Lisa Woolfork Introduction [0:00:15.0]
Hello stitchers! Welcome to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black Lives Matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast, with more than 20-years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.
Lisa Woolfork Podcast Begins [0:00:55.5]
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork, joining you from Charlottesville, Virginia. Last week, you might remember, we had the privilege and the delight of having Rashida Coleman Hale on the program. She was the first person that we talked to hear in March for National Quilting Month and we had such a good time. Have you ever talked with a friend and you're talking and as you get to the end of the conversation, you say something or she says something and then a whole switch gets flipped, and here's a whole ‘nother conversation? Rashida and I were talking and we were having a really great time, and the episode was wrapping up and I just happened to mention “Hey, I wanted to ask you about your experience, specifically as a black woman in this industry.” And we just started talking all over again! So here is a very special and enjoyable bonus episode, part two of my conversation with Rashida Coleman Hale. Last week, we talked about her growth in the industry, what it meant to discover the power of her own voice, and the way her deep commitment to her art meant that she wasn't going to compromise things that she did not want. We also learned that Rashida is one of the most productive people I have managed to meet, because she had a baby and while she was having a baby, she wrote a book, and she launched a pattern line and just amazing. So we had a really great time with that chat. So please do go back and listen to it if you did not get a chance to catch Rashida Coleman Hale and I having a great conversation. Now today, we are going to transition to talk more about her experience specifically as a black woman in the professional quilting industry, and some of the challenges that come along with that. So stay tuned and enjoy this bonus episode with Rashida Coleman Hale. Thanks!
Lisa Woolfork [0:03:01.5]
I've heard stories from folks that I follow on Instagram. One that was the most striking to me when someone mentioned this a few years ago, she was at some sewing event, had on a badge or whatever (I think she was working for a sewing machine company or doing demos) and people kept her…and asked her for her ID. They wanted to make sure that she was ‘supposed to be there’. It could have been because she was young, she says, but it was likely because she was brown.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:03:27.9]
Lisa Woolfork [0:03:28.9]
And she was like, what kind of bored person has to sneak into a sewing expo?
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:03:34.9]
Lisa Woolfork [0:03:34.9]
Like, who's going to sneak in? Right? So the idea of the gatekeeping…we get a lot of gatekeeping. It sounds like what you were describing about some fabric companies being very resistant to your fabric is about gatekeeping. It's about whose fabric is acceptable and what they want to see is what should be seen, and the things that they don't see, don't matter; very strong sense of myopia happens in the way that the industry thinks about its representation, the way that it thinks about who matters and even the way they think about their consumer, it's so short-sighted, because they can't continue to think that the only people worth marketing to are upper middle class, middle class white women over a certain age. I think that's what they're pitching to.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:04:31.2]
Lisa Woolfork [0:04:31.2]
…it’s…like, but that…but where is the future in that? It seems so narrow, even from a greedy capitalist business stance, wouldn’t you want to get money from everybody?
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:04:42.9]
Lisa Woolfork [0:04:43.8]
And so, I would love to hear more about your experience. I talked with some other folks who have been to quilt market, other black women who end up being confused.; this happens to me! Like at work, some people call me my colleagues’ names and I'm like, we look nothing alike, why would you think that? So tell us about some of your experiences of just being confused for other folks. So you had an experience at quilt market one year that was like…’What?’
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:05:07.3]
I’ve had several experiences at quilt market. One year, I went in to go set up my booth and this woman stopped me and she was looking for Latifah!? I go wait…what…? Why do you think I would know where she is?
LISA WOOLFORK [0:05:22.9]
Because you're part of that negro network…
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:05:24.9]
Lisa Woolfork [0:05:26.3]
We’re part of that negro network! It’s like…it’s like a nervous system, we're all sensitive to each other.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:05:30.4]
Yep. I was like, I’m sorry I had to ignore it, like…’What?’
Lisa Woolfork [0:05:34.0]
“…oh there’s a black person, she must know all the blacks.”
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:05:37.7]
Yes, I know all the blacks; but then during the show, I had been in my booth all morning, but had three people come up to me and say, “I really enjoyed your talk this morning.”
Lisa Woolfork [0:05:49.5]
Now, you were at your booth all morning, so you…
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:05:52.0]
In my booth all morning.
Lisa Woolfork [0:05:53.6]
Okay, so just to be clear, you don't have a twin?
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:05:56.5]
I don't have a twin.
Lisa Woolfork [0:05:57.9]
You mentioned several times that you an only child, so, and you don't have a secret twin who looks just like you…?
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:06:05.3]
Lisa Woolfork [0:06:05.3]
…who also designs fabric…I just want to make sure!
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:06:08.4]
There's nobody at market who looks like me.
Lisa Woolfork [0:06:12.8]
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:06:14.0]
So they had three of them. And one woman had her daughter with her and the daughter even was like, “Mom” (she elbowed her) and she was like “Mom, that's not the lady”; she’s like that's Rashida Coleman Hale! Anyhow, those people thought that I was Ebony Love who had just done a talk that morning. I had had it, because I had already had some other incidents on that trip that just was like, why am I even in this industry? What am I doing here? I was just…I was feeling very ‘done’. So I told the girls look like I'm just going to go take a walk; I’m going to walk the floor because I need to get out of this booth. I went and walked and I don't know what it was in the in the cosmos that made this happen, but as I'm walking up the aisle, suddenly I see Ebony coming and then I see Latifah, and I see no other people coming and there was literally like maybe a handful of us that see each other at the shows and we all just happened to converge in the middle of the show in this one aisle and we were like ‘whaaat?!’
Lisa Woolfork [0:07:27.8]
‘Hey! It’s all my twins! It’s all my twins!’ Were you able to swap stories and say “Hey guys, I'm Rashida but apparently, I’m also Ebony and I’m also Latifah!” How have your experiences been at quilt market this year? Did they have similar stories?
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:07:45.8]
They had similar stories and like we always tease each other…
Lisa Woolfork [0:07:48.6]
And you’re like 5’10”?
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:07:50.6]
I am 5’10”.
Lisa Woolfork [0:07:53.2]
Latifah is not 5’10”.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:07:54.2]
No! But yeah, we took a picture together and posted it to social media; we were all cracking up like we should just…we were like “here’s our names!”
Lisa Woolfork [0:08:06.7]
The caption should read “Not the same person.”
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:08:09.2]
“Not the same person”, but you know, it's funny, you could laugh about it now, but in reality, every time it happens, it hurts my heart…every time; because I an individual and work very hard to develop my style and be who I am. You know?
Lisa Woolfork [0:08:34.1]
And it just reveals that this industry is so white.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:08:39.3]
Lisa Woolfork [0:08:40.0]
That it’s almost aggressively white…
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:08:42.1]
Lisa Woolfork [0:08:42.6]
…that when there are black people there, it's hard…it's like people want to say here's the spices that you can have, and we'll have reservations for four people and you don’t need these four or these three, which is problematic enough; that's problematic just to have the numbers be so low; but additionally problematic is the…is the lack of care…
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:09:06.0]
Lisa Woolfork [0:09:06.9]
…in saying, in feeling like they would invest enough to even be able to tell one person from another; and so it…I can definitely see how it could feel like tokenizing when what it actually is one of the deep…one of the many deep flaws in a white supremacist society; I say white supremacist but some could call it white privilege, or predominantly white or whatever, but it doesn't have to be this way. That’s the thing I guess I don't see who benefits from this. Like, where is the benefit? How is the industry growing, becoming better, becoming more nimble? How is this key to any industries’ success, especially in this day and age when there's no reason for it. This is not like…the three of you all should not be integrating quilt market like this is like 1962 in Little Rock, Arkansas or ’54. This idea that you could be a pioneer at something…
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:10:04.6]
Lisa Woolfork [0:10:05.1]
…at this late stage of the 20th century is just shocking.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:10:10.4]
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:10:10.6]
It feels deliberate to me. It feels deliberate that clearly they’ve made choices to pledge some forms of art, to legitimate some forms of fabric, while de-legitimating or ignoring others.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:10:27.2]
Yeah, but I feel after everything that happened over this past summer, I started getting emails and instant messages, and texts…
Lisa Woolfork [0:10:35.8]
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:10:36.7]
…yeah; everyone reaching out and that felt nice, but it was like, really, why does it have to take such a powerful, tragic event to fully be recognized?
Lisa Woolfork [0:10:52.1]
Or to wake people up.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:10:53.7]
Lisa Woolfork [0:10:54.2]
Because, it's not even to wake people up, it’s to wake up white people. There are people who are already aware about…aware of these things; we did not need a traumatic incident and a catastrophic set of violent abuses as what we…as what occurred in 2020, in order to know that this country has a very deep problem…
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:11:14.1]
Lisa Woolfork [0:11:14.2]
…that is pervasive through every aspect of society.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:11:17.9]
Lisa Woolfork [0:11:19.1]
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:11:19.1]
Lisa Woolfork [0:11:19.8]
And then the same people who want to ‘keep politics out of quilting’? You know? Oh don't talk about ‘don't bring politics to quilting’.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:11:27.1 ]
It’s not politics.
Lisa Woolfork [0:11:28.5]
It’s not politics, but like…and how do they explain then, the idea of having three or four black women at quilt market is such an aberration, not only can you count them all on one hand, you only need one name to use for all of them.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:11:45.2]
Lisa Woolfork [0:11:46.9]
Now that is a structural issue. That is structural to how the booths get set up, how they get disseminated, how they get divided. If the industry wanted to make a difference or change, they could do all sorts of things to increase black representation at that event, if they chose; they simply don't choose to do so and to me that feels very much like politics.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:12:10.4]
Lisa Woolfork [0:12:10.6]
Like, black people's lives are not a political issue. This is a human rights issue. Having an all white quilt market and it's called even The International Quilt Market?
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:12:19.0]
Lisa Woolfork [0:12:19.9]
But it's filled with…so it’s like a 97% white event. How is that international? Like, how is that representing even America? So, yeah, I'm sorry that you had to go through that. It sounds so frustrating, and I have such sympathy as well as empathy because this is something that is too prevalent in the lives of black women for sure.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:12:46.3]
It really is. It feels like that…yeah, I think that for myself, I've just, I haven't wanted to go to that show.
Lisa Woolfork [0:12:57.6]
It's hard to want to go because it's a lot of energy to go to market. Like, I hear people talking about it because I used to have folks that would go to Houston for the show.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:13:07.1]
Lisa Woolfork [0:13:07.7]
So when you say quilt market, do you mean TheHouston International Quilt?
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:13:11.9]
Lisa Woolfork [0:13:12.5]
So that also has the market attached right?
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:13:15.9]
Market first and then the show is after; but the quilt market…
Lisa Woolfork [0:13:19.3]
Why is quilt market important? I think that's useful to explain to people why quilt market is so important.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:13:25.0]
Quilt market is where all of the fabrics companies and any anything sewing, any sewing-related company, basically books, notions, all those things, they go there to sell their wares to shop owners so the show owners come from all over the country and buy their stuff for the following season. So, it is very important as a fabric designer or pattern maker or a sewing book author to attend that show; it’s basically your bread and butter.
Lisa Woolfork [0:13:57.9]
Okay. Okay, so this is like the most important trade show for anyone who is in the quilting industry. So if you make tools, if you make patterns, if you sell classes, if you have fabric, you want to be there. So you want to be there. So you can be seen and recognized and engage with potential shop owners.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:14:18.3]
Lisa Woolfork [0:14:18.9]
And then you meet potential shop owners or shop owners who might be potential clients who can’t manage to tell you apart from the other black woman who was speaking earlier in the day; see, I can definitely understand why it would be like… it feels demoralizing. That's why when you say like how it hurts your heart, it feels like but look I have my name on things.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:14:38.3]
Lisa Woolfork [0:14:38.8]
I hope I have my name on an actual badge on my body!
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:14:42.2]
Badge in front of me!
Lisa Woolfork [0:14:44.4]
And on my, on the vestiges of the fabrics that you see in this booth…
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:14:48.6]
…and the booth behind me…yeah! it's…it's upsetting, especially because you put so much time and energy and just so much of you into it and it's draining. Not to say that I haven't had amazing experiences at that show…yeah, there have been those small…they're not small; but those few incidents…
Lisa Woolfork [0:15:13.1]
You still remember them?
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:15:14.2]
Lisa Woolfork [0:15:15.3]
It's known for example, that some people describe these things as micro aggressions.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:15:18.7]
Lisa Woolfork [0:15:18.9]
But I have friends who say, they won't use the term ‘micro aggressions’, they just say it's ‘aggression’; but micro aggressions are these little small moments of pain, of aggression, of gaslighting; things that are so subtle. And this woman has said “Hi Latifah!” and walked away and you are left with this and she thinks she's just spoke to Latifah Saafir, and she's all happy and she'll be telling all her friends that she met with Latifah Saafir at quilt market and said hi to her in her booth…And it wasn't even her; and like these kind of things can have a cumulative effect.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:15:56.2]
Lisa Woolfork [0:15:56.6]
They are…they can be very wearing, very draining, but they have emotional weights that are…that's heavy to carry. I think that so many of us have stories like this, I'm pretty sure Latifah and Ebony have very similar stories; and what is just so frustrating to me is that this is where you have to be in order to make your money. This is have to be to share the vision of your artwork with a corporate entity; and with so much of it being about vision and people not seeing you or misidentifying you, it makes that even worse. So like, I know, so I hear your reluctance to return, but it feels like this kind of racism makes something that's mandatory, optional.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:16:41.1 ]
Lisa Woolfork [0:16:43.4]
It cuts off so much of your ability to communicate your work more broadly. So it's just wow.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:16:48.7]
Yeah, yeah, it's very difficult and I've thought about it a lot. I mean, I've even had discussions with my husband…like, I don't even know if I want to keep doing this, just because it just…yeah, I don't even know how to describe the feeling, Lisa, it's just, but is it going to be better in some other industry?
Lisa Woolfork [0:17:09.5]
If you’ve already hit on the solution; in the creation of Ruby Star Society, you have found a way to build and to create with people that you like; people that affirm you, people that understand what you are about, building our own institutions, building our own communities. Finding ways to do our work in ways that affirm us and not drain us; that's what we need.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:17:35.8]
Right for our own story, yeah.
Lisa Woolfork [0:17:37.8]
Make our own story; build our own thing; and that's what this Stitch Please podcast is; that’s what Black Women Stitch is; it was me finally making a break, and it took something big to make that happen; it took something traumatic for me, that was the thing for me is that in building this group and building this platform, was that I refused to trade in who I was in exchange for doing something that I love. I would no longer sit and listen to the micro aggressions; I would no longer hold my tongue or sometimes I would just write text messages to my friends and say they just said this, and I did it for years and now I am so happy. I'm so much happier. I thought I didn't want to build my own thing, because I thought it would be too hard.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:18:28.9]
Lisa Woolfork [0:18:29.5]
I thought it would be too hard to make your own thing. I thought it'd be like, I'm like, oh my gosh! I can't do this, it's too much. I can't host my own events, it's too much. I can't have a group, it's too much. And then, it really struck me; the thing that really got me to do it, like, to hold my first event was…I was like, Lisa, you've been going to these quilt retreats with these white women for decades, and this one person…not all of them were this way…but this one person was pretty terrible, and it was like, Lisa, seriously, if that raggedy bitch can do it, you can do it and you can do it super well, which of course, turned out to be true.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:19:05.9]
There you go.
Lisa Woolfork [0:19:07.2]
And this is what you were doing, too. I think that when we start, society seems to be the space for you, and I just really, I really, it just really burns me that The International Quilt Market is this way for black women who decide to attend. In many ways it's not an optional event.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:19:24.2]
Yeah, that's true.
Lisa Woolfork [0:19:25.4]
And then yeah, I just…yeah; that sucks; that so sucks. I just think this is why I think I think you should go back; and you should bring more black people; I will come. I volunteer. I will come; and we can make it like a big DJ party. You got music bumping; we'll have cocktails. We'll make it a black-ass-good-time. I specialize in black-ass-good-times. That's what I do.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:19:58.1]
Have a black-ass-good-time in there.
Lisa Woolfork [0:20:00.2]
I love black-ass-good-times, and I think that we should do it that way; and have I guess purple carpet on the ground…Like, I already have a vision. I have a vision. I just need you to join me; just come with me. I don't even…I don't know quilt market works. I’ve never been there. I know it's in Houston. I know people love it. I know people spend a ton of money. Other than that, I talked to Bianca Springer from Thanks I Made Them! She’s gone a couple times and supported, so I've learned a little bit, but like, I have friends in Houston. I will totally come and…
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:20:32.1]
Go and check it out one season whenever they start up again.
Lisa Woolfork [0:20:36.4]
Yeah, again…I know…when outside opens.
Rashida Coleman Hale [0:20:39.0]
Lisa Woolfork [0:20:39.4]
When the outside opens…
Thank you so much for listening to the Stitch Please podcast. I do hope that you enjoyed this fantastic bonus episode with Rashida Coleman Hale as much as I did. I was really glad that we decided to continue our conversation so we could get to this particular issue that I do believe is important and you cannot dismantle a problem unless you identify what it is, and I think continuing to talk about this and identify it is a good first step.
Next week our foray into National Quilt Month continues with a fun and detailed discussion of fusible appliqué. Now for the fusible appliqué project I am using the Social Justice Sewing Academy 2020 Block Of The Month Club block. This is a block from February called Crown and it was created by a quilter who was mentioned in this recent episode Latifah Saafir. So tune in next week to learn more about fusible appliqué and how fun it is and how it's a really great project to introduce someone to the world of quilting. See you next week!