Learning Liberation

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Learn more about The Yarn Mission:




Learn more about The Social Justice Sewing Academy: 




Mentioned in episode:

Tea with Queen and J. podcast

Rebel with a Cause yarn project

Church of Black Feminist Thought

Tiny Pricks

Threads of Resistance

Adrienne Maree Brown

Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Jessica Nembhard Gordon – Collective Courage

Wombcarewomxn.com – Andrea Richardson

Read Full Transcript

Lisa 0:00:14

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 0:01:00

Hello, everybody and welcome to a special episode of this 'Stitch Please' podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch,  the sewing group where Black lives matter. As I always say for every single episode I am thrilled and delighted to be here. This I believe is our first, no this is not my first zoom episode. We did a great episode with Black Women Stitch, a two part episode just us doing our basic Thursday night kiki when we get together and we sew and talk and stuff. So we did a session about that called ‘Sis I See You’ that was our first two part episode. This one is also special. So maybe whenever we use zoom. If you see the Black Women Stitch podcast using zoom, something amazing is about to happen. Because something amazing is about to happen right now. That's because I am on the line with CheyOnna and Sara from two amazing, I would say life altering projects for people in the sewing and knitting communities. This is also my first opportunity to actually sit down and talk with a knitter with someone from The Yarn Mission. Welcome CheyOnna Sewell from The Yarn Mission and Sara Trail from the Social Justice Sewing Academy.

Lisa 0:02:14

All right, so they're waving. So here's the thing as I was saying earlier, and you might have heard this on something from last week is that this episode is going to be a special episode for Patreon Patrons, who will get a chance to see the video. I will upload the video of this zoom call to our Patreon site. If you are a patron, you get to see our amazing faces and T shirts and accessories. But if not, if that's not something you can do, that's also fine. Oh, she's got a really great shirt on, I would tell you what it says but then that would like spoil it. This is a great opportunity to become a patron. It doesn't take a lot you could do as little as $2 a month every little bit helps. So you will be seeing us but for those of you who are listening thank you for coming in. I just wanted to start with telling everyone what I believe The Yarn Mission and the Social Justice Sewing Academy mean to me personally.

Lisa 0:03:11

For me, there are certain things, certain standards, certain aspects that if they had not happened, Black Women Stitch would not exist. The ‘Stitch Please’ podcast would not exist. If I had not gone to Tea with Queen and J which is a podcast I love is called Tea with Queen and J with Janicia and Nyima it's a wonderful womanist race nerd podcast, I would not have this podcast. Listening to them really was a balm to my spirit. When I was hurting when I was exhausted and overwhelmed by combat and white supremacy in direct and indirect forms. They had such wisdom as well as humor to get me through. It made me feel like I was sitting around talking with a bunch of girlfriends about the things that were important to me. So they are essential.

Lisa 0:04:09

In the wake of my own experiences with fighting racial fighting white supremacy and that was as an organizer on the ground in Charlottesville, Virginia for what they call the summer of hate here in Charlottesville. We had a Klan rally or white supremacist rally every month the summer of 2017. We had a rally in May. That was May 2017. There was a smaller rally in June. It was a big Klan rally in July. Then there was the deadly terrorist attack, white supremacist rally in August. I was there for two of them. I was there for the Klan rally and I was there for the white supremacist rally in August of 2017. I was on the site when that car drove through the crowd and killed two people and injured very many more. My husband and I were both there and narrowly escaped injury. It was a difficult time, it was actually a difficult task that was compounded by apathy.

Lisa 0:05:10

It was compounded by a sewing community when I would go to do sewing because I wanted to relax or because I thought this was going to be something that would be good for me, it ended up being a site for more harm. It actually wasn't until I was on a retreat with the whites I called it sewing with the whites, I was on a retreat. I had already paid for the next event. I was at an event in the fall, and I was going to another event in the spring. So I paid and sent my money in. But after I was at that retreat in the fall, people asked me how I was and I was like, “Well, I'm not great, like a white supremacist tried to kill me, I we still have night terrors. It's not, I'm not great. I'm not great.” They were like, you know, no one contact me, they weren't that interested in what was happening to me.

Lisa 0:06:02

But after that retreat, I came home. A few weeks later, I found that my check for the spring event had been returned to me. No note, no letter, just my check that I had paid for the spring event, which I was already hesitant about and feeling uneasy about anyway, was returned to me. No note just here. Here's your money back. So it really does show how much I had gotten used to being in that environment. I had gotten so used to the toxicity in that environment, that I couldn't even imagine anything different. You know what I mean? I could not imagine anything different. I would tell stories to my family about Oh, yeah, I was at this thing and somebody said, blah, blah, blah, - microaggression. I was at this thing. and somebody asked me this - racist question. I was at this and you know what I mean? So it was very clear that, um, you know what it was a friend has said this, and this might sound familiar to y'all. It says that Black people are always welcome in organizations, as long as we behave a certain way. If we behave a certain way, we're okay. She called it going from pet to threat. You start out as the pet, oh, this is our colored girl. This is the one we like, this is the one who doesn't question us. This isn't the one who makes us feel uncomfortable. This is the one who actually is the one that makes us feel like we're not racist because we talked to her.

Lisa 0:07:42

But then once you go from being that pet, and if something happens, and you seem to threaten what they think or believe in any way, then you can be driven out and punished. So I decided after that after heartbroken and just just feeling so and then I was outraged, and I was embarrassed. I was so embarrassed. I was like, who did these people think I was all this time? Who? I just had this vision of them telling everybody, I had this vision of somebody else calling them racist and then saying, "No, no, no, I'm not racist. I know this Black lady. She's actually a professor and we sew together every year" you know what I mean, that was what I imagined them using me as their Black friend or their credentials to prove that they're not racist.

Lisa 0:08:28

When I put all of that together, and after I got past my, you know, shock and heartbreak and embarrassment, I said, no, no more. It took me a while to get to where I am now. I first started, I want to do something anti racist for activists. Then I was like, nope, what I really want is to be with other Black women. That's it. I want it to be and I love CheyOnna you use this phrase in some of your meetups, anti-oppression. Right? But I want it to be Black women. That is what I want. That is it. That is what I want. Since I have started on that path. You all have been guiding lights. So when I mentioned earlier about Tea with Queen and J as my guiding lights. You two are my guiding lights when I was heartbroken and frustrated friends would write me and tell me about you two. They would tell me about, "Hey, have you heard of this thing called the Social Justice Sewing Academy? Have you heard of this thing called The Yarn Mission? They do knitting for Black liberation, have you heard of them?" I'm like, no. So I reading and reading and just it just made me feel like oh my gosh, someone is doing this. This is not just happening to me. Right? There is an energy that really wants to center. The concerns of Black people that wants to center this concerns, as in your project, Sara, Black and brown students and young people in issues of systemic racism and bigotry.

Lisa 0:09:56

So that was a long intro just for me to say, and I'm so glad to be able to tell you this in person via zoom, and on and being heavily recorded on audio, that I'm very grateful to you both for the work that you did, because you have led me to this place. This is our second birthday, our second year anniversary. I really consider you all guiding lights for this program for the Black Women Stitch Project and giving me the courage to do what I needed to do to do what I wanted to do. So thank you both for that. So thank you, I just want to say, Hey, thank you, I love y'all amazing. We could end the podcast right now, all I could do is just say how amazing y'all are. But CheyOnna did you want to get started telling us about The Yarn Mission and how that got going for you?

CheyOnna 0:10:51

Yeah, um, so The Yarn Mission started kind of like, the beginning of 2015 was the first time a group of us met. I would say that it kind of was conjured in, during the last several months of 2014, when Mike Brown was murdered, in Ferguson, in the organizing around that meetings, protest, demonstrations, all of that, like I kind of just knit wherever I would go. It's a way that I ground in space, it just, is what I do. You know, people that talk to me, other folks out in the streets, and they're like, "knitting looks like it can be really calming". You know, that is, you know, a thing we think, and something I'm not gonna shove in people's faces. But like well it's an important thing. It helps with grounding, you know, and people were expressing an interest in learning how to knit.

CheyOnna 0:11:54

So some of us, we decided, well Taylor especially, and I decided that we wanted to get folks together. Taylor is my co-founder, she lives in St. Louis. She is like an amazing dreamer, and doer it's like an incredible combination. So like you don't, you don't listen to Taylor talk about doing something and it not become something is how I feel. So, you know, there was no not doing this once this idea was planted.

CheyOnna  0:10:51

So I went and I got supplies, and we met together. I invited a few folks that we were with in the streets, and I taught them all how to knit. That was, it became this thing for us to share space outside of the streets. You know, give space for that, like dreaming and creating that grounding, that just like, very a different sort of space. It is rough being in the streets, you know, like, that's what we're hearing from you. So that was really kind of where it started for us. For me, knitting made sense, right? Like, I'll tell yall cause do either of you knit?

Lisa 0:13:08

I know how to knit if someone said, you have to knit or die. I could pass. But hopefully no one will ever do that. Because I know how to do it. I'm just not 1,000% sure I remember. But I do love knitting because it's portable. I have a baby blanket I did for my boys. So I have done the knitting.

CheyOnna 0:13:31

You're covered in survival skills anyways, but like knitting's, obviously high up there. right? Um, but I think it translates into a lot of our passions, right? Knitting gives us a way to finish something during this long work. In a way, it pushes us to redefine what perfection is. It pushes us to redefine beauty. To own our place in that it places us into modes of production that we are pushed out of, by these systems, it also pushes us to say I put a lot of work into this. I've been doing this for a long time. I've been upset I got through all these feelings, I need to start over. Right. Like, that is like a real thing that happens.

CheyOnna 0:14:15

So the other thing is that like having these discussions, having discussions around Black liberation, and around cooperative economics, and around anti Black racism, and white supremacy, and patriarchy, and transphobia, that all makes sense to do just even just talking about the knitting community. So by us being able to have these conversations in this space and linking it with obviously the other reasons why we came together. I think it helps us to model the way that we can talk about it for other spaces, right like, this is the same conversation we can have about sports and schools and workplaces. The knitting community isn't special in its ability to welcome all folks throughout and be really insistent in that.

CheyOnna 0:15:12

So since then, The Yarn Mission is in a few different places, it follows me where I go, I love to see it when it jumps to other folks. It's got to be centered in Black folks. If it's Black folks leading and conjuring it, I like to think of it as a vehicle. I love that it has inspired in some ways, I always appreciate you sharing, thanks.

Lisa 0:15:37

No, it's wonderful. It really is. I love this, this story of sitting in the meetings, you know, because you want to pay focus sustained attention. I feel like you can do that and knit, you know, like, when I would do it, I would just take notes in a notebook, I would because you know, no phones, right. So I take notes in a notebook, I would, you know, anything I could do to make sure that I was just, I was paying attention and being present. I love that idea. Just basically having the knitting travel with you, which is one of the things I love about knitting.  I cannot haul this sewing machine to court. You know, if I'm going to court, I'm doing like court watch or court support or whatever, I cannot haul this thing in there. Well I don't know if they even let people bring knitting needles in there anymore.

CheyOnna 0:16:27

Some are fishy about it. But you just tell them like these are knitting needles. Sometimes it works sometimes it wont.

Lisa 0:16:35

Sara, how about you? I know that your origin story, in some ways, came out of a quilt that you made honoring Trayvon Martin, and the response that you had built. Now you have a long career in, in the sewing industry, because you wrote a book when you were young. You taught sewing to kids when you were young, you're a published author. You've been in magazines, you had your own patterns. So you were in the sewing community. You were part of it. You were recognized. You had accolades, you know, you are like, you know, you were in it. But when you brought in the Trayvon Martin quilt, suddenly there was a threat.

Sara 0:17:13

I became a threat. I moved from pet to threat. I think that that Trayvon moment was really the defining moment when it's like, yes, while this world had, you know, supposedly welcomed me with open arms. Oh, I love your cup.

Lisa 0:17:27

Oh, my mug. Oh, okay. Well, I'll tell you what my mug says. You've seen it before if you've done the lives. I'm in Charlottesville, Virginia, and my mug says, fuck your statue. If you wanna see anything else that we're talking about that's visual, you will have to become a patron. So yeah, chop chop.

Sara 0:17:47

I think that Trayvon was really when I was hit with the blatant level of not only white supremacy, but really, like the threat to Blackness, that, you know, bring your full self into this space brought? Yeah, I think I really realized that like it was more than tokenism. It was more than them checking off diversity inclusion, it was really, this isn't welcome. This isn't what we want this space to become.

Sara 0:18:11

I think since 2012, the sewing world with groups such as Threads of Resistance, and like so many people, you know, the Tiny Pricks Project like since then, politics and quilting has become more popular. However, the origins of sewing and quilting in particular have always been to some stance political. But I often think, you know, it's just, it's willful ignorance at this point to have the argument of “Oh, this doesn't belong in quilting or no, this is isn't appropiate.” I mean, flying geese and double wedding rings are great, but so are quotes with messages just equally great. That's right.

Lisa 0:18:48

The thing that I always find  frustrating, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, why is Black life seen as political?

Sara 0:18:57

I would honestly say because white fragility and the systems of whites, like they think it's by us saying Black Lives Matter that's taking it's really a threat to their privilege.  I think power and privilege is the intersection of both of which they have, and they feel by, you know, the world agreeing that Black lives matter to they're giving away something, but really, they're given something based off the color of their skin tone. It was like, like, imagine someone giving out, you know, gifts at Christmas, and every white kid gets five extra ones. You were  just given extra and we're not trying to take away what you deserve, we're just trying to like equify the field and like really just make it an equitable field. I think the threat to their humanity really shows the lack of learning of these communities.

Sara 0:19:52

The CIA came out with a, you know, an industry analyst. The average quilter makes like $74,000 that's four types of sewing machines is  typically 76. Like, there's a whole, you know, average quilter. I think if we can go deeper, you know, oftentimes quilters have stopped their education after they graduated. I think that speaks to a level of privilege in and of itself. I think being Black in America is a state of always learning, being Black in America is a state of always being on edge, being Black America's thinking how and where I enter. It's like, we're always like,  I don't know if anyone's ever read Hood Feminism that's a good book.

Sara 0:20:29

You have to think of like, how am I going to enter, am I my threat? What do they want me to say? You have to always live, as you shared Lisa, not trying to get my deposit revoked. I'm always trying to live in a space where it's like, I'm being palatable enough for these white people. Let me be extra articulate, so that they, you know, they want to listen and talk with me, right? You know, wear something too loud or let me not, you know, have colors in my hair this week, because I don't want to, I want to be digestible, so they can interact and build a relationship with me. It's really a fact of double consciousness, it's twice as much work to be, quote on quote seen as half as good in this white quilting industry.

Lisa 0:21:11

That's right. That's right. I think it is true that in Dubois with double consciousness, it's this constant seeing yourself through the eyes of others, and it's exhausting. It's exhausting. It's not healthy. Why should we have to do this? It doesn't, there's no point to it, you know, and I understand why people do it is so that you can you know, be employed and that we can kind of engage in all these different things. But it seems to me that any relationship that's built on me not being my whole self. What kind of relationship is that?

Sara 0:21:43

You know, an exploited one.

Lisa 0:21:46

Yes, that's true. That is true. That is true. So what are some of the what's some of what forms of resistance have you met, CheyOnna when starting the knitting? So if you all meet up at a group, and that's one of the things that was I was, I was so moved and in love with your project about, you say, we are knitting for Black liberation, we get a group of people together, and we knit for Black liberation. That means what in your words?

CheyOnna  0:22:16

Like what knitting for Black liberation means?

CheyOnna 0:22:20

For especially, in the beginning, it meant being able to like, explicitly align ourselves, right? Because what we're saying is that people will purposely try to put our Blackness into like this side category, and be like, “Oh, no, they don't really want to be a knitter first, right? Like they, they just want to be in this space with us. They're not like,”

Lisa 0:22:44

"They're not like the other Blacks" Right.

CheyOnna 0:22:52

One of the things that I noted in the beginning is that, like, you know, as people who do like, art in public, and just as Black and brown bodies, like people invade our space a lot, right? Like, our privacy is not really a thing. We seem exotic to them. So they're like, oh, What are you doing" and everything and it seems cordial until you actually are telling them what you're doing. You didn't come over here to just make conversation. There's not this knitting community that you think, you were one, checking my credentials. Two, you thought that I would fit somewhere different.

CheyOnna  0:23:27

You thought this would just be some comfortable space for you. Like, you don't get comfortable spaces, people are dying, people are losing liberty. So being able to, like just be knitting at an airport and someone be like, oh, "What are you doing?" I was like, "Oh, you know, I knit with Yarn Mission for Black liberation. I'm working on a sweater," you know, like, so it was just a really powerful thing to note. For me, I've been like really dreaming and framing the ways that I think about things because of there was two I mentioned them on ‘Lady Dye Yarns’ podcast with Rebel With A Cause that Alexis Pauline Gumbs who is like,

Lisa 0:24:16

I know her! She's awesome.

CheyOnna 0:24:17

Yes! So like read everything she's ever done and follow all of her projects. They just did this like, Black feminism... Oh, Combahee.

Lisa  0:24:33

They're doing a re-up on that. Right?

CheyOnna  0:24:35

I think this one has ended for registration, but I would follow it on every platform possible. I got in but everyone needs it. Because it's her stories, like her channeling that really affects me. So she told a story. She recounted a dream that Harriet Tubman had, and she woke up saying we are free and so now I recognize that like, depending on how you think about time, if you know how you just think about being, like, we already have our liberation, people are trying to keep us from it. So it is ours and it is ours to have what it exactly looks like and how we exactly live it. One I haven’t resolved is kind of momentary, perhaps right now, because there are these obstacles. We get to constantly dream into it together. I'm about art spaces that are named as face, even though you show up and knit with us, we're not like, constantly going through queer Black feminist theory or anything, you know, right? We build a space around a value, that means that we can have that space to just let us feel what that looks like in ourselves. It helps us dream it.

CheyOnna 0:25:51

Also Ricardo Levins Morales. He had noted that, like, he doesn't like the language of struggling, and it's hard to separate because we're obviously doing hard work, right, like we're working. Yeah, it is. Because struggle makes it, it almost makes it seem indefinite that like, we're gonna just keep in this, this fight, you know, and like, we're really on this path. I think about those things, I'm finding that like, we hold this, even though we're not holding it, you need visual for that. See?

Lisa 0:26:22

Visual, so y'all again, get on the Patreon so you can see what we're doing. There's some very good hand movements going on right now.

CheyOnna 0:26:29

Yes. So I really, you know, but like, being able to frame it around Black liberation helps me be really intentional about that, like we're an anti-oppressive collective, because we are firmly rooted in an intersectional framing of things, which means that I know that when Black Lives are free, we're all free. I don't like I can focus on where I am, and in my place, because I know that my power analysis is legit and strong, right. So that's like, that's kind of where we are. So I feel like we started in a place of being able to have these discussions. We quickly realized that like, cooperative economics are really important to us. Collective Courage by Jessica Nembhard Gordon is like a really great read.

Lisa  0:27:20

I’m gonna ask you to put this stuff in the chat so that I can include it all in the show notes so people can find the readings that you're doing, and continue, was there something else you wanted to add?

CheyOnna 0:27:32

Oh, I was just gonna say that that's kind of like a big part of where we are now. We realize that our tenants are to be pro-Black, pro-rebellion and pro-community. We realize that if you like our framing is in a cooperative, collective thriving and surviving mode. We've really grown organically together in these ways.

Lisa 0:27:59

It's like, you're acting like you're already there, like you already have it.

CheyOnna 0:28:02

I think that we can think of moments where it's like, we get to, like, live our liberation in different ways, is what I call it. So like, I think we have these moments where we're like, this space. Like, even though I recognize that we came to this space because of these oppressions. I also feel like in this space, we claim something for ourselves, you know, like, it was already ours. We got to, like, live it together for these moments, so we had to be really cognizant of how we did that. That's kind of like where my framing and discussion of it is right now. I just, um, I'm not a super like hopeful, optimistic person and kind of cynical and jaded. Yet, you know, like, I'm not I just don't like giving away stuff all the time like that liberation is ours, we have that, that is ours, we will have it fully and emcompassingly, I don't want to give it away.

Lisa 0:29:01

One of the things I love about what you're saying as well as and this will connect to Sara, I remember I was telling Sara earlier about this project called Church of Black Feminist Thought based out of Oakland, it's fantastic. I participated in the month of June and Alexis Pauline Gumbs was the focus reading and she had a quote that I wrote down and had never forgotten. I'm going to continue because it's such a great mantra and it is, "Freedom is not a secret. It is a practice." "Freedom is not a secret. It is a practice." It just reminds me that every single day when you're going you're doing the work of your projects, what you are doing is it's a practice. You know you are breaking down things, you are building something, you are dismantling something, this is something we have to practice. I don't know I just thought it was such a beautiful reminder.

Lisa 0:29:58

I had a friend, an organizer that I met a few years ago. One of the things that she would do when she was trying to make a decision, she would say, "Does this feel like liberation?" She would ask herself, "Does it feel like liberation? Does this feel like liberation?" if it didn't feel like liberation, she wouldn't do it. That's a pretty good, I don't know rubric or whatever you use whatever decision making tree you need to do to make choices and whatever flowchart you need to put something in in order to say yes or no. Yeah, and Alexis is definitely about Black women saying no to more things so we can get to better yeses.


Lisa 0:30:42

You are listening to learning liberation, a special second anniversary slash birthday episode for Black Women Stitch. This is a three way conversation between Lisa from Black Women Stitch, Sara Trail from the Social Justice Sewing Academy and CheyOnna Sewell from The Yarn Mission. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation about what it means to build a values led organization, and other things that have become so important for the structure of these amazing projects. Stay tuned.

‘Stitch Please’ podcast is delighted to celebrate the second anniversary or birthday of Black Women Stitch. If you have been following the Black Women Stitch page on Instagram, you know that there are a lot of birthday wishes that I have put down to help celebrate the milestone of our second anniversary. One of those wishes is a Patreon drive. Patreon is a peer to peer service. It allows artists and creatives to be supported by the people who appreciate their work.

For as little as $2 a month. Your contribution can help sustain the 'Stitch Please' podcast and the Black Women Stitch project as a whole. My original goal for Patreon was to get 50 subscribers. We have smashed that expectation. I am now trying to double that expectation. So the new goal is 100 Patreon subscribers and guess where we are now? We are at 80! We are so close to 100. So if 20 people can give $2 a month or commit to $2 a month to Black Women Stitch, we will hit double that 50 which is pretty cool considering I turned 50 this year, and two of my birthday celebrations were canceled. So this is an opportunity to celebrate celebrate two times two times by taking that 50 from the original Patreon wish and turning it into 100. Thanks so much for considering this. The Patreon link to Black Women Stitch is in the show notes as well as other wishes, including the Amazon wish list for things that will help sustain the project and the podcast. Now back to the special conversation with Sara Trail from the Social Justice Sewing Academy and CheyOnna Sewell from The Yarn Mission. Thanks for listening.


Lisa 0:33:11

Sara, can we pivot to you to talk a bit about what you see in some of the results of the work that you’ve produced. I know that you’ve had so many challenges. I know you said that you appreciated the phrase that I offered, going from pet to threat. I know you’ve seen that with the work of the kids, you put these gorgeous quilra together and you take them to a quilt show and some white lady loses her shit because it's a picture of Barack Obama or quotes from the actual president of the United States that are racist. They're all like, “Well, this is not appropriate. Let's take this down on blah, blah, blah” how do you manage that and what kind of... I guess, what kind of things have you experienced and how do you work past that?

Sara  0:34:04

I think, really, it's about censorship. I think it's stemming, again, from a lot of white for fragility in the quilt industry. Examples being been at local quilt shows in the bay where I mean, even Sacramento guild is like, Oh, we want quilts by kids. We heard you guys kids quilts. I said, Okay, I sent them the photos, they said, “Oh, we didn't know that they had words and images. We don't want to name your kid quilts.” I was like, “Okay, well, shouldn't have asked, but it's fine.” You know, whatever. I think oftentimes, I just brush it off. Not everyone's gonna like what you know, kids have to say, but it's okay. We're not going to, you know, try to fight at a seat of a table that we're really not being invited to, let's just build our own. I think if they had intentionally, you know, built our own table in the sense that we have our own community. We have our own allies.

Sara  0:34:48

This point we've been in shows where again, you know, Brian's quilt, blood white and blue with nooses. You know, a lot of people complained and, you know, the show quilt owner said, “Hey, let's just take this quilt down”, like okay, that's fine. However, I'm going to let the community know what happened. I'm sure that our community's gonna let you know you know how problematic that is, but we're not going to fight it in the moment. It's always you know, better to, we'll just have the decorum to do it, you know, behind closed doors, you're not going to we're appreciative to be there, you know, we do appreciate showing, we're not going to get the whole tub thrown out the bathwater, thrown out the baby or whatever that old saying is. But I think really, it's a it's a call to bring in the community support these kids to be whiteness speaking for whiteness, the sense of these institutions are, who's running them, who's leading them, and who dedicated to you that needs to be speaking, it's like, at this point, I'm value my emotional labor, I value my time. When these type of you know, circumstances arise, I really have an amazing network in SJSA, you know, volunteers, and just the community in general, will not only speak up, stand up, I mean, see something, say something, do something. I really think that they live that mantra.

Lisa  0:35:55

Oh, that's great. That's great. So they can I know that we've had this, um, I know that Ravelry had its own experience with racism. That was, and this idea of Ravelry coming out to say, “No, we don't, you know, we're going to ban Trump racism.” So people were applauding Ravelry for that, even as though there was some Black women who were involved early on, who continued to get doxxed and continue to have really harmful experiences from that fallout. Now I think Ravelry is still in some shit now, because of their new website. Right, because of the something with the new website, I thought that it wasn't accessible. That, I don't know, there's been some issues. But I've been I mentioned Ravelry, because it shows, it just shows. I think that one of the things, one of the points I'd like to make is that all of these institutions that people believe to be neutral, are only seen as neutral because whiteness renders itself invisible. You know, they see the sewing community as neutral who doesn't like to sew, who doesn't like to quilt, who doesn't like to knit, they see that as neutral, and they see Black people being there, just being there, as some type of a political statement.

Lisa  0:37:11

It goes back to what you were saying, Sarah, about white fragility, white fragility, and white supremacy, saying that these things are supposed to be a certain way they're supposed to, when they look at their demographic research, and I saw some recently from Threads magazine, that said, I think the average subscriber of their magazine was in their early 70s, like late 60s, early 70s. I'm like, that's hard to build a future. In that demographic, if you want that to be something that's sustainable, you know. So, I don't know, I just feel like, I personally got tired. I got tired of feeling like I had to hold my breath, to wait for the other shoe to drop. I got tired of feeling like I was, I don't know, a pet. What I don't, I don't, I don't know, I don't know, feel like being like, I'm the individual. I'm the Black friend of everybody in this damn guild. You know, they're one Black friend. But these folks were clearly in the more time I spent, the more I realized that they were not at all comfortable with a Black peer, a Black mouth. Something that really galled me was some of these people would send money to go on missions to Black countries. send money to go on missions to Black countries. I don't know if they had a Black friend. But they would lock their doors when driving through Black neighborhoods in the city they lived in. Or they would think about Black people in America as lazy criminals. But they like the Black people that they could find across the world. It was just, I, I really, one of the reasons I'm so passionate about it now is that I feel like I've wasted so many years of my life with that bullshit. You know, and if I can help somebody to not have to do that, to show them that this is not what's up, you know, that you that there's nothing that they have, that you can't have.

CheyOnna 0:39:22

It's ours! Our history is embedded in this!

Lisa 0:39:25

Our history is embedded in this just like everything else in this country. Our work, our blood, our tears, our DNA, all of that is in here. And don't let them tell you otherwise. You know, even though there's it's so hard, I think to see yourself in the generalized sewing, quilting and knitting communities. It's hard to see a reflection of Black folks there. You know, I find it very difficult if you google sewing, if you google images for knitting, you google images from quilting and you see a person, it's gonna be a white person, you know, and Instagram as well like pages upon pages, that which is unmarked is that which is white. That is a form of white supremacy, it's like carbon monoxide, you know. Then when you pointed out, you say, “Hey, this is carbon monoxide, I think is poison.” They'll say like, “No, no, no, it's just air. Why do you always bring stuff like this up? Everybody was happy until you said something?” Well, you know, I was just like, so relieved to have created a space to create a group to create an opportunity where no one would have to do that. But there was no way we could all just be who we are. We don't always agree on everything, of course, because we're different people and have different ways of doing things. But one thing you don't have to worry about is having someone say something horribly racist. then you have to just write it down. So you can tell your friends later, because you don't want to get into it and  have a big battle.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Lisa 0:41:01

So tell me what is next for you? What are you doing next CheyOnna ? What are you doing right now, and what are the next steps for you for Yarn Mission.

CheyOnna 0:41:18

So we tired... There's just so many layers.

Lisa 0:41:28

It's only been six months, but it's like every day... It's been a year, yeah.

CheyOnna 0:41:33

Yeah and a hard year, a hard year and with still a bunch of people telling you, “It hasn't been that hard”, so that then you can watch them next year talking about... “Oh my goodness. Did you see what happened last year?”

Lisa 0:41:48

I was telling you it was hard then! “Damn you sure I don't remember you saying nothing like that?”

CheyOnna 0:41:51

“I think I would have registered that I would have, like totally”... so that is how things are feeling. I would say that we're constantly... My constant thing is figuring out exactly the path we wanna be on and making sure that we know who our people are, so Black folks come to if you’d like, join us, send me an email, follow us, whatever. Andrea, who does Wound Care Woman with an X, Womb Care Womxn. She does spiritual services and consultations tarot reading type Reiki and stuff, but also does Birth Care, it all forms and very inclusive, but centering Black folks. Right. She has really inspired and reminded me that I know I'm talking to Black folks, and The Yarn Mission’s following is not mostly Black folks, right.

CheyOnna 0:43:07

Especially because it was an obvious thing that we needed to counter right away is that people regardless of our alignment, wanted to place us in the same category of caring for people. They still are like, Oh well, you do this kind of protest, or your activism is this... And it's like, Did I not tell you that we man the streets, did I not tell you that I was already about no cops, no jails. But they put us and they still kept trying to put this in this category, and they continue to, and were very critical about what spaces we appear in and speak in. I already knew who I tend to talk to, who my folks are, who I view my audience as, and I just, I'm just kind of like the rest of yall are here, but you're not in my space, you're not framing the space for me, but becoming more explicit about it, something that Andrea has really inspired me about, and it's super wonderful to shout out represent

Lisa 0:44:17

Put the link to her info in the chat, and I'll put all of this in the show notes so that people can follow and find her too.

CheyOnna 0:44:23

Will do. So I think for us, a lot of it is just like, we already have the language and we already have the alignment to navigate this, and so we are really figuring out the ways that we wanna build and the ways that we wanna continue doing what we do. In the ways that we wanna hold space for other Black folks and especially Black fem folks to come to as they’re open to it, as they're learning that there are these spaces, there are these possibilities. So trying to build specific spaces for that, having these explicit conversations about abolition and cooperative economics, but then we do what we do,

CheyOnna 0:44:06

Taylor is going to drop an amazing and beautifully photographed line of her crop top sweaters, which are beautiful, but not knitting standard, popular right? But no, people need these, they are beautiful, brightly colored, wonderfully patterned, and she names them after our folks like our ancestors, like Harriet and such, so Tony... So I feel like these times are hard, and we know that, we've been that, so we are just trying to continue to do the work that we set out to do, and we try to continue to be true to ourselves, and I'm constantly wanting for us to be able to link more people in as they are wanting. We want community, we wanna be together and we wanna be intentional about that, that's what I'm about.

Lisa 0:46:01

That's wonderful. Excellent. Sara, how about you? What are you all doing right now?

Sara 0:46:06

Right now, we're working on building an SJSA Summer Youth incubator program, it's gonna have kids maybe age 16 to 25 and be able to mentor them with seed grants, funding and industry expertise to help their own businesses thrive. That’s gonna be our summer goal, have some perhaps VPs, just connect them with the industry experts in terms of navigating the space. If we have some young people of color that wanna make a screen printing business or soap or knit or whatever they wanna do. As we read the applications, you start pairing up what kind of mentors we want for this program based on what the kids' interests are. But really giving them the seed grant money to get off the ground, letting them know there are industry people who believe in you, and although you might not intentionally have this network due to perhaps lack of access, we're gonna make sure that we can connect with some people who are doing similar like-minded work you can help navigate whether that's graphic design, video design, website editing, logo making, vision/mission, etcetera statements, that's gonna be our summer program, and then are two other big projects that were focused on that are also pretty driven, is the SJSA Remembrance Project and then Quilts For Remembrance.

Sara 0:47:16

The remembrance project is when you sign up and kind of like similar to the AIDS quilt, it's like the BLM version of the AIDS quilt. It's gonna be a national huge covering of just instead of having quotes, its banners and really just remember how many people have to be murdered before we end this in terms of systemic... not just police brutality, its neighbors killing each other, Black on Black crime, it's all encompassing, just all these lives have been lost in really the lack of justice that have come to the cases. Then the second part of that project, it's making a quilt for the actual family, the quilting world, as you commented on Latifa’s post, the quilting world steps up for veterans, they step up for the Pulse masacre, that up for people whose houses get burned down, when did the quilting world ever step up for Black families with white supremacy taking their kids and racial profiling taking their kids and stereotyped spread all sorts of things from Tamir Rice being 12 to Trayvon being 17, there’s systems and it’s not about people, and it's not a one-time thing, it's a constant genocide, so the quilt rememberance project is really to give the entire family and quilt for them to use.

Lisa 0:48:28

I wanted to ask you all a question about what advice you might give to Black women who are fine themselves in the position that I was in two years ago, a little more than two years ago. I was able to take some of the heartbreak that I had as well as some of the excitement about trying to build something new, what kind of advice would you give? You've been knitting or sewing or quilting with this group, these horrible things have happened all around the world, and not only will your guild not make a BLM statement, your guild thinks that there's too much energy given to the politics, and this is a politics-free zone or there's people in your guild, in your community or white folks in your community who are saying things like, “I'm sick of this, I'm sick of hearing these statements from companies, I'm sick of having to think about it, I'm sick of blah, blah, blah”  and so they're dealing with a lot of newly shocked Black people out there, they are newly shocked. We are not shocked 'cause we've already been shocked, we already know, but there's a lot of folks for whom this is new. What kind of advice would you give to these sisters who are out there just trying to... Like, What do I do next? How do I move forward? How do I proceed with my creativity in spaces and environments that are better hostile?

Sara 0:50:00

I would say the number one thing is the day you feel so liberated today, you stop waiting for white acceptance. Right now, especially with social media, I'd say If you want some more community, you can find it virtually with Black Women Stitch or SJSA, we have Latfia, we have Ebony, we have Black Makers Matter. Intentionally, you can stop waiting for the acceptance or the genuine bringing in of a guild that might be racially hostile, and really just find it online, you can find in other spaces, you can zoom, you could reach out, and I think, especially on social media nowadays, you can intentionally build a new community that is gonna welcome all aspects of your identity. but I really think you and stop waiting on people, who might not necessarily accept all of you, or accept any of you.

Lisa 0:50:50

That's good. Yeah, CheyOnna what do you think? I know that Yarn Mission is similar, like you know this is a project where Black is about Black liberation. You know, you can go there and you're gonna be okay.

CheyOnna 0:51:01

Yeah, and on Facebook, there's the Black Fiber Society, which I really want to pour love and attention into and get into a capacity to do that. Yeah, people can come and join it as for Black folks interested in fiber working in fiber, aspiring to love fiber, it's come to. I think that you can figure out your personal alignment because as directly effective folks, you don't have to do anything. I want you to survive, I want you to thrive. I don't want us to harm any other directly marginalized people, yet I want us to know that we deserve grace, there's no wrong move for us. So some of us are gonna be more focused on the navigating and the building and doing and such and some of us are aligned in a way that we are going to really be pushing other folks like folks that are not invested in us, and maybe that's your lane in this work, that is not the way that I am in in.

CheyOnna 0:52:20

For all of us, I mean that it is useful to ground ourselves in community and in each other. So find your folks, find your true folks, find your true folks where you can come with your whole self and where your loudness can be appreciated. My personal alignment is be loud, but it means that those closest to me are gonna hear me the most, and I'm not going to lie I don't really reach out and be trying to pull people to do different. I find folks where I wanna be, and I build with folks, that's just my personal alignment. I'm not trying to convert racists, I'm trying to build with Black folks. So I think that there's space for all of those moves, I think that it all really matters and being grounded together, and so I really appreciate the conversations about communal self-care, and that's something that I think you can get from Andrea, I'm gonna drop her site, but also Adrienne Maree Brown.

Lisa 0:53:26

I know her I met her!

CheyOnna 0:53:30

That reminds me that we move among legends, yall mean so much to me and are doing such amazing things like legendary work, and I am constantly inspired and just so full of the beautiful things that are happening amongst us. Right. I constantly, I frequently want to name that. Also, while we're shouting out legends, shoutout to a Million Artist Movement, who do Power Tree Quilts for Black liberation, and it is more like patch work, but it is going in community and letting folks dream liberation into these little squares that they normally will like color on, but they can cut things and other people will sew it for them if they do not feel like that is the work that they are qualified for, and then they put them together and they bring them to events and there have been some made for families and stuff.

CheyOnna 0:54:36

So ground yourself in that there are so many amazing folks doing amazing work building amazing spaces, and I think that it's really important to cultivate your space so that you see that. I don't sit and be looking at people like... I cultivate my space. Yeah, can be all you want about “Oh, I don't wanna be in a tunnel”, I wanna absolutely be in my Black tunnel with my folks because there's work to be done.

Lisa 0:55:06

Yes and I think being deliberate and intentional, it's so helpful and is something that's gonna be useful to cultivate the boundaries of the project, right?

CheyOnna 0:55:21

I was gonna say though, Nap ministry, Angela Davis’..

Lisa 0:55:55

I can hear you about the nap ministry, love that Nap ministry and Angela Davis of course, and with Nicki Giovanni that were on Girl Trek, really great. So we have a lot of examples out there and I think that's something that I learned, I learned from both of you that I'd love to leave on, is this quote from... I'm not gonna remember the name of the writer who said this, I think it was a poet, and I think as a Black woman, and I think the quote is, “You have to get up from the table when the love is no longer being served.” “Get up from the table when love is no longer being served”, and there's a way that we can build our own table, you can navigate however you choose,. but it's also... but you don't, you don't have to. You don't have to stay. For work, I make a lot of sacrifices, my job is to teach things, as a university professor, that’s my job, I get paid for this. I get support for this. They give me computers and classrooms and books and you know... and money.

CheyOnna 0:57:19

They still giving you books? 'cause I gotta go through all these hoops, you know I teach too...

Lisa 0:57:24

Yes,well, as copies. Just copies,

CheyOnna 0:57:27

Now it's all digital and that’s a whole nother thing it’s all different...

Lisa 0:57:31

I know it's different... don’t get me started about what the fall plan is gonna look like for teaching. But when it comes to Black Women Stitch, when it comes to sewing, it felt to me like this was too precious. I love it, and you can by all the stuff I got in my house, right? I love it, and I don't want to spend this time doing what I would do for my work, like I don't want to... I don't want to and I won't.

Lisa 0:57:57

So it just becomes so important to me to practice that, to practice creating a space and something that's that something that I've learned, and I think this is true for you all as well, that when you build something that you need other people, it turns out needed it to.

CheyOnna 0:58:16

Right. I often joke that I started Yarn Mission so I had more Black folks to knit with, like I wanted my own folks to nail it, and it is absolutely amazing.

Lisa 0:58:28

Exactly! I started Black Women Stitch for the same reason.

CheyOnna 0:58:33

I don't wanna argue with folks about my existence, about any part of myself, about my experiences in reality, like I'm not gonna do that in my personal space. I don't do it in my classroom, so I'm not gonna do it for free with yall on the internet, I'm not gonna do it for free in these spaces, like I'm gonna be loud about where I am and y'all can select around how you wanna move through these spaces.

Lisa 0:58:57

That's right, that's right. It's so true. It is absolutely true. Well, I'm hoping that y'all this will be our first conversation, but not our last conversation, I'd love to have you on individually as you start to move through projects, if there's ever anything you wanna come back and we could have another conversation about  I'm happy to do that, to promote you all because I do consider you all guiding lights for the Black Women Stitch project. I am immensely grateful to you for being with me today. I absolutely am. I just feel like I have learned so much from you. It was so meaningful to know that you existed now knowing that you existed meant that I could exist. It helped me to get there. So thank you very much, both for being possibility models. Absolutely, I'm grateful for that. I'm gonna ask you all to shout out where we can find you on social media so people can follow you. Where can they find you, Sara?

Sara 0:59:58

At SJS Academy on Instagram and Twitter.

Lisa 1:00:02

How about you CheyOnna ?

CheyOnna 1:00:04

We’re The Yarn Mission across, I don't weave because I find it to be very dramatic, and our Instagram, we've been using it lately to really shout out our pro-Blackness and having those conversations around that too, and I did some abolition stuff and I'm gonna do some cooperative economic stuff, and then we have a Facebook page which I actually can’t access so, like that's kind of like in an uncomfortable spot right now. But there's The Yarn Mission group, which is open to folks who are ready and aligned with anti-oppression across racial, ethnic, gender, all of that, and then the Black Fiber Society, which is specifically for Black folks.

Lisa 1:00:54 Thank you all so much. You all are amazing.


Lisa 1:01:06

Thank you for joining us for this week's episode of The 'Stitch Please' podcast, the official Podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. There are a variety of ways that you can support the program, and you're doing it right now, by listening to the podcast, it does help us grow. Another way to do that is to rate the podcast, review it, subscribe to it. All of these things are ways that you can support the podcast without having to spend any money at all. If you would like to spend some money to support us, there are ways to do that as well, you can make direct donations to our Patreon site for monthly contributions, as well as one-time contributions to PayPal, Cash app or Venmo, and finally, we have another cute very adorable way for you to support the Black Women Stitch project, it's a pin p-i-n enamel lapel pin, that's very cute. It's about two inches wide and one and a half inch tall, and it's of the Black Women Stitch logo, and that is 15 dollars with free shipping to the US, and so if you drop 15 dollars in the PayPal, Venmo or Cash app accounts, and then send me your email not email, you send me your mailing address to my email either at Blackwomenstitch@gmail.com or if you send me a direct message on the Black Women Stitch Instagram page, we will put the pin in the mail to you.

Lisa 1:02:40 Again, free shipping, 15 dollars for the pin, and all of this goes to support the Black Women Stitch project. Thank you again for joining us this week. Come back next week and we will help you give your stitch together!

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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