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.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another amazing episode of the Stitch Please podcast. Florence Taylor is an actor. A mom. A creative. A rare talent. And when I look at her photos, I feel like I am looking at a person on stage. Take a pause right now. Go to Instagram, and put in ftmom3. So the chance to talk to the lady behind the photo is a great treat today. Welcome to Stitch Please podcast, Florence, thank you for joining us.
Florence Taylor 1:08
No, thank you, Lisa. And thank you so much for inviting me to this conversation. Thank you to all your amazing listeners and your supporters. So hi, everyone.
Lisa Woolfork 1:18
Yes, hello, y'all. Florence Taylor is a delight. She does so much, and continues to do so much in the sewing community. She is one of those reliable, trustworthy voices that I turn to, as she works with so many different companies in different capacities, supporting so many small business owners, so many small Black business owners, so many small Black women business owners through the fabric industry. And I'm so grateful for it. So welcome Florence, and I want to get started with a broad umbrella of a question. If you were writing "Florence Taylor, the Play" on Broadway, and part of her character description was a sewing philosophy, what would it be?
Florence Taylor 2:02
I look at sewing as my love language to myself, to my family, to my friends. So it's a wearable love.
Lisa Woolfork 2:12
Wearable love. That is so beautiful.
Florence Taylor 2:16
Because sewing came from a place of love for me when I didn't think I was worthy of it. And when it was missing in terms of a void of my mom passing away. So when anybody that I love wears something that I make, they have to know that I literally whisper into the sewing. That's why I sew with an old machine. I whisper thoughts, and I say things aloud. Like if I'm making something for my son -- in this climate when I make him something, I'm like, I hope this is bright and someone sees him. I hope that this doesn't attract too much attention, but yet makes him stand out. I hope that when he's walking in this, someone sees that he is somebody that is worthy to still make it home. I'm not even kidding. I literally whispered these incantations for him, for my husband, and even for my daughters, sometimes. I just want them to be noticed in the sense that they're remembered. They don't have to be more.
Lisa Woolfork 3:28
Yes. I love it. And I am so grateful to you for articulating that so clearly, because it reminds me of so many things at once. First, when you think about your sewing as a love language, it is a communication. It is a process of exchange is something that you are giving, but also you are receiving.
Florence Taylor 3:49
Lisa Woolfork 3:50
And that I think is really very powerful. It's important, I think to recognize that the things that animate us the things that shape us and drive us that is so vital. At the same time I also am getting this kind of whole Old Testament Bible vibe. Right? From the plantation, and the prayers, because what I'm remembering is the story of Moses' mother: wove this basket for Moses to go in. She knew that to keep him safe, she had to let him go. Having a Hebrew baby in this time was death for the child, and the Pharaoh was calling for destruction of Hebrew children in the same way we see the state arranged against our gender. And so the way that she was weaving that basket to put him in and saying, "You know what, I'm sending you out into uncertainty. But one thing I want you to never forget is I love you." It's such a beautiful process to kind of imagine you sitting at the machine and knowing what we know as Black mothers, that there's nothing we can do nothing once they are out of our sight, you know, but we could invest our children in knowing their worth, their value; we send up prayers. We call on our ancestors to protect and watch over them. And that we do that through the craft of sewing.
You've told this beautiful story about the love language of sewing. And so tell me a bit about something that I tend to get feedback from people sometimes is, "Hey, well, we still you know, we want to think about sewing. It's just sewing. It's just making a shirt or making a blouse or making some leggings. Why do you need to bring in things like size, or Blackness, or feminism or social justice? These things are totally separate." But we know as Black women, they are not. How do you respond? If someone is like, "Well, I don't see what this has to be about advocacy. Let's keep it basic and neutral." Um, what's that about?
Florence Taylor 6:13
Our bodies are this beautiful canvas, right? It should be a description of who we are and how we want to be received. So I think within the sewing community itself, that is so important. I know we can't reach out and touch everyone and everyone's story and narrative. But we have an obligation, in a sense, to let other humans know that we see their individualism, that we see the uniqueness of who they are. I have a way of describing the people that come into my life as pieces of my life tapestry. And within a tapestry, there are different views, there are different shapes, or different textures if you're lucky. And at the end, it is this beautiful framework and piecework that you have to pull from and say this is who you are.
I am not that Eurocentric ideal of beauty. Heck, I'm not even the Black woman standard of beauty outside of having a big bust and an ample behind. But I have a tummy. And I don't know who these BBBW women are without a waist. But [laughs] that's not the story.
Lisa Woolfork 7:42
How do you have a booty and thigh gap? Like, you can't have have thick thighs, save lives, a lovely booty ass, a beautiful delicious booty and a thigh gap. Why? Have I missed it? How the thigh gap became an ideal? Because...
Florence Taylor 7:59
I don't know either. Because, I mean, I like a bow legged man [laughs]. But it took so long for me to even appreciate that. And that was through one of my beautiful tapestry sewing sisters Aaronica Bell Cole, the Needle and the Thread. Who is...
Lisa Woolfork 8:32
She is the bomb dot com. She's so great.
Florence Taylor 8:35
She's everything that I wish I could have been 10 years ago and I aspire to be now. So she made me start to really appreciate my body more. I wasn't listening to my children who were consistently telling me how much they love all my parts. And I was a disservice to them. Because they're young and they're children. They're saying things are so easy, right. But as you get older, and as they get older, and they still see the beautiful uniqueness of you, you have to take a step back and say, Okay, maybe there is more to me than being this mom, maybe they actually see the woman of who I am.
Lisa Woolfork 9:21
And I love that too. Because sometimes when we're in a position of preparing to spiral out, we're able to discount those parts of the story that don't affirm our negative thinking about ourselves. "Oh, well, he's my husband, so he's gonna say that. Or they're my kids, they're just saying that," you know? And I think it has to do with as you were saying, like honoring their truths as well. I guess the question for me in the day becomes who was being served by your self doubt? Who benefits from it? You know benefit, right? Who benefits? And if feels like the diet industry benefits, capitalism benefits, you know, that these things are kind of deployed in a way that make us byproducts or whatever, to fix our broken selves. When we realize that we're not broken, we can buy less shit,
Florence Taylor 10:21
The monetization of this self doubt is one thing. That's that spiritual assault of, of ourselves. That breeds for me a next generation of those that are fractured and broken, and there's nothing wrong with being broken, if you understand where the jagged edges and pieces come. So if you think about yourself as a window pane is whole, right? There's no cracks to it. But a stained glass is broken, but beautiful in the sense that it it still brings in light, but illuminates it in so many different views. And that's what I think human beings are: we have to start looking at ourselves not as just plain window panes. We have the potential of being just as beautiful and as necessary as stained glasses, which are works of art, to be perfectly honest.
Lisa Woolfork 11:21
Now I want to talk about the story of your garments and when you go to create a look. I was thinking about the one of the things I find so appealing about your your Instagram profile is that it's almost like each image is very different. You are unafraid to change a hairstyle, change the setup, photograph here, photograph there. When you're creating your garments, do you start to think about them in advance, about what kind of photo setup you're going to do? Do you think about styling and that kind of thing from the very beginning? Or is that something that comes to you after things are finished?
Florence Taylor 11:56
It starts with the fabric. So I have almost a sensual love affair with fabric. My husband has looked at me sometimes stroking some silk and he's like, okay, all right [laughs].
Lisa Woolfork 12:09
I'm prepared to be jealous.
Florence Taylor 12:12
It could be different things within the fabric: whether it's the color, whether it's the texture, who I got it from, if it was a gift, if there's a story behind the design, or if it brings a sense of a muscle memory or heart memory to me. The pattern then comes into mind, then it goes to the wigs. This is how I create the different persona, every wig. My wigs are my different superheroes. I'm Wig-o-rama. I'm like, "There's 50 wigs." And I'm like, "Who does she want to be today?" And with COVID, I learned how to make wigs.
Lisa Woolfork 12:53
Of all the things that you make. I did not know that you actually make wigs.
Florence Taylor 12:59
Yeah, I make some of my wigs. I was just like, You know what? I went on YouTube. I said, boom, here it is. And then it was just another creative process. I didn't realize how creative I was until I learned how to sew, because I come from a family of seamstresses slash sewists. I didn't realize how from my communion dress, my confirmation, sweet 16, my wedding dress, my money back from my wedding gown: every time I had a heart memory, someone in my family created it. And when I learned how to sew, it's like it opened up this third eye for me, and made me realize that I was so creative. My dad told me that I've always seen in color, that I have never been able to just see black and white. I've always seen things in different shades. So when I create and I post the pictures, I want people to have like a sense that what they're seeing is all me. And the uniqueness of being a Black woman is that we know how to coach.
Lisa Woolfork 14:13
Florence Taylor 14:14
So I'm going to never be that stereotypical way, how people think. No one would think that I like golf, that I like country music, that I love opera. I love country and western. And all those things have a story and a reason. You know, being a first generation born American, my parents are immigrants. In Haiti, all they had was cowboy movies and Western movies. So they grew to love Westerns and country music. So growing up, my dad would be sitting -- we would drive to Canada and he would sit in the car with my mom and sing that Gambler cassette from Kenny Rogers. And so you look at me and you're like, What is she trying to tell in this pose? Like I posted something just the other day and somebody was like -- I felt, I felt like a total baddie. I was having a horrible day. And I didn't want to take the pictures. I wasn't sure about how my body looked in this crop top. I was like, No, this is not for me. I said, you could see my stomach. There's too much of it showing and my daughter said, "Mama, that was the first place that I ever felt loved and safe. I love your belly. Let's show your belly. And more of it, please." And it's scarred. And it's got....yeah, tiger stripes, it's got my gastric bypass scars, it's got my cesarean scar. It's got to start with: somebody cut me, it's a roadmap to destination Florence. And so I don't know if everyone wants to take the ride.
Lisa Woolfork 15:57
Absolutely. It's the scars or stories. That's what is beautiful about this Florence. It's because I'm not saying that, you know, that you put these words in your daughter's mouth. I am saying that you have created an environment of love for your children that they can practice all the time. And it's kind of like you have fortified them so beautifully, that they are able to recognize and help you push past your own limitations. Which is beautiful, right?
Florence Taylor 16:33
Yeah, I was lucky in having a beautiful mother. I mean, her name was Immacula. And just her name is so beautiful, right?
Lisa Woolfork 16:48
Florence Taylor 16:51
She was -- oh, I didn't realize how magical she was. She was that beautiful director that made everyone shine, and never got the glory. She was literally everyone's light; she spotlighted you for all your good (and all your ugly). But, um, just beautiful. And I'm blessed to still have my father. And he's walking magic. His voice is melodical; he sings, he makes you feel love. And so I look and I see my children reflected in them. All I want is to have children that are creative, that are givers, that know how to give love and accept love. Because being givers, we don't know how to always accept that.
Lisa Woolfork 17:46
Yes, yes, yes.
Florence Taylor 17:48
And I don't want them to be shortchanged in the gift of being able to accept love back.
Lisa Woolfork 17:56
And this becomes a way for us to talk about questions of size inclusivity in sewing, which has become a late, much more discussed, much more of a topic that should have been addressed a long time ago. But I think people are becoming far more vocal about it. That there are accounts and folks who are really important -- I guess leadership is a word that some would use, but I think the better word is possibility model.
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It becomes so important, particularly in a visual medium like Instagram, to see a variety and range of possibilities, because it is very hard to do something you have never seen.
Florence Taylor 19:26
Lisa Woolfork 19:28
And so when I think about -- as you were mentioning Aaronica as being like a friend, a heart friend, a heart sister and a mentor, I think that she's also a possibility model. And I think you too are a possibility model. I think you are a possibility model for your children, obviously, as demonstrated. And you're also a possibility model for all the people on Instagram who are following you, who are thinking about their sewing, who want to learn to practice the craft of sewing, who want to be recognized in and by aspects and scenes in the sewing industry or in the community. And I think you do that so well.
Florence Taylor 20:10
I think, for me size inclusion is so important, because I have looked at both the different spectrums of size right? From our beautiful, wonderful, smaller-statured petites, to our wonderful high-rise, glorious, curvy pluses. And all have typically -- most of weight or weight loss stems from some kind of trauma, or some hurt. When I was contemplating eventually getting my PhD, I was looking at weight, in relation to weight and how it ties to abuse: verbal, physical, sexual. Trigger warning, sorry, everyone. And for me, my weight was from sexual abuse, hiding, not wanting to be seen, hoping that as the weight ballooned, I would be less appealing to others. Unfortunately, because I wanted to be less appealing to others, you start taking on that characteristic, and start internalizing that to yourself. And learning to love all of my parts that encompass my sum is important within clothing. I want to be able to make something that makes me feel good. Doesn't have to make anyone think I look good. And that I look beautiful. I want to create something that feels good to me that is comfortable, that is flirty, that's fast. That fits!
Lisa Woolfork 21:57
Florence Taylor 21:59
Because there's something -- when it fits, it makes you feel that you're seen.
Lisa Woolfork 22:03
I feel like, you know, because sewing is something that you do in private, but also then becomes public, it becomes this thing that you really want to - at least for me - I want to put my best foot forward, I want to go out and something that feels good to me, that feels right to me, that makes me feel good about myself. And so much of that is it feels like sometimes, if you give up your power, then you are going to be at the whim of everybody. When every unkind word is going to knock you down. You're going to believe everybody else's story about you. Even people you don't even fucking know, let alone like, but when you start from the position of: I am wearing what I like because I like it. And my opinion about myself matters more than anybody else.
Florence Taylor 22:58
Yeah. And I find that to be true in terms of sewing for me, but also sewing for teenagers. Right? So my twins are 13, my son is 15. And sewing for them is interesting in the sense because...as my son is very muscular. He's 15, he's a teenager. He's a kid. Unfortunately outside does not see him that way. He will be labeled and not as a teenager if something happens; he will be "young male," "young man," not 15-year-old. They will slap his age. They won't slap that number to make him palatable, right, because that's not what media does. That's not the sound bite that works for them. I want him to be very comfortable and I want him -- he has a cool, cool aesthetic. He's like part Rat Pack activist. He doesn't realize that he is a leader, because society's told him that he should be keeping quiet. But he is very much a leader. He walks in, he's attention-grabbing without being attention-seeking. I want him to be noticeable but not always noticed. For my girls, they are totally different. They love bright colors. They love vibrancy. Lila loves stripes and polka dots carry love. She wears all things purple. That is always been her color. She came out, like, looking like Lila. And she loves color too. Dressing teens is all about -- I have the input with the pattern and the fabric. No one ever dresses like them, you can always tell who my children are.
Lisa Woolfork 25:04
That's right. That's right. And I love how they're like, so -- and that was something I was thinking, as your children age, you know, as our children grow, their needs grow. And it's really wonderful that you have been able to keep your kids in me-made like 50% for your son now that he's, you know, transitioned into the upper teen years. But for the girls, for the twins, the younger ones, they're still at, like 90% [me-made]. What kind of advice would you give to someone who wanted to sew for their kids?
Florence Taylor 25:34
What I would say for someone starting off with littles, is not to take on more than you're prepared to do, because you want to create something for that little human that you have that appeals to you, that highlights and helps illustrate the story of your family and your love language. If you're the parent that likes a job, do something like that, incorporate your interest in what you're sewing. Now, as they get older, absolutely have them go on Pinterest, ask them what kind of look do they like? If you're out with them, look at who they're gravitating to, in terms of like --- they may not turn their heads, but they always avert their eyes. Look where their eyes are traveling to. And then be honest, have an open conversation with them and say, I made that dress for you, or I made those pants for you, you didn't seem to like them. "No, they either didn't fit or they weren't my style." Okay, what's your style? Ask the question. You know, incorporate them in it, and there's something wonderful if you let them go through your stash, because they may find something that, one, you didn't even think that they would have liked, because it just might...again, it goes back to that heart memory. There may have a heart memory of something. To them. That's personal. What's the story my kid is trying to say? So this is my time to be the listener. And I'm going to listen to them.
Lisa Woolfork 27:13
I love that so much. Because what it's making me think about is the ways in which your sewing is equipping. And by equipping, I mean, you are preparing people: yourself, the things you make for yourself, the things you make for your family, you are equipping them to claim their whole selves in the same way that your sewing equips you to claim your whole self. And also the way that when you post your images, when you do the pattern tests, when you do sew fabric strikes for designers, you are also equipping not just these these pattern companies in these fabric businesses, you are also equipping other people who sew, other women who sew, to see for themselves what is possible.
Florence Taylor 28:09
You know, Lisa, I got into sewing to heal myself from the loss of my mom, because I didn't know who I was. I didn't know how to be Florence without being Puppet. That's, we put that as my family nickname. I didn't have the person who loved me from the minute that they saw me anymore. And who I was becoming was the exact opposite of who I should have been. So I went to therapy. And I said, You know what? I think I want to honor my mom and my grandmothers by learning how to sew. And I learned to sew. March 15 of 2017. I made my daughter a butt ugly dress. That dress is still in her closet. She still looks at it. She smiles when she sees it. So that was it. That was exciting. And then I got into starting to make more for them, make more for me. Every time I made them something it was like, you know, like the shoemaker and their kids would go to sleep and the elves, I was the elf making shoes in the middle of night but it was clothes. And everyday they'd wake up with something new and it was so exciting for them. And then I got into pattern testing and strike sewing. And the only reason I did that is that I realized I was fortunate enough to have a job and an income separate from sewing, because I don't make any money sewing. Right? I don't have a business. I don't have a blog. I'm just sewing. I realize how important -- and everyone that I test and I sew for, I am not even kidding when I say I want them to win. In terms of themselves, their value, their families, the quality of life that they have for themselves. I've only started now to earn a little bit of money sewing. Guess what? I don't keep the money for myself, I either will give a piece to the kids if they take -- because my kids take my pictures. Yeah, my babies take pictures for me on my phone, not a camera, y'all. [laughs]
Lisa Woolfork 30:33
So this makes sense to me. There's so much love in them. So the little bit of money you're making from sewing now, you pay your people.
Florence Taylor 30:41
And I donate it to food insecure charities. To either schools, or I will buy gift cards to restaurants and say you know that there's a family struggling, can you donate it to them? Because we live in a country where our children are food insecure, and our elderly are food insecure. And that's ridiculous.
Lisa Woolfork 31:00
But what it tends to go back to, and what I love hearing from you, is this investment. That as a strike team member, you invest in a business. When you agree to sew someone's fabric, you are doing so because, as you said, you want them to win. And so you are putting like your own sweat equity by sewing, and cutting, and washing, and creating, and taking a site and then posting the pictures, making the pictures, and posting and tagging. Like, it's a real process. And another form of, like, a labor of love. Your generosity is helping the sewing community by providing possibility models for inclusion, for race, gender, size, the totality of it. And you are equipping and modeling for your family, like, what it means to give and not be depleted by giving. And that is something that I think is so important. We are going to need to wrap this up because time flies when you're having a good time. I'm hoping to get a chance to talk again soon. But tell me a bit about what's coming up next for you, like, what are some of the things you're looking forward to as you move through your sewing journey?
Florence Taylor 32:18
So for me, I want to go into more philanthropy in terms of monetizing my affiliate links. I want to design. I want to appear in more lookbooks. I want more plus size, petite, representation. I want more bipoc LGBTQI+ representation. I want over-45 representation. I want us to start healing in weaving and creating. I want fiber to become family.
Lisa Woolfork 32:57
Yes, fiber to family. Yes.
Florence Taylor 33:01
Fiber to family. Like it's not hard, everyone, if you just take time to start loving yourselves, you are going to start loving one another so much better. How I've told people when I do diversity inclusion meetings, when I'm trying to have people understand why it's important in theater, is: your heart should be clear who you are. Like when someone sees you, they should see who you are and what your heart represents. And I think that we have an opportunity to do that within this sewing community. Listening to each other, acknowledging and amending, and just being kind and thoughtful to one another and starting with ourselves.
Lisa Woolfork 33:56
And I absolutely love you saying that loving yourself deeply and well is the first step to engaging and creating a community based in love and care.
Florence Taylor 34:09
To everyone out there who's listening or if they're looking: anytime that you hit a like or you say something, you're not feeding my ego. What you're feeding is that little girl who was abused that didn't speak out for herself, who didn't know that she had advocates out there for her. You're speaking out, and you are showing my children that the parent that they love is loved by you. And you, by doing that, are showing that you are loving, and that you know how to love and be able to receive love. So I want to say thank you to everybody who ever drops me a line, who sends a like, who sends me a DM. I see you. I hear you. I truly love you, because I want you to still exist. I want you to be the best examples of the blessings that have been brought forth. I am a firm believer and I've told my children, before you were even a thought, you were loved. And I want everybody to understand that about themselves.
Lisa Woolfork 35:21
Wow. On that note, Florence Taylor, you have left us with a beautiful word. Thank you so much for talking with me today. Tell us where we can find you on the social.
Florence Taylor 35:33
Instagram, @ftmom3. I'm on TikTok, but I'm so corny on TikTok, all you'll see is like a photo montage and songs and that's pretty much it. You'll see me in Facebook groups and things of that sort. I'm here, I'm available if anybody ever wants to DM and they want a shoulder to lean on, or they want some sewing advice. I don't know everything. Um, but we can stumble through it together y'all. We can do this all together.
Lisa Woolfork 36:08
Someone who is glad to help you help yourself. She's available. If you are a person who runs a company and are passing out affiliate links, here's an affiliate for you. So, Florence, thank you so much for this conversation today. This has been just a delight. Thank you so much.
Florence Taylor 36:25
Thank you, Lisa. I am blowing kisses to those who are not on her Patreon who should be on her Patreon because this is a Black-owned business. And if you say Black lives matter, Black money matters, please do so and subscribe. Thank you. Yes.
Lisa Woolfork 36:42
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, 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 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 like a star rating or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us and the Stitch Please podcast, that is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. Come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.