Styles in Seams with Robyn Burgess

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Robyn Burgess

Robyn Burgess has been 6’2” since she was 13 years old and has always loved making every hallway and sidewalk her runway, but finding fashions that fit all of her proportions is a struggle. After recording her cooking journey on her food blog Runaway Apricot for over 7 years, Robyn decided to expand her love of learning by taking on the art of sewing. She began her fashion design and sewing journey in 2015 to build a wardrobe of quality garments that fit her inseam and show off her bold style, and in 2019 started Styles InSeams to record her sewing journey and share information with others in the #sewingtall struggle. Robyn is an organizer of NYC Frocktails, a cocktail party for sewists, has created a 5-class learning path on sewing skills for Skillshare, and is currently preparing to launch her new clothing line for tall women in summer 2023, Robyn Bandele.

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 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 on 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. 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.

Insights from this episode:

  • How Robyn organized her learning path to improve her sewing skills on a shorter timeline
  • Feeling comfortable in your body when it’s hard to find clothes that fit you, and learning what adjustments work for you
  • Sewing for events and getting inspiration from photos of her grandparents’ wedding and the latest season of Bridgerton
  • Developing a new clothing line specifically for tall women named after her aunt, Robyn Bandele

Quotes from the show:

  • “It allows for your sewing to be more sustainable in the long run when you don’t find yourself having to re-do things.” – Lisa Woolfork, Stitch Please, Episode #49
  • “People assume that fashion is for tall women because models are tall… I want to be able to make the clothes that we want to wear, which is not much different than what smaller or ‘normal-sized’ people wear.”  – Robyn Burgess, Stitch Please, Episode #49
  • “There’s been so much amazing conversation about the plus-size market and inclusivity for plus-size women, which absolutely is necessary, but tall women are left out of that conversation, I think, in part because height is seen as a privilege, and there isn’t much privilege to being an outsider. Regardless of where you sit on that outsiderly spectrum, being an outsider is not a privilege.”  – Robyn Burgess, Stitch Please, Episode #49
  • “Your vision of success may not look like what your family holds as successful, what your colleagues hold as successful, what your classmates hold as successful, and you don’t need to compare your success to anyone else. Come up with your own unique vision, and then chase that.” – Robyn Burgess, Stitch Please, Episode #49

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Robyn Burgess

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Read Full Transcript

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. Hey, 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 episode I am talking with none other than Robyn Burgess Styles in Seams. Host and curator of New York City Frocktails, newest instructor in the Skillshare roster of excellent and amazing sewing instructors, designer, blogger, and so much more. Tall sewing advocate, and also creator of Exquisite Sewing. Robyn Burgess, welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. Thank you for joining us today.

Robyn Burgess  1:21  

Thank you for having me. Excited to be here.

Lisa Woolfork  1:25  

I am so excited. I am just so excited. I am very eager to hear your sewing story. Can you tell me how you started sewing? Why did sewing appeal to you more than any other needle art that you absolutely could've chosen?

Robyn Burgess  1:40  

Well, honestly, my first needle art was needle pointing. And, I don't know if you can see it in the frame, but my grandmother was a needle pointer. And I actually learned it in second grade. And, in the back o' my head always, I was like, I would love to learn how to sew so I could stitch these into the little wallets because I was buying these little like, pre-made zipper wallets with the needle point. And then flash forward to high school, I'm six foot two, I cannot find clothes. I am extremely skinny, I'm too skinny for the long jeans, but also too tall for them. And, a relative bought me a sewing machine and was going to (actually she was a friend of the family) and she was going to teach me how to sew, and then life got in the way. So my machine literally burned down in my best friend's house fire. And--

Lisa Woolfork  2:23  

Oh no!--

Robyn Burgess  2:23  

So there was a major pause for about another 10 years before I realized that I wanted to be able to create clothes that fit me, that had the style that I was seeing on the New York City streets, and on the runway. And I bought myself another sewing machine in 2015. And then, didn't sew anything for a year and a half, almost two years because I just was too intimidated by the machine. And then finally, like really started sewing in December 2016.

Lisa Woolfork  2:52  

I am so glad that you conquered your fear. I mean, truly, you are a revelation as to what can happen when we get out of our own way. Because there are people who feel like you start sewing when you buy the sewing machine and then you put it in the box. You let it sit there and marinate a year.

Robyn Burgess  3:09  

Yeah, absolutely. I started out wanting to sew some napkins. And, I was like trying to stitch but then like, my stitches weren't working correctly, like the bobbin tension was off. And they just looked awful. And it was like taking me an hour per napkin to sew the napkins, and I just got frustrated. I was being extra. I had like mitered corners. And it was like double-top stitching. And these are all things that like, absolutely get her probably shouldn't try to do. I wasn't using an edge-stitch foot or anything to try to help me get straight lines. It was tricky. But I was just so dissatisfied with how I was doing that I like put it aside and didn't worry about it for a year. But it was in the back of my mind because I really wanted to make myself clothes that fit my body and fit my style.

Lisa Woolfork  3:53  

I wanna talk about this, the idea that you set a standard for yourself that was so high, unrealistically high, and then you got mad at yourself for not meeting it. How did you get past that to open that machine? And then start sewing projects that aren't necessarily easy, but not napkins.

Robyn Burgess  4:15  


Lisa Woolfork  4:16  

Do you recall like the first big or important styles and seams like how do you go from Styles and Seams? You know, this wonderful project where you are devoting so much energy into discussing your sewing and the planning and the alterations and all of these things. How do you get from "I'm not taking this thing out of the box because napkins are a nightmare!", to "I now have an entire blog that people turn to for great advice."

Robyn Burgess  4:40  

Yeah, I mean, it definitely was a few years of transition. The real big catalyst (I was working in marketing, I still am a retention marketing consultant) but I was doing email marketing and I was working for brands like Neiman Marcus who's sending three emails per day, but you know, not accessible cloythes to working with some fast-fashion retailers and helping them sell their crappy goods. And, I just didn't feel good about my impact on the environment and helping to sell such unsustainable things and promoting like, consumerism. So I transitioned between jobs in December 2016. I took a week off between the two. And I was like, I'm gonna try to correct my hand in consumerism by stopping any purchasing of clothes, like I have a big enough wardrobe right now, if I start to sew, if I like commit to this, then I can make a few pieces to replace the ones that I would be buying. And so, giving myself that pledge of, I'm not going to buy any clothes that, for the season, didn't actually end up making much, but it got me over the hump to buy some fabrics, to try to start learning how to do alterations, et cetera, and Styles and Seams wasn't a thing yet. It was just me on my own, old Instagram name. For the next two and a half years, I was living in New York City. And then I moved to London and was working there. And I was sewing all the while and just making vacation wardrobes. And then I left that job in 2019. And was like, you know, I really wanna make something of this sewing thing. And, the only way I can truly get better is if I organize my learning path. And the way that I wanted to organize my learning path was by creating a blog, I've been a food blogger for probably 10 years at that point, when I take the time to write down what I'm doing right, what I'm doing wrong, to analyze, fit and record what I'm doing, to make the alterations in a way that are replicable. I can learn so much more about sewing and get there faster. And so I started 1000 seams along in 2019, and parts just forced my hand to focus what I was doing as I learned how to sell.

Lisa Woolfork  6:50  

I appreciate this so much because what I hear is two things. One, I hear something about self study, I hear something about, what does it mean to devote oneself and to have sustained attention to a topic or a concept, that study that is what it means to study something. And I really love how you dug into what you truly wanted. And you were able to set out the path for yourself by having a clear set of standards for what your output was. I also love, I keep hearing too the word pedagogy. And that's what I keep hearing: pedagogy, pedagogy. And if y'all aren't nerds like me and Robyn, no offense, I called you a nerd. I learned yesterday, me and Robyn chatted.

Robyn Burgess  7:37  

I'm definitely a nerd.

Lisa Woolfork  7:37  

Yeah, Robyn chatted yesterday, y'all. It's just a follow up. I mean, we had a good old time yesterday, in the pre-interview, you studied anthropology. And so you know, pedagogy being the science of teaching or that focus attention to the practice of teaching, and you did that for yourself. And that the blog became something that, as you were teaching yourself, you are also teaching other folks. And I really appreciate that. I also wanna think more about how you were also involved in seeing so many elements of fashion, of the fashion scene. And as you said, from both ends, you're working for Neiman Marcus, and helping them to connect with their elite consumer base, you're working with a fast fashion brand who is printing out, I think, what is it, like 1000 styles a week or some kind of like, not possible! And so you're seeing all this and you're like, I'm gonna offset my footprint. I'm gonna offset my contribution. I see all this excess around me. And you know what, I don't need it. Instead, I'm going to build something that really truly reflects who I am. So I don't have to buy fast fashion or super high fashion. I can make what I need. When you started that journey. I think you mentioned that there was a green jumpsuit that was involved in that process. Can we talk a little bit about that piece?

Robyn Burgess  8:53  

So, the piece you're referring to is my birthday jumpsuits, but actually for my 30th birthday. I made it in February 2019. And I really think about this as a big milestone in my sewing journey. I was living in London at the time, but I had come back to New York to visit for the holidays and bought this amazing green fabric from Metro Textiles, one of my favorite, where I get a lot of my fabric.--

Lisa Woolfork  9:15  

I like that place too. I do like them. You never know what you're gonna find in there. It's really fun Metro Textiles, y'all. It's a fun spot.--

Robyn Burgess  9:23  

Yeah, yeah, I always buy too much when I go there. So I mentioned, I'm six foot two. And I just did not have access to clothes that fit me throughout my life. Pretty much throughout my life. I've been over six feet since I was 12 years old. And, honestly I grew seven inches in three months when I grew to over six feet tall, and so I was rail thin, couldn't fit nothing. High waters for days, short arms for days, nothing would fit, and I was working in professional spaces. So at the time I was living in London as an conversion optimization. So I do digital marketing on sort of a very technical side for Saas companies. But I was traveling monthly to Germany to meet with a huge client (multibillion-dollar client) by myself. And at the time, I just felt so uncomfortable being in those spaces. And so, being the only Black woman in those spaces, being an office of 3000 people in a country that you know, is a lot more progressive now, but has a history, and trying to fit in. So this was for my birthday, obviously isn't a professional outfit, but it was at the time where I was really like, thinking about "How do I elevate my wardrobe as much as possible, so I feel comfortable in those spaces?" And, how do I focus on getting things to fit me with all of my specific needs, and those I've grown to learn are having a full bust adjustment, adding inches to the bodice, bout an inch and a half to the bodice, adding two inches to the rise, adding, sometimes as much as eight inches to the inseam of clothes, doing a swayback adjustment, doing all of these (grading from the waist to the hips) doing all these adjustments that people weren't talking about on their sewing blogs. Like, I wasn't learning how people needed to make things fit them. And so, this is really a milestone of me taking all of those skills, like making a muslin and for myself, taking all of those skills together to produce something that I think is really stunning. I still have it, I still wear it, and pushing myself to get it done. I also love sewing for an event. I was making it for my birthday party. I love a deadline. So it really kicked off my like super crazy deadlines sewing that I love to do.

Lisa Woolfork  11:31  

I love this piece. And if you are a Patreon supporter, you get to see this lovely picture of the lovely Robyn looking as proud as punch with this gorgeous jumpsuit. Looks like a navy or a black background with large green dots, and just the most glowing smile. And this thing fits like a glove. I think that there's a few secrets in the photo that maybe it didn't fit like a glove. It just looks like a glove from these angles, which is why we have to work our angles and all photos because this looks like such fun perfection. I mean seriously, you have to sign up for the Patreon just to see this photo.

Lisa Woolfork  12:15  

The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together. And now we're bringing it to you in a new way. The Stitch is a newsletter from Black Women Stitch, and I am delighted to tell you about it. What do you get when you sign up for the Black Women Stitch newsletter? You get to hear what's happening with Black Women Stitch and the Stitch Please podcast, events that we've had, events that are coming up, contests for prizes, live shows, social media meetups, IRL meetups episodes of the podcast that you might have missed, as well as opportunities to learn, and sew in community with other Black makers across the country, and across the world. You'll learn also about some actual stitches, we will help you get your stitch together with continuing education for your sewing life. Oh my goodness, y'all, I am so excited for this newsletter. It's always things I want to tell you, you know. Wow. Well now we have the Stitch sign-up using the link in the show notes or on our website, we look forward to helping you get to a stitch together soon.

Lisa Woolfork  13:22  

So, you shared really wonderfully about the ways that sewing is liberatory. That it allows us to feel good in ourselves, feel good in our clothes, and therefore feel good in our own skin. You also talked about your love of event sewing and putting on these deadlines. I think, you seem to like to play the game on the hardest setting. You know it's like, there's a game to be played, I learned this, I didn't make this up. This is from Rod, from The Black Guy Who Tips (I was on their show last year) and he was talking about Black folks, it's like you know Black folks, we play the game on the hardest setting, not because we want to, that's what structural racism is. It means you play the game on the hardest setting. And that means when things get a little bit easier, it's like oh wait, wait, what but you did something similar because you were committed to clearing the way and to showing people things that you weren't shown. You know, you're looking at these images, and you're thinking wow, this person's six two and look how great that fits her! I'm gonna get that pattern and I'm gonna make that too. And then you make, it and then it's like, wait a minute, "How had it it look so great on her but not on me!" and then that's when you learn more about the adjustments and things like that. When you gear up for an event sewing, how do you decide what your approach is going to be? And I'm thinking particularly about a couple of Easter outfits that you have, that me made and this lovely purple one with the opera gloves. It's absolutely stunning. Can you tell us about this piece? You all, this is such a stunning, she's wearing this lovely purple dress with a back that's like slow scoop back, but tight across the upper shoulders and a really lovely decorative bow, that is reproduced in her hair. It's like a fascinator. And with pearls. And looking over her shoulder, like "Yes, I made it." Can you talk about this piece?

Robyn Burgess  13:31  

Yeah. First of all, I gotta say this feels like a little bit of a therapy session, because earlier you talked about how I'm a perfectionist. And then you just talked about how I like working on the hardest setting. And I think that is like, so true of me. I went to high school, not to brag, but like I was the valedictorian of my high school and I just found it-- 

Lisa Woolfork  15:34  

I'm not surprised. This is not shocking at all.-- 

Robyn Burgess  15:36  

I found it so easy that I like, joined and was a leader in every club just to give myself extra pressure. And then I went to the hardest possible school that I could go to (I went to Columbia, I went to an Ivy League) because I was like, I need extra pressure. And then I found out (going to the pedagogy) I found out that I liked teaching myself and working with my hands more than I like the classroom study, as great of an institution as I went to, I more enjoyed learning skills that were sort of outside of the classroom. Just, that was how I preferred, but yeah, the hardest possible setting for me, I don't try to procrastinate, these pieces. I don't try to make them more difficult for myself. Actually, with this particular Easter dress, so I was going to the Easter Egg Strut, which is hosted by my friend Dandy Wellington. It is sort of a vintage Soiree. It's held in the Pierre Hotel in New York City. It's an annual event. It's gorgeous. And so I know that I wanted something that had a vintage vibe that had some like classical element to it. I also was absolutely obsessed with Bridgerton at the time, and so I was just really moved by like the deep purples that Kate Sharma was wearing and season two of Bridgerton-- 

Lisa Woolfork  16:44  


Robyn Burgess  16:45  

The design for this dress is sort of the balance between Kate Sharma in Bridgerton and then sort of like a 1950s silhouette, with a little cheekiness. And so it actually is a Empire-waisted, backless, with a bow, dress with a full circle skirt. And this is a Vogue pattern, which I got from a friend. However, I opened up the envelope, not that long before the event, and realized that I was missing the bodice pieces. I had the circle skirt, which is a high-low circle skirt. So you know it was helpful to have but I didn't have the bodice--

Lisa Woolfork  17:17  


Robyn Burgess  17:17  

pieces. And so this was definitely a practice in putting all of my skills to the test and pattern drafting, which is something that I was trying to develop. And so I--

Lisa Woolfork  17:25  

That's right.--

Robyn Burgess  17:25  

--pattern drafted this old top and you know, I was able to make adjustments, I ended up sort of taking cues from Kate Sharma and do with double bust starts. This is the first time that I ever hand-sewed some like, ornaments onto it. So it has little like faux diamond and pearl ornaments on the bow there. And I pulled it together with my Nana's pearls and some fingerless opera gloves that I made the morning of the event and it was a true race to the finish line. And if you like a little high-stress sewing, I actually have the full process on my Instagram story highlights. So anyone can go and watch the craziness of pulling this look together.

Lisa Woolfork  18:01  

I mean, you can see that the commitment, and I wanna share the more recent image from the Easter event because your commitment to the vintage look, now that you've mentioned Bridgerton, I'm just like, absolutely. I see everything that you're talking about. Now I have to know, "What was for this?" Because this is not Bridgerton! Y'all, she is serving all of the vintage 1930s or 1940s Mink Stole this really lovely peplum around the waist, the great bag and the hat, just too much! And in front of this gorgeous rose garden. What is going on here? And please don't tell me you made this in two days because it was the last minute. Oh my gosh, she's about to say, "Oh no, Lisa. I made it in one day!"--

Robyn Burgess  18:48  

Actually, though. Like actually though.

Lisa Woolfork  18:51  

Oh my gosh! 

Robyn Burgess  18:51  

And so actually--

Lisa Woolfork  18:52  

but. "How, how?"--

Robyn Burgess  18:52  

This was during the Easter break this year.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  18:55  

Oh my gosh.--

Robyn Burgess  18:56  

So the planning of it is always something that takes longer. So I actually created a Me Board for this more than a month before the event. And the very first sort of image that came to my mind for the mood board is actually a picture of my grandparents' wedding, which I think was 1951, and they had like a double wedding in DC (this beautiful chapel) but she was still, they were also in college at the time and Howard University. Yeah, they just had a beautiful Howard University romance. He the architect, she the philosopher artist, and she wore a suit to her wedding. She wore a suit with a jacket and a skirt. And she had a cute little bonnet on, but anyway, so that was part of the inspiration. And I was going through, I've been trying to collect vintage patterns to attend Dandy's events, and this one was actually given to me by my friend Michelle, this pattern, and I'd chosen it because I thought that the silhouette was a bit more simple and some of the tailoring work was more simple than some of the other patterns and so yeah, it's like a wrap suit. It's made out of a double-faced wool also for Metro Textiles.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  19:54  


Robyn Burgess  19:55  

It's got the sleeve cuffs. It's fully lined. It's got tucks at the front, and back, I think and then it's got this well-structured peplum. And honestly, if I pulled it out right now, it's on my dress form behind me like, it finished very cleanly. I know it might seem that I'm just rushing and it's going to be sloppy inside.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  20:12  

No no.--

Robyn Burgess  20:13  

Very clean. 

Lisa Woolfork  20:13  

Oh, no, no, no, I never suspected. 

Robyn Burgess  20:16  

I was just at the last poss..., it's meant to have buttons going down that jacket [unclear] woman down the skirt, but like,--

Lisa Woolfork  20:22  


Robyn Burgess  20:22  

I cannot stress-cut into my clothes. And so I decided to finish it with snaps, probably one or two snaps fewer than I should have installed. But the reason why this was so last-minute is because I actually did a commission for Dandy Wellington. And I sewed the costumes for the Uptown Belles dancers that they wore--

Lisa Woolfork  20:40  

Oh my goodness.-- 

Robyn Burgess  20:40  

At the event. And so the first event happened to be the day after New York City Frocktails, which I'd posted,--

Lisa Woolfork  20:46  

oh my gosh.-- 

Robyn Burgess  20:46  

And then this should that was the day of the Easter event that I was attending. And I added these like, feathered hip things as a commission. And so, I was balancing my time between sewing my suit and sewing these feathers for the first time. So that's why it ended up being a last minute sew, and enjoyable sew nontheess, and I love it.

Lisa Woolfork  21:04  

It's absolutely stunning. And I want to pivot really quickly to your Skillshare teaching. Because, clearly, you have the skills. You focused on developing high-level couture type skills, you know, you've taught yourself so well. And, you are a learner who values hands-on, active practical learning. And now you're going to be bringing all of that to Skillshare. Can you talk a little bit about what it is like to break down your particular process and have it be for the masses, like your sewing to me began in a very intimate way, in a way to build what you needed for yourself so that you can move in dignity, and you can hold your head up and just love what you did and loved how you look. And now you're helping other folks do the same with Skillshare. Can you share a little bit more about what Skillshare is and your role and the name of your new course etc.?

Speaker 2  22:04  

So in, I think it was May 2022, an awesome Black woman who lived in Harlem reached out to me and said that she was interested in me maybe teaching a class for Skillshare. And I was like, oh, that sounds like an awesome opportunity. Immediately impostor syndrome in my head. But like, let's not say no to blessings. 

Lisa Woolfork  22:21  

Yes, that's right. 

Robyn Burgess  22:22  

And it sort of spiraled into not being one class, but being a five-class learning path as they sort of expand-- 

Lisa Woolfork  22:29  

Oh my gosh.--

Robyn Burgess  22:29  

their sewing offering, I really just thought about their sewing audience as a lot more beginner focused, because it's a creative platform that isn't specifically for sewing.--

Lisa Woolfork  22:37  


Robyn Burgess  22:37  

There are people who hopefully will just be looking to pursue creative passions and happened upon my class. And that's part of why it's sort of beginner focused, but I really designed the curriculum based on what I would have needed in those first two, three years. So you remember I mentioned that I bought my sewing machine in 2015. But I didn't really sell until December 2016. And I really didn't make my first shirt until May 2017. Yes, first, what piece of clothing. So it--

Lisa Woolfork  23:04  


Robyn Burgess  23:04  

was more than two years after I bought my sewing machine. Even though I had so much need and passion for wanting to do this. I was like, what are all the things that kept me scared? That made me too afraid to do it. I mean, obviously one of them is the fact that like, I'm a perfectionist. And the other thing is that my idea of sustainability is like, not wasting and so I didn't want to cut into something and just ruin it. I didn't want like a Cosby Show, what's that shirt moment where it just looks awful?

Lisa Woolfork  23:32  

A Gordon  Gartrell, a Gordon, Gartrell. You didn't wanna make no Gordon Gartrells.

Robyn Burgess  23:36  

Yes, I didn't want anything that was awful. And I would be embarrassing. And so that's what held me back. But on the other hand, it's like there's all of these different places you can get information, but it's not organized into like, what exactly do I need? what's the good course of action to learn? And so the first course is everything. The first class rather, is everything you need to know to get confident behind a sewing machine, assuming you've never touched it before. Everything from how to wind a bobbin, to how to thread a machine, to by the end of that class, we're creating a pattern to sew a zippered pouch with top stitching along either side of the zipper, with a curve on it and seam finishes. These are all the fundamentals of making clothes and then the latter four classes are sewing with patterns, sewing with prints and like getting placement correct. There's one that I'm sketching runway ideas and helping you to sort of translate a creative vision into something that understands the seam lines and construction. And then the last thing is the thing that I am most obsessed about, which is fit. How do you get a good fit? From your clothes, creating a muslin and establishing like, good sewing practices in order to get it fit with your clothes.

Lisa Woolfork  24:46  

I think that's absolutely beautiful. I really do. It's a gift that you gave yourself, and it's now something that you are using to help others empower themselves similarly. I think that's just wonderful, and I know, it's gonna be wonderful and very well detailed, because you have a standard that wants to be thorough. And, I appreciate that. And it does allow for your sewing to be more sustainable in the long run, when you don't find yourself having to redo things because this broke or this didn't look right, and you threw it in the washing machine, and it wasn't finished well. So there goes your seam allowance, et cetera. I really celebrate that. I think that's wonderful. 

Lisa Woolfork  25:27  

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Lisa Woolfork  26:40  

We did mention New York Frocktails. But I think we're gonna have to have another episode, how are we gonna talk about it? We can't be here 97 hours, I've tried 97-hour episodes, Robyn, and people don't like listening to them that long. So I want to talk about another way that you have created to expand your commitment to size inclusivity. For tall sewists, you are someone who has been tall for most of your life, hitting six-two at 12. And being taller than the other kids and in your professional life, et cetera. And so now you are making moves to help other folks find their way too. Can you talk a bit about your clothing line and how that's going to work as an extension of your self fashioning practice,

Robyn Burgess  27:25  

The clothing line is less for tall sewists, and more for tall people who don't sew. Though I--

Lisa Woolfork  27:31  

Good point, good point.--

Robyn Burgess  27:32  

I've been thinking a lot, and I keep going back and forth with like when I release sewing patterns. I do sell sewing patterns for some bags now. And some calculators that have focuses on inclusivity and size range availability by using me doing the math for you. 

Lisa Woolfork  27:45  

Thank you.--

Robyn Burgess  27:46  

But, for sewists. I've been thinking like, should I release sewing patterns based on a block, that is my height? There are a lot of tall women who could use them? Am I limiting my opinions too much by making them for tall women? And if I do that, should I also make a line for shorter women? Or should I just say, if you want to know my patterns, you should do what I have to do and adjust the pattern to fit you and understand how that works. Because that's what I have to do from the jump.

Robyn Burgess  27:46  

I think that's a great idea. I think that you are right to focus on tall women, I think you are right to focus on the block that you have. Because the reason you have to work so hard is because the patterns are already designed for people who are five-six, I don't think you need to be all things for all people. You need to be all things for tall people! Like, would say that?

Robyn Burgess  28:39  

No, my niche. No my niche and my niche is eight inches taller than the block.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  28:43  

That's right.--

Robyn Burgess  28:44  

Than the Big Four block, which is wild to think about, but the clothing line, it's sort of an expression of like what I want to see in the world for tall women. I think what's really frustrating is that, can you think of a single clothing store in America that has a tall section for women? No, not really.

Lisa Woolfork  29:00  

Not for women. I've not seen one for women. I've seen big and tall men's stores, big and tall men's sections, but not for women. I've not seen it.--

Robyn Burgess  29:09  

Topshop, which is a UK brand, I think they closed all their US stores. But they did have a tall section and it was a revelation. Now-- 

Lisa Woolfork  29:16  


Robyn Burgess  29:16  

if you wanna talk about quality and fit, it wasn't always there. But it was a revelation of being able to see it present in a store. People assume that fashion is for tall women because models are tall. And being my height. The only two career paths that people just automatically on the street assume that I have is that I'm a basketball player or a model. There is no in-between. And because people associate tall women so strongly with models, they don't think about what clothing actually is. Those samples are not actually made for tall women, they sort of rock the boat and tall women. And so I want to be able to make the clothes that we want to wear which is not much different than what smaller or normal size. I haven't figured out what's right like non pejorative way of saying normal, I see normal-heighted people a lot, normal-heighted people.-- 

Lisa Woolfork  30:05  

Yep, I wouldn't say normal because your height is also normal. I hate the idea that somehow being tall is non normative, and maybe also a hate normativity period. So, you will come up with a term that works, I don't get to decide what that term is. But I don't want you to ever think yourself as being abnormal, because that has some like eugenical nonsense behind it, which is horrible, you know, but the culture is the way that it is, there is a reason that you, at 12, could not find pants to fit you. That is a reason because the fashion industry said this is normal. So--

Robyn Burgess  30:37  

Yeah, and it's really frustrating being a tall sewist because like, you'll go and watch, like, I like Chris Sarturial's YouTube tutorials, and like drafting a [unclear], for example. And even when you have conversations with other people who work in the industry, they're using these dress forms that come in one size, not one size. Again, they come in one size vertically, but many sizes horizontally, there's been so much amazing conversation about the plus-size market, and inclusivity for plus-size women, which absolutely is necessary. And I've worked with some like really amazing plus-size brands, and I'm always following their work. Those girls are stunning. Let's get more of that! Tall women are left out of that conversation, I think in part because height is seen as a privilege. And there is no privilege to being an outsider. Regardless of where-- 

Lisa Woolfork  31:22  


Robyn Burgess  31:22  

you sit on that side of the spectrum. Like, I know that I'm in the 98.something percentile of women's heights, being an outsider is not a privilege. And so I'm hoping to address that more and have more of a conversation about how tall women are treated in America. And also guess what, we need to feel competent in these professional spaces. And how do we address the issues of feeling like outsiders every time we step in a room or having people address our height before asking our names in every single room we step into. So I'm hoping that the brand, which is gonna be called Robin Mandela, named after my aunt who was a fabulous dancer. I'm hoping that it will inspire or help to create a brand that's a conversation around empowering women to be their full selves in their tall bodies to stand up and be their creative, bright selves.

Lisa Woolfork  31:24  

I love that. I really love that so much. I'm so grateful to you for your advocacy, for your creativity, for your dedication, and for the way that your own bravery to take a risk and do something for you. And by sticking with it and elaborating on it you really are changing the landscape. And so to that I say, thank you and can't wait to see what you do next. I'm gonna ask you the last question I asked folks on the Stitch Please podcast, the slogan of the Stitch Please podcast so that we will help you get your stitch together. Robyn, what do you have for us that will help us get our stitch together?

Robyn Burgess  32:54  

I would say just take a pause, reassess what you value and then come up with your own definition of success. Your vision of success may not look like what your family holds a successful or what your colleagues hold a successful with your classmates will have a successful and you don't need to compare your success to anyone else. So come up with your own unique vision and then chase that go and strive for that vision of success for yourself.

Lisa Woolfork  33:20  

That is just beautiful. Thank you so much. Robyn Burgess Styles in Seams, working on something so just, revelatory, revolutionary. And those are the kinds of people I like to talk to a lot of Stitch Please podcast. So thank you for being you.

Robyn Burgess  33:37  

Thank you so much for having me.

Lisa Woolfork  33:40  

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.

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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