Lisa Woolfork 0:00
It's Blacktober, and we are welcoming SciFi CheerGirl and her amazing Renaissance costuming. If you want to see the video, check out the Black Women Stitch Patreon, and they're waiting for you there.
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. And as I say for every single solitary episode, this is a very special episode, because this episode is with Shasta Schatz, who does fantastic cosplay and historical costuming. And we're going to talk about how these two things are different. But let me tell you about Shasta's work. And also if you are a Patreon, thank you so much for being a Patreon supporter. You're welcome, because you get to see not only one but two pieces, one that Shasta is actually wearing, and then one in the background. And when I asked her about this piece, and what was it, the 16th century gown that she made, she's like, "Oh, no, no, this old thing? This is a handstitched 16th-century Elizabethean-collared play outfit that I can run around in the yard and get muddy with." And I was like, And you made that by hand? And you can get it dirty? And so, it is not often that I feel like, Hmm, I need to step up my game. It is not often. I feel like my game is pretty high. Until you meet a fantastic Black woman costumer who makes fantastic clothes with her actual hands. And not with a sewing machine that I always say I handmade this. So welcome, Shasta, to the program. Thank you so much for being with us today. Thank you and welcome.
And thank you for having me, Lisa. I'm a huge fan, like I mentioned, and I am excited to talk about historical costuming because I've been doing it for a very long time.
Lisa Woolfork 2:21
Well, this is great. And I thank you so much for listening to the podcast and for being a supporter. I'm very grateful. And you caught my eye a long time ago because of the amazing gowns that you make. And I also appreciate both the sewing, and the history, and the intervention that you make with your work. Can you talk about what's the difference between costuming and cosplay?
Oh, that's a good one. So I use costumer as my label because I don't want to get boxed in to cosplay, mostly because of, I'll say, negative connotations. I didn't know it was a negative thing to be a cosplayer. I thought people just dressed up and went to Comic-Con and had fun. But people looking at it from the outside, people who aren't into certain areas of pop culture, considered cosplay to be something that children did. Or people, especially here in America, that other countries did, but that's not something "we" do. But when I started costuming in general, I didn't know that cosplay was a thing. I didn't technically know that costuming was a thing until I went to my first Ren Faire and said, Oh, I want to wear a princess gown. But instead of trying to be a Disney princess, I wanted to be Queen Elizabeth. So it's more on the theatrical side, because most of what I wear, I can just toss in the washing machine. You didn't necessarily do that back in the 16th century.
Lisa Woolfork 3:49
I understand. And so, I'm really interested in this dichotomy that you are describing between costuming and cosplay. And it makes me wonder, because I've had a lot of great cosplayers who have been on the show, and who make and manufacture amazing things. Like I mean, they're creating their armature, they're trying to figure out, How can I make my wings stand up? Where can I find brown ears? You know what I mean? All of these things that they're doing, and it just makes me wonder if you don't think - is there a little bit of snobbery or class distinction or something between cosplay and costuming? I'm wondering where the resistance comes from. Is it perhaps because historical costuming might be seen as more, like you said, theatrical, or maybe even academic, or who knows? Like, there's no play in costuming. In costuming, we are studying, and working hard, and sewing tiny stitches by hand. Play is not serious. I'm just getting that vibe from the distinction. What do you think?
I do a lot of observing when I'm costuming, no matter where I am. I'm always observing what other people are doing, how they're looking at each other. And for the longest time, as a "costumer," I saw a few Black people, and that's where the distinction started for me. So I went to my first Ren Faire, and I saw one cast member who was Black. Blackity, Black Black Black. And I was like, Oh, he's amazing. If he can do this, I'm going to do it too, right? But when I went to my first Comic-Con, I saw droves and scores of Black people. All my blurred friends out there, they were doing this thing and they said, Oh, you should definitely do this thing too. And I said, Oh, so I can wear a super suit? Okay, I'll try to figure out what spandex is, and sure. Because I'd already been costuming for probably five years at that point, and even longer because, you know, Halloween was our first cosplay. But I started to note the differences. When I went to the Ren Faire in all my finery I had one or two people in those first couple of years come up and say, "Oh, well, you look really nice. But did your people wear that back then?" I never got that at Comic-Con.
Lisa Woolfork 6:00
Oh, that - well. Wow. Okay, that is very interesting, because I'm sure there's folks that are in the Comic-Con who have had experience with people policing, right? There're these folks who believe in canon, who absolutely believe - Shasta, I cannot tell you how hilarious I find this shit. Okay. How hilarious I find the idea of canon over something that is completely fictional.
Yes. Stop colonizing fiction.
Lisa Woolfork 6:31
It's not even real. Someone imagined this. And they're like, "No, you cannot imagine yourself as that imaginary character. Because the writer's imagination only saw white people, therefore you can't be Superman." What? It's absurd. It is absolutely absurd. It is absolutely absurd.
And that absurdity, it carries over. It's people. It's human people. It's also comic artists, but it's human people. And that carries over for me and historical costuming. Like I said, I'll get these ignorant questions every once in a while, because they don't want you to out them. They don't know what kind of person you are, but they still want to get their dig in because they think they know more than you. They, with a capital T, they know more? But my degree is in English literature. I spent all of my time after undergrad working in researching archives, reading books that had nothing to do with the color of my skin. I just wanted to see what was in this one woman's will, or her birth record, or you know, runaway ads from the Americas, all that stuff. So I know more than people showing up at a free event, or a paid event, who aren't even dressed up. So, it is very academic, that snobbery, that gatekeeping, that policing. I want to say that it comes from an academic area because I didn't go to dress history conferences and fashion history conferences; I didn't know any of that existed. I just knew I wanted to wear these. I wanted to be a wench sometimes, I wanted to be a princess sometimes, but I wanted to do it historically, because I can move in historical clothes. I can't move in the $20 bag costumes at the party store.
Lisa Woolfork 8:19
That is not where you are, though. That is not where you are at all. And what I appreciate, and I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this, is that you decided to stitch yourself into history.
Lisa Woolfork 8:32
And by that, I just find that so important and so powerful. Because it is often the case that Black women are somehow expected to either squeeze ourselves in from the margins, or somehow change who we are or how we look to better fit in, and you did something: you said no. I am going to take the work of my hands and my skills, my academic skill, scholarly skills, research skills, sewing skills, crafting skills, and to actually recreate these garments and make them for me.
Yes, and that's what I strive to do. Every single garment that I make, every accessory, every headpiece, every little, you know, beaded pin that I put in my hair; I can probably trace it back to art history, I can trace it back to a letter that was written to a person, and I love that because I nerd out over history. And I think it's good to have a little history, but to really dig into the stuff that no one's looking at, like I mentioned wills, and that's where we get a lot of our information for historical dress now. I buy all the right books, I read all the right manuals, I do all the things. I go to the workshops. But none of the people that are being presented historically look like me, until I found one. And it was the one. Now we have historical figures that were physically erased from portraits, and we have them emerging. And we're finding, you know, the Medici child that was in a portrait that they wiped out. And then they brought her back around 2010 or so. And we have her now. And we can say, my kids can say, Oh, that person really does look like me. So making the clothes that they wore, you know, it's art history. So it could be fiction for all we know, but we know somebody wore these clothes. And I'm making them and I'm wearing them for other people to see. Because who are they to erase us?
Lisa Woolfork 10:35
Exactly. And who are they to erase us in the past? And who are they to think that they can erase us now. And this is one of the things I think you might be bumping up against, is this idea that there will always be some folks who want to believe that they know more, and they know better, and they're not asking anyone else. They're not quizzing other people; they don't go around quizzing white folks about their outfits, because they can't tell who would be rich and who would be poor, and who would be a farmer, they don't know. But they can look at you and say, Uh oh, there's a Black, I know,I'm going to go ahead and put her in my Black box. It's nonsense. It's clearly absolute nonsense. But yet, these things still impact our lives. And you have done such a beautiful job of proving - something I really believe in is the idea of sewing as resistance. And you might know, you said you did English, so Audre Lorde and her famous essay, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," and she's talking about her experience at that conference. But the thing I like to think about for me, and I was teaching as the class this session, and this semester, and I was like, You know what, we know what the master's tools are. The master's tools are patriarchy, and capitalism, and white supremacy. They are also institutions like jails and courts, and schools and churches. But what are the opposite of masters' tools? What are those things that can be used to break down, and critique, and open up cracks of light for our liberation? And in my opinion, those things are craft, and those things are art. The needle and thread, the paintbrush, the knitting needle, the crochet hook; all of these things. The felting needle; all of these things, I believe, are ways to promote radical change. And you are living proof of that.
Lisa Woolfork 12:31
Thank you for proving my thesis, girl, I didn't know you was going to do that. Thank you.
I'm here to help always.
Lisa Woolfork 12:36
I appreciate you. Appreciate you. I think I'm going to use this transcript for my paper and be done with it. What I'm so excited about is that in talking to you, you are wearing a 16th century gown right now. Again, it's a work gown, but y'all, it is lovely. It is absolutely lovely. And especially knowing that it's made by hand, I cannot even imagine. And then there's another piece behind you. And another piece behind that. And all of these things are things that you have made. And I want to talk about you finding that portrait of the 16th century Black woman and how that became, in some ways, like an early portent for future discoveries. Can you talk a bit about what that process was like, and how you went about uncovering something that had not been previously promoted?
My husband and I, we like going to art museums. We're on the East Coast, so we've got museums everywhere. And we found the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland was doing an exhibit on Black presence in Renaissance Europe. And I think it had traveled a little bit. It wasn't widely traveled, I think, again, hitting the East Coast. But these were art pieces that had traveled the world, been locked away in closets, and they were all Black. And just seeing those pieces up close, I was in tears. I'm trying to listen - those people just walk through, "Oh, look at you, you look so happy." I'm like, You would be too if you hadn't seen yourself represented throughout all these years of college, all these years of school, every art history book. Because, you know, we appear, like you mentioned, in the margins. We are allegories for Africa and more colonization. We have Queen of Sheba, which is, again, one of those historical fictions that people make up to say, Oh, I'm well-traveled because I saw a person that's darker than me. But when I saw the Karachi portrait and learned about it, it's a portrait of a Black woman. They assume that she's a seamstress because she has pins in her gown. Fine, fine. But importantly, there's a shoulder in the portrait. She was not the primary focus of this portrait, but the rest of it didn't make it. It did not make it through history. She made it through history. And that right there - historical costumers like to come up with their goals or their wishlist items, and it's always "Oh, I saw this fashion plate, and it's my historical doppelganger, and I just need to make this outfit." And I'm like, That's great, sweetie, I'll just be over here making whatever I want. But when I saw this portrait, I had to have it. I had to have it. I was afraid, because - well, the history we assume is that it's by a Florentine artist in the latter part of the 16th century, and then it kind of traveled to England in some way. And then provenance - provenance of portraits and art is an educational nightmare, because all of the academics are trying to say, Oh, well, it couldn't come from here. It's a whole thing. But, from what the Walters museum had presented, I was hooked. So then I started researching Renaissance Italy, which is a huge swath. I wanted to figure out how we got to this woman being in this portrait. We'll never necessarily know who she was, but we can see what she represented. And like I said, we have her, we have nothing else. That tickled me; it still tickles me.
Lisa Woolfork 15:51
I don't know if you've ever seen the - I don't know if it's Kehinde Wiley, but it's a piece and it's called Enough About You. And it is, I don't know if it's Wiley or not, so I'll be sure to make sure to have correct information in the notes for this episode. But it's a big, big portrait of like, white men meeting to sign documents to take away people's rights. And then there's a little Black boy in the corner holding like a vessel of water or whatever. And so he flipped the painting and balled everything up, like he was balling up a trash, a big piece of paper to make a ball to shoot up, you know, in the trash can. And he framed the boy's face.
Lisa Woolfork 16:29
Titus Kaphar. Titus Kaphar, Titus Kaphar. Sorry, Kehinde Wiley, sorry, that's my bad. I'm in Virginia, his amazing statues are right down the road; I got Wiley on the brain. It is Titus Kaphar.
He was my whole mood for this.
Lisa Woolfork 16:43
Yes! Kaphar also has the Myth of Benevolence, which is a piece I use a lot here, when I taught Sally Hemings University last semester here at the University of Virginia. So I definitely am aware and familiar and grateful for Kaphar's work. But yes, so now you get the chance to make your own 16th century doppelganger.
That I did.
Lisa Woolfork 17:04
So tell me a bit about the process. I'm very interested in the process of historical sewing. This idea that you are using the exact techniques that they would have used at the time, or are you just saying, I will sew it by hand and not use any modern technology? I don't necessarily have the same techniques, I can buy thread at the regular store. I mean, I don't know, tell me about what that's like. And I guess we can get also to how important is historical authenticity and accuracy, not in terms of the narratives and the stories and the histories, but in terms of the textile itself, and what it means to produce or reproduce a garment. So the first part is: how on earth do you sew by hand? Like, more than a hem? if I have to sew a hem, I feel like I am being punished.
You are. It's torture, It's utter torture. I do a lot of hand exercises, honestly. For the portrait gown, that was supposed to be a mockup. That was a wearable mockup. And then after I'd finished it, I just didn't want to do it again.
Lisa Woolfork 18:06
This is good enough.
So a lot of it is done by machine, but it's hand-finished. So I used what most people call historical stitches. A stitch is a stitch is a stitch. We just call it different things throughout history. But I have a gown that it was based off of from the same period. Again, I knew nothing about Renaissance Italy; most of my focus was Shakespeare and, later, Elizabethan, and so I had to learn a whole new style of fashion for a time period that I just didn't know anything about. So I found some bloggers that had information on that sort of thing. That's actually because I was knee deep into Black people in the Renaissance, I was starting to find more people who looked like me who wanted to dress like me. And I'd reach out and say, Hey, which gown did you base this other thing off of? I need that book so that I can reproduce this gown. "Oh, okay." And they send me some information. So, finding a community through that process was what I've been waiting for 20 years. But then when I actually got down to make the gown, I used polyester taffeta, no shame. I use thread and things that I got at the local, whatever, fabric store. I used fusible or iron on interfacing surfaces. You can make fabric bowls out of -- oh, it still hurts me.
Lisa Woolfork 19:25
Timtex or Peltex or one of those "texes." Yep, yep.
So I did use that to make it kind of hard, because everything at that point was very structured. But we are still 100, 200 or so years out of what we consider today to be corsetry. So, it's all stiffened fabrics and all this, and because I was making at the time, I thought, a wearable mockup, I wasn't going to go out and spend, you know all this money on the silk and the buckram and the stiffening materials. So I was essentially playing dress-up for that one. But as I went through the process - and I still had my manuals out, I still had my historical pictures, and all the things, and this is how you do this stitch from the 1400s - it was a mixture. It became a mixture. And then when I finally got to the point where I said, Oh my gosh, this actually looks like a dress. I'm not going to make this again. Let me get out my needles and my beeswax, because we're going to finish this sucker by hand. And I did, and there is some real silk in the neck cloth. And there are little touches here and there. But once I got - probably up to the point where I was attaching the skirts to the bodice, I had to stop and say, Nope, this is going to be the one. This is going to be my representative piece. And I have already put at least electricity for the sewing machine into it. But let me give it a little bit more. And that's when I start physically inserting my blood, sweat and tears, up late until three o'clock because I just want to finish that hem. But back then they don't just have a turned-up hem, they have a stiffened hem. So I have to put a wool batting - I use wool scraps, because I'm not going to go looking for actual wool batting - but I'll pull wool scraps from my scrap bin, and I have to piece those together by hand, and then I have to stitch those into the hem by hand, and then I have to turn up the hem by hand. For that gown style, specifically, you do these little snips at the end, because it helps the fabric in some way stand up, so that it doesn't collapse when you're walking through your castles and such.
Lisa Woolfork 21:22
Wow, I want to know how to do that. I want to have the zhuzh. I want to have the zhuzh, please do that.
Hey friends hey. I wanted to share a little bit about the abundance of the Stitch Please podcast. The growth of the podcast has been so exponential that the work has exceeded what I am able to do. And this is where you come in, to retain the joy practice and the liberatory vision of the podcast, and to not have it reproduce capitalist extraction and overwhelm. I am recalibrating the Black Women Stitch Patreon for increased sustained financial support. You can find links to the Black Women Stitch Patreon in the show notes, and be on the lookout for more information as the recalibration unfolds. And thank you for your support.
The rustling of the silk taffeta when I'm walking on the paving stones in my backyard; it's choice. It's pretty great.
Lisa Woolfork 22:23
I think I'm going to have to let you have that, girl. I'm just going to - do a little twirl for me and say, You know, Lisa Woolfork is never going to make one of these. I'm going to twirl extra for her.
I will set up a whole video of just me twirling. I have a basement full of gowns. Where am I going to wear all these gowns except to my backyard?
Lisa Woolfork 22:38
Well, I am so excited because I love what you're doing so much. Again, it goes back to...not inserting yourself, because that feels like aggression. And that reinforces this boundary, this false boundary. Again, the gatekeeping, right? "You can't have this, you can't have this, you can't have this." It's just for the dominant culture. It's just for white folks or whatever. It's you really fashioning, and refashioning, and pulling together stitch by stitch by stitch, a direct line from that woman in that 16th century painting to yourself.
Yeah, I absolutely am. Because again, I've gotten those little comments. I worked in the education department for a museum for a very short time, because they don't like to pay museum employees. And so I needed to pay rent, and now I work in corporate America. But when I was working in museums and running educational classes for school trips and things, I would have the parents, capital T "Those parents," looking over my shoulder at the white assistant behind me to make sure the information I'm presenting is true. And luckily I worked for a great museum, and they know not to engage and what have you. But it was moments like that that put me on this path. They put me here. And if you want to call it spite sewing or spite costuming, feel free, because it might be a little bit. And I claim that. I will not be told that I can't wear silk taffeta and eat a turkey leg at the same time, because I will and I've done it. And that's what it comes from.
Lisa Woolfork 24:11
I forgot that they had turkey legs at those fairs. I love me a turkey leg.
They are so good.
Lisa Woolfork 24:16
I might have to figure out how to make me a little Renaissance halter top, something easy. Just a little tiny one or something, I can say "I'm friends with Shasta! She said I could come here and have a turkey leg!"
It's true. I have that kind of clout now after 50 Ren Faires out there.
Lisa Woolfork 24:30
I know you do. I know you do. So for example, in terms of the sewing techniques, I love how you describe that hem. That it is padded, it is turned, it is clipped so that as your body is moving and as the outfit has momentum, it can still retain the integrity of the intended design. And people figured out how to do that in the 16th century. As I looked at your gown and the neckline, I see this very narrow rolled hem, it looks like a very narrow hem. And so I'm really curious about honestly, just, how did you do that? No really, like, just tell me the answer, because I tried to do mine on a sewing machine. And even then with that little rolled hem foot, I ended up trying to hopefully not lose my religion because I get so mad.
I hate that foot. I hate it so much.
Lisa Woolfork 25:14
It hops out of the thing, and then it's like making a fool of you. So I'm like, That's a beautiful one. And I know you probably did not use that horrible foot for it.
I did not.
Lisa Woolfork 25:24
How did you do that?
For this one specifically, it's essentially just pressing it with the iron. I have to get very tiny, very tiny. I start with everything having a half inch seam allowance., so instead of the five eighths inch that most people are used to. This is linen, which is great. It wants to take all of my abuse. So I start there, I turn out my half inch allowance, and then I turn in to that crease, the other quarter inch of that. When I'm doing an actual rolled hem, which we see more in the 18th century, which is what I'll be doing for the gown behind me, it's - you have to roll your thumbs and your fingers and stretch the fabric at the same time. And that's a nightmare. I can usually get up to about a solid three inches of rolling, and then you start stitching. And then you pull and roll between your fingers, and then you start stitching again. And it's an absolutely beautiful stitch whether you do it well or not, but it takes a long time. Because a lot of people have that texture thing where they either can't feel the texture of the fabric and what the fabric is doing, mostly because of the calluses on my fingers, or they get frustrated at the pulling and the rolling. So I actually took a class specifically to learn rolled hems, because they're that serious. But that's all you do. And my question for history is, why would you do this? How did you come up with this torture for everyone in the future who wants to replicate these very tiny stitches? But that's what you do. And it's just a matter of sitting down, binging a television show, and just rolling and stitching and rolling and stitching. And yeah, that's how that came about.
Lisa Woolfork 27:06
That is incredible. And my mind is absolutely blown. Listen, I'm going to be 100% honest: when I do a rolled hem, I put it on this machine I brought called a serger. And I lift the foot, and I put it down there, and then a needle and two loopers do the magic job of covering the edge with whatever thread I put in there. And let me tell you something else. I am so freaking proud of myself when I do that. I've done it for napkins; I've done it for dress hems; I've done it for all manner of things.
No, I love it. I love my serger .
Lisa Woolfork 27:44
There's not too many people that can come on this show and make me feel like a slouch. But I tell you, listen, y'all, it's a good thing Shasta is such a kind person and of such good cheer. That's why they call her SciFi Cheer Girl. But I'm glad I'm also a person who's very secure in their own abilities, and also not afraid to stay in her lane. Not at all. I love my zone of genius. And it does not involve sewing by hand. That is an amazing process you just described. What are some of your favorite books that helped to get people - I don't know if you feel comfortable saying. Okay, let us know so that we'll know, like, where to look and how to learn more.
Yes. So I absolutely give out information freely; always send me messages. I will tell everybody everything because nobody told me anything when I was starting out after college. I had no idea what I was doing. So my favorite books are The Tudor Tailor, they're a London outfit, and they have gone into the wills and the probate records and the National Archives in the UK, and they have pulled this information and put it into databases. And then they have written books on it. So The Tudor Tailor books are my favorite and the book they have coming out eventually, because everything has been slowed down, it's called The Typical Tudor. And the cover girl is one of my goal humans to meet one day, and I'm absolutely going to mispronounce her name, but I will say it anyway: Harlie Des Roches. And she is with an organization, or was with an organization, called the Society for Creative Anachronism, and that's where we get a lot of historical people from. She is an amazing Black human, and I love her madly. She was my inspiration. So once I found out she existed, that she's on my board, yes. And she's the cover girl for this new book. And I will always promote The Tudor Tailor and what they do. They teach you the stitches. They occasionally have videos to kind of supplement that. A book that's not really about costuming and sewing, but I found very helpful in coming to this point where I wanted to find all of the historical Black people was The Black Tudors, which is by Dr. Miranda Kaufmann. Again, UK; they have all the history over there, so we just got to get it over here. In that book, she tells stories of people. She's just telling people's stories, but they're our people's stories. You know, I'm not British, but these people are me. This is the culture I'm emulating when I play in this fantasy world every summer. So I believe it's 10 stories on people that existed, and she went into archives, and she went into museums and said, Hey, who's this person in the corner here? And she brought as much as she could to light. And that the people that she profiled were just tiny snippets, tiny snippets, but they're close to royalty. They're everyday people, they're people who had clothes, more clothes, that made clothes and again, it's not even about sewing and costuming, but it helps give me context, because you cannot have historical costuming without context. And those are not my words; those came from some accomplices that I have picked up along the way. But I absolutely agree. Because if you walk into Ren Faire, you are going into a Fantasyland. But you're also going to get history, and if you decide you want to grab onto that part, then you better know what you're doing, or you're going to get an educational lesson from the crazy Black lady who was showing up at the Ren Faire and wants to know exactly why you decided that was a good idea. And you know, I'm always looking to help people and unfortunately for them, if a stranger walks up to me on the street and asks me about this petticoat that I'm wearing, they're going to get a 45 minute history lesson because that's how I was trained.
Lisa Woolfork 31:29
Wow, look at you. You're so generous reading these people for free.
Some of them. I call her the Faire Frances, kind of like Barbecue Becky, but she's Faire Frances. The one that comes up to me and says, "Oh, hey, did you make that? Could you make me that for $50?" And I say, Ma'am...she doesn't get a history lesson.
Lisa Woolfork 31:49
Wait a minute, I'm trying to be clear. You mean to tell me that at a Renaissance Faire, that is full of people who are making their own costumes, standing in front of a shop; making their own costumes, making things, knowing how difficult it is, somebody who might even have had an experience of doing a rolled hem with their actual thumbs and fingers, is going to go to another person and say, "Can you sell this me for $50?" How about this? I'll buy the material. And you can keep the leftovers. You're welcome.
I've had some doozies.
Lisa Woolfork 32:19
Do you want some beeswax? I'll pay you in beeswax since I hear you like it.
I have had someone give me beeswax, but it was more of a thank you for giving me information and not a "Oh, you made me a gown that really should cost $1,500." So someone gave me a vintage sewing machine, I want to say maybe '50s. But we didn't agree on a vintage sewing machine for payment. It was a commission with a contract. And she gave me $50 and a sewing machine that also tried to burn my house down. So I've had some doozies.
Lisa Woolfork 32:49
Wow. Wow. Now what advice would you give to somebody, if there's some Black folks who are listening who love to sew and make things, and there's Renaissance Faires around and about, if we're interested in that: how would you advise folks to get started?
Oh gosh, the first answer step one: just do it. If you want to start making your own clothes, pick a thing you want to make, because if you come out of nowhere, you're going to end up in what I like to call the fun clothes, which are, you know, essentially Black Fae Day but at the Ren Faire all summer. Because you're going to run off and you're going to say Okay, I need a skirt, and I need a wedge bodice. And I need some wings, because that's what they wear at the Ren Faire, so that's fine. But if you really do have an interest in doing it by hand and doing it yourself, you might as well do the historical stuff. So the first thing I would say, honestly: go out and grab a big 3 pattern that looks close to what you want, because it's at least going to give you an idea of what goes into it. I have all those in the back of my pattern closet because I don't need them anymore, but they do help. Especially if you're a machine sewist, because a lot of the books, even the ones I mentioned, are not for sewing machine learning; they are absolutely 100% by hand. If you already know how to sew, you can figure out where you just do a bag lining instead of tucking in the hems of the lining and then attaching it to the outside, which is a general construction method. But if you're just getting started, go pick up a whatever, big 3 pattern, and say Okay, this is a gown, and I don't want to die in the heat. So let me go get some actual cotton, which is not necessarily a historical choice, not for the 16th century, but cotton is not going to give you the issues that polyester or couch fabric are going to give you. And you can still get absolutely beautiful brocades and damasks and prints and all kinds of things. Pick a fabric that you can move around in, because you are going to sweat, no matter what kind of garb you're making. You are going to sweat in it and that's fine. If you have if you have access to good linen, make all of your underclothes out of linen, because you're going to be layering even if you're just going for a shirt and a bodice or a doublet, and a pair of bottoms or a skirt. Start with linen. You don't need corsets, you don't need shapewear, the garments are going to do all that for you. And then once you have that done, you've done your first day at the Ren Faire and you're like, Okay, no, I want more, I need to set this up. Then you're going to go and pick up a book like The Tudor Tailor, or just go to YouTube. At this point, I think everybody's information is out there. Even I unfortunately have a YouTube channel that I started thinking I was going to do one thing, and it turned into everything except that. But there are pattern companies - again, another accomplished style, accomplished applicant company is Margo Anderson, and she takes a theatrical approach to 16th century costuming. And honestly, I learned a lot of what I do today from her manuals, which are also machine and hand sewing, because nobody wants to sew upholstery fabric by hand. So you put that part in the machine. But you do your linens by hand. Just start small; accessories. Even just wearing the skirt you have in your closet that kind of looks like something a Renaissance person would wear, and then make a nice shirt to go under it. You can get away with a lot. No one is going to chase you down like they did me 20 years ago.
Lisa Woolfork 36:14
And say, "Let me inspect your outfit, please. I'd like to make sure it's a machine-assisted, or let me see the palms of your hands. Do you have lots of calluses on your thumb?" I'm so glad you mentioned Black Fae Day because I love Black Fae Day, and Jasmine and Kia were on the program to promote that event when it happened. And I just love Black people being free to be and make and think and do, and go where we want to go, and do the things we want to do. And the same way that Jasmine has created Black Fae Day to provide this kind of space for Black folks who want to cosplay in this way. I mean, her Facebook group - that's amazing, amazing costumes. It's just this idea of you being a possibility model for somebody else, in the same way that Jasmine is a possibility model, and that event as a possibility model. The idea that you can talk about this Black woman who's going to be on the cover of a book, and how she inspired you. Now you are in the position to inspire other people. You are absolutely in that position. And by looking at the work that you do, by seeing the gorgeous, gorgeous gowns that are done; I mean, the word "painstakingly" comes to mind. And I'm thinking heavy on the pain.
Yeah, there is literal blood in this dress behind me.
Lisa Woolfork 37:38
Based on how you describe the sewing process, I don't doubt it. And tears and sweat, and probably a few naughty words. I don't know, mine would be full of cuss words. Mine would just probably be like, if my gown could talk, it'd be like "the fuck!" That's what mine would be saying.
It gives it power. Really.
Lisa Woolfork 37:55
That poor dress would think that's what its name was. I want to close by giving you this opportunity to answer the question I was asking everybody, like: the slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is we will help you get your stitch together. So Shasta, I'm going to ask you: what advice would you give to someone who is interested in doing what you're doing to help them get their stitch together?
Cover your ears because you're not going to want to hear this. It is to incorporate a little bit of hand sewing into every single piece that you make. I have a Viking Ruby, I have a very nice big machine. But no matter what I make on it, even if it's like a handstitched tag that says oh, I made this, or if I did the buttons or even the buttonholes. Just a little bit, just a teeny bit, especially if you're a beginner: do a little hand sewing. If you are putting in a zipper on a modern garment or a theatrical garment, baste it in by hand. Don't pin it, don't glue it down or do whatever the old Singer manual tells you to do. Baste it by hand. If you're trying to do an intersection, a seam intersection where you're trying to get that perfect criss cross, baste it by hand with an actual needle. The thread doesn't matter, but a tiny little needle, and baste it by hand just an inch side-to-side, and then turn it and make sure it's straight. And then you don't have to spend the next hour ripping it out with a seam ripper because you put it in the machine without thinking about it. My favorite is setting sleeves by hand, but hand-basting the sleeve in, because you can control that rotation. And on historical sleeves - I hate putting in historical sleeves, because they make no sense. They don't make sense to me because, you know, I wear T-shirts and workout pants all the time. And I understand how those go in because I didn't have to make them. They just go on my body. But when I have to put in a historical sleeve, they have pleats, they have slight gathering, they are covered by a strap so you don't actually see the seam where the sleeve goes in. None of it makes any sense. But I do it by hand because I can control where it should be. I can make sure I can move, I have a full range of motion in all of my historical garments. People say they're uncomfortable; they're not uncomfortable, they're just not made for you. You have to put effort into it. But if you do it by hand, you know exactly how to fix the problem later. And then if you want to, you can stitch it up by machine. But just a tiny bit, a tiny bit. Get yourself some beeswax, and a nice thick thread, you know? Look into thread sizes for hand selling, because that's a whole topic on its own. It's fascinating. But just a little bit, even if it's just to put in a bar tack at the end of one of those tunic seams that opens up at the bottom, put a little bar tack in by hand and it will change your life. Even if you bleed a little, you'll be okay.
Lisa Woolfork 40:39
Y'all, on that note; thank you so much, Dr. Schatz, for being with us today. Oh my gosh, this has been such a wonderful, wonderful time. You can find her at @SciFiCheerGirl. And she's got amazing, beautiful images and when you'll see those images as part of the promotional material for this episode, and where else can we find you?
I do. I've had a blog since 2008, and that's where I get a little ranty. So if you want to see the less cheery side of SciFiCheerGirl, you can find that at greenlinenshirt.com or scificheergirl.com.
Lisa Woolfork 41:13
Thank you so much for being with us today. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It's amazing. You're amazing.
Lisa Woolfork 41:22
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.