The Handmade Millennial with Ella Clausen

0.75x 1x 1.25x 1.5x 2x 0:0000:43:01 The Handmade Millennial with Ella Clausen


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Ella Clausen

When Ella Clausen fell in love with sewing, she fell HARD. She started a few months before the pandemic began and has been riding a wild frenzied wave ever since, savoring every seam, learning all that she can about this skill from patternmaking to couture tailoring and everything in between. Ella lives in Oakland, California where she works for a nonprofit foundation that’s a part of Levi Strauss & Co. She is a first-generation American, a Black-Filipinx maker raised by a single mother, and a believer in the power of strong women.

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 cherishing pieces that have been passed through generations and the practice of sewing itself can connect us with our heritage
  • Turning STEM into STEAM and valuing the physics and engineering skills involved in designing and sewing our own clothes
  • How Ella decided to make her own wedding dress and the skills that she developed in doing so
  • The process of designing patterns for Mimi G’s Know Me line for Simplicity, developed solely by makers in the sewing community

Quotes from the show:

  • “If there is something in your vision that you know is not at the store and you can create it from nothing or from the raw material of your imagination? That’s joy. That’s power. That’s freedom.” – Lisa Woolfork, Stitch Please, Episode #52
  • “It’s beautiful, the connectedness and the longevity, to think that the things I might create, this jacket I’m wearing, could have so much meaning to someone 2 or 3 generations down the line if it’s repaired and held together and treasured.” – Ella Clausen, Stitch Please, Episode #52
  • “Sewing doesn’t save you money unless you have expensive taste.” – Ella Clausen, Stitch Please, Episode #52
  • “Do not be the force that holds yourself back. Go for it. Try it. Don’t listen to that voice that’s telling you that you can’t do something.” – Ella Clausen, Stitch Please, Episode #52

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Ella Clausen

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Read Full Transcript

Lisa Woolfork  0:00  

[Music] 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. 

Lisa Woolfork  0:37  

Hello everybody, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I am your host, Lisa Woo-lfork calling in from Charlottesville, Virginia. And as I say every week, this is a very special episode, because this episode brings you none other than Ella Clausen, the Handmade Millennial. And I can tell you, I am delighted to see Ella, because her work is stunning and extraordinary. And she made one of my sewing dreams come true, mostly. 

Lisa Woolfork  1:02  

Let me tell you what happened. Long before Ella was born, I found a pattern, a Vogue pattern, that I loved so much. I was making this amazing dress, and I lost one of the pieces. I'm still believing, these 30 years later, that that piece will be restored to me. In the meantime, Ella Clausen comes out with a delightful Nomi pattern that reminds me so much of that dress that I wanted to make and messed up by losing the pieces, that I buy it instantly, and start cutting it out. Rather than prepare for today's interview, I just decided to make the outfit. So I am wearing the beautiful top. I ran out of time. judge your mama. I ran out of time, but I am wearing this delightful top. And it is such a beautiful piece. It works so well with all manner of woven fabrics. It feels breathable, the neckline is lovely. If you are a Patreon supporter, you get to see me and Ella looking amazing. Welcome, Ella Clausen, to the program. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Ella Clausen  2:01  

Thank you, Lisa. I'm so happy to be here and may I say that you look stunning in your ME 2003 top. I love it.

Lisa Woolfork  2:09  

I utterly love it. Thank you so much for bringing it to the world. So tell us your sewing story. How did you get started? How did sewing become something that entered your life, or something that became a practice that was important to you?

Ella  2:23  

Oh man, when I fell in love with sewing, I fell so hard. I became completely obsessed. So, yeah, going back--one day, a long time ago, there was a time when jumpsuits were just kind of coming back into fashion and were back on the scene. I had this feeling that I just really wanted to make something modern, and fresh, and beautiful, and to wear one of these jumpsuits, but I was having a really tight budget at the time and I could not afford the gorgeous items that I really wanted to wear. So, I don't know how I got it in my head that I should learn how to sew, and the false confidence that was there. [Chuckles] But I went and found a local workshop, it was like an all day sewing machine bootcamp and we made, like, a little tote bag. And so I learned how to operate a sewing machine, and what a gray line was. I literally--I left that workshop, and went straight to the fabric store. I bought a bunch of stuff. I did not make good decisions. I look back now and, like, I did not know what I was doing. 

Lisa Woolfork  2:31  


Ella  2:37  

And I decided to find a free jumpsuit pattern. It was like a peppermint tree pattern and I hacked it. Like, I was figuring out how to put together a PDF pattern for the first time. Had never cut fabric on my own. And I hacked it from a normal jumpsuit into a wrap jumpsuit to match this ideal, like, this image I had in my head of the garment that I wanted to create. It was the Reformation dupe. It actually looks pretty good for a first try. I was really surprised. 

Lisa Woolfork  3:52  

Now, it's not this one is it? 

Ella  3:54  

That's the one, yeah! 

Lisa Woolfork  3:55  

Listen, it's beautiful. Listen. Again, if you're not a Patreon supporter, so sorry. You should totally do it, because you get to see Ella utterly glowing. This is the definition--when we say "glowing with happiness." This is what it looks like. Ella, I'm describing a picture of Ella. Well, you describe the image for who aren't able to see it.

Ella  4:14  

Yeah. It's a wrap jumpsuit with this black fabric with white polka dot. I was just so stinkin' proud that I made something. Just floored by the joy of that. It's got pockets- I've, like, got my hands in my pocket celebrating that. And this is while it still looked good, but that didn't last for long.

Lisa Woolfork  4:31  

You all. This picture is a gorgeous picture of Ella. She is, like, radiating joy, you know. Like her curly hair is out right about her shoulders framing her face, and she's got her hands in these pockets like, "Yes, it has pockets, and I'm gonna show you what they're for." Or, "Putting my hands in, and make a cute pose." But what you don't see is part of the larger context. But once you know the larger context, I feel like this shadow here on the left, so significant. Because this shadow had a plan. Ella is happy. Ella is enjoying her life. And the shadow is like, "Okay, bitch."

Ella  5:09  

"I'm coming for you." [Laughs] So what Lisa is referring, is that- while it looks nice on the outside, and it appeared to be a win, I did not know what I was doing. Seam allowances. I didn't know how to--they didn't teach us in the class to finish our seam allowances. And I also did just the smallest seam allowances, as well as, like, not properly hacking the jumpsuit, like, it was very tight across the back and probably through the inseam. And I did, like, a quarter inch seam allowance in a cotton fabric. So it just frayed and, like, the third wear it just split right down the center back. [Chuckles] And that was my first lesson. 

Lisa Woolfork  5:50  

Do you remember where you were? Were you some place and sat down and heard the, "Ah, crap." Or was it--did you look at it on the hanger and say, "Oh, no, I can't wear this anymore."

Ella  6:01  

I was at home, thank god, at home and I was putting it on. And as I was, like, stretching it over the back, and that wasn't fitting very well. It just split. So. You live, you learn. And I have made that mistake since.

Lisa Woolfork  6:13  

At the same time, I still wanna lift up that this is an extraordinary first project for someone who, before, didn't know anything about operating a sewing machine. Take a one day workshop, leave the workshop, go to the fabric store, buy all the supplies you think you need, and then make this? That is extraordinary. And so I think, to me, it shows that you were indeed the love. Like, the love--this feels very much like you found a type of love language. Would you agree? If you imagine this in that kind of context?

Ella  6:44  

Absolutely. Yeah, just making things--like, the joy of just creating something with your hands has always been the big win for me. It was such a joyous, exciting experience. Also, control, in a way, too. Like, I had this vision, there was something I wanted, you know, I had barriers. I couldn't afford it. I was able to take control of that, and create, and give myself something that--you know, it's kind of funny. I look back and I'm like, "Oh, I started sewing to save money." And it does not save me money now. 

Lisa Woolfork  7:13  

Not at all. Nope. 

Ella  7:14  

That was my perception. But they'll come say it did . If you have expensive tastes, it saves you money.

Lisa Woolfork  7:19  

And you know what? It allows you to have more expensive taste.

Ella  7:22  


Lisa Woolfork  7:24  

Because--I think you're right, there used to be a time when you could save money by sewing. Like, "Okay, I'll make my kids a bunch of little short sets, or some tee shirts," or whatever. But now, when you can get  tee shirts at Target or something like that, it doesn't really make that much sense. But if there's something in your vision that you know is not at the store, and you can create it from nothing? Or from the raw material of your imagination.

Ella  7:49  


Lisa Woolfork  7:49  

That's joy, that's power, that's freedom. I love that. And that's one of the reasons that I think your platform and the blog is so beautiful. Can you talk about how you poured some of that energy, some of your enthusiasm and commitment to sewing, and what it was kind of giving to you- how you put that into your blog.

Ella  8:07  

So I've always been a little bit of a writer, it's some of what I do professionally. 

Lisa Woolfork  8:12  


Ella  8:12  

And so I just had a lot of fun starting to write about the feelings that sewing was bringing for me like control, joy, accessibility resistance, in some ways, like so many things, and kind of poured that into words. And I talk a lot about the roots of that sewing journey, and how it's helped me, like, allow me to feel connected to culture, you know, to my Blackness, to my family in ways, generationally to reach other people in my community and in my own lineage. 

Lisa Woolfork  8:47  


Ella  8:47  

My mom immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines. She was an undocumented immigrant a long time ago, and came here, and changed our whole family line. And my father's Black. But my grandmother in the Philippines would create all of the clothing for her entire family of nine. That was what was expected of her. There was no concept of you know, "I'm gonna buy it a target. Like, I have to do this." They were in a small village that--

Lisa Woolfork  9:12  


Ella  9:13  

--they didn't even have, like, central, like, electricity and gas and things. So that was what you had to do. And I- so sadly- never got a chance to speak to her--

Lisa Woolfork  9:23  


Ella  9:23  

--about sewing and the work that she did. But I get to feel connected to her in this way: through realizing that it may have skipped my mother's generation, but we have that bond and that connection. And I have, just like, one of her handmade items. And I look at it and--she finished the seam ,so it stood the test of time. 

Lisa Woolfork  9:41  


Ella  9:43  

But it's really beautiful to be able to connect in that way. 

Lisa Woolfork  9:46  

What is it like when you are holding that garment that the grandmother you never met made? The idea that this piece that didn't exist before she created it, and it's still there for you to hold. What is that kind of communication like? Or is it a communication, or is it something else? What word would you use to describe it?

Ella  10:06  

It's beautiful, the connectedness, and the longevity, for me. To think that, like, the things that I might create- this jacket I'm wearing, you know? It's just a jacket for me. But it could have so much meaning to someone two or three generations down the line, if it's repaired, and held together, and treasured, and that--yeah, that's so deep! [Chuckles] Right now even, like, with this jacket, thinking, like, this could have or could last someone in 50, 60 years to feel connected to me. It wasn't even an intention I had in creating it, but something that I think is so beautiful about the power of creation. And it's also kind of funny, too, because that shirt that I have from her, it, like, has some random English phrases in it. And I look at that, and I'm like, "This is so funny. This is like a fabric she bought in the Philippines." And it has this, like, phrase about love and the full circle of it. It's really beautiful. 

Lisa Woolfork  10:54  

So it's actually almost like a love letter that your grandma left you.

Ella  10:58  

Mmm. Ooooh, yes. I love the way you put that. It really is. And she had no idea it was going to go to me, but...

Lisa Woolfork  11:04  

She had no idea there was going to be a "you," but she knew there was going to be.

Lisa Woolfork  11:08  

[Music] 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, but how? 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. [Music]

Lisa Woolfork  12:23  

And I appreciate the way that you situate yourself within her line. Because the--one of the things I appreciate about your sewing is the careful detail. And I'm speaking, of course, about the wedding dress. You all, please visit Handmade Millennial's blog to see--do you have, like, nine different entries? Seven entries? Listen, it felt like more. Because every single one of those could be a class on its own. It's such a beautiful documentation of the way that Ella dreamed up this gorgeous gown. Hand beading. Trying to figure out how it can have teeny tiny skinny straps, but still hold all of her body inside so that she can move and walk around. I think- unless you are sewing, or designing, or structuring, you don't think about garments in that way. You think about, "Oh, I'm gonna buy a dress that's gonna look beautiful and be meaningful to me. I think it's so pretty." But when you're making it from almost the inside out-- 

Ella  13:28  

The engineering.

Lisa Woolfork  13:30  

--engineering it. Yeah. Starting with your body as the block. There is no block that is just a standard block, that is the Ella block. No, no, no. There is one Ella block that Ella manages and evaluates and monitors the shifts of. 

Lisa Woolfork  13:43  

What I also love is that, the first garment you made was beautiful. It was really cute. It was empowering, but it didn't last. And now it seems that you are committed to making garments that will last. Can you talk about how the engineering of your wedding gown speaks to your sewing practice more generally? And then we can dive into some of the details of the gown because- Wowza

Ella  14:09  

Yeah, definitely. You know, one of the things I've been thinking about lately--small tangent--too, is how the skills involved in sewing, like literally thinking about physics of the way fabric drapes, and holds, and how garments, like, fall from your body, and where the pressure points, and where the weight is held. And the engineering and the construction of it? Like, those are skills that when we see that interest, that peak, in young girls and young boys and whoever- the fact that--I wish someone had told me to become an engineer, you know,--

Lisa Woolfork  14:41  


Ella  14:41  

--like, why did no one see that spark, that I was interested in how things are pieced together, and that my mind is capable of working this way? And no one either told me to go into physics, and I wish we did that because these skills--I think so many sewists, the mindset that you have to have, of constructing things, lead so directly to scientists. And we often see those skills in young people and we tell them, "Go to Home Ec class."

Lisa Woolfork  14:41  

And it's interesting, because that speaks directly to value and how that's- in some ways- determined by gender. The idea that, if there is a person who you see as a girl, and the girl is interested in puzzles, and pieces, and putting things together, you might say, "Oh, you should sew something." But if it was perhaps a boy and had the same interests, you would say,--

Ella  15:25  


Lisa Woolfork  15:25  

--"Well, now you are going to be an engineer." It's just patriarchy that makes these things--in the same way that women can be cooks, but men are the chefs. You know, I'm like, women do most of the domestic labor in this country. That's how it's been designed. But when it comes to the top flight, time to give somebody a million dollars for a plate of food, we give it a man. Hnh. Wow, that was not by accident. And another thing just to add, you would not believe how many Black women engineers I have interviewed on this show. There's three, for example, who worked together to design quilting patterns. Gyleen Fitzgerald, Ebony Love, and Latifah Saafir. They are all engineers. Tip Stitch--Tip Stitch is her blog--she is an engineer. It's just, like, almost what you said. It's kind of natural alliance. If you are curious about these things, and how to figure out systems, this is what you're going to pursue. And I think part of it is the patriarchy part. It's also the things that we tend to value about bringing in the arts into STEAM.

Ella  16:22  

Yeah. I really wish that we, like, valued that as a part of women, and especially the women who are sewing in the world--I wish that we gave them more credit for the ingenuity that's involved. But okay, you were showing me this book.

Lisa Woolfork  16:35  

This book talks about that, in some ways. It's a scholarly book- it's from MIT Press, but it's by Nettrice Gaskin. It's called "Techno-Vernacular Creativity and Innovation." Techno-vernacular creativity and innovation. I'll put the link in the show notes. But what she's trying to do is make a novel approach to STEAM learning that engages students from historically marginalized communities in culturally relevant and inclusive maker education. She works with students to do maker things, quilt things. She does these really complicated things that I don't even fully understand. With, like, different renderings, and different softwares and algorithms and all of these things, for young people of color to see, "Hey, you know, those low riders that you love so much? That's physics." And so let's talk about that. There's a picture of a low rider in the book and working with the kids. So these things that were already familiar helps to be the gateway into science. You know what I mean? I just love that. 

Lisa Woolfork  17:32  

So your blog pays so much attention to these exquisite details and the wedding dress is just--I mean, a wedding dress is a high pressure garment. People sometimes, Ella, you know, some folks are very bold. And so they'll come up to me--this was a few years ago--on the playground--you can tell how long ago this was, a playground--and they said, "Oh Lisa, you sew. Oh, I love that dress so much." Ella, this was like a little two piece ITY knit dress that had facings, maybe. Just two pieces- a front and a back, and it was kind of, like, long, and a little clingy because it was ITY. I said, "Oh, yeah, this was easy. This didn't take much time, maybe a hour, no big deal." She's like, "Oh, could you make me one?" And I was like, "Hmm, you know, I usually don't sew for other people. But this is so easy. I would consider making you one." And I don't usually make things for people with whom I do not share or exchange DNA. So this is a risk. And then she says, "Oh yeah, that's great! I want it for my wedding." And I said, "Hell no."

Ella  18:34  

[Giggles] Too much pressure. Unh uh. 

Lisa Woolfork  18:37  

Absolutely not. How dare you? Listen, I was, like, being bamboozled into making a wedding dress. I was so glad she finished that sentence so I can say, "Oh no, ma'am. Absolutely not." And that teaches me never to fake offer, or to consider offering or agreeing to sew something for anybody, because next thing you know, it's a wedding. 

Lisa Woolfork  18:57  

But you said this is the rehearsal gown. Can you talk about this piece? You're sitting--the dress is resplendent. I mean, truly. And I thought this was the wedding dress, but you said this is the rehearsal one. Can you talk a bit more about this piece?

Ella  19:09  

My wedding dress was a beaded gown, and I thought that I would make a tester beaded gown with some, like, less expensive fabric to be, like, my first play with beading. And little did I know that I was so bad at the time management of this that, like, I was still sewing the rehearsal dress on the plane. On the way there I was, like, hand sewing the appliquess on. So it did not end up as a tester dress. It ended up taking even longer, but it said bones bustier-style top with seven layers of tulle underneath, some beaded tulle that has, like, these embroidered leaf shape. Always inspired by nature, and plants, and I love to bring that into my sewing. I love, like, even dyeing things with plant. Yeah, that's the rehearsal gown. It was a lot of fun, and I think I might dye it, like, a pink or a blue or something so I can give it another wear someday. We'll see.

Lisa Woolfork  19:59  

That's wonderful because it goes back to some of your ideas about sustainability, too. About something that's meant to last. I mean, a wedding dress, you don't get to wear it everywhere, but your gown, you could absolutely wear that someplace else. To color that, to kind of extend its life, I think is really lovely.

Lisa Woolfork  20:14  

This image of you in the final gown, the plunge neckline, the teeny tiny spaghetti straps, just the confidence of you in this image. It really is a beautiful constellation of all that you put into it, I think. It's such a beautiful process that you describe in six steps, but each step feels like a huge- I don't know- victory. What's happening here? Is this some pre-ceremony photo?

Ella  20:43  

[unclear] photos. I'll just describe the gown, too, for our listeners. It's a deep vee spaghetti strap bodice with kind of a mermaid fit and flare through the body, and then kind of tight around the waist and the hips and it flares into, like, a small- medium-ish sized train. And it's several layers of white silk, fully lined, and then a beaded--a layer of beading on top of beaded tulle. There're, like, millions probably-- ah, thousands of like these little glass beads in a Art Deco style shape with sew-on. So some little diamantes--I forget what they're called. 

Lisa Woolfork  21:21  

Yes. Yes.

Ella  21:22  

It was a lot of work to figure out, because I decided one day--I just said, "I make beautiful things all the time. Why don't I just make my dress, it's no big deal." And I think, at the time, I convinced myself that it wasn't a big deal, it was just going to be another beautiful dress. And over time, it gathered more and more meaning to me and, like, I picked up some of that pressure afterwards. But that's how I get looped into a lot of the things I do, is I think about it. On paper, I'm like, "It's just a dress. It's just one day." And I get into something and I realize it's more work later. So I was teaching myself from scratch how to drape, how to work with silk, how to work with beads- all sorts of couture kind of details and secrets. Stabilizing the V-neck, the deep V of the bodice- It seems so simple, and you'd think there was a pattern out here for this style of dress, but I swear to you: I have scoured the internet and every craft store and this pattern does not exist. 

Ella  22:20  

But I think one of the reasons is because the deep V is very hard to stabilize. And I ended up finding something called "V wire separator." So it's a little metal V that is encased within fabric to hold the V stable, so that if I danced, like, a boob wasn't about to like slip out or something, you know? 

Lisa Woolfork  22:37  

Pop out. [Laughs]

Ella  22:38  

Yeah, exactly. And I was really worried about mobility, and I wanted to be functional. And a lot of people will do the, like, mesh- the skin-shaded mesh--

Lisa Woolfork  22:45  


Ella  22:46  

--in between instead, but I just didn't like that look. So I was able to find my own. But this project took up space in my head for, no joke, an entire year. I was just like,--

Lisa Woolfork  22:57  


Ella  22:57  

--in my spare time, I'm watching YouTube videos about how to underline things, how to, like, smash the beads, and the seam allowances, and what to do, and all these things. And I just spent a year heavily researching and learning all of the ways to create this kind of culminating garment. It goes back to what we were saying earlier about, you know, sewing doesn't save you money unless you have expensive taste. And all of the dresses I wanted were were quite pricey, so.And  I didn't really save money. 

Lisa Woolfork  23:03  


Ella  23:07  

I spent like 800 dollars on this dress and materials and thousands more in my time, but I got the result that I wanted.

Lisa Woolfork  23:32  

And that's priceless. That is absolutely priceless. But also because the fact that the pattern is not something that exists. You thought that you could just, "Oh let me just pick up a pattern. I've seen these before. This is a popular style. You go to David's Bridal and everybody has this thing." But that's not what you wanted. And the fact that you could dream up what you wanted, not find it, and not feel like, "Okay, well let me just do an acceptable substitute." Instead, you studied. That's what study is. Study is sustained, devoted attention to a question. And your question seems to be, "How do I make my dream come true?" In the limited spare time you have, because you don't have unlimited spare time. You manage to somehow create- not somehow, the somehow is not a mystery. It's talent, skill, patience, creativity, all of the things that go into your creative process. And you come up with this really delightful outcome. 

Lisa Woolfork  24:29  

Now, I want to transition from this making something so particular to just fit you and just meet your needs but also meet your dreams. I think that's quite powerful. How do you pivot from there to Know Me patterns? How do you get from: this is something that I'm doing and I'm so devoted to it, I've loving it so much. How do you transition then from making this one gorgeous, gorgeous, so well-structured, beautiful garment into let me design patterns that will make Lisa Woolfork very excited, because like something she lost.

Ella  25:03  

Yeah, I think part of the wonderful thing about the internet, especially, is that I just shared about process, the fun I was having. I was asking questions. I was--literally didn't care what anyone thought. I was just creating a diary for myself of what I was up to and what I was learning and thinking. And people really responded to that passion in a way that I didn't even expect, or anticipate, or even need. I was just sharing about the things that were bringing me joy because I wanted to talk to people about them. That's the whole reason I even started- whether Instagram, or my blog, or anything- is that I was finding so much happiness in this medium, like learning to sew and just the mental challenge of it, you know? I think part of it is that I needed a mental challenge. I needed to learn something, and to engage, and use those parts of my brain. And I didn't have anyone who could nerd out with me about, you know, bias tape makers, or, like, wouldn't accomplish me or, like, why are these bust darts so pointy? Like, how do I get it to not look so pointy? And I found those friends online and through my blog, and it's translated into real life friends. It's actually really funny how I've found now four women who are within five years of me, similar age, similar life stage, within one mile of where I live now. And we get together and we talk about patterns. And all of that is just needed, which is like my dream. That was like my best-case scenario, that I would find people to be my tribe. And my blog and sewing has been able to bring that to me.

Lisa Woolfork  26:31  

[Music] The Back Stitch is a reinforcing stitch, sewn by hand or stitched by machine. The Back Stitch is a return with a purpose. On the Stitch Please podcast, our new Back Stitch series will recall early and/or favorite episodes of the podcast. And the best news? It's hosted by you. Yes, you. Thank you. You. Do you have a favorite Stitch Please podcast episode? Let us know by leaving a voice memo on our website, five minutes max. Let us know what episode you love, and why other people will love it too. And if we use your message on the show you will receive an honoraria. So remember, the Back Stitch makes a seam stronger. Leave us a message so that your contribution can make the Stitch Please podcast that much stronger. You can find the link at the website, or just click on it in the show notes for this episode.

Lisa Woolfork  27:44  

I really like how, as you said, you were looking for community. You wanted to document your process, your love story with sewing, and the power of this beautiful dress and all the creativity. And also, you don't wanna waste that effort. Also, how wonderful it is to document that. How wonderful is it to have that on a permanent record that you can go back to--for your 10th anniversary, you can go back and look--

Ella  28:07  


Lisa Woolfork  28:07  

--at the blog post--

Ella  28:08  


Lisa Woolfork  28:08  

--and say, "Oh my gosh. I'm so glad I wrote all this down." Because in 10 years, you won't remember. 

Ella  28:13  

You just forget. Slowly forget. I remember where I was going now, though, actually. Just sharing my designs and my thoughts- not even about my wedding dress, but about other things allowed Mimi to discover me. Mimi G literally DMed me out of the blue, out of nowhere one day, and I remember it was, like, in February. She was just like, "Can you hop on a call with me next week?" And it's like, "Is this fake? Is this the real Mimi G's account?" It was like during Black History Month, so I was like, "is this just gonna be, like, some Black History feature? Like, what could Mimi want from me? 

Lisa Woolfork  28:43  


Ella  28:45  

You know?

Lisa Woolfork  28:46  

Girl, you are you.

Ella  28:47  

And I was so confused. She saw something in me that I didn't realize that was so visible. But she had followed me, and was seeing the things I was up to. And I hop on that call with her, and she asked me to design for Nomi patterns. She said that she was launching the first cohort, and that she wanted me to be a part of it. And that's where it started.

Lisa Woolfork  29:08  

Congratulations. And I think it's important that you noted--you said, "I didn't need this." You were not trying to become a sewing celebrity. You were trying to document your own process, document your own joy. Then that work is work that gets you notice, because what you appreciate, you can also help others appreciate, too. That, in the same way that you were looking for a form of community, and now you have four people who live within one mile of you? Those other four people were lookin' for the same thing. Never doubt what you are doing is something of tremendous value, and of great import, and really meaningful to you, which is the most important thing. And then to many, many other people, which is a collateral benefit. So you launched with Know Me patterns and what was that like? How does that start, like, you get a phone call and next thing you know, is it like that simple? Like, you get a phone call, next thing you know, bam! Here we are. That was easy.

Ella  30:06  

[Sighs] Yes. I wish it was that easy. I'll tell you that- about the process, and how it works. Well, first all, I'll tell you about what the deal is with Nomi for anyone who doesn't know about Know Me patterns. Know Me patterns by Mimi G is a brand new line of sewing patterns, designed by makers of the sewing community for makers of the sewing community, by the big four. So the people who make McCall's, Simplicity, Berta--there's a new line of paper patterns out that features just our voices. Which is such a beautiful thing to engage in the community in this way, and give opportunity to folks. 

Ella  30:43  

So we started with a dozen designers, the launching group last fall. We're all Black and brown designers in particular, which is just amazing: to be able to give new voices and new styles, and just the opportunity to make it in Joann's and to be at the Hobbie Lobby's and the Walmart, and to really shake things up. And you'll see the styles too, like, they definitely shake things up compared to what the Big Four is used to doing. There's a lot of fresh voices and faces. The style that I have for this Spring '023 that Lisa is referencing is a two-piece wavy color blocking. It's pretty unusual. I haven't seen any patterns that have, like, this similar kind of wave shaped color blocking, it's like a square neckline top and a bare leg pants. The designs from Know Me in general are very different. They're so fun. So the process of what happens is, so we are designers. We design the style and the shape, but we're not necessarily the pattern makers. So I will send in some sketches and ideas for what I would like to see happen with a lot of detail. Like, I want the hem this tall. I would like this much ease. I want, you know, this to drape in a certain way. These are my suggested fabrics. I will send those to Mimi and the team at Design Group. 

Ella  30:43  

And they, each season, will choose a dozen styles of what they want to include. And they think about, how do these different styles work together, you know, we don't want all dresses, they don't want jumpsuits. They choose, like, a variety of things. And all of our styles are so different. Like, [chuckles] the types of designers that Mimi hand-selected- we have very different styles and appeals, which is really unique and special, and can bring designs and patterns for a whole new community. But--so we send in our sketches, they're chosen for that season. And then we work with the team of patternmakers at Design Group who actually take the standard bodice block and they create my design, they send me photos, a few rounds of fittings, and I say that this hemline needs to go up, or this needs to go in this way, or that shape needs to be a steeper angle, or whatever that is. Then we go back and forth for awhile and then they send me the pattern. And I'm able to then sew up myself to be able to create it myself, and then take photos that are actually included on the cover and the marketing materials. It is really special to be able to design something and then actually show up on the cover of the garment. And then they have two stories for sale. It's about- I want to say, like, six to nine months lead time ahead of each season. It takes a little bit of work with the team but Gigi makes it really easy and seamless. 

Lisa Woolfork  33:28  

One of the things I do love- and you mentioned that you take your own images- is that the styling on the Know Me patterns is completely different, in the most best of ways. Much better than the styling on the previous versions of the Big Four that I have seen. Sometimes I look at these patterns, and I go straight to the line drawing because sometimes the photos are so bad that I'm like, "Were they mad at this girl? Is this why she had to wear this?" 'Cause she looks very unhappy.

Ella  33:58  

[Laughs] "Why does this model so mad?" Yeah. I would hope no one thinks that looking at the Know Me patterns; the imagery is very different.

Lisa Woolfork  34:05  

No, we absolutely don't. We don't we just feel like, "Oh, this girl drew the short straw. That's why she got them ugly shoes on." You know what I mean? But this is not the case. And one of the things I love about the Know Me patterns--I remember being in a Joann's and picking some out, and talking to--because I'm a talker, obviously--to some of the folks that work there, and I was like, "You know what's so funny? I know this person. You know, I know Julian. I've interviewed Aaronica. I've interviewed Neff. I've interviewed Marcia. I've interviewed Brittany. Like, I know so many folks who are the designers for this. And I was like, "It's just really cool." And she said, "Wow. I wish I knew some pattern designers." Or, "I wish I knew some people who are on the cover of patterns, or who made patterns." And that is why I think that the Know Me is such a really cute and clever name--

Ella  34:51  


Lisa Woolfork  34:52  

--because I think when the rollout started, it was like, "get to know me." The knowing is about ways to build relationship and connection. And so--

Ella  34:59  


Lisa Woolfork  34:59  

--that's what I think is so--

Ella  35:00  

It's like community-oriented. Yeah.

Lisa Woolfork  35:02  


Ella  35:03  

We're able to draw connections with each other, which is a beautiful thing, too, like, if anyone wants to reach out to me and DM me and ask me, you know, "Do you think this would be a good fabric for my pattern?" Like, I respond to all my DMs, like, I love chatting with people. Yeah, it's a really special part too. Like, I'll reach out to Neff, and like, "Whaddya you thinkin' about this?" Or, like, "How does this work?" And we can all collaborate that way, as a community.

Lisa Woolfork  35:26  

it's really wonderful. And then you're able to take all the skills that you've built, all the study that you did in order to produce the gown, to produce the pattern. And then you're gonna be branching out a bit with an additional patterns. Talk about the Handmade Millennial and how you are also working on your own patterns, you say? So you're learning to digitize. So what does that process been like? You just love learning, which is--I'm same. I get it: I love learning, too.

Ella  35:51  

I do. I'm always looking for a next challenge.

Lisa Woolfork  35:53  

So talk about your pattern. 

Ella  35:55  

This summer, I'm really excited and I'm gonna launch my own line of patterns on top of what I'm doing with Know Me. I'm going to sell my own patterns on I've got one style that I am so excited to be able to share with people. It's a summer dress. I'm really into angles and sharp lines. And so it's a skinny strap as per the theme of many of the dresses I make. And an angular bust dart detail, third angled skirt that's kind of long. I might do a floor-length version and a short-length version. Kind of hard to describe. But I've posted about the inspiration versions and some of the iterations over the past year.

Ella  36:35  

I've been taking night classes to learn for myself how to professionally make patterns, and also digitally, fully in Adobe Illustrator, which is amazing. I think that everyone should be doing things digitally. Being able to make a hack of something and just copy, paste. Ohh, I don't like that delete, undo, you know. Like it is so convenient and fast and nice. And I also got a projector on Facebook Marketplace. And the dream is that I'll be able to digitally design something and then project it directly on the fabric, cut it out, try it. I haven't figured out my projector quite yet, so I'm not there. Yeah, I'm going to try and release a couple styles a year, just using the skills that I've learned through my coursework, through my work with Nomi, and the feedback that pattern team has given me. It's gonna be really fun, and I can't wait to have more styles to release to the world.

Lisa Woolfork  37:24  

I think that's extraordinary. And I'm really glad to hear that you've already built in a way to test the pattern in some ways on yourself first. That's one of the great things, also, about digital, is that it does not require paper. You don't have to, like, take it, and get it printed, and then cut it out, and then see how it goes. You can project it directly onto the fabric. And, as you say, you're still figuring it out. I know you know you're already friends with the best person to talk about this with and that's Aaronica Cole. 

Ella  37:50  

Oh yeah, I took her class. 

Lisa Woolfork  37:51  

Yeah, if Aaronica doesn't know it, I think it's not gonna be known. That's what I think.

Ella  37:55  

It's not worth doing. 

Lisa Woolfork  37:57  

It's not worth doing.

Ella  37:57  


Lisa Woolfork  37:57  

Exactly, exactly. She already figured it out. So I am so excited. This has been so delightful speaking with you today, Ella. I am just so grateful for you coming on, and sharing your story, and telling us about the rise of your blog which led to Nomi, which led to Handmade Millennial--having your own patterns on Digital ones that we can print out in an AO format. I hope you gonna have AO format because,--you might not know this about me, but I have a condition that prevents me from taping any PDF pattern.

Ella  38:30  

Oh, I understand that condition.

Lisa Woolfork  38:31  

It's very serious. Because taping is no cure. The best cure is prevention. So--

Ella  38:37  


Lisa Woolfork  38:38  

--that's why--someone was like, "Ooh, I love this pattern. I love that pattern. Here's a free pattern." It's free, but you have to tape it together. I'm like, then it's not free. Because it costs my soul.

Ella  38:47  

Labor. Yes. And soul-sucking, I absolutely am with you on that.

Lisa Woolfork  38:51  

See I call it a condition because taping PDF patterns greatly reduces my will to live. And I cannot take that kind of risk. My life and time is too precious, Ella. 

Ella  39:00  

I won't do that to you.

Lisa Woolfork  39:02  

Thank you. I do not want to be endangered when I am sewing. And yet some people tend to try it. And I'm like, "Well, I can never make your pattern in life, because it doesn't exist for me, because it's not AO. So, sorry." But one day--I'm gonna get into projectors, too. Because I have so many AO size patterns that I do break down. I have a whole process of breaking them down,, and putting them into envelopes, and etc in my database. And I still have 60 rolls of pattern right now in this house. If you look over there, which nobody is- mind your business,- they're over there. Organized into bundles of 10. And whenever I have a moment, I take five and I break them down. It takes about an hour at minimum to do that. 

Ella  39:42  

Oof. No.

Lisa Woolfork  39:43  

Basically what I do is, I take the big rolls and I turn them into pattern pieces, much like you get in a regular envelope. So I cut 'em up. I fold them so that the name and the pattern piece is facing out. I press them down on the heat press, and then I slide them into envelopes. And they fit into a small envelope. It's wonderful, but it's still work. And I'm like, mmm.

Ella  40:01  

It's work! Think of all the things you could be doing with that time.

Lisa Woolfork  40:04  

I don't know, write a book maybe? I don't know, girl. 

Ella  40:05  


Lisa Woolfork  40:05  

I don't know what I could be doing. Gettin' Slurpees from 7-Eleven. Anything can happen, you know, wishing that we had In-N-Out Burgers here. There's all kinds of things that I could be doing with my time that I don't do when I'm doing that instead. So thank you for thinking about the projector and helping us to find new ways to create. And thank you also for having paper patterns that we could buy at the store as well as, soon, to have patterns we can get directly from you. So that's exciting. 

Lisa Woolfork  40:28  

So the last question I'm going to ask is the question I ask everyone on the podcast. The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together. Ella Clausen, the Handmade Millennial, what advice would you give us to help us get our stitch together?

Ella  40:44  

I think the most important thing, advice that I give to so many people is to not be the thing that holds yourself back. So many people have dreams of, "I want to learn to tailor. I wanna learn to make my own patterns. I wanna learn to make a gown," or whatever. And they tell themselves they can't do it. And there's no reason in this day and age that you can't do something if you have the willpower and the time, definitely, and you allow yourself to not let a lack of confidence ever hold you back from figuring something out. There's so many resources on the internet. There's people you can talk to. There's classes. We are living in a time where everything can be accessible to you if you put in the time and the effort. And I would just love to see more people, if they have a goal of making a blazer or whatever, like, do not be the force that holds yourself back. Go for it. Try it. Don't listen to that voice that's telling you that you can't do something. Figure it out. And, you know, you can fail and then just try again.

Lisa Woolfork  41:39  

That is such powerful and beautiful advice. Thank you so much. Ella, this has been such a delight speaking with you today. Tell us where we can find you on the socials.

Ella  41:50  

It's been a pleasure, Lisa. You can find me on Instagram at handmademillennial. Millennial with two L's, two N's, and the same at

Lisa Woolfork  41:59  

Thank you so much, Ella. This has been great.

Ella  42:03  

It's been such a pleasure. Thank you, Lisa. Thank you for all the work you're doing with this beautiful podcast, and creating this space for Black folks in the sewing community. I love it. I'm gonna keep listening to every episode. And yeah, this has been a pleasure. So thank you.

Lisa Woolfork  42:16  

[Music] 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 five dollars 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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