20 people. And I'm just like, where are the sewers? They're alive on TikTok. TikTok is all that. I just hope that it stays TikTok. So I'm loving it. I love it.
Lisa Woolfork 21:48
I think I would agree. I think that I was able to find community on IG. I was able to kind of build that and build connections and meet people, et cetera. But I think there is something about TikTok that is so much more informal, the fact that they let you have music in the background. So it feels more like you're sitting in somebody's living room or whatever to hang out with them.
They let you broadcast without a clock ticking. It is not a TikTok.
Lisa Woolfork 22:14
You can broadcast as long as you need to. So it's a great space for creatives, because it don't take us an hour. If you're here and it takes us an hour, then it probably looks like it took an hour. They let us stay on as long as we need to. And I just think that's absolutely wonderful.
Lisa Woolfork 22:33
And I think you can have up to six people, four to six people interacting, and I really enjoy that. So before we wrap up, I absolutely have to ask you about two things. One, y'all, Carol has this technique where she sews darts with one thread. Let me be clear, when you normally operate a sewing machine, you put thread in the bobbin and then you put thread in the top, you thread that top thread through some tension discs and levers and hooks, eventually through the eye of a needle, and that needle thread knots itself with the bobbin thread underneath. That is how a stitch is formed. Not for Carol, because Carol, when she makes darts, only uses one thread, the same thread that she threads the needle with, she'll go all the way down and thread the needle. Then she'll just grab a couple of lengths of thread and just shove it in there, in the bobbin section, not on no winder. Not on no nothing, just letting Harry Potter magic hold it together. Please tell us how you first discovered or learned this technique.
I discovered the technique in a book I want to say, maybe Old Threads magazine. It's been so long since I've been doing it. I remember reading that it was for finer fabrics because everybody has that little issue with what to do with the tip of the dart. Do you backstitch? Do you tie a knot? Do you tie a bow? So when I found this, I had to give it a whirl. So what you do is the bobbin thread, it's sewn through the bobbin. So you take the bobbin thread up and you reverse the threading through the needle and back up through the tension disks and around the world and then back. Then when you get to the top of the sewing machine, you give yourself some length so you can actually sew the bobbin. So when you slide the fabric in, because it's only one thread, the thread hugs the fold of the fabric which eliminates that pucker, that torpedo boob poker in all of that ironing and back stitching, and when you're done, it's so nice and smooth. You just have to make sure you have enough thread, and then you stitch it. There's no back stitching and you're done. And you cut the tail and it's there. It's perfect every time.
Lisa Woolfork 25:11
That is something that I'm so glad we have recorded, because this is one of those examples where I'm gonna have to pause, rewind, 15 seconds then listen again, and then rewind 15 More seconds, and give it a whirl.
That's what I want people to do. When they asked me, 'how do you do something?' and I explain it. They're just like 'Well jee, you know, I... Well, girl, you just keep doing you. I'll just keep watching you make your stuff.' I'm like, no, no, I want you to do it too. Give it a whirl. So you always talk about how my stuff looks. Give it a whirl. I want you to try it that way too. Now granted I will tell everybody Rome was not built it day, and my sewing takes a little while. Takes me two days to make an apron. So you know, normally it'll take somebody an hour and a half to make an apron. But it takes me two days, because I take my time and I use the techniques that I'm aware of- the ones that I know. And I want my garment to look like no other when I'm done. So I feel like, you know, it's going on my back. That's the most important back there, is sew for. So when you send something out of the house and you're charging for it, why do their clothes have to look better than yours?
Lisa Woolfork 26:29
You're your own walking billboard?
Lisa Woolfork 26:32
You absolutely are. That is an excellent point. And I want to talk about the space of encouragement. That yes, this might be difficult, but I encourage you to try. And I wonder if you could talk about that in the connection with your sponsorship or your relationship with Janome. So you work with Janome sewing machines. Can you talk a little bit about how that works? What kind of things do you teach for them? Like in terms of your social media posts, I see them as very instructive that you are guiding people with 'Okay, this is how you do this. This is how you do that.' How does one develop a relationship with a company like that, if they so choose? And what should they look out for in terms of do's and don'ts?
Okay, so with Janome, I've been a Janome user for at least 15 years before I even started the ambassadorship. I was recommended by a friend, a sewing friend. They knew that I loved the Janome project as much as them. So when Janome approached me, they asked what machines do you think you want. I said, 'Well, I'll send you my resume, excuse me, and some work. You let me know what you want me to have.' So they sent me the top of the line machines. So my thing is, if you want to be an ambassador for a sewing machine company, don't just do it to get a sewing machine. You need to know what you're getting into. I've used the products, so when they sent me the machines, I was able to tell them, 'Okay, I'm gonna start using this machine tomorrow. There's not going to be a learning curve. I was able to produce for them right away. The things that I try to show in my post is I show my machine, yeah, but I want people to know what my machine is doing for me in return to make my garments look so well. Of course for them, it makes people want to buy the machine, which is good, but I'm letting them know, 'okay, if you get this machine, here's what it can do for you and the projects that you're working on.'
Lisa Woolfork 28:33
That makes sense. And so in some ways, it's an extension of an already pre existing relationship. You had been sewing with these machines for 15 years or so. It wasn't like you didn't know what Janome was, or you were just trying to figure out let me just get a machine in the house. You knew what you wanted, and the fact that you would choose to collaborate with them as an ambassador, as opposed to any other Sewing Machine Company, I think is a strong endorsement. And so I think that's really cool.
Lisa Woolfork 29:01
We can close with some of your publications, y'all. Carol has been in so many magazines, including Better Home and Gardens. Can I just tell you, if I were to ever be in Better Home and Garden magazine, how insufferable I would be for the rest of my days. 'Hello, welcome to my home. It is a Better Home and Gardens home' or 'Oh, your home is just fine. Mine is better.' Like seriously, like how do you even get your head through the door? Tell us about this and about the tips that you wrote, the things you write for Threads magazine, like tell us about what it means to shift from the visual- right, people like to watch videos and TikToks- but you're still contributing in written forms as well. Tell me about your thoughts on what it means to have some tips in the 1000 tips from Pattern Review or Threads magazine or Better Homes and Gardens. Like what is some of the value of having that in text form.
So in The Better Homes and Gardens phase, when I did those seven magazines, it was strictly home deck. So that just kind of expanded my realm of what I sew. Some people just sew this, some people just sew that. But when I started the business, I thought, 'okay, the more I know, the more money I can make.' So I tried to expand and be as good at every entity in sewing as I could. As far as having tips and things like that, it's nice that my opinion is respected. People see my work, and they know what I can do. So when I do submit to a magazine or something, they're usually like, 'Okay, wonderful, great to have you.' And they usually post by tips or my work. I appreciate that, because it's a broader audience than reach. And that's more of my knowledge that I get to share to more people. But the magazines and all of the big work that I've done in the past are just a testament to my work.
I'm glad that somebody thinks that I'm worthy enough. Not a lot of people know about the magazine thing. So when they hear about it, they're like, 'Oh, my God, you did Better Homes and Gardens! ' And my biggest accomplishment was my contract that I did with Ikea. My whole set everything I did stayed up for a year. And I did the cover of their 2007 catalog. I had pillows on the cover. So that was pretty neat.
Lisa Woolfork 31:26
That is incredible. And I love Ikea.
When that catalog went out. I was like calling my friends, 'Did you get the Ikea catalog? Those are my pillows on the cover!'
Lisa Woolfork 31:34
You see them? They look like mine, don't they? Oh, Carol, it is just so exciting that over the course of your decades of experience, you have had some really fantastic and rich experiences. And you have been so generous in sharing that knowledge with other people, including today on this episode. So I am very grateful to you. Thank you. And I had one last question. The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is 'We will help you get your stitch together.' I'm going to ask you, Carol, what in your opinion, can you tell us that will help us get our stitch together
Sewists, sewists, my fellow sewists, please slow down, enjoy the process, perfect your techniques and you'll always have a wonderful outcome.
Lisa Woolfork 32:23
That sounds like a brilliant bit of advice.
Lisa Woolfork 32:28
And on that note, Carol, where can we find you on the socials? I'll be sure to put all of this information in the show notes.
Okay, on Facebook and on YouTube. I'm CarolSewingCorner on Instagram and TikTok I am @ a n n c i e 2001. So I'm the antsy one. You call me Miss Carol on the socials too.
Lisa Woolfork 32:52
Well, thank you so much, and y'all check out her socials right now. She has been working on this amazing travel wardrobe for a trip. And if you check out her Instagram, you will see so many amazing and wonderful projects- probably over on Tik Tok as well- Are you gonna be posting over there too?
Yes, yes. From pajamas to evening wear. You name it. It's going to be there.
Lisa Woolfork 33:19
Check that out. So again, Carol, thank you so much for being with us today. We are so so grateful. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much for having me, Lisa.
Lisa Woolfork 33:32
You've been listening to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you joining us this week and every week for stories that center Black women, girls and femmes in sewing. We invite you to join the Black Women Stitch Patreon community with giving levels beginning at $5 a month. Your contributions help us bring the Stitch Pleass podcast to you every week. Thank you for listening. Thank you for your support, and come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.