Valerie Goodwin: Quiltmaker. Worldbuilder.

0.75x 1x 1.25x 1.5x 2x 0:0000:38:28 Valerie Goodwin: Quiltmaker. Worldbuilder.


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Valerie Goodwin

Valerie S. Goodwin is a mixed-media fiber artist and architect whose works of fine art are included in museum and private collections. Most of her work is inspired by a love of aerial views of landscapes and cities. Many of her quilts are based on maps.

Goodwin’s art has moved through various stages, from traditional quilting to an interest in abstract expressionism, and, currently, it is inspired by real and imaginary landscapes and cities. In some cases, her work shows an architectural sense of space with an archaeological perspective.  In others, the network of the city and its built form is more prominent.  These compositions work on several levels, from close up and far away as if one was looking at it from above.

She received degrees in architecture from Washington University and Yale University. Her award-winning work has been widely published and exhibited. She also lectures and gives workshops nationally and internationally. For over 26 years, she taught architectural design at Florida A & M University.

Her book, Art Quilt Maps: Capture a Sense of Place with Fiber Collage-A Visual Guide is widely available.

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 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:

  • Valerie’s sewing journey
  • The connection between architecture and sewing
  • How Valerie is able to combine modern and analog techniques in quilting
  • How she settled on mapping as a form of visual expression
  • Valerie’s teaching methodologies
  • The importance of perseverance
  • Learning from our mistakes
  • Details about her retrospective exhibition
  • What Valerie is working on


Quotes from the show:

  • “I’d like to think that the DNA of both my maternal and cousin Hardy, is what has become part of my creative life” —Valerie Goodwin in “Stitch Please”
  • “I sewed up until I got to high school, and then peer pressure set in, and it wasn’t cool to do that anymore, so I stopped sewing altogether. I didn’t pick up sewing again until I was teaching architecture” —Valerie Goodwin in “Stitch Please”
  • “I taught myself how to cut fabric, I tested over 30 kinds of fabric: there are three settings (speed, frequency, and power), and so you need figure out all those settings” —Valerie Goodwin in “Stitch Please”
  • “Critique is a skill, that’s just my opinion. If you have to say things, say them in a nurturing way, although sometimes you have to be direct and challenging depending on who the student is” —Valerie Goodwin in “Stitch Please”
  • “I wish for myself that there were others around me that so that I can get that critic and I have to check myself a lot of times” —Valerie Goodwin in “Stitch Please”
  • “A lot of things that have happened to me in my life that have led me to what I am doing has kind of been happy circumstances, you know, coincidences” —Valerie Goodwin in “Stitch Please”
  • “I think perseverance is really important, and you have to be willing to make mistakes faster. Making mistakes is just as important as succeeding: you learn from your mistakes” —Valerie Goodwin in “Stitch Please”

Stay Connected:

Lisa Woolfork

Instagram: Lisa Woolfork

Twitter: Lisa Woolfork

Valerie Goodwin


LinkedIn: Valerie Goodwin

Instagram: @valeriegoodwinart

Facebook: Valerie Goodwin Art 

This episode was produced and managed by Podcast Laundry.

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.

Hello, everybody and welcome. Welcome. This is Lisa Woolfork and I am here with, as I say every week, a very special episode of the Stitch Please podcast, because this week we have Valerie Goodwin, art quilter, world builder, cartographer, I can't even think of any more words. We are going to hear from Valerie in her own words, but the structural elements of her quilting, as well as her Instagram page, if you follow Valerie Goodwin's Instagram page, you will learn that Valerie is a quilter, a creative genius, a teacher, a scholar, and someone who is committed to craft in many aspects of life, especially as I see it around questions and principles of design. Valerie, thank you so much for being here. And welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. Thank you.

Valerie 1:33

Well, thank you so much, Lisa. I've been looking forward to speaking with you for quite a long time.

Lisa Woolfork 1:37

I am so honored. I am so honored to even be on your radar. So thank you so much for that. Can we begin with a question about your sewing journey or your quilting journey? Where did it start? Were there twists and turns along the way? Or has it been a constant journey? How has your sewing coalesced with architecture and design in your current art practice?

Unknown Speaker 1:59

I think I'll try to cover all aspects of that question. If I miss anything, please let me know. I was born in North Alabama. My dad was a chemist, and he worked for a company that moved us around, and we kind of settled up north in Connecticut. Every summer my family- my mother, my father and my three other sisters- we would travel across the Mason Dixon Line down into Alabama to visit our grandparents. And my mother and my father's parents live in adjacent cities. And my maternal grandmother was a Home Ec. teacher, and she's the one who taught me how to sew. And so I learned to sew- I think I was probably about 10 years old. Interestingly enough, I just learned from my mother that it wasn't quite intentional, because my mother wanted me to make clothes for myself and for my sisters. She just told me that that was the plan. But fortunately, I took right to it. I started making Barbie doll clothes. I remember having that little bitty sewing machine. I don't remember, I guess you cranked it or whatever. I made little clothes for them. And gradually, she taught me how to make simple clothing. Me wanting to be creative at one point, I put aside the patterns. And I just made things that I know did not look very good- when I look back on it-, but anyway, we all wore them. At the time we really enjoyed wearing them. So that's how I started sewing through my maternal grandmother. And in addition, there was a cousin. Her name was Cousin Hattie. And she lived with my mother's family. And she helped keep house, because my grandparents both worked full time. She was an avid quilter. And she would quilt in the winter and piece in the summer. And she made hundreds of quilts. And she died a year or two before I was born. I never met her. But I like to think that the DNA of both my maternal grandmother and cousin Hattie are what has become quite a part of my creative life. So I sewed up until I got to I think it was high school. And then peer pressure set in, and it wasn't cool to do that anymore. So I stopped sewing all together. I didn't pick up sewing again until I was teaching architecture. And that was in I think it was 1998. And it was just happenstance. I read something called the Journal of Architectural Education. And in it there was an article written by a female professor of architecture, and she had her students study traditional quilt blocks, and they became [unclear] spaces that became architecture. And something about that just caught my attention. At that time I was teaching beginning design. And when you're teaching design, you have more leeway in terms of how you teach design and are taught much like you would see in landscape architecture programs or BFA programs or textile programs. It's the fundamentals of design.

Valerie 5:01

I first had my freshman students making quilt blocks out of paper and they made patterns. And it was great for me to teach them about organizational systems about color, about value and all those fundamentals of design. Just much like the woman in the article I read, she had them make a whole building. I was teaching freshmen, so they made small little structures that would house one small quilt. And so that was a way for me to teach them about circulation and human scale, a little bit about color, and you know, those things that architects are concerned with. Then I started teaching sophomore year level design. And so I had other more intricate, more elaborate, more challenging projects that started that way. What? Did you hear that?

Lisa Woolfork 5:48

I think that's your Siri. Your Siri is listening.

Valerie 5:50

Oh, okay.

Lisa Woolfork 5:52

Siri wants to participate as well. Siri says, 'This is great information. Can you say more?'

Valerie 5:56

Okay, well, she just said she didn't understand.

Lisa Woolfork 6:00

Well, I understand she is AI. She's just doing her best.

Valerie 6:05

So I had my students enter a competition that a very well known quilter had for students in all disciplines of design. The question was, what in your discipline would be the 20th century quilt? I introduced the sewing machine, I think, for the first time in architecture school. I had jocks sewing. I had, you know, women. I had nerds and all kinds of people making things. Some of them made things using the sewing machine. Some of them went to the shop and welded things. But my students won, I think, the first prize. They came in first place. And so my husband- he was also an architect- he looked at me and he said, It looks like you really are interested in this quilting. But you don't know how to quilt. Maybe you should do something about that.

Lisa Woolfork 6:56


Valerie 6:58

Yeah. And so, you know, I said, Yes. He has something there. So what I did was I took a six week class at the local community college, and we made what's called a sampler quilt. And so we use the same traditional quilt blocks that the students used in my class. And then from that article. And I made a quilt all by hand. I just fell in love with it. I knew immediately that I wanted to express myself, architecturally. And so that is what launched me on my journey to figure out how to work with fabrics, how to be expressive, how to bring in my point of view, about design, etc. How can I incorporate that in quilting?

Lisa Woolfork 7:42

Yes, it's such a beautiful story, because there are some folks who would imagine that architecture is rather antithetical to quilt making, that architecture is seen as, for lack of a better phrase, a hard- like you have the hard sciences and the soft sciences- it seems like architecture would be if anything, a hard art. There's something about the fundamentals and principles, as well as who has been able to enter into that space at all in the past. And so here you are a Black woman professor. Here you are bringing in and innovating and extending the reach of your students' imaginations, and extending what's possible for them in their design thinking. What do you think, as far as you've been able to tell, when you started teaching in that way? Did you notice any shifts in their understanding about design that came uniquely from what you were able to contribute to them? The fact that they won first prize for this competition is a clear sign that your method works and is incredibly effective. But what did you notice as their teacher, like watching them go through the process? Or Did you face any resistance? Or maybe not like fighting resistance, but just a little uncertainty or skepticism on their part?

Valerie 9:04

Well, even before I answered that question, I was reluctant to bring it into that realm of academia, because you know, counting is a domestic art. What am I doing as a quilter, bringing in something that you know, Betty Crocker might want to do? And so I was reluctant, you know, really to share that interest within that space. However, I was happy to see that it made me unique. And I didn't really have much pushback, as far as that is concerned. And then gradually, I saw that my dean gave me more leeway in terms of how to explore that interest throughout the curriculum, not only with freshmen and sophomores and so on, but all the way through the program up through the graduate school. I will say that when I was teaching a freshman studio, I had a young man come to me and he said, 'Why on earth would anybody want to take fabric, cut it up and put it back together again, what is the point of that? That was kind of an odd little funny thing

Lisa Woolfork 10:07

That is funny.

Valerie 10:07

somebody just asked me one day. But I would say that it became something that really made me stand out a little bit, apart from what some of the other people were doing. And I think a lot of the students and the faculty members sort of embraced what I wanted to do with it. I think that was because I was really serious about incorporating some of the pedagogy or some of the things that you would think about as an architect. How can I take those things and translate them into how I approach my work?

Lisa Woolfork 10:39

Yes. It's wonderful to see that what looks like a fearless abandonment of the rules and a whole new pathfinding started with a little bit of concern, but you did it anyway. And in the doing of it, you created something utterly unique and remarkable. And that, it seems like that's kind of continued to inform your practice moving forward. And one of the things I appreciate about your work is the way that you blend traditional techniques like analog with new technologies, like the digital. I'd love to hear about how that evolved for you. Because it seems like here you are in 1998. And you're, you know, just getting the students to think differently. And now you have this really rich relationship between materials and techniques that are very hybridized. It's like, you're not afraid to put anything together. It's really beautiful and inspiring to watch. Can you talk a bit about that evolution, or if it was an evolution for you?

Valerie 11:41

Oh, it was definitely an evolution. As I said before, I first learned how to make a quilt by hand, and I learned traditional techniques. And first, I tried to utilize those traditional techniques to do something that was quote unquote, expresses my architectural background. I found that it was restricting for me having to have seams and corners match, and all those sorts of things did not work well for me. And so I learned about fabric collage, and fusing, and I gradually started to incorporate mixed media techniques, using a little bit of paint. And so it sort of evolved, the more things I knew, the greater my area of exploration was. In addition to that, I started thinking about some of the things I was teaching my students, you know, particular things about design, thinking about design principles. A lot of times I will- consciously or even subconsciously- realize that I'm using those basic fundamentals to make decisions in terms of what I do. And then in addition to that, some ways of approaching design that you wouldn't think you would even want to think about expressing in your work. For instance, I was teaching what's called professional practice. And so that's where you teach students about the practice of architecture. As part of that historical background, there was a part where we talked about the Beaux-Arts School of Architecture over in Paris, and started to look at how they created their drawings and how they would compose things. And some of those ideas about composition were some of the things that I started to express in some of my work. I would also say that, for instance, when I would become Chair of some of the students’ theses, students who wanted to do something that related to fabric or clothing design, or whatever, I was the go to person. And so I would take on the challenge of seeing how they could take that design thinking, you know, like clothes construction, like Roshi and gathering, how they can take that methodology making form, how that can inform their architectural design. Some of that out of the box kind of thinking encouraged me to think about that in terms of my work. I would also say in terms of technology, we had something called a laser cutter in our school. And we got that maybe 10 years ago. I looked at the machine and I said, I think I can put fabric with that. What can I do with that? I taught myself how to cut fabric. I tested over 30 kinds of fabric. There's three settings. There's speed. There's frequency, and there is power. And so I can change all those settings to figure out how to cut without burning, how to cut smoothing, that sort of thing. So I narrowed it down to several fabrics that seemed to cut well. And the thing that I noticed is I should back up. At some point along the line I realized I like to hover above things. And I like the language of maps, the lines and shapes, but in particular the lines. And that made be wonder, ‘well, why didn't I even just study urban design? -because that's kind of what that's all about.’ But anyway, when I started cutting with the laser cutter, I realized that you could cut some really intricate lace like map lines. And that kind of pushed my work in another kind of direction and using other kinds of materials and so forth

That's a beautiful answer. And it actually dovetails really beautifully into my next question. How did you arrive at the approach of mapping as a form of visual expression, because when you just said you like to be above things, like to kind of look almost like a bird's eye view, that's what we see in a lot of your pieces. It's like you are sharing this vision with all of us. And I wonder how did mapping become part of your creative vocabulary or your creative approach.

I was traveling somewhere in a plane. And I looked out the window and I saw crop circles. And I was intrigued by those crop circles. And so I made a quilt for a niece of mine, kind of a simplified version of that, what I saw out my window. So from there on out, I just got really interested in the view from above, aerial views, views of real places, or of places that I would just sort of make up in my head. So that's how that began.

Lisa Woolfork 16:14

what I appreciated about so much and I want to show I'm looking at this piece from the African Burial Ground that you've created. And if you are a Patreon subscriber, you get to see this too.

And so yeah, you should totally get on the Patreon because we have so much exciting stuff like this. Black Women Stitch and the Stitch Please podcast is grateful for all the support that made SewBlack 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, Crimson Tate. So 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 donations of an audio interface. The Focusrite 18-I8. 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.

SewBlack is made possible by some amazing people on the Black Women Stitch team: Kristina Gifford, Jenell Velasco, Latrice Sampson Richards, Naomi P. Johnson, Shana Jefferson, Jill Bates Moore. Nikki Griffin, Coco Springer. Alicia Turlington and Adrienne Dent. And in full Snoop Dogg style, I'd like to thank myself for pulling this together and believing in me. Let's give it up for Lisa Woolfork.

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Can you talk a little bit about this piece, about what this represents? Because it looks to me both aerial, like to see the overview, but it also seems to shift perspective a little bit toward the bottom. Can you talk a bit about this piece, the African Burial Ground piece? The colors, all of it is just, it's very striking.

Valerie 18:52

Thank you. Let me go back to the comment I made about the Beaux-Arts, they call it Beaux-Arts, and how the students were taught to compose the drawings. And there was a technique called the analytique. It's A N A L Y T I Q U E. And that's where you would take views of a place, of work of architecture, from way above or zoomed in. You might even just do a really tiny detail. You would start to merge things or you would overlap things. And so what you see in this particular piece, it's me using some of those ideas. This is based on something that really happened in lower Manhattan. It was the early 90s, 1990s. A contractor/developer was building a high rise in lower Manhattan near the courthouse. They went down. They dug down. So New York City, it has layers. It has that today's layer. Then you go down you might have a 1950s layer. You would see sidewalks. You might see remains a building's 1800s And so they went down to the layer that was the 1700s, and it was the layer where- in that particular section- part of Manhattan, the Dutch lived there. The Dutch, of course, they had slaves. This particular part of town, the slaves would work. Some of them would work in the immediate city around the town green. And that's the triangular spot that you see on the left side, the kind of grayish-blue area. They would work there. Then there's the black line that goes diagonally across. That's the Palisades fence. That's what the word Palisades means. Fence. So they would go through this fence, this barrier.The Dutch gave the slaves this parcel of land above that fence line, to live and to plant and to bury their dead. So that was a spot where the slaves would go if they were allowed to travel that part of the city. But really, they were given that plot of land, because above that, to the north of that, was where the Indians lived. And the Indians and the Dutch were not on friendly terms. So if the Dutch were going to be attacked, guess who would be attacked first.

Lisa Woolfork 21:10

Right. 'Well, we'll put this human barrier...'

Valerie 21:13

Right, they were like a human barrier. Correct. On the right side of this piece, you see a map of lower Manhattan at a much larger scale. That's what that strip is. And then you see the city as it exists now. And you can kind of see the triangular shape is very similar on both sides. And I try to tell the story of today, and then back then, and then the bottom is my rendition of what the graveyard might have been like. And in the far back, you can see kind of ghosted figures of the slaves. You see the grave stones, you decide it's anchored by an image of a slave on the left, and then the Statue of Liberty on the right.

Lisa Woolfork 21:52

Yes, it's such a powerful piece. And it reminds me of lots of things at once. I think that there are a lot of folks who don't know that New York was very popular in the slave trade, and that a lot of enslaved people were held captive and enslaved in New York, in New York City in Manhattan. Sojourner Truth, for example, Sojourner Truth, the one that people think said, 'Ain't I a woman' was from this area. She was Dutch. She was enslaved by a Dutch family. Her first language was Dutch. She spoke English with a Dutch accent for the rest of her life. But she gave that speech that 'Aren't I a woman' speech, and a white lady in the audience translated it into what she thought of as authentic Black speech. That's why we all hear, 'Ain't I a woman', and think that Sojourner Truth said it, when in fact, because her first language was the Dutch and her English was not southern because she was from Manhattan and from New York, she said, 'Aren't,' and so what I appreciate about this story is that we can see all of these things at one time. And that what you have given us in this piece is the capacity to see the layers as well, when most folks are just walking around a place. We only see the now except for 'remember when JC Penney's used to be over there in that mall?' whatever like that kind of thing we might have. But we don't have a 100 year view, or a 200 year view, or 300 year view, like you have created here. Our vision is so limited. And what I love about what you've done here is that our ancestors, the Black folks who came here before us to make our lives here, even possible, will not be forgotten. They will not be forgotten, because you will not allow that and that you have been able to create and build work that is also a new form of permanent. And I think that this piece holds that together just so so powerfully. And it's just one of the many just amazing things about you and about your work. And I'm going to take the slide down, and they will bring up another one in a second. But I wanted to ask about permission to fail, you are now allegedly retired. And yet, you are still teaching. You're still quilting. You're still living doing amazing things out in the world. I just thought about, even in retirement with your amazing workshops, what are some of the tools that you return to with your students again, and again? I'm thinking about the permission to fail in order to learn, like it's okay to make mistakes, having critique be part of the learning process, and how critique is an important element. But you also create for yourself and your students a relaxed and self-guided form too. So you're just incredibly skillful, right, between design and architecture and quilting, and you braid that together so seamlessly. And I wonder if you could share any lessons or any kind of little things that you might do in the classroom or things you might do with your own art practice that we could benefit from. And I was thinking about specifically the permission to fail or about how it's important to incorporate critique into your process- rather than after it's all done, but as you're going?

Valerie 25:16

Well, that's a very good question. Because art is a very individualized and kind of a solitary activity. Especially me being retired, I'm not out in the world like I used to be. But when I was teaching, critique was part of the learning experience. And it was part of how students learned from what they did wrong, and how they might think about it in a different way. Critique is a skill. That's just my opinion. I think you have to say things in a nurturing way. Or though sometimes you may need to be much more direct and challenging depending on who the student is. But you have to make the students understand that that is just another teaching methodology, another way for them to further the lessons that they should have learned, that you were trying to impart to them, when they were working on a project. I like to bring that in to the fold when I teach quilting classes. And so I think that a lot of students may not get that kind of back and forth in some classes. Sure, lots of classes do that. But I think that's really important to force people, to get them to think about things a different way, and just have a kind of a back and forth. The thing that I wish for myself that there were others around me so that I could get that critique. And I have to check myself a lot of times and to step back and look at my own work. And really think about, well, what are you trying to do? Why isn't this part work? What can you do differently, that sort of thing. I really wish that I had that right now. And I wish sometimes I had that interaction out in the world with my architecture students. I've been doing a lot of online teaching. And I try to create a setting where I can do a little bit of that virtually. But there's nothing like being able to do that in person.

Lisa Woolfork 27:07

And I'm thinking about, I guess what I wanted to share was the cover of your book; Art, Quilt, Maps: Capture a sense of place with fiber collage, a visual guide. I'm looking at this, and again, once again, stunned, because it seems like what you have created is giving people this powerful invitation to share in the vision that you have, through this process. Not everyone will be able to be your student in a class. It's just not possible. But everyone can get this book. And I wondered if you could talk a little bit about what the book meant for you, and what some of the excitement or challenges or learnings that you had when putting the book together.

Valerie 27:52

An experience that I had making this book is that it made me really reflect on my work and my process and what I do and how to really think about it in an organized fashion that could be understood and imparted to anyone who was interested in this. And so it really helped me to clarify what I was doing and clarify what I felt was important about my work and about the process. And I was happy that I was able to have three chapters that really illustrate process. The three different projects that if students are interested in trying it themselves, it's a step by step in each of the chapters that deal with that. The other thing that I enjoyed doing was to honor my grandparents and my parents in terms of what they did for me growing up and kind of encouraging me, what they meant to me as an artist. And so that really warmed my heart to be able to do that.

Lisa Woolfork 28:49

I was so happy that you mentioned your family because it might be- maybe this is part of the asset to this next question. Your workshops and your art do lots of many things. But one phrase I'm really captured by that you said is that you are invested in "empowering transformational relationships," empowering transformational relationships, the relationship to place, exploration of narrative, manifesting coexisting multiplicities. It just makes me curious as to how you arrived at this idea of empowering transformational relationships? It seems like it requires a certain type of awareness to be able to see in the way that you do and I'm wondering who helped shape this idea for you? Was this something that you have always had or it wasn't something that was contributed- like maybe your parents helped to shape it? Of course, you can't really say 'what is the secret to being Valerie Goodwin?' That's not an answerable question, but I am really excited about and I love the phrase 'empowering transformational relationships,' I think takes a special kind of person to prioritize that. And so I was just wondering how you arrived there.

Valerie 29:57

I think you have to empower yourself, and so I think that it took something for me to empower myself to try these things that maybe no one had ever tried. None of this was really intentional on my part. I didn't know that I was going to go in this direction. I didn't even know that I wanted to study architecture. I didn't even know architecture was a profession until I got to college and I wandered into a studio, and I saw people doing stuff that looked like stuff I wanted to do. And so I changed majors. That was just to say a lot of things that have happened to me in my life that have led me to do what I'm doing, have been just kind of happy circumstances, just coincidences that have kind of pushed me along. The thing that my dad used to always tell me, 'Valerie, you work really hard, but maybe you should just work smart.' But I've always been a person who had a lot of perseverance, and I would just tackle things, and I would just push through them until I understood them, would be stubborn enough just to push myself along to do whatever it was I wanted to do. I think perseverance is really, really important. And you have to be willing to make mistakes faster. Making mistakes is just as important as succeeding. You learn from your mistakes. The faster you make those mistakes, perhaps the faster you will improve and move along in your journey. And so that's part of the perseverance is being willing to accept the mistakes and learn from them and hopefully move on to something else, something that you've learned from.

Lisa Woolfork 31:32

I really appreciate that, because it has that sense of, even within your process, there is resiliency. You're meant to do it, get it wrong, that's fine. Try again, get it wrong, try again. Okay, that's a little bit better. That, I think, is the type of really powerful perseverance that I think I am learning from this process that you're describing. It really is so vibrant and so necessary. And I think we have this perfectionist type age, or maybe it's just different personalities where people want the perfect outcome. They don't care about the process. They don't care how long it takes- they want it to be fast, ideally- but the outcome is the priority. And it's like, if the outcome is the priority, it seems like you're putting the cart before the horse, because you don't get any outcomes without a process. And that process is going to take the time it takes.

Valerie 32:20

And you have to have joy in that process, right? I have complete joy when I'm in my studio, and I feel like I'm on to something. And I can just spend that time and zone out and just enjoy, you know, moving the needle through the fabric or brushing that pain along the surface, or cutting that thing out, or ripping that thing out and putting it back together again. I mean, what a wonderful experience sometimes.

Lisa Woolfork 32:45

Oh, yes. And it feels like time stopped for you. Like I could absolutely be in here working on something and three hours have gone by and I didn't even realize, or it's like, 'Oh, wait, the sun is going down?- Wait, the sun is out now?'

Valerie 32:59

Yeah, that happens. I have to admit that now that I've gotten older I don't spend as much time as I used to. But yeah, this is my little oasis in this space that I'm in right now.

Lisa Woolfork 33:10

Yeah, I wonder if we could talk a little bit- as we're starting to wrap up-about your retrospective. You had a retrospective exhibition a little while ago in 2022. Can you talk a bit about that? How many years- was it 20 years of work- that you were talking through?

Valerie 33:25

It started? That's 1998 was the oldest piece all the way through to last year. I mean, it was amazing to be in a space and to see your work that way. And to see it in a comprehensive way, and to see where you started and where you were in the middle of this journey, and so on. And so it was quite an experience to have, to see your work that way.

Lisa Woolfork 33:51

I mean, you're walking through decades of your stitching, you're painting, your growth. Did you have any surprises yourself as you were walking through the studio space? And like, basically, it's kind of like a walk down memory lane kind of? -or did it feel...? Ma'am, girl, I do not know. I do not have any retrospective of anything. So I have no idea what that would be like. All I got are some old outfits that I have made and absolutely love. So if somebody put them on a wall in a museum, I'm sure I would be delighted. What was the sensation like walking through? You're like 'I did this?!"

Valerie 34:25

Yeah. You kind of pat yourself on the back a little bit. Yeah, have to puff your chest out a little bit. It was interesting as they wanted me to fill the wall with more stuff. And there were things that I thought that weren't any good. But I pulled them out and I put them on the wall. And those were some of the works that people responded to the most. And so that was really interesting to me to see that, and then to think about maybe I want to revisit some of those things that I didn't think were as successful. Maybe there's something, some kind of focus or something I can garner from that.

Lisa Woolfork 34:56

Oh, that sounds fantastic. Oh, that's a great idea. And that goes to one of our last questions. What are you working on now? And who do you wish to touch most with your work?

Valerie 35:05

Well, the last question is a hard question. But...

Lisa Woolfork 35:08

I know. I know. But also, just like all the questions, you cannot answer any of these questions wrong. All of your answers are the right answer.

Valerie 35:16

You can see what's behind me?

Lisa Woolfork 35:18

Yes, I've been staring at it the whole time. Oh, my gosh.

Valerie 35:22

So that is a piece that it's very meaningful to me. I've been working on it since 2020, I guess. And is about the place that I told you about that I would visit where I learned to sew.

Lisa Woolfork 35:33

Yes, in Alabama,

Valerie 35:35

This is a map of that part of the city, Tuscumbia, Alabama. It's got an image of the house that my grandmother lived in. It's got an image of each of them when they were young and when they were older. There was a poem that we would see in the den that was on the wall of the house by the side of the road. I mean, so it's really quite meaningful for me. I want to get it done. I want to give it to my mother. So that answers that question, I want to touch somebody, in this case somebody that really, really means a lot to me. And I think that she will be really overcome and really amazed to see this piece when I get it done

Lisa Woolfork 36:12

Just from me staring at it for the last 40 minutes. I'm like, 'That is a family history right there.' What I'm looking at is a family map. I don't know who, but I know this is a family map. This is clear, that this is a family home. These are images that are taken like military service, and formal photography, and all of these things are coming together just from this distance. Like I'm seeing it from far away, and it's still incredibly moving. And again, if you are a Patreon person, you can see it too, because it's amazing. And now the last question that we ask everybody that the slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that 'we will help you get your stitch together.' Professor Valerie Goodwin, can you please tell us how we might get our stitch together?

Valerie 36:55

This is what I have to say. One should have eyes that can see, really taking what's around you. There's inspiration everywhere. There's inspiration in the smallest thing, inspiration, if you look back at something at a large scale view,... you just really have to soak in what's around you and learn how to look at it. And learn about those things. You learn about what you're attracted to, and maybe you can find out something that will inspire you, becomes part of your style or gives your work meaning. I think that's a quote from the Bible. Do you know?

Lisa Woolfork 37:25

I don't know. But if you say so I'm gonna say yes.

Valerie 37:29

Yes. So one should have eyes that can see.

Lisa Woolfork 37:31

And on that note, thank you so much for being with us today. This has been incredibly generative, and so rich, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Valerie 37:42

Thank you so much, Lisa.

Lisa Woolfork 37:46

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 firms 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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