Black History 365: Lisa Woolfork

In addition to her job as Associate Professor of English at the University of Virginia, Lisa Woolfork is a scholar, sewist, community organizer, and podcaster. She is the convener and 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. Photo Credit: Derrick J. Waller

In the summer of 2017, she became a founding member of Black Lives Matter Charlottesville. This group protested against the white supremacist insurgency that had taken hold of the city. She resisted in a variety of ways including nonviolent direct action, working with a bail fund for activists, sewing for a creative arts team, and participating in, and later co-founding, a media collective.  Her essay “‘This Class of Persons:’ When UVA’s White Supremacist Past Meets Its Future” was published in a collection of essays about the terror events in Charlottesville. 

Lisa was our Charlottesville SOUP winner in June 2019. She has spoken about the connections between Black liberation and craft for the Smithsonian’s African American Craft Summit, the Modern Quilt Guild, the Center for Craft, and more. Black Women Stitch is in the middle of a 100+ by 100th Patreon drive. Help her get 100 additional Patreon supporters by the 100th Stitch Please podcast episode on September 15, 2021. Photo Credit: Derrick J. Waller

Lisa is our third featured 2021 artist in our fifth 7x7x7 Series, which asks 7 questions to 7 Charlottesville artists and is published once a week for 7 weeks. This summer’s series is presented by The Seven Society and features artists affiliated with the University of Virginia.

If you had a free afternoon in Charlottesville what would you do or where would you go?

I would love to practice roller skating! It was one of my planned summer activities. And I have plans to make a cute rollerskating outfit for it. I need to practice my skills so why not look cute doing it.

Describe your artistic work in 7 words.

Cut. Pin. Baste. Stitch. Press. Stunt. Repeat. Photo Credit: Derrick J. Waller

Who or what inspires your current work?

I have been thinking through an idea that I am tentatively calling “forecrafting.” It describes a woman-based social and familial practice of legacy building in which craft practices (basketry, needlearts of sewing and embroidery) are deployed to navigate uncertainty and mitigate harm. The two figures that I’m looking to for inspiration in this are Jochebed (Moses’ mother from the Old Testament of the Bible) and Sally Hemings (enslaved by Thomas Jefferson who “negotiated” freedom for her children born from their sexual relationship). Both women knew that their children would face death (literal and social), so they created ways for them to be safer even if it meant that they might lose them.

Consider one piece you’re working on right now. Give us a snippet of your routine—from start to finish, what goes into making it?

I am working on tiny dresses for my tiny nieces. It is unusual for me to work in this scale. I usually sew for myself or my family. Until recently, if I was sewing for someone else, it was menswear (dress shirts, boxer briefs, shorts, jackets). But these little girls were wide-eyed about my studio so I let them choose fabric for dresses. The process is amazing me since they use such a small amount of fabric. I might get 2 sleeves from a third of a yard of fabric but I can get a whole dress for them. Photo Credit: Derrick J. Waller

What have you learned about yourself as a person through the experience of making art?

Sewing is precious to me. A gift. An ancestral practice. I can see myself aligned with my grandmothers and great-grandmother. I am doing some of the same gestures, techniques, and even using tools that they used. When threading a needle for handsewing, for example, I tie a knot like my Nana taught me.  It is affirming, reassuring, like when you see the traces of a beloved ancestor in your child’s face.  Photo Credit: Derrick J. Waller

What would you like to see happen in Charlottesville to better support artists in our community?

I’d like to see more Black-focused social and creative opportunities, more funding for Black artists to tell the story of Black Charlottesville. I’d like the community as a whole to take seriously the idea of dismantling the antiblackness that pervades too many institutions in our community.

What is currently on your studio/work desk? Photo Credit: Derrick J. Waller

The studio desk has patterns that I really wanted to work on until I put them on the desk and promptly ignored them. I am finishing up a leotard/bodysuit (nearly done) and there’s scheduling notes for the third quarter of the podcast. The Stitch Please podcast celebrates its 100th episode on September 15. We are hoping to get 100 additional Patreon supporters by the 100th episode. Join the fun and support for as little as $2 a month.