Stitching Holiday Traditions with Kamali Obiagu

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Lisa Woolfork

Lisa Woolfork is an associate professor of English, specializing in African American literature and culture. Her teaching and research explore Black women writers, Black identity, trauma theory and American slavery. She is the convener and founder of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. She is also the host/producer of Stitch Please, a weekly audio podcast that centers Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. In the summer of 2017, she actively resisted the white supremacist marches in her community, Charlottesville Virginia. The city became a symbol of lethal resurging white supremacist violence. #Charlottesville. She remains active in a variety of university and community initiatives, including the Community Engaged Scholars program. She believes in the power of creative liberation.

Kamali Obiagu

Her first craft was crocheting, which she began in 2014. A few years later she decided she wanted to learn how to sew. Once she learned about PDF patterns and all the things she could make with a sewing machine, she knew she had found her passion. That was late 2018 and since then she has been sewing nonstop and has improved her sewing skills and taken over most of her wardrobe with her makes.

Insights from this episode:

  • How does Kamali incorporate her crafts into the gift-giving and decorating aspect of the holidays
  • The significance of celebrating Kwanzaa
  • Important lessons that Kamali gives to her children
  • Kamali’s desire to design pajamas based on African prints this year
  • Kamali’s plans for her crafts during the Kwanzaa season
  • What is the message behind Kwanzaa
  • The importance of hand-made things for Kamali
  • The joy that brings to Kamali doing handmade gifts

Quotes from the show: 

  • “As for decorations, our family has a different flayer on this Kwanzaa season…we still have a tree, a holiday tree but we call it the black tree, the pan African tree so its a black tree with red and green decorations to mimic the pan African colors” —Kamali Obiagu in “Stitch Please”
  • “Kwanzaa is our time to remind ourselves how powerful we are as black people, the potential we already have and what we have for the future and to remind ourselves that we are the greatest as we are” —Kamali Obiagu in “Stitch Please”
  • “The principles in Kwanzaa remind us what we need to do to be better within ourselves and within our community” —Kamali Obiagu in “Stitch Please”
  • “ [About handmade gifts] I take pride in knowing that I contributed to something other than spending a whole bunch of money on a gift, it seems the roundest time it’s the most expensive time of the year, and knowing that I can make something that comes from my hands…it’s amazing” —Kamali Obiagu in “Stitch Please”

Stay Connected:

Lisa Woolfork

Instagram: Lisa Woolfork

Twitter: Lisa Woolfork

Kamali Obiagu

Instagram: Kamali Obiagu

Twitter: Kamali Obiagu

TikTok: Kamali Obiagu

Blog: Kamali Obiagu

This episode was produced and managed by Podcast Laundry.

Read Full Transcript

Lisa Woolfork  0:00  

 We are wrapping up 2022. And this means it's time for Stitching Holiday Traditions. These first person narratives from members of the Black Women Stitch community are beautiful narratives of how sewing, creativity and holiday celebration all coalesce into a beautiful time of family, tradition and fun. So tune into the Stitch Please podcast this month to hear stories from Lena King, Vanessa Martina, Florence Taylor, Martha McIntosh, and Kamali Oboagu all talking about how their creativity shapes their holiday celebrations. And as we wrap up 2022 We invite you to join the Black Women Stitch Patreon. Your direct support makes a huge difference in our ability to bring the podcast to you every week. Thank you for listening. Thank you for your support. And here comes Stitching Holiday Traditions.  

Kamali  1:04  

Hey beautiful people. My name is Kamali Obiagu, and I am a sewist of three years. It feels like it's been longer than that, but only three years. And I've been crocheting for eight years now. I am so excited to be able to talk to you guys about the holiday season and what I do to incorporate my crafts into the gift giving aspect or just a decorative aspect of the holidays. So my family and I have been celebrating Kwanzaa for the past two or three years, but this year will be a little bit different for us, as we are only celebrating Kwanzaa and putting all of our energy and time into Kwanzaa versus what we've done in the previous years and celebrate Christmas and Kwanzaa.   We are excited about this year because we've done the Christmas gift giving and receiving, and then jumped into Kwanzaa. And we found the two to be a little bit exhausting. And we decided this year, we will put all, all of it into Kwanzaa. We're doing it a little bit different for our family, to make sure there's that gift giving love and excitement. But I'm really excited to celebrate just Kwanzaa during this holiday season. I am constantly teaching my kids about having pride within themselves as Black youth, and as Black people. I am constantly teaching them about the beauty of ourselves, the power that we hold within, as Black people. And so to have a holiday, that is just for us to celebrate, it means the world to me. And I thought this year, let's put all of that energy and practicing and making sure we follow through with the principles of Kwanzaa, which is principles that we should hold with each other throughout the whole year as Black people and for our community and for ourselves really. And this year, it makes it just really exciting, because we get to shift that focus only on the Blackness of this holiday season, only on the Black beauty, the Black strength, the Black success of us, and I'm really excited about it this year.   When it comes to the holiday season, I've just started, I think two years ago, I just started making pajamas. I saw it all over the groups. All over the groups I will see, you know, matching jammies and I thought it was so cool. So a couple years ago, that's what I did. I made PJ pants and matching shirts and I used my Cameo, my vinyl cutting machine, to press on some funny sayings and stuff like that. And so we're still going to do that this year. I'm excited because I get to buy all the African knits and all the African wovens and I get to be able to use that and be able to create something, whether it's pajamas or just outfits to wear. I think this year I will be doing both, both pajamas and something that we could wear outside. The reason why I'm excited about this is one. I love African prints. There's so much diversity in African print. And being a Black American, these African prints just kind of feel good to me, being able to wear them, being able to see my kids in these prints is a special feeling. And so this year, I would like to make some PJ pants and some African prints and a matching shirt. Maybe with some kind of a Black empowerment saying on it. I would also like to create an item for all of us to have, maybe an outfit of some sorts, a shirt and pants or a dress or whatever. That we can all take a family photo in. My thought is to take this family photo towards the last day of Kwanzaa. Last year, when it comes to the holidays I like to try to say that I want to limit my tasks as far as crafting during the holidays and just maybe stick to gift giving stuff, but sometimes I have that, that the thing that I always end up overwhelming myself with crafts. And last year I had this grand idea to do robes for me and my family of five, and it was going to be Pan- African colored robes. Me and my husband would have red. The boys would have green. Amethyst would have black. We will incorporate that and then take a picture together for holiday cards. You know so often we see Christmas cards and or Happy Holidays cards, I would love to see a Kwanzaa card. And so my thoughts last year was just to make these robes and us just looking all Black gorgeousness, right? And I was going to take a family picture of all of us and they put them on a card. Now I didn't get to it last year, but you bet, I'm gonna get to it this year. What I did complete last year was an outfit for me and my husband, and I cannot wait for this year to where I get to make a functional outfit-just like I said before-for the whole family. I am really, really big on when it comes to stuff like Christmas, the holiday season in general, if I make something I want them to be able to wear it all year round until of course they grow out of it. Right? During Christmas times, there's all the great Christmas prints. And that's great. It's kind of weird to wear a Christmas print when it gets into like spring or summertime, right, but an African print, oh baby, that's all year round. And so I'm really, really excited to be able to make something and know that they could wear that whenever they want to. I carry the same mindset into Halloween. I wanted them to have costumes that they could also wear as either PJs, or wear to school. And I'm excited to make sure that that follows through with this Kwanzaa season making sure they have items that after the holiday, after Kwanzaa is over with, they can also wear to school back to school. As for decorations, our family has a different flair on this Kwanzaa season where we still will have a tree, a holiday tree, but we call it the Black tree, the Pan-African tree. So it's a black tree with red and green decorations to mimic the Pan-African colors. And this year, I would love to make some more decorations to go on this tree, whether using resin and silicone molds to make sure we have some more African, like the Africa continent decorations and stuff like that. I would love to make that happen this year. Kwanzaa is our time to remind ourselves of how powerful we are as Black people, the potential and the potential we already have and what we have for the future. And to remind ourselves, that we are the greatest as we are, and that we can accomplish so much more. And so it's really an empowering holiday. And the principles in Kwanzaa remind us what we need to do to be better within ourselves and within our community. And the fact that this year we will be making sure that we put that full focus in that, is something that I'm looking forward to. There is something so special about starting the day during the Kwanzaa holiday and starting off with "Habari Gani!" and explain it to the kids about the days and  the meanings of these days. And knowing that this holiday I get to involve my crafts in it more heavily this year since this is the only thing, the only holiday in the season that we are celebrating, that brings me joy. The kids love learning about the days or being reminded of the days. Let's say that since we're in year three of celebrating Kwanzaa. And just being able to look around and see that my touch of my work is added into this holiday. Man that's powerful. Whether that's the robes that I hope to get to this year, the Pan-African robes. Whether that's the joggers or the shirts in the African prints, or the peplum tops, I love a good peplum top. Or it's a jacket or something like that with the African prints, just being able to look at that and see my Black child, my Black husband, or my Black self and these prints and knowing that we're celebrating something that's so special for us. That's a powerful feeling. And I'm so I'm so I'm so geeked about this. [laugh]

Lisa Woolfork  8:51  

You're listening to the Stitch Please podcast, and the special edition episodes about stitching holiday traditions. We'll return to this story after this break.   

Get your stitch together with the Black Women Stitch 2023 wall calendar. Loaded with full color illustrations that center and celebrate Black women, girls and femmes in sewing, the calendar also has historical resources from Black history, women's history, activist history and sewing history. New this year, thanks to our friends at Row House Publishing, is a full slate of Row House titles from 2023 that will help you get your stitch together all year long. So head out to the blackwomenstitch.org website and we'll help you get your stitch together. And now we'll return to Stitching Holiday Traditions. Thanks for listening.

Kamali  9:48  

I think something that is also so important to this Kwanzaa season is knowing that we are not the only ones that are celebrating this holiday. And so this year, I will also love to do more of connecting with other Black people, you know, the pandemic has made it so hard for us to be able to closely connect with people in a safe way, and this year, I want to connect with people in a safe way, of course, and be able to have that physical interaction with people and so my kids can be more involved in the holiday in a more interactive way other than just being within the house.   Lighting the candles, greeting each other, spending quality time, drinking from the Unity Cup, those are all beautiful things. And I love spending time with my family, especially when it comes to spending time with my family during the holiday season brings about a little bit of joy. It's like this natural joy that happens when December rolls around. It could also be because of my birthday that I tend to forget about almost every year, [laughter] but the joy of the holiday seeing the lights everywhere and it's just every you know, like is a really good feeling. And so I just really liked the thought of us having these great feelings but being able to connect with other Black people who are also celebrating this holiday. And so there are some local events here in Michigan that I would love to attend to and have my family attended to so that we can be able to share the joy of Kwanzaa.   And that's it. I got to say with talking about this has got me ready to write my list down and make sure I put the robes at the top of my list. I'm so excited to be able to get working on this holiday season and celebrating Kwanzaa and being able to make the things that bring me joy, knowing that these things are also bringing my family joy as well. I think of most crafters they know that is so much, so much joy. And it motivates us when we see the finished product of our make. We see all the time that we took into this and we see that finished product. And it's like, 'Oh, my God, I made this,' you know, 'I did that.' And it just gives us this kind of like, 'Okay, what else can I make?' And I know for me, that's, that's the case for me. But I take pride in that. I take pride in knowing that I contributed to something other than spending a whole bunch of money on gifts. It seems that around this time is the most expensive time of the year. And knowing that I can make something that comes from my hands, that comes from just a rectangle of fabric or a you know, a skein of yarn or something like that, knowing that I can take that and turn it into something wearable or something...some kind of item that's, it's amazing. And I think that surpasses going to the store and buying a gift, although those are great, too. But knowing that I made it, it means more to me. So there's that I look forward to getting to work on this holiday stuff that I've talked about now. I look forward to putting my full focus into Kwanzaa this year, and I look forward to buying all the African prints so that me and my family, my Obiagu family, can really be reppin' hard. I am proud to be a Black American and I love having a holiday that is just for us around this time of the year. I am so excited about this. And I look forward to seeing so many other makes on my feed and being able to share that joy with other people. So there's that. I hope that everyone has a happy holiday season. Peace and blessings to you all.

Lisa Woolfork  13:39  

Thank you for listening to this episode of Stitching Holiday Traditions. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. And to help you get your stitch together for 2023, we invite you to pick up a copy of the Black Women Stitch wall calendar. Loaded with full color illustrations that center and celebrate Black women, girls and femmes in sewing, the calendar also has historical resources from Black history, women's history, activist history and sewing history.  New this year, thanks to our friends at Row House Publishing, is a full slate of Row House titles from 2023 that will help you get your stitch together all year long. So head out to the blackwomenstitch.org website, and we'll help you get your stitch together. 

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

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

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