Chawne Kimber: A Sew Black live episode

0.75x 1x 1.25x 1.5x 2x 0:0000:37:49 Chawne Kimber: A Sew Black live episode


Start of the show. [0:09]

  • Welcome to stitch please, official podcast of black women’s stitch.
  • Black women at quilt con.
  • Finding a safe place from her heart to land.
  • Quilting as a way to escape mathematics.
  • What does “I miss hope” bring to me? [3:33]
    • The scale of I miss hope.
    • The frustration and tension of following the news.
    • The intersection of quilting and activism.
    • The process of creating a statement quilt.
  • Defining risks as risks. [8:38]
    • Risks in her work and how she defines them.
    • Being featured by scholastic.
    • Being a Scholastic Book Fair girl.
  • Black girl math magic. [12:56]
    • The Black girl math magic subscription box.
    • The Renwick museum acquisition process.
    • All makers except hetero white males.
    • The call from the Renwick curator.
  • America owns my quilt. [18:05]
    • America owns her quilt.
    • The poker metaphor, bet on yourself and win.
    • Bipac quilters are being relegated to a separate category.
    • The binary of beautiful quilts and statement quilts.
  • How she thinks about balance in her work. [22:22]
    • The 10th anniversary of quilt con.
    • How quilting has changed over the last decade.
    • A scene from Amadeus.
    • Balance between texture and the overall aesthetic of the piece.
  • How to leave space without leaving space? [25:57]
    • How to quilt with an out-of-focus line.
    • How Instagram is controlling quilting.
    • Small pieces of art on a wall.
    • Creating a quilt for instagram.
  • The words “I can’t breathe” [29:38]
    • Chawne makes the words to express his thoughts.
    • The title of the episode, patchwork to power.
    • Black women’s liberatory stitching traditions.
    • Power, liberation and process of stitching quilts.
  • The power of the needle and needle. [34:12]
    • The power of the needle and needle.
    • Words of wisdom for the interviewee.
    • Take care of yourself and your health.
    • Support Black Women Stitch on Patreon.
Read Full Transcript

Lisa Woolfork  0:09  

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

Lisa Woolfork  0:39  

Welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. Today is a very special episode. Because this episode takes place at Sew Black at QuiltCon in Atlanta, Georgia in 2023, in front of a live studio audience at the Soul Black space. And guess who we're talking with, the keynote, Chawne Kimber? Let's give it up. Let's get some applause!

Lisa Woolfork  1:09  

I am so happy you are here.

Chawne Kimber  1:11  

I am so happy to be here.

Lisa Woolfork  1:13  

Your lecture is sold out. And-- 

Chawne Kimber  1:16  


Lisa Woolfork  1:16  

Yay, yay. And guess what? We get to have you to ourselves, and I'm grateful for you being here with us. I thank you for saying yes. Although you do say you say, "I say yes to everything." And I'm like, Okay, well, maybe not everything, maybe. 

Chawne Kimber  1:31  

But thank you for making this happen. I think this is very important. And it's a nice step ahead for QuiltCon.

Lisa Woolfork  1:38  

Thank you. This happened because I saw the photo after Latifa’s keynote last year, and it was a group of Black women. I saw that photo and I said there are Black women at QuiltCon. And I have a safe place for my heart to land. And I would prefer us all to be in the same space because I don't wanna have to look around for everybody. So let's have a room. And here we are. And I'm thankful.

Chawne Kimber  2:05  

It seems to be working out well. We're jam-packed in a teeny tiny room. And we're we're doing great in here. 

Lisa Woolfork  2:12  


Chawne Kimber  2:13  


Lisa Woolfork  2:13  

You do a wonderful job of mixing mathematics and design.

Chawne Kimber  2:20  

Okay. I don't think I do. 

Lisa Woolfork  2:22  

You don't? 

Chawne Kimber  2:23  

But that's fine. 

Lisa Woolfork  2:24  

You don't? 

Chawne Kimber  2:25  


Lisa Woolfork  2:25  


Chawne Kimber  2:26  

So, that's a good place to start. 

Lisa Woolfork  2:28  

Yes, tell is what you do then 

Chawne Kimber  2:30  

Now, so my handle Cause She Can Pleat is because I joined social media back in 2005, and did not want anybody to know it was me. And who is going to suspect that a dead mathematician's name, it refers to this little Brown woman. And so, great. I was hidden for a long, long time. But it's also a very clever math turn of phrase that I won't teach you because there's no chalkboard. Thank goodness for you. Okay. So, I'd say that I started quilting as a way to escape the mathematics I had to do every hour of every day.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  3:09  


Chawne Kimber  3:09  

And so yes, I do some geometry. But that to me is not-- 

Lisa Woolfork  3:14  

Not real math.-- 

Chawne Kimber  3:15  

It's not. It's not hard math, right. And the reason why I do improvisation is because I don't have to consider any of that at all, ever. And so I think that my work is pretty much divorced from mathematics to the extent possible.

Lisa Woolfork  3:33  

Can you talk a bit about I Miss Hope? What does that piece bring? What was as you were, and I know you do a lot of things by hand, you draw things in very small. Can you talk about scale and the scale of I Miss Hope?

Chawne Kimber  3:48  

So, those are two questions. So I'm gonna try to remember the second question while I answer the first one, but you got my back. So, I Miss Hope. I was, I made that in 2016, starting it shortly after a certain presidential election. On the Obamas. Right, this whole spirit was hope n' change, hope n' change. And as that presidency got off the ground, the one following the hope n' change. I reflected a lot on how much my hope had been just completely draining out of me.--

Lisa Woolfork  4:27  


Chawne Kimber  4:27  

But I also had to reflect that it was coming at a certain period of my life. I finally had to admit that I'm middle aged. I mean, when do you realize that? And how many-- 

Lisa Woolfork  4:41  

My niece told me! 

Chawne Kimber  4:43  

Yeah, well, yeah. And many other things. Yes. But for me, it was, it manifested as truly feeling that I could not have the same level of hope that I had when I was a child. So, in your 20s, you can have all the hope in the world because you've got forever to achieve every possible dream. And now I have to admit that, okay, I can't do everything that was on my bucket list. And so I have to prioritize and pick and choose and not necessarily carry every dream with me and start leaving some of those behind. And so this patchwork is tiny, cause that's just what I do. I don't know how to do big pieces. And I think we all have different definitions of big, and big is very small for me. So, but working it over and over with all that stitchery to do the quilting was about the frustration and the tension of following the news. Like, we had to follow the news every day, cause you didn't know how we were gonna get attacked on any particular day. And what new defense we will need to mount. And it was getting to me, but every day I go home at night and just stitch a few more squares and rah rah rah rah! And just-- 

Lisa Woolfork  6:05  

Rage quilt.-- 

Chawne Kimber  6:06  

Yes. But, it's really about being old.

Lisa Woolfork  6:12  

Thank you. That's a beautiful answer. I wanted to think about the intersection of quilting and activism. There are folks who, after I think you showed you showed a recent photo, a recent cover photo from the, I think the LA Times?--

Chawne Kimber  6:26  


Lisa Woolfork  6:26  

--at a recent QuiltCon from you know, the 10 years. And this was you in, I think the headline was something like, Stitching Activism or something like that. Can you talk a bit about your process? So you're, thinking that the I Miss Hope is about, you know, agent orange. It's also about, like, you know, aging and development, it's about all these other things. Does that also work for quilts like 'I can't breathe'? Or some of the other ones? Can you talk a little bit about how, you know, quilting and activism, which seems like these are two false binaries, right?--

Chawne Kimber  6:29  

Yes, Yes.--

Lisa Woolfork  6:59  

Because these things that cross a lot, but talk about that about that kind of bifurcation, and why bifurcation is dangerous.

Chawne Kimber  7:07  

Yes. So I think it's important to note that I am very careful about the words that I use. So even though every quilt is associated with a particular current event in time, you don't have to know the specifics of that event in order to interact with my quote. So I'm trying to make the most universal statement that I can that's timeless in a way. So, I Can't Breathe is kind of in a different category, because it just keeps happening over and over again, that one will never lose its reference point. Because it just keeps--

Lisa Woolfork  7:45  


Chawne Kimber  7:45  

--getting new reference points. But something like I Miss Hope, is, I don't want to ever make a quilt about a particular politician. Because that's giving them the power.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  8:02  


Chawne Kimber  8:02  

I wanna make a quilt about how that politician impacts me. How that politician is impacting my people. How do we feel in this moment? And I think that that's kind of a timeless feeling. It's not particular to that moment, although we didn't have it for the eight years prior. But, um, it's now becoming our new normal, though, unfortunately. So...

Lisa Woolfork  8:27  

And I really appreciate the way that the statement quilt, or some might call it a statement quilt, is a kind of, is a larger, universal question. And I really appreciate the risks you take, or do you define them as risks? There are some who might look at your work and say, "Wow, she takes a lot of risks." And this could be aesthetically, it could be content or whatever. But do you describe do you think about your work as risky? Does it feel risky to you?

Chawne Kimber  8:58  

Yes, absolutely. Because you never know how it will be received. I take pains to make sure I'm not saying something wrong. I have a feeling some of you have experienced quotes where the thing that was said just hits you the wrong way. There are some pretty offensive statement quotes out there, where the quilters were quite well meaning but did not take the time or the effort or listen to any advice they might have gotten about that statement. I just, it's not something you do on a whim. I think it's, if you're gonna make a statement and you're gonna put it out there for public consumption. I feel like you have to be careful about how you do it, how it's gonna impact every possible member of your audience. And so I use my social media to work up to the reveal, slowly putting, you know, little articles in my stories, say "Go learn about this event over here" so that you are gonna get the reference I'm gonna make. And then I'm contacting all kinds of friends and family, and engaging in conversations about those events, or about that general feeling, or about our ancestors, to make sure that I have as clear as an understanding as I possibly can. I am not perfect, but I'm gonna try to get as close to the least offensive, the most direct, the most capable of opening doors for people to start learning if they are willing. And so I try, but the risk is always gonna be there.

Lisa Woolfork  10:49  

Yes. You were recently, I think last year, I saw that you were featured by Scholastic. 

Chawne Kimber  10:54  


Lisa Woolfork  10:55  

And that to me was a superstar moment because I was a Scholastic Book Fair girl, when the Scholastic Book Fair paper came home, I had like, I'm telling you, I was the kid that begged to go to summer school, because it was indoors with books instead of camp. Can you talk about that, about how they approached you. And what was it like to be featured as a great model for so many young people?

Chawne Kimber  11:20  

I have to admit, I didn't know that book came out. By the way. I was called about that, maybe two or three years ago. I mean, I was in the middle of, no, I was in my office when I got the phone call. So it was pre-covid when I got that call. And it was just these two education professors out west somewhere. And they just said, we like your story, wanna tell the story. Here's how we approach different age groups, because clearly, I don't know anything about kids. That is absolutely true. I can talk to an 18 to 22 year old, fine, that's where I'm highly practiced. But an elementary school kid, I have no idea how to frame a story for them. And so I was actually just a super nerd, truly excited to be learning from these two professors about how they were gonna project the story into the world.--

Lisa Woolfork  12:13  


Chawne Kimber  12:14  

One are the best dimensions of my story that could be told, that would truly illustrate my life, without going into, you know, the dirty details of anything, but really encapsulate things. And so it really was just these, it was an email and a phone call. And so now I gotta find this book.

Lisa Woolfork  12:32  

Well, I don't know if it's out or not. I just remember when you posted about it. And I was just-- 

Chawne Kimber  12:34  

Oh that was in a book.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  12:35  

Oh, that I missed that. Yeah. So tell us about that project. 

Chawne Kimber  12:43  


Lisa Woolfork  12:43  

So, she has so many, it's like, oh, wait, which Scholastic project? Did you mean? 

Chawne Kimber  12:47  

Yeah, I'm sorry. But that's going to be a cool book when it comes out. So it's gonna be a book for young Brown women.--

Lisa Woolfork  12:53  

About you and your work as a mathematician? 

Lisa Woolfork  12:56  

About me and about maths, yeah, yeah.

Chawne Kimber  12:57  

So, but this other thing, the Black Girl Math-chick.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  13:04  

Math-chick, yes.-- 

Chawne Kimber  13:05  

Math, hyphen, chick. Math-chick. Um, that is a subscription box, that they come in purple, a purple box in the mail. And every, I think it's every other month, she profiles a Black woman in mathematics. She makes a booklet in there. That is the story of the mathematician that she's profiling. And then it also contains math problems based on characteristics of your life. And so quilting was a really great kind of angle for her to take. So it's all areas and counting up pieces of fabric and kinda cool stuff. And then the rest of the box is filled with relevant toys. And so there's all these sort of magnets of different shapes. And so you can make a quilt on your refrigerator, and all kinds of other little cute toys inside. And so it's my box, they took a photo of me and turned it into a cartoon. So I'm now a cartoon character.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  14:14  

Oh, my gosh.-- 

Chawne Kimber  14:15  


Lisa Woolfork  14:16  

That is fantastic. Now I saw your quilt at the Renwick last summer.-- 

Chawne Kimber  14:20  


Lisa Woolfork  14:21  

And it was a really wonderful exhibition. Bisa Butler had pieces there. Sonya Clark. Quite a few folks had some really remarkable pieces. Can you talk about that process? Like what is it like when a museum acquires your work? Is it a lot of things involved? What is it required to, on your part as an artist, to release it in that way? Or do you consider them loans? They buy them? Like how do you how do you manage that in terms of your like, when you're ready to release something in that way?

Chawne Kimber  14:51  

So the process is different with different museums. Some of them just come at you and say, "Here's what we have to spend, what can you give us at this price?" Sometimes it's nothing. Sometimes. And over time your price increases, of course. Um, so the Renwick is special because they're celebrating their 50th anniversary. And so they had some intention to do a lot of fundraising. And so part of that fundraising was to enhance the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, specifically in areas where the collection was Black. And so essentially, all makers except white males, and I should say hetero white males.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  15:45  


Chawne Kimber  15:45  

And so the collection that you would see the Renwick right now is oh so Black, and indigenous, and Latin.--

Lisa Woolfork  15:52  


Chawne Kimber  15:53  

And it's quite eclectic and lovely. So that, when I was. probably three years before the exhibition began, I have this, quote godmother, who is the best human on... And I'm not gonna say her name here, but I'll say it tomorrow. Um, she called me one day. And she doesn't normally just pick up the phone and call me. So I knew something was going on. And all she said was, you're gonna get a phone call, this is the number you should say. And then she hung up the phone, had no idea what any of this meant. So for two weeks, I sat around just, was that some kind of CIA notification?, or, I just didn't know. And this call comes in, first, an email from the curator, Mary Saavik at the Renwick, "Hey, can we have a phone call?" I was like, "Oh, this might be the moment." And she asked for that specific quote, are you willing to sell it? And what would be your price? And I was like, I have never, ever considered that this would be a price. Only a year before had I considered selling a quilt.--

Lisa Woolfork  17:09  


Chawne Kimber  17:10  

And I was like, "God, I can make another one!" And it still astounds me to this day. And to know that, and so she took the number. And then she said, Well, we have to go fundraise. They had to go and raise that dollar amount. But then consider they were collecting 180 new pieces. So they had to collect essentially, that dollar amount for 180 pieces. And so that just like blows my mind completely. But then it takes another two years, right, they're raising the money, then you have to become a vendor for the United States of America.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  17:55  

Oh, wow.-- 

Chawne Kimber  17:56  

And get approved and all that. And then a giant check shows up in the mail.--

Lisa Woolfork  18:00  


Chawne Kimber  18:01  

And you do what you can to contain yourself.

Lisa Woolfork  18:05  

That is fantastic.--

Chawne Kimber  18:06  


Lisa Woolfork  18:06  

Oh, my gosh, congratulations!-- 

Chawne Kimber  18:08  

Thank you.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  18:09  

It's really beautiful.

Chawne Kimber  18:10  

That, what's most important to me is that America owns my quilt now.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  18:16  


Chawne Kimber  18:17  

And had I not gotten that preliminary phone call of, here's your dollar amount, I would've bet $5 cause that's what it means to me that America owns my quote, that kind of validation of the work, the statement.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  18:34  


Chawne Kimber  18:35  

I don't even need the $5. But that's like, towards the postage. So, but I'm glad to take the big check too.

Lisa Woolfork  18:42  

Yes, that's right. That's right. I really, I think that's so valuable. And what a great mentor, someone to be willing to kind of share the behind the scenes because what you don't know, what you don't know. You know, that when you're entering a specialized industry, and there's certain vocabulary, certain language, certain meetings, certain relationships, all of these things get leveraged all around you, but you don't know. And so it's really wonderful. When you quoted that new rate, you know, because it was a new process. Did you feel like you had to kind of like push yourself to do it, or you were just like, "Oh, like, you know, I'm just gonna do it. I was just gonna say it" because she said, Did you practice saying it? Did you practice the phone call? Did you say, you know,--

Chawne Kimber  19:28  

No, well, I mean, imposter syndrome definitely set in, I'm like, is this like playing poker and like, I'm gonna be out of the game because I'm saying a number that's too high. And so shouldn't I go in with my usual opening bet here. And I trust this godmother enough.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  19:50  


Chawne Kimber  19:51  

And yeah.

Lisa Woolfork  19:53  

And you know what? I think just to continue the poker metaphor, you bet on yourself.-- 

Chawne Kimber  19:58  


Lisa Woolfork  19:59  

And All of us win.-- 

Chawne Kimber  20:02  


Lisa Woolfork  20:03  

All of us one, because you bet on yourself.-- 

Chawne Kimber  20:06  


Lisa Woolfork  20:07  

And we're really grateful. I am really grateful. And speaking of grateful you have 10, you have an exhibition downstairs of your work as part of the 10-year anniversary of QuiltCon. And it is a stunning, stunning retrospective. It's a really beautiful combination of the improvisation that you do, as well as this destruction. And I hate to say, I remember we were on Instagram, and I think someone had posted something about like, do you like statement quilts? Do you like beautiful? Oh, that's right. That was the Binary and Chawne, like, I think reposted or commented on it and was like, do you remember what you said exactly? 

Chawne Kimber  20:47  

Yeah. And I just said, this is a strange binary, that it was a nonprofit clunk group. Now were having people donate $1 per vote as a fundraiser for them. And so if you wanted to vote on the best quilts or beautiful quilts, you could give your $20. And you would put in 20 votes for beautiful quilts. And the, but the other option was statement clubs, as if these are separate categories of quilts. But it's also that even this category of statement quilts, has always been a way to marginalize my work. Just to say my work is political. Therefore, it's not the same as everybody else's quilts. And therefore, it can't be beautiful in these people's binary. And so I made that comment that many of our BiPAC quilters, who choose to make quilts about their identity, are being relegated into this separate category. And then they want people to vote. And what are they gonna do with this vote? What are they gonna say? Oh, beautiful quilts are obviously the better quilts. And you know, that wasn't all that I put in there. I just said look, "You are being divisive, and you are marginalizing bipoc makers." And, to their credit, they immediately reposted my post said, "Hey, we're sorry that we held up this binary, but then they they left up-- 

Lisa Woolfork  22:15  

the money-- 

Chawne Kimber  22:16  

the money, the fundraiser, until I think other people joined in the choir. But I screenshotted everything, so I'm ready to go.

Lisa Woolfork  22:26  

I love that. I love that. And we're all learning and unlearning.--

Chawne Kimber  22:32  


Lisa Woolfork  22:32  

And that's a really important part, I think of artistic development. Do you think that in the last, well I guess I mean in the last week, think about your work in terms of like a decade. And since we're here at the 10th anniversary of QuiltCon, what do you see in your own work, that has changed remarkably, over the last decade? Is there anything that you can look back in your own retrospective and feel surprised by?

Chawne Kimber  22:58  

No, I, so I'm very intentional, I have no time to be filtering anything. So I am very intentional in the choices I make about which projects I indulge in. And so I've been always super careful in making decisions before even launching into a project. And so I think that my intentionality means there's not a lot of surprises going on. I would say that I might be making more happy quilts lately.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  23:30  


Chawne Kimber  23:31  

Just because quilting was my happy place until I started making these statement quilts about rough stuff happening in the world. And then quilting became a chore and a labor. Oh, sure, it's for the people. But at some point, I need to go back and feed Sean.--

Lisa Woolfork  23:51  


Chawne Kimber  23:52  

I need the self care of quilting.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  23:53  

Yes, you do.-- 

Chawne Kimber  23:54  

And how do I get that back? Well, sometimes it's by making happy statements. Ooh, evil eye tub. Right? Our selfie quilt? I think that just came out of nowhere. It was, I remember, there's a scene from Amadeus, if you ever saw that movie about Mozart, and he's flirting with his new girlfriend, and he's, you know, somehow supposed to be illustrating how smart he is. Because he starts speaking all of his sentences backwards. And so he says, into the end sort of their tussle under the table, he says, "uoy evol I, Tub" and he asks her to marry him. And I think it's emyrram, emyrram.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  24:41  


Chawne Kimber  24:17  

And, and I've always kind of reflected on "uoy, evol I, Tub" because it doesn't sound like 'I love you'. That whole tub part just doesn't kind of feel like it for me.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  24:52  


Chawne Kimber  24:53  

And so I've always been kind of thinking about the reflection in your camera. When you take a selfie. And unfortunately, a lot of cameras automatically reverse the image. So the selfie clip doesn't work for everybody, you have to turn that off.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  25:08  


Chawne Kimber  25:09  

But just this idea that you would take a selfie, and then your photo would tell you, it loves you. 

Lisa Woolfork  25:16  


Chawne Kimber  25:17  

Right. And there's so much to unpack there. So I'll stop.--

Lisa Woolfork  25:21  

Yes, no, that's really beautiful. That's really beautiful. I was thinking about the texture of your piece as you were talking about the piece at the Renwick if you really can't discern all of the richness and texture from a distance. And I wonder how do you think about balance in your pieces, since so much of it is improvisational. Is that something about like, and I'm thinking of balance between the texture of the piece and the overall aesthetic, the overall frame of the quilt within the borders of the piece?

Chawne Kimber  25:57  

Yeah, um, I don't know how to quilt with it not being dense. So you can tell my lines are close together, those x's are close together, I don't know how to leave space, whenever I leave space, I end up coming back through and filling it in with more lines and more access. So I think that's just the natural way that I quilt. And I'm not gonna fight that.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  26:21  


Chawne Kimber  26:22  

Cause when I'm in a moment of quilting, I have the time to do it, I'm just gonna let my hands do what they wanna do. But we are in an age of social media, where your art is first viewed through Instagram. And so there are some quilts that you make that do not look very good in an Instagram photo. Half of my quilts do not photograph well. And so there's this question we have to ask is, "Are you making your art for Instagram? Are you making your art for the wall of a museum?" And there's that there's a connection, because you're not gonna get into the museum unless they notice your work. They're noticing your work through the projection you put out there. And so there's now this connection, that unfortunately, Apple phones are controlling up to some extent.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  27:15  


Chawne Kimber  27:16  

And museums, obviously, though, I keep making these denim quilts that don't photograph well. So I'm not, buy into it completely. Some of my quilts, I'm like, yeah, it's gonna look good on the 'Gram'. But I have to make some choices that way. There's some clubs, right? So Ooh, evil I tab. I'm like stitching super close to my face, because I have to wear glasses, because I'm a woman of a certain age. And it is looking gorgeous, up close. Right. But then I had no idea those pieces were so small if they were on a wall, but it actually reflects, there's really great walls that are slightly disgusting. But if you go to Europe, there, you'll see in the subway, a wall where people discard their gum.--

Lisa Woolfork  27:29  

I saw!-- 

Chawne Kimber  28:03  

--and the gum is all different colors. And you get those different blobs of color all densely packed into a certain space. And it actually looks like those kinds of walls. And maybe that works for me. Louisville, I tub. It's kind of a disgusting statement. If you think through all the layers of the selfie-quilt, and it fits with that gum.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  28:33  


Chawne Kimber  28:35  

But I had not necessarily intended it from the beginning. And probably I should've had bigger pieces if it was gonna look good on a wall. But I don't care.

Lisa Woolfork  28:48  

That's right, and I love how you asked, "Are you creating the quilt for the Instagram? Or are you creating it for a museum wall?" And could there be a third option where you're creating it for yourself? And I'm wondering how much of your own like, pleasure and joy come through the creation process and how you balance those three things through.

Chawne Kimber  29:10  

Yeah, so I mean, today, these are the decisions I'm making but, in, you know, before like two or three years ago, yeah, I almost all the quilts I make were never intended to be at QuiltCon or to be in a museum. They were always just a way for me to process things. A way to spend Saturday afternoon without being out in the streets doing bad stuff. Um, and so I Can't Breathe, for instance.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  29:43  


Chawne Kimber  29:43  

I just made the words because I had to. I watched the Eric Garner video, and I couldn't believe what I was watching. I suddenly realized that these are the words that, with no disrespect meant, but these are also the words I wanted to be expressing about this moment. It's senseless, it's out of control, I can't breathe, because I can't understand what is happening. And so I just decided to sit at my machine and make these words and experience making these words in the dark, in quiet, the only sound was this hum of my machine, and just making each phrase one at a time, I, can't, breathe. And then feeling the weariness of doing that nine times, right, we all know about making a lot of blocks over and over again, feeling that sensation of just tiring out. And I put it in a stack in the corner of my room, it had served its purpose for the moment. And then, you know, two months later, you pull it out, and you start to put together the words into the rectangular block that they sit in. And then a year later, you make the rest of the patchwork around it. And more and more people are getting killed by the police. So maybe this is a statement that needs to be seen by the world.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  31:27  


Chawne Kimber  31:28  

And so yeah. And I think I don't have the time to do that now. Now, I am, my pressures are different.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  31:38  


Chawne Kimber  31:39  

So, yes.--

Lisa Woolfork  31:41  

Thank you. Thank you. That's really beautiful. The title of our episode is Patchwork to Power with Chawne Kimber. And I've been thinking a lot about Black women's liberatory stitching traditions, I teach a class called Sally Hemings University Connecting Threads. And it's a course that I've created where we do both art and crafts, and critical study. And students, in class, we do certain in-class activities. At the end of the semester, they get a gallery show, and it's just, you know, really wonderful. But I do believe that there is something in the stitch. I think there is something when you put that needle to that thread, and you pull it through, and you tie that knot, and you make that commitment. Can you talk a little bit about what that is like for you when you're stitching that together? Do you think about, do you have ideas about power, about liberation, about process? Do those things kind of come together for you through your process? As you are building and stitching?

Chawne Kimber  32:46  

Um, yeah, I mean, I, so even prior to the job I currently have, there's certain sense in which being a math professor meant that I had no leg to stand on to comment on issues of race in the community, right? It was meant for professors like you because you're qualified. You're, it's your expertise. And so you're supposed to stand up on the administration buildings, there's and be the one railing against, and I'm supposed to be the quiet mathematician in the corner, just saying, "There there." And so, in some sense, my quilts became my voice. So if I couldn't have a voice on the campus, well, I'll have a voice in the world instead.--

Lisa Woolfork  33:37  


Chawne Kimber  33:39  

Yeah, I think that that's the way that I think about it--

Lisa Woolfork  33:43  

Yeah, yeah.--

Chawne Kimber  33:43  

That's where the power comes from, and sort of a more global effects--

Chawne Kimber  33:47  

Yes, Yes.-- 

Chawne Kimber  33:47  

on people. The act of selling. Well, you all know, it's pretty dangerous. Don't you get a thrill from your rotary cutter and successfully not cutting off a finger? Using that power tool? The sewing machine is going chicka, chicka, chicka Chicka. And you don't put a needle through your fingers? 

Lisa Woolfork  34:11  

That's true.-- 

Chawne Kimber  34:12  


Lisa Woolfork  34:12  

It's always a good day when that does not happen.

Chawne Kimber  34:14  

Yeah. So they're, I mean, that there's power even and just that pointy needle hand needle that you thread and you, you know, put it through cotton. I love the sound of pulling cotton through cotton, just that shhh. It's just, you know, for me, it's the way to connect with a great grandmother who died when I was two and a half. But we still had her quilts on our beds in our house. They were my father's most prized possessions.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  34:46  


Chawne Kimber  34:47  

And that was meaningful to me.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  34:49  


Chawne Kimber  34:49  

And I'm gonna carry that forever.

Lisa Woolfork  34:52  

Yes. And now you've been able to create these quilts that, like you say, are doing work in the world. They're absolute really doing work in the world. They are teaching and sharing things that folks might not have acquired otherwise. And I'm always so glad to see your work anywhere. But I'm especially glad for the retrospective here. Chawne Kimber. The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together. This is a question that we ask every interviewee and I would like to know, what your words of wisdom would be for our audience. Well, how would you help us? What would you tell us to help us get our stitch together?

Chawne Kimber  35:36  

This is a lot of pressure.

Lisa Woolfork  35:37  

It is. It is. It's pressure for me to because they're all listening.

Chawne Kimber  35:42  

I onboard new faculty members every semester. And the number one thing I tell them is to sleep. And I want them to be healthy when they get tenure. I don't want them just to get tenure. And so the same for you. Take care of yourself, self care. Go to your doctors regularly, dentist, right, you only get to keep the teeth that you've lost. And take care of yourself. And there's nothing more important than sleep to that.

Lisa Woolfork  36:15  

Wow. Wow, that's profound. Thank you.

Lisa Woolfork  36:18  

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 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 Woman 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 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.

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