Lisa Woolfork 0:10
Hello stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please thee 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. And as I say every week, this is a very special episode, because this episode is bringing us Jennifer Oldham from Her Hoop Dreams. Thank you, Jennifer, for being with us today.
Jennifer Oldham 0:53
Thank you for having me. I'm so excited.
Lisa Woolfork 0:57
I am so excited. The reason y'all that I invited Jennifer to the podcast was a personal reason. And that personal reason was that she had made an embroidery hoop design. She had stitched a beautiful embroidery hoop design that I was convinced was of my sister. And I wondered, wait a minute, how she got one. And I ain't get one? Is this something we're doing? Did mama order this? Where did this come from? And then I had to have an entire podcast episode to satisfy that curiosity. Turns out this was actually not my sister, but that Jennifer had created an image so beautiful, where I think you look at it, and that Black women, that Black folks, we are meant to look at this work and see our sisters, and to see ourselves. And so thank you, Jennifer, for being with us. I wanna know your sewing story. You made these beautiful pieces. How did you get started?
Jennifer Oldham 1:58
So that is an interesting question. I was like the phase of life I'm in now, my husband is partially responsible for me starting to embroider. So, there was a day I was on Instagram. And I was just like scrolling through, and I had seen this beautiful, it was a nature scene. There was like a sunset and these gorgeous clouds. And this like, I think there was a river flowing through it. I thought it was neat. So he's next to me. And I hand him my phone. I'm like, "Look at this, like, look, it's beautiful." And he's like, "Yeah, that's cool. You know, like, whatever, you could do that." Well, I mean, that's more or less what happened. So, holiday season is coming up. And I had saved this particular piece in my Instagram. I was thinking of it in terms of like, does this artist sell her things? This would be a lovely thing to add to our home and I just saved it and moved on. Okay, so fast forward. Christmas comes and goes. It's January, it's 2022. It's around, I think it's like January 25th. I'm pretty sure it was exactly a month after Christmas. So when are Christmas presents arrived very late, and I'm sorry, it took so long, but here it is. And so I have no idea like what this could be. Miles is a great gift giver--
Lisa Woolfork 3:09
Jennifer Oldham 3:09
and also gives me random things that I don't necessarily know that I need until I enjoy them.
Lisa Woolfork 3:16
Oh, wow, that speaks for a fun gift giver for sure.--
Jennifer Oldham 3:19
It does. He's very intentional about it. But I'm like this could be anything. I dunno what's in this package. So I open this package, and it is an embroidery hoop with the pattern, there are three different hoops. It's a kit, three different kits in there. And I'm like, genuinely confused, like genuinely. So I was like, "Why did you buy me this?" And he was like, "Well, you had a very strong reaction to the piece that you saw that's similar to this. And so I was thinking," he said "I'd never seen your respond to anything that way before.
Lisa Woolfork 3:51
Jennifer Oldham 3:51
So maybe you'd like to try it." And I was like "What!" I didn't wanna try it, I wanted to purchase it. I've got this kit scattered, (because I'm sitting on my bedroom, on the bed) I've got the pieces, it comes with like the floss pre-cut, and it's got the canvas with the design on it, and the hoop and everything. And so I'm looking like, as he's telling me this, I'm just taking things out and laying them down. And just like okay, sure. I'm trying to read the directions. I have no idea where he ordered it from, but they're all in an Asian language.--
Lisa Woolfork 4:26
Jennifer Oldham 4:26
So I'm like, well, I am not a person who can look at directions without images and figure it out. It drives me insane. I'm like words are important. I need words, please describe whatever I'm supposed to do.--
Lisa Woolfork 4:38
Okay, that's right.
Jennifer Oldham 4:39
This is like, I don't know what to do here. Well, there's a QR code for you to scan.--
Lisa Woolfork 4:43
Jennifer Oldham 4:44
So at first we try, well I scan the QR code. This the video comes up. This woman, still not speak English. She's explaining what she's doing. I'm watching her but I'm like--
Lisa Woolfork 4:44
Oh my gosh.--
Jennifer Oldham 4:49
Lisa Woolfork 4:50
Jennifer Oldham 4:56
So my husband gets his phone and turns on Google translate to see if he can translate what she's saying. So I'm getting like every fourth word. So I start to try. Like I just kind of start to try a little bit. And I'm like, I guess this is how this goes, but I don't know what she's saying, I can kind of see what she's doing. I'll try it, I will see what happens. And so I tried it, and I liked it. And that is how that got started, with a gift.
Lisa Woolfork 5:23
It started with a gift. And what I love about the story is that you talk about your spouse as an excellent gift giver, that he's an excellent gift giver. But actually, you are also a very generous person as well, you are an excellent gift receiver, because what I heard in your story was that you really just wanted to buy that cool embroidery design, you were asking for a gift made of that, already made. And instead, it goes from being a gift, here's a thing you can have that was made by someone else to, now you're gonna embark on an entire independent learning series that involves learning a particular craft in a language other than your own, in a language that doesn't even have the same base. It's not like it's French or Spanish, or you know, some of those things that have the same Latin connection. It's totally different, but you did it. And now you are at this stage where you are creating things from your needle and thread that are a reflection of so much Black beauty, so much patience, so much, just intricate detail. You said that your mother sewed, you said you grew up going to Hancock Fabrics and being dragged from one fabric store to the next. And now here you are into a version of needlearts. How's that transformation been?
Jennifer Oldham 6:56
I think my mother is stunned, frankly. But--
Lisa Woolfork 6:59
Your mother is stunned. She's like, What happened to my child?
Jennifer Oldham 7:03
What is happening here, that has been an interesting transition. My mother sewed clothing a lot when I was growing up. So, she always had some kind of design. I remember learning to choose pattern.
Lisa Woolfork 7:15
Jennifer Oldham 7:16
And we would go and I would help her look through the numbers and find the things and flipping through the books, and terminology, she would be like this is the bias. And I was thinking like I don't even know what this is. And I don't know if I care that much. But like my favorite part of going to Hancock was to play with the fur or what do you call them? The boas.--
Lisa Woolfork 7:34
Oh, they have for boas.
Jennifer Oldham 7:37
So I just wanted to go like, shake my shoulders and shimmy a little in the store.
Lisa Woolfork 7:49
The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together. And now we're bringing it to you in a new way. The Stitch is a newsletter from Black Women Stitch and I am delighted to tell you about it. What do you get when you sign up for the Black Women Stitch newsletter, you get to hear what's happening with Black Women Stitch and the Stitch Please podcast, events that we've had, events that are coming up, contests for prizes, live shows, social media meetups, IRL meet ups, episodes of the podcast that you might have missed, as well as opportunities to learn and so in community with other Black makers across the country and across the world, you'll learn also about some actual stitches, we will help you get your stitch together with continuing education for your sewing life. Oh my goodness y'all I am so excited for this newsletter. As always things I wanna tell you, you know bout. Well now, we have The Stitch. Sign up using the link in the show notes or on our website. We look forward to helping you get your stitch together soon.
Jennifer Oldham 9:05
This fabric store is actually my costume shop and I come here to rehearse.
Lisa Woolfork 9:09
Yes, that is why I'm here, just for that purpose.
Jennifer Oldham 9:13
She made a lot of things I had a lot of, mostly clothes, so I had a lot of outfits that she made that I wore and so I wasn't that interested in sewing, like I made a couple of little doll clothes, just a little bit. Not too much. I had this toy sewing machine that didn't really do much but I liked to press the footer. I think it was the idea of like, I'm doing what my mom is doing-- for a while.
Lisa Woolfork 9:39
Jennifer Oldham 9:39
And so, in high school, like she made sure I knew how to at least hem things mend things, patch up things. But it just wasn't something that I was into. So in high school, I had Home Ec and we spent a portion of that sewing. So I think the first semester was cooking, so we learned to, food safety and all those things. And then we did sewing. And so we had to pick our fabrics. So we had to go sew. So now I'm in the fabric store, like for something for me.
Lisa Woolfork 10:08
Aha. That's a big change.--
Jennifer Oldham 10:09
Which was dish, right? Different. You know, other than like getting little scraps, we had to learn how to put in elastic. And I remember thinking sewing was so hard that like, even though my mom did it, and we did it at school, like I just made sure things are aligned a specific way, or else the pant leg too tight. I made sure that was the thing. I still have the shorts, I feel like I gave it as much as my teenage self could have given in this.--
Lisa Woolfork 10:09
Jennifer Oldham 10:11
And so I kinda let it go after that. I just was not interested in making any kind of clothing. And then when my husband and I got married, we were very broke. We had $0. We probably had negative dollars. I was trying to figure out how to make our apartment, homey.--
Lisa Woolfork 10:50
Jennifer Oldham 10:51
And so the thing was, we need curtains, there's no fabric. It's very much like it's bland. We have white walls. We have very sparse furniture. Like okay, we need curtains and we need placemats.--
Lisa Woolfork 11:04
Jennifer Oldham 11:04
Someone had given me some napkin rings, so I'm like, I guess I need napkins.--
Lisa Woolfork 11:08
Napkins for the rings.
Jennifer Oldham 11:10
I mean, what is it? People giving you gifts that you have to make stuff for? Like you see an embroidery hoop and you're like, "Oh, this is really pretty" and your husband says, "Here is 700 pieces of floss, seven needles and Google Translate." And then you get married and it's like, here are some rings for 12 Napkins, we are also not giving you. What you supposed to put in there, you're paper towels? Like what? I was like, so I guess like I'm a grown up now. I should have--
Lisa Woolfork 11:40
Jennifer Oldham 11:40
12 napkins I guess. Sure. I was like, well, we don't have a lot of money of all the things we would have spent money on, it would not have been curtains. So I'm like well, I can sew well enough to make us some curtains. We just need window coverings. So I did that. I made the placemats, we had a little napkin situation going on these rings that did not last long. We were not people that needed napkins, with napkin rings. We were like 23 and 21 years old. And there was just no need for that, for the people we were there. So I did that. And then that was really it throughout the years, there may be a pillow here and there. I would make barely easy thing to do. And my mom would ask me, she was like, I'm waiting for you to like, start to sew and I'm like, well keep waiting? This is not something I'm about to do.
Lisa Woolfork 12:24
And so now here you are. I mean, we can look at these images and say, Huh, that's interesting for somebody who said that they were never going to seew. Cause that looks like something that somebody made with a needle, and some thread, and some fabric, and a hoop that they might've got at a fabric store. I mean, I just don't know what is this? What am I looking at here, this gorgeous piece?
Jennifer Oldham 12:47
So I'll tell you about that piece. But also, even now I still take things to my mother's house for her to sew them.--
Lisa Woolfork 12:53
Jennifer Oldham 12:54
Like, I'm like grandma, you'll do this.
Lisa Woolfork 12:56
So you just take it to grandma's house. She's like you bring her one of her grandchildren as she's so happy to see the child and then you just like slide a bag of pants that need to be hemmed, and given to the baby, and the baby's like "mama's" and, girl, let me get your momma's number.--
Jennifer Oldham 13:10
Her sewing machine is always out. I don't sew to the point that mine is like locked in the closet somewhere, I don't fool with it. So that's part of the difference. Now.--
Lisa Woolfork 13:18
Wow, we are all on the program, very excited and excited for this wonderful story, your sewing story, also many of us I'm sure, feeling great deals of sympathy for your mama, who has a daughter who is absolutely capable of sewing something for herself. But you know what, at the end of the day, just don't feel like it. Well I'm sure that's not true. It sounds like you got, you know other responsibilities and if you want your sewing to be your piece, would probably wanna concentrate more on things like this, and less on things like hemming the pants. This is a gorgeous piece, it looks like a sunbathing beauty. Tell me what this piece is called, if it has a name, and what were your motivations behind creating it. It's really wonderful.
Jennifer Oldham 14:03
So, I really struggled to name my pieces like, a lot. Like to the point where oftentimes I'm like I'll just go with something that's and I'm like it's just glasses that's all it is cause I don't know what else to call it.--
Lisa Woolfork 14:14
Jennifer Oldham 14:16
We're gonna call her Glasses.
Lisa Woolfork 14:18
Y'all, if you are a Patreon supporter, thank you. Yhank you very much for being a Patreon supporter. And also if you're a Patreon supporter, you get to see this image and how Jennifer's here calling this person in this hoop, Glasses is hilarity. It is an utter hilarity that this is the name she created okay, Glasses.
Jennifer Oldham 14:39
I may change it. Well you know I need to give it some more thought.
Lisa Woolfork 14:43
Listen, if you want to call a piece Glasses call it Glasses, you can make another one exactly like it, well not exactly, but make another one and call it something else.
Jennifer Oldham 14:43
I don't know. I think she's giving you a little side eye.
Lisa Woolfork 14:46
She definitely is!
Speaker 1 14:55
[Unclear] probably the real [uclear] as "I see you", you know "over there--
Lisa Woolfork 14:59
Jennifer Oldham 14:59
there really just."--
Lisa Woolfork 15:00
Jennifer Oldham 15:02
I know you looking, I know you looking.--
Lisa Woolfork 15:04
Jennifer Oldham 15:05
Or you can't see for looking.
Lisa Woolfork 15:08
Jennifer Oldham 15:09
So that was actually inspired by a digital coloring sheet. I think I mentioned that, there's this app on there where you can color on your phone or on a device--
Lisa Woolfork 15:19
Jennifer Oldham 15:20
And then, they had this image very similar to this woman and I kept looking at the way the hair was drawn. And so I remember thinking like, Well, I wonder if I can add a little bit of like a gradient in the hair. And so that was the challenge for me. I was like, I'm gonna try this hair. I love hair that is in all kinds of non traditional colors. My hair has been, hell it
Lisa Woolfork 15:43
Yes, you were saying it was purple. At one point.
Jennifer Oldham 15:45
It was purple last year.
Lisa Woolfork 15:49
Jennifer Oldham 15:50
And it's pink now. I dunno if you can tell. But it's pink now.
Lisa Woolfork 15:53
Jennifer Oldham 15:54
Thank you. So I was really taken with the idea of like, trying to infuse that into the hair. And so there's always a piece, every piece has a part where I'm like, this is gonna challenge me a lot to make this happen. So that was it. And then at the end of it, I can't remember how long it took me to do. I felt like you need it beads. I like she needs something on her wrist. I like that certain key element to
Lisa Woolfork 16:17
Jennifer Oldham 16:17
Something touchable, tangible.--
Lisa Woolfork 16:19
Jennifer Oldham 16:20
So that was how we got 'miss side eye' over here.
Lisa Woolfork 16:23
I love this. Well done. I think it's so beautiful. And it brings me to another point about your work that I feel is so rich. And that is the detail. If you look at this eye, what I'm showing is a close up of an eye that Jennifer has stitched and just at a quick glance, I see four different colors. And there might be five, I see the pink, I see black, I see white, I see two different browns. There's a lot at work in this image and it's giving dimension and depth even though it doesn't have the 3D element of beads, it looks like you're able to get a lot of depth with just the stitching. Can you talk a little bit about the process? Cause I don't think this is huge, because if I did it, it would have to be like six feet tall. But I bet this is like a regular eye size, probably. Can you talk about this lovely piece?
Jennifer Oldham 17:15
Sure, I will say that I have never been so proud of an eyeball in my life. So it actually goes to bigger piece that I have to post, probably this week. It belongs to hold faith. And I kept looking at this space and I was like I got to do these eyes in a specific way. And so I got really frustrated. I did this eye times. Because the first time I did it, I was like, trash, don't like it, not really sure what this is supposed to be, it's not doing what I want it to do.
Lisa Woolfork 17:42
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Jennifer Oldham 18:56
My younger daughter was around me a lot of times I was working on this eye, she'd be busy and she's coloring. She's doing stuff when I would stop her and turn her face toward me. And I'm like, "Look at me." And she's like, "What are you doing?" And I'm like, "I'm trying to see how an actual huge eyeball look" because when I Googled how to embroider eyes, I got things that I did not want to create. There were different styles, there were different purposes. It just wasn't what I wanted. And so I said okay, I'm gonna have to figure this out by just organically looking in people's eyes. Which is a little strange. It can be more intimate than people want so I kept it limited to the people in my house. But I started with the outline, which was the easy part. And I had done the creases underneath to give a little depth. I knew that the pink in the corners was gonna be fine. That was going to be easy something and creating the pupil that I wanted to get just right. We just had to try it, and I had an idea in my head about how to do it, but I wasn't sure if it would work. And so I just went for it, and then I was like, I think it's coming together. And I kept going back to my daughter. And went like, "Let me see your eye." like what's, come here!
Lisa Woolfork 20:09
Open your eye again? "Again? What?" Yes. again one more time.
Jennifer Oldham 20:12
"That's what I look like, okay." And so it took hours. I don't think that I expected, I definetely did not expect for it to take as long as it did. But when I was finally done, I was like, "Okay, this is it. This is the eyeball."
Lisa Woolfork 20:27
Jennifer Oldham 20:28
And now I can replicate it.
Lisa Woolfork 20:29
And did you have to change needle sizes? Was that something that you needed to do in order for this to be effective?
Jennifer Oldham 20:36
I did. My original needle too big. And that was a part of the problem. But--
Lisa Woolfork 20:40
Jennifer Oldham 20:40
I picked the very thin, shorter one. I think I used the same needle the whole time. Well, I think I used the bigger one on the, like the under eye portion of it.--
Lisa Woolfork 20:50
Jennifer Oldham 20:51
But we're the other parts, I used very thin needle, and it was just lots of like, little, little, little stitches.
Lisa Woolfork 20:58
It's really beautiful. It's so stunning. And did you say what size it was? Like? How big is that?
Jennifer Oldham 21:05
How big is the actual eye?
Lisa Woolfork 21:07
Yes, a quarter?--
Jennifer Oldham 21:09
about that, Yeah.--
Lisa Woolfork 21:10
Jennifer Oldham 21:10
roughly quarter side.
Lisa Woolfork 21:12
Oh, my gosh, that's so tiny.--
Jennifer Oldham 21:13
It's so tiny.
Lisa Woolfork 21:15
That is really tiny. I appreciate the way you talk about your process. And I was looking at this piece right here. And you were saying that this was one that was really meaningful to you because it was like a self-portrait. This is an image of a Black woman and a beautiful bright yellow shirt and floral pants, sitting down and embroidering. It's very meta, like you embroidering yourself. And then me looking at it as Black Women Stitch. I'm like, "Oh, look, it's a Black woman stitching!" It's just so much. And this is what I was saying before about looking at your work and feeling like, Yes, I can see my sister in this because we're meant to see our sisters in this, in your work and to see ourselves. Can you talk about this gorgeous piece?
Jennifer Oldham 21:57
Yeah, sure. I think at the point in which I was doing this, I wanna say it was after my birthday last year, a part of the journey that I'm on is I think, one unlearning things that don't fit who I am now. And recreating myself.--
Lisa Woolfork 22:13
Jennifer Oldham 22:13
Or creating myself for, I think--
Lisa Woolfork 22:16
Jennifer Oldham 22:16
probably one of the first times being intentional about that. And so this I actually, there's a lady on Etsy (whose name I cannot remember right now) she has patterns. And she had a lot of different ones that were like this, there were of people embroidering, which I thought was fascinating. And so, I usually, now I don't really use patterns. But back then I was like, Well, this is interesting. And she had different hair textures, different body sizes, different genders. I was taken it with that idea. And I was like, You know what I see myself in this, but I don't see myself in it yet. So there's a little bit of like, I am emerging in this. So let me make it me. When I started this, I was like, Alright, for those of you who can see me, this golden yellow color is one of my favorite colors, it's a very warm color. I love it. And so I have a shirt, I actually have a shirt that is that color. And that has these pearls on it. It is a color that I love to wear. And I have these pants and I was like, okay, so I am going to make this look like me, which was one of the things I think I struggled with, when I started to try to look at what already existed, that looked like people. Did I also say that see people that look like me, so I was like, alright, I'm gonna make this as close to looking like me as it can. And so I knew the challenge was gonna be the hair, because at that time, my hair was dyed, just like this. It was darker purple at the top, it was fading into a lighter shade at the bottom. And I was determined that I was gonna recreate this. And I was gonna make this hair look as close to the way my own hair looked at that point.--
Lisa Woolfork 22:16
I love that.--
Jennifer Oldham 22:19
And so, that was it. That was the inspiration for, I was like, This is my year. This is my time. This is my phase of life, finding me, rediscovering me, taking the pieces that still work, I mean it's basically stitching them together.
Jennifer Oldham 24:02
It's so beautiful, because the way you talk about learning, and unlearning, all of these are such vital elements of what it means to just exist in this world. And you have given us a model for putting that, not like onstage or not like on a social media Instagram type thing where that feels sometimes so forced, but it really is making something really permanent and beautiful, and taking the time to do so. And that's one of the things I really appreciate the kind of the care and detail about your work.
Jennifer Oldham 24:36
Thank you. Sometimes people have asked me like, how do you decide what to make and like, it's really just whatever I'm interested in at the moment, like there is no rhyme or reason. It's just like, I wanna make that, so I'm gonna make that. Which is very freeing, because there aren't a lot of spaces, I think in our daily lives, where we can just do what we want. Sometimes there may be pockets of that, but it feels like, with this particular medium, I can just do what I want. And it feels very free, it feels very calming, sometimes feel a little bit more control when things feel out of control.
Lisa Woolfork 25:10
I can absolutely see the therapeutic element of what it would mean to stitch in this way, to build up something like this. And to work on it piece by piece by piece. Especially, it can become a contemplative process as well, because you're thinking and reflecting as you go, that can be a meditative practice as a form of meditation itself. I'm gonna sit and be in the zone and keep my eye on my eyeball that I'm stitching. Or on this beautiful seated cross legged embroidery design that you've created. It's really wonderful. I wanted to ask you the question we asked all of our guests, the time has flown by. I do not know what happened. This has been the fastest interview I've ever done. I want to know though, the slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together, Jennifer of Her Hoop Dreams, what advice would you give to our listeners to help us get our stitch together?
Jennifer Oldham 26:04
Oh, I feel like that's a big question. I think one of the things that matters both in sewing and in life, is to have boundaries, to stay within the lines that you create for yourself, not necessarily that other people have created for you. To make time to play and 'play' for people is different but 'play' is it to me just as vital as breathing. So make time to play, exercise your boundaries, create good boundaries for yourself, honor other people's boundaries, and just enjoy yourself.
Lisa Woolfork 26:36
Wow. Wow, that's perfect. I mean, on that note, thank you so much, Jennifer, for this amazing conversation today. We are so grateful that you were able to spend time with us really, I feel like I've learned a lot and I know other folks did too. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Jennifer Oldham 26:53
Thank you for having me. This was great. I feel like we could talk for like, a lot longer.
Lisa Woolfork 26:57
Agreed. This is the first episode. Sequel!
Jennifer Oldham 27:01
Lisa Woolfork 27:04
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.