Lisa Woolfork 0:00
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.
Lisa Woolfork 0:26
Hello everyone and good afternoon, good morning, wherever you are in the world. I am delighted as always. My name is Lisa Woolfork. I am the host of the Stitch Please podcast and I am delighted to welcome my guest today, Jen Hewett. And if you are a Patreon subscriber, you have the option of having this video delivered to your inbox in advance of the episode coming out. So, if you are listening to this right now as an audio podcast and you want to see Jen's studio, which is what I'm looking at right now, and this fantastic outfit she has on and all these beautiful pieces behind her, you should go ahead and become a patron and support the Stitch Please podcast. Jen, welcome to the program. And thank you for being here.
Jen Hewett 1:15
Thank you so much, Lisa. I'm excited to be here this morning.
Lisa Woolfork 1:18
Excellent. It's... This is early because we are three hours apart. She's on the west coast. I am on the east coast. And she is up at what I like to call four day in the morning. [laughter] to have this conversation. So Jen, can we get started talking about your sewing story? You were saying you started learning ... you learned to sew as an adult.
Jen Hewett 1:41
I learned to sew originally as a child when I was eight or 10 at girls' club. But we didn't have a sewing machine at home and there was no one at home to really guide me through it. My mom doesn't sew. My dad doesn't know how to wind a bobbin. Everybody has to do that for him and then he can sew. I put that aside and didn't start sewing again until I was in my 30s. I'm 45, going on 46 now.
Lisa Woolfork 2:04
Yeah. And so what's the ... what was some of the things that I was thinking about? The work that you've been doing as an artist and your whole organic sensibility. And I was wondering, can you talk a little bit about how learning to sew helped you to gain confidence in building your own wardrobe? You were talking earlier about almost like a linear process, like you learn to sew and then it gave you confidence to build a wardrobe. Like, that seems like a really big gap. Like most people, like, learn to sew and then they have a tote bag to take to the grocery store and tell people they made a tote bag. You learn to sew and it's now I will make ALL of my clothes.
Jen Hewett 2:46
[Laughter] Well, I learned to sew first and make bags for three years. That's all I did. And I finally made the leap to sewing clothing because I was tired of just sewing bags. I would sell the bags and then I would have no bags and then I'd have to sew something else. And it just wasn't challenging after a while. And it was around the same time that blogs were becoming really popular. And so you could find easy patterns. And for me the biggest barrier to entry to sewing garments was those big five patterns because you don't know the terminology. You can't read the pattern and determine that. Like the dictionary, the glossary they give you, it doesn't make any sense. So you need someone to guide you through that. And I never had that person.
Jen Hewett 3:28
And so when even my auntie who sews, like, she just cuts out the fabric and puts together a dress and it fits you perfectly. I have no clue how she does that. I don't think she's ever sewn with a pattern. So even she probably couldn't read a pattern. But when indie pattern designers came out and blog started to become a thing, you could find a really simple pattern. And then there would be a sew along on a blog. And you could do it step by step. And so I felt like I could maybe attempt that. And I was starting to work at home at that point. So I didn't need to have a full-blown office wardrobe so I could wear my failures and feel good about it. Like if nothing else, I could print in a dress that I made that was lopsided. And also I'm just an ambitious person anyway. So I felt like the best way to learn how to do these things was actually just to jump in and do them and have no expectations for perfection from the beginning.
Jen Hewett 4:20
But I will say that I was terrified of invisible zippers for years. And that was my barrier to leveling up. Like, I would not sew an invisible zipper. I would find patterns that didn't require invisible zippers or buttons. And one day, I finally was like I need to sew an invisible zipper because it is taking me too long and too much fabric to do a wrap skirt and I don't like the way elastic looks. And so I did it. And it changed everything for me and it was nothing. And it just made me think about how it's usually the silliest smallest fear that keeps us from jumping to the next thing. Yeahl
Lisa Woolfork 4:57
It's so funny because invisible zippers - they sound intimidating. And once you do ... I prefer to put invisible zippers and all my things now. Like, why aren't all of them invisible? Not for jeans, because they're a little bit heavier but an invisible zipper, once you get past that, it's, I think sometimes it's a little bit easier even than putting in a regular zipper.
Jen Hewett 5:17
It is. Absolutely.
Lisa Woolfork 5:20
And so can you talk a little bit about some of the stories we like ... that adult learners maybe tell themselves to, to make things harder than they should be? The thing I love about your book is that you are breaking down these different structures. Oh, and the book, of course, is Print, Pattern, Sew. I have a copy here that I'm holding in my hand. It is a lovely, spiral bound book. It lays flat, which is something that I like. It really makes it a very kind of practical workbook. But it's also very beautiful. And it comes with patterns in the back. So tell me a bit about what you did, or what advice would you give to someone who wants to overcome? I wonder if you've heard this question, if you've gotten it before: I'm too intimidated. Or I could never sew this or I could never print my own fabric, I could never... What do you think that kind of, that fear, comes from? And how do you encourage people to get past that?
Jen Hewett 6:15
Oh, man, I get that all the time from all different angles. From having a creative career sewing, from printing, starting a business. It's ... everybody just makes these things out to be a lot bigger than they are in their head. And I'm a fairly pragmatic person. And I like to just do it one step at a time. I ... when I was in high school, I had a classmate who wanted to learn how to play the piano, but only if she could play the Moonlight Sonata as her first piece and I was like, "Who was the Moonlight Sonata as their first piece?" Like, I had to learn scales and do scales for years before ... I still can't play the Moonlight Sonata.
Jen Hewett 6:48
But, I think it's this idea that (Sorry, I live on a train line and a train just passed by.) I think it's that idea that, especially as an adult, that we're not allowed to make mistakes, and we're not allowed to have things be imperfect ... that we come into this craft with experience of being a professional, with being accomplished in our careers, with having maybe gone to school, and done well in school. And so it's like this idea that you're coming to something and you've already got to be really good at it, at your first thing. And I think just breaking it down into: maybe you have to make bags for three years. But you've got to do something. Because if you're going to sit around and not do anything and talk about how hard it's going to be ... Yeah, it's hard because you aren't doing anything.
Lisa Woolfork 7:33
Jen Hewett 7:34
Like, just do that one simple, easy thing. It doesn't have to be a big production, especially now. Like, just do it. Just do something.
Lisa Woolfork 7:44
There's so many ways to access: there's YouTube, there's blogs, there's books, there's magazines, there's so many ways, but I think the hardest thing is to encourage somebody or remind someone that they have the power to do hard things. I hear all the time, like, "Oh, I'm so afraid of a serger." And I'm like, it's just a machine. It's not ... What's that?
Jen Hewett 8:09
I love my serger. That changed everything for me. Invisible zippers and sergers. But yeah.
Lisa Woolfork 8:15
I mean, like, I do wonder how ... Well, I've always sewn with a serger but like this notion of, "Oh, I can get the same effect on the sewing machine." I'm like, not really. But, okay. You know what I wanted to ask you ... this is something I was thinking about: You said you're a pragmatic person. When you find yourself with a list of tasks, like you have five things, five things you want to do, are you the type of person that like, eats the frog first, and does the hardest thing? Or do you save the frog for last, after you've done the easier things?
Jen Hewett 8:50
It depends on how nasty the frog is. I think for the most part, now I'm doing the hardest thing first, because I reward myself with all the easy things. And the easy things for me right now, or not even the easy things, the fun things are the drawing, the creating, the doing things for myself that has to be done. But, I'm working on all these client projects right now. And a lot of that stuff is just really tough and not exciting. And I tell myself if I get through the client stuff, or if I ship out orders, which I love getting orders, I hate shipping orders. But if I get all that stuff done, then I can do ... give myself an hour of drawing, or fill in the blank. But, yeah, so I think I have become that person who eats the frog first, but I am ... I have not always been.
Lisa Woolfork 9:43
Yeah, yeah. No, that's a great answer. That it's a great idea. I think that's how I tend to go about things as well, but I can totally see the reverse being true. I want to ask you a question about something that you mentioned in the book, which I was wondering about: the organic patterns that you use. Because I was thinking and in chapter two you say - I'm going to quote you back to yourself - I know of how often you hear this. But, chapter two, you say, "I was a shy, anxious child, calmest when I was making things or reading. When I didn't have a book or a pencil in my hand, I focused my nervous energy on looking for patterns. Because shy kids spend a lot of time looking at the floor as a way of avoiding conversation, I spent a lot of time looking for patterns on the ground."
Lisa Woolfork 10:29
And I just really loved that. And I wondered if you could talk about that in two ways. One about patterns on the ground, which to me goes with that organic aesthetic, as well as what it means to be a shy child or a shy person creating art. So can you talk a little bit about that? It was just a really beautiful story.
Jen Hewett 10:49
Sure, I'm still looking on the ground all the time, even though I'm not a shy, anxious child anymore. It first manifested as - and I think this is slightly, a slightly, compulsive thing, where I would look at tile patterns and find the tile that was out of place and that would drive me nuts. And ways to make hopscotch fields out of every single floor pattern, even on the sidewalk. I still do that to this day. But it's, I think it's a form of controlling what it is in your environment that that you feel like you can put in a box. And, to this day, now when I'm walking - and I do walk quite a bit, especially in the mornings, I live right by the Golden Gate Park and so there's a lot to see - and I can watch the change of the seasons, not just through the trees, but by what's on the ground, what color the leaves are, what leaves are on the ground (We do have seasons here in California, they're just a little bit different from seasons everywhere else.) what is out of place along the, along the path, because I'm walking the same path almost every day. And it's the way that I orient myself and, and make, make sense of my world in a way ... that there's a certain amount of familiarity and having patterns that either remain the same or change consistently over time. Now, we're probably going to be in a drought this year, because it hasn't started raining yet. And so that means that what I see on the ground will probably be very different from what I saw last year. But, yeah, that's that's still how I operate.
Lisa Woolfork 12:19
That's, that's really wonderful. And let me ask you .... you said that you grew out of the shyness that you had as a child. Do you feel as though, is there a particular personality ... And maybe this is ... I'm still working through the question. But do you think there's a particular personality that somehow is drawn to art? Or do you feel that this is something that ... it doesn't matter if you're shy or introverted or extroverted, that it doesn't really ... that the personality doesn't really matter as much as the drive and the desire to create in a certain way?
Jen Hewett 12:57
I think introverts tend to be drawn much more to art simply because it requires you to be able to sit for long periods of time and not need external stimulation. I certainly do know extroverts who are artists, and their productivity is bonkers, because they are just go all the time. But the bulk of the artists that I know are introverts, and are people who need a lot of quiet time and who need the time and space to really develop their work. Yeah, I think it's a natural field for a lot of us ... that if you, and most of my friends are artists and most of my friends are introverts, and we don't exhaust each other. And when it's time for us to go into a hidey holes, we're like no judgment, just "Bye."
Lisa Woolfork 13:41
[laughter] "No, you're fine. See you in a while ... or not ... see you soon ... or not soon. Take your time." No, yeah, that's wonderful, because the contemplative seems to be an important part of your process, your ability to sit and think and to just see, just to see what happens. I wanted to turn a little bit to your early education. You mentioned this in chapter four, the section on creating multicolor prints and how you were in art class in fifth grade, and the teacher gave you all firm instructions: "Now you don't want to get this wrong, Jen. Don't want you getting a bad grade in fifth grade art." Because the teacher passed out a coloring book and said that Santa's coat and hat must be red. His boots can be black or gray. You may only use black or white on his gloves. Ten year old me found this silly after all, what's the point of an art class if you can't be creative? And you said that you were a good kid and so you did with the teacher suggested. And yet, you said that rather than ... like other folks have teachers they remember because the teachers encourage them ... You remember this teacher because this teacher had constraints that you fought against. And that you didn't really do very well in your elementary art school classes, or elementary school art classes. Can you talk a bit about being, about what this experience taught you? And do you carry that forward now, even, in your life as an artist?
Jen Hewett 15:15
So that was my fifth grade Mrs. Gray. She, she has long since died. I'm 45. So that was 35 years ago, and she was already old by the time... [laughter]
Lisa Woolfork 15:24
Mrs. Gray. That's why you could use black or gray on the boots.
Jen Hewett 15:28
Mrs. Gray was racist and classist and I was the only black kid in the class. That school was horrible. It was terrible. I had a fantastic first grade teacher and a fantastic eighth grade teacher, and everybody in between was pretty horrible. But then Mrs. Gray had a heart attack in the spring of that year, during class and when we...
Lisa Woolfork 15:48
Jen Hewett 15:48
Like months after we got this substitute teacher, Mrs. Ingram, who loved me. And so I understood that I was a smart, shy, quiet child who just wanted to be left alone and to do her work. Um, anyway, so I had a pretty crappy elementary school education. It was good academically, and I was a smart kid, and I could just nail all the exercises, but my teachers were not great. And so I think in many ways that set me up particularly ... high school, college. Because I went to private school so I was able to choose where I went to high school, Catholic school. And it made me somewhat distrustful of authority.
Lisa Woolfork 16:30
Jen Hewett 16:31
And not in a really rebellious kind of way, not like ... I was always a good kid, and I was a good student, and my parents raised me to be like quiet and polite ... all those things where you're just trying to, you're just trying to coast through. You're not trying to make waves anywhere, but when it got to be ... there are gatekeepers for everything. And as I got older, particularly when I became an artist, and I had seen that there was this path that most people followed ... which is you go to art school, you maybe do fine art, you get a gallery job, or you go to art school, you become a designer, you work for an ad agency, or a marketing agency, like those were things that I just ... I hadn't made the choice to do that. And so I needed to find my own way.
Jen Hewett 17:15
And I found a lot of the gatekeeping kind of silly that I would ... I had a stationery business in my 20s. And I would go and I would do these trade, wholesale trade shows. And people say, "Oh, where'd you go to art school?" And I'd say, "Oh, I didn't go to art school. I'm just self taught." And there was this astonishment that I was self-taught and that good. And somebody even said, "Can you imagine if you had gone to art school? How much better your work could be?"
Lisa Woolfork 17:39
Jen Hewett 17:40
Maybe, I don't know. But I think being able to ... not having that mindset of: this is what an artist is, this is how an artist thinks ... like, even this is what an artist, this is an artist's relationship to money, to commerce ... has ... because I haven't had that ingrained in me and also because I've seen what it's done to other artists who have followed that path, it's much easier for me just to say, "That's crap." Like, I don't have to buy into that. I don't have to believe what these people are telling me and I can do it my own way and be okay. I'm not getting a grade for this anymore. I'm not relying on Mrs. Gray to advance me to sixth grade.
Lisa Woolfork 18:17
Jen Hewett 18:18
Mrs. Gray went had a heart attack and was gone for two or three months anyway.
Lisa Woolfork 18:23
Then I got a real art education by a nice lady!
Lisa Woolfork 18:27
What's so valuable about that is that I think that is the purpose of school. Like, the purpose of school, it sounds like a big scary word, but school is indoctrination. It's meant to socialize you so you learn how to line up and sit in a row and not shove the person in front of you, even if he deserves it. Like, all of these things are what school is for. And you were able to look at that and say, I'm not being served by this. And rather than ... some kids would have taken that internal and said, "Oh, there's something wrong with me." But you were like, "There's nothing wrong with me. There's something wrong with someone who was giving me detailed instructions on how to color a Santa."
Jen Hewett 19:05
Oh, and I was lucky too that my cousins had gone to that school. They're on my mom's side of the family so they're all Filipina. And so they had a ... they had similar experiences with this teacher and with my seventh grade teacher who was also horrible. And so they were able ... there was this process where they, because there were three of them, all girls ... and they would talk amongst themselves about these teachers that I was actually able to externalize and say, "Oh, it's not me." It's right ... because these three - the big girls - my three cousins had the similar experience. And so therefore, I know it's not just me.
Lisa Woolfork 19:39
Jen Hewett 19:40
And I thought ... I feel like that was a really important lesson. Because when you are the only, you often feel like, especially as a kid, you can feel like, "Oh, if I'm not succeeding, it's because there's something wrong with me." If someone else is able to say, "No, that's my experience...."
Lisa Woolfork 19:54
Yeah, yeah. Oh, this is common. This has nothing ... This is something that this person has brought into the situation that has nothing to do with you. And it's really wonderful that you had those mentors in your older cousins, so that you didn't internalize these messages. Because I think that sometimes you can definitely get set on that path. And it becomes really hard to recalibrate yourself. And you were able to do that, I think, really beautifully. I want to talk a little bit about your time at Berkeley, at UC Berkeley, just because you were talking about your, like, again, like, wardrobe and going to Catholic school and having a uniform. And then when you got to Berkeley, it was like, I'm in college, you were 17, starting college, which I thought was amazing. My son actually will be 17 is starting college, and I'm like, "Oh my gosh, is he ready to go?" Only 17, Lord, but so being on the young side, starting college and at such a big place. And you have to tell us, please, about the Berkeley student who when you were there, made headlines for going to school naked. This is a must-hear story.
Lisa Woolfork 20:57
So on that note, we are going to take a quick break. You are listening to the Stitch Please podcast. I'm talking today with Jen Hewett. Stick around and hear about this student after this break. The Stitch Please podcast is really growing. I want to thank you for listening to the podcast and ask a favor. If you are listening to this podcast on a medium that allows you to rate it or review it - for example, Apple podcasts or iTunes - please do so if you're enjoying the podcast. If you could drop me a five star rating, if you have something to say about the podcast and you wanted to include that, a couple sentences in the review box of Apple makes a really big difference in how the podcast is evaluated by Apple, how it becomes more visible. It really is a way to glean into the algorithm that helps to rake podcasts. So if you had time to do that, to drop a little line in the review feature of the podcast, that would be really appreciated. And it would help us to grow even further and faster.
Lisa Woolfork 22:05
You're listening to the Stitch Please podcast. And we are going to resume our conversation with Jen Hewett. We left on a bit of a cliffhanger about a student who made headlines when she was at Berkeley. So here's the rest of that story. You have to tell us, please, about the Berkeley student who, when you were there, made headlines for going to school naked person? I'm guessing it's a man. Was it a man?
Jen Hewett 22:30
Lisa Woolfork 22:31
Okay, so um, Andy would just go to class butt naked. And I'd like to talk about what that was like, especially if you had to sit next to him or near him or, God, in a, in a seat, after he sat in it.
Jen Hewett 22:44
It's so funny. I had gone to an all girls Catholic High School. So there were no boys around. And yeah...
Lisa Woolfork 22:50
Now you're seeing a lot of boy.
Jen Hewett 22:52
And my dad was ... because Andy was on the news. I think his name was Andy. And he was on the news.
Jen Hewett 22:58
And then he was on, maybe the cover of Time, or something like that. And my dad called me panicked. And I said, it's not that big of a deal. And I don't know what it was. It just wasn't that big of a deal. Here I am at Berkeley. This is what I went to college for. This is why I left Los Angeles. This is why I left my Catholic school upbringing. This is why went to Berkeley. So that there would be a naked guy walking on the street, like, you know...
Lisa Woolfork 23:23
I'm gonna learn the hacky sack. And I want to see some naked people.
Jen Hewett 23:29
No hacky sack, I have boundaries. It just, it was so much a non-issue for a lot of us. And even though I had grown up in a ... with a religious background, my parents were fairly open-minded and exposed us to a lot of stuff. Now, definitely not naked 20 year olds, like, we .... it wasn't like a sheltered kid. And, and I took the bus in LA, like, I got myself around starting from when I was 10. So I just was an independent kid. And I don't, I just don't remember it being a big deal. And my dad was like, "Look, if it's not bothering you, I guess it's not bothering me." But also I did not have any classes with him because he was a couple years older than me. And so I did not have to sit in the same seats or sit next to him. And yeah, and after a while it was just normalized - like here's a naked 20 year old walking around, it's, but the poor guy - may he rest in peace - he, I think was struggling with mental health and died by suicide in his 20s, late 20s.
Lisa Woolfork 24:30
Oh, that is a sad ending. That is a sad ending. It's also, it's a sad story. It's also like illustrative of what places, of what university places like Berkeley have come to represent is a type of total freedom. That, and maybe, I'm sure from the inside it doesn't feel like total freedom. But from the outside, it looks like that. It looks like this is a landscape where you can stretch out and extend and be who you want and try out new things, and test boundaries. That's what, you know, university life is supposed to be about. And it's funny because I went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, which liked to call itself, the Berkeley of the Midwest. Which it was, in some ways, except I imagine the real Berkeley being way more fun, less snow, warmer, and more non-white people. When I was there, in Wisconsin, it was like 4%, non-white. 96% white out of 40,000 students. That's a lot of whites.
Jen Hewett 25:34
And Wisconsin is not an un-diverse place, either.
Lisa Woolfork 25:38
You would think that, but it was a very un-diverse ... the school was very un-diverse when I was there. I was often the first black person some of my students - I was a TA as a grad student - that they had ever talked to. I was like, "How did you get to be 19 years old and never talk to a black person? Like that ... that makes no sense to me.
Jen Hewett 25:59
It doesn't surprise me. Yeah, growing up the way I did, even though I grew up in a Vlack community, went to a white school. I was, I think I'm still the only black person that a lot of those folks [laughter] that I went to elementary school with have talked to.
Lisa Woolfork 26:14
Like how? Like in Los Angeles, in Massachusetts, and Wisconsin... Like all of these things. It's just, it's bizarre. It's bizarre. And I consider that a failing on their part, not ours.
Jen Hewett 26:25
Exactly. I'm not putting myself out there.
Lisa Woolfork 26:28
That's certainly a failure on their part. Can we talk a bit about ... You said you had a stationery business earlier in your 20s. Can we talk about the transition from stationery to fiber? Because if you think about it, these things are, you know, paper and fabrics, They have some of the same kind of principles because they're both kind of organic products. I don't know if you see them as behaving the same. I'm a stationery fanatic. I love notebooks and pens and paper, especially the pens. So, can you talk about that like split a bit? What were your thoughts when you were drawing and creating art for a stationery line versus building your own fabric collection?
Jen Hewett 27:07
Hmm, just the parameters are different. But when I ... So I did stationery in my 20s, and then I ran that business into the ground like any 20 year old would, 20-something would ... and then I got a corporate job and I did that for a few years. And then, 2008 came and I got laid off from my corporate job and went back into print. So, it's art. So that's the trajectory of that. But, when I started screen printing in 2008, 2009, I was just working on paper. So when I was designing stationery, of course that was ... that was paper too, but I was sending that all out to be printed. Whereas when I started printing my own designs, I was doing that printing myself.
Jen Hewett 27:47
But the difference between having stationery and having, say, a print that you hang on your wall is that stationery is utilitarian. You know what to do with stationery. You can hoard it, you can not send it. But, you can also write on it and send that to your friends. Whereas with a print, it's frivolous, in some ways.
Lisa Woolfork 28:06
Jen Hewett 28:07
And it wasn't until I started printing on fabric that my work really took off. And the reason I printed on fabric was somebody said to me at some craft fair that I have to get... "I love this print, but I have so many prints and it's so much work to go and buy the frame and figure out where to hang it. And so I have all these prints that I've never done anything with. If you have this had this as a dish towel or as a bag, I would totally buy it." And that is the one time that unsolicited advice has ever been welcome in my life. [laughter] I get so much of it on social media and I'm like, "shut up! No." But I didn't ask for this. But that was a really thought-provoking thing for me. Because she was right, if I printed on fabric and sewed it into a bag - and by the way, that's one of the reasons I learned how to sew ... was so that I could sew bags, sell them - but if I did that, then maybe I would be able to sell these bags for a little bit more than I would sell the prints.
Jen Hewett 29:09
And the first thing I ever printed on fabric was a bag. And that went viral because it was early days of blogging, probably 2010, not early days, but it was ... blogs were a big thing. And it went viral. And everybody was reposting it, of course this was before Instagram. Um, and I sold out of that really quickly and I printed that and sewed that for years until I was sick and tired of printing and sewing bags, and retired from that, but I think I've come back full circle. I'm not a fine artist, as much as I would love to be one, where right now, where my energies are focused is really on very commercial art and having what I do be accessible to people and not just accessible, but usable. That it's nice to have something on your wall because that's evergreen, you're looking at it. It's beautiful. But it's also really wonderful to have something that's beautiful that can be used for other purposes, that you can sew into a quilt or make into a garment or make napkins with or curtains, or in my case, hang on my wall and look at. [laughter] Zoom background.
Jen Hewett 30:19
And so what I'm designing now for fabric, and that's a lot of what I'm doing these days, fabric, home collections, I'm really thinking about how the use of this can elevate an everyday experience. Especially right now, since we're all home, if we're lucky, we get to stay home, surrounding yourself with things that are meaningful and beautiful. And that thought has been put into, I really, I my work is not trendy. It never has been. I don't chase trends, I've been really lucky that I've been able to do my own thing. That's partly because I had a day job for so long to support myself while I was getting my art career off the ground. But I try to create things that I feel are timeless. And a lot of what I'm doing right now, a lot of the collections I'm putting together for fabric and for home deck are actually things that I did in 2014, 2015. Yeah. So maybe things that people didn't want to buy back then, but then have had, that are coming around now or things that were great back then that just are looking for a bigger audience now. But I think it's important, for me at least, to have things that have some kind of permanence.
Lisa Woolfork 31:36
Yes. I like that: the question of permanence, as well as accessibility. I really like that: the idea of how do we turn art into something accessible? And if you think about the stationery you were doing, like you were saying, like you can send a card to a friend, it's like sending them a little, sending them art in the mail. Like, sometimes like I know, I save a lot of cards that I get. I save them. And I'll even hang some of them up because of that, the currency. It's almost like it's moving through this kind of cycle of exchange. I'm wondering about, if you could talk a bit about the differences. And I guess you already done so, the differences a bit between fine art and commercial art? Do you see a parallel, perhaps, between, like high fashion and ready-to-wear because sometimes people will look at a fashion show on a runway and be like, "Oh my gosh, I would never wear that." But the purpose of high fashion on a runway, I think, is similar to perhaps fine art that hangs in a museum. It's not meant for you to buy that and have it in your house or to buy that and wear that. It's to reflect or inspire something or tell some story. And what's available every day is going to be quite different but no less valuable. I don't know if you have any particular thoughts on that. Because I don't know if I've ever heard the phrase commercial ... I've heard commercial art in terms of ... I don't even know if I've heard the phrase commercial art. I don't know if I know that. Or maybe you said corporate art, it was something about working for, creating art for wider distribution.
Jen Hewett 33:09
Yes, a commercial art would be, I think ... graphic design used to fit under that too. So licensed work, etc. Most of that is commercial art. And actually, I think the bulk of what artists do, and designers do is actually commercial art. Fine art, for the most part, is either, you know, a one-off, or it's a very limited edition run if you're a printmaker, or working with a printmaker. And it's not really reproduced, whereas commercial art, it's reproduced in many different ways for a really wide audience. And I would love to be a fine artist. I think there's much more of ... there's a lot more thought in a way that goes into fine art because often when I think about ... so Bisa Butler, who is a fine artist, right? And there's a very definite theme. There's a very definite message behind her work. And right now it happens to be very popular, deservedly. But she would always be a fine artist. Now would I design the fabric that maybe she uses in her texttile? I would love to, right, and that's the commercial purpose. But she's got a really clear vision and a really clear message that she's trying to convey. And whereas I definitely have a clear vision, there's not always a clear message that I'm trying to convey. Because the work, my work, that's getting out there is ... it has to sell. Whereas Bisa ... Her work is going to sell, but she could create, and many fine artists do, they create and they're not creating it to sell, they're creating it to get the message across, or to convey something. And they want to sell it, hopefully, but they're not designing it to be ... to have mass appeal.
Lisa Woolfork 34:58
So that makes sense. That makes sense. No, that's really wonderful. And so I'm so enjoying this. And it reminds me of, in some ways, like your unique vision. And that was one of the principles I learned from the book, when you were talking about what it means to create reproducible patterns. And you said that, I think you had a leaf or a frond going 123. And then you flipped it at the third or the fourth, and you were saying, there's something about, instead of doing it every other one, which makes it more regular, you flipped it at the third or the fourth, to just give that little pop. What made you think of that? Because that just seems like such an interesting thing about the way that the brain tracks ... come up with that with that number. It's such a really interesting observation that you have, and that you ... that you put in your fabric.
Jen Hewett 35:51
I talk a lot about thinking with your hands. That's ... But again, it comes back to this, what do you tell people who want to get started and they can't get started? It's they're all up here, they're all up in their heads, you know, and especially with craft, if you're all up in your head, you're not going to get anything done, because the making is in your hands, especially when you're a beginner. And so I talk about thinking with my hands, and a lot of my design work is actually done still really manually, like I'm working on this big surface design project right now. And I just went to my iPad and started drawing and everything looked wrong. And I thought, you know what, I'm going to need to go back and just get out my pencil and a piece of paper and just draw it over and over again and make all the tweaks until I get it to look right. And then I can go to my iPad. And just remembering that you got to get your hands dirty, for me. And with printing, I don't know what the pattern is going to look like until I just fudge it a few times and print it on fabric and play with placement and color. And it takes a little bit longer to do it that way ... actually takes a lot longer. I'll be honest. But I end up with these results that are maybe different than if I just sat down at a computer and laid out a repeat pattern and had done the easiest thing.
Lisa Woolfork 37:09
Yeah. And how do you know when you are satisfied? How do you know when you're like this is it? I ... this is it ... I've arrived at it ... How do you determine the difference between a mistake and a design opportunity? How do you, like, how do you deal with something when you're like, "Oh, I don't know, I think I'm off on this." What .... How do you deal with that?
Jen Hewett 37:32
This is an answer that people probably aren't going to like but I just know. And part of that is that I've been doing this long enough now - 10 years now. And some change that I know and I have ... I trust my eye. I think there's a certain amount of confidence that I developed in my 30s where I just, I trust myself a lot. And ... but if something looks off, just put it aside and come back to it the next day. And often I work through things in my sleep. So I'll wake up the next morning, "oh, this is actually how it's supposed to look." And with client work right now, I'm working on a project ... I sent off a design that I thought was pretty good, but I just had been looking at it too long. And really this is ... so this isn't a licensed design. This is actually for packaging. And I sent it off to the creative director and I said I would love your feedback. I am open to feedback from the people who are in the position to give feedback, I will just say that, again, I am open to feedback from the people who are in a position to give feedback. [laughter]
Lisa Woolfork 38:40
Pages on the internet? Not in a position.
Jen Hewett 38:43
But I sent it to creative director, she said, "Oh, I think you need to change the line weights so we have more variable line weight. And I think it would look better if you adjusted these leaves so that they look this way. And I thought, "Yeah, that is that ... thank you." So that's great with client work. But for the most part, if it's just work that I'm doing for license or for myself, I know what I need to do. I know when it looks good. I know when to push it, and I know when to stop.
Lisa Woolfork 39:12
And then that's one of the things that ... that for those of us who have seen your work and looking at the prints you have, looking at the fabric collections, and we get to see what you trusting yourself looks like. We get to see the end result. And to see how beautiful that is. And that becomes a message to the maker that you're sending, right, through your work that says hey, I trusted myself to create this. Now you can have this, you can buy this product, you can buy this fabric and go trust yourself to make something with it. It's like continuing the story, which I think is really beautiful. So I'm so glad to know that. Thank you for that. I wanted to shift to talk a little bit about what you ... like I know you said you've been involved in ... Is it Black Women Printmakers or Women Printmakers of ...
Jen Hewett 40:01
Black Women of Print. BWOP.
Lisa Woolfork 40:04
In Black Women of Print, as well as the new book that you're working on. Can you talk a bit about what is life like, as a Black woman artist? Why is it important for us to have and create and defend our own spaces, our own stories, in this field, in this community?
Jen Hewett 40:26
That could be a whole separate book.
Lisa Woolfork 40:28
[laughter] I know, I know, it's like in our last 10 minutes, Jen, I'd like you wrap up the whole thing about the Blacks, okay? Jump right in.
Jen Hewett 40:38
It can be a little bit lonely, particularly what I do, which is license work, surface design, work, fabric design in particular. There aren't a lot of us. I joke that there are five of us. And it confuses people. We're all at quilt market together. They're calling us by each other's names.
Lisa Woolfork 40:58
I was gonna ask. [laughter] Who do they think you are?
Jen Hewett 41:01
Somebody took my class, she was in my class, she had registered to take my class, she is in my class. And she kept calling me Latifah, after Latifa Saafir. And I'm like, first of all, Latifah is like a foot shorter than me - I'm five foot eight. Latifah's probably barely five feet tall. I haven't actually met Latifah in real life. We just correspond all the time. So that happens. So it can be, it can be lonely. But I also ... a lot of my life on social media is really about setting boundaries and pushing back. And letting people know what is acceptable and not acceptable before they say the wrong thing. I want to make them think twice before they say some nonsense on my posts. I also ... and this is something I've been working through in the last, since quarantine happened. But what I do is aspirational for a lot of women, particularly white women, who are involved in quilting. They want to design fabric, yes ... they're artists, or they want to be artists ... and so they project a lot of things onto me. And there's sometimes a familiarity that I am like, I don't know, you, when I assert my beliefs, or my values, or any talk about anything about my experiences of being the only black woman in a room or talk about politics. There are some of them who have a meltdown. Because I think they so strongly identify with what I do - that veil is broken when I say this is who I am.
Jen Hewett 42:48
And ... and I've had like white friends say .... they'll say, "I see this all the time, on your social media. I can't believe the shit you have to put up with on a regular basis." It's gotten to the point where I delete comments. So that's part of it. And I have a very dear friend, George McCalman, who founded black bridge club here in San Francisco. And San Francisco, when I moved here was probably about 15% black. I think now it's about 3 or 4%. And so this is really a space for a lot of us to gather and talk and George is an incredibly talented and accomplished graphic designer and fine artist, and soon to be published author. And his book is my Godbaby. That's what I tell him all the time. We have the same agent. And when George Floyd was murdered ... what was it, back in June? It feels like an eternity ago but also a couple weeks ago, we both started getting all kinds of messages from friends and strangers, and by friends, really acquaintances, and strangers, wishing us ... saying they were thinking of us ... white friends and strangers ... thinking of us, hoping we'll let them know if there's anything they could do. And I was like, "I don't know you." Right? Like, I'm going through this and I don't want to have to help you process your emotions. Because I've been dealing with this for 45 years and you're new to it. And so you need to, you know, work on that on your own. Yeah.
Jen Hewett 44:05
And so George and I started texting back and forth about all the ridiculousness we are receiving. We were screenshotting. I have another group that I call the petty auntie group chat, where we take ... we screenshot and we send each other the stupid stuff we get. George and I separately wrote essays about our experience and he just had, it just closed, the most incredible show of his - and I'll send you the link, maybe if you'd like to include that in the show notes - most incredible show of paintings, all type, all letter forms, of the things that white folks had texted him or said to him in June, in response. And he even went and collected them. And of course, George is not a black woman. He's a black man, but he's not a black woman. But because we both work in design and we both, by default, when you're working in design, you're working with predominantly white teams, white clients, white coworkers ... that a lot of times we feel really alone. And so there are a lot of experiences that ... do I push back against this? Do I say something? Do I just let it go and vow not to work with that person again? Do I ... Because I'm tired at the end of the day, do I just recap this and tell George among other people?
Lisa Woolfork 45:23
Jen Hewett 45:23
But there's this real sense that having community allows us to process and talk about the loneliness in some spaces, the foolishness in some spaces, and to just externalize it and say, this happened to me and I'm moving on. And my life has been a series of this happened to me, and I'm moving on. Like, it's still there, it will always be there. That changes how I interact with people. That changes who I'm willing to work with, all of that. But at the same time, if I were to internalize that all the time, it'd be like I never left Mrs. Gray's ... Mrs. Gray's fifth grade class.
Lisa Woolfork 46:06
Exactly. I was just thinking when you talking about community, that it's like what you've created when you had your older cousins, when your older cousin say, "Oh, no, Mrs. Gray is a problem, or this teacher is a problem." You get to see that other ... that this experience is not unique to you. And that this is something that.. What's that?
Jen Hewett 46:26
Unfortunately, and fortunately
Lisa Woolfork 46:29
Exactly. And that's what, and that's one of the things, and that's what I love about community. That's why I and that's why I build community. That's what, I mean, like that has really gotten me through and just our ability to share these stories like you have with your petty auntie group chat just to say, "Look, just look, real quick look at this." Because I was like, I just want to make sure that I'm not gaslighting myself. This person is very committed to, this is gaslighting, right, this is ... okay, just want to make sure. Okay, it is. Okay. No, I think that's absolutely beautiful because that's how ... I always remind myself that black folks have survived worse with fewer resources than I have. And not just survived worse - thrived. We've thrived. We have that, we have that. And so like I continue ... I have to sometimes, several times a day, remind myself [laughter] that white folks have always been with the foolishness. And that's not about me, it's nothing to do with me. But this notion of trying to make you responsible for their feelings. And I think that you did a really beautiful job explaining that your career is aspirational. And because they buy your book, because they buy your fabric, because they follow you on social media, because they like the post, because they feel as though they have a right to you as a public figure ... there's a lot of line stepping. And so I'm really glad to hear that you draw those lines and say this is one you can't step over.
Jen Hewett 47:55
No. And I will push back, I have pushed back. And sometimes I don't have to push back anymore. And sometimes my followers just jump in there and ... like that, I've done my job.
Lisa Woolfork 48:05
But that is why I think it's become so important to have the groups that we have that ... so that for us to have community to remind each other to remind ourselves of what is possible. And what, what our true, what our true ... I don't know, what our true circle is, what our true circle of influence can be. But that's something that I've really appreciated, at least for me, like, it's really helped me feel like less alone. And less like, "Am I the only person that's noticing this? Because this is a problem." And that's something I really love. Can you talk about the book that's going to come out next year? Is that something you're able to talk about? Because I'm excited because I was ... I'm in it. I'm excited.
Jen Hewett 48:49
Yes. So this book is called This Long Thread; Women of Color on Community Craft and Connection. And it is a series of interviews, first person narratives, personal essays. I like to say it's an oral history of women of color. And, I also, I'm trying to really come to terms with the word woman because I also have non-binary folks in the book too. And so I need to work through this with my editor in terms of the title, but I will say it's non-men. How about that? So people of color who are not men who practice textile arts, crafts, fiber arts and crafts, either professionally or as hobbyists and I have fine artists, Chawne Kimber, the quilter, who is also a math professor. So she's amazing. She's amazing.
Lisa Woolfork 49:41
She does little tiny scale things like this ... "Here's the thing I made. This the size of a quarter," and I'm like, "Oh my gosh."
Jen Hewett 49:49
She sent me something and it was this little beautiful tapestry piece and all of the, like, the little tiny squares were the size of a dime. So Naiomi Glasses, who is a Diné weaver, Navajo weaver, seventh generation weaver whose family ... she's 20, I think 21, 22 or 23 ... whose family, her grand ... great great grandmother originally learned how to weave when her family was interned at Bosque Redondo because the US government was trying to steal their lands. And that's something that's been passed down. So it's just, I think there are 19 interviews, and then maybe another six profiles. You're one of the profiles. There are maybe five essays and then I write about my experiences and weave them, pun intended, throughout the book. Just really interesting stories from people again, like Naiomi, whose family has been here for ... longer than the rest of us. Recent immigrants. One, so I'm going to get her name totally wrong, so I'm not going to say it. Bojagi, which is the Korean quilting, almost, a gift wrap that's made out of really beautiful thin strips of fabric. Youngmin Lee. I was gonna call her Soya. Youngmin Lee, who immigrated to the US 20 years ago. So it's a whole gamut of people who practice these crafts.
Jen Hewett 51:08
And what I really wanted to do, because again, so much of the narrative around who practices these crafts, is focused on the dominant culture, right? So it's middle-aged, white women of means who are shown to be the market for this, even though we know that's not true. I think there was like a 2012 survey that showed that participation is pretty high. It's like 30 to 40%, in each of women practice some form of craft. And it does not change across racial or ethnic groups - that it's consistent throughout. And yet, the target market is always shown to be a very specific type of woman. And it's just not true. And what fascinated me about the interviews was just how interesting everybody's story was, how incredibly interesting every single person's story was. And the level of thought and introspection that goes into the work that they do, whether they're doing it as a hobbyist, or as professional. And so somebody like Dana Williams-Johnson, who she knit, and she just started knitting. I think her dad was in the hospital going through chemo. And that was what she did while he was getting his treatments. Like that kind of, those kinds of things, like, really interesting stories. And it's not just I picked up a kit at Michaels, and I started doing it like. Just fascinating relationships with their craft, which ... I went in with no expectations. And I thought if these interviews aren't great, they're not great. Oh, I can work with it. But every single one of them was fascinating. Every single one.
Lisa Woolfork 52:49
That's, it's fantastic. And I'm very looking forward to the book. And I really like what you're doing with this oral history as a way to intervene in these dominant narratives. And I feel like it's really only hurting the industry, it's really only hurting the craft, to have it be so isolated, to have it just reproduce the same set or the same type of folks as being the ones who matter. Like we are far past that. That was, that was, that's an old story. And we are the new story. And we've always been there.
Jen Hewett 53:22
We've always, or we're the story that nobody's read. We've been there, we've been passing the story to each other, but nobody bothered to notice until, honestly, last year. [laughter]
Lisa Woolfork 53:33
It's, it's unbelievable the way that things go in these waves. And I'm just so glad that you've been able to capture one of them, and to be able to bring so many stories to light. And again, just like with your fabric, how you are putting that out there so that we can develop and find our own confidence. The same thing I think is going on with this book. It like helps people feel like they are not alone. And that is I think such an important reminder because solidarity, community, that's how we get through. That's, that's it. That is how we ... In my opinion, that's how we get through. It's not the rugged individualism, it's not the race to the top of the pile. It's really how we live in relation, in right relation with one another. I really love that about what you've put together with this book and I'm very excited about it, not just because I'm in it, but also that part. [laughter] I just want to remind everybody that I'm in it and I'm excited.
Jen Hewett 54:31
...be back on this podcast next year just shilling the book, like... Buy the book...
Lisa Woolfork 54:36
You are invited to come back to shill the book. Absolutely. Yes. I want you to come back. I want to read it and I want to talk about some of the stories and maybe we can get a couple other people who are in it to come and talk with us for three way or four way. It would be delightful. I would love that. I would love that. Jen, this has been a delight. I don't want to keep you. I want you to go ahead and start your wonderful work day. But this has been such an honor. Where can people find you on the socials?
Jen Hewett 55:03
On the socials on Instagram? It's Jen Hewett. So JEN HEWETT. Twitter, I'm there too, but I'm a little bit more outspoken on Twitter than I am on ... I mean, you're welcome to follow me [laughter] on either one. And I do have a Facebook page that I just don't interact with at all. So, I keep getting new followers. I don't know where they're coming from, but Instagram is probably the best place.
Lisa Woolfork 55:27
All right, thank you so much. This has been fantastic. Yay.
Lisa Woolfork 55:33
You've been listening to the Stitch Please podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, 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 BlackWomenStitch@gmail.com. If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patreon, PATREON, and you can find Black Women Stitch there in the Patreon directory. And for as little as $2 a month you can help support the project with things 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 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 reviews. But for those who do, for those that have a star rating, or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us and Stitch Please podcast, that is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. Come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.