Woolfork's 'Stich Please' discusses needle arts and antiracism

The year 2020 was characterized by the COVID-19 pandemic and uprisings against racial injustice. “Stitch Please,” a local podcast with global reach, was uniquely qualified to tackle both issues.

As demand for personal protective equipment eclipsed mask supplies worldwide, people turned to needle and thread to sew their own. Soon, sewing machines were sold out, too. At the same time, millions marched in the streets to protest police killings of Black Americans.

And each week, antiracist activist and sewing enthusiast Lisa Woolfork aired a new episode of “Stitch Please” to discuss sewing tips and social justice.

A University of Virginia English professor and fourth-generation sewist (a neologism for people who sew) with 25 years of experience, Woolfork founded Stitch Please in September 2019. Her vision for the show manifested in the aftermath of Charlottesville’s deadly Unite the Right rally in August 2017, during which Woolfork channeled “trauma and tragedy into a pathway towards hope and healing for Black women” and created the sewing group Black Women Stitch.

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Credit: Courtesy Lisa Woolfork

The podcast, Woolfork said, is a reclamation project. “Stitch Please” crafts a safe space for Black women creatives by centering and celebrating Black women, girls and femmes against the backdrop of a predominantly white sewing sphere.

As the show’s tagline proclaims, it’s “the sewing group where Black Lives Matter.”

“Though sewing, like other needle arts, is an African American ancestral practice, the sewing community, in general, fails to acknowledge Black women or prioritize our views,” Woolfork said.

“Stitch Please” — which is released every Wednesday on numerous podcast platforms — often features conversations with Black designers, sewists, printmakers and more. Most recently, Woolfork interviewed sewing blogger and Broadway actress Marcy Harriell.

Woolfork’s discussions of sewing and racial justice earned “Stitch Please” 10,000 podcast downloads in 2019. And in 2020 — which Woolfork calls “the year of the mask” — the podcast surpassed 120,000 downloads from listeners in 95 countries across six continents.

Listeners can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or on “Stitch Please’s” website.

“Stitch Please” is also among the inaugural cohort of SMART Cville’s Civic Innovation Fellowship program, which supports community-led projects with a $1,000 stipend. The project has been recognized with grant funding from the Center for Craft, too.

Although the pandemic has paused in-person sewing events, Woolfork is offering a Zoom sewing workshop in collaboration with the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center this week. 

“Get Your Stitch Together: A No-Sew, No-Cost Sewing Workshop” will occur at 3 p.m. Jan. 23. Participants can register on Facebook or through Google Forms.