Happy 2023! Reflect and Look Forward

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Lisa Woolfork

Lisa Woolfork is an associate professor of English, specializing in African American literature and culture. Her teaching and research explore Black women writers, Black identity, trauma theory and American slavery. She is the convener and founder of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. She is also the host/producer of Stitch Please, a weekly audio podcast that centers Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. In the summer of 2017, she actively resisted the white supremacist marches in her community, Charlottesville Virginia. The city became a symbol of lethal resurging white supremacist violence. She remains active in a variety of university and community initiatives, including the Community Engaged Scholars program. She believes in the power of creative liberation.

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Lisa Woolfork  0:12  

Hello stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together. 

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. Happy 2023! I am very grateful to be here. I am thankful to start another year. And, as we do at the start of our years, we tend to start with a Sankofa episode. Sankofa is a word from the Akan people in Ghana. And it means to retrieve or to go back and get it. And it refers to the practice of looking back at the past to retrieve that which might be lost or will be important to move forward. And so it is in this spirit that we begin 2023 here on the Stitch Please podcast with a quick look back. 

It is not possible to go back and talk about every single podcast guest that we had for 2022. There were such wonderful people who visited, who came through and shared exciting techniques, wonderful stories, and I have a really short reel that I've made to commemorate and look back at the past. So do check that out, you'll be able to find that on social, such as on the Black Women Stitch TikTok and Instagram channels. So keep your eyes peeled for that. 

I wanted to pause and to think about the podcast itself. And how I have noticed or I just want to call out and recognize some of the developments that have happened on the podcast that seemed very exciting to me. One of them is the idea of doing a live show and live events. We did two live shows in 2022. And it was quite wonderful. The first one was at a Black woman owned fabric shop called Our Fabric Stash in Seattle, Washington at the historic Pike Place Market. That was a really great time and I got to catch a fish. There's this like thing that they do with that market. They'll throw a fish at you. No, I didn't catch a fish. Someone caught a fish behind me. It was professional fish throwers, not myself, but it was quite fun. The second live show that I did was in Chicago at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of a larger conference on Stitching Abolition. It was wonderful to talk with Professor Alexandria Eregbu and her own work and teaching and philosophy at the Art Institute. 

Another achievement for the Stitch Please podcast came in the form of being featured by Essence magazine as a fall podcast recommendation. It was really exciting to know that Essence magazine, which is a legacy publication by, for and about Black women recognize the Stitch Please podcast as being in that constellation of their really important work. So that was very exciting. 

We also had the opportunity to do something totally different and have our very first collaborative episode. This was an episode between Stitch Please and the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. And the two of us, both of our podcasts, spoke with Jen Hewett, who was celebrating the first anniversary of her book, This Long Thread.

In addition to these new opportunities for the podcast. I also did some really important unlearning in 2022. And it is these lessons that I want to carry forward with me into 2023. They have actually shaped my key word or my word for 2023 this year. I'll tell you a little bit more about that in a second. But I really wanted to share this beautiful letter that a former podcast guest and a supporter of the Stitch Please podcast shared with me, because it started to guide very much my approach to 2023 and beyond. 

The note reads "Hello Lisa. I just wanted to reach back out and say thanks. I am truly amazed by your work and I'm so thankful for what you do. I recently finished Their Eyes Were Watching God and I was in awe of how much work Zora Neale Hurston did to capture Southern African American vernacular English when we were being erased. The work you're doing with Black Women Stitch is letting the world know that Black women will not be erased from the fiber arts. Every week, I am enthralled by the stories of so many wonderful Black women who are making their own mark on history." She also continues this really kind note, and this is what I really want to keep moving forward with. She says, "Please keep up the amazing work while also making time for yourself. One of the most powerful things about Black Women Stitch is that you center it around our joyful liberation. You don't push a hustle mentality onto listeners. Every episode, you encourage us to 'sit back, relax, and get our stitch together.' I am forever grateful for your advocacy for Black women, girls and femmes." 

I was so moved by this and so grateful for the kindness extended to me in this note. And also it's a powerful reminder that even as I'm trying to build Black Women Stitch, and to have this podcast be a powerful archive, I don't need to run my tail into the ground and be overwhelmed and exhausted in order to do it. And that has been one of the key learnings from 2022 that I look forward to taking into 2023. And let me tell you a bit more about how. In 2022, I've realized that I struggle to reconcile how to have a clear ethical vision, while also operating under the demands of an unethical capitalism that just happens to inform everything that we do. I was reading a book recommended to me by someone I trust. The name of the book is We Should All Be Millionaires. I have to confess I thought the title was totally off putting, however, the author makes some really excellent points about marginalized people, and our relationship to money or the relationship that many marginalized people have to money. And what I realized is that, as part of the false beliefs I had been telling myself was that somehow I was not able or permitted to, to have enough material resources to sustain this project. That somehow if I suffered and struggled and worked very hard and stayed up very late, and did not get any kind of help or support, then somehow that was going to be better than if I was able to do it with ease and joy, etc. When I say this out loud, it sounds like absolute nonsense, because it is absolute nonsense. But this is a belief that I had. I absolutely believed that if I suffered, my money would be cleaner. I believed that any type of ease or rest was somehow because I wasn't working hard enough. All of these things that I know on the surface, and upon deeper inspection happened to be false, were still things that I clearly deep down believed. There were a couple of things that helped to shift my mindset about this, and one of them is actually represented directly in this episode. And that is the story of my grandmother. My grandmother, who was pictured as a cover image for this episode, was born in 1913. She lived 104 years and saw so much transition happen. 

Thinking about her being born in 1913,  the same year that Harriet Tubman died, reminded me of all of the generations of Black women in my family. And if I go back, one generation, two generations, three generations, each generation of Black woman was less compensated for her labor, less respected, less acknowledged. She created beautiful garments. She did stunning alterations all which went under somebody else's name, like the shop she might have worked for. She worked as a domestic where she had to enter into the back doors of these houses in order to work. My passion and my commitment to documenting curating, celebrating Black women, girls and femmes in sewing does not need to be a project where I suffer in order to prove how much I care. 

In the same way that I reject the hustle and grind mentality as one of dangerous extraction. I should also reject that type of belief system for myself. And that is where the unlearning and unliving come together. Cognitively I understand that the hustle grind mentality is dangerous. It's toxic. It can be very harmful. But in my practical life, I would do it all the time. Stay up late, get up early, work as much as possible, try to get so much stuff done, and it's not sustainable. And what I really want is sustainability. I believe that is possible. And my word of the year for 2023 is built upon my words for 2021 and 2022. All of this coalesces or comes together around the idea of what it means to practice something,  what it means to practice something, and I've mentioned before that Alexis Pauline Gumbs says that 'freedom isn't a secret, it is a practice'. And something I am working on for 2023 will be that practice. 

So my word for 2023. Is 'habit'. H A B I T, habit. Let me tell you a bit about why I chose this word. My word for 2021 was gather, G A  T H E R, and that came from Octavia Raheem's book of the same name. I was so touched by the title and the sewing metaphor, and the way that it gathered together all the pieces of my mind and put them back in the right order. That is a quote from Beloved from Toni Morrison and also the name of a film, a biography of Morrison, The Pieces That I Am. It was that gathering, that pulling, that collecting, that I really loved about Raheem's book and the deliberate mindfulness, affirmativeness and the care. That was very special. For 2022, I decided to turn to Abundance as my key word, Abundance. And this was a way to signal to myself to think more and to think beyond the limitations, the idea that somehow that scarcity is all that there is and there's this constant competition for resources, etc. That's not true. Abundance teaches that  this is an abundant universe, that there is plenty there is plenty to go around. And to practice that abundance really was wonderful in 2022, and I did indeed see some good results from shifting my thinking around that. 

So this brings us to 2023. And the word of the year for me will be 'habit', and that comes directly from Octavia Butler. Octavia Butler, who is a sci fi writer, the Black Queen of science fiction, just I can't even fully explain how powerful and engaging Octavia Butler's work is. Her book Kindred which has been recently turned into a mini series on, I believe Hulu or FX, is a book that helped to start my academic career. I wrote my dissertation because of Kindred. It is a book that means so much to me. But Butler talks about her own writing practice, and the word habit is a vital part of that. In the following quote, Butler offers advice to writers. She says, "First forget inspiration, habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit is persistence in practice."

My goal for 2023 is to develop both 'gather' and 'abundance', as a habit. Habit will remind me that 'abundance' and 'gather', these tools, these beliefs, these practices are always available to me. And that, to make a habit, is a form of persistence and practice, to persist to remind myself to not succumb to the false narratives of scarcity, lack and limitation, to not grind myself into dust and to remind myself that an ethic of joy and ease and care is also liberatory. 

I want to thank you so much for listening to the podcast and supporting us for all this time. And I look forward to having some good times with you on the podcast in 2023. Let me tell you a bit about what we have going on so you can keep up with us. We currently have the Black Women Stitch wall calendar which is available on our Big Cartel site. The link is in the show notes for this episode. We also have, brand new to the Stitch Please podcast, a Black Women Stitch Amazon store. And this is an opportunity to get some of the same products that I use. It's some of the stuff that I use for my organizing, for planning, for organizing swatch cards. All of those kinds of office supplies and things I get from Amazon. And there is now a store that has all of these products listed. If you buy them through that window, we get a portion of the proceeds. So thank you for considering that if you are an Amazon shopper.

I also wanted to thank all of the Patreon supporters who are listening to this episode. Thank you for paying attention to all the little short videos I sent you the other day. You all who are not Patreon subscribers, you did not know that this episode was the result of quite a bit of a drama involving wildlife getting into the house and having to shift where I did the recordings. And this is probably going to be very lightly edited because I am now officially exhausted. So thanks so much to the Patreon supporters for all that you've done, all that you help us do. And we are very grateful. In particular, I want to thank everyone for helping to get closer to our goal for me to hire a manager using Patreon funds. We are, at first we were at $950 per month away, and now we're only $814 away. I really believe that this is a goal that we can knock out by the end of the first quarter of the year. So I will continue to press and explain why the Patreon is important. And Patreon is essentially important because it gives us personnel. Black Women Stitch, as you might know, is an organization that has one unpaid employee named Lisa Woolfork. And so I would really love to have someone to help lighten that load, and I am thankful for Patreon folks for helping that happen. Similarly, if you are donating through Act Blue, I am very grateful for that as well. Thank you for all folks who have donated either through the Patreon, through Act Blue or through buying a Black Women Stitch wall calendar. Thank you. 

And before we wrap up one last thing. We have a really exciting event coming up in the end of February. The MQG, The Modern Quilt Guild, hosts its annual convention called QuiltCon in Atlanta, Georgia at the end of February, the 23 to the 28th. It's the last Thursday through Sunday of February. And Black Women Stitch will be there. We will be hosting a space called Sew Black. It is an affinity space. It is a leisure lounge. It's a creative oasis and a live podcasting studio. 

I will be interviewing quilters, quilt teachers, the keynote speaker for the 2023 conference, Chawne Kimber, the keynote speaker for the 2022 conference, Latifah Saafir. It's going to be a wonderful time with special exhibitions by the Brown Sugar Stitchers Guild, the Akoma guild, Sankofa Guild, all those folks working on a Harriet Powers exhibit. This, it's going to be a wonderful time. And before I let you go, let me say someone asked, 'Why would an apparel sewer want to come to QuiltCon?' The answer is the shopping. They have so many amazing notions and fabrics and machines. And they offer them at show prices. So that's one of the reasons that I'm looking forward to going, and I'm gonna be there. It's gonna be fun. So I've signed up for a few classes. There's some folks, Sarah Bond, who has been on the podcast before, as well as Bianca Springer. Both of them are teaching at QuiltCon this year. Lisa Shepard Stewart from Cultured Expressions in Rahway, New Jersey, She's vending at QuiltCon for the first time this year. So we have a really exciting program scheduled, and we will be talking about it for the next few months. So just save the date for Sew Black at QuiltCon, just to give you the official dates, that's February 23-26, 2023, Atlanta, Georgia.

You've been listening to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you joining us this week and every week for stories that center Black women girls and femmes in sewing. We invite you to join the Black Women Stitch Patreon community. With giving levels beginning at $5 a month, your contributions help us bring the Stitch 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.

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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