Stitching Holiday Traditions with Lena King

Stitching Holiday Traditions is a special series of the Stitch Please podcast. These are first-person narratives from women in the Black Women Stitch community. They talk about how the December holidays bring about their creative spirit. Learn how their sewing and making enhances their celebrations.

Our series begins with Lena King. This dynamic and creative sewist based is in the UK, “I really do love having a go at something, just trying it out myself and seeing where I go with that. I don’t know whether that’s the school teacher in me. That’s what my training is. Love to have a go, love to make a mess. So I’ve tried different things, but sewing is the thing that really sticks, I think, with me as a craft.” Listen to how Lena blends creativity for holiday cheer.

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Lisa Woolfork 0:00

The Stitch Please podcast will be taking a winter hiatus until January. But in the meantime, we will not leave you hanging. We've got some beautiful new episodes coming up just in time for the holidays. The new series, Stitching Holiday Traditions are first person narratives from members of the Black Women Stitch community. These are first person special dispatch stories from women in the Black Women Stitch sewing community who are graciously sharing the stories of their family traditions with us. Each of them has a beautiful and unique story that we think you'll appreciate learning about as they talk about the ways that their sewing, crafty, and creative lives intersect with the ways that they celebrate the holidays. So prepare yourself to have a really great time as we wrap up 2021.

Lena King 1:01

Hi, there. I was really excited a little while ago when Lisa got in contact with me and asked if I'd like to be part of the Stitch Please podcast, just sharing with listeners, some of my holiday traditions and how my crafting weaves into that. I thought that sounded like a really fun topic. And I'd be happy to be involved with that. So here I am. And let me just tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Lena King, I am married. And I have two daughters. I live in London, in the United Kingdom. I was actually born in Ghana, in West Africa. But I've been in the UK since I was two and I'm a lot older than that. I love to craft and my main crafting is sewing. I love to sew garments for myself and for my family, but mostly for me if I'm honest. I used to do quite a bit of sewing for my eldest daughter, especially when she was little, then life got busy and sewing sort of was pushed into the sidelines. But it was always something that I loved. So I did get back into sewing gradually a few years ago. I started out sewing small things, sewing bags, and then yeah, I was more interested in sewing clothes and learning how to get clothes to fit really well. So I started going on Instagram, and I found this whole community of sewists, really talented people. So I started following loads of people getting ideas on what to make and sharing my sewing and it's just been so much fun. Yeah, I really love being part of that Instagram family of sewists. So yeah, that's me and my crafting, I have tried very many different crafts over my lifetime. I really do love having a go at something, just trying it out myself and seeing where I go with that. I don't know whether that's the school teacher in me. That's what my training is. Love to have a go, love to make a mess. So I've tried different things, but sewing is the thing that really sticks, I think, with me as a craft. I also really love to cook, to bake, and just eat the things that I make. So I really love exploring different recipes. So talking about the holidays, as I'm here to talk about, that really does involve two of my favorite things, cooking and sewing. So let me tell you about my some of my holiday traditions. For me, the holidays is all about Christmas. I'm a Christian, and I've been going to church ever since I was tiny, going along to church with my family. And then when I came to faith myself, carried on going to church and being involved as a church member, being very active in my church. And my husband now is actually a church minister, and we serve together in our local church. So Christmastime can be very, very busy for us. We like to host and entertain our own families. But we also extend a welcome to church members who are on their own and we love having people round at our house. It's quite funny actually, when Lisa asked me to- if I wanted to be involved in this podcast- she asked me back in November, and everybody who knows me would know that I'm a bit bah humbug when it comes to getting ready for Christmas. I love it, but I don't like to think about it until the first of December. For me that's when Christmas starts. That's when I can start playing the Christmas music. Before then, I don't want to know. I don't want to put the decorations out. I don't want to do anything like that. I like to gradually get into Christmas. So it was quite funny to have this phone call in November, which really meant that I had to get my act together and do some thinking about Christmas. So Christmas tends to be quite a big deal for us in our household, and it always has been. Growing up, my mom was a real- she used to get really excited about Christmas herself because she loves to cook. My mom loves to get those big pots on the stove, she likes to get that huge turkey in the oven and all sorts of other meats and she loves having lots of people around. That's how I grew up, we would have our cousins around. And even if we went to our cousins' houses, we never went empty handed, my mom would always cook or bake, and take the food there. So Christmas and food for me, and celebration and family, just goes hand in hand. So yeah, for me, Christmas day, planning the menu, I love to do that. I love to get all the food magazines, or flick through and try something new. And my sewing, like I said, takes a little bit of a backseat. Although every year, I think to myself, do you know what- I am going to make, I'm going to sew some presents for people. And I plan it in my mind, I think about who I want to sew for and what they're going to get. And I think about that, and yet it never seems to materialize. I just can't get my act together enough to sew presents for people for Christmas. I had one year I managed to sew lots of little gift bags for people and that was about it. I just never- I'm just not organized enough. That's what comes from not thinking about it until December really. I need to get my need to be thinking about it way in advance if I'm going to actually be able to sew for my friends and family. So instead I do often end up cooking and baking gifts. I love to make little truffles, chocolate truffles. I love to make shortbread biscuits, and little cakes and chutneys and things like that. So people often get edible gifts from me. But very, very few people get sewn gifts from me. It might change one year, but it won't change this year.

So as I've said for me, Christmas prep begins really in earnest on December the first, and that's when I get to bring down from the attic our little advent calendar. Some probably 12 or 15 years ago, I found a crafting magazine and it had this template for making an advent calendar out of little stockings, make 24 little stockings and tie them onto some beautiful cord as your advent calendar and I thought what a great idea. I made that some years ago. It was really really fiddly. These cute little stockings I made them to match my then-living room. So they are blue and tan colored and red stockings. And it's a really pretty little calendar, which I used to drape around our fireplace. But in this house where we are I drape them along our hallway, a stair banister. So for me every year, get that calendar down, tie that up. Either stuff the stockings with little clues, is what I used to do back when the girls were younger. Put clues in there and they'd have to hunt around the house for their chocolate or their sweets. But now I tend to just stuff some candy in there. The stockings are big enough to hold two sweets, thankfully, for the girls. So yeah, that's one of the things- I haven't sewn many, many things for Christmas that sort of the decorations that come out. We together, myself and the girls, have made little Christmas decorations that we pull out and put in the tree each year. And I've also managed to sew a couple of Christmas tablecloths. In fact, one tablecloth didn't get sewn for years. I bought this fabric and I forgot to hem the edge before Christmas. I remember one year but just pulled it out anyway and all the edges were frayed and then I put it back and then the next year it'd come out still frayed and then one year I was like, "That's enough Lena, will you just hem that tablecloth." Something else that I started to do last year, and I will hopefully continue to do, is I did think that, you know, we go through a lot of wrapping paper at Christmas time. And yet I thought that's a bit of a waste. I tend to have a lot of cuts and scraps of fabric every year from my sewing. And last year I wrapped quite a number of the presents up in fabric that I had and that made a nice little additional present for anybody. So yeah, I enjoy doing that. And I'm going to do that again for this year. Use some of my scrap fabric to wrap presents up in and people get a nice bit of fabric as well as their as their present. One tradition I have brought along with me from my childhood is that of having something new to wear on Christmas day. My mum was a real stickler for that every year, she would insist that we all have something new to wear on Christmas day. When we were younger, she did quite a lot of sewing herself. My mum is a trained seamstress. And she did a lot of sewing for us girls when we were growing up. So she'd make us a new dress for Christmas day. And you know how it goes, we soon get fed up with mum's dresses and we want to buy our own and stuff. But we'd all, and my brother too, would have something new to wear on Christmas day. I didn't realize how much that was in me. And how much I really brought that into my family now, and I get all excited about Christmas day: let's have something new to wear. So in the last few years, I've been sewing garments for my daughters and I to wear on Christmas day. My poor husband rarely gets a look in. I may this year make him a pair of pajamas. But don't tell him in case it doesn't actually happen. But yeah, every year I try to sew something for the girls. A few years ago, I think it was about three or four years ago, I found some really lovely sparkly, stretchy fabric, and I bought enough of that to make some things for myself and my daughters. I used one pattern, the Adrienne blouse from Friday Pattern Company. And I took that pattern and I hacked it in three different ways, so that we each had a very different looking top from that pattern to sparkle our way through Christmas, and the girls really really liked those.

Lisa Woolfork 12:05

You're listening to this Stitch Please podcast, and the special edition episodes about stitching holiday traditions. We'll return to the story after this break. The Black Women Stitch 2020 wall calendar is bigger and Blacker than ever. Not only is the calendar about 15% larger than last year's calendar, it still remains jam packed with so much wonderful history about Black women's history, sewing history and activist history. There's also a wonderful new feature in this year's version. And that is the quarterly pattern release. At the beginning of every quarter, you'll find original images from Black women artists. The patterns are available as a PDF download, allowing you to resize them to the needs of your project. Order your copy of the Black Women Stitch 2022 wall calendar at and we will help you get your stitch together. And now we will return to Stitching Holiday Traditions. Thanks for listening.

Lena King 13:17

And last year, my eldest daughter found some lovely red fabric, and a pattern for a beautiful V neck dress with a lovely circle skirt, and she asked me to make that for her for Christmas day. So I did and it was beautiful. That year also she'd asked whether she could cook Christmas dinner, and it was a little bit of a dare, because she said to me that I was just too precious about Christmas day cooking. I always wanted to cook and I didn't like anybody in the kitchen. So to prove to her that I wasn't, I said she could cook. Boy, was that hard. I almost regretted it, it was so hard not to be in the kitchen and not being the top chef because I really really really do love all that Christmas cooking, but she did a great job. She made us a beautiful meal, looking like a domestic goddess all the while in her lovely red dress. Meanwhile, my youngest daughter that year was being very much, "I don't like pretty dresses. I don't want anything for Christmas. I don't want you to make me anything." However I did find some black fabric because she was all into "I just want to wear black." I found some black fabric which is a bit speckly and I asked whether she liked it, and she did, and I made a very simple, neat little top, and she loved it and it looked great with her skinny jeans. So I thought "Phew, she has something new." And I made for myself a little black dress out of satin fabric, which was the first time I worked with that. It was very slippery and it frayed a lot, but I really loved the dress that I made out of that. So yeah, that was that. I don't know what I'm going to do this year. I've actually done a lot of sewing for myself this year. So I can't really justify making something brand new for myself, I just need to dive into my wardrobe of makes. But for the girls, I might make something new for them. If I get organized for that. But yeah, I was thinking this year of making pajamas for everybody. But I haven't even got that going yet. And I think if anybody deserves some new clothing from me, it is probably my husband because he, like I said, he always gets neglected. So there you go. That's the Kings' Christmas for you. If you came around to our house on Christmas day, you will get well fed for sure. You wouldn't see us sat round in Christmas jumpers. We don't really tend to do that. I'm not a huge fan of Christmas jumpers myself. But you would probably see us in new clothes I've made, and we'd all be pretty laid back, having a chill time with family and friends. It's been great talking to you. It's been great sharing some of these things. It's been nice to reminisce about my childhood and what Christmases were like growing up. It's great we all have so many different traditions. So all that's left for me to do is to wish you a Happy Christmas. Happy Holidays. And thank you for listening.

Lisa Woolfork 16:29

You've been listening to Stitching Holiday Traditions, a special podcast episode of the Stitch Please podcast. Get ready for some really great fun in 2022 from Black Women Stitch as we prepare to launch our website. This has been a long time coming. I'm very excited about it. You can support the Black Women Stitch project and the Stitch Please podcast in lots of ways. For $3.99, you can rate and review the podcast on iTunes and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. If you'd like to make a donation to Black Women Stitch, you can do that through our Act Blue site. Or you can become a patron on our Patreon. We also have our Big Cartel site that has the Black Women Stitch 2022 wall calendar, as well as stickers and some adorable patches. Thank you so much for your support. We are grateful to be in community with you, and come back next time 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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