Lisa Woolfork 0:15
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 the Stitch Please podcast. I'm your host Lisa Woolfork and I am bringing to you another very special episode. I know you all get tired of me saying this. But this is a special episode of the Stitch Please podcast. But if you haven't learned by now, all of our episodes are special. And today's one is especially special. Because I am talking today with Rashida Coleman Hale. She is an author. She is a surface designer. She is a fabric designer. She is a sewist. I mentioned author, but did not mention award-winning author. So that also has to go in there. And I'm going to talk with her today about her books, about her sewing story, about what it means to design for big companies, what it means to design for yourself. And I'm just delighted to be here. And I was saying earlier I already feel like I know Rashida because I love her work. I have her prints. I have a ton of fabrics. I also have ... this is a selvedge from one of her lines with cotton and steel. And the reason I love it is these four women right here. This is... this, I felt like the whole fabric could have just been this.
Rashida Coleman Hale 2:09
That's my favorite selvedge ever.
Lisa Woolfork 2:11
It is. Same!
It's your favorite selvedge ever? [laughter] And the thing about me is that I save selvedges. I always have this grand vision of making a selvedge project. So I have selvedges that I save for what feels like a decade worth of selvedges and this is still the top one.
Rashida Coleman Hale 2:32
It's my favorite.
Lisa Woolfork 2:33
It is so awesome. And so y'all this is a video episode. I'm having a wonderful video conversation with Rashida this morning. And if you are a Patreon subscriber, you get to see this video. But if you are not, you still get to listen to our great conversation. So welcome Rashida Coleman Hale and thank you.
Rashida Coleman Hale 2:55
Thank you for having me.
Lisa Woolfork 2:57
I am so happy to talk with you. I've had such a great time researching your work. And I was super excited about one of your books is in Spanish, like and it's just like, just amazing. Let's get started with your sewing story. How did you start sewing? What ... How do you imagine the beginning of your sewing journey?
Rashida Coleman Hale 3:18
Oh my, I was 12. One summer, my mother was like you're gonna learn something this summer and you should learn how to sew and I was very unhappy about it. It didn't sound interesting at all or anything that I would want to do. But she took me to the fabric store and she had me pick a pattern. It was back in the 90s so it was like a vest with the parachute looking MC Hammer pants.
Lisa Woolfork 3:50
And that was your first sewing project? Let the record show that Rashida's first sewing project was made under duress.
Rashida Coleman Hale 3:59
Yes it was. I was very upset but like alright, gotta listen to my mom going with this and we went and picked the fabric and all the notions and everything and I made that outfit. I think I maybe wore it once because it was hideous. The fabric that I chose was terrible.
Lisa Woolfork 4:21
I'm imagining 12 year old Rashida being dragged to the fabric store by a mother who she is choosing to disobey, walking through the fabric so with her lips all poked out like, "Why do I have to be here when I could be doing something better?"
I could be flying a kite or horseback riding but no. Here I am in the fabric store with a bunch of old people.
Rashida Coleman Hale 4:46
Yes, all of that.
Lisa Woolfork 4:53
Like I just ... I just imagine you the whole time upset picking out fabric, picking out a pattern.
Rashida Coleman Hale 5:02
Lisa Woolfork 5:02
Sitting at the sewing machine, cutting out the outfit, the whole time you like, I still don't want to do this.
Rashida Coleman Hale 5:08
Every step. Every single step. I hated every moment of it. I hated it. Especially cutting out the pattern I was like, "This is dumb." Why is this paper all flimsy?
Lisa Woolfork 5:24
Oh my gosh, that is hilarious.
So how do you
get from being a surly 12 year old
Rashida Coleman Hale 5:32
forced to sew
Lisa Woolfork 5:33
to somebody in 2006, I read, said that your love of song was rekindled. I feel like if you develop such a really strong feeling as an adolescent, it might stick with you.
So what switched?
Rashida Coleman Hale 5:46
My mother was in a model. So the fashion industry has been in my life since I was very small. And I drew all the time - I was an only child so I had nothing better to do to entertain myself. So I was just constantly drawing and drawing and I fell in love with fashion. And I wanted to be a fashion designer. So I went to FIT in New York when I graduated high school and studied fashion design. Then I got there and I hated all the sewing.
Lisa Woolfork 6:16
This is hilarious.
I know this is your actual life story, but I was like you when you get surly about something, you really commit.
You were like, oh when I was 12 I hated sewing but then I decided that I wanted to be a fashion designer. I was going to commit to going to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. And then I fell in love and you were like nope.
Rashida Coleman Hale 6:41
I wanted to draw clothes. I didn't want to sew them.
Lisa Woolfork 6:43
You wanted to draw clothes? So how did ... what kind of sewing classes did you have to do at FIT that cemented your actual, your hatred for sewing?
Rashida Coleman Hale 6:54
It was just right from ... honestly, it was my first semester I was like, "This is not it." So I switched majors and switched to illustration. But living in New York and everything, I didn't feel like the fashion industry really was for me at the time. I was a super quiet, shy, small town girl. Even though I had traveled a lot with my mother, but...
Lisa Woolfork 7:20
I read that your mother was a model and you spent time in Japan and had been in the industry since you were little just by being her child. You would think that it's like you were coming home when you went to the ... when you went into fashion and to FIT and were gonna do fashion design, like this was almost like an inheritance. Your mother was a model, you like to draw, you're creative.
Rashida Coleman Hale 7:43
It seemed like the perfect package. But it just wasn't. I think ... my grandparents raised me because my mom was overseas working so much. She lived in Japan. So I was in a small town most of the time. I spent my summers in Japan and went to school there for a little while. I had the opportunity to become very worldly. See the world, but I still was a quiet girl. And I didn't ... I felt like the industry just wasn't for me because I got there and I was feeding all these boisterous, fabulous people who were doing all this fun work and in school and it just didn't feel like it was the right fit for me. So I quit school and tried to figure out what I wanted to do. And I ended up doing a plethora of different jobs in New York. I worked in a nightclub for several years.
Lisa Woolfork 8:40
Rashida, I am loving this story and I'm utterly confused. Rashida Coleman Hale is like a wonderful, beautiful walking paradox who hated sewing as a 12 year old then went to fashion school and continues to hate it. Fashion school is challenging for someone who's shy, quiet, maybe an introvert so you leave there to go work at a nightclub. I thought you would have said I left there to work at a library. But...
Rashida Coleman Hale 9:10
No, I think I got comfortable with New York and I was like okay, I'm feeling this groove now I think I like it here and I started going out and meeting people and I worked at the club and cocktail waitress and I also did coat check. And then I finally ... I did a bunch of temp work going around New York City working in different offices. I got to work at Reuters for a couple days. And I actually did one fulfilling job for them where for a whole the whole summer, they drove me around in a car and had me deliver PGA tournament invitations to all the CEOs they had invited to the event and they wanted them hand delivered. But they picked me to do it.
Lisa Woolfork 9:59
Which company was this that you hand delivered these invites for?
Rashida Coleman Hale 10:02
Reuters, the news service?
Yes. For the PGA tournament that they were hosting. And they had invitations for all these CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. And yeah, I remember they had a driver for me. And I had my little suit on and they drove me around Manhattan and I went around to all these different companies. And it was funny going into the buildings like I have to hand this to this big CEO person.
Lisa Woolfork 10:35
"No I cannot leave it with you. I need to see her or him, probably him, right away so I can put this into his hand from the Reuters organization."
Rashida Coleman Hale 10:44
So I got to do that. And I think I had boxes of them and it was so fun.
Lisa Woolfork 10:54
Being driven around New York, I think is fun. I think New York is not fun.
It's pretty nice because you can see a lot of stuff. It's pretty cool to look around while driving. You can admire the buildings...
Rashida Coleman Hale 11:07
In the back of a fancy towncar, going in all these buildings that you would never go into.
Lisa Woolfork 11:12
Oh, my gosh, wow.
Rashida Coleman Hale 11:16
I had all these fun, quirky jobs...
Lisa Woolfork 11:19
Were you drawing at all, in the interim, were you drawing in your spare time, were you doing any illustrations? Or were you completely occupied with just the hustle?
Rashida Coleman Hale 11:27
It was my hobby, it turned into a hobby, and that's the way I just kept doing it. I never stopped drawing, I kept doing it. And then finally, I settled in at a job at Time, Inc. in HR.
Lisa Woolfork 11:44
Fantastic. So I'm thinking about you. And of course, I'm so silly. I was like, oh, they're driving her around. I didn't know you're gonna say to deliver PGA invites. I thought you were gonna say, they drove me around to places so I can make illustrations, you know?
Rashida Coleman Hale 11:59
That's the craziest thing, but they were like, "We want these hand delivered. No mailing, no drop it off in the lobby."
Lisa Woolfork 12:09
It takes a lot of money doing this.
That is incredible.
So you're in New York, you're doing all these different jobs. You're moving through the city in ways that feel good and comfortable to you. How do you move from there to what you're doing now, to the story of starting to say, "I think I would love to have my art on fabric. I'd like my art to have a broader canvas, a broader reach, than just my sketchpad"?
Rashida Coleman Hale 12:38
I went home to Florida. And I needed to regroup. And I started working down there, doing a job at Starwood.
Lisa Woolfork 12:49
Great! Starwood, is that a hotel?
Rashida Coleman Hale 12:52
It's a hotel chain.
Lisa Woolfork 12:53
And where in Florida were you? Because that's where I'm from. I'm from Florida.
Rashida Coleman Hale 12:56
Lisa Woolfork 12:57
I'm from West Palm Beach.
Rashida Coleman Hale 12:59
Okay, nice. My uncle lives down there.
Lisa Woolfork 13:02
Oh, that's so fun. So my mother was born and raised there. My father, who's passed away, was born and raised there. I was like a fourth generation born and raised in that community. And my sister is now in Orlando, but believe it or not, she's moving to California.
Rashida Coleman Hale 13:18
Oh, wow. Yeah, I was born in Orlando. And my family grew up ... I grew up in Winter Haven, which is in Polk County.
Lisa Woolfork 13:29
What a small world, I tell you. So you regrouped. You're working at Starwood You knew ... this huge new life change comes about and then it's what, are you like off to the races with the illustrations and drawing and now, I know I'm gonna do?
Rashida Coleman Hale 13:45
I got married, and I had my little girl in 2006. So I suddenly was a stay at home mom.
She was the best baby. She was so good. She was like, asleep all the time. Her cry was like [soft "Wah"]
Lisa Woolfork 14:08
Rashida Coleman Hale 14:12
It was a trick...
Lisa Woolfork 14:13
...to get you to have more babies.
Rashida Coleman Hale 14:17
Uh-huh. It was a trick. But she was so good. And I was home. We had moved to New York, back to New York and I was home with her and I was bored. And my husband was like, well, "Why don’t you start a blog or something?" So he bought me a camera, the Canon EOS. And I was taking pictures of the stuff that I was selling for her and I just started to blog. It gave me something else to do in the meantime. And it got started just getting popular. So I was making things and then I opened a little Etsy shop and then I got contacted by, what's the word I'm looking for, a publisher. [laughter]
Lisa Woolfork 15:03
Who has seen all the ... who's seen the things in your blog, who's seen the photographs who's seen how you can write?
Rashida Coleman Hale 15:08
Lisa Woolfork 15:09
All these things and
so she reaches out to you and says what?
Rashida Coleman Hale 15:14
She was starting Stitch Magazine and wanted to have me do some projects for the first issue. And I did that. And it was so fun writing those projects and the articles and things. And then I was like, "This is my in." I have contact with a publisher, let me ask her about writing a book. So I emailed her and I asked her, and she said that's funny I was going to ask you to do one with us. And that's how I got the book deal for I Love Patchwork.
Lisa Woolfork 15:48
Oh, that is so beautiful.
I love this story. I love how the story you're telling us means that just because things don't go in the anticipated direction that you expect, doesn't mean that you're not going to end up with the outcomes that you want.
Rashida Coleman Hale 16:06
Lisa Woolfork 16:07
For most people having a baby is not the most free time they will ever have.
Rashida Coleman Hale 16:12
Lisa Woolfork 16:14
Very few people have like... you seem to have had the idea of a baby, considering that the baby slept so well and just could do her own thing. And the baby would say, "Mommy, are we gonna draw today?"
Rashida Coleman Hale 16:28
Lisa Woolfork 16:30
"Today I am preoccupied with my own interests right now, mommy. I think you should, you should turn to your interests." You had the most solicitous baby ever.
Rashida Coleman Hale 16:40
I know. She was so agreeable, it's ridiculous.
Lisa Woolfork 16:44
So you got asked. And so I Love Patchwork. And this was the 2013 published.
Rashida Coleman Hale 16:50
No, that was 2009.
Lisa Woolfork 16:53
2009. Oh, I'm looking at the dates for the reprints because it was reprinted. It was... it had a paperback edition and the Spanish edition in 2016. So that book that was published first in 2009, and has had life after life. What is that like to have a book that continues because I think it's one thing like, I am a professor, I publish a book, that's what we do. We publish books, but they're not like read by everybody. They're usually read by other scholars, graduate students, some undergraduate students. But yours, people are loving it. And they want to access it in different languages. And so tell me what is that like to go from a blog to a magazine writer to a published author that's teaching other people to love patchwork like you did?
Rashida Coleman Hale 17:40
It was mind blowing. It really was. It just made me feel like ... I felt everything has come full circle, like all the skills that I have learned up to that point were all just meshed together and made it so that I had what I needed to do the work. And yeah, that's what it turned into. And it is mind blowing. I couldn't even believe that my book was all over the planet.
Lisa Woolfork 18:11
I'm also very glad that you were honest. And you named the book I Love Patchwork instead of I Love Sewing. There was a time in your life that was not the case at all. By that point, do you think that you could have said, "I love sewing" because you said... you're saying that it was fun to write the descriptions in the work for Stitch Magazine as it started to develop, blogging about this. So you're writing regularly, an early blogger as well, like you're writing regularly. And so reading your blog, it doesn't look like this is the blog of somebody who had to be dragged to the fabric store and to the sewing machine as a 12 year old punishment to finish her MC Hammer pants. Yeah.
Rashida Coleman Hale 18:57
It absolutely rekindled my love for it, just sewing and making stuff for the baby. And it was like, wow, you have this machine and you have this fabric, this floppy fabric and suddenly you can construct it into whatever you want. And it ... It really just exercises part of my brain, like the logic part of trying to figure out patterns and how to make things like that. I love that. Yeah, and I just love color and patterns. And so it is really all those things come together and it was like, "Oh snap, I think I like to sew."
Lisa Woolfork 19:38
Maybe your mother knew what she was talking about after all. This is interesting. That's big. That's fantastic. I was thinking about the sewing for babies, right? Like for babies sewing for little kids. And I was wondering if you see a connection to that and zakka, which translates to little things. Do you think that there's something that is special about sewing things for little people, sewing baby things, sewing little things that you talked about? For example, I think that Zakka Style was published in 2011.
Rashida Coleman Hale 20:15
Lisa Woolfork 20:17
So I want to talk about that book. But I also wanted to think about what it means to sew small things for small people.
Rashida Coleman Hale 20:25
I think it's fun to make a thing and give it to your little one, and to see their reaction and play with it and the joy they get from it. And sometimes [laughter] it's the whole spectrum of emotion. But I love so much from that. Yeah, I guess there would be some connection, making really adorable, attractive things a little.
Lisa Woolfork 20:55
It's just something about, I think about the zakka, that is just so cute. And I wanted to spend the little time just talking about the time that you spent in Japan, as you mentioned earlier, your mother was a fashion model. And so you would do... you would spend summers in Japan. So a lot of your formative years was spent there. And it's clear that you picked up on not just language and culture, through schooling and through having friends and developing relationships. Which city were you in? Do remember some of the cities you were in?
Rashida Coleman Hale 21:24
We were in Tokyo.
Lisa Woolfork 21:26
In Tokyo? Wow. That's amazing. [laughter]
Rashida Coleman Hale 21:33
I was saying we're just right smack in the middle of a big city. Japan is so safe and was so safe then, like we remember some hot nights, we'd just leave the door open. The neighbor's cat would come in. That's how safe it was.
Lisa Woolfork 21:54
"Do you all have anything here that might ... Our house? I don't like what they're feeding me and my house. What are you all having today? I smell something interesting over here."
Rashida Coleman Hale 22:04
Yeah, it was so safe. And I was able to, again being an only child, I would just get up and get on my bike and go. And I rode all over that city, to check things out. I went into shops, my mom would give me pocket money. So after school, I would just go off, and just look at things and explore. And I loved being able to do that at such a young age. There's so many things here where you can't do that.
Lisa Woolfork 22:34
Can't do that as much. That's true.
Rashida Coleman Hale 22:37
Yeah, I think just soaking all that in, all the color and quirkiness that, that they have there in their culture. I just soaked it up.
Lisa Woolfork 22:46
That is wonderful. And because I know, for example, like I know that kawaii is very popular, which I believe is also from Japan. And it's these little... I think kawaii means cute.
Rashida Coleman Hale 22:59
Yes. It means cute.
Lisa Woolfork 23:01
How do you pronounce it? I know I'm pronouncing it wrong.
Rashida Coleman Hale 23:03
Lisa Woolfork 23:04
Kawaii. And it is like little tiny sushi rolls with eyes and a little smile. And so I guess I'm interested in like the relation, as you were saying earlier about selling things for little people and trying to see the reaction of your child when they play with something you've made for them or when they're wearing something you've made for them and how that makes you feel. And what were you aiming for in the 2011 book, Zakka Style?
What kind of things did you want to highlight or emphasize?
Rashida Coleman Hale 23:34
Because I had done I Love Patchwork and my idea for that second book was I wanted it to be titled, I Love Patchwork T-O-O, and I tried to compile patterns from people around the world who also loved patchwork. So I made the proposal within a week, the publisher I was with before and they didn't want to do it. So I was like, okay, do I pitch it somewhere else and they picked me up -Stash Books at C&T publishing. So they changed the name on it ... it couldn't be I Love Patchwork Too, because I had already had the book with the other company. We decided to call it Zakka Style. But the premise was just I wanted to see what other people's interpretation of that was... the patchwork love because it's so fun to pull all those different fabrics together. Not even just in the regular printed patchwork layout, but just just wanted to see what other people would come up with.
Lisa Woolfork 24:47
I think that's beautiful. I really do and this idea of speaking cross culturally with love and respect. I think that's something that often gets lost when people are having conversations about cultural appropriation or those kind of questions that when... I think it's one thing to, to spend time in a culture and to get to love and to care for and be loved and cared for in that space, that gives you a sense of respect and tension in ways that sometimes doesn't happen when people are being careless and just want to take, they just want to extract. That is not at all what you are doing. And I think this idea of having this relationship to this place, to this country, to the city, is just so beautiful. And then to bring that to a larger audience beyond Japan, people who might not ever get to go to Japan, get to see that through your eyes. Yeah, I think that's really wonderful.
Rashida Coleman Hale 25:52
Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, I really loved and admired so many of the Japanese sewing books that were starting to become popular here in the states during that time. So I wanted to do my own interpretation of that. Yeah, I guess, guess it worked.
Lisa Woolfork 26:18
I'm gonna venture to say that it absolutely does.
[music] The Stitch Please podcast is really growing. I want to thank you for listening to the podcast, and ask a favor, if you are listening to this podcast on a medium that allows you to rate it or review it, for example, Apple Podcasts or iTunes, please do so if you're enjoying the podcast. If you could drop me a five star rating, if you have something to say about the podcast and you wanted to include that, a couple sentences in the review box, Apple, makes a really big difference in how the podcast is evaluated by Apple, how it becomes more visible. It really is a way to glean into the algorithm that helps to rank podcasts. So if you had time to do that, to drop a little line in the review feature of the podcast, that would be really appreciated. And it would help us to grow even further and faster.
I want to pivot to talk about some of your ... some of the pattern and fabric design that you've done. So you're working as though ... I don't know if you're still blogging during all this time that you're writing books as well.
Rashida Coleman Hale 27:43
Yeah, I was still blogging, writing books, raising babies, moving all over the place, all the things. It was crazy.
Lisa Woolfork 27:55
You're doing it. You were doing it. You were doing it and so you said, "I have so much more ... I have so much free time on my hands. And the blogging, the book writing and illustrating on the side, you know what I'm gonna do? I think I'm gonna start designing fabric." So how hard could that be? And you make the resolution and you have designed for so many companies that we recognize, Timeless Treasures, RJR/Cotton and Steel, Ruby Star most recently. And how do you get from blogger, mom, wife, artist, author, also traveler because you're moving during this time, so nomad to fabric designer, like how do you go from that so that I actually have this in my house?
Rashida Coleman Hale 28:52
I asked for it.
Lisa Woolfork 28:55
Asked for it? Okay, say more about that. Say more about that.
Rashida Coleman Hale 28:59
I just, you know, I was writing books and I was like, you know, I love to draw and I knew illustrator so well because I had already done freelance work back in the day and taught myself that program and I was already using it for my hobby drawing and I was like, I think I can do fabric design. And I wanted to see ... there were... there was art that I wanted to see that was not out there.
Lisa Woolfork 29:30
There was art that you wanted to see that was not out there... Can you say more?
Rashida Coleman Hale 29:34
Yes, I feel like the modern, modern fabrics ... because I know that's like a dirty word. The modern fabric.
Lisa Woolfork 29:45
Why do you say that's like a dirty word?
Rashida Coleman Hale 29:46
Lisa Woolfork 29:48
How, modern fabric design, why does that sound bad? That sounds good to me. I also love fabric. So you must too. Tell me why modern fabric design is like a bad word.
Rashida Coleman Hale 29:57
I'm just saying that, at that time, people were like, modern? I feel like it was just the beginning of modern fabric design and starting to come out of the woodwork and making a name for themselves instead of just regular traditional fabrics and that kind of thing. So at the time, I remember there being ...
Lisa Woolfork 30:15
Going from being boring to being interesting.
Rashida Coleman Hale 30:19
Yeah, it's not your Civil War fabric and that kind of thing.
Lisa Woolfork 30:24
Please, don't get me started on the Civil War fabric. The way people fetishize that fabric. I find it deeply alarming and actually racist. In my opinion. I absolutely believe that. And I absolutely believe I know people who are actually racist, who also love Civil War fabrics, because they love the Civil War. And it's just ... these are the same people who say appalling things like "Gone with the Wind" is my favorite movie. And I'm like, oh, wow, anti-Black racist propaganda is your favorite fucking movie? Like, why would you tell me that shit? Like, I know you don't see color with your lying ass. But I'm a Black woman. And I do not care that you love Civil War fabrics. And that Gone with the Wind is your favorite movie. What are you trying to communicate to me? [laughter]
That's a whole different... actually, I'd like to say it's a whole different podcast, but it is actually this podcast. This is what Stitch Please does. This is what it means to center Black women, girls, and fans is that we do not want your Civil War fabric because we don't find our oppression entertaining.
Rashida Coleman Hale 31:38
No, thank you.
Lisa Woolfork 31:41
You're so much better than me. You say, "No, thank you." I'm like, "Fuck y'all."
Rashida Coleman Hale 31:46
I say the same, but you know... [laughter]
Lisa Woolfork 31:53
This is what we are here for. This is ... someone was like, Lisa, I want to do, I want to do... I guess someone was helping me out with a one-pager or something. They were like, "Who are your competitors for your podcast? Who are your competitors" And I'm like, "I don't see myself as having competitors." There's other sewing podcasts. And I like them. They're especially... some of them I like, that I really like. But I don't think they're competing with me, because none of them are doing what I'm doing. So I don't see competitors because none of them are gonna say, "Civil War fabrics are racist." And I don't play with racist bullshit. That's not what we do here. We do the opposite. We say, "Your Civil War fabric is racist." And then you get to write me letters and say, "No, it's about history. Not hatred, its heritage."
Rashida Coleman Hale 32:37
Lisa Woolfork 32:38
I'm the wrong person to bring that to. So, because you weren't doing Civil War fabrics, celebrating the Battle of Appomattox, you had a bit of a hard time.
Rashida Coleman Hale 32:49
I think I just wanted to see different fabric and I would have loved to have seen more fabric with us on it, that sort of thing.
Lisa Woolfork 33:03
I can't draw so I have to wait for Rashida to make it.
Rashida Coleman Hale 33:08
I think, I'm sorry, but it's the truth. But the quilting industry is largely white industry.
Lisa Woolfork 33:17
Rashida Coleman Hale 33:21
So I want ... I just wanted to be able to make a name and try and do what I do.
Lisa Woolfork 33:31
Yes, absolutely. You know what it reminds me of, Rashida? It reminds me of the work of Toni Morrison, who in the early 1970s, you might remember, was working at Random House in New York City. And she was reading all these manuscripts that were coming in, and she was like, "Where are our stories?" She wasn't finding them. And so she said, famously, and I paraphrase here, "If there's a book that you want to read, you need to write it." And that is what you have done. If there's a fabric that you want. I've talked about this many times. This is not a surprise to anyone who's heard more than two episodes of this podcast, that I have gone to fabric stores, and looking through the lines of snuggle flannel or something for my kids pajamas, and I see these little brown faces and I'm like, get all excited. And it's a fucking dog.
Rashida Coleman Hale 34:20
Lisa Woolfork 34:20
Or a bear.
Anything that's brown, and God forbid a monkey. Don't get me started. But there's tons of fabrics with little white faces on them. Blonde haired kids, redhead kids, brown haired kids. And I guess that's supposed to be their diversity? Lots of white people with different color hair... Or they might give us one brown person and that was, we're supposed to be content with that ... it's just, it's a terrible quota, an absolutely terrible quota. So you were pushing against a predominant trend in the fabric design space, and at the same time making an important intervention. Yeah, the work that you did opened the wedge, where other Black women could see themselves in this fabric that we're buying. That's the thing. We're buying this fabric, we're buying fabric that doesn't represent us. We're buying from companies who don't prioritize our concern.
Rashida Coleman Hale 35:16
I didn't come right out the gate with it ... left field, like I was saying, it's largely white industry. So I had to dip my toe.
Lisa Woolfork 35:24
Yeah, test the waters and see.
Rashida Coleman Hale 35:29
And I finally felt like I had gotten to a place with Cotton and Steel, because women's empowerment was getting so much airplay. I was like, I'm doing an African print collection. And that's why I ended up doing AKOMA. It took some time to get there. But, I felt like it's time.
Lisa Woolfork 35:53
It is time. It is time. And it is past time. And I'm just so, it's just so exciting to meet people and to talk to people and to talk with you today. Because you are someone who did the work to make that possible, you know, and that you took a risk ... you were pushing in a space where these people didn't want to be put. And so it required finesse. It required patience. But ultimately, at the end, you got to create something that you were proud of. And I'm telling you, when we see your fabrics, when we see something you know how it is. It's like, we get so excited. It's like, finally we get to have what everybody else has, which is having fabric that's a mirror.
Rashida Coleman Hale 36:38
Yeah, you want to see you and I am seeing me.
Lisa Woolfork 36:45
I really do love this. And I love the sketches and the drawings and the prints. And I love when you said, "I asked for it."
Rashida Coleman Hale 36:51
I did ask for it.
Lisa Woolfork 36:52
I really like that you asked for it. So did it come out in terms of please give me a fabric line? or What does that mean?
Rashida Coleman Hale 37:02
I took some time and put some prints together and had some things on Spoonflower. Yes, just getting going as well. And people were buying some things. And I was like, Okay. Finally I sat down and put a collection together. And I started pitching it to different companies and I got a whole bunch of nose.
Lisa Woolfork 37:23
Do you remember why? Do you remember any of the reasons? I love when successful people tell me the things they failed at. I think that the podcast is successful, for example. And I applied to so many podcast grant programs and did not get them.
Rashida Coleman Hale 37:39
That's part of the process.
Lisa Woolfork 37:41
And I'm still going. It's part of the process.
Rashida Coleman Hale 37:43
I just kept persisting because I was like tooting my own horn. I was like I think I'm a good artist, I can put a fabric collection together. I need the tools to do this. If I can find the right art director to work with, I know that I can do this. So I kept pushing, and I kept pushing. And then finally one day, I emailed Timeless Treasures and sent them my stuff. And I literally got an email back that same day from an art director. And she was like, "Oh my god, I just bought your book."
Lisa Woolfork 38:24
Rashida Coleman Hale 38:25
I just bought your book and it's sitting on my desk. And yes, we would love to work with you. And there you have it. And it just took off from there. So I had two collections with them. And I pitched the third, they weren't really feeling it. So again, I was like, Okay, fine. On to the next to the next. And I reached out to Cloud Nine, because I love their aesthetic. And one thing it was organic and I knew Michelle from the quilt market. So I reached out to them. And they were like, yes! [laughter] I had collections with them too and gosh, they were wonderful to work with, probably some of the best people to work with ever.
Lisa Woolfork 38:27
That's wonderful. That's wonderful. Excellent, excellent. Excellent. And so from Timeless Treasures, Cloud Nine. And then how did Cotton and Steel come about? Was this something that you worked with friends?
Was this the same group of friends that you're with now? And I always wondered how the name came about, like, what did you all like? What was the thinking behind the name? So when you move from Cloud Nine, was it because you wanted to work with your group of friends? Or did they become friends through the process of you all working together? RJR, and I guess I'm trying to understand ... RJR is the big company and Cotton and Steel was one of the subdivisions?
It was a division.
So what does that mean exactly? I don't know how corporations work.
Rashida Coleman Hale 40:00
Basically it was just another part of their company. But we were their modern division. So...
Lisa Woolfork 40:08
Modern, the not racist division. [laughter]
Rashida Coleman Hale 40:17
Cotton and Steel.
Lisa Woolfork 40:18
I'm just joking. RJR don't sue me. I was just playing around. Tell them to take a joke.
Rashida Coleman Hale 40:27
I was living in Atlanta at the time, and I was friends with Melody Miller. She was designing with Polka. We were living in the same neighborhood and we planned to get together. Yeah, we became best friends. And we would go for runs in the morning around the park. And she was looking for a new home for her fabric. The language barrier was becoming problematic. They were in Japan. So she was having a little trouble with them, just wanted to try and find something else. She ... I guess RJR reached out. She was trying to find a common. They reached out to her about designing with them. And she was like, I don't think they really ... it doesn't make sense for them to just have me. I was not doing any of those types of things at that time. They were largely traditional. We hadn't even heard of them.
Lisa Woolfork 41:36
Yeah, that's pretty traditional.
Rashida Coleman Hale 41:40
But she thought about it. And her idea was like what they need is like their own division. We talked about it, she talked with some of our other friends that we had known from quilt market, just trying to get a feel of what people thought about the idea. So she came up with a pitch and pitched to them. And she was like, I know you're happy where you are. But maybe you want to come play over here? Yes. [laughter] Okay. Yeah. You know, it was such a good idea and felt like it was going to change the industry, these women doing their thing. So yeah, she pitched in and they loved it. And then there we go. Steel.
Lisa Woolfork 42:27
You have, I think that you have changed the industry. I feel like whenever I was looking through the fabric store and I saw a fabric, you know how they had them folded up so you could only see one element. I would see it and I was like, "Oh my gosh, that is really striking. That's amazing." And then I would take it out. And it was yours. And so for me that represents the kind of change that you perhaps were hoping for. That this is a big benefit to that organization to have you all as a division also working together. It reminds me of... I'm going to make a basketball analogy, but I also am terrible at sports of any kind and I don't follow sports. Do you follow sports?
Rashida Coleman Hale 43:04
No, I don't.
Lisa Woolfork 43:06
Okay, so good. You won't know if I've messed this up. There was some basketball team. And it was like LeBron James and Dwayne Wade and some other person. And they wanted to all play together. So they either left Cleveland and then they went to Miami or they went to Miami... I don't know. It was a big deal. I remember this being a big deal at some point in life. And so when I think about you all at Cotton and Steel, and now at that Ruby Star, it reminds me of that ... like people who want to do what they love with people they love.
That sounds like an ideal working situation.
Rashida Coleman Hale 43:43
It turned into that. We had already ... we knew each other from being at quilt market. Kim was doing her blog. Oh my gosh, what was her blog's name? "True Up." And that was hugely popular. It was basically like the fabric resource on the internet at that time, for anything that was fabric related. And Sarah was designing as well. Alexia had her pattern company. And yeah, so yeah, Melody tapped all of us and we had known each other but not that, that well. But we went off to LA and got together as a group for the first time. We were basically in a hotel ballroom laying out our designs and it just turned out that we work so well together. And we just hit it off. Instant family. I don't know how else ... there's no other way to describe it. Family. And we've been sisters ever since.
Lisa Woolfork 44:49
That's beautiful. That is truly beautiful. And the idea that you can come together over something that's so revolutionary, in my opinion, in the industry that you could do this as a collab... as a collaborative effort where one person can help to lift up and bring in somebody else. It wasn't like competition. It was really about communicating.
Rashida Coleman Hale 45:12
Working together. As an artist, it's such a solitary life, typically. You don't have other eyes looking at your work and giving feedback in that sort of way. Peers, I should say, for the other art directors like that. But yeah, so it was a new concept for us. And then having the color palette all work together was like, "What?!" [laughter]
Lisa Woolfork 45:39
And then you all moved into doing apparel stuff, so there was apparel and there was quilt and it was like...
Rashida Coleman Hale 45:44
It was a new thing and we were like let's just dip our toe and try. We've been, you know, RJR was great in that way. They honestly gave us creative freedom and let us try things. And we were able to do that. Unfortunately, it just didn't work out the way that we had planned. Things just started going south with management. Their inventory system was faulty. We weren't getting paid royalties for months on end, with no information of why. We knew why, but then we had this other person, another entity came into the business and he basically took over. And we had built this rapport with the owner and then finally this new person came in out of nowhere who was selling TV antennas or something - knew nothing about fabric, basically swooped in and took over. And just it was just madness and chaos. And there are people in that company who had been there for years. One woman had been there since she was a teenager. And she was like the Vice President and she quit. People were quitting, getting fired. Like it just ... everything was turned upside down. I hope things have settled for them. I don't know.
Lisa Woolfork 47:16
Rashida Coleman Hale 47:17
At the time, we just saw red flags. And it was like, "Whoa, we need to get out." And so that's what we decided to do. But we decided to do it together and stay together. I think it was just, for me, I didn't want to continue designing fabric if it wasn't with them.
Lisa Woolfork 47:42
I hear that. I hear that because it was such a communal effort. And you all could retain your individual personalities, your individual priorities, your individual styles, but because of the way that the color palettes work, because of the way you also were such good... you could communicate so well with each other that you were doing that were personally meaningful. It was like a form of patchwork, shall I say? Everybody's little square works together to do something really beautifully.
Rashida Coleman Hale 48:09
Yes, it was absolutely that. We had this beautiful patchwork, and none of us wanted to, to put a seam ripper to it.
Lisa Woolfork 48:20
So now, the next move was Ruby Star and that is another beautiful company. So how is that going? Is Ruby star attached to anything bigger?
Rashida Coleman Hale 48:30
Ruby Star is a division of Moda fabrics.
Lisa Woolfork 48:34
Moda? Y'all keep moving up, can I just say?
Rashida Coleman Hale 48:39
We found a new home and it's been amazing.
Lisa Woolfork 48:42
I love Moda Fabrics.
Rashida Coleman Hale 48:45
It's been so good. It really has. We're happy and we're doing our thing and we've been doing what we... lessons learned. So we're still doing what we do but in better environments and it does feel, I feel like Ruby Star is like Cotton and Steel's bigger sister who's a little more sophisticated and learned. [laughter]
Lisa Woolfork 49:12
I told you earlier I have already ordered five tea towels. I was about to ask you about them like, "When my towels getting here?" "I just draw it, lady. Lisa, don't do that. Now I know you have my email address. I don't want you emailing me every two weeks asking about a dish towel. My job is done after I draw it and submit it, I'm not in charge of inventory or printing it. I draw and I get paid and then the rest of it's up to you." [laughter] That's fantastic. Yeah. Somebody had alerted us because we have, one of our members works at a shop in Maryland called Three Little Birds. And, and she was saying we're going to get these towels in and we're taking pre-orders. I'm telling you, between our ... I think we must have ordered a minimum of 25, a minimum. I know because I bought five and there's a lot of us and everybody... nobody bought just one.
Rashida Coleman Hale 50:09
I was trying to order my own towels and they were all gone. Hey!
Lisa Woolfork 50:17
Everybody, can we make sure Rashida gets a towel? not mine. [laughter]
Rashida Coleman Hale 50:22
I have to go buy my own towels from somebody's shop, my name on the order.
Lisa Woolfork 50:30
Like, "Wait a minute, Rashida Coleman ... there's a Rashida Coleman Hale bias and what ... what is happening?" It's a very meta moment.
So what's up next for you? What do you have going on next? What's the next thing around the corner for you?
Rashida Coleman Hale 50:46
Oh my goodness. I don't even know, Lisa. I'm just trying to get through 2020 like everybody else right now.
Lisa Woolfork 50:57
I know, I know. When this episode airs, it will be February 2021. And things will be very different. I'm just saying different because different's all that we can promise. Octavia Butler taught us change is certainty. Change is certainty. That is something that we can always rely on, is change.
Rashida Coleman Hale 51:15
I'm not sure what I want to do right now, I would love to explore illustration and do that a little bit more. But I have four children. So I got a lot of mouths to feed. And I have a day job too.
Lisa Woolfork 51:30
Yeah, four kids, you're momming and now they're a lot of them are schooling at home because of all the restrictions. Everybody is, as my son told me recently, oversaturated with each other. So I'm actually expecting something spectacular. Because the last time you had a baby, you wrote a book, you started a huge blog, you wrote a book, you pitched your fabric. So clearly, life issues are not a deterrent for you. Yes, I hear you saying you've got four children and a husband and a wonderful family and a day job that takes up a lot of your time. And yet I am utterly convinced that you're about to come out the box with something that's going to be like, "What?!"
Rashida Coleman Hale 52:12
I have some things up my sleeve for sure.
Lisa Woolfork 52:17
We will just have to be patient Yeah. Where can folks find you on the socials, Rashida? Where can we find you if people want to follow you or support you?
Rashida Coleman Hale 52:27
I am mostly on Instagram. So it's Rashida_Coleman_Hale. Some weirdo took my whole name. [laughter]
Lisa Woolfork 52:38
Oh, my god, no.
Rashida Coleman Hale 52:41
I reported her a couple times, but she won't go away. They're not posting or anything, it's just been there for years. So, hence the underscores in my name.
Lisa Woolfork 52:51
Rashida Coleman Hale 52:51
I know, people are weird.
Lisa Woolfork 52:55
And your website is also rashidacolemanhale.com?
Rashida Coleman Hale 52:57
Lisa Woolfork 53:00
And we can also find your work at rubystarfabrics.com?
Rashida Coleman Hale 53:06
Lisa Woolfork 53:08
Rubystarsociety.com. Rashida, this has been so much fun. Thank you so much for taking the time to spend with me this morning. I know it's early for you. Thank you so much for your patience. But thank you. This has been great. This has been really great.
Rashida Coleman Hale 53:24
I have had so much fun. Thank you for having me.
Lisa Woolfork 53:49
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, P-A-T-R-E-O-N and you can find Black Women Stitch there in the Patreon directory. And for as little as $2 or less, you can help support the project with things like editing, transcripts, and other things to strengthen the podcast. And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really help the podcast by rating it and reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So I know that not all podcast directories or services allow for reviews. But for those who do, for those that have a star rating or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us and 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. [music]