London Reign with Miss J Sews

0.75x 1x 1.25x 1.5x 2x 0:0000:34:59 London Reign with Miss J Sews


LONDON REIGN discount code: STITCHPLEASE35 for 35% off the London Reign dress pattern. Not compatible with any other offer. Valid until October 1, 2023. One purchase per customer.

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Janet Hensell

Janet Hensell is a blogger who shares her handmade wardrobe and encourages others to sew and design their own style. She is best known as Miss J Sews, offering tips for setting trends and relying less on fast fashion. Her mom taught her to sew and they started off on dolly, but when she realized that she could make clothes that actually fit instead of always having to rely on shops, that was amazing.

Lisa Woolfork

Lisa Woolfork is an associate professor of English specializing in African American literature and culture. Her teaching and research explore Black women writers, Black identity, trauma theory, and American slavery. She is the founder of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. She is also the host/producer of Stitch Please, a weekly audio podcast that centers on Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. In the summer of 2017, she actively resisted the white supremacist marches in her community, Charlottesville, Virginia. The city became a symbol of lethal resurging white supremacist violence. She remains active in a variety of university and community initiatives, including the Community Engaged Scholars program. She believes in the power of creative liberation.

Insights from this episode:

  • Extending the life of a garment to last beyond the trends
  • Pattern cutting: what it is, and making something fit well from the inside out
  • How Janet’s fashion came to be the talk of her fellow jury members
  • The inspiration behind the London Reign pattern, from the design to the name
  • The importance of crafting as self-care

Quotes from the show:

  • “I’m kind of bootylicious in my figure, and they don’t cater for that in the shops. But I can cater to myself if I sew, and that became the key thing. The feeling of making a thing that fits is unmatched.” – Janet Hensell, Stitch Please, Episode #191
  • “It really is this vicious circle of consumption and discarding. Buy it, wear it, throw it away. And this is another thing that sewing can reduce. It is a form of sustainability because the pieces that you end up making, you tend to hold onto them longer.” – Lisa Woolfork, Stitch Please, Episode #191
  • “Crafting is self-care. Whether you’re a carpenter, a seamstress, a dancer, whatever you do for your mental health and fun, it is self-care. For me that was sewing.” – Janet Hensell, Stitch Please, Episode #191
  • “Know what fits your lifestyle and fits your body. And when I say fit, know to fit your garments to fit you. Even if the garment is made from a cheaper fabric, once it fits you, people won’t even notice.” – Janet Hensell, Stitch Please, Episode #191

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Read Full Transcript

Lisa Woolfork  0:10  

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. Hey, hello everybody and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. And as I say, every week this is a very special episode because this episode brings a fantastic guest to me right here in Charlottesville, Virginia, across the entire ocean, the Atlantic Ocean to London town. I am having the great privilege of talking with Miss J Sews that is Janet Hensell, we are so happy to welcome Janet to the program. Janet, thank you for staying up so late to accommodate a five-hour time difference so that we can have this conversation today. Thank you, Janet, and welcome.

Janet Hensell  1:16  

Thank you so much. It is my sincere pleasure to be here and I really appreciate you interviewing me today. It's an honor.

Lisa Woolfork  1:22  

It is a dual honor, the feeling is mutual. This is the mutual admiration society here. Janet, I love your work. I love your sewing. I have been really delighted by your energy and spirit on social media. And it's so charming. It's just so lovely. And I wanted to ask what is your sewing story? How did you get started sewing?

Janet Hensell  1:44  

Well, I started sewing, you know before Janet Jackson started singing.

Lisa Woolfork  1:49  

Now that is serious. That's some, so if you have been sewing as long as Janet Jackson's been singing, that is quite a long time because that poor lady has been singing since she could make words.

Janet Hensell  1:59  

That's it. Well not that far back. Let's say before she had a successful solo career. Let's not age me that much.

Lisa Woolfork  2:05  

Okay, that sounds more reasonable because I'm like, I don't think so. Because she doesn't look it but I think Janet is in her mid 50s so I don't think you've been sewing for 56 years but hey, you know what they say, 'Black don't crack'. Nobody knows how old we are.

Janet Hensell  2:17  

No one knows. No one knows. But yeah I've been sewing a long time, since I was a child. So how it started was, my mother (she's from a poor background) like many of our parents are. And she learned to sew, I think primarily through necessity and fun. And she taught me to sew. She was always very focused on children having skills, in anything, be it mechanics, sewing, whatever, she always thought it's good to have a trade. And she taught me to sew. And then we started to find our little dolly. And little dolly used to look good. She's had some nice little dresses. I started up on dolly. And then after a few years, you know you have school we have homework, things like that. And it's not fashionable to sew when your child cause, why you sewing, you can buy stuff in the store? Right? I realized--

Lisa Woolfork  2:55  


Janet Hensell  2:56  

to social myself, not just dolly, and I picked it up again, but picked it up again. And that was necessity, cause I'm kind of bootylicious in my figure. And they don't cater for that in the shops.-- 

Janet Hensell  3:07  


Janet Hensell  3:08  

but I can cater for myself if I sew. And that became the key thing.-- 

Janet Hensell  3:12  


Janet Hensell  3:13  

 it was a really good, this thing that fits, unmatched.

Lisa Woolfork  3:16  

It is an unmatched feeling. And I think there's so many beautiful things and so many avenues that you have laid for us to travel in our conversation. Sewing for a doll that you love and making these brilliant clothes, and she was the best dressed dolly in the entire neighborhood. And then like, continuing to sew in elementary school. But it's interesting to think that you were sewing as a kid, which I think is an admirable skill. And I can totally understand why your mother was like, I want my kids to be able to know how to do things because that's the way to become and remain independent. But then you got a little teased for that. Like why are you sewing? You should be buying! Can you talk a little bit about like, what you recall, if you recall much from that time, about hearing that kind of feedback from your peers because it seems like some hateration on the part of some jealous kids because why would you say something like that? What a weird thing to tease a kid about, you know how to seew because you are poor? Like what? I don't understand.

Janet Hensell  4:10  

I do remember. I think I started to sew when I was, definitely a child, so I must have been about eight, maybe seven, thereabouts. And then I remember she taught me, my mother bless her, taught me to knit as well. And I remember sewing my own knitting patterns, when I said knitting patterns I mean like designs, so I did a heart and I found that if I start with one stitch here and I make it wider and you know I can get the heart and I went to school with this jumper-- 

Lisa Woolfork  4:31  


Janet Hensell  4:32  

I felt good, you know, I made this thing. And I remember they kinda clowned me for wearing it. And I see these brands in the store now and I'm like, you were ahead of your time girl. But yeah, it wasn't really the done thing.

Lisa Woolfork  4:42  

You were ahead of your time.

Janet Hensell  4:44  

It wasn't the done thing but I decided to make my own clothes cause, for me I used to go and buy trousers, pants in the store but to accommodate the hip, the waist would be big and you get that big wide back. It was so annoying. 

Lisa Woolfork  4:56  

Someone could put a beverage you could sit a whole beverage, like in the crack between where my butt finished. But then my waist was big. It's like I can really put other things in here. What's wrong with these pants?

Janet Hensell  5:11  

But, used to hate that. So that's partly why I started to sew, just to accommodate my figure. It opened up a whole new world to me, cause then I realized, if I go to the shop and I want my dress in blue, and they don't have it in blue, I can buy some blue material and have that same dress. If it's within my skill set. You know, obviously, I wasn't pattern cutting formerly then. But I knew my way around--

Lisa Woolfork  5:30  


Janet Hensell  5:30  

sewing enough to make my own off of that, what they calling now hacks. I just call it changing the back.-- 

Janet Hensell  5:36  


Janet Hensell  5:37  

They used to do that. And that's how it started with me in sewing but it came and it went. I got busy with studies, I got busy with work and different things. And it would be ebbs and flow. Sometimes I wouldn't sew for years, or I'd sew regularly. It'd be inconsistent like that. But it was something that I always held dear to my heart. I'm always sketching things I've seen people wear on the street, and things I see on TV. And even now I'm forever watching telly with the camera. That's nice. This nice. I'm always doing that.

Lisa Woolfork  6:02  

I love that so much. I do the same thing. I have so many pictures in my phone of clothes from television. Not that much cause I don't watch that much TV. But I am not above stopping strangers. I have stopped so many strangers and said, "May I take a picture of your outfit? I will not include your face."

Janet Hensell  6:20  

You've done that!. Me, I haven't done that. 

Lisa Woolfork  6:23  

You know what, people kind of like it. I honestly think it's flattering.--

Janet Hensell  6:27  

It is.--

Lisa Woolfork  6:27  

I think if someone stopped me, imagine Janet, you know how we are, if someone stopped us in a Me Made and said, "I love your outfit so much. Can I take a picture?" What would we say? Yes.-- 

Janet Hensell  6:37  

So yeah.--

Lisa Woolfork  6:38  

Of course. That is what it's for.--

Janet Hensell  6:40  

Yeah, right.--

Lisa Woolfork  6:41  

I am here to be seen. I think that's true for many people, when they go out. They want to dress themselves in such a way that they can meet the day and meet whatever needs might come throughout the day. And if your outfit, that is chosen for the day, happens to snag my attention. Congratulations to you, you must be well dressed.-- 

Janet Hensell  7:00  

Yeah. I will stop people to give a compliment. But to ask for photograph, that's good. You've got guts, I would never do the photograph thing.

Lisa Woolfork  7:09  

I mean, listen, you know how to design patterns. So I could imagine how, if you had a photo, it'd be so much easier than you wouldn't have to like, remember so much from the sketching, but I don't know anything about it. So, and which is what reasons I'm excited to talk to you today. So you've gone back and forth with sewing, you started as a child, you had developed some pretty strong skills in both sewing and knitting. The fact that you could knit a jumper, and that you were able to say, I know how to make a heart based on my understanding of what a pixel is truly, because that's what helps to build that out. Right? I know what a pixel is. So I have one pixel, and then two pixels, and then three, and then four, and I just keep going. And then I bring em back. And that is a really rather kind of computational way of thinking, Right? And the fact that you're able to move all those little pieces around to make your designs, to make your hacks, to make these things shows a lot about your creative imagination. When you are in between sewing, what kind of things do you do that kind of keep the sewing engine or the sewing energy fresh? If you've been on a long hiatus? What brought you back from the on again, off again, to where we find you now where you are Miss J Sews? Talk a little bit about that, cause now it seems like you're like absolutely committed now, right? Because you got this wonderful social media and also the new pattern that we're gonna discuss. So how do you kind of keep that energy going when it's been a little dormant for a minute,

Janet Hensell  8:39  

I think, partly for me, cause I never, never did have a dedicated sewing room. So that always meant me taking over part of the house and living room table or something. So it always makes sewing a little bit more inconvenient and more challenging to do. You can't just jump on your machine as you wish. So that's something always slowed me down. But inbetween projects, what normally dragged me back into it is an event or something I had to go to. And I used to go to the shops. 

Lisa Woolfork  8:39  


Janet Hensell  8:39  

And think I'm not paying that for that. Are you joking? Really? Polyester? In that ugly color? Now I'm not paying it. And I'd get the sewing machine back out. And even if it may have cost me more in the long run, I'd rather cause it's bespoke, no one else is going to be-- 

Janet Hensell  9:17  


Janet Hensell  9:18  

in the same frock. That is the nightmare, to go out. There's another chick out there looking cuter than you in the same dress. No.--

Lisa Woolfork  9:23  

Well, not cuter, but where try to. Trying and look as cute as me, unless I'm about cuter. That's outrageous. Janet, cuter, no ma'am.

Janet Hensell  9:32  

We're certainly not going down that road, let me just buy some material and make something and behave myself but with me now I'm a last minute person. I know the event's on Friday, and I'm rushing Friday afternoon with the machine you know, risking my life and limb.

Lisa Woolfork  9:44  

Oh my gosh. I love how you can be motivated to sew by indignance, you are at the shops. You look at the price tag, and you are instantly indignant. This is, how many pounds? Are you kidding me? For something that I can make for for a mere fraction of the price? And then you go and do it like, that is wonderful.

Janet Hensell  10:04  

I mean, the garment workers need a fair wage, to be fair.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  10:07  

Of course, of course.-- 

Janet Hensell  10:09  

Because I don't mean in that sense. I mean, for example, it may be polyester, and not even a nice quality polyester, and I'm thinking I'd be sweaty by the end of the night in this, even a viscose or maybe a linen mix or a cotton, something that lets a bit more, yes, breathe in it, breathability.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  10:27  


Janet Hensell  10:28  

But then you go to the shops, and everybody's got the same dress but in that different length. And it's like, I'm into trends, because they're short lived.--

Lisa Woolfork  10:35  

Yes, too short lived.

Lisa Woolfork  10:45  

The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together. And now we're bringing it to you in a new way. The Stitch is a newsletter from Black Women Stitch and I am delighted to tell you about it. What do you get when you sign up for the Black Women Stitch newsletter? You get to hear what's happening with Black Women Stitch and this Stitch Please podcast, events that we've had, events that are coming up, contests for prizes, live shows, social media meetups, IRL meetups, episodes of the podcast that you might have missed, as well as opportunities to learn and sew in community, with other Black makers across the country, and across the world. You'll learn also about some actual stitches, we will help you get your stitch together with continuing education for your sewing life. Oh my goodness, y'all, I am so excited for this newsletter. As always, things I want to tell you, you know, wow, well, now we have the Stitch, sign up using the link in the show notes or on our website, we look forward to helping you get your stitch together soon.

Lisa Woolfork  11:52  

And it is absolutely true, garment workers do need to be adequately compensated. And unfortunately, a lot of the things that you are seeing in the shops, the stuff that is polyester, the stuff that is mass-manufactured, those workers are not being compensated for the work that they are producing. So, it really is this kind of vicious circle of consumption and discarding you know, like buy it, wear it, throw it away, buy it, wear it, throw it away. And this is another thing that sewing can reduce is that it is a form of sustainability. Because the pieces that you end up making, you tend to hold on to them a bit longer, as you said, because it's bespoke, it is made to your body. It is made to what I call, my booty blessings that the Lord has given me. Yes.

Janet Hensell  12:48  

I understand that totally. So I mean, in my household, we don't throw things away unless they're completely beyond repair and beyond use. And the same goes for my wardrobe. Which means sometimes you can end up looking a little dated if you don't know how to 'zhoosh something up' to the modern time. But I hate to have a garment--

Lisa Woolfork  13:04  


Janet Hensell  13:05  

and get rid of it in a year, two, three, four.--

Lisa Woolfork  13:08  


Janet Hensell  13:09  

If my weight hasn't fluctuated to the extent where I can't wear it anymore. Why am I discarding this thing? It still has value, add something to the cuff, do something but don't really just discard it. And I don't like to throw things away senselessly. So,-- 

Lisa Woolfork  13:21  

I think that's so wise, that is so wise Janet, because what I'm hearing you say is that, when you make a garment, you don't really have to just make it once. And what I'm hearing from you is like, you know, even if you do end up sewing a garment, and it's like, you know (say seven or eight years old) if it doesn't seem as modern or up-to-date as you might like, I have pieces that are also kind of on the older side. But because I don't believe in trends. If I still like it, I am still wearing it, regardless of what the trend might be. Because the trend doesn't determine what I wear, don't wear. But if you're concerned about a kind of update, you could kind of go back in, like you said, and make it shorter. You can add some lace, or some fringe, or some whatever, you can make the sleeve shorter. You could do all of these things, all of these wonderful modifications that can extend the life of the garment. And I think that's really wonderful. It's so great. Speaking of garments, I wanna ask about this garment, (I saw this on your page) if you are a Patreon member, you are lucky enough to see me and Janet's beautiful faces, and you will also be lucky enough to see this stunning dress that is really quite lovely. This is a strapless gown. I'm not sure if that's called T-length just below the knee and it looks very full. I'm not sure if you have a crinoline underneath the bust. The bodice part is very well supported, and I know that's not easy to do. Can you talk a little bit about this dress and where this was in your process of sewing? 

Janet Hensell  14:46  

Oh, this is, a dress from a few years ago, and how I discovered this dress, it was, I think it's from Craftsy, long time ago, Gertie's bombshell dress. I dunno if you remember that.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  14:55  

Yes, I do.-- 

Janet Hensell  14:58  

Right. And that was before I joined social media, cause what I would do back in those days is I would look at other people's blogs. So I was familiar with people from their blogs, but I never interacted. I was always in the shadows. And I saw this on somebody else's feed. And by then, I think it was a discontinued class. But Craftsy customer service back then was hot. I contacted them and he let me have access to the class anyway, which was really nice of them. And so I think--

Lisa Woolfork  15:23  


Janet Hensell  15:23  

if I recall now is Gertie's bombshell dress and the bottom is a circle skirt that I drafted myself, if I recall.--

Lisa Woolfork  15:30  

Oh, my. So this is the hacking that you talked about. So even in this dress, you took the bombshell but you didn't take all of it. I think I might have bought that same pattern. Is it the case that the bombshell was a sheath dress traditionally? Was it a sheath? 

Janet Hensell  15:45  

It's a tiki dress with a ruching up the side or something like that? If I recall, so every night--

Lisa Woolfork  15:49  


Janet Hensell  15:49  

Okay, so my purpose is I wanted this to wear out and I knew I'd be dancing. So there was no room for error with that bodice. Because I'm one of these over enthusiastic dancers. I had to make sure that this holdng business was on point, and they would waist a was properly done. And it, when you zip up, it's tight.--

Lisa Woolfork  16:08  


Janet Hensell  16:09  

You know what I mean.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  16:09  

Yes. It looks like it, it looks like it's holding everything in the exact right place. And it looks like the kind of dress that you really can dance in like the fullness of the skirt must be a delightfully fun thing to spin a turn in, I bet it flares out like really amazingly. And then with the hands up, you are taking no prisoners you are enjoying and living this dress, you are making this dress do what the dress was meant to do. And you intended the dress to be danced in. And so I love how you said, you know what some folks would think that a strapless gown was meant to be something to be observed in or maybe photographed in, but not something to move around in. And I think that sometimes I do get a little frustrated with some of the patterns, not too many. But sometimes I look at a pattern. And I'll say, what do you expect people to do with this, like this all needs more than what this pattern is meant to be giving it because if you really want someone to sew this up and put it on, and walk, it needs to be better than it is currently. Like, you have not done a good job with this part, or that part. And these are like commercial patterns that I have paid for. And I'm like, ugh! But you are able to say you know what, I'm gonna make this do exactly what I want. And so I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you call pattern cutting. And I did talk with a pattern cutter from England a few years ago, Moni Omotoso, and she also does pattern cutting. And that was the first time I had ever heard of the phrase, pattern cutting. Can you talk a little bit about what pattern cutting is for those of us who might not be familiar with that term?

Janet Hensell  16:17  

Okay, well, for me, pattern cutting is essentially drafting a pattern to fit your body. Now, you can take an existing Butterick or whoever pattern, (think they are defunct now, aren't they) but you can take a pattern. And you can decide, well, it's cute where they put the waistline, but maybe I'd like it a bit lower. Or, it's cute where they say 

Lisa Woolfork  18:02  


Janet Hensell  18:03  

So to end, I'll make it a bit shorter, and you can adapt it. I studied pattern cutting, I used to take time off work. And instead of going on holiday, I'd go to school, and I used to study classes at the London College and St Martin's School of Art. And I used to study all short courses there.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  18:17  


Janet Hensell  18:18  

And I was lucky enough, I studied with Dennic Chunman Lo, he's written a patent cutting book that's quite well known. I studied under him, which is quite-- 

Lisa Woolfork  18:24  


Janet Hensell  18:25  

So I've been mucking about with patents from an early age because I used to figure out that they may have straps, maybe I don't want the straps. Maybe I'd like straps to be different. Maybe I'd like a sleeve, and I muck about from then. But then I realized that is a formal way of doing things. Let me see what formally-trained people do. And that's when I learned how to use blocks, or as we call these days 'slopers', and things like that.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  18:46  

Yes, yes.-- 

Janet Hensell  18:47  

Because for me, in anything, whether it's shop bought or made, fit is king or whatever.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  18:52  


Janet Hensell  18:53  

And for example, with the bustier dress you just showed there, with the fit, I feel comfortable. I feel happy enough to walk in a room, I can dance, I can even eat and feel good. When fit's off, you lose confidence. No matter how good you look. An example, I went to a party, and I sat in a dress I'd bought from the store, but it's a nice dress, but it rode up a lot when I sat down, and I member sitting down with a pulling down thing and an older--

Lisa Woolfork  19:19  

Yes Yeah.--

Janet Hensell  19:20  

came to me said, "Girl what the problem wit you, why you pull down your skirt every minute, stop, what's wrong with you? I'm like. "What?" And he's like, "Yes, so your skirt too tight." And I'm like, "Oh, my God!" And he's right. The skirt didn't fit well and you know, when you make your clothes-- 

Lisa Woolfork  19:35  


Janet Hensell  19:35  

You've the option of making it fit well. No matter how cute the outfit is. If you're not comfortable. You're not confident. 

Lisa Woolfork  19:41  

That's right. 

Janet Hensell  19:42  

When I make anything, whether it's commercial pattern, something from my own imagination, whatever. I feel confidence is the thing I need the most because without that, the night crumbles, or the date crumbles, or the interview crumbles. Have you ever been to an interview in something too tight, or something too loose where you've been the showing too much? You just suddenly-- 

Lisa Woolfork  19:57  


Janet Hensell  19:59  

Pattern cutting for me is the option to make something fit, well. 

Lisa Woolfork  20:02  

I agree with you. I think that's absolutely paramount, especially because I think fit is something that works from the inside out. So for example, you knew that your skirt didn't fit well. And because of that you kept pulling it, and kept trying to change your body position so that it could fit so you can just sit down with confidence and not feel like you're flashing everybody. But what that looks like from the outside, it's anxiety, it's disrupt, the thing is that only you know how something fits based on how it feels. And so I just thought it's just so powerful to realize that fit is also an important part of a Me Made look, because that's the reason many people sew. It's because they want clothes that will fit them, that the shops aren't prioritizing our needs, etc. So we can kind of build what we need pretty easily. I wanted to ask about this lovely piece. I think this is just the cutest. I'm trying to describe it for those who are listening. Another beautiful image of a very smiling and happy gorgeous Janet with a lovely head wrap, in a white dress with a really interesting short sleeve with a detail at the shoulder. It looks like a woven dress with a princess, a square neckline. Can you talk a bit about this piece, Janet?

Janet Hensell  21:19  

This was a sewing pattern, I think it was a simplicity I couldn't tell you the number now, but it was definitely a sewing pattern and I liked it and I liked the square neckness of it. But I thought let me add a pleat into the sleeve that wasn't there. I just felt the sleeve needed it.--

Lisa Woolfork  21:35  


Janet Hensell  21:36  

So I added an extra extension in the middle of it and folded that back in on itself and then put a button at the end. And the button is something I found all stash from an old cardigan from like 100 years ago. The waistband was in panels. So I didn't need all these panels. What was that for? I got rid of the panels and just made it smooth. Now it's quite a tricky little make, it's lined fully lined, but it's--

Lisa Woolfork  21:56  


Janet Hensell  21:56  

dress and I used to wear that to work quite frequently.

Lisa Woolfork  21:59  

Yes. It is quite lovely. It looks like it's great to move in. It looks nice and crisp. What fabric did you use for it?

Janet Hensell  22:08  

I used my favorite fabric, cotton. I believe it was a cotton, maybe a mix, but dominantly cotton.

Lisa Woolfork  22:14  

Wow, so your favorite fabric is cotton. So you like to sew with woven fabrics. 

Lisa Woolfork  22:20  

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Lisa Woolfork  23:33  

What draws you to woven fabrics more than knit fabrics?

Janet Hensell  23:37  

Just a very good question. Actually. I mean, knit fabrics have their place, obviously for workout gear and things. I think mainly because, probably because of my style in dressing. I've never been very good at casual clothes, if that makes sense.

Lisa Woolfork  23:49  

Ah, yes, yes, it does.

Janet Hensell  23:51  

I'm the type of person where somebody will say, "Oh, you look dressed up." I'll give you an example. I was on the jury service. We had a short trial, and then the coolest part for another long for trial. And we were like, oh, anyway, I'd come to court and I'm at court. I'm not the defendant but I still need to look nice. People would come in jeans, the judge is there and I'm, I can't come in jeans! No, I can't.My mother would be so upset with me, coming out in jeans to court. Come to court looking like that picture, a dress or whatever, every day. And then one day I came in, this is like after the 16th day. It's a long trial) and one of the girls, "Oh there she is!" I'm like, "What do you mean? What's wrong with you guys?" "Oh, we were taking bets as to what color you're gonna wear today." This is a legal system and process people. "What color are you gonna wear?"--

Lisa Woolfork  24:35  

Oh my gosh--

Janet Hensell  24:36  

Can you believe this? 

Lisa Woolfork  24:36  

Yes. Oh my gosh. Oh, the fate of a person's life is in your hands. And everyone's like, the most important thing that the jury cares about, is Janet's look for day 16. 

Janet Hensell  24:47  

It is so funny, it's hilarious. I was crying with laughter. They're so funny. It's a good bunch of people but the craziness they thought about is unbelievable. Really unbelievable. 

Lisa Woolfork  24:55  

I think that is delightful. And speaking of delightful, your social media. Your social media, I find it so charming. And one of my favorite reels that you did was when you talked about crafting as self care. I thought that was so beautiful. People can still go back and find it. I think you should pin that on your IG page so that people get to find it all the time. Because it was so beautiful. Can you talk about what led you to make that reel. I loved it, I use the sound to do my own reel cause I thought it was so wonderful. What led you to create crafting is self care?

Janet Hensell  25:34  

Sometimes I do funny reels. And sometimes I do serious reels. And sometimes I just do carousels and things. And on this day, I thought, you know, let's do something from the heart. I did one before from the heart when I spoke about my mother teaching me to sew. And I thought crafting is self care. You know, it is. Whether you're a carpenter, a seamstress, a dancer, you know, whatever you do for your mental health and fun, it is self care. So for me that was sewing, if you've got time and the resources to do so it's a nice thing to do. And you can do it peacefully. Some hand sewing, or you could do, run up a quick outfit for a night out, whatever it is, it's nice to do something and see a result at the end. And I thought let me just make a reel about something that makes sense. And just see that it resonated with you. It just really gladened in my heart. It's so nice to see that something you think and feel can have a reaction to somebody else and I thank you for that. It is really a nice feeling. I did another, "Tell me the outfit that you like wearing the most" or whatever, and that, the people on Tik Tok liked it. Thank you very much. But your version of it was outstanding, actually. 

Lisa Woolfork  26:38  

Well, I wouldn't say that I had had a professional photographer in to the studio. And he had taken photos of me sewing and doing stuff. And then Ryan, my youngest son, happened to come in. And like, I gave him a hug. And so we got a beautiful picture. And so like, I love that picture, and I make a lot of things for my kids. So I did love it, but it would not have happened, had it not been for your soundtrack. You put the words to the feelings that many of us have. So I want to thank you for that. And another thing to thank you for is this new sewing patterns, you've been studying pattern cutting, and now you've released a pattern. The first of many. I am certain. And this one again, this is your favorite fabric. This is a beautiful wove, is it a bit of a silk or satin in it? Can you talk about London Reign? And what makes this pattern? Like this is your first pattern. Is this the first one? 

Janet Hensell  27:29  

It is.

Lisa Woolfork  27:30  

This is your first one, which is so lovely. Can you talk about what led to this gorgeous outcome? What was your process like, I don't even understand how to begin.

Janet Hensell  27:42  

I used to sew in isolation. I never was on social media. Occasionally lurking on other people's blogs, and I'd see what other people could do. And I saw what I could do. And I used to think you know, I woulldn't mind working in some sort of capacity in a creative art like sewing and I never had the opportunity before. And I thought you know, I'm going to try now. I'm not getting any younger, let's give this a go now. And I would design my own pants from scratch anyway, and that feeling was unbelievable, to have an idea in your head and then make a sketch and actually make that idea come true is really wonderful. I still see patterns out, and some patterns are gorgeous and I'd love to make them, and other things I think, that's not for me, or this is quite trend-led. A lot of people are releasing similar patterns at the same time and I thought you know, why don't you try and create something you might like to see. Let's see how this goes because I've never offered anything to the public before. People have seen things on my feed that I've made for myself on my imagination, but I've never offered it to anybody else. People have said to me, over the last few years, things like, "I wish I could sew" or "You made me want to start sewing again" or "I like your design" and I thought, you know, I get some positive words back. Thought, let me try and get a pattern released, and this has been a long process. I've been studying pattern cutting on and off for some time now, and I'm enrolled in two different pattern cutting schools now. One is more focused on the modern, one's more focused on the vintage. I remember, when I was in the course doing the vintage class, I did see something with a drop sleeve. And that did have a [unclear] drop sleeve actually. And I made something with the drop sleeve, which was similar to this but I used to like, extended the sleeve.--

Lisa Woolfork  29:14  


Janet Hensell  29:15  

The jewel length. I think is equal here.--

Lisa Woolfork  29:17  

Yes. Okay. Okay.--

Janet Hensell  29:19  

I love this drop sleeve. And I thought, you know let me develop a pattern based around the drop sleeve. So I thought I'd do something more modist.--

Lisa Woolfork  29:25  


Janet Hensell  29:26  

Maybe wear for an event, or for a summer wedding. Something like that. Cause I could have done--

Lisa Woolfork  29:30  


Janet Hensell  29:30  

some backless or whatever but I didn't feel like it for this dress. I thought I'd do something a bit more modist this with a higher neck and elbow length sleeve and show the volume of the see cause I made it exceedingly gathered across the bicep. So you get the volume. 

Lisa Woolfork  29:43  


Janet Hensell  29:44  

That's what I did.

Lisa Woolfork  29:45  

Yes. It's a lovely result. I mean, a statement sleeve is one of my favorite things and I am loving how you said, you basically, you started with the sleeve. The drop sleeve was the thing that kind of sparked your imagination. Like you built the garment around that. Okay, so you got the sleeve, you've attached it to the bodice. And so that top half is done. How did you decide on what the skirt would be?

Janet Hensell  30:11  

I wanted to keep it in a vintage sort of vein. I wanted to have a pencil skirt. Obviously, you need to walk in a pencil skirt. And I do remember the time when I trained in a pencil skirt and couldn't lift my leg and a man had to hoist me in. So I thought no, this needs some sort of movement, incorporated. So I made a kick please. Oh well, I should say just a walking vent. So when you walk, the back-- 

Lisa Woolfork  30:34  

A walking vent.--

Janet Hensell  30:35  

Yeah, so it's still closed. And if you notice in vintage dresses, if you go back to series, madmen, if you look at a lot of--

Lisa Woolfork  30:41  


Janet Hensell  30:42  

dresses, she has that sort of walking vent as opposed to the splits where you see skin. This opens, you don't see-- 

Lisa Woolfork  30:47  


Janet Hensell  30:48  

But you can move. So that's how the back-- 

Lisa Woolfork  30:50  


Janet Hensell  30:50  

I'm partial to a pencil skirt. I must say.

Lisa Woolfork  30:52  

Yes, and it absolutely works. It absolutely works. It is lovely. And I love the name London Reign. My plan was to name one of my children Reign, R E I G N because I loved it so much. And we ended up going with family names instead. But if we had not decided that, one of these children would definitely be named R E I G N. How did you decide on London Reign for the name of this pattern? What made you choose that? Or what energy do you want folks to kind of receive from it when we hear the name,

Janet Hensell  31:25  

I made a conscious decision not to name anything after females cause a lot of things are named female names. And I thought, I'm not gonna do--

Lisa Woolfork  31:32  


Janet Hensell  31:31  

I, something I feel at the time. And I thought London, I live in London. I'm from London, I've raised in London. London's a good one. I love thought Reign. That sounds good. I want you to feel regal in it. I want you to feel important. Let's call it Reign. And is sort of just flew from there. I think it suits the garment.

Lisa Woolfork  31:33  

It absolutely suits the garment. 100%. And the name itself is so, really, this just so cool. Like, it's just cool. You know, you think about London, and then the monarchy and all that other stuff. Like there's just so many ways that London Reign works as a garment name. And I hadn't thought so much about, I think you're right, I think a lot of independent pattern companies, and even some of the Big Four now, are starting to name their patterns. And when they do, they do tend to choose names that are associated with people, or a person's name, and sometimes even the designers name or whatever, as part of it. So I thought that was really interesting. Oh, that's so cool. I'm so glad I asked that question. 

Janet Hensell  32:26  

So the plan was, because everybody knows we have rain in London, as in the physical weather.--

Lisa Woolfork  32:30  

Exactly, exactly. I have heard that it rains there a lot. I've yet to go to England, but I have heard it rains a lot, for sure. And now I know somebody that lives there, it's you. So now I can contact you. You could show me the sewing scene in London and like, take me to the shops and all that stuff. So that I would totally love. Now I'm going to ask you the last question. Since we're wrapping up here. This is a question I ask all guests. 

Lisa Woolfork  32:54  


Lisa Woolfork  32:55  

The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together. We will help you get your stitch together. I'm going to ask you, Miss J. Sews, what advice do you have for our listeners today that will help us get our stitch together.

Janet Hensell  33:12  

I say two things, know your body and fit. I want to say know your body, there's trends. But maybe that trend isn't for you. Maybe you're not gonna feel comfortable when you try on that trend. So know what fits your lifestyle and fits your body. And when I say fit, I mean actually as well know to fit your garments to fit you. Even if the garment is made from a cheaper fabric. Once it fits you, people won't even notice.

Lisa Woolfork  33:37  

I love it. That is genius advice. And on that note, thank you so much Janet, for being here today. This has been such a delight truly, truly, I am so grateful.

Janet Hensell  33:47  

Thank you so much for having me. I do appreciate it. And maybe we'll do this again one day.

Lisa Woolfork  33:51  

Absolutely. Yes. And we also have to add Janet has been incredibly generous and offering a 35% discount code for her London Reign pattern, we will include that in the show notes. So when you look at the episode online or in any of your podcast players, you can find the discount code and the link to the pattern. All of that will be there. Janet, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Janet Hensell  34:13  

Thank you so much, Lisa, thank you very much.

Lisa Woolfork  34:17  

You've been listening to Stitch Please the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you joining us this week and every week for stories that center Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. We invite you to join the Black Women Stitch Patreon community, with giving levels beginning at $5 a month. Your contributions help us bring the Stitch Please podcast to you every week. Thank you for listening. Thank you for your support, and come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.

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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