Scraplanta with Jonelle Dawkins

Jonelle Dawkins

Momo con. 

Blurred con 

closet cosplay.


Episode Summary

Jonelle Dawkins is a sewer, environmentalist, and the Executive Director of Scraplanta, a creative rescue center for the Atlanta creative community. Jonelle is joining the Stitch Please podcast to share her creative journey, from choosing sewing as her childhood hobby to getting a degree in fashion merchandising. This opened up the conversation as we talked about the socio-cultural influences of fashion, building sustainable sewing practices, and what the idea of creative reuse means. We also touch on how her travels influenced her sewing and career trajectory, how she became active in the cosplay scene, and why Scraplanta is meant to be a place for people to come together over their love for art and advocacy for more sustainable sewing practices. She also expanded on why you don’t have to choose between being a sustainable sewer or someone who is deeply creative and experimental, or a cosplayer–you can be all of those things at once. This episode is a conversation around sustainability, environmental justice, and creatively creating in a way that reduces the impact on the planet.

Read Full Transcript

Lisa Woolfork: 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. [00:34] 

[00:36 Interview Starts]

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I am your host, Lisa Woolfork. And, I am, as I say every week, this is a very special episode. Because today we're speaking with Jonelle Dawkins, executive director of Scraplanta Creative Reuse Center. Welcome, Jonelle, to the program. Thank you so much, Jonelle, for being with us today. Welcome, welcome, welcome! [01:02]

Jonelle Dawkins: Thank you. I'm excited to be here. [01:03]

Lisa: This is so much fun, because there's a lot of conversation around sustainability, and environmental justice, and all of these different questions. And what you bring to the table, Jonelle, is a background where your sewing, and sustainability, and creativity all go together. That you don't have to choose to be a sustainable sewer; or choose to be a deeply creative and experimental sewer; or a cosplayer. You can be all of those things at once. Well, maybe not you. But, if your name is Jonelle Dawkins, then you are definitely all three of these things. Because that is exactly what Jonelle Dawkins does, is she does all of this amazing, wonderful, creative cosplays. 

But I'm talking to her today because of Scraplanta. And I am incredibly excited to hear more about this really exciting project and the role that you have as the executive director of this organization. Thank you again for being with us today. Welcome. [02:21]

Jonelle: Thank you, Lisa. Thank you for that wonderful introduction.

Lisa: You are amazing, and I'm so glad to share your story with the Stitch Please podcast family. So tell me a bit about your sewing story. How did you get started? [02:34]

Jonelle: I remember I was nine, and I told my parents I wanted to learn how to sew. And they were tired of my different hobbies. And so they were like, "You know, this is it. We're gonna get this sewing machine. If you like it, you like it; if not, that's it. " And so I took, like, three classes at a local church, and it was me and one other person. And the lady, after three classes, she said, "I don't like children," and she just stopped teaching us. [03:00]

Lisa: Wow.

Jonelle: She just stopped. And so, it seemed like from age, like, nine to 14, I was, like, on my own. And I was just playing around the sewing machine. I had an American Girl doll.

Lisa: Yes.

Jonelle: So I tried to make clothes for her. She looked like a cavewoman, but it was okay [laughs]. I was just having fun. And –

Lisa: You started cosplaying early. You're like, “You know what?” 

Jonelle: [laughs]

Lisa: [continues] “This doll needs some clothing, and I'm gonna go for that primitive aesthetic, ”

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa: “I want her to look like a cavewoman; I absolutely do. Our common human ancestor. This is totally adequate.This is a [03:31 inaudible] to begin sewing. ”

Jonelle: Yeah, I wasn't confident in sewing for myself at that point. It's like, I’d sew like pillows and everything. And then, when I was 14, I found a sewing instructor. She was, like, a home-ec teacher back in Trinidad. And when she came to America, y’know, she sort-of, like, let it go to the wayside. But she said, “Yeah, I'm fine with teaching you.” And she really taught me how to, one, read patterns. 

Lisa: Oh, wow! [03:56]

Jonelle: [continues] Cause I was just cutting stuff out, and I'm like, “Okay, this is a shape.” But, like, now that I [04:02 inaudible] –

Lisa: Is this gonna be an arm or a leg? 

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: Who’s to say?

Jonelle: I had no idea – and, I finally learned how  [04:07 inaudible] together. And like, the thing I liked about her, like, Caribbean influence with her fashion, was that she had fun with it. 

Lisa: Yeah.

Jonelle: Because the fashion industry is so-–it can be, at times, so boring. You know, everyone – 

Lisa: Yeah.

Jonelle: [continues] wants to wear black because it makes you look skinny and just stupid stuff like that.

Lisa: Right , right, right.

Jonelle: And I'm like, “I wanna have fun.” And so, I got my confidence with sewing. And then being in high school and being, like, an overachiever, I was all over the place. So I didn't really have time to take sewing classes after ninth grade. But I knew I wanted to study fashion design at first. [04:42]

Lisa: Okay.

Jonelle: And then when I got older, I was like, “Man, I can't stay creative.” Like, I saw Project Runway and I saw how, like, they were so catty. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, I don't want to be in this environment.” So I said, “Let me do fashion merchandising” because I could– 

Lisa: [04:56 inaudible]

Jonelle: Understand, this is the fashion.

Lisa: Yes.

Jonelle: And, yeah, I can find ways to make it more sustainable through that process. And so, when I went to the University of Georgia, I studied abroad in Ghana. Because, you know, my program had, like, several different study abroad programs. And I was really on the fence between going to China or Ghana. [05:16]

Lisa: Okay.

Jonelle: And at the end of the day, I was like, “Well, why not go to Ghana?” You don't hear about people studying abroad there. Like, everyone wants to go to, like, Europe and Asia. But, why don't we go back to the motherland?

Lisa: Right.

Jonelle: And it was the best three weeks of my life. [05:30]

Lisa: Oh, that's so beautiful. Now –

Jonelle: Yeah 

[05:35 crosstalk]

Lisa: I wanna back up a little bit—  

Jonelle: Oh yeah, yeah. You can back up.

Lisa: I am so loving this trajectory. That in, like, the course of just a few minutes, you just described  being a nine-year old who had too many hobbies –

Jonelle: Yeah? 

Lisa: To being an undergraduate who was in Ghana for a transformative three weeks.

And, the thing that gets me so, about this story, is that your parents had sat you down and said: “Look, Jonelle, now here's the thing. You have been through one hobby, two hobby, three hobby, four. And we're gonna tell you that sewing is gonna be it, and no more.” Right? That was a nice little poem I just made up. You're welcome. 

And what I thought was so interesting is that, okay, so as a nine year old, you had to commit. Now– 

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa: [continues] The adult sewing instructor, on the other hand, who was teaching you at church, did not have to commit. She realized, she was like, “Oh, wait, I hate this. I don't like working with kids. I don't like teaching kids how to sew because kids are annoying. And then, I'm just gonna quit.” I mean, that's the thing that I'm like, stuck on, like –

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: [continues] You were forced to stick to a hobby, because your parents kinda made you. 


Lisa: But, your teacher got to just pick-up and walk off. And so you had to then manage to teach yourself for the next five years.

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: [continues] Until you found someone else who was willing to sit down with you and go over some fundamentals. Can you talk a bit about that? I don't know what you remember about nine-year-old Jonelle. But I'm trying to understand, like, how many hobbies had you had before your parents drew this line in the sand? [07:12]

Jonelle: It's funny, because when I think about it, I think it's just like a resources thing. Because I wanted to be an author when I was little. And so I would, like, make little books. I think my parents would buy me craft kits. But I didn't really like them as much as, like, the fashion ones, like sewing and everything. And I think my parents were like, "We just need you to focus on something." I mean, as a kid, y’know, there's so much discovery. Like, even now – 

Lisa: Yeah

Jonelle: There is just, like, a lot of discovery. And I think it's just, like, it gets expensive for kids to be able to explore themselves. And I think, y'know, there was like, there's some privilege that I see with people who are able to go to these different, like, craft camps and these summer camps and figure out [chuckles]. 

I'm like, now, y’know, I look back. And I'm like, y’know? I don't think my parents were like, just tired. It was just, like, y’know, they wanna support me and they want me to be an artist --

Lisa: Yeah.

Jonelle: But it's like, it's a gamble, it's an investment, yeah. [08:03]

Lisa: Absolutely. And so you're at the University of Georgia. And you are studying fashion merchandising. And it's so interesting, too, that the way that Project Runway has kind of influenced the way that people think about fashion design more generally. That, when you say "sewing", Project Runway kind of comes up as, like, the thing. And most people don't spend their time doing things like sewing trash. Or some of, like, the really elaborate challenges that they ask people to do. And so it's interesting that reality TV kind of pushed you away a little bit from one of your career path choices, just based on, y’know, some programming where they put –-

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: [continues] together, people in these pressure cooker situations. And think that this is how you supposed to, like, actually do this job. 

But you were also able to find something that really appealed to you. What do you remember about studying fashion merchandising in undergraduate? What were some of your favorite courses or experiences that you had after you had gone through your high school time and were studying this formally at school? [09:22]

Jonelle: I enjoyed all my major courses. I especially loved Dress, Society, and Costume because you saw, like, the socio-cultural influences of fashion. [09:30]

Lisa: Wow! Wow, that sounds really fun. That sounds --

Jonelle: It is!

Lisa: That's really very interesting. Like, interesting books, interesting readings. But you’ll absolutely have to tell us about the Ghana trip.

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa:And this was the most exciting or transformative three weeks of your life when you went there as a student. Tell us about what that was like, and what course was it for? What kind of things did you study when you were there? [09:57]

Jonelle: With UGA [University of Georgia], they have an interdisciplinary Ghana study abroad trip. And this one was with the Fashion Merchandising department and the School of Social Work. And so we went—the fashion merchandising students. Our class was, we had to design a capsule collection with the dressmakers that the program partners with every year. And we went to the market, and we sourced the fabric. We did our best to find Made in Ghana fabric. [10:26]

Lisa: Yeah.

Jonelle: And I remember, like, your episode awhile ago, and you were saying that people bootleg it. And then they even bootleg the stickers. It was just so tragic, because I think we were so excited to go. We went to the market, we met these Ghanaian market people, and we were so excited. We were like, "Yes! We found this fabric and it's legit, Ghanaian!" And the one lady said, "This is fake." [sighs] And I thought, "Oh my goodness, you can't win, cause they fake the stickers."

But, we went to the dressmakers. I had made sketches of everything I wanted; I even did, like, sizing. And I had worked with a boutique back in Athens, Georgia to sell the clothes. And so, while the dressmakers were making our outfits, we explored Ghana. We went to Accra, Cape Coast, and Kumasi. And we went to different museums. And we went to different, like nonprofits. [11:17 inaudible] We learned about their different focuses in Ghana. Like, you know, it's interesting to see, like, the way that they address certain issues in society versus how America might choose to address it or not address it.

Lisa: Right.

Jonelle: It was great to just learn more about other professions. Cause like, at that point, I had never considered going to graduate school. I just thought, "Okay, I'm gonna graduate a year from now. Oh, well. But when I was there, I was like, "Well, maybe I should consider graduate school. Maybe I could consider nonprofit work." It never crossed my mind. I thought, "I'm just gonna be a corporate baddie and just sew on the side." [laughs]. [11:54]

So it was at the end of that that I really felt a connection to my culture. I felt great to see that our fashion was so fun and colorful. 

Lisa: Yes.

Jonelle: Because, usually, our fashion, in my textbooks that I learned, it was still a Eurocentric curriculum.

Lisa: Yes.

Jonelle: And it shows, like, fashion through the European white gaze. But–

Lisa: Right.

Jonelle: What is fashion to us, as Black people?

Lisa: Yes 

Jonelle: And y’know, how do Africans situate their style? And like, it's so diverse across the continent. So, you know, just how Ghanian culture and their relationship with waist beads is different from Senegal’s relationship with waist beads. And like, learning that and appreciating that was amazing, too. [12:36]

Lisa: And what I appreciate about your story is when you did find a teacher, when you found someone to teach you to sew, to sit down with you, when you're around 14 or so, it was a woman from Trinidad. And that by learning from someone from the Caribbean. You know, you said that she was very colorful, right?

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa: Like, it wasn't just picking up ye old Singer book, and [13:01 inaudible] how to make a tote bag, everybody, you know?

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: It was something quite different. And this idea that you're able to infuse your culture. That Black folks, we can infuse our culture into everything that we do. I think that that is a really powerful and beautiful gift. And that’s a great way to start learning and seeing things. So I can [13:23 inaudible] some of the things that you might have learned from your Trinidadian sewing instructor. And then when you get to college, and you're studying fashion design, and you're like, "Oh my gosh, do things look kind of—" I don't know. [13:35]

Jonelle: Boring? 

Lisa: Yeah, I was gonna say flat and boring. Yeah, flat and boring. And so, you were able to kind of combine, it seems, a really diverse sewing education. A really diverse foundation that allowed you to kind of mix some of the standard European style of instruction with flair.  Not just flair, because that makes it sound like it's superfluous, but with a new degree of attention to cultural specificity and detail, which is a form of aliveness. Which I think is really quite wonderful and really quite vivid. That's really wonderful. 

Do you recall any of your favorite early sewing projects or design projects that you did? Either when you were doing your informal study yourself, as a child? Or with your Trinidadian sewing instructor? Or anything that you might’ve done when you were in undergraduate? Because I feel like those early,early projects really shape, I think, how one approaches sewing in the later years. Do you remember anything particularly striking that you made in those early days of your sewing, your high school years, or undergraduate years? [14:56]

Jonelle: Well, there is one project that I did before I found my sewing instructor, and it was some McCall's pattern. It was like these shorts, and they had a really flowy, like, leg. So almost like a skirt. [15:09]

Lisa: Okay.

Jonelle: And it was trash [laughs]. It was absolute trash. Like, the stitching was all over the place and everything. But, I took it to my sewing instructor on the first day ‘cause I was like, you know, "This is what I tried to make." And she said, "You know what, keep it. Keep it as a reminder of where you started and how you're going to be. " And, we redid the pattern and it turned out great. Like, and, I love just being able to see, like, my growth as a seamstress. Because even now, I'm still growing. Like, some stuff I make it's still trash. Especially if you zoom in. But– [15:42]

Lisa: Wait, especially if you zoom in?

Jonelle: But, I’m like a [15:45 inaudible]

Lisa: Who would do such a thing? Who asked them to zoom in?

Jonelle: Yeah.

[15:51 crosstalk]

Jonelle: And especially, like, with different fabrics. I've worked with roving up until, like, pretty much last year, when I made my graduation dress. And I was like, "Oh, knits are a completely different ballgame."

Lisa: Okay, yes. Absolutely.

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: Absolutely.

Jonelle: But I was terrified of working with certain fabrics. Like working in general, with like, patterns and everything. But I said, "You know, just go for it." And, like, I made this skirt ,of like, newspaper that I had, like woven together.

Lisa: [16:20 inaudible]

Jonelle: And I did it for a fashion show in high school. And it's like, in your youth, you don't have as much fear of, like, trying out new things.

Lisa: Yep.

Jonelle: And everyone loved it –

Lisa: Yeah

Jonelle: [continues] And I was just like, "Where is that younger Jonelle, who just has no fear of, like, let me try this and see how it works"? [16:36]

Lisa: Just. Yeah.

Jonelle: Yeah. 

Lisa: You never know what's gonna happen, right?

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: And I think that, you know, that, clearly, that Jonelle is still there; there‘s only one you. And as you grow, you will continue to take risks and do. And you know, the more you sew, the stronger and better it's gonna get. And it's not that I think you're losing, like, "Who's this risky person"? It's that you’re also more confident—

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa: [continues] in other things. And so you're like, "you know what, let rather than try something that I'm not so sure about, or should I just try something I know it's gonna work?" I'm gonna choose what I know is gonna work. But at the same time, you have a lot of experimentation in your sewing.

Especially, through the cosplay– And I know we are talking about creative reuse. And we will absolutely get to this idea and why it's so important. But before we take a short break, I have to hear about your journey as a cosplayer. Because looking at some of the stuff that you've done in that way, wow! Just, it's so beautiful. The way that you set up the photoshoots, the whole environment, the whole scene. In addition, the outfits are just amazing.

Can you talk a bit about how you got started down that path? Was that around the same time as you were learning to sew? Or did that come a little bit later? [17:52]

Jonelle: Well, I think it was always a part of my sewing journey because I love, like, costumes. Y’know, when you’re younger, it's like, when people dressed up in historical costume, they're pretty much [18:03 doin] Civil War reenactments. And I was like, “I don't wanna do that.” [18:06]

Lisa: Thank you.

Jonelle: I liked the hoop skirts, and like, different fashion pieces cause I was, like, a huge American Girl fan. 

Lisa: Yes.

Jonelle: And so I was always wondering, like, "How can I incorporate this into, I guess, everyday life?" or whatever. And it wasn't until I went to high school and I went to my first con right before 12th grade. And I was like, "Oh my goodness, what am I gonna wear?" And I, like, cut this, like, yellow shirt, so I could be Misty from Pokémon. And it was funny because I wore it on Friday. And the whole weekend, people kept comin’ up to me and say, “You were Black Misty on Friday! You were Black Misty! And I was like, “Yeah.” Y’know, of course. 

Even though I met several Misty’s and I was only Black Misty. And I didn't even think of that. I was navigating in this space, like, as the only Black person that actually dressed up. Cause my friends who went, they all had on, like, T-shirts and jeans, and I'm like, "No! I'm gonna dress up!" [19:00]

Lisa: Yeah. This is a con y'all, This is why–

Jonelle: Yeah!

Lisa : We are goin’ to this convention? 

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: Do you remember which one was it? What was it called? Was it ComicCon? What con was it? [19:08]

Jonelle: It was MomoCon.

Lisa: MomoCon. So–

Jonelle: Yes. 

Lisa: [continues] tell us about– What is MomoCon?

Jonelle: So, MomoCon is just, I would say, just a regular, big con in Atlanta. It's Memorial Day weekend every year. And it's everything. You can do, like, gaming, books, whoever, like, you want to cosplay as. And the thing about Atlanta, it's like a cultural center of course for film. And, like, Adult Swim is based down the street from where MomoCon is. So you see a lot of, like, people doing Cartoon Network and Adult Swim characters. Yeah.

Lisa: Oh, that's awesome! Oh, some of my favorite cartoons are Cartoon Network cartoons. In particular, The Amazing World of Gumball, I love that show. 

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa: That is my absolute favorite. Darwin is my favorite, favorite walking fish. Just a sweetheart. So, is it called MomoCon 'cause it's on Memorial Day weekend? Or, is there a character named Momo that this con is named for?

Jonelle: I have no idea. It's one of those cons that everyone just goes to. The big con that I know about and that I guess I care more about is BlerdCon. [20:16]

Lisa: BlerdCon!

Lisa and Jonelle: [simultaneously] Yes!

Lisa: BlerdCon! Now, y'all, Blerd’s, as we know, are Black nerds. And so tell me about BlerdCon. Where was that? Was that also in Atlanta or was it elsewhere? [20:20]

Jonelle: It's in Crystal City, Virginia.

Lisa: Oh! 

And so it is amazing. Last year was my first time going. I'd heard about it for years, and I kept saying, "I'm gonna go. I'm gonna go. " And then, of course, I was in college, and then COVID. And y’know, I always made excuses for myself. I said, "I'm [clap] goin'  go." And so, last year, I had the time of my life at BlerdCon. 

[20:49 crosstalk]

Jonelle: It was absolutely amazing!

Lisa: [clap] Tell [clap] us [clap] about it!

Jonelle: Yes!

Lisa: What did you make? What did you wear? Who did you see? [20:55]

Jonelle: Yes. So I'm gonna to start off with, like, the con crunch. Which is, like, what Project Runway prepares everybody for. You see, everyone's always stressed out, last minute sewing. 

Lisa: Con crunch.

Jonelle: That’s what the con crunch is. 

Lisa: I love that. 

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: The con crunch.

Jonelle: And, I said, "I'm gonna sew three outfits, I'm going to do it."

Lisa: Okay

Jonelle: And I was working full-time at my job and back at my old creative reuse center. And it's like, I’d be so tired from work. And I was also trying to exercise and stuff too. I said, "I'm goin’ to sew." and, like, sewing can be so [21:00 addictive]. You know how, you're like, "I'm just gonna go for an hour." And the next thing you know, it’s, like, three o’clock in the morning. And you have work. And you're just like —

Lisa: Exactly.

Jonelle: Just. Yeah.

Lisa: It’s like [21:44 inaudible] I’ll be tired at work today.

Jonelle: Yes, and the thing about creative reuse centers, you meet so many other creatives. And then you tell them what you're doin’. And they have ideas and you have ideas, like [exhales]So, I was always just, you know, scoping the fabric section of the store. Cause I was like, hmm-hmmm?

Lisa: See, like, let me find some.

Jonelle: [continues] Let me see if any new fabric came in. Let me see if any patterns came in. And, what I did was I wanted to add my own twist to every character. [22:13]

Lisa: Yeah.

Jonelle: Like, the first one I did was Sam from Danny Phantom.

Lisa: Okay.

Jonelle: Because my boyfriend and I wanted to do, like, a couple's cosplay.

Lisa: Yes.

Jonelle: And I didn't realize how excited he was about it. Because [clap] he doesn’t sew, but he will go on Amazon, on Goodwill, just find anything he can to make, like, closet cosplays. We just like [22:28 inaudible]

Lisa: Ooooh.

Jonelle: The outfit that you picked up from the store, that looks like the character. Like, he's-

Lisa: Okay

Jonelle: He’s so serious about it.

Lisa: It’s called a "closet cosplay."

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa: I love the vocabulary we’re getting here. About MomoCon, BlerdCon, closet cosplay. Perfect, okay, we got three terms we'll be defining, y'all.

Jonelle: Yes!

Lisa: So [22:45 inaudible] the show notes of the episode.

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa: So, you got the closet cosplay going, y’know for him, okay? So for yourself, you made this character to go with this show. And what was the other one you did? The other two? [22:58]

Jonelle: Okay, and so the second one was Catwoman. [23:02]

Lisa: Wow.

Jonelle: It's so funny how bad the outfit was. But, how proud of myself I was for, like, pushing through it. Cause I had, like, the stretch velour that I was working with.

Lisa: Oh.

Jonelle: [continues] And I tried to make a hood, like the Catwoman hood. Oh my goodness, I am constantly reworking that. But that's one of the things I like about sewing and cosplay, especially. You can revisit your cosplays.

Lisa: Yes

Jonelle: And cause, it was not perfect. I looked cute, though. 

Lisa: Yes, you did.

Jonelle: I looked so cute. And then my third one was supposed to be Princess Peach. But it ended up just looking more, like, this renaissance maiden look. And I said, "You know what? I'm gonna wear it. " And I’ve worn that outfit so many times. I wear it for my fae day picnic that I had with my friends. Like, I wear it when I just need a costume.

Lisa: This is a Peach and also a very nice outfit.

Jonelle: Yes. [laughs] [22:55]

Lisa: Oh, that is so delightful. Oh my goodness.

So we're gonna take a very quick break. But when we come back, we will continue to talk with Jonelle Dawkins, the executive director of the creative reuse center, Scraplanta, in Atlanta, Georgia, who is also a cosplayer and has been telling us about these amazing cosplays she's been doing. And when we get back, we'll hear more about this really exciting work at the creative reuse center. So stay tuned, everybody. [24:26]

[24:26 Ad Read Starts]

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[25:05 Interview Resumes]

Lisa: Hello everybody, we are back and thank you so much. You are listening to the Stitch Please podcast, and I am talking with the very talented, very creative Jonelle Dawkins, who is the executive director of Scraplanta creative reuse center. Now, in the previous segment of our conversation, we were talking about her sewing journey, her travels, her amazing cosplays. And now, we're going to talk about her work. Which you might think, like, "Why you on here talkin’ ‘bout her job-job?" Because her job-job is amazing! [25:38]

Her job-job is really, I think, a really firm anchor into how we can keep sewing going in a way that keeps materials out of landfills and in people's creative spaces. I also love the idea of creative reuse because there are times, and there are certain resources in sewing, that I personally might not need anymore. But would be a great benefit to somebody else who could make it something totally new. 

And, so please, tell us about Scraplanta. I am excited about this. And how you got started in this field? Atlanta is not ,like, your first job at a creative reuse center. You did similar work in North Carolina. Can you talk a bit about your journey as someone who works in the creative nonprofit space? [26:34]

Jonelle: Yes! So I'll start from the beginning. When I first came to Greensboro, I happened upon a shopping center that had a secondhand art supply store. And I thought to myself, "These exist?" I went on Google and I saw that there was another one called Reconsidered Goods in Greensboro. And I said, "Well, lemme go visit them." And I went there and my mind was just blown away, you know. Just all the fabric. As a [27:03 fiber] artist, I'm like, "Yes, fabric!" [27:05]

So I signed up to volunteer there, and that was November of 2019. And then I volunteered for a couple of months. And, of course, COVID shut everything down. So, I just kept on working in grad school and doing other stuff. Quarantine happened; I got to sew and be more creative. 

Jonelle: [continues] And then they emailed me in September of 2020, saying that they were moving to a new location and they needed volunteers. So I said, "Okay, let me go volunteer again."

Lisa: Yeah.

Jonelle: And since my classes were online, I had free time to go very often. And they said, "Do you want to work here?" And I said, "I can get paid to be here." [laughs], and so I said, "Yeah!" And so I worked as a sales associate from pretty much my final year of grad school. And it was so amazing to just see how many people came together over their love for art and how to make it sustainable. And, right before I graduated, they offered me a position as sales floor manager. And I was like, "Wow, I get to use my degree after all."-

Lisa: There you go. 

[28:11 crosstalk]

Jonelle: In retail and fashion merchandising." And so, I got to really work and see, like, how people shopped for different items. Especially, I really connected with the seamstresses. Anytime I was at the register and someone had fabric, I was like, "What are you gonna do with this?" And then we'd go back and forth. And I would show them what I'm doing and everything. And it was funny because I thought to myself, like, "I want this in Atlanta. This needs to be in Atlanta." Because I know I'm gonna go back home one day, and I need a creative reuse center there. [28:41]

Lisa: [28:42 inaudible]

Jonelle: And, I did more research and found out that Scraplanta existed. And I just put it out there in the universe, where I connected with the board president. And she said, "Oh my goodness, we were looking for an executive director." And I thought,-

Lisa: Wow.

Jonelle: "Me? Me? Can it be me? "

Lisa: Wow.

Jonelle: And there's so much at first. I think I had, like, impostor syndrome. Cause I'm like, "No, no. They're gonna rescind it and say, "Not even-”

Lisa: Sike!

Jonelle: Yeah,exactly. The executive director, it's gonna be something else. That cannot be my position. Like me, an executive?

Lisa: Yes. You said you want to be a corporate baddie. Now you're an executive, see?

Jonelle: So, yeah. Yeah, and in the nonprofit space, and doing exactly what I love, because I've always wanted to do something sustainable with fashion. But it was hard to find a career like that.

Lisa: Yep.

Jonelle: And like, in undergrad, I couldn't find any internships that I really wanted. And like, I wasn't really passionate enough to, like, fake it for career fairs and stuff like that. I'm just like, "Why am I here?"

Lisa: Yeah.

Jonelle: Yeah. And I wanted to take what I learned from Reconsidered Goods and build on that with Scraplanta. But I didn't wanna just let Reconsidered Goods be my only focus.

Lisa: Yes

Jonelle: And when [29:58 inaudible] source of reference for Scraplanta. So, in November, I left Reconsidered Goods. And I started, like, a travel series for other creative reuse centers around the Southeast, so I can learn from them. And it's been an amazing journey [laughs]. [30:17]

Lisa: That is fantastic. So –

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: Tell us about some of the places that you have visited on your creative reuse journey. Like, not just [30:26 inaudible]. In the earlier half of the program, we talked about, like, your sewing journey starting as-

Jonelle: Yeah

Lisa: [continues] a nine-year old. And then, a self-taught 14-year old. And then, into undergraduate. And then, into graduate school. And all the while, you're sewing and creating. But this is an actual, factual trip.

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa: Where you went to one place, then another place. Tell us about where did you go? That's exciting. [30:47]

Jonelle: Yeah, so I started off in North Carolina. I went to into Richmond, for Richmond SCRAP–


Jonelle: Yes. It was SCRAP RVA.

Lisa: I heart SCRAP RVA! I have been to SCRAP RVA. My son is an undergraduate at the University of Richmond. And so, when we were like, visiting and stuff, we would stop down by the SCRAP RVA close to where he is. I think it's near VCU  which is-

Jonelle: Yes!

Lisa: Virginia Commonwealth University, which has an amazing, amazing art department. So, there’s a lot of artists there who are putting things in. So you went to Richmond. Where else did you go? [31:26]

Jonelle: I went to Durham, to The Scrap Exchange, in North Carolina. And then I went to Nashville for Smart Art Supplies and Turnip Green creative reuse. And then I said, "I  wanna go on this epic road trip from Atlanta to Texas".

Lisa: Oh, Lordy.

Jonelle: Yes, and it was one of the things that I put out in the universe. I told my friends because my friends were like, "You keep traveling, and we're jealous." And I'm like, "Okay. You know, what? If you wanna hop in the car with me, I don't go to Texas by myself." -

Lisa: Yes.

Jonelle: "Come along." [32:57]

Lisa: Yes, we don't drive to Texas by ourselves from Atlanta. We do not.

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa: We do not.

Jonelle: Cause.

Lisa: We do not, because we are Black women. And we cannot trust the highways, and byways –

Jonelle: Exactly.

Lisa: [continues] with our lives. So, alone.

Jonelle: Yes, cause even my friend, he had a Green Book and everything. He was like, "We're gonna be safe. We are not going to, y‘know, be in harm's way at all with this trip." And so we had a great time.

Lisa: Ah, wonderful.

Jonelle: We went to Deuxieme Vie Creative in Lafayette, Louisiana. And we went to Spare Parts in San Antonio and Austin Creative Reuse. And it was so interesting, because I saw people at different parts of the journey. Scraplanta, even though we've been around for years, we're still like a baby. Cause we're just now just opening our permanent retail location.

Lisa: Yeah.

Jonelle: And so we got to see places that’ve been open for years. And some that are just like us, that just opened a year or two ago, and they're growing. [32:51]

Lisa: Yes. Now, what were some of the things that stood out to you? Are there certain regional differences? Like, the way that SCRAP RVA looks versus the shop in Louisiana? Like, are there regional differences throughout the southeast? between, like, what one state might have a lot of versus what another state might have-or city? [33:18]

Jonelle: Well, I did try and have, like, some of the same interview questions for each executive director. Because I was like, "What are the items that don't sell? and what’re the items that, y’know, do sell? " It's funny, because there's one thing, like, trophies.Every creative reuse center, they had a bunch of trophies that they just could not get rid of. [laughs] [33:38]

Lisa: Wow.

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: Trophies! So trophies if you-- Wow! Y’know, that's so funny cause I really think I have, indeed, seen some trophies when I went to Richmond.

And I also wanna give a shout out to-- I'm in Charlottesville, Virginia, but there is a creative reuse center in Palmyra, which is a bit outside of Charlottesville. And it's called The Scrappy Elephant. And she's a really nice lady, and I've sent fabric her way. And it's a wonderful little spot. So, I want to give a shout out to her and her work because she does really great stuff. And I'm sure she might have some trophies there. [34:14]

So, like, [34:15 inaudible] I wonder how trophies end up in a creative reuse center? Do people just think, "Oh,wow! I’ve had these trophies for all this time? They look like little sculptures—maybe some artist will make something with them? " Have you ever seen a project that’s involved a trophy? [34:32]

Jonelle: I've seen people; they've taken off a little top part and they’ve spray painted them. They've made little figurine sets with that. [34:43 lemme think] With the little long part, sometimes, people use that to make, like, little batons. Even, like the stand part, people have used the stands to make, like, nameplates. It's like, literally, the possibilities are endless. If you just sit down long enough and stare at it, you will come up with, like, 10 ideas. [34:57]

Lisa: I was just, like, "You know, you could take it dress form and like take the little person off the little gore at the top. And knock the bowler off, and put, like, a little pin cushion on top. Or a little dress form, or something like that. And it could be something completely different.” Like, there might be reasons to have little tiny pedestals or other things.

Jonelle: Yeah!

Lisa: Yeah. Wow! That is—look at me now. I'm thinking, like, "Look at all these old trophies we got around here?" Oh, that's fantastic. 

And so that was one of the things they said that didn't sell. What were some of the more popular or rare finds? Or the more popular things that move pretty quickly through a creative reuse center? Especially when it comes to sewing? Did you see some things that people were like, "Oh, I'm so excited, this is here."? Or, "I can't wait to get rid of this thing" and someone's like, "I'm so excited that this is here!" [35:46]

Jonelle: I mean, definitely fabric; I think we all have ended up buying fabric that we just don't end up using. And when you finally have the heart to be like, "I'm gonna let this go." As soon as it gets on the floor, if it's bright and colorful, someone buys it. Cause they're like, "Yes!" [35:59]

And like when I was in Austin, I found some UGA fabric, and I'm like, "Oh, that money [36:03 inaudible]"

Lisa: You found UGA fabric when you were in?

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa: Texas?

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa: Wow!

Jonelle: And even with sewing notions; one time when I was at Reconsidered Goods, we got, like, all of these sewing hams. And [laughs] 

Lisa: [36:21 inaudible]

Jonelle: A bunch of them. And I was the only person who knew what they were, because everyone was like, "What are these, like, giant sacks of? What are these things?" I'm like, "Those are sewing hams." And. we’re going to put these on the floor because someone wants to buy them. And they were gone, and we never saw them again. [36:35]

Lisa: Wow, that is so funny. I'm like, "Where did this great hem massacre come from?" Like, what was this, as someone had to turn in, like, you know, 12 hams? Like, "That's enough!"

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: It's probably that same teacher you had when you were nine. She's like, "I hate sewing, I hate teaching kids. Y'all, turn in your hams, throw them in this box. I’mma drop it off on the way to the creative reuse center. " [laughs] Oh, that is so wonderful. [37:03]

And so, what can people look forward to at Scraplanta? What are some of the things you are most excited about, finally having this space in Atlanta? which is, as you said earlier, a hub for all sorts of creativity; a lot of film, and animation, and anime. As well as just Black excellence in general. With folks who are creating, and making, and building, and doing all sorts of creative things.

What kinds of things are you excited about having this-taking all the lessons you’re studying: from undergraduate in fashion merchandising; your graduate study; your almost, like, self-made internships – That you did by like volunteering and them saying, "Hey, can we pay you to be here"? and you’re like, "With money? Yeah." You know, like, all of these things that you can now—you've amassed a wealth of experience and data and information. What are you looking forward to in putting Scraplanta out there for folks to enjoy and celebrate? [38:07]

Jonelle: Yes, Scraplanta, we're gonna really lean into that name as a creative reuse center. Yes, we’re gonna have the retail aspect, like, I will make sure we have a well-stocked fabric section. But I want the other aspects, like, I want us to have workshops for the community. Especially, like, people of all ages. Like, during con seasons like MomoCon and DragonCon, show people how to make cosplay props? [38:30]

Lisa: Yes.

Jonelle: Show them that, you know, even though you can't go and get a sword 3D printed, maybe you can make a sword this way. And it follows the guidelines, so it's not an actual weapon.

We’re gonna have a gallery space inside of Scraplanta. I really want it to be a place where we can show the community what creative reuse is, and how we can empower artists in the community. I really want to make sure that we have, like, a diverse selection of artists. Because one thing I've noticed in the creative reuse space is that it's like, I guess on the popular mainstream level, it looks very white.

Lisa: Yeah

Jonelle: But, I used to know so many Black creative reuse artists, and they just didn't even know that they were creative reuse artists. Like -

Lisa: Or they didn’t call it that.

Jonelle: [continues] Yeah, cause, like, I didn't know I was one until I found the word for it. I was like, "You know, we call it upcycling, sometimes." Or you know-

Lisa: Yes

Jonelle:"Repurposing." But, creative reuse, I guess that's the fancy new term for it. But it's a term that, you know, we should all be comfortable with and we should be proud of. [39:31]

Lisa: Absolutely!

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: Absolutely! And it is so interesting that, you know, when these things hit the mainstream, they are often things that people have been doing for long before, right? And so like, I remember when, like, almost every other, you know, Black person, like my age. For example, grew up in a house where if you got down to the end of the laundry detergent or the end of the dish detergent, you didn't just throw it out, right? You added an inch of hot water in there. And that was a few more uses of detergent that were perfectly good. And that bottle was squeaky clean before it went out into the recycling or anywhere else. The idea of having, like, containers that are perfectly good. You know, you open up a tub of Country Crock, and it's gonna have some leftovers in it. Because, why would you buy Tupperware when you can just get it at the store, you know? [40:28]

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: [continues] Mason jars being reused, all of these things, you know, glassware and stuff.

And there was a time when people would frown on that. Like, right? And, "Oh, that's so tacky, blah, blah, blah." And now it's back, because people realize that resources are, you know, that these natural resources can be finite if we need to over exploit them. 

And so I really love that, like, little things. Like, y’know, paper towels coming in, select–a-size. So that you can kind of, you know, just wisely use what you need. And then you'll have it. That, the question of building sustainable practices, and preserving, and conserving, and extending one's resources is, it feels to me, very much a Black cultural practice.

Jonelle: Even with quilting.

Lisa: Absolutely, yes. Absolutely. And so, this is just the way that we, the world in which we live --- That is a predominantly white country, with a white supremacist ideology. That will tell us that all things that are good and popular are the province of white people. When in fact, these are things that we have been doing all along, just without a name. So, now that we have this name, we can---I'm not gonna say validate what we've been doing, it's just more visible. And that we have always been participating in these kinds of practices, typically, for necessity. Now, that's a hot new trend, is to make things be as sustainable as possible. Which I think is, as trends go, it's a good one. [chuckles] Because, you know, it's important to conserve what you have in order to, like, set a place for the future. [42:14]

And something I really love about what you're saying, Jonelle, is I keep going back to the nine-year old and you and trying to imagine how many hobbies a nine-year old could possibly have had. 

Lisa: [continues] But as you were saying, though, these times when it comes time to camp—for this type of camp or that type of camp—if there was a creative reuse center when you were a kid, I am betting that you would have been delighted. To go there and find fabric and notions and patterns and things you had no idea what they were. And you could buy them at a really reasonable cost, and then get some guidance in how to use them.

And so it's like you are continuing to help somebody else get on the creative journey that has sustained you. And that's what I find just so beautiful about this story. I absolutely love that. That you are creating and sustaining what might have helped you when you were just getting started. So, I just want to thank you for that. That's incredible. [43:14]

Jonelle: Thank you.

Lisa: As we start to wrap up a bit, where can we find Scraplanta? How can people find it? How can they volunteer? Will you have a lot of volunteer positions that people can use? What kind of materials are you interested in receiving? Where can people bring you the 90,000 trophies they have in their house? [43:38]

Jonelle: [laughs] Okay, so with Scraplanta, you can find us on our website, And make sure you sign up for our newsletter, because that's,like, the hub for everything. You can sign up [43:50 and] volunteer on our website. [43:51]

And volunteers can do everything from sorting our donations, which includes rolling fabric. We will love to have fabric rollers, yarn sorters. Even just, you know, cause we get a lot of donations of, like, sewing kits. And if you just want to sit and just sort tracing wheels, some scissors from thread, you can do all that. And you can also do, like, some visual merchandising as you put stuff around the store floor and everything.

And so you can also follow us on Facebook at Scraplanta Creative Reuse. On Instagram at ScrapATL, And, our store is going to be in Atlanta,Georgia. On 2130 Henderson Mill Road, Unit 5B. It's gonna be a shopping plaza and it's right between a TJ Maxx and Dollar Tree. So- 

Lisa: [44:39 inaudible]

Jonelle:  While you are being a budget-nista

Lisa: Yes!

Jonelle: You can come over to Scraplanta.

Lisa: Perfect! 

Jonelle: Yeah.

Lisa: Oh, that’s so perfect! I love that. Let me ask you one last question. So something I like to ask everybody: the slogan for the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together.

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa: If you, and I'm going to ask you as an executive director. As someone who was a creative and, generally, as a cosplayer. 

Lisa: [continues] As an Executive Director, what advice would you give to someone to help them get their stitch together? What would you say, if someone said, you know, "Executive director Dawkins? I really wanna get my stitch together." What would you say to that person? [45:23]

Jonelle: I would say, just start. If you have the vision, it’ll come together. It will come together, but you gotta start. You got to thread that bobbin, you gotta cut that pattern, you gotta start somewhere. So just go ‘head. [laughs] [45:39]

Lisa: I love it. "Go ahead," she says,

Jonelle: [laughs]

Lisa: [continues] and I agree. Oh, my goodness, Jonelle, this was so delightful. Thank you.

Jonelle: Yes.

Lisa: [continues] so much for talking with us today. This has been really wonderful. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being here. [45:55]

Jonelle  Yes, I appreciate your time, Lisa. [49:58]

[49:59 Interview Ends]

Lisa: 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 [35:45]

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 a month, you can help support the project with things like editing, transcripts, and other things to strengthen the podcast. [36:03]

And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really, really help the podcast by rating it and reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So, I know that not all podcast directories or services allow for reviews. But for those who do—for those that have, like, a star rating or just ask for a few comments. If you could share those comments and say nice things about us and the Stitch Please podcast, that is incredibly helpful. [36:32]

Thank you so much. Come back next week, and we'll help you get your stitch together. [36:36]

[36:44 Audio Ends]

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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