Lisa Woolfork 00:10
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. [Music]
Lisa Woolfork 00:37
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. And, as I say every week, this is a very special episode. Because this episode, I have not just one amazing guest- I have two amazing guests. And they're related. And they are Michael and Ava Gardner, the co-authors of "Daddy Dressed Me." This gorgeous, brand new, 2023-published book, it is delightful. I urge everybody to go out and get their copies in plural. It's a beautiful gift of a book. It feels to me very much like a love letter to one's child, a love letter to oneself, and a love letter to sewing. So there's a lot about this that I absolutely love. And I am delighted and honored to welcome Michael and Ava to the program today. Thank you so much you both for being here. Thank you and welcome.
Thank you for having us. [Laughter]
Lisa Woolfork 01:38
Oh my gosh, y'all, we didn't even practice that--it just came out that way. Listen, when you stay ready, you don't have to get ready.
Lisa Woolfork 01:45
Okay. And y'all, if you are not a Patreon supporter, why not? Because this is something you are definitely gonna wanna: These two beautiful people wearing gorgeous sweatshirts based on the gorgeous book that they wrote. And we're gonna look at some images of some looks that Michael has created for Ava, and you would certainly want to see these. So check out the Patreon. There are three levels of giving. And you can find out more about that later. But right now we're finding out all about this delightful book.
Lisa Woolfork 02:18
Can you talk a bit about the story of "Daddy Dressed Me"? The story begins with Ava moving up from kindergarten to first grade. Ava, what do you remember about that time? Now, I know you do indeed have a book that you can use for reference, if you don't remember. But can you talk a bit about what it meant to kind of write the story, to kind of go through that memory again?
It was really fun, actually. It was really sentimental for me going back to my kindergarten days, and move up day- goin' to the first grade. But it was also really fun, 'cause that's where our journey kind of started. It was really amazing for me, and that is a memory that I'll never forget.
Lisa Woolfork 03:01
I love that so much. Because--what I felt like when I was reading, I felt like I was kind of having a memory, too. And I think that that's one of the powers of literature. It's like you open a book--I think--I've heard it described as, "you open a book, and you fall in." Like, you fall into the story. And so the idea that you can have this memory, and to have your journey begin in such a special place. Just seems so, so special.
Lisa Woolfork 03:30
Michael, can you talk a bit about the same: About what it meant to turn back to Ava's kindergarten years, which must seem like a thousand years ago, but also yesterday.
It's very interesting, because I have so many pictures of her from that time. And then to look at, like, how she's grown, how I've grown. I really enjoyed the process because--that was very early on. As she had to go through the process of building her confidence to speak in front of the school, I was building my confidence, and actually learning to sew. I'm self-taught. So, you know, I was relying on some of the trials and errors that I had previously. But I just wanted to deliver a beautiful dress for her so she walked into the school confident, to say her lines she had the--to recite it. So, yeah, we literally were, like, growing together. And that's been our--pretty much our whole journey over these nine years, growing together.
Lisa Woolfork 04:18
I just think it's such a powerful truth that you were able to distill in just a few lines. I wonder, Ava, if you wouldn't mind reading a couple of pages from the book? I was really drawn to the page that has the illustration, the line art, of the dress. Would you mind just starting there?
Lisa Woolfork 04:37
I just love that page. If you wouldn't mind reading that page.
Okay, I'll read it.
"Then he had another idea. 'Maybe I can make you a special dress to wear, too.' 'Yes,' Ava cheered, waltzing into his hug. When Ava wore one of Daddy's creations, she felt invincible."
Lisa Woolfork 04:54
Can you talk a bit about that line? What does it mean to feel invincible in one of Daddy's creations?
To feel beautiful, but also happy that my dad is takin' the time to make me something, to build up my confidence, and my self esteem. And it was also really fun to wear, because I literally set the room off. Like, when I walked in--no, seriously, when I walked in class, everyone was asking me, where can they buy the dress? And I was like, "Nowhere, my dad made it for me." I told 'em, "You could buy the fabric, but you can't buy the dress." So that was really fun, and really cool for me because, yeah, I've never worn somethin' like that. That's what I was thinking.
Lisa Woolfork 05:36
And this question of being able to really step into your power, and to step into a form of beauty--I think the phrase in the book is "warrior princess," when you chose the first design. Michael, how about you? How about going from a self-taught sewist to having to follow a pattern? I heard you had to resew the neckline three times? It said it in the book; I didn't hear it, no one else told me. You told me. Y'all told us that you had to resew the neckline three times. Because I can tell you, for me, after that second time? It's like, wait a minute, we gonna have to do something else.
Lisa Woolfork 06:07
But you stuck it out. You waited--you got all the way to the third time's a charm. What was that like, that shifting gears in your learning?
Usually for me, the first thing is, like, frustration, because you're kind of in a groove, you're getting through it, but also realizin' that the end goal is to make something that's, you know, wearable, comfortable for her. That's what allows me to kind of calm down and just refocus. Seam ripping- if anybody that sews, we all know, it's just not fun. But sometimes it's a necessary part of the process. So I would rather unpick it and redo it, than to send her with a sloppy neckline and, she's kind of questioning herself, because she doesn't know if her dress is gonna stay together, you know? So.
Lisa Woolfork 06:44
It's worth in the end. It's not the most fun part of actually sewing. [Chuckles]
Lisa Woolfork 06:48
Listen, I love sewing, and I dislike un-sewing aggressively. Un-sewing, sometimes you just got to unsew it and--
Lisa Woolfork 06:57
start again. I wonder, Ava if you wouldn't mind reading the center pieces, the two pages here in the middle. I actually love the way that the illustrator pulled together positive stitch. Just all of this--those two pages are just so beautiful. The way that you've drawn together, your learning the line. And then, Michael, like just sticking with it.
"But with each new word and stitch. Positive stitch. Kind stitch. Amazing stitch. Smart stitch. Ava's words flowed with more confidence. And Daddy's sewing machine began to whir faster than ever before."
Lisa Woolfork 07:37
I just love it. And also love how you included the word "confidence" in the book, when "confident" was one of the difficult words that you were dealing with as a kindergartener. And so I just love that process and the growth. And speaking of growth, I would love to have y'all talk me through this photo right here. This is an overview beginning in 2015. And I just love how, Ava, you get taller, and taller, and taller. [Laughter] I just love that. I cannot wait for the 2025 ones, when you're, like, looking down at Daddy, like, "Can you reach the shelf? Do you need me to help you?" [Laughter] You talk a bit about this process? What are we seeing here, from 2015 to 2020?
Lisa Woolfork 08:17
As a Girl Dad, one of the things that you kind of look forward to is taking your daughter on Daddy-Daughter dances. So, when she was, I think three or four, it was the gray dress--we went to the very first one. So I had started out with the intention of making her a dress every year. I still have every dress she's worn. So I think we've been to that's six--we've been to eight so far.
To--over the pandemic, it got canceled, so we had to do our own thing for two years. And then last year, we were able to actually return to an in-person dance. But yeah, I just wanted to have that memory with her. And I figure, keep everything because as she got older, you know, she became a grown woman, I can literally hand over everything and say, "Look. Like, these are the experiences, these are the memories that we've had together."
Every year was like a collaboration of what she wanted to wear. We would talk about, did she want something long or something short, or especially the red one, that one she really was like, "I want a big bow. I wann look like"-- that's when Annie had just came out.
And that was, like, one of her favorite movies. So she wanted a dress that looked like that. Yeah, it's been fun every year to kind of, just be on that journey with her. And as you see- you can see her growing with each year, getting taller. This literally one of the best days of the year for us.
Lisa Woolfork 09:27
Ava, how 'bout you? What do you notice? I think that, as a parent, we see things, we remember things in a certain way, but as a kid, as someone who is growing through these experiences, what do you see? What does this six-year journey that we're looking at in this image, what does that unlock for you? Are there any special memories that stand out? And you're like, "Oh, yes, I remember the red dress," or "Oh in 2019--I love that long stripe." Any memories get unlocked for you looking at this image?
The Annie dress, that was one of my favorites because, like my dad said, that was my favorite movie. I used to sing all the songs. And I used to act like I was Annie. I would put on something red and come out--'cause one of my favorite scenes is when she was in this little party, and she's saying, "Ya'll, look at me and this opportunity." That's one of my favorites.
Lisa Woolfork 10:18
But the biggest thing that I see is a handsome dad and a beautiful young girl going out and has the quality time together. That's the biggest thing that I see.
Lisa Woolfork 10:28
I love that. I love that you can see that. And I love that that has been your experience. It really is such a powerful tribute to the two of you, and to your relationship. And to, also, like- the possibilities of all relationships that are based in mutual respect, and love, and trust, and guidance. I really do think that that is something that the book encapsulates so beautifully.
Lisa Woolfork 10:55
So y'all, when you get your copies, plural--this is my copy right now. I want to actually get a copy that's signed. So I gotta figure out how to either buy a book from you directly, so I can get my signed copy. But listen, I am so excited for this, because of the way that you combine the categories. I think that you describe these in the blog as "Fatherhood, Fashion, and Fun." Like--so for me, when I travel, I'm always looking for my two favorite "F"'s, which are "food" and "fabric."
And fabric. [Laughter]
Lisa Woolfork 11:29
So everywhere I go- it's a work trip, it's a family vacation- everybody knows that I will need some time to myself, because nobody else wants to go with me to do this, to look for some fabric. And so you have "Fatherhood, Fashion, and Fun." Can we talk about what that means, in your own relationships? Like in your relationship with each other, and your relationship to yourself. And how you navigate fatherhood. What does it mean to bring those three things together? And I'd love to hear your thoughts as well, Ava. It feels like these are wonderful things that shape, just, your life experience. Can you talk a bit about these?
When I started on this journey, I had to figure out how to be a father because I wasn't raised by my father. So the thing that made most sense to me was to fuse my creativity into my fatherhood experience, because that just felt very natural to me. And then I just decided, "Okay, this might be a great experience to actually share as well."
Becoming a father was literally the best thing that's ever happened to me. And I'm very intentional about how I am with Ava, and the type of dad that I wanted to be, as well. I wanted her to have a fun childhood. I wanted her to be okay with being around me, and we can have fun without sewing, without modeling. It was just a fusion of kind of everything. Because I started doing this with her just by noticing her personality. You know, when I saw that, I'm like, "She actually might enjoy modeling." And naturally she just would pose and do certain things, so it all kind of just came together and made sense. The fun part is there's a lot of what we do that I don't share, that I don't record. I'm not big on, like, having the phone up every time we're doing things together. So, you know, we have that connection, we have that quality time. And she's not feeling like, "Well, we only do stuff when it's recorded." No. We have, like, the separate--some of our conversations that we have very, like, you know, important to me as well, that I don't share. Like there's a part of our relationship that I still protect and keep private as well.
Lisa Woolfork 13:22
Absolutely. Absolutely. How about you? What does "Fatherhood, Fashion, and Fun" mean to you, Ava?
Just modeling, having a good time, and also having a supportive, balanced relationship of even the modeling and the going out. But just having conversations about feelings, and processing things. And every time I feel some type of way, or I feel something, I know I can always go to my dad.
Lisa Woolfork 13:51
It's really such a blessing. I think, Michael, I've seen you describe it as "transforming pain."
"Oh God, turn my pain into power."
Lisa Woolfork 14:00
"God, turn my pain into power." It's beautiful. It's beautiful. Because what we see, at least for me, what I see when I'm looking at your IG page, when I'm looking at TikToks, when I'm looking at--enjoying your very funny reels, I don't see pain, and I don't even see power. I see the outcome of the transformation you're describing. And that outcome is pure bliss. It's joy, it's creativity, it's intentionality. It's funny.
Lisa Woolfork 14:31
It's all of these things, and I am so delighted that you chose to share your journey with us in this way.
Lisa Woolfork 14:39
[Music] The backstitch is a reinforcing stitch sewn by hand or stitched by machine. The backstitch is a return with a purpose. On the Stitch Please podcast our new Backstitch Series will recall early and/or favorite episodes of the podcast. And the best news? It's hosted by you. Yes, you. Thank you. You. Do you have a favorite Stitch Please podcast episode? Let us know by leaving a voice memo on our website- five minutes max. Let us know what episode you love and why other people will love it too. And if we use your message on the show you will receive an honoraria. So remember, the backstitch makes a seam stronger. Leave us a message so that your contribution can make the Stitch Please podcast that much stronger. You can find the link at the blackwomanstitch.org website, or just click on it in the show notes for this episode.
Lisa Woolfork 15:52
This patchwork dress is one of my favorites, Ava, and I am very curious to hear your thoughts on this dress. It feels like--it was a lot of work kind of went into it, maybe, Michael, I don't know?
Lisa Woolfork 16:05
Just a little bit. Okay, so Michael saying that it was a teeny tiny, miniscule bit of work? [Chuckles] Ava, what was it like to wear this dress? And then, Michael, I'd love to hear more about what's the story behind the making of this one.
I felt confident, bright, and beautiful.
It's also her birthday dress.
Right. It was. It was my eleventh birthday dress.
Lisa Woolfork 16:25
Oh my gosh.
I knew he was making me a dress. But he kept it to himself, of what type of dress he was going to make.
Lisa Woolfork 16:33
So one day I came downstairs, and I'm like, "What are you doing?" He was like, "I'm making your dress." And I'm like, "You are?" And I was shocked because all of those fabrics, almost every one of those fabrics, have been a single piece that he's made me before. So he just combined them all together for my big one-one birthday. And I loved it.
Lisa Woolfork 16:52
What a beautiful way to do the one-one birthday.
Lisa Woolfork 16:54
It's that, "I'm going to take all of the things that I've made you ever since you were little, and I'm gonna take a piece from every one."- That is fantastic. Michael, talk about that process, and what made you choose this patchwork piece to also be, like, a memory dress.
As you know, we often sew, you want to keep a lot of your scraps. So I've been holding on to scraps for years. [Chuckles] I don't know, it just hit me one day, like- I actually saw inspiration pic on Pinterest that I'd had in my phone for maybe about a year. And I was like, "This feels like the right time to actually do this." 'Cause I kept staring at the scraps, and then, obviously, patchwork became a popular trend. It was a great experience simply because, as I'm looking at the pieces, I could correlate it to what I've made her with those actual pieces. So now a bunch of memories are coming up. And like she said, when she saw it, she was just like blown away of, like, all the colors. And yeah, there was no real rhyme or reason to it other than cutting pieces, sewing them together. Like, I was building it as I was going. And yeah, I loved how it turned out. You could tell, she just felt great on her birthday.
Lisa Woolfork 17:54
I think it is such a powerful dress. I think it is a powerful testament and strategy for making. And I think that--I also am a keeper of scraps, and the way that you've categorized them in such a way that you could go back and find, "Oh yeah, this was from the Annie dress." I think is so smart. Thank you so much for that description.
Lisa Woolfork 18:17
And speaking of another kind of smart and amazing thing, we're looking at a wrestling cosplay, everybody. Talk about this costume, Ava, who this person is and why you wanted to be her for Halloween.
So this is actually my only woman influencer right now, Black woman influencer, Bianca Belair. She is the WWE Raw Women's Champion. And when I started watching wrestling, I didn't really see her, but then I saw her. She just caught the corner of my eye and I'm like, "I love her." She is [unclear] strongest, fastest, coolest, smartest. She is one of my favorite wrestlers. Being her for Halloween- I begged my dad to do it.
Lisa Woolfork 19:01
I actually begged him. And that outfit is similar to one of the outfits that she wore. It was that exact same type, but it was just cropped. Obviously I can't wear that to school." So my dad made it--
Lisa Woolfork 19:14
--appropriate for school.
Lisa Woolfork 19:16
So that was really fun. And also I took a few pictures before I went to school, the ponytail, I had the glasses, I had the nails, I had the jewelry, the bracelet. I loved it. And it was really cool, and really inspiring because Bianca Belair is just an incredible woman, and I really hope to meet her one day. And now I love her even more knowing that she's a sewer. I did not know that. That's really cool.
Lisa Woolfork 19:45
Yes, yes, that's the reason that I fell in love with her, when I saw that--of course all the costumes in the WWE are really interesting. They're all, like, shiny and they're very professional. And they have to be functional too, you know, if you're gonna pick up a person, or jump off the top rope, or do the splits, and the all the other stuff they do, you don't want to worry about your pants fallin' off, right? So they have to be well-made. And I saw that she sews her stuff. And when I saw that I was like, "Oh my gosh, I so want to talk--". Well, that's exciting, because you're gonna meet her, and then you're gonna tell her about the podcast, and about me and how cool I am. Then she'll come on the podcast, and we'll all be friends. I'm very excited for that to happen.
Lisa Woolfork 20:26
I wanted to talk about some of the more recent looks. I think--this was one of the ones- I think the one that I have on the cover. I really love this one. And I think that there's a lot in it that I absolutely love. But I want to start, actually, with the shoes, because I was so grateful they weren't Crocs. And I was like, "Wow. Michael went all out to look great for this picture." Are these the green shoes that you painted? Are these the ones that you did custom, Michael?
Yes, they are. They were completely all white before I actually painted, and that came about because I wanted a green pair to match her shoes from Zara, and I actually went to the store; they didn't have 'em, and I was so, like, frustrated, because I drove all the way out to Jersey to try to go and buy 'em.
Lisa Woolfork 21:07
And I was just like, "Michael just paint them yourself." So I went, found a white pair, went got the paint, and I love how they turned out. They match with her shoes perfectly.
Lisa Woolfork 21:16
They do- they match absolutely perfectly. And the fact that you were able to custom-do this is just one of the many examples of your wide-ranging talent. I just love that you were like, "You know what, I cannot find what I need. Therefore, I will make what I need."
Lisa Woolfork 21:33
Now this dress is self-drafted. So, can you talk about this piece, and Ava, I would love to hear about the shoes- the heel is just amazing.
Yeah, so, a lot of times with things that are made for her, I will either start with, like, a T-shirt that fits her, or I'll start with something that I've already made that fits her. So I'm pretty sure with this one I had started with a T-shirt and will literally just, kind of, build it as I go. The part that like--drape skirt part was very interesting and challenging, trying to figure that out. It was actually really fun to make because I also had an inspo pic, too, but again, a lot of things--I'm often inspired by women's fashion, but I have to keep in mind, like, I'm putting it on a child, so I always have--
Lisa Woolfork 22:14
--to make sure it's still appropriate for her.
Lisa Woolfork 22:16
Yeah, making sure, like, it fits her properly, that she feels comfortable. That she can move in it. The fabric is glittery, so that glitter was everywhere.
Lisa Woolfork 22:25
Oh I know.
It also had turned my sewing machine, like, brown.
Lisa Woolfork 22:28
It was--yeah, I wasn't prepared for that. [Chuckles] My arm was brown. Like, everything that I use- my measuring tape, the dye from it had turned everything like brown.
Lisa Woolfork 22:37
It was worth it because, you know, the dress came out the way that they did. [Chuckles]
Lisa Woolfork 22:42
It looks fantastic.
Lisa Woolfork 22:44
Ava, what was this like to wear? Because it looks gorgeous.
I felt like a teenager. [All laugh] With the ponytail and the little lift on the dress, and the heels, the jewelry. I felt like a teenager, and a lot of my family said I looked like a teenager, due to my height and my maturity. But it was actually amazing to wear that. One, because I love sparkle. I love shiny things.
Lisa Woolfork 23:11
And two, because it was fun to stand right next to my dad and be like, "We're matching."
Lisa Woolfork 23:18
And see the complement of his outfit and my outfit together. I got a lot of glitter on him. [All laugh] When we were takin' pictures. And, when I tell you- after we left that dance, I took that ponytail out.
Lisa Woolfork 23:34
It was so heavy.
Lisa Woolfork 23:36
Oh my gosh.
But it was worth it, because it was beautiful. But I took that thing off. [All laugh] [unclear].
Lisa Woolfork 23:42
It's like, "Listen, I don't have to sleep in it." Now, this is an accessory.
Lisa Woolfork 23:45
Now, Michael, your outfit is that a self-drafted piece too? Tell us about the piece that you are wearing. 'Cause, of course, it perfectly matches. It's really great. I really like how it complements so well what she has.
Thank you. So, the shirt is actually a pattern. It's a McCall's pattern. I'm not sure of the number, because it's actually one of the old ones.
Lisa Woolfork 24:02
Okay. And then the pants were self-drafted. This was actually the second year that I've actually made something for myself, because I would always go and buy a suit every year.
Lisa Woolfork 24:10
The year before this, during the pandemic, I was like, the second year we did it, just the two of us, I decided to actually, like, make a set. I think, movin' forward, that's what I'm going to do: I'm going to continue actually making my own outfit for the dance, just like I make for her.
Lisa Woolfork 24:24
I just think this is such a beautiful story. And you two are a beautiful story. A beautiful,--
[and Ava] Thank you.
--continuing, ongoing story, and I'm so glad and honored for you all to be here with us today. The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together. Michael and Ava, what advice would each of you give to our listeners to help them get their stitch together? Michael, how about you?
My advice would be, to just create what you want to create. There's a lot of noise sometimes, when it comes to, like, social media, and trying to keep up with other people. A lot of times I have to, just, block all that out, and just focus on what it is that I want to do. And sometimes that means not filming myself when I create. Not making sure this angle is right, and I got the lighting. To just, actually, have the freedom to just create. I don't have to share what I'm making at that particular moment. People were laughing at me; they say, "Oh, you just pop out with looks." And I'm like--'cause that's just what feels comfortable sometimes. So don't let the noise, kind of, get you in a rut of sharing your creativity. Just do it in the best way that feels comfortable to you.
Lisa Woolfork 25:30
I love it. Thank you so much. Ava, how about you?
For all the kids out there, just find somethin' that you're interested in. Whether that's singing, dancing, art- just find somethin' that puts your mind at ease. That relieves you from anxiety or stress if you have some. Or just find something to be productive. Find something that you really love to do, and keep going at it. Because my goal, my thing was dance, and I'm in a whole dance season now. Because of me just dancin' in my room, begging my parents to put me in dance. First it was gymnastics. Now it's dance. And now I've come a long way. Actually next Friday, I have a [unclear] at West Philly High.
Lisa Woolfork 25:32
Oh my goodness. This is fantastic. Well, congratulations on the evolution of dance for you, Ava, and the evolution of your interests. You are just getting started. And, wow, aren't you fortunate to have Michael be assigned to be your dad. [All laugh] And if the universe assigned you two to each other. I know, Michael, that you thank God every day for her, and Ava, you are indeed a gift not just to him, but to the world. And I'm so grateful and honored to meet you. And Michael, it is so wonderful to see you again. I am just so thrilled by this delightful outcome. And looking forward to the next book. I didn't ask about the next book. So I'm gonna leave you all off the hook for that. But I absolutely expect to talk to you both again, about the next book. [All laugh] Yeah, when the next book comes out please, put me on your media list.
Will do. [Laughter]
Lisa Woolfork 27:04
I want to be on it. Thank you all so much for being here today. This has been so wonderful. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you for having us.
Thank you for having us.
Lisa Woolfork 27:14
[Music] 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 five dollars a month. Your contributions help us bring the Stitch Please 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.