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. Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I am your host Lisa Woolfork joining you from Charlottesville, Virginia. And as I say every week, this is a very special episode because this episode, we are talking with Shorti J, the genius behind Cottoncandifro and Infrospectiv. She is an Atlanta-based photographer, stylist, model, and so it's an absolutely stunning rifting upcycler. Now you're going to still learn what all of that means when we welcome Shorti J to the show. Welcome Shorti J. Thank you for being with us today.
Shorti J 1:16
Thank you so much for having me.
This is so exciting. I am just so glad to speak with you this morning. Can you talk a bit about your sewing story? When I look at your pieces, when I see the work that you've done, I am stunned that you are packaging up your first orders to go to people. The fact that you started sewing last year. Can you talk a bit more about how your sewing story got started?
Shorti J 1:46
Well, my sewing journey started in late August after a lengthy depressive episode where I didn't eat for a month, and I lost a significant amount of weight. And it was like, "I can't replace all my clothes. So, I'm going to learn how to fix them until I gain the weight back." And it just went from there. In my mind, I was like, why stop with just altering things to fit you? Why not make something? Why not start making things.
And so this alterations process was a way to help you bring yourself back to wholeness, that this is part of your healing. And so you looked at the clothes that you had, and you were like, oh, these aren't able to do it for me anymore. And so do you remember the spirit you had when you jumped into the fixing of your clothes, the repairing of your clothes, or the adjustments? Because I can tell you alterations are not my jam. I am so bad. And I have no patience for it. So, you looked at your wardrobe and thought, "Okay, I've lost weight. And the clothes and I are no longer bodily compatible. So I am going to get in here and make them compatible." How did that go for you? How many pieces did you end up repairing? Or did you say I'm going to start with the alterations and then it's like, oh, maybe not? How many alterations did you end up doing?
Shorti J 3:03
I started with pants because my waist has always been tiny. But after I lost a few pounds, it was like yeah, it's more than tiny now. It's almost nonexistent.
Shorti J 3:14
Altering pants drove me absolutely nuts. Because the amount of times I've darted pants and had to take the seam out and start over --
I mean --
Shorti J 3:23
-- and from there, failing at like darting, I just started to move into making skirts into pants. So that was the first way for me to like understand altering better, I would take skirts there were like a 12, wide 14, and make them my size. That's also how I learned how to make pants.
This is so fascinating. And it really gives us a beautiful glimpse into your mind as an artist, and as a designer, and as a creative in general. Because you weren't daunted by having to make these changes and adjustments. You just kind of shifted your focus a bit. And you said, "Okay, I'm going to take the skills I have. I'm going to take the talent that I have. And I'm going to use it for the benefit of my wardrobe, and ultimately how I'm going to express myself out in the world." And I think that's incredibly powerful because lots of people start learning how to sew from ... I learned taking a sewing class, and I learned to make a terrible tote bag. And some people never recover from the terrible tote bag. They're like, "I don't want to make a tote bag. Sewing is clearly very boring." But that's not the way that you looked at it at all. You already had some things that you were happy with. And you just had to kind of recalibrate them a little bit to get back to what felt for you like the right way to go about it. And so now you have these altered things. You've got these things that are like - that you have transformed to fit you and to work for you. And you said, "Alright, that's enough of that. Let me start making some new things from scratch." What was that transition like, to go from altering some things that you had already had to deciding how to make something new?
Shorti J 5:04
In an attempt to dart two pairs of pants that were entirely too big in the waist, and I failed at darting them, I was like, "You know what? You two pairs of pants? Y'all is gonna be a jacket." The colors were cohesive. It was like periwinkle corduroy jacket and a lavender pair of pants. Terrible pairs of pants. And I was just like, "I'm gonna cut them up and make a patchwork jacket." The jacket is cute, I still wear it. But them seams, the collar is attached crooked, ain't no zipper, it's just a button at the bottom. It's cute, but I was just like, "I'm not going to fix it because it's a reminder of where I started from."
Yes! It's a wonderful archive. You are building an archive. You are building a collection. Almost like it's a history of your process, of your own design story. And so you have these pants like, okay, look, I cannot figure out how to take the waistband off and put it back on and make all these adjustments. Guess what, you're still viable fabric. You can still be something, and I can still wear you. And so now you are a jacket. And honestly, who is coming up to you and asking to look inside the seams of your clothes? That is private. People need to mind their own bodies and mind their own business. And honestly, if somebody's gonna get that close so they can measure if your collar is on crooked, they are clearly inviting to be punched in the throat [crosstalk]. Honestly, why would one do something like that? And it's such a beautiful story of the way that you talked about your healing being attached to your creativity. Is that something you've always had a sense of creativity and the need to like, to make things? Is that something that you've always done as a child all the way through to now? What other aspects of your creativity go into this part of making and remaking?
Shorti J 6:50
Art has always been one of my outlets. I used to write poetry heavily. I still have the notebooks filled with it that I wrote in middle school, which is when I started writing poetry. I taught myself how to draw graffiti. I taught myself how to draw cartoon characters out of the comic strip section out of the newspaper. That's where my art journey really started. It really started in middle school because, like, I didn't really have anybody to talk to. So I would talk on paper. And I would also draw things, and there wasn't a time you wouldn't see me without a notebook, or a sketch pad, or a pencil. I've always had it. And in school, the photography aspect of my creative journey is whatever I was feeling, because I have a major depressive disorder. So for me to let that out when I was in school, because, like, I was always busy ... It's like I put whatever I was feeling, created a concept, and then put it into my work.
Yes. And I liked the way you talk about when you write poetry, that this was a way of kind of putting your feelings on paper. Like, you know, you didn't talk a lot. But you know, you put a lot of communication in your writing. Do you feel that you're putting a lot of communication in your sewing as well? Because I see a lot of really interesting dialogue or conversation in the pieces that you create, the way that they start from being one thing to become something totally different. To take two pair of pants and convince them that they're actually a jacket. That's a really powerful conversation. Can you talk about like, what that was like. How to go from four pant legs to two arms ... Then, like, this is a pretty impressive transformation. What was that like for you? Do you recall what it was like, basically fabricating pants into jacket? It seems like, someone's like, "Okay, pants to skirt. Okay, maybe pants to, I don't know, a bag. But pants to jacket is a big transformation."
Shorti J 8:49
I just remember cloning one of the crop jackets that I had, and I was like, "this is a cute jacket. I haven't pieced the outfit together for you yet. So I'm going to use you to clone and make other jackets." So I sketched out the entire layout of the jacket and just cut up the pants because I was frustrated with them almost like, "Y'all gonna be somthin' today. They're not gonna be pants that fit me, but they gonna be a jacket." So I laid out parts of the sleeve on the different parts of pants, the front bodice on the different parts of pants, and just patched them together until, like, I got a cohesive layout for the jacket and then stitched it together. It took a really long time because I've never done it before. But I was determined to do it. And I'm like, "You know what, you're kind of cute. You were messed up on the inside, but we all are. So ..."
Isn't that a metaphor for life?
Shorti J 9:41
Isn't that metaphor for life, because your determination is what I find so beautiful. I find that determination to be incredibly powerful because there are so many times in our lives where it seems as though we really do have to remind into ourselves, that we have the potential to create and to make the things that we need. And sometimes you can really easily get off that track. But you reminded yourself, and you committed to yourself. And I think that is just so beautiful. And I'm also really excited to learn about your writing and your poetry, and I'm imagining all the sketchbooks that you must have around your house: sketchbooks, and notepads, and post it notes that must have ideas written all over them at all times. That you're like an omni creator of all the things that you enjoy, because you also are a photographer. Can you talk a bit about the connection between photography, and also you model ... you model for your own work. I mean, it's very clear that your creative vision is one that picks up on lots of different elements, and photography seems a big part of it. Can you talk about your photography, and how that connects to your sewing and the way that you are able to put together certain pieces that other folks might not connect or put together the way that you do?
Shorti J 11:06
Well, initially, the photo aspect for my pieces is that I've always been the main subject within my photography, mainly because, like, I've always wanted to model, and in auditioning most of the time, they're like you're too short. Because I'm 5'2". And I was just like, "Yeah, I'm may be short, but I have the measurements, and my jaw line is on point. God gave me cheek bones for free. Put me on your website." And everybody said no. And I was like, "alright, y'all won't make a way for me, I'm gonna make a way for myself." And for my photo aspect, I did a photo shoot for my birthday. It was a one-woman shoot, I put up the backdrop. I set up the lighting, I set up my camera and my timer. And I put together three outfits that I have handmade, because I just wanted to like know I put everything together. I'm going to put something together that I made. And I'm going to take a picture of myself. Because fashion and photography go hand in hand.
I think you're right, obviously,
Shorti J 12:02
How do I incorporate both? Because it's like I already know how to model. The next step is to make something that I see myself in for a shoot. One of the pictures I sent you in that brown outfit ... yeah, that's upholstery.
Oh my gosh.
Shorti J 12:16
It's upholstery. I found it at the Salvation Army. It was already cut up. I was like this is enough to do something with.
Oh my gosh. Listen, this sounds to me that you are a 360-degree creative. You create the backdrops, you set them up, you set up the lighting, you set up the images for your shoot, you set up the camera, then you work on the poses, and you do all of the art direction that's required to have a model look good on camera, and you make the outfit. Like honestly --
Shorti J 12:50
And the editing of the photos, because every word that's in the image that - I did it, I did that too.
It's absolutely incredible. It is such a robust and beautiful sense of creative spirit. And it shines through with every picture, every video. Your light is bright and beautiful as your cotton candy afro. It is absolutely wonderful. And I really do appreciate how you begin where other people might end. You don't end with the photo when you have your photos. You take the photos but you also then work on transforming them, making sure they can communicate what you want people to see. So that it's as if the art process, and the process of creativity, is a long journey. It's a process that requires learning and unlearning, and trial and error, and on the other side of it is something so beautiful.
Black Women Stitch and the Stitch Please podcast is grateful for all the support that made Sew Black possible. Special thanks to our underwriters, Spoonflower. Thanks also to Moda for generous sponsorship. Thank you, Bernina for your wonderful support. Thank you also to Amtrak for partnering with us. Special thanks to those who shared resources to equip the space. This includes AccuQuilt, Aurifil, Crimson Tate, Sew Easy, Ruby Star Society, Free Spirit Fabrics, Kai scissors, thank you, thank you, thank you. Special thanks to Focusrite for making the live recording possible through the donation of an audio interface, the Focusrite 18i8. Thanks to the Bridge PAI for the initial funding, and thanks also to the Modern Quilt Guild for their generous support. Thank you all so much for making this possible.
I wanted to talk about one of the first pieces that you did, your pink teddy jacket which was one of your first pieces. Can you talk a little bit about that piece and what are some of the motivations for that work?
Shorti J 15:08
So, I was at the Salvation Army. I was at the one I didn't frequent, because the one I frequent is actually in the city, and the one I found that blanket at is in Gwinnett County, Lawrenceville almost. I was digging through stuff, you know, doin' a good search of that Salvation Army because that one's bigger. That one's a lot bigger than the one in the city. And I was looking to the blanket section, and I found one of the vintage woven blankets. It was pink and white. It had teddy bears on it. And it was $2. And instantly my spirit was like, "Every time you see a blanket like this, buy it." I have listened to spirit, because it has not failed me.
It has not steered you wrong. So you get this gigantic, woven, pink and white teddy blanket for two whole dollars, and then you go make magic. How did that process start for you? So clearly the start is the message, right, that says this is the one.This is the one you need. This was here waiting for you in Gwinnett County. If you had not come nobody else probably would have even gotten it, and anybody else who did, who knows what they would have done with it, but they would not have done that. You pick up the blanket, you put in the bag, you bring it home, wash it, and then what? What's next?
Shorti J 16:20
After I washed it and it came out the dryer I immediately was like,"Where's my patterns? We're making the jacket today? Making the jacket today!" Look, I just know I want this pink teddy bear on the back of the jacket. I don't care about all that other stuff. Pink teddy bear on the back. Fringe on the bottom.
Oh, and it turned out magically. Just beautiful. Really and truly. What a great way to kind of start your brand, or to think about your brand, Infrospectiv. I love Infrospectiv. There's a wonderful video on her Instagram page, y'all, where she is packaging up, believe it or not. her first order. Not at all the last. The first of many, many, many, and she is using her Cricut cutter to create this beautiful logo. Can you talk about Infrospectiv, the detail of the packaging? I know it's something many people commented on, including myself. It really does give a holistic type vision to what you are trying to accomplish. Can you talk about Infrospectiv as a brand,
Shorti J 17:24
The name came about during my birthday photoshoot because I was taking pictures of me in this really cute, pink jump-like bodysuit with these pink stiletto heels. And when I was in the editing process, I was like, "This looks like an album cover." And it was like, "Oh, for shits and giggles we're going to make an album cover like a vintage one." You know, like the old-school vinyls that have a front cover, a middle, and then like the back. And I was like, "Okay, the concept for that album cover" which is like I was just editing, and it's like, here's the concept. And I created a playlist for it too. And it like describes all of my mental states throughout the year. And Infrospectiv is a play on words of introspective or introspection where you take a deep reflective look on yourself. Infrospective is basically taking a look at myself, and then bringing it out into the world, which is basically what I do with everything that I make everything out of this. Like I look at it, and it tells me what it wants to be. That's literally my process. It's just like, I don't know what it's going to be or how it's going to turn out. When I lay it on the ground. I just listen to it. It's like, "What exactly do you want to be?" And it will tell me.
Oh, I love that. I love that. It reminds me of the way that some sculptors plan or describe their work. They're like, "Oh, I take a slab of marble and then I cut away anything that's not the angel I wanted to make, or this beautiful figure." That's what you've done. Like you allow the original piece to speak to you. But I think it's one thing to have art speak to you. It's another thing to listen, and to know how to respond. And that is something you are really excellent at doing. And it shows in all of the work that you've made, especially in the piece you have on right now. If you are a Patreon person, and why are you not? You should totally be on Patreon - this absolutely amazing podcast and Patreon account, and you get to see this stunning, stunning jacket that Shorti J has created. Can you talk about the piece you're wearing right now, and what it started at, and what you heard when you went to pick it up.
Shorti J 19:25
I also have an anxiety disorder. And when you have an anxiety disorder, there are days where your mind is racing, and it won't be quiet. And like you also get a lot of intrusive thoughts that are typically harmful. So I came home. I laid the blanket out, and I was like, "My mind will be quiet. So I'm gonna take the racing thoughts and make a jacket." And as you can see, it tells a specific story. Oh l made pants too with the scraps.
Oh my gosh. Oh y'all. Oh my gosh. Oh, that's awesome. Wow. Wow.
Shorti J 20:02
So this is what was going on in my head, and it turned into a jacket.
And what she started with was a Keith Haring blanket. And it has some of the classic Keith Haring imagery, the light bulbs, broken heart, pointing to the heart. And you can look at that and see what it means to go through the type of journey that you are describing. Right? And I love also how when you described your album cover, you created a tracklist that was also a reflection of your own emotional journey. And the beautiful thing about that is that once you have it written down, once you have it in a frame that you can appreciate from a distance, you can go back and look at it again. That you will always be able to go back and look at that first album cover to look at that shoot, and to say, "Okay, that is the snapshot of where I was then. Let's trace the distance between then and the now." I really think that that is so powerful. Another thing I find really powerful about your story is that a lot of times people say sewing is my therapy. I'm of the opinion that therapy is my therapy. But I do believe that sewing is therapeutic, the way that you were able to use your own creative process to silence, to kind of crystallize, to pull together, and to make your mind quiet by giving it a task, a creative task that says, "We will listen, I'm going to still my mind. And it's going to tell the story of what this piece wants to be." And it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful, beautiful jacket. The fringe is so - I just can't get past it. I just love that. I absolutely love that. The way that you have it exposed that the shoulder then at the same line is really beautiful.
Shorti J 21:53
That's on the collar, too. I don't remember how I did the collar at all. We were spaced out.
I mean they call that flow. I think when you're in the - it's like being in the flow, you are in a flow state. You are in a flow state. What do you want folks to get from the Infrospectiv brand? You've talked abut the benefits that your creativity has brought to you. What do you communicate when you are posting online? When you sell a commissioned piece? What do you hope to give to the person that is buying the piece, that is seeing your piece, that is consuming your art? What do you hope they gain from Infrospectiv?
Shorti J 22:35
What I hope viewers gain from my brand is the freedom of expression because that's literally what I'm doing within my work. And within my process. And every aspect of everything I do is just like, this is me expressing myself as an individual who's always been like, silenced and forced to not be able to express themselves. It's just like, "Nope, I'm not going to be quiet anymore. I'm going to do things my way. I don't care if you like it or not. This is me letting everything that's inside out. You can observe it and admire it, or you can hate it. It keeps growing."
And that by embracing your own creativity, and the multiple aspects of it, it's like you're inviting other people to do the same. And I also love how you're like, "You know what, it's not for everybody. And that's okay, they can keep it pushin'. They can keep it pushin'." But for those who it is for, there's a lot of joy in your work. There is absolutely a lot of joy. And I see that. And I'm so excited that you are just getting started. Can you talk about the commission piece that you recently completed? I think you had a friend modeling it for you because it was a bit too big for you to model.
Shorti J 23:48
Oh, it was significantly ... it was an XL. I was like, "On my five-foot-two self?"
So you found someone who was a little bit taller, a little bit broader in the shoulders and whatnot, and could fill it out in such a way that looked amazing. What was that process like to have another person model your work for you and see it from that point of view?
Shorti J 24:09
It was amazing because like at first, when I was making it, it was just like, "I don't know how well this is gonna lay on somebody." So I taught called my six-foot-one friend, the jacket was too big for him because it was made for somebody six-[foot]-four. So, honestly, that's my main concern because I was just like, "Is this gonna fit somebody six-[foot]-four?" And then I had my six-foot-one friend come, and I'm like, "If it's too big for him, it's gonna fit the person who's six-[foot]-four." Lo and behold, got it on my six-foot-one friend, and it was too big for him. I was like, "Praise God."
Shorti J 24:39
"Praise God." I'm like, I've never made that big before, and I was just like, "Lord?" and I also was like asking my great grandmother because she was a seamstress, and she's no longer with us. But I called on her. I was like, "Memaw, I've seen what you can do. Please guide my hands." She very much did guide my hands. And seeing the jacket on him, I was like, "This isn't terrible! This is actually really good.
Isn't terrible? Oh my gosh, girl, this is extraordinary!
Shorti J 25:07
First of all, I wasn't expecting my first commission to be two jackets. He didn't order one, he ordered two.
Shorti J 25:12
And I ordered all blankets together and he was like, "I want the other Keith Haring jacket, the one that has color," and he wants the Yellow Submarine.
Oh, I saw the Yellow Submarine. Oh my gosh, that was awesome! When you made the card, the Infrospectiv card, how it was a Yellow Submarine. Listen, this is someone who y'all ... Shorti J is incredibly detail-oriented, especially the 360-degree creative? She packaged that piece. And everything was interconnected. Everything went together so beautifully from the box that it went into, the card that she sent along with it, the stickers, all of the things that she made. It was just overall this gorgeous piece of art. But all of it was art, all of it. And I cannot wait to see what you do next. Because you're just getting going. It's really amazing to be at this beginning of your creative way. Are you really excited? I hope you are. That's a terrible question. Are you excited or are you very excited? I'm very excited,
Shorti J 26:19
I'm excited. I just don't have expectations for it. I'm just gonna go with the flow. Because when you have expectations for something, and they don't go the way you want them to, you get disappointed. So it's just like, just flow with it. Don't think about it too much.
And trust the process. And trust yourself. Trust yourself because you created this process. And so that's one of the things I love about "trust the process," especially when it's a process like yours which is so intuitive, and restorative, and ultimately beautiful, truly beautiful. What can we expect from you next? What do you have coming up around the corner? I would love to know if you could give us any kind of tips for thrifting. And no one can do what you do. Only Shorti J. I'm not trying to get you to tell us how to do what you do. But I would love to know when you walk into a thrift store, and you start to look around, what is shopping with Shorti J like at the Gwinnett Salvation Army?
Shorti J 27:16
I try not to be in there too long. Unless like I have time. If I have ample time, I'm checking every section thoroughly. If I'm pressed for time I walk around, and whatever pops out at me is what I'll buy. My thrifting processes is like I only buy things that I'm drawn to.
So you walk in, and then you head toward the linen section. And there's a yellow submarine blanket that has been well-loved, but is in need of more love. And there you are - ready to make it into magic.
Shorti J 27:46
That's actually my process. 'Cause with the quilt set that I made, I saw the quilt, I looked at the fringe at the bottom, I was just like, "this gonna be a nice jacket." And honestly, I made two jackets out of that, did two pairs of patchwork pants, made a pillow, I had a belt, and I still have scrap fabric that I'm still trying to figure out what to do with.
I love that. I really love that because for those of us who do make quilts, we sometimes wonder like what will happen to these after the person that we've given it to them, after they're done with it. You know? And the idea that you really are giving new life to old art. You're giving new life and new opportunity to these pieces through the renewal process of your art. I think that's absolutely beautiful. You really are doing a stunning, stunning work, and I'm so glad to talk with you today. Let me ask you our one last question. The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that we will help you get your stitch together. Shorti J, what advice do you have for our listeners today that will help us get our stitch together?
Shorti J 28:46
My advice to you is when you approach something or if you're just learning how to sew, be patient with yourself. Be patient with yourself. Everything doesn't need to be rushed. And if you rush your piece, or artwork, it's gonna be shitty. It's not going to be what you think it is. And just listen. Listen to your material. Listen to what it wants to be, because if you listen long enough, it'll tell you.
That is so beautiful. Thank you so much Shorti J, thank you so much for being with us today. Where can we find you on the socials to find out more about your work? Where can we find you?
Shorti J 29:19
You can find me on Instagram @cottoncandifro, candi is spelled with an "i" like Shorti J. Shorti is also spelled with an "i." You can find me on Tik Tok at shortidaartist, and there's a link to my customizations in my Instagram bio.
And we will make sure to have all of these links in the show notes so that when you all listen to this episode, you can scroll right on down and you can directly press all of these links so that you can find the amazing Shorti J for yourself. Thank you so much for being with us today. Thank you.
Shorti J 29:53
Thank you for this opportunity.
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.