Lisa Woolfork 0:10
Hello stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black Lives Matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.
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 this is an episode that come about what happens when you do not mind your own business. Because I happened to meet our guest during a fabric shopping trip in New York City. I was in New York City last year in November, and I was with my sister, and we were doing some fabric shopping - well, I was doing some fabric shopping and she was begrudgingly following me along. I think I was given one whole hour to go fabric shopping before she self-destructed because she hates it. And while I was there, there was this wonderful Black woman there, and we just started talking and chatting. And it turns out this Black woman was named Lenmarie Paschall, and she had an exciting sewing project that's like a bit of a movement, like an entire practice, that she has created and connected to her sewing. And once I heard her story, I wanted you all to hear it too. So we're going to start this, here we are in 2023; we've been thinking, for some folks, about resolutions, etc. But what Lenmarie Pascall is going to tell us about is something completely different. And she's going to talk about her work with Rest by Len, and how she is using her sewing as part of a restorative rest practice. Lenmarie, welcome to the program and thank you for being so gracious when I was being annoying as all hell, I'm certain.
No, thank you so much for having me. It was great meeting you. It was encouraging meeting you; I had probably spent two hours in that store by myself trying to figure stuff out. So I was a little frustrated, so meeting you and your sister was a breath of fresh air. So thank you.
Lisa Woolfork 2:23
It was great for us too, so thank you so much. So Lenmarie, tell us your sewing story. How did you get started?
So, I am Trinidadian, I went to high school there. And in school, we choose to sew or to cook. We choose to sew or to cook, and then there's, like, woodwork and electronic stuff, but primarily the women, we usually choose to sew or to cook. And my first class - that's home economics - was sewing. So that was my first encounter with sewing. But I always grew up with my mom sewing. And then I moved to America, and I kind of, like, forgot that life. And as I'm at work as a financial analyst one day, I call my dad and I'm like, "Dad, clothes are so expensive. Can you buy me a sewing machine?"
Lisa Woolfork 3:09
Wow, how beautiful is that, Lenmarie? You did not say, "Dad, clothes are expensive. Can you send me money for clothes?" You said, "Clothes are expensive. Can you buy me a sewing machine?" What do you think is the difference between those two questions?
Lisa Woolfork 3:26
I think there's something special when we tap into our creative nature and the ability to create, versus just the ability to be consumers. And within creativity, we do have to purchase the supplies and all of those things, but it's so empowering at the same time. And for those of us that do love to sew, it brings a lot of joy.
Lisa Woolfork 3:46
So you were able to take your high school experience, you had learned this. Do you remember your earlier days of sewing? Did you enjoy it when you were doing it in high school? Did you like it?
So I remember liking it because I was always into fashion, so I remember thinking, I'm going to make this, I'm going to make that. But unfortunately, my teacher was not nice.
Lisa Woolfork 4:06
Oh wow, you had a mean sewing teacher? Was she like the stuff of nightmares? Did she say like, your seams are garbage? Or...
No, straight up, she would be screaming at us, like "What are you doing?" I remember the first day of class, she was like, "First things first: I have a tattoo. Because I don't want to hear you all asking me any questions about my tattoo. Look at it now, because I'm not going to answer any questions." And we were like...nobody even wanted to ask her. It was one of those things. So I would always put my first experience, I'd give that to my mom later on. Because as an adult, when my dad bought me that machine, I needed to relearn some things. I needed to reacquaint myself with the machine. I remember saying "Mom, how do you do it again?" And my mom coming alongside me and helping me navigate it.
Lisa Woolfork 4:51
Oh, wow. And I think after, you know, she's showing you a couple times, did like the muscle memory kind of kick in?
Like riding a bike, they say.
Lisa Woolfork 5:00
That is so beautiful. So what were some of the first things you made? Do you remember what some of the first garments you made for yourself were?
I first started making these, like, turbans? Off-the-shoulder tops. That was kind of where I stopped before I started making [unclear].
Lisa Woolfork 5:15
So, I'm so interested in this. I'm very interested in your younger self having this kind of kernel of creativity. And for some folks, like, having a mean home ec teacher, or a mean sewing teacher, turns them off sewing for good. But was it because your mother also did it, so that wasn't the only way you were able to learn? But you were able to still stick with it, even though the teacher said, "Don't look at my tattoos and don't ask any questions about anything." But you were able to hang in there, and continue to sew and continue to enjoy it. And so now, you are a financial analyst. You are doing heavy, thoughtful, math-specific statistics, which is in some ways, I imagine, rather high stakes, because a lot of pressure around that type of job. It sounds like it's corporate. I'm just so excited to learn more about how your creativity continued to shine through, and it continued to drive you, it seems. Like, one could imagine being a financial analyst, and you're like, "I just need to get this work done. And there's so much of it. I've got to drive through all these numbers. The last thing I need is to figure out what I'm going to wear. Let me just go buy some clothes." But that's not the route you - tell me about the balance between having a career as a financial analyst, and making your own clothes.
Yeah, that's good. So, I worked in New York Presbyterian Hospital. It's a huge hospital in New York. And yeah, it was a financial analyst thing. So you're right, everything was super critical. Because we dealt directly with patients on their needs, right? You procure things so that they can receive the services that they need. So everything was critical, it was urgent, but I have a really strong creative gene in me that I understood, and I think that's what gave me life. You know what I mean? So I exist in these spaces, like school, and in academia; I exist in corporate America. But I would always need that creative aspect of me to keep me going. So there was sewing, but also be at work: I led a task force called the Celebration Task Force. We celebrated everything. We did a lot of DIY stuff, we did a lot of decorating of the office, because I knew that I needed to prioritize things that filled me up as well. So I'll exist in these spaces, because I live in a world that functions this way. But I also will prioritize the creative side of me. So yes, sewing was a part of that.
Lisa Woolfork 7:43
I really love that balance. I mean, of all the task forces that people get put on, "Oh, I got to be on this committee, or that committee." You were like, "I am going to be in charge of the Celebration Task Force. And it's not a committee. It's a task force, because we're going to be doing tasks that involve celebration."
Yes. We had a budget and everything. We were really serious about celebrating people, events, and everything.
Lisa Woolfork 8:06
I love that. Do you remember, how did your co-workers respond? Did a lot of them learn to tap into their creative side as well, based on some of the work you did with the Celebration Task Force?
Yeah. So initially, it was a joke? I would think they took us as a joke, because you know, that world, that finance, procurement, corporate world, people can be really, you know, stingy. And you know, initially, it was kind of like a joke, but I was also a high performer. So initially, it was two of us, I think, that started it. And then after that, people started volunteering their time. And then we're being, like, shouted out in major staff meetings, "The Celebration Task Force, they did such a great job!" And you know, so - people began to embrace it. I don't want to speak on their behalf, but I think also embrace it, and understand how important it is. Let's take a break to celebrate, to take a load off, to laugh, to play games. I believe that people, they didn't know they needed it. Once they got it, they really embraced it.
Lisa Woolfork 9:08
That is so powerful, because it reminds me that we are not machines. We are not machines, we are not meant to be - we don't go to bed at night and plug ourselves in, and then wake up in the morning and unplug ourselves, and then go until our battery's drained, and then we lay down and plug ourselves in again. That is not the human experience. Human beings were not designed to be that way and to move through the world that way. And it seems as though because your job was so intense, and because it was so stringent, as you said, and it was like, here are the things we have to do, and it's high stakes, and we have all of these different things we need to do. It seems as though anything where you get to pause or breathe or walk away, might seem like you're not being serious about the work. When, in fact, in some ways, the opposite is true in order to care well for others. And to do your job well, you have to care well for yourself. And so, do you believe that this work with the Celebration Task Force led you to the work that you're doing now? How do you connect the dots between being a financial analyst, and where you are now with Rest by Len?
So when I was a part of the Celebration Task Force specifically, I got a promotion, I guess. And I moved office spaces. So I moved to another office, it wasn't the big office. I wasn't sure if I should do all the celebrations. I still did my own thing in the smaller office, but - and I also led a youth group at my church, and a lot of community things. I was just really busy all the time. I went back to school, I mean, I was just doing the most, and just began to be really drained. You know, feel drained, feel stretched. People who were around me just kind of expecting me to be the girl that can just do it all, and I put that expectation on myself as well. For a while I just really struggled with burnout, struggled with a lot of deeper issues, like trying to figure out "Well, why do I feel like I need to do so much to be accepted?" So I really entered a space in my life, I would say 2017, where I was just tired. I was tired emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically. And I started seeing a counselor at the time. I started going to counseling, I started resting. I unfortunately had an injury that forced the rest. And that's kind of where everything turned around for me. So while I was practicing, I had a good habit of this balance of finding joy. Scheduling, practically, just sitting down because of trauma, because of different things; I wasn't that good at it.
Lisa Woolfork 11:49
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It's so funny how the body will get what it needs one way or the other. One way or the other. My mouth might say, "I know I'm not a machine," or "I reject hustle and grind culture." But if I do as I do, when I stay up until 3 o'clock in the morning every single day, and get up at 9 AM every single day, to do the same thing every single day; eventually, my body's going to say, "Enough. Enough." You're going to get a cold, you're going to get something where you are unable to do what you have been doing. And I just think that it's such wisdom to kind of recognize, and to not fight it, and to say, "Okay, here I am. I am unable to do what I was doing before, and maybe that is deliberate. Or maybe my body is a lot smarter than I am. And it says we're going to get the rest we need whether you like it or not. We don't care about your plans. We don't care about your to do list that has 90,000 things on it. We need to rest and we are going to take it if you don't give it to us."
Yeah. No, for sure. And people think that taking a break, resting - I've heard, like, it's lazy, it's not productive, it's this easy thing to do. But I think one of the hardest things to do is to say no, and to prioritize your health. Sometimes, even, you might feel like you're missing out on something, you may feel like not going to be ahead of the game if you don't grind. I mean, I was in New York, right? Grind culture capital of the world.
Lisa Woolfork 14:33
Talk about the city that never sleeps.
Talk about the city that never sleeps. I mean, you just did everything in one day because places would still be open. Right? Just things that - I live in California now, things that I completely took for granted. I remember I was telling some of my coworkers recently, I'm like, "I would be in Times Square shopping at 1 AM in the morning around Christmas Time because stores just stayed open."
Lisa Woolfork 14:52
Yep, people were there.
Right, you would shop, right? So I was that person. I actually remembered I was teaching a soul care class, just something I started doing. And this young man said, "I work a lot. I have two kids. My job is just really demanding. So I don't see how it is possible for me to rest." And I said to him, I said, "God forbid something happens to you, you're in the hospital or something. They'll carry on, like, would they be okay? Or would the company shut down?" He was like, "They'd be all right." I said, Okay. So [unclear].
Lisa Woolfork 15:23
Listen, my mother has told me my whole life: "Listen, they love you at that job. And if you drop dead on a Thursday, they've got your job advertised in the newspaper on a Friday. And then they go to your service on Saturday. And then on Monday, they trying to interview your replacement." So stop. Just stop, because they will not stop for you. So you have to stop for yourself. Now tell me about this. Did you say it's a sew care class?
Oh no, soul care. Soul care.
Lisa Woolfork 15:54
Listen, I mean, here we go. Look, that's how we do at Black Women Stitch, we get together, we chat and we make amazing things happen. So you say it's a soul care class. Tell me about that, and how that connects to the sewing at all.
Lynn Marie 16:06
It was in the same season, I think, it was in the same season when I was going to counseling and doing therapy. I started seminary that year. And I just started taking a whole bunch of classes about caring, like spiritual formation, soul care. Everything to do with rest. I even took a class called Soil and Sabbath, and it was on a farm. Right?
Lisa Woolfork 16:30
So one of my friends, she was leading a team. And she's like, "Everyone is burnt out, can you just come in?" And it started from really seeing in me that I was working this thing out in real life. She felt she could see a change in me, and she wanted me to teach that to her group.
Lisa Woolfork 16:45
That is amazing. What are some of the soul care tips you still remember from the work that you did, and the folks that you studied when you were at seminary? Was there one principle that kind of stuck with you as you moved through the development or your process?
One of the things that really stood out to me in that Sabbath class, in particular, is that - it was a Jewish author, because you know, in their faith, they are really strict, I should say, about Sabbath. At least that's how we view it.
Lisa Woolfork 17:13
Observant. They're very observant. Right, right.
But in this book, it really changed the way I saw that. Because the author says, "This is a gift. The Sabbath is a gift from God." They believe it's a gift, and we get to participate. It's almost, you think of we just celebrated Christmas. You think of this season of giving, and a weekly gift of rest. And you're not going to tell your father or your mother, your parent, you're not going to say, "I don't want this gift from you!" You know? The author talks about just, like, receiving the Sabbath as a gift and resting.
Lisa Woolfork 17:52
Oh my gosh, that is beautiful. The Sabbath as a gift, and all that a gift entails. You know, you give gifts to people you care for, you give gifts to people that you love. And you give them something precious that they might not even be willing to give themselves. Oh, that's so beautiful. Now, you've got to tell us about Rest by Len. How did you get here? How did you get to the point where you are living in California, but I happened to bump into you in Manhattan in the Garment District, looking for fabric to support Rest by Len?
Lynn Marie 18:27
2020...no, fast forward, I think. Somewhere along my journey, I left the financial analyst job in 2017. And I really, like I said, went headfirst into this journey. But I still led this youth group in my community and in my church. And every year we would have a back to school barbecue with these crazy themes, and one year I wanted to do Coachella.
Lisa Woolfork 18:49
Wow. Okay, that's a theme. Yes.
So, I'm like, there has to be like a lounge area. There's greenery all over. I'm thinking all this stuff. We're in New York, we're in Queens. You know, New York, there's not that much space, but you want these young people to experience something that they've never experienced before. You want to give them exposure. You know, the chances of some of these young people in our communities eaving the state, right? That is really small. So I'm like, we got to transform the space. I wanted a lounge area but didn't have the funds to do it. So I decided to get those, like, wooden pallets, put that on the floor, create these huge pillows. Right? To create this effect where they can just be lounging on the floor, have a whole bunch of like greenery behind them, so they can feel like they're at Coachella or, you know, some festival. They pulled up in their cute outfits and it was a whole vibe, right? After that, those pillows were so popular. And everyone was asking me to make it. It was like, two-toned, so one side was one color and the other side was another color. I was having fun with the fabrics, and people just went wild. And I remember people asking, "Can you make for me? How much do you charge?" And I'm always the person that's - I had a lot of fun making these. I don't want to turn this into a business. I remember saying that back then. I'm like, "No, I'm not making them." Some people. I was like, "Okay, I'll make one for you. But it's another thing." So a couple years pass, and we're all shut down. It's a pandemic, everyone is having outdoor things. And my friend remembers these pillows, and she's like, "Len, I'm having an outdoor movie night, like picnic on the lawn. I want to make pillows from my black and white theme." So we got like, black and white African fabric, and I made these pillows, and it was the same reaction. Everyone is going crazy, "How much do you charge?" I'm at home during the pandemic, right? I think it was a year and a half after my injury. I've experienced all these things. So I'm like, I want to do this. I'm telling my friend I want to do this. She's like, "What are you going to call it?" She's like, "I feel like you're so into rest." I was like, "I know, I was thinking Rest by Len." She goes, "I love it!" And then we launch it. Her husband helps us with the graphics, and she works all of her magic, I do my thing, and that was it. Rest by Len was launched.
Lisa Woolfork 21:10
Rest by Len was launched. You've done similar events. Have you continued to host events? Can you talk a little bit about how those events work? Like, what can someone expect if they were to attend a Rest by Len event? What kind of feelings are - I'm not saying give away your trade secrets or anything. I'm just saying, like, what is a Rest by Len event like? What kind of things characterize it? What's the vibe like?
So I personally have not had my own Rest by Len event; I have partnered with my friend, she's an event planner. We Love In The Details is the name of her company. So I had her to do these very, like, lounge events, where it's like a movie is projected, or this picnic style, we have people serving you. You literally come there, you lounge on the pillows, you have fun with others. It's a lot of laughter, a lot of games. So I've partnered in those events, where I've made, how many - 40 pillows, 50 pillows, 60 pillows. Huge, gigantic pillows. And it just brings us both a lot of joy, because people come there and they don't think of anything else but just laughter, or having a good time resting.
Lisa Woolfork 22:22
I really like how you say that when you come there, it requires you to kind of suspend your worries and concerns for other things. Like, it's an invitation to just be, to just exist, to breathe, to rest. You don't have responsibilities. It would probably be best if you weren't checking your phone every 10 minutes, like, this is a time for you to just be there, and be in community, and listen and laugh and just chill.
Just chill. Exactly. Oh, sorry. I was going to say - and other people, I think, especially during the pandemic, have picked up on this movement, and I've partnered with them where they rented pillows from me, things like that. So I think overall it has been a movement. The slogan Rest by Len is More Than a Pillow, right? And people have definitely been picking that up. So I'm grateful for that.
Lisa Woolfork 23:15
Yes. Now tell us about "more than a pillow." I think that when people see a pillow they're like oh, that's just a decoration, something for the couch, or something for the bed, or something for the floor. But you're saying it's "more than a pillow." What does that mean? What does "more than a pillow" bring to your work?
So, I see Rest by Len and these pillows that I make really as an invitation. An invitation to just rest. An invitation, like you said, to just be. One of my favorite reviews, I guess, someone gave me a review. They bought a pillow, and they private messaged me and they said, "You have no idea; when I leave work, I cannot wait to get home and just lay on my pillow." And that is why I continue to do this, because to me it is an invitation, and these are specifically like my extra large, the big pillows that I make because it's really comfy. It's super comfy. So it attracts you to kind of just sit down, look around. You know, reset. When I walk into my apartment, the first thing in my apartment is the kitchen. So sometimes I'm tempted to immediately start washing the dishes, cooking, right? This pillow that you're anticipating to just lay down, it's an invitation that draws you in.
Lisa Woolfork 24:29
Oh, I think that is so beautiful. I love this idea of the pillow as an active invitation to do nothing. When you're on the pillow, you cannot wash the dishes; you cannot organize the refrigerator; you can't figure out what you're going to eat. All you can do is be there. And that is so inviting. That is so powerful. Now, you said you have some new pillows, or new designs, on the horizon. When I met you, you were looking through linen fabrics. And now you've got the linens down, now tell me what the next phase is going to be.
I love pillows. Even outside of me making pillows, I've always been the person in that section at HomeGoods, or you know, wherever. And these feather pillows are, I mean - I'm actually sitting on my couch that's like, feather. I had to invest in it. When you lay down on it, or you sit down on it, it just takes you to another level of comfort, I think.
Lisa Woolfork 25:25
Now, before you were stuffing your pillows maybe with like, fiber fill? Like, what were you using before?
I have a fill, Polyfill, if you're familiar with that, Polyfill. I've always wanted to get into feathers, but I've always been afraid of the cost. So I never even looked at it. My friend would be like, "You should get into feathers," and I'm like, "You don't even understand how much that costs." But I think businesses are using feathers now, the more accessible it is. And I want it to be accessible to the customers that I have as well. Right? Know all the jargon and the lingo, but know what it feels like to come home and lay on the pillow and lounge. I want to give that experience.
Lisa Woolfork 26:01
Yeah, yes. Oh, that is so exciting. The feathers are such a way to just kind of sink in. It's like a reverse weighted blanket. You know, rather than having something on top of you that's weighing you down, you have something that you're sitting on that's kind of, like, embracing you.
That's so good, I love that.
Lisa Woolfork 26:20
Oh, that is so exciting. Oh my goodness. Lenmarie, this has been a delightful conversation. But I have to ask the question I ask everybody. The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together. Here we are at the start of 2023. What advice do you have for us to help us get our stitch together?
Lynn Marie 26:42
I love that. I think what is extremely helpful is knowing what fills you; knowing what brings you joy; knowing that things that regenerate you and energize you. So I would say for this new year ,when you're making all your other lists, make a list of those things as well. Make a list of the things that show you - the things that, from flying somewhere that may be a high ticket price to just walking in the park, and sitting on a pillow or a blanket so the birds chirp or whatever it is, make a list so that you can develop for this year a rhythm. I wouldn't say a goal or anything like that, but a rhythm, a continuous something of rest, a continuous practice of care for yourself and care for your soul. Make that list, make the books, the podcasts, whatever it is that you need, that when you come home from a really tough day, you can say okay, I have this list. I know what I can go to so that I can just be. That’s what I would say.
Lisa Woolfork 27:42
That is so beautiful. And on that note, Lenmarie Pascall, thank you so much for bringing us the story of Rest by Len. And what a great way to start off 2023: making a list of things that bring you joy, things that bring you peace, in the same way that we're putting our list of things of resolutions, et cetera. Prioritizing our rest right alongside those feels incredibly generative and very powerful. Thank you so much for being with us today.
Thank you so much for having me.
Lisa Woolfork 28:17
You've been listening to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you joining us this week and every week for stories that center Black women girls and femmes in sewing. We invite you to join the Black Women Stitch Patreon community with giving levels beginning at $5 a month. Your contributions help us bring the Stitch Please podcast to you every week. Thank you for listening. Thank you for your support, and come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.