FInd Your SewJo with Najah Carroll

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Find out more about Najah Carroll on her website and on  Instagram

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Najah shares part of her story here: 

A few years ago, I “lost my sewjo” when life and work overwhelmed me all at once and activated my go-to coping skill: Strong Black Woman Survival Mode. I put my family and job ahead of my own needs, got real efficient at “running shit”, and further away from my creativity. Garment sewing and writing stories about it on my blog had become my main self-care practice because it was freeing me from an adulthood of ill-fitting ready-to-wear (I am short and curvy) and fully engaged my brain and hands in something meant just for me. When I stopped keeping and making sewing promises to myself, I was determined to find out why and began a quiet journey of self-examination. I re-read the book by bell hooks that saved me in college, Sisters of the Yam: Black Women & Self-Recovery and began some much needed inner work and healing. The process is on-going. When the pandemic hit, I was triggered back into SBM mode. This time I recognized it! Those lost sewjo feelings were my call to action. I reached out to the sewing community, found out I wasn’t alone and started writing, plugging holes in my self-care, and therapy-sewing my way out of the shadows. I called it my Sewjo Reclamation Project and immediately created my first sewing social media meme with an image from the movie, How Stella Got Her Groove Back. From there, I decided to self-publish my first writings as a for-profit ebook instead of on my blog. This is a transition for my platform that aligned with my 2019 transition to independent consulting from 20 years in the tech industry. The first chapter of my ebook is called “3 Reasons Why Passionate Women Lose Their Sewing Mojo” and is available for free download by my email subscribers. They will be the first to know when the ebook is available for purchase in September. To bring awareness to my Sewjo Reclamation Project, I have also begun live-streaming answers to questions from the sewing community about sewjo reclamation to my Instagram followers. Sharing my ideas, stories, and vulnerabilities has been its own healing experience. My intention is to help other passionate women reclaim their sewjo by transforming their craft into a ritual of self-care.

Read Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Lisa Woolfork: [00:00:00] Hello, Stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please the official podcast of Black Women Sitch. 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 experienced. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.

hello everybody. And welcome. I'm Lisa, your host here with the stitch please podcast the official podcast of Black women stitch the sewing group where Black lives matter and [00:01:00] the stitch please podcast that centers, Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. And I am once again, as I always say, delighted, thrilled, agri, grateful to have the guests I was begin with today.

This is Najah Carroll, from one to be sewing something. And she is absolutely amazing. She is. So is she is a recovering corporate worker. She is a homeschool teacher. She is, a blogger and influencer and just really amazing. And one of the warmest persons I have had the privilege of speaking with on this podcast.

So Najah welcome.

Najah Carroll: [00:01:37] Thank you for having me, Lisa. This is a pleasure.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:01:41] so I wanted to get started to get you thinking about, if you could tell what, tell us your sewing story, how did you get started in sewing? You do so much. and I think it's nice for people to think about what the beginning looked like for you.

So tell us, can you identify if you were to tell your sewing story and how [00:02:00] you got started? does it start with sewing as a small child? Does it start with. Sewing as an adult, looking for a corporate and a site looking for, as an adult looking for some type of fun and pleasurable thing, how did you get going?

Najah Carroll: [00:02:13] I learned to, so as an adult, there was sewing in my house, costumes and things like that would happen, but I didn't get into it. I, I was just the one to where whatever was made. I grew up with my stepmom, and she was real crafty. But sewing for me happened when I moved from California, I'm a California born and raised in Silicon Valley and I moved to DC and I finished up school and got my, my first corporate job happened to be my only job or rather my career at one company.

And, I worked for this tech company and Rose fast and the company. I got really into all of the work and I [00:03:00] was on a keyboard, bored and looking at a screen all day. and I've always been a polymath, so I need to be doing lots of different things. So that just wasn't going to work for me, just sitting on a screen for 12 hour shifts.

And I worked the midnight shift in the NOC. They call it the network operations center. And anyway, I needed to do something with my hands. That didn't involve a keyboard. So I went to G street fabrics and

Lisa Woolfork: [00:03:25] learn. I love that place.

Najah Carroll: [00:03:26] Yes. in just smitten instantly, when you walk in the door and I took a quilting class, I'm not a quilter, but I did it


Lisa Woolfork: [00:03:34] and stuff,

Najah Carroll: [00:03:36] I don't think I ever even finished that.

I probably never even finished it. but I was immediately loved sewing and it just became like a little side hobby on the side for awhile, but it was. After I'd gotten married after I got married and yeah, and gotten real, got my groove in the corporate world that I started, realizing that this hidden talent of sewing that I had could be used for garments.

[00:04:00] So I've only been garment sewing, even though I've been sewing for 20 years, I've known how to sew for 28 years. I've only been garment sewing for the last decade and as as a garment, so are theirs. the stages that you go through or you, you start buying quilt and fabric and sewing things with quilted fabric until you realize

Lisa Woolfork: [00:04:18] Oh wait, this is pretty, but it's not going to be what I actually need, but I want it.

So what do I do?

Najah Carroll: [00:04:23] Yes. And then you, you get caught into the whole pattern thing. And I, I listened to your Joanne episode. So I identified with that whole. That whole getting caught up in shopping, and


Lisa Woolfork: [00:04:35] it is so


Najah Carroll: [00:04:36] disillusion up and your whole day gone cause the sale wasn't the sale, that whole thing.

So I went through all that. Do you relate it to much fabric accumulated to when you patterns trying to. Figure it out and you then try to self-teach and I'm I'm five feet tall. So

that's starting with

patterns. It made no sense for me, but I muddled my way through it and found some [00:05:00] things that worked, but it was, it was hard for me.

so sewing was actually, for me, garment sewing was more of a rescue. it was very functional for me cause. Nothing fit, fit. Nothing ever. I prefer looking at myself naked then,

Lisa Woolfork: [00:05:21] Hey, that's very useful. People need to enjoy their naked bodies more, in my opinion.

Najah Carroll: [00:05:26] Yeah. I will.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:05:28] Thing to be in my twenties, trying to,

Najah Carroll: [00:05:30] date and all of this other things and find my way in my career and never, ever been comfortable in my clothes.

So I was like, I'll solve that problem. And I thought that sewing. going to Joanne's pick up the pattern, doing all that would have been the way. But my way to garment sewing was, was, was hard because I had to learn backwards that, fitting for my body required a custom sewing. So that's that took that.


Lisa Woolfork: [00:05:57] It's so interesting that, as you [00:06:00] described, I think something that people struggle with is that if you don't think about a pattern as, as a set of suggested, yeah. Talk about the pattern as like the Bible or as the core text, or as the only answer, then you're going to leave feeling like.

You're not yet your body's not right. I don't know. I just feel that sometimes when people don't know that patterns are designed for and build of people, people who apparently, if you look at some of these instructions have teeny waist and teeny hips and no boobs. Yeah. And I'm like, but I'm, I'm not a pencil.

Yeah. And and I'm, and because, God is good and also great. I have a booty. And so like, All of these things I have to have to modify. And I think if you go into it thinking like, Oh no, I'm not right. Therefore, and then that makes you feel bad when in fact it's the pattern. That's not right.

The pattern is the one, that's the limitation. It's not you, And so I think that that's one of the things I love [00:07:00] about you and the work that you're doing with, getting people to. To think carefully about their sewing way that empowers

Najah Carroll: [00:07:08] them.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:07:09] That's what, that's something I love about, your overall approach and how you talk about this in your blog and other places, about making these adjustments.

It's not because there's anything wrong with us. and it's everything to do with the pattern being designed in such a way that. Can't meet the needs of antibody and everybody who picks it up.

Najah Carroll: [00:07:29] Absolutely. I had to find myself in these patterns and I also had to recognize that I was altering other people's work.

So once I saw it, I love doing that. I went wait a minute. Yeah. cause for me, for some people, first of all, sewing from a pattern. And I'll say this, I may offend people, but sewing.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:07:47] I offend people all the time, go for

Najah Carroll: [00:07:50] it to be able to pick up a pattern and cut into it without making changes or with only making a few changes, I'm tall.

So I made this longer. [00:08:00] That is a privilege. I learned that the hard way. Like the first couple of years of garment sewing, I cried, I cried on the floor with this. With this tissue just yeah. engulfed in it. Cause I didn't know. I didn't understand. And that's where all the expos and learning. And then I was like, wait a minute, this is a thousand hour program.

I was like, this is, learn how to alter these patterns. And finally, when I said enough is enough, I went to one of these expos and it was a Judith Raz band who may she rest in peace? She did a book called, I think it's called pattern fitting or fitting. Where is it? I can't remember the name of it here.

I don't even keep it out anymore because I don't want to be tempted to open it because it is a book of nothing but pattern alterations. And it's awesome. It's a hundred dollar textbook and I bought it from her at a, at a, at a X and she gave me a fit evaluation. Took me behind a curtain, had this little clip board and [00:09:00] evaluated all of my various.

Corrections that would need to happen when I use used a commercial pattern and that paper, first of all, is two to three pages and it had these illustrations on it, of all the different. Body shaping situations. And it was full of red pen. Just, just like I, I failed the test. Yeah.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:09:23] red pen now, I'm an English professor, so I know I'm certainly going to be triggering people.

Cause I, and I deliberately do not write on my students' papers with red pins because I think a lot of them have flashes.

Najah Carroll: [00:09:32] That's exactly

Lisa Woolfork: [00:09:33] what about that? I'd like it definitely. Yeah, that sounds exactly right. That you feel when you even the call them corrections. as opposed to saying, I'm going to correct this broken pattern, you say, Oh no, too bad.

I can't. And I love how you said that it's a privilege to, so without Pat altering a pattern,

Najah Carroll: [00:09:53] people should recognize that.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:09:55] I agree with him. People should. Absolutely. If you can, if you can pull up the [00:10:00] pattern and you happen to be built like the model, then you are the nets. You are in a really good, I guess you're in a good position, a lucky position, but it's also a rare position.

Yeah. and one of the reasons that people so is because they want clothes that fit. And they want to enjoy the process, but for, but for many people, so many alterations are required to get a standard, big four pattern to fit that it really can demoralize you. Like you were saying, curled up on flow with the tissue.

And I'm like, I'm not letting this pattern that I got on sale for $2. Make me cry. Oh, hell

Najah Carroll: [00:10:34] no. What about the amount you paid for it? And the investment that you put into it? It's like. Why, you know what it is. It's the equivalent of self checkout.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:10:46] Hmm. Tell me more about that. My husband hates self checkout.


Najah Carroll: [00:10:50] the principal, right? It's the principal self checkout at a grocery store. I'm doing your job. So I gotta pick my groceries, put them in my car [00:11:00] and check myself out and put it in a bag

Lisa Woolfork: [00:11:03] and pay for it and pay to my car where I can take it home and cook the food. like where it's just like a work machine hours.

Najah Carroll: [00:11:12] When I go and use self checkout, I'm like, where's my check. Can I get part of this check? And then I think about the cashier who didn't get. To get paid for that. My job. So anyway,

Lisa Woolfork: [00:11:22] that's no, that's, that's, that's my husband's take, he's no, they're just doing this so that they can hire fewer cashiers.

That's why, like, why am I working for this store? I come here to shop not to work.

Najah Carroll: [00:11:32] That's how I felt. And I understood that, like with the pattern, all of the alterations. And that's just my story. If you, if you were privileged enough to cut it, Directly into a pattern. And so for great, that's a great experience, but, I transmuted that whole experience once I realized, Oh wait, this red lines on all of this, I have eight to 10.

That's what she said, eight to 10 pattern correction. And I've done them all before. but I'm not gonna. Do that anymore.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:11:59] I like [00:12:00] if you think about for every single one, right? every single one, for me, it's like the upper arm bicep adjustment, get that right. Full bust adjustment.

So it's not too tight under the arm, sway back adjustment. Cause I have the sway back. I also

Najah Carroll: [00:12:13] wait, slow down. There is nothing wrong with your body. And those adjustments are labels. That's right. Think about your buddy. That would, first of all, you don't have a sway back. You happen to have everybody's spine, huh?

There's a natural curve to it. And if you are of African descent, that curve may be more exaggerated because of the extra meat and your lower half. And what is, that's nothing but your natural body. So it's a. To be told that is it's a syndrome or it's a thing to even name it that way. No, no,

Lisa Woolfork: [00:12:44] don't do that.

You bet. You bet. It's not Sunday, but you better keep preaching. I tell you.

Najah Carroll: [00:12:48] Yes, I know. So that's part of where that right there, exact experience of being told that your body doesn't meet a standard and therefore there's something wrong with it. So please. [00:13:00] Correct. Make these corrections so that this pattern will fit you.

That is a Sojo killer.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:13:07] Yes. Yes, you are so right. You are so right. So for, it could be demoralizing.

Najah Carroll: [00:13:14] It can be. And then once in a while, and for those of us who get past that and who still want to sew with patterns, we'll have figured out, which pattern companies work for them. And they'll, they'll, they'll, they'll have get it down to a minimum of alterations and all that, and they'll work through that.

And that's right. Great. And they'll get their TNTs and sewing becomes much better, but in those beginning stages, when we're sharing in our socials about our sewing experiences, it's helpful to remember that if you can pick up a pattern and just go. You know that, it's, it's like natural hair too.

There's another metaphor.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:13:49] Oh my goodness. Yes. Natural hair. You know what it's like? It's like for me, when I was breastfeeding, my, my first kid, I, we, it was hard. It was hard. And I was, we were, [00:14:00] I was in the hospital still and he wasn't eating and he wasn't latching and we had a lactation consultant come and, and.

The thing that I learned was breastfeeding is natural, but it's not automatic. Yes. And that J and S and then it, obviously it all worked out. He is 21 years old and very healthy and whatever, and it all worked out in the end, but at the time it just felt like the worst feeling in the world,

Najah Carroll: [00:14:25] the same experience.

I went through 12 weeks of natural birth training with my husband. I went through all this. I was like, okay. Just going at it is crunchy and is Black and proud as I could be. And then, breastfeeding was a struggle, just like pattern

Lisa Woolfork: [00:14:41] fitting. It is. It reminds me of what, dr. Joy harden, Brad Bradford says from therapy for Black girls, she's stop shooting on yourself.

I should do this. I should do that. I should be able to make this pattern work. I should be able to breastfeed really easily. I should. [00:15:00] And it's stop doing that.

Najah Carroll: [00:15:01] Yeah.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:15:01] It wants to stop doing that. And you take that language out of your vocabulary. You become happier.

Najah Carroll: [00:15:07] That's right. The pressure, the expectations that we put on ourselves sometimes are unrealistic.


Lisa Woolfork: [00:15:14] Abs, they are absolutely unrealistic. And it's so funny because they come from sources that are not us. And it takes admitted to track down where those things are coming from. But when you do that and you're like, Oh wait, wait, this is somebody else's shit. I'm carrying.

Najah Carroll: [00:15:28] Yes, yes, yes. And that's the thing too, working somebody else's pattern, that's somebody else's problem.

That is somebody who had to make something fit everyone. But no one. And that's yeah, I learned that from my sewing teacher who got me away from, it got me thinking about custom, Oh. She was like, Oh, these things aren't meant for you. Oh wait, they're not right. if you, if you get taught sewing.

Yeah. Somebody who has only sold for individuals, the [00:16:00] frame of reference is very different. It's very selfish, right? Because you're like, no, I needed to fit this body, my body. not everybody. So fashion when fashion gets. Melded with sewing. It can be problematic, especially for somebody new to sewing, or maybe you've been sewing for five years, but you've been struggling with commercial patterns for five years.

like you said, understanding the source of that struggle that it's not you it's it's the system, if you will.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:16:28] Absolutely. Absolutely. And like I, and I do think that this is something that the industry is. Starting to hopefully slowly realize, that they do have the same systems of oppression that affect everything else in this country show up and sewing, as it is an absolute reflection.

the way that we have the, what, what, what Carolyn from diarrhea was sewing fanatic mentioned when she was on the podcast. they have a fin problem. offend problem that you know, that so many of the pattern covers and envelopes [00:17:00] and sizing are linked toward the needs of people who are really fan really lean.

And it's not realistic in any way. And yet. There's no measures or very few measures being steps, being taken to correct it. or, and even if you're not going to correct it, I just think it's important to, I dunno, people should feel good about their sewing, and feel like they don't want, no one wants to go into, a sewing project.

Be like, you're about to fight.

Najah Carroll: [00:17:28] It is it can be provocative and, and who wants cortisol? involved with their creativity? Not no, no. there's a little like when you're trying to solve something, but there's, that healthy amount of just, Ooh, I want to get this done, but to, to, to feel axed or, or, or even sadness or depression over what you're trying to

Lisa Woolfork: [00:17:47] do.

Oh gosh, I know, I know no one needs that this is supposed to be fun. Y'all. Can we shift a little bit, I want to talk about you're sewing, blogging, because I am loving, [00:18:00] I'm loving this conversation. And I feel as though with your blog and the work that you did there, it was a continuation in some way of this type of conversation of talking about the process of, of talking about, adjustments, not just fit adjustments, but in some ways like mental and emotional adjustments.

That people make or think about when they are sewing and doing garment construction. Can you talk a bit about, your blog in when you started and what, some of your hopes for that word?

Najah Carroll: [00:18:29] Yes, I can. I have definitely shifted a little bit in my, broad brand or my social media brand. I have a blog called want to be sewing something and that's it, it companied, my journey into garment sewing and it started.

With joining a. Weekly sewing group, I guess it would be the way to refer to it. it was called the soul weekly and it's, it's so old. [00:19:00] The page isn't even up anymore. but yeah, there was in the beginnings. We'll have maybe not the beginning, beginning, but 2000 to 2012 was when the sewing blogging world.

Caught on fire and the communities found each other. And there were a lot of us like Carolyn and, Marcy, and

Lisa Woolfork: [00:19:20] Erica, Erica,

Najah Carroll: [00:19:23] yes, Renee, from ms. Seeley's pants, all of these. Yeah. All of us found each other a little bit in these circles and we'd bump into each other. This was before there were all these, and they're socialists.

Now there's so many communities now, but in the beginning there was only a handful. Oh, and Topeka of pattern review, of course.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:19:39] Oh yes. Yes.

Najah Carroll: [00:19:41] We all went in different circles and, and one of the circles was this, so weekly blog, That had gotten started up. Where were, were, there were a lot of contributors and each week there was a theme and you'd come up with something to, so for that theme every week for a year.

And why, [00:20:00]

Lisa Woolfork: [00:20:00] like, why did y'all decide to decide to just get around and hazy each other? I don't understand

Najah Carroll: [00:20:05] it. And in hindsight, I think about this and great story. It's a great story, but in hindsight, I'm like what in the heck?

Lisa Woolfork: [00:20:12] It was,

Najah Carroll: [00:20:13] it was, and I didn't finish the year. It was, I was just like, Oh no. And it wasn't optional.

You don't have to finish the year. But I think maybe let's say 10 out of 50 of us, something like that did every, all 52 weeks.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:20:31] But he made a D you made a different thing. Yeah. So I got

Najah Carroll: [00:20:35] 20. Five 26 weeks. Yeah, yeah. And blogged about it. So it was, that was, and I got into garments, sewing, and it was only like two years in and I was like, okay.

Yeah. And I'm like, what was I doing? But I'm like that, I love a challenge. And, and that's what gets me going, I'm a fire sign. So I was like, alright, let me, let me, let me warm up this fire. But it was crazy. And that was how my block is.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:20:59] Sure

[00:21:00] Najah Carroll: [00:21:00] once a week. And the thing is, is that it was challenging me because I'm also a writer.

And I wanted to tell the story about my blogging and I like to. Use play on words. And part of the blogging experience as a contributor was to name, whatever it is you made, with, a fancy title that would start with, so you could come up with your own thing, your own name. And so I was like, Oh, okay, great.

This is where I can express my writing creativity. And, and, and not only can I make something, but I can give it this, this catchy name that would. be the, the title of the blog entry. So I'd come up with things like, the dress tangle, which you Oh

Lisa Woolfork: [00:21:39] yes. Oh my gosh. I want to talk about the dress tango continue though.

Continues. Yeah.

Najah Carroll: [00:21:44] and, and I had these, these, these awesome names, the dress tangle, I think, started off as the hip to be square top. which you know, is a play on a Huey Lewis and the news song. And so things like that would happen. Every theme would give me this chance to make something, [00:22:00] whether from a pattern or self drafted and, and, and, but the week, the one week, wasn't it, the contributors will get a bit of a heads up.

I might know, maybe a month ahead of time with the themes are, but you're still sewing weekly. And, between having all my pattern corrections. having to make so many alterations if I wanted to. So from a pattern and the deadline, I burnt myself out.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:22:26] just listening to this is making me tired.

I be like, damn, I already have a job. What am I doing?

Najah Carroll: [00:22:35] I did it. Hi. No, I was working. I was working. I was, I, we were in the middle of starting a family. So we, I was trying to procreate and I was creating my, trying to make a baby and make clothes every week. Anyway, it was, it was wild. It was awhile ago, but I look on the back on the experience with fondness, but also as well, word of warning to any, so as to our, getting into the [00:23:00] hobby and feel compelled to join all these challenges and participate in all of these things, It's not the steadiest, stress, the most stress free way to, to get into the hobby.

I don't think

Lisa Woolfork: [00:23:17] yes. You're setting yourself up and you want to make sure you set yourself up for success and not more stress.

Najah Carroll: [00:23:24] Yeah. And also to the outcome. when you're sewing at that speed. The garments you make are probably not going to be at the level that you'd want. And if your goal is to just make stuff to say, Ooh, look at me, look what I made.

Okay, that's cool. Then do that thing. But if you want to make things that you wear and love and that reflect who you are and your authenticity, and that stay in your closet for years, which is my goals, then speed selling is not. The ticket.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:23:54] Yeah, no, I, I love that. I respect that. I'm definitely a speed sewer.

I like to [00:24:00] make sure things. And then, yeah, my sisters came to visit me at Christmas and my closet was. Out of control completely out of control. So my sisters, because they love me, took, we took everything out of my closet, all the clothes out of my closet and, went through them. And at the end of the day, at the end of the day, my sister was like, Lord, don't let us fall out over these clothes.

That was her prayer. We began, Lord don't let us fall out over these clubs. Why did she say that? Was it, what was the tension. But the contention was, I had made all these clothes.

Najah Carroll: [00:24:37] Oh, and you thought, Hey, there was some emotional

Lisa Woolfork: [00:24:40] thing. Oh, there was, Oh my gosh, girl, for every piece of clothes they took out, they were like, what about this?

I was like, okay. So I bought that fabric for mood fabrics in 2018. It was about $22 a yard. it's really special to me. And they were like, You said that about the last dress. And I was like, yeah. cause so I bought that fabric in Manhattan [00:25:00] in 2019. and it was about $18 a yard and it's very special to me.

And it's like Lisa, every piece of clothing in here that you have made can not be very special to you. It's just not allowed you need to go through. So at the end of the day, I ended up with three huge lawn and leaf bags, full of clothes. And I went on Facebook and I was like, okay, y'all, I'm cleaning out my closet.

Come get these clothes. And people were snapping them up. They're like, I'm on my way. I'm on my way. You relive

Najah Carroll: [00:25:30] them.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:25:31] I release them to some very happy people. One on one of my friends was a kindergarten teacher in town and she was like, I wore your dress to school. And the kids thought I was a princess.

Najah Carroll: [00:25:39] Oh, I see.

I have to think about that. See, no one would wear, no one could wear mine because I'm so uniquely built. I don't know anybody else. That's, a curvy Hobbit.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:25:53] I'll go stop it

Najah Carroll: [00:25:54] girl saying, and I make, I make jokes, but I'm really sure. it's not Oh, I'm just five, four I'm five, three, [00:26:00] no, like short.

So that's, it's just not a lot and that's okay. The uniqueness

Lisa Woolfork: [00:26:05] uniqueness. Is key. So we're going to take a quick break everybody. But when we come back, we're going to continue to talk with Najah about, so many of the wonderful things that she's doing now. She was talking before about her blogging experiences.

And now we're going to talk about how she has shifted into helping all of us get our Sojo back. So we'll talk about that at the, when we return from our break. So stay tuned.

The Stitch Please Podcast is really growing.

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We are back. And I am talking with Najah, Carol, who you can find on Instagram as want to be sewing something. And she has been doing some really great series recently talking about, sewjo, and so I wanted to get started with that. And could you tell us what is sewjo and, why it's important?

Najah Carroll: [00:27:52] Sewjo is a term that I think came out of the online sewing community.

[00:28:00] I, I don't know if I could. Speak to its origins all the way back, but I discovered it, like I said, in the online, so on community in the early days in the early two thousands, when people would refer to their motivation, they'd say, I, Oh, I lost my Sojo or my soldier was low, or I need to get my Sojo back or they'd say, Oh, my soldier was on fire, whatever they were talking about.

So they were making, and, I think all of us, who picked up on it understood just right away what was being said and that creative energy essentially. Is sewjo right. Sewing plus mojo it's, your magic, that energy, that, that, that drives your either passion too. or your, or, your creativity in a moment.

so yeah, so losing your sewjo is, [00:29:00] is the, so is tragedy.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:29:03] Hmm. Yes. Yes. You have been working on something that you're calling us. Sewjo reclamation project, can you tell us about that? I love this idea of thinking about one's energy and maybe one way to help us into the conversation. Do you think.

You're sewjo needs to be preserved or does it need to be protected?

And I know there's a slight difference between what it means to preserve something and what it means to protect it. I guess preserving means like, keeping it safe. whereas protecting it means defending it. Maybe. I don't know.

I'm not really sure. Totally what, how from that distinction is, but it is clearly that you're in you're sewing energy. Is worthy and it's an important part of I'm a solo practice. So I don't know if you could talk a little bit about that. Do you think it's something that you have to preserve [00:30:00] or protect?

Najah Carroll: [00:30:01] I consider myself, I named myself a protector of sewing mojo. I did take a somewhat defensive stance. Just be good. Yeah, I did. probably, I I'm honest with myself. It's it's. It's because it's because of the activism happening. It's because I wanted to feel aligned. I think with, the racial justice movement to say, I am a protector of sewing mojo, because as and we all know, self care is, is, is, is activism these days is, is, it's revolution to, to care for oneself and. Show up for one sec. So through making four Black women, we I'll say I, but I pretty sure we cause all the time Black women, I know, identify with [00:31:00] what I call. Strong Black woman syndrome.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:31:05] I saw you.


you mentioned that. Yes. Yes. And

that's something very real for me. growing up male, partly my personality, partly just the circumstances of growing up. I'm the oldest of three and, and I had a lot of roles of leadership in my life. and, that kind of conditioned me, for. Self-sacrifice and, and then working in a corporate job, you, you get that, that sort of, employee kind of feelings of, of, of where you had to, keep, keep working, it's you're like, you're on the plantation, you gotta get, keep going, Yeah. Produce, produce produce.

Najah Carroll: [00:31:42] Absolutely. And then you start becoming your own.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:31:46] your own overseer. Yes. Thank you.

Najah Carroll: [00:31:48] I hesitated to say it. I did. I'm sitting

Lisa Woolfork: [00:31:51] it's your own overseer because you know what capitalism demands is that we extract and contribute as much labor as possible, whether that's labor we're [00:32:00] compensated for, or for free, because our value is in what we can do and what we can produce and what we can give to these.

These structures.

Najah Carroll: [00:32:08] So as I'm healing, I am healing from that conditioning to believe that and my productivity and, I am not, I am separate from what I produce. And that distinction is something that a lot of us have to heal from. And as I mentioned, that strong Black woman syndrome is, is something that culturally, as leaders and matriarchs of our families and things like that, it can get internalized into an, an unhealthy way, you know?

Yes. I'm proud of being. Strong and yes, I project confidence in a way that people want to, be drawn to me or whatever, but. I need my boundaries. I know I need my own private time. I need my own desires and passions to be met. And for me, sewing was one of the first just subversive the things I had ever done.

I'm working on these 15 to [00:33:00] 18 hour days at this job. And then to, to, to take my time to do something for me, that's. it was, it was important. so yeah, go

Lisa Woolfork: [00:33:12] ahead. I know. No, I'm just agreeing with you. this notion that of the quote unquote strong Black woman is such, a dangerous social fiction, because in the same way that, recent studies, I'm thinking of a 2016 study done by the university of Virginia showed that this is alarming.

But, showed that medical students at the university, the Virginia, and by extension I'd imagine elsewhere medical students. These are like adults who grew up with the internet, have these beliefs that Black people can tolerate more pain than white people, that white people's skin, that Black people's skin is thicker that Black people's blood coagulates more quickly.

None of these are true biological facts. You think someone who took biology would know this. And it's very scary to [00:34:00] think that actual people who are going to be doctors believe this, but because Black people in their minds

have a higher tolerance for pain, which we don't, we get exposed to more pain, And so that that's this quote unquote strong Black woman. Phrase or concept, it's just a way to disregard. it's another way to disregard us. and if we are, as we are for those who do internalize this somehow, goals, then we're, we're only like we're only in my opinion and helping those who seek to harm.

but not allowing. Ourselves to be vulnerable, but not prioritizing it right. The, that Bishop says I really liked her a lot. Then that Bishop who has the net ministry that she sees rest as revolution, rest as reparation, especially for, for Black folks in particular, when so much for so many years has been demanded of us, how to do we find ways to reclaim and renew.

and that in some that comes from in her [00:35:00] mind, like stepping back and taking risks, Absolutely. I think, and I think that your approach to this question about being separate from your productivity and the way that you approach you, the way that you approach your sewing overall is part of a restorative practice that I really appreciate

Najah Carroll: [00:35:16] it is about that. It is about being, being restored and allowing yourself, giving yourself permission and, and me healing out loud and in public, is my way to show other people that. you can engage in sewing and have all these feelings and feel some kind of way and keep coming back, and recognize what you're coming back to.

You're coming back to yourself, you're coming back to your, your desires and your potential. it's, the sewing is such a perfect metaphor for life that to engage in it regularly, to allow it to be the anchor of how you actuate yourself, esteem that. For someone like me, who has to, to learn rest, to learn to [00:36:00] To give myself permission. To create. That's really what Sojo is about is regularly habitually ritual, giving myself permission to create, because as a mother, as a working mother, cause there was a time in my life, as well that I was the bread winner and. That, that I think maybe put my, a strong Black woman

Lisa Woolfork: [00:36:29] situation

Najah Carroll: [00:36:30] in overdrive.

And I found myself, I just found myself not sewing. And I had that, that, that lost my soldier feeling. I knew what people would talk about that I was like, I know what they're talking about now where you just can't

Lisa Woolfork: [00:36:43] look at your.

Najah Carroll: [00:36:44] Sewing room and you,

Lisa Woolfork: [00:36:45] yeah. It's I want this back. I used to do this and why don't I anymore?

Yes. And so that's one of the things I really appreciated. I remember in one of the lives that you do and you all should definitely do, have you saved all your Aggie lives?

[00:37:00] Najah Carroll: [00:37:00] They're all on my IgE TV. I don't know if they'll be there forever, but I'll keep doing them. But if the original ones. Definitely there.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:37:08] Yeah. I love the, you did, when you were pouring the water out of the tea cup into the, it was, you're basically thinking about this as a finite system, a finite sense. I don't know. I just thought that was really wonderful because it was such a, it was a great metaphor because you really can't. There's only so much you can do, you know that there's, that vessels have finite capacities, that's a basic physics concept and a basic life concept that really does apply well in sewing.

So I want, I want to talk about if we could shift to talking about your IgE, your Angie lab. So I know those who listen to the podcast, know that I do idealize every week on Thursdays, and I've been doing them for over a year now, maybe heading into a year and a half. And. My, my IgE live, philosophy is home, organic because I get on there and I have no idea [00:38:00] where I'm going to end up, a recent exception to this was when I do like special events.

If I have people that I'm sharing the labs with. and so that gives them more structure when I watch your lives. I feel like, because I'm also a professor and I do think about pedagogy and I'm like, Oh, Oh, look, I'm going to go to class and sit and learn something from Najah today, as opposed to mine where it's just Oh my gosh, I'll let me go get some lipstick real quick.

Before my sister comes on here and starts clowning me for not having a lipstick. She is, she is a very good one for that. I was like, I sent, I sent you four tubes of lipstick and you couldn't put one on

Najah Carroll: [00:38:34] that is a real dilemma. I think. First live. I wore some Ruby. Woo. And then I was like, I don't wear this on a regular

Lisa Woolfork: [00:38:40] basis.

And to look at

Najah Carroll: [00:38:42] myself with this bright red lipstick and I'm not at a party, I was like, okay, now let's, let's get the lip gloss in the, in the Carmex back out,

Lisa Woolfork: [00:38:49] girl, please. I am going to, I put I'm putting on all the party lipsticks and I am prefacing wearing red. So yeah, I was going to get this Ruby.

Anybody else? I can find that it looks like a red lipstick.

[00:39:00] Najah Carroll: [00:38:59] Lipstick is, is if you ever feel like you want to get over being nervous and feel powerful.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:39:07] Amen. Amen. yes. So tell us, so your lives though, I'm there at five 55, which is a perfect time. So it sticks in my imagination. So yeah, but you have these really, clear plans about the things you want to share in the lives and that's what makes them so useful.

So such really, just beautiful little distillations of your thoughts that then inspire us to think. Can you talk about why you started doing this series and what you want us to get out of it?

Najah Carroll: [00:39:38] It came from desperate research actually, when the, so I, as I told you about my history, I know all about losing my sewjoall the different times in my life.

When I lost it. And so I felt like I was an expert on losing my

Lisa Woolfork: [00:39:52] sewjol, because

Najah Carroll: [00:39:55] I'd been so in for 10 years and I know all the ways, like I know all the, the pure definition [00:40:00] of, of what it meant. and I think really, it's just more of a natural story of, of any sewist's journey, but I felt like it needed to be told and I wanted to make sure I wasn't just.

By myself

Lisa Woolfork: [00:40:16] in this experience.

Najah Carroll: [00:40:17] And Facebook, which is great because all of the Facebook groups, especially the public ones, are just full of people who want to learn or want to share. and I asked, in the Facebook groups, I asked on the pattern review forums, all the places that I had been all of the years that I've been learning, sewing, I, I went in and I said, Do you understand what I'm talking about with losing your Sojo?

Is that happening to you? Cause it started at the beginning of the pandemic. I was like, is this, is that real for you? What is it? What are your challenges? And I just asked these questions and I had so much feedback. I got over 150 responses from people and just in total and in the corporate world, I was a project manager and a data [00:41:00] analyst.

So I was just like nerds. Central's Oh my God,

Lisa Woolfork: [00:41:05] This is so exciting. It's it's my birthday. There was, I

Najah Carroll: [00:41:08] just completely really nerd it and they'll got pivot tables and everything else. So I took all this data and categorize all of it. And I realized there are these there's these questions in here.

And a lot of people ask a lot of questions. I, at one time I had gone in and I said, you know what? if you wanted to reclaim your soda, what questions would you have about that? And, so then I could answer them. Because like I said, I so in for awhile and I know those answers to reclaim my soldier are within me.

cause then I can tap into all of my skillsets to rescue myself. I'm a project manager, I'm a, I'm a homeschooler, you know what I'm saying? I I've done a lot of different things. So I thought that I could, heal and lead at the same time. Bye. Taking all this data and answering these questions and [00:42:00] in reflecting back to the sewing community, what I had heard.

And, and, and yeah, because I knew it was real and I wasn't seeing it. Like on Instagram. I wasn't seeing it because Instagram isn't a platform for that,

Lisa Woolfork: [00:42:13] right? No, it's not. Instagram is a highlight reel.

Najah Carroll: [00:42:16] Yes, indeed. And I

Lisa Woolfork: [00:42:18] know one is showing how raggedy.

Najah Carroll: [00:42:23] Yes. That's is it exactly? I was just like, let me be raggedy. No, it's real. It is a real thing. And I, and I, and I'm such, I, I. I just have low tolerance for inauthentic or inauthenticity.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:42:42] And

Najah Carroll: [00:42:42] social media is just scroll after scroll. And I just you know what? I'm not going to be mad. I don't need to pour haterade on this.

Let me just put my own. Thing out there tell the story that I think others want to hear [00:43:00] somebody out there, Is in a moment where yes, their Soju is either low or gone or they put an APB out on it, whatever, whatever it is. But, there's, it's just kinda like my own, Special victims unit

Lisa Woolfork: [00:43:16] for yourself.

Najah Carroll: [00:43:18] and that's what I did. So I took these questions and that's where the live streams are coming from. That's why they're organized because I'm literally answering these questions from the sewing community. Like why does my soldier come and go. why do I keep procrastinating, right?


Lisa Woolfork: [00:43:34] yes. Oh, I am big on procrastination. Oh my, is that, so when it comes time to grade these people's papers and assignments, you know what? I could grade this or I could go make an, I can make a card for a friend. I might need to make that card real quick. or put the facing on this, this top. Yeah.

and honestly,

Najah Carroll: [00:43:51] when I used to work in the corporate world, Sewing was my procrastination from working, especially when I would work from home. So now [00:44:00] that I'm not in a corporate world and I find, and I find moments when I'm struggling to so or I procrastinate on my own song, I'm like, that's the kind of self sabotage I don't necessarily need.

And so I got to go deeper. I got to think about. When I think about what is happening here, why am I feeling repelled by what gives me joy?

Lisa Woolfork: [00:44:22] Oh, I love that.

Najah Carroll: [00:44:25] So when I, when you start asking those questions to yourself. Oh, okay.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:44:29] what is the answer? Tell me the answer to that question. Why am I being repelled by something that gives me joy, but can we stay with that a little bit?

When that happens, is it project based or is it something else? Is this a signal to you always supposed to say, wait a minute, do you not want to make this? Are you tired of this? Or is there something else going on? I dunno, is that what kind of, what kind of signals does that when that happens to you?

what does that tell you about your sewing and, or [00:45:00] your life or state of mind in the moment?

Najah Carroll: [00:45:02] it's definitely about self awareness and getting in touch with whatever that feeling is. It's different. Each time sometimes you have a project that you're started and your motives for starting it or.

Misaligned, but you felt like, Oh, I got to finish this you'll procrastinate for that reason. That's a different kind. Yeah. Procrastination is, that's more getting realigned with your, why, why are you doing this in the first place? maybe you started at the beginning of the season. Now, the end of the season, you're feeling like I want to do something different.

So just be giving yourself permission to release it, is, is all you would do there. But when that, when you feel repelled, To do anything to sew it all, or when sewing is your joy. And you think, I want to feel better or, or, or I want to feel like myself. And those, those, those things happen.

And you reach for that activity [00:46:00] that makes you feel like yourself, or that makes you feel better. And you find yourself. I don't, I don't know. I, I, I can't, I can't, for me, that's the moment when I know. My creative energy is depleted.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:46:15] Oh yeah,

Najah Carroll: [00:46:17] because yeah. So when people say sewing is myself care, that's true.

Sewing is your self care. Sewing can heal. It's sewing is my therapy. There's all these hashtags out there that

Lisa Woolfork: [00:46:26] are true. That's true. And that's one of the reasons why I reject the phrase, selfish, sewing. I hear that so much. And it makes me very frustrated because I'm like the idea. I think that this is only something that happens to women.

that if you somehow, somehow that doing something for ourselves is selfish and that makes it makes

Najah Carroll: [00:46:46] no sense. Now I had to, I actually use self as seamstress, as of definitely. I do

Lisa Woolfork: [00:46:52] talk about it. Talk about that and that's fine. Let's bike.

Najah Carroll: [00:46:55] No, I, I reclaimed that. I claimed it back.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:46:58] So tell me more, tell me more [00:47:00] about how you defend selfish, sewing as a concept.

Najah Carroll: [00:47:04] if you've seen those tee shirts that have the definition of soloist on it and it yeah. And it says, cause I'm in this for me and no, I'm not going to me, your right.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:47:13] Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,

Najah Carroll: [00:47:16] no, you can't touch my hair, right?

Lisa Woolfork: [00:47:18] It absolutely is a

Najah Carroll: [00:47:19] defensive posturing, but it's, it's taking back the word selfish because when I am selfish and I fill up my cup first, Then I am fully capable and ready to help you fill up yours.

I am not. That is. So when I call myself a self esteem, stress, that's an affirmation for me.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:47:47] Okay. Yes. If that's still up your no, no, I love that. And that's yeah. So you can't pour from an empty cup. We know this, you can't pour from an empty cup. And so by, so you see the process of filling up your cup, [00:48:00] renewing and restoring yourself.

I love that. I agree with that. I think maybe I still, I am not at the point that you have arrived at. Where I'm, where I'm able to. De-stigmatize the word selfish,

Najah Carroll: [00:48:12] certainly as languages. That's

Lisa Woolfork: [00:48:14] my problem. That's I think that's my challenge, but I think what you're doing is, I totally agree with it.

Najah Carroll: [00:48:18] It's like, it's like the, it's like a, when. When people claim fat back, right? They say I'm a fat girl. You know what? No, I appreciate it. That too, I was

Lisa Woolfork: [00:48:33] like, no, it's true. And a lot often, very often marginalized groups, part of our claiming our power is to take things that people use to humiliate us.

And turn them into moments of our own power, and to re, and so we hear this, for example, with, there's an academic discipline called queer studies and queer theory. And for a while, long time, the word queer was a slur, And so that's, I think the same with fat and with, with a lot of [00:49:00] like fat activism and people, being.

Being very deliberate about that. I think that that's another way that people have reclaimed something that's harmful. And so I don't know what it is, maybe it's because again, I still have things that I'm working through everybody. It does. Yeah. That by, by taking selfish. And saying, okay. Yeah, I'm selfish.

Fine. Yeah. I am mentoring myself.

Najah Carroll: [00:49:24] Yeah. This, for me, it was revolutionary. It was, it was me giving myself permission to take that time because that repellent feeling that, that, that, I, I took all this time to create a whole room. I have a whole home studio. Why would I not go into it? What was my problem?

And it was, it was, it was that. Strong Black woman, triggering that would happen. Life would get hard. I felt like I needed to control everything in my life and, and, Oh, I gotta make sure this happens. I make it like, Oh, my daughter needs this. Oh, my husband needs me for that. Oh, I gotta make sure I met this meeting.

all of these, these feelings of [00:50:00] the external world needing my. Power.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:50:05] Yes. And if you gave it all away to them, what do you have


Najah Carroll: [00:50:08] you? And that's what would happen? That's why I would feel repelled because I gave it all up. So for me to say, I'm a selfish seamstress that is saying, don't bring me your pants to him.

That is, that is saying also, this is my time now. Of course, I still think it's for my daughter. Of course, I'm getting the button back on this or whatever, but I only. Allow myself to do those things when I've done something for myself first. So in my house, there's a rule. of course I have the closet that has all the things that needs to be repaired in it.

And I just had a moment. I put them in there. cause when you sell at home, you are the, you're the house seamstress. that's just part of the job, but, If my husband has a pair of shorts that needs the pocket repaired on it. I am [00:51:00] not allowed to fix that unless I replace the elastic.

In my, in my, in my pants because I got fatter.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:51:10] You'd have to do something for yourself first. And it's the thing I tell people all the time and have the bid. There's a reason why on the airplanes, they say, put on your oxygen mask first on your arm, put on your oxygen mask first before helping other passengers.

Because if you aren't getting sustained, if your cup is empty, How on earth, can you help anybody else?

Najah Carroll: [00:51:34] The yin yang balance between selfish and selfless? Yes.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:51:39] What it is. I love that, that selflessness, I think that this is hitting against my own processes and internalizations that somehow. I think I'm wondering why the word selfish is hitting me so strongly.

And I think it probably has to do with this assumption that, as, as women, as mothers, we are supposed to be quote unquote selfless. [00:52:00] Yeah. and it's I am not about living a life of abnegation, And my sewing shouldn't be that either. and so it's just, that's, that's so powerful.

I really love how you're getting people to think very seriously about that. and I, and I last few moments, what I really want to shift to talking about some of the resources that you've created. So you've created the archive of, your IETV and now you are moving into ebook territory and you very kindly, given listeners the first.

chapter of the book that talks about a few tips, but can you talk about how you are transitioning into publishing?

Najah Carroll: [00:52:33] Yeah. I decided to self publish. I had been a blogger for a long time, as I told you a writer and sewing and writing go hand in hand for me. despite the fact that I jumped into the fire with that, sewing and blogging every week thing, but it was, Doing that cemented that sewing and writing are necessary to tell those stories.

Just like you had said about all of the garments in your closet when you were [00:53:00] purging each one of those had a story. And I think that. If you've been sewing for a long time, I don't know. Does every garment have a story, but your whole sewing journey is its own story and yeah. Yeah. And so I felt like if I was on this social reclamation, Mission if this was my personal project.

And of course I learned and got validated that other people so are looking for a similar, help, then why not? Why not take what I would've normally put yeah. On my blog and publish it as an ebook and self publish. So the first chapter of that book is called. Three reasons why passionate women lose their sewing mojo.

And I. Wanted to just come out with that right away and, and offer that to people who, maybe like me, need a bit of soldier reclamation. And if it, even if it isn't just the [00:54:00] net that it's gone, cause it gets a lot of different stages, Your social could be gone. It could be fluctuating. It could be in danger.

It could be a risk, there's all these different, yeah. Or you notice that your, sewing is inconsistent or what your making, what you're creating. If you, you might even know that you might notice that it's not actually giving you joy, like you went for the joy, but at the end, you didn't, there's there's that some subtle stuff too.

that ultimately I'll probably get into in my life. But Sojo is its own thing. And I wanted to write about that in a way that was also entrepreneurial as now that I am. yeah. I work for myself now. I'm an independent, I'm a business consultant and I have business clients, who are trying to run and start their businesses.

And so it aligned right to, for me to, Lead and build the same time lead and Hale at the same time. so that's what that's about. The IAG [00:55:00] lives are like you said, free lessons, or just free me sharing what my awakenings about certain things by answering these questions. I'm answering them for myself as well.

and you're like, folks can just, Join me.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:55:18] Absolutely. Absolutely. this has been so beautiful. Thank you so much for taking the time to come and talk with us today. How can people find you on the socials? Where if we want to look you up, which I'm sure we all do, how can we find you?

Najah Carroll: [00:55:33] Of course I'm on Instagram doing my ID lives at one to be sewing something.

And if you ever forget, just think of the Michael Jackson song, one of you starting something and change it to sewing. And I also have one to be sewing is my website where my blog is. Wow.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:55:53] Excellent. This has been so delightful. Thank you so much again for taking the time. What a wonderful conversation.

I'm so [00:56:00] grateful. Thank

Najah Carroll: [00:56:00] you, Lisa.

Lisa Woolfork: [00:56:04] And listening to this ditch, please podcast the official podcast of Black women's ditch, 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 Black women's If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patrion P a T R E O N.

And you can find Black woman stitch there in the Patrion directory. And for as little as $2 a month,

Najah Carroll: [00:56:33] you can help support the project with things

Lisa Woolfork: [00:56:35] 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 review, but for [00:57:00] those who do for those that have star rating, or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us at the stitch plays 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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