Mondes Threads: She Will Hem Your Pants!

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Episode Summary

Monde Chisenga is an incredible designer, seamstress, alterations specialist, and sewing guide for new and seasoned sewers looking to gain confidence. Monde joins the Stitch Please podcast to share her journey from stressed-out accountant to sought-after seamstress and what she’s learned about herself and her value. Monde also shared the mindset shifts required to move from a profession she thought would be a great fit to a hobby that brought her joy. This opened up the conversation as we talked about how she started making money from sewing when she stopped undercharging her value. Monde also shares how alterations are a great way to enhance a more sustainable wardrobe, why she finds joy in her craft, and how she closes the gap in the clothing industry by making size-inclusive clothing for all body types. This episode is a treat for sewers looking for validation that their work is worth the price they set and the benefits of alterations over fast fashion.

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Lisa Woolfork  0:14  

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. 

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I am your host, Lisa Woolfork. And as I say every week, this is a very special episode because I am talking with Monde Mutumba Chisenga. And one of the wonderful things about Monde is that she is very happy to break the rules of Sewing Club. Because in my opinion, Sewing Club is like Fight Club: one of the top rules is that you don't talk about Sewing Club. And in particular, you don't tell anybody you sew, because they'll want you to hem their pants. Or they'll want you to do things for them. Now, Monde is of the opinion that she will happily hem your pants. She actually tells people, y'all, that she not only knows how to alter things; she will alter them for you. What! So let us learn about this great humanitarian, Monde Mutumba Chisenga. Welcome, Monde, to the program.

Monde Chisenga  1:38  

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you.

Lisa Woolfork  1:44  

Thank you so much for being here with us today, Monde. Can you tell us a bit about your sewing story? How did you get started? What are some of your earliest memories of sewing in your sewing life?

Monde Chisenga  1:55  

Hoo, sewing life. Well. I learned how to sew from my mom. I think she was a seamstress. I mean, I was young, so I didn't really know exactly what she was doing. We used to live in the UK, and I think she used to work for a factory or something that had to do with sewing. So she had a sewing machine at home and I picked it up from there. Moved back to Zambia. I'm originally from Zambia. So we moved back to Zambia, and she still sewed, and she started sewing for people. So that's how I picked up sewing. And I used to make sewing for my dolls. I used to sew clothes for my dolls, a few things for myself. But then after that, I think it was just growing up and losing interest. And that's how I just - I abandoned the craft. I eventually moved to North America. Yeah, I'm taking you way back.

Lisa Woolfork  2:52  

I love this journey from the UK to Zambia to North America, get it transcontinental! Come on!

Monde Chisenga  3:01  

Yeah, world traveler. [laughs] So I moved to North America, got married, no sewing in sight. I started working, and I was at a very stressful - it was stressful to me. I thought this was, like, my dream job. Because it was a nonprofit organization, Christian organization, doing God's work, of course. And I was in accounting, and I had gone to school for accounting. So I was like, perfect, doing what I went to school for, Christian organization, and I was working part time. No Monday, no Friday. 

Lisa Woolfork  3:38  

Oh, wow. You are like Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, middle of the week practicing your faith, practicing your training from university that you had studied to become an accountant. And every week, you get a four day weekend. So like, what's not to love? And Monde's like, there's a lot not to love. Tell us about how you slowly became a break from that.

Monde Chisenga  4:01  

Oh, yeah. So it became very stressful for me. And so I started to sew as a stress reliever. Because I started to get a bit of anxiety as well, like, going back to work. I'm like, Oh my gosh, do I have to go back to work? I don't want to go back to work. And so my husband had suggested, Okay, why don't you do something that's unrelated to what you're doing at work. And that's sewing, you mentioned that you used to sew, so why don't you take that up? And I was like, Okay, sure. So he bought me a sewing machine. And for some time, I didn't touch it. I just let it be. But things started getting really bad. And I was like, You know what, let me start sewing. So I did start sewing. You don't lose the skill. It's just, I guess, with a new sewing machine, learning new techniques. So it was really like I was starting afresh. So I would say I kind of like retaught myself how to sew. Like, I had the memory. But yeah, I was still practicing, and not really perfecting, but progressing in the skill. So from then, I would wear my makes, I would wear my makes to church. And people started asking Well that's so nice, where did you get that from? I would be like, I made it.

Lisa Woolfork  5:19  

The Sewing Club rules! You aren't supposed to tell them, Monde.

Monde Chisenga  5:23

Don't tell them. That was my first mistake. 

Lisa Woolfork  5:27  

Oh, my goodness. I don't know how we didn't get the primer over to the UK or to Zambia that you aren't supposed to tell people in North America that you know how to sew. That's like, oh goodness. Okay, continue. 

Monde Chisenga  5:41  

No, I wish someone had told me. I was just so proud of what I had made. I was like, I made this. And then they were like, Oh, can you make this for me? And I was like, at that time, I said no, because I wasn't confident in making things for other people. I was like, firstly, I am praying that this stays on, it doesn't fall apart. No stitches come loose.

Lisa Woolfork  6:08  

I would like to praise the Lord in this outfit, but I'm not sure the seams are going to stand up. I'd like to lift my hands in glory, but like, I don't know if my underarms are going to rip. 

Monde Chisenga  6:17  

Exactly. [laughs] Yes. So I was like, No, I'm not sewing for people. So then I was confidently saying no. And then, back to work: situation is still not good. And my husband was like, You know what, if this job is causing you a lot of stress, why don't you just leave, like, take a break? Stay home for a bit, and we'll figure something out. Like, we'll figure out if that's where you want to continue. It's accounting that you want to do, we'll figure that out. So I was kind of a bit apprehensive because I was like, I mean, we've heard of stay-at-home moms. But there was no kid in sight. I didn't have any kids. I'm like, what are people going to think about me? Oh, she's just a trophy wife at home?

Lisa Woolfork  7:07  

She's got a loving spouse who cares about her health. That's what they're going to think.

Monde Chisenga  7:11  

I didn't know! I didn't even think that. I was like, no, they're just gonna judge me and think, Oh, she's just with him for his money. And I don't know. I don't know. Like, all these just crazy thoughts.

Lisa Woolfork  7:26  

Yes, yes. I wish I had known you then. Because I would have said, no one thinks that. And also, who cares?

Monde Chisenga  7:33  

I know, the who cares? Who cares? It's your life. Live it.

Lisa Woolfork  7:36  

Ma'am. Your spouse is saying, Okay, you know what, I got you this sewing machine to help deal with anxiety. And now saying, Hey, we could work together as a family to figure out - because I'd rather have a happy wife than a wife who is miserable and unhappy. And let's see if we can have you be happy. Let's try that.

Monde Chisenga  7:59  

Exactly. I wasn't hearing it. I don't know. I mean, hindsight is 2020.

Lisa Woolfork  8:07  

Yes it is. And every day we learn lessons so that we don't have to learn them again, you know? So.

Monde Chisenga  8:13  

That's true. I say it was a God thing, because I feel like God was making it so uncomfortable for me in that situation. To help me, it was like, He was nudging me. "You need to step out in faith, because I got you! I really got you. Just take a step and trust me." No, I don't know.

Lisa Woolfork  8:34  

It's so great. You know that we hear all these different stories depending on the Christian faith tradition you might have grown up with, these jokes about like, you know, a flood comes and a person, like, climbs onto the roof of the house. And you know, somebody comes by with a boat and a helicopter and "No, no, I don't need your boat or helicopter. God will save me." And then the person dies, and ends up going up to meet God and, "God, why didn't you save me?" And God's like, "Dude, I sent a boat and a helicopter and you declined," right? So you think you're in this Christian organization, doing what you're supposed to do as a woman of faith, and also, like, utterly miserable. So then, enter the sewing machine, enter your spouse saying, Hey, things can be different, let's give it a try. And you say...

Monde Chisenga  9:27  

....I don't know. I don't know. Anyways, eventually, I decided to quit. I was like, enough is enough. If God says He's got me, He's got me. The Bible says pursue peace, and so that's what I wanted. And I'm like, that is what I'm going to pursue: peace. And so I quit my corporate job in, I think that was like September 2016. And for some reason, the week before, it was the week before or the week after, I decided I was going to start taking custom orders. So anyone who asked me if they wanted something made, I was going to say yes. Oh, actually, it was the week after. So I quit my job, and then the next weekend at church, someone asked me, Oh, can you make this? Can you make this? And I was like, Yes, I can make this for you. And that person told another person, and told another person, and told another person. And that's how...I guess I was set, because it was prom orders. Everyone needed prom dresses.

Lisa Woolfork  10:27  

Oh yes, right. Like, you quit at the right season,

Monde Chisenga  10:34  

I quit at the right season. And it was like, God was just waiting for me to say yes to that, to open the floodgates.

Lisa Woolfork  10:44  

This is what I find interesting about that. You left the job because you found the job to be stressful, all the way to take on alterations and custom sewing, which I personally find stressful. So I don't know what it is about you and your love of stressful situations. I mean, that you, like, voluntarily tell people you will alter their clothes is just like, "Shhhh! Don't tell nobody that!" Tell me a bit about how you found joy, because you seem to clearly be joyful, right? That the same stress that you had at your corporate job is not the stress you seem to have at your custom job. Tell us about that change.

Monde Chisenga  11:31  

I mean, I love sewing. I love sewing. It was a stress reliever. I love to grow in sewing, I love to learn in sewing. And so that's where the sewing enthusiast comes in. Because I'm really passionate about it. And if I can help people, I don't look at it as really being stressed. 

Lisa Woolfork  11:51  

I can tell, because you're smiling. Listen, y'all. If you're a Patreon subscriber, you get to see the video of us looking amazing. Really cute. And you can see the whole time Monde is smiling. She's talking about alterations, and custom sewing, and dealing with measuring people's bodies, and dealing with their complaints - and she is cackling with genuine laughter! 

Monde Chisenga  12:13  

Oh Lord. [laughs] I really don't know what it is. But I do love it, I do enjoy it. I mean, it's something that I can do to help people. And so I mean, if I can help you, I will do it. 

Lisa Woolfork  12:30  

I really love that. I absolutely love that. So you take this step, you leave something you don't care for, that's not sustaining you, that's stressing you out, that's depleting you, and you step into something that is something you love. And you're starting to build a craft practice as well as - were you taking orders in terms of, were you volunteering to do this for people, or did you start taking commerce right away when you stepped into that?

Monde Chisenga  13:02  

Yeah, so it was commerce right away - I would say commerce right away. So I turned my sewing into a business. Well, I want to say it was a business. 

Lisa Woolfork  13:13  

She's doing air quotes here. 

Monde Chisenga  13:15  

What it really was was an expensive hobby.

Lisa Woolfork  13:21  

Because businesses bring money in.

Monde Chisenga  13:24  

Yes. And I thought I was bringing in money, and really what I was doing was charging for the fabric. Really, that was it. I was just charging for the fabric. But my labor, it was almost like I was donating my time. Which was okay, I guess, which was okay at the time. But then the thing with that is that it becomes very taxing, because you're putting in so much sewing, and you're not really getting much back. So yeah, I kind of had to reevaluate, and shift around some things, some mindsets. And yeah, create a business.

Lisa Woolfork  14:06  

Yes, that covered more than just the material costs of fabric.

Monde Chisenga  14:10  

Yes, yes. I don't know, I think it's just the journey of entrepreneurship and having a business and figuring things out. You start off by really undercharging yourself. So yeah, with time I started to try and at least charge what I felt was a good amount of money for the services that I was providing. So yeah, that's been my journey. So yes, I started out with custom clothing. I rarely did alterations. But the pandemic hit, and: no prom. 

Lisa Woolfork  14:48  

Right, right. So you had to make some transitions in your model.

Monde Chisenga  14:54  

Yes, yes. And so coming out of the pandemic, everyone - we all had this pandemic waist. [laughs]

Lisa Woolfork  15:02  

So some alterations seemed to be necessary.

Monde Chisenga  15:05  

Yes, yes. I mean, some went on the positive, some went on the negative. I had a few people who did amazing - they had lost weight. I was like, how did you do it?

Lisa Woolfork  15:15  

No, no, no, no. And that's what I love about your work, is that you are very size inclusive. And then you had this gorgeous gown from this pregnant lady. She looked like she's maybe about seven months? And the gown fit her beautifully. And so I really believe that one of the benefits of sewing your own clothes, is that it lets you love and appreciate your body however it looks. If your body is a big body, you can sew for your body; your body is a little body, you can sew for your body. Your body is pregnant; your body is trans; your body is whatever; whatever your body is, you can make something for your body that looks good and feels good. And if you can't do that because you don't have the skill, there is this very kind lady I met named Monde,  and she will take your stuff that no longer fits and make it fit. If you got bigger, she'll make it bigger. You got smaller, she'll make it smaller.

Monde Chisenga  16:15  

Yeah. Well, that's true. That's true. And I find it funny. It's like, what are people saying? No, honestly, this is my take on alterations: It's the easiest thing you can do. You're not making a whole outfit. So that's why I'm like, I can hem your pants rather than make you the pants. You need me to hem for you, I could do that. Don't ask me to make the whole outfit. I mean, I didn't mind that, but like I said it was a bit taxing on my body. So I was like, okay, so let me try and ease up on doing custom orders, and see what I can do with alterations. And so yes, I'll have your pants, but for a fee. It's not for free. And it's affordable. I mean, well, it depends. It depends. Because I hear people are paying quite a bit of money to get their pants hemmed. I'm affordable!

Lisa Woolfork  17:17  

And listen, Monde, you do not owe anyone affordability. That is not - my budget, their budget is not your problem. And everything that you are doing has value and deserves to be compensated in a way that values that value. You don't have to be the cheapest. I keep telling people all the time, we have to stop thinking of ourselves as in competition with Walmart.

Monde Chisenga  17:46  

Oh my gosh, yes. 

Lisa Woolfork  17:47  

Or Target. Like, "Oh, Target charges $7 for a t-shirt." And I'm like, Yeah, because that's a thousand gallons of water and a lot of exploitation. That's how they're doing that. Yeah, my thing is not making a $7 t-shirt. In the Global South, there's some kids in Indonesia who are making these things. Like, stop saying that this is the way it should be. 

Monde Chisenga  18:10  

And it's really a mindset shift. Because I don't know where we got it from, and I don't know why we feel we don't deserve to be compensated or paid the value, like you said, the value of what we're worth. So it really is, like, a mindset shift that we should have. And even for me, like, I'm getting there. It's a journey. I didn't charge what I used to charge, like, before. Like I said, I was just charging, like, cost.

Lisa Woolfork  18:38  

"If you give me this fabric, I'll do the work for free. Just bring me the fabric, I'll do it for you." 

Monde Chisenga  18:45  

Yeah, yeah. I found doing that almost started making me hate the craft. 

Lisa Woolfork  18:51  

Yep. Resentful for sure. 

Monde Chisenga  18:53  

Yes, yes, yes. And I was like, I don't want to be in that place. And the thing is, you're going to go away and pay someone else. Right? And probably even pay them more. 

Lisa Woolfork  19:04  

They will definitely pay them more. They will definitely - don't even think for a second that there's someone out there that they are going to because they charge less. That is not the case at all. 

Monde Chisenga  19:17  

Yeah, yeah. So yeah, it's definitely a mindset shift that I'm continually working on. But yeah, I'm going to hem your pants but for a fee. 

Lisa Woolfork  19:27  

Exactly. And I really feel as though particularly if you're part of a community, that it is the responsibility of the community to support, right? And it is absolutely a mindset shift. Because at least for me, and one thing that I'm excited about for you is that you've already had several mindset shifts, right? You had a mindset shift when you decided to leave that job that was stressing you out. So that was one big mindset shift. That took a lot, I'm sure. Like, I did all this training, and this seems like it's part of my faith, and I don't want to feel like if I'm quitting this job, I'm being a bad Christian or whatever. All of these things that might have been going through your head: you processed all of that out. And were able to do something that made you feel good and happy. Similarly, I think that when we start to charge more, when we start to say, we are worth more than we are getting, it helps us elevate the way we think of ourselves and other things, right? So I was talking to my husband the other day about something, I was like, Oh, I want to get this thing, but it feels really expensive, and I just don't know. And he was like, But you're always saying that people who do craft things need to be compensated. I said, You're right. You're right. When I see something at a higher price point than I think that I would pay, I have to ask myself, why am I thinking that? Is it because this comes from a woman? Is it because it's sewing? Is it because, like, why am I saying it doesn't have that value? What stories am I inheriting that is lowering the value of that, but there's other things that I'll buy and never question?

Monde Chisenga  21:03  

Yeah, that is so true. 

Lisa Woolfork  21:06  

True, right? Like there's other things that we might get or buy, like, you know, a pair of shoes from Adidas or Nike or whatever. It's like, okay, that's $175. And I would pay that, you know, as an example. But you know what I mean? Like, as an example. 

Monde Chisenga  21:23  

If you've seen some of my reels, I kind of, like, make fun about that, like, people want to come to me and try and be cheap, or complain about the price. But they'll come to a consultation with a Louis Vuitton bag, or a Gucci belt. Yeah, you're complaining about $20 or $50, but you have like, $500, on your back? So like, really think about it.

Lisa Woolfork  21:54  

Absolutely true. And I think it's sometimes from - like, my mother would always say, she was, like, "People buy what they want and borrow what they need."

Monde Chisenga  22:03  

That is so, so true. Mentality, like our mindset.

Lisa Woolfork  22:09  

And we can say - and that helps me set boundaries - it helps me to say no, right? Or to say, oh, no, no, this is going to be more, and if you don't want to do it, it's okay, I understand. Everybody has a budget, and I've been there. You don't have to accept crumbs from anybody. The work that you are doing is so valuable, especially because you do it with such skill, and with such good cheer.

Monde Chisenga  22:34  

Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate it. And like I said, I feel like I'm helping. I'm helping people. Like the bride who came to me, it was about 10 days before her wedding. 

Lisa Woolfork  22:44  

Yes, tell us about that. Because I think that that was something you were really excited about that you did this kind of emergency bridal fix. What was it? What happened? 

Hey friends, hey. What are you doing on Thursday around 3pm or so? You got 30 minutes to hang out with Black Women Stitch? You got 60? If so, come through for 30 Minute Thursdays, Thursdays 3pm Eastern Standard Time. You can chill with Black Women Stitch on Instagram Live, or talk with us through the two-way audio on Clubhouse at 3:30pm Eastern Standard Time. That's Thursdays for 30 minutes. Come hang out, chill, and have fun with us. See you Thursday.

Monde Chisenga  23:35  

Oh man, she custom ordered a dress from...she said overseas, I'm thinking maybe it was China. 

Lisa Woolfork  23:43  

They have a lot of like designer dresses that look really great in the pictures, and then when you get them...I've seen a lot of people with the "This is what they said it was, and then when I put it on my actual body, that's not what happened." 

Monde Chisenga  23:58  

Yeah, well, actually the dress was top notch. The quality was really good. The sewing was done really well. And this is another advantage that you have to alterations: you see other people's work. And that's how I learn as well. I'm like, oh, how was this put together? So I can see all these things. So the work was really, really good. And I don't know, it took a few months for the dress to arrive. Beaded dress; rhinestones; it was a heavy dress. It was like 40 pounds. Heavy dress. Poufs, ruffles everywhere, like a huge train. And she sent me a message saying, I ordered this dress and I can't fit. Can you do something about it? I'm like, it depends. [laughs]

Lisa Woolfork  24:48  

Was this someone that you knew? Was this someone who approached you just out of the blue, someone who had heard of your work, and heard of what you could do, and they approached you for this repair? Okay.

Monde Chisenga  24:59  

Yes. So on Instagram, in most of my posts where I put my work, I'll put the hashtag #Memphisseamstress because I'm in Memphis. So a lot of people - and that's a business strategy - a lot of people who are searching on Instagram will search seamstress, or Memphis seamstress, or...and so when they come across that hashtag, they come across me. So they'll either message me or book through my booking site. But anyways, she messaged me and said, Yes, this is what's going on. And I was like, Oh, it depends. Let me see what's going on. And she sent me a picture of - I wish I had the picture here. But anyway, she sent me a picture of the dress. And she could barely put it across her waist. It was fully zipped, like not fully zipped, like it was unzipped, and she couldn't lift it past her waist. It was that small. 

Lisa Woolfork  25:56  

Wow. Well, at least it got over the hips. So that was like, yay. 

Monde Chisenga  26:00  

It couldn't even - I don't know!

Lisa Woolfork  26:04  

She was going to have to wear her dress like this. Holding it up with two hands. 

Monde Chisenga  26:09  

No. I looked at that, and I was like, What are we going to do here? And I asked her, I was like, Okay, does it have like the side seams? Not that she would know this.

Lisa Woolfork  26:23  

So you start saying, Well, what's the seam allowance? And she's like, What's a seam?

Monde Chisenga  26:27  

I was like, Does it have enough to take out? Like, if I open it up, does it have enough? Because some clothing are made with that allowance.

Lisa Woolfork  26:36  

Yes. Couture stuff is made with like a one inch allowance, and the fast fashion stuff is made with a quarter inch allowance. No, there's no fixing. So what happened? Was there enough seam allowance? 

Monde Chisenga  26:49  

So she was like, I don't know, I have to ask the designer. So she went back and asked the designer and they were like, yes, they can take it out. They've made it in a way that you can do alterations. I was like, Mm, okay. I'll need to see the dress before I say anything. So she brought the dress over, could not fit it. And I was looking, and it was beaded. It was beaded all around. So even taking it out, I was like, this is going to be too much work. I really can't do anything. And she burst into tears. I know, I know, I know. It's like 10 days before the wedding. And... 

Lisa Woolfork  27:30  

I would be crying! I was like tearing up! We'd all be in there crying because it's not my fault she brought me this dress 10 days before your wedding, girl. I'm so sorry for all of us! Everybody involved in this situation! People who don't even know you and hear the story later will also probably be crying for you. Because, whomp whomp. That's sad!

Monde Chisenga  27:49  

Yes. And I was like, she probably paid quite a bit of money for this dress, because...

Lisa Woolfork  27:55  

Forty pounds of dress? 

Monde Chisenga  27:57  

I know. And then she had to have it shipped to America from overseas. And she said she paid for the shipping. So it was a lot of money that she spent. So I looked at the dress again. I was like, Okay, let me think, let me think. What can we do here? So the side seams was not an option. I was going to open that up to see, but there was beading. And I was like, if I start to take off the beading, that's work for me, I'll have to re-bead the dress. I was like, work smart, not hard. And we're not doing that. So I was like, okay, corset back is an option. It's the corset back the lace, the corset's lace ties. I was like, okay, that's an option, but I need to see if it really is an option. I could take out the back seam, because there was a seam in the back, and there was no beading there. So I was like, Okay, let's see if I open that up, if you can actually put on the dress. So we did that. And again, like I said, the workmanship on that dress was exceptional because I had a hard time even like... 

Lisa Woolfork  29:04  

Oh good, so it didn't just go pop pop pop.

Monde Chisenga  29:09  

That was perfect. The dress was going to stay on because of the weight. So I did that and then had her come in for another fitting and praise the Lord, the dress could go up. 

Lisa Woolfork  29:26  

Okay. Okay, so now you've opened up the back. Did it have a center back zipper, or was the zipper on the side? 

Monde Chisenga  29:32  

So it had a zipper, so I was like... 

Lisa Woolfork  29:34  

Okay, like zipper out, that closure out, open the seam entirely. So now you are looking at the person, the client's in the dress. The dress is totally gapped open now, because there's no zipper and no back seam. You think: corset. How do you decide, like, where to put it, and how much, and how did you find matching fabric?

Monde Chisenga  29:38  

So, I guess most corset lace backs go up to the waist. That's the traditional standard. But I was like, you don't really have any options. So we have to make it go all the way down to her - just above the knee. Because all there was open, all down there was open. So I was like, I mean, you don't have any other choice. She was like, I don't even care as long as it's just closed, and my tail is not out there for the world to see.

Lisa Woolfork  30:37  

That is not a memory I want from my wedding. A blooper where one of my butt cheeks comes flying out of the dress as I walk down the aisle. That is not what I'm hoping for as a wedding memory.

Monde Chisenga  30:48  

Oh, my gosh, I was like, Okay, we'll do that. So I had to kind of, like - because there's kits that come already made, you don't have to make the loops. And the tie. So I was like, that's not even going to work, because the standard kit is probably, like...yeah, it's not long enough. So I'm like, I have to create that. So I was like, Okay, I can do that, and just have like a panel of fabric to cover all the open area. And then, yeah, you can tie it up, and you'll be good. So that's what we did. But again, because of the time, I couldn't find fabric that was a close match to her gown. It was off-white. An off-white gown with beading and rhinestone. But the only fabric that I had was, it was like white-white.

Lisa Woolfork  31:44  

Oh, I see. But not off-white. Okay. 

Monde Chisenga  31:46  

Yeah, so it was a bit of a difference. But I was like, Okay, for the lace tie, I can add some rhinestones on it so that it kind of, like, hides the contrast. So when it's tied up, you won't really see much of the white. So we did that again, and finally finished, I think I finished the dress...her wedding was on a Sunday; I finished it Friday. Friday, she came in for her last fitting to see if it actually, like, closed and everything. Oh, forgot to mention. The dress was too big, so I couldn't use my sewing machine. I had to hand sew everything. 

Lisa Woolfork  32:23  

Listen. I am so confused right now. I am so confused. Because earlier in this conversation - and I know this because I am recording the conversation - you say that you left a job because it was high stress. And you chose to step out on faith to something you loved that would be less stressful, and not deplete you, and not have you all worried. And then somebody brings you a 40 pound wedding dress ten days before a wedding that cannot be sewn on a sewing machine, that will also not close, and that you also don't have fabric for, and that you also cannot order a kit for, so that you must also build a corset that is about probably 22 inches long from top to bottom. I'm trying to understand where the stress-freeness of it all is. I wasn't even there, and I feel like my blood pressure is going up, because I have an anxiety about this story! And you're here laughing and cackling and kiki-ing like it was the funniest thing you ever had in your life. What!

Monde Chisenga  33:30  

You're killing me. [Laughs.] I don't know. I don't know. Like I said, I think it was a God thing. Because, isn't there that saying that there's some things that come easy to you, and to others they'll be like, uh, that's not easy?

Lisa Woolfork  33:49  

Exactly. That is very true. That is true, that this is your gift, and your gift makes it easy for you. Ours are different kinds of gifts, and that's not easy for me. That's not something that I would ever want to do at all. Even for people that I love. Like my husband'll be like, can you hem my pants? And I'll be like, ugh. Can I give you $5 and take them to the dry cleaners?

Monde Chisenga  34:13  

I'd rather give the dry cleaners the $5.

Lisa Woolfork  34:16  

I would absolutely rather give the dry cleaners $5. When you said it's easier - I would rather make him a fresh pair pants. I would. 

Monde Chisenga  34:28  

Let me just hand the pants. Let me refashion them. Let me take them in. I'll do that.

Lisa Woolfork  34:35  

But you know what I love about your whole method - well, you get to tell us the end of the story. So. The dress fit. She was happy.

Monde Chisenga  34:41  

She was happy. She walked down the aisle. And again, I think me being the perfectionist that I am, I looked at the picture and I was like, They didn't lace it up right. I was like, you had enough ties to nicely lace that up. She was like, Well, we kind of ran out of time. Because, apparently, she made her own wedding cake. And so it was like, seven tiers. And so she was setting up the wedding cake, and so she didn't have time to fully lace up her dress. Align priorities. It was laced up. It was laced up. It was really good.

She did not walk down the aisle with a dress that had a gigantic gash on the back .

Exactly, exactly. And I was like, as long as she walked down the aisle happy she got married. And she was happy. Yes.

Lisa Woolfork  35:37  

And you made that happiness happen. So that's a really great feeling. Now, what are some of the important things that you think you learned from that process? Did it boost your confidence? Did it give you, like, what kind of resources and skills do you think that you developed? You know, from that process?

Monde Chisenga  35:54  

Whoa, problem solving skills. 

Lisa Woolfork  35:59  

Yep, that sounds like one.

Monde Chisenga  36:01  

It definitely kind of, like, elevated my skill. Because like I said, when I do these alterations, that's how I learn. I learn how stuff is constructed, how to put together the materials that I use. So for me, I was like, Oh, these are one of the gowns, probably like $10,000 gowns that we see. This is how they are made. Obviously, it wasn't $10,000. 

Lisa Woolfork  36:26  

40 pounds, though. 40 pounds? And if you say it's well sewn, and that the same allowances were big enough? Like, that's not fast fashion, like, no, that does take time and skill to do. So it's not like it was just some flashy, cheap thing that was coming, like, from Forever 21 or whatever. No, that's not that. 

Monde Chisenga  36:49  

So yeah. So I definitely learned more about the construction of that type of wedding dress. And exposure. Me saying yes to that, and showing my work, kind of opened up doors for me. Because now everyone's like, Oh, can you do this for me? Can you, my dress is - yeah, I'm getting a lot of "my dress." "I bought my dress from overseas."

Lisa Woolfork  37:12  

Listen. I think you should have a standard fee that says if your dress comes from overseas, I don't know where, I don't know what country. I don't care if you get it from China, I don't care if you get it from Italy, I don't care if you even get it from Zimbabwe. Or Zambia, wherever you're getting your dress. If it is not coming from the hands of Monde...

Monde Chisenga  37:35  


Lisa Woolfork  37:36  

...there is a fee. And that fee is a sliding scale. And the sliding scale is based on the seam allowances of the dress. Or the weight of the dress, right? You know, because it goes back to what you were saying before, about somebody coming in with the Louis or Gucci or Balenciaga bag, like $3,000, or whatever. I don't know how much Guccis cost. But anyway, if they're coming in with that, and they could be thinking, well, you know what I could do, I could buy this dress from overseas for cheaper, and I can give it to her and pay her just a little bit to make it work out. And like, my mother says this, too. This is a quote from her grandmother. And she says, The lazy woman works the hardest.

Monde Chisenga  38:23  


Lisa Woolfork  38:25  

And I find that true for myself, anytime I'm like, Oh, let me just do a shortcut. She'll say, like, If you can't pay to do it once the right way, can you pay to do it twice? Right? Like, Oh, no, I'm going to have somebody who can do it for $20 as opposed to $80, but then they do it for $20 and it's not as good as the person that was going to do it for $80. And then you're doing it again.

Monde Chisenga  38:49  

Exactly, it's going to cost you more. It's going to cost you more. And I tell them, I'm like, yeah, it's going to cost you. It might even cost you more than the cost of the dress, or whatever it is that you bought. So be ready to pay. I always tell them that. Be ready to pay. 

Lisa Woolfork  39:05  

Be ready to pay. Yes, exactly. It's like, they're presenting me with this puzzle to solve. Right? And they set themselves up for it by buying this dress, and like this was the only one that they wanted, or could have, when they could have bought a dress that fit them. And there are certain circumstances where that's hard. I know that folks, you know, there's some folks who do indeed, because of the shapes of their bodies, aren't able just to buy stuff off the rack that's going to fit right.

Monde Chisenga  39:32  

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Lisa Woolfork  39:35  

That's pretty normal. Because the way that things are sized are ridiculous. You know?

Monde Chisenga  39:40  

I know, I know. It's bad.

Lisa Woolfork  39:41  

The idea of like, having a woman with no hips and like, you know, built like a pencil. Right? And not everybody is built like a pencil. Not everyone's built like that. So, it's tough. But it's so wonderful that you had the skill to kind of close that gap for people. And one thing I also want to give you a shout out for, is that one of the great things about alterations is that it's a such a great enhancement to sustainability. Rather than saying this doesn't fit, so I'm going to throw it out and put it in a landfill. You say this doesn't fit, but I'm going to make it fit. And then I'll make it last longer, and I can enjoy that longer. So that's really wonderful.

Monde Chisenga  40:19  

Yes. And I wish more people could consider that. And I kind of, like, tell people, Oh, when you're buying stuff, if you can buy it bigger, great. Get it altered. Yeah, I don't know about the small stuff. That's just emergency material. But if you can buy bigger or if it's big in your closet...alterations. 

Lisa Woolfork  40:43  

Yes, yes, yes. And you can make things bigger too, just like you did with the beautiful gown, if they had laced it up properly. Yeah, it would have been even better than it already was. We have to wrap up our time now, but I'm going to ask you a question that I've been asking folks of late. The slogan for the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together.

Monde Chisenga  41:04  

Oh, okay. Help you get your stitch together.

Lisa Woolfork  41:08  

Now, if someone came to you and said, Monde, how can I - what would you say, to help somebody to get their stitch together? What kind of advice would you offer to help somebody get their stitch together? Like, you know, Monde, I need to get my stitch together. What do you recommend? What would you say? 

Monde Chisenga  41:25  

Oh, that's a toughie. So many things to say, I don't know. Get your stitch together...I wanted to say the other word.

Lisa Woolfork  41:35  

You can substitute it out. I do it all the time.

Monde Chisenga  41:39  

Stitch. How can I get my stitch together? Well, I would say if there's something that you've always wanted to do, something that's pressing on your heart to do, but you, I don't know, felt that you haven't had the courage to do it, or just something you feel, something is holding you back: I would say take a step in faith. Do it. And see where that leads you. Yeah. So that would be my thing.

Lisa Woolfork  42:11  

This is such a wonderful conversation we've had today, Monde. I am so grateful for you taking the time. Where can folks find you on the socials? Because we're going to include all those links. But where can we find you?

Monde Chisenga  42:22  

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, Lisa, it was an amazing chat. You can find me on social media as Monde's Threads. Facebook, I have a Facebook page under Monde's Threads. Instagram, I'm @mondes_threads. And I think you'll have all the information right, Lisa? And YouTube, I'm also there as Monde's Threads. And then my website is So, 

Lisa Woolfork  42:58  

Perfect. Thank you so much, Monde Mutumba Chisenga, for being with us today. We had so much fun, y'all. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This was a delight. 

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 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 at 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.

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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