Listen to the episode
History of the Ao Dai – The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast
Patterns & Designers mentioned
Billie Dress by Tabitha Sewer
Mindfully Made – Luxe Cotton Labels by Intensely Distracted
Verano Tank & Dress by Christine Haynes
Learn more about Workroom Social
Jennifer: You guys are a little younger than I am, I think but do you know about the whole frosting versus cake debate?
Ada: Like sew frosting? Yeah, yeah,
Jennifer: I would rather sew pretty things.
Nicole: I think I’m a frosting
Jennifer: and also wear pretty things.
Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast the Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community. In this podcast we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies. I’m your co-host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own all natural skincare business called Chuan Skincare, that’s C-H-U-A-N, and sharing my marketing tips on my blog, The Cultivate Method. Most importantly for this podcast, you can find my sewing at @i.hope.sew on Instagram.
Nicole: And I’m your co-host Nicole. I’m based out of Chicago, Illinois, the original homelands of the Council the Three Fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m Filipinx American woman and a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @NicoleAngelineSews.
Ada: So before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole can you tell us about your current sewing project?
Nicole: Yeah, I am working on another summery dress even though by the time this comes out we will be at the start of fall, and it is the Tabitha Sewer Billie dress which is a sleeveless dress which is like a slight A-line and it comes down to just pass the knees with a ruffle at the bottom. I made it last year as a trial I guess I think I was just excited to make it because it’s really cute but I ended up taking it in a lot from my measurements so it’s supposed to be super oversized and for me I oversized items I like to bring them in a little bit because I like to include my the silhouette of my body and the items so I haven’t cut the fabric yet but I did take a look at the pattern itself after like I taped up this pattern last year and it I don’t know if you’ve ever like how do you store your taped patterns.
Ada: I’ve started getting into thrifting three inch binders, like those big ones that you get for school, and then using those, I know they’re terrible for the environment but those plastic cover sheets so I slipped each set of each pattern basically all the pieces into one and I fold it up and I should get better at labeling the sheets but so far it’s one binder for pants one fine for like jackets and like kind of like that.
Nicole: Yeah that’s how I started to I’ve moved to manila envelopes but I can’t ever really get the maybe it’s just how I tape so maybe we need to do like a segment on pattern taping like what do we all do? Because I could learn from a few people but after I tape it I try to fold it and it’s never like neat and nice so I had to I didn’t want to iron it because I know I’ve ever like ironed your pattern pieces?
Ada: Yeah I also like tape too, and it didn’t play well. It was not, it was not good.
Nicole: Okay, so I tried to iron it and then it was a printer paper anyway so I had to lay it out for a few days and I was also a bit scared of melting the tape even though I was going to use like the super lightest because I’ve done the tissue paper ironing so anyway the stage is I am currently it’s ready to go it took the pattern down a couple of sizes because I’m not a tracer I like to break the rules a little bit although that’s probably like my worst sewing habit is not tracing so I cut that down and so I’ll be cutting the fabric soon which is actually this fabric here behind a it’s just like a an unnamed woven but you know tropical vibes and summery even though it’ll be almost October probably by the time this comes out.
Ada: Gotta get that summer sewing in.
Nicole: At the end of summer that’s how I roll. What are you working on Ada?
Ada: I mean the same, not the same pattern. It’s still summer sewing even though it is about to get cold here. So I have been on like a tracing kick lately tracing my own clothing like ready to wear and so I made some pajama shorts which are like the decidedly most unsexy kind of pink but I had that half yard. It was about a half yard yeah scrap of like to kind of terry like material that like felt like it would be a really good kind of sleep wear thing. And I don’t have that many pajama shorts I traced some regular old Under Armour running shorts and made some comfy pajama shorts, I made it into an elastic waist without the drawstring because I hate those for sleeping. Like that’s just annoying. And I skipped the pocket because I didn’t really feel like making extra pieces. And I didn’t have to finish the leg opening because they naturally do that like kind of curling up thing. And it seemed to hold through my pre wash. So I’m hoping that it will be fine. Otherwise, like I do on a serger, so it’s fine. And I managed to get the this was the crowning achievement part of finishing these shorts, I managed to get my serger to stay threaded for the entire project which, it being a 30 year old thrifted serger. Sometimes the tension knobs are not very accurate, and it probably needs to be recalibrated, blah, blah, all that stuff, it comes unthreaded all the time, it’s a pain in the butt. So I got that through. And then I put a label on from Intensely Distracted, Simone that says mindfully made because it was mindfully made. And now I don’t have to go get new pajama shorts, so I’m excited to wear them around the house and not outside.
Nicole: Very cool. Can I ask you a serger related question? And that’s Yeah, I know you’ve made it sound like it’s gonna be exciting. It’s definitely not.
Ada: I don’t know, if I’ll know the answer. Maybe our guest will know the answer.
Nicole: So I have a serger that I purchased like last fall, and it’s still one like on the market to Brother serger. But I hate surging wovens with it. Because I swear it just doesn’t maybe it’s I mean, now I’m judging by your face. It’s probably user error. But for whatever reason, it just doesn’t want to stick with me through a project. So yeah, maybe I’ll ask Jennifer at the end of our interview to see if she can give me some tips, but that he sounds like you serge wovens just fine.
Ada: Yeah, I mean, it’s a my first gut reaction is that tension is always my issue. So maybe it’s a tension or is it chewing up your woven?
Nicole: It just it comes unthreaded. Because when you said I’m like it stayed threaded, I was like, I have that problem when I serge wovens. And I have no idea why.
Ada: Yeah, that’s what I read online. I was like, I was literally about to resell this thing. Like I can’t figure it out. And I don’t want to spend think I spent 80 bucks on this serger. So it was like a really good deal really good, find. But the amount of frustration it has cost me and it’s like I’m gonna just chuck it out the window. And I think it was partially thread quality, like you have to have good quality thread, which I know you have. And then everyone else was like it’s your tension, adjust your tension, and it could be too tight, too loose. And so I played with those knobs a little and turned the tension down because I have them all the way up. And I think that actually played better with the new better thread that I put into the machine.
Nicole: Well I’m going to ask that our listeners provide their thoughts because now when you said you probably have good thread, maybe I do I don’t know. Maybe I do. Maybe I don’t. But maybe we’ll do maybe we’ll do a serging q&a or something. But yeah, listeners if you have any advice for me, I am soliciting the advice this time. We are so happy to welcome our guest today Jennifer from Workroom Social, a sewing studio based in Brooklyn, New York. Workroom Social provides sewing classes and events to teach people how to sew clothes that fit their individual styles and their unique body shapes and sizes. So welcome, Jennifer.
Jennifer: Hello. Thank you for having me.
Nicole: Now for any listeners tuning in today who are new to you. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Jennifer: Hi, I’m Jennifer from Workroom Social, as you said, I’m based in Brooklyn, I have a sewing studio where I used to host classes year round. We are currently as of August 2021, still closed due to COVID. And then I also produce to large scale sewing retreats Camp Workroom Social, and I am excited to report that this Fall 2021. Our fall event is back. So hooray for that. And we also have a spring event that is at the end of April called Wardrobe Week. And I’ll go ahead and tease I’m working on a third summer retreat for sort of like early summer, so stay tuned for that. But yeah, I really I’m here to help people so they’re own clothes. So as I’m listening to you guys talk about your projects, I just have all the ideas for you. But in addition to classes, I also produce a small line of fashion sewing fabrics, some of which are behind me, and they’re all original designs. And currently they’re all 100% rayon. And I have an online class called Sewing Patterns Mastered, where I walk students through how I think about using sewing patterns to create clothes that I actually want to wear and who knows what else be next. I don’t know.
Ada: And we’ve talked a little bit about this, but you’re also a Taiwanese American.
Jennifer: I am. Hooray.
Ada: Do you mind sharing a bit more about your identity?
Jennifer: Yeah. So for listeners at home, Nicole and Ada sent me some pre questions just to kind of say, this is what we’re going to talk about. And that was one of the questions. And I, I’m not totally sure how to answer it. And so I thought it would be a fun thing to kind of share that and talk about that, I think. And Ada as also Taiwanese American, growing up, I grew up in the primarily in the US, my father was in the military. So we actually grew up in the Philippines when I was a small, small child, and then moved about like mid secondary school. So like, around the age of 10, back to the US, and I had no concept at that time of like, what a country was or what the state was, or like, it was all very confusing to me. And I just remember, like coming to the US and having to fill out all these forms, like in the new school and stuff like that. And like my dad, who is white, explaining to me how I fill out these forms. And he was always teaching me that I fill them out that I am Chinese American. So I grew up always saying that I was Chinese American. And then as I got older, and I learned about countries, and you know, my mother’s from Taiwan, and then I remember asking her, wait, but mom, dad says that I’m Chinese, but you’re from Taiwan, so am I Taiwanese? And then that she, she never really explained it to me. So then starts the sort of education about like nationality, versus ethnicity, and all of these things that are very complicated. And then for this episode, I actually went and did a little bit of reading, and learned about how Taiwanese as a classification of ethnicity was sort of brought into popularity in the 70s 80s. So all very interesting, as far as how I identify, or how I move through the world, I have always identified as Asian. Now, as an adult, I understand that as a mixed American that I am white presenting, or I can be white presenting, which was really an interesting thing to grapple with personally, because I never, I never realized that or I never identified in that way. And so learning about how you identify yourself can be different than how others identify you was just really fascinating. And, you know, it made me think back to two things. One, it made me think about growing up as a child, and how a lot of things I think that happened in a public environment as a child, are. I think I was always sort of naive. And I interpreted things in a way that always centered on how I thought and felt versus how someone else thought and felt about me, which looking back as a child that was great. So when classmates would call me chinky winky. They were not doing it out of love. But for me, because I so strongly identified as Asian, and I was oblivious to that. I don’t know, people could not like me for the way that I look. I kind of was like, Oh, I’m special. You know, thinking back on those things. It’s a very interesting thing to think about the way I don’t know like how your identity plays with like, how you feel about yourself, and sort of like, it’s all just so complicated. And then the second thing that I have started thinking about is how my identity plays a role. Now as a craft, an owner of a craft based business, where, to me it feels like many times I am the only or one of the only non white people in my community and how that has made me feel in different situations and how it has made me respond in different situations how it’s made, how I’ve been able to perceive whether real or not the way other people interact with me in certain situations are all super interesting and to say publicly, like all something that I think about every day and grapple with every day.
Ada: So when we met in real life, which was fantastic, a few weeks ago, we talked a little bit about we talked a lot, actually about all of this and kind of how your relationship with your identity has changed over time. And I thank you for elaborating for our audience, because they think for many people listening, they’ve gone through something similar, or maybe are going through something similar. But I guess I’m curious, you know, you brought up being someone who owns a business runs a business makes their living off of the sewing and crafting industry. And I’m curious, can you elaborate more on how that comes up being the only person of color in these spaces and maybe how your identity intersects a little bit with your sewing or even with your business?
Jennifer: Yeah, I, it’s hard to I mean, I think the most helpful thing would be specific examples, which are difficult to recall in a moment, but I think one of the most interesting things that I have encountered is that because I can be white presenting, I think there are times when the, if I am the only non white person in a circle, I, I feel like sometimes people forget that I do not identify as white. And that experiences that I have had throughout my life are that of a person of color, specifically Asian. And it has led to several situations where I have had to voice that, like I have had to be vocal about that and explicit about that and explain to people, I do not operate in the world the same way that they do, which let me tell you has caused some uncomfortable situations. For me, and for them, I’m sure I, the one thing that I feel is that I always want to leave space for people to grow, and to change their minds, including myself, you know, I am learning about all kinds of new things every day. And I do not function in the world in the same way that either of you to do, or that some of my other friends do. And so, at least in the situations that I’ve had with groups where I was the only non white individual, even through that discomfort, I will say 99% of the time, everyone is very gracious, and I hope I think learn something and moves forward. You know, having changed just a little bit, which is really great. Now how does my identity intersect with my sewing itself? I’m not totally sure. One thing that and Ada and I talked about this when we met each other one thing that I’ve really been so excited to do and have been researching for years, some of my friends on the internet will recall me like setting them one off messages asking questions about I have always wanted to make a qipao for myself. And my family. My mother said a family they’re all still in Taiwan. And we use pre COVID we would visit every other year essentially. And I have some great fabric that I wanted to make a dress out of. I’ve had it probably in my stash for 10 years, but I’ve been trying to find like a pattern that I can adapt. But then you know, I don’t know very much about the history of the dress or the specifics of the dress. All I know is that every single one I’ve ever tried has never fit me. So I’m like, I want to make one for myself. And so I haven’t pulled the trigger on purchasing a pattern because it’s all the patterns that have been recommended to me or have not felt right, except that Ada and I talked about a pattern by
Ada: Porcupine Patterns from Singapore.
Jennifer: Porcupine Pattersn! So I have looked at that and that might be, that might be the winner.
Ada: Yay, it will not be it has not come out yet. But by the time this episode is out, episode 1 of season 2 is all about the history of like the making of qipao or cheongsam for all of for all of our Cantonese listeners. So I can’t wait for you to listen to that one.
I have to listen that. First, before I start on the project.
Ada: You could wing it. That’s what sewing is about, right? It’s changes.
Jennifer: I gotta make my mom proud though. So I got to do a little research ahead of time.
Ada: I was going to say that being the only person of color even though you are white presenting in spaces, I guess I’ve never had that personal experience. But I’ve had the experience of being the only person of color around white people and specifically like being East Asian, listeners can’t see I’m like gesturing at my face. But being East Asian sometimes because of the way that the model minority myth is used and how white supremacy works. The adjacency of East Asian-ness in particular is something that I have experienced. And so certain white friends or white colleagues or you know, white people would just assume that I would have the same viewpoint and I would just be like, Uh, no, this is really awkward and really weird because I’m not even anywhere like on the spectrum of melanated close to where I feel like if I had been any more melanated you wouldn’t have said that but I’m here now you’re saying that and that like I it’s always awkward and uncomfortable and I feel like you then kind of feel like the duty to say something but also like, why is this happening to me a lot of the time.
Jennifer: I feel that a lot and I am not someone who in any way enjoys or goes into situations of conflict so unwillingly and there have been many times where I have felt like I’m like looking around I’m like, “Is someone gonna do something” and then I’m like, no, that means I need to do something, “Oh god this is so stressful. Okay, here I go I’m doing the thing! Why me? I’m not equipped for this!”
Ada: Yeah, I I can certainly empathize with being the only person in the room and then being like uhhhh
Nicole: It’s been a while since it’s like that’s how I mean I guess at least it’s the pandemic because I’m usually the only person in the room anyway, but like, I grew up in a similar situation where in the suburbs of Chicago and I had a lot of I did have a lot of Filipino friends but and maybe Ada you and I have talked about this where it felt I remember growing up feeling like everyone wants to talk about being Filipino I just want to be American. I don’t want to talk you know, like I just want that experience like I guess you could say that I just wanted to have that white American experience. And it’s you know, I love my friends but I also felt like whenever would be like yeah Filipino pride I’d be like you know “That’s so embarrassing,” now I’m like yes take me everywhere like I’ve got some catching up to do to learn about myself and I felt like I also went to college and law school in predominantly white areas. And I think that I was only so first of all, I was exotic and that was a thing but I my vow like my experiences as a Filipino American person weren’t they didn’t matter until it was to point out that I was different and I feel like you know as listening to the both of you speak it’s it’s like I don’t get to bring my experiences I only get to bring my food and my dance and you know, like I don’t just those those items from my culture that are obviously different from whatever white American culture is, you know, and and that you know, looking back on it, it was frustrating in it. And to your point Jennifer about I don’t want to have to be the one to have to say this like, like, what like it’s exhausting to be the person to have to fight for validity just as a whole human being in a room full of usually white people. And so as an adult now I’m just like, I don’t have energy for this. And it’s unfortunate because I think that I do want to change I would love to change hearts and minds, but it’s difficult to balance you know, the frustration with the energy expenditure for doing that, you know, and saving some for me And you know, so do I have the gentle but firm and certainly awkward conversation? Or do I just say I can’t, I can’t, I’m out of here, I’m going to go somewhere where I can be a whole person without being without having to be tokenized it anyway, I don’t know.
Jennifer: That is super stressful. Well, it just makes me think about this has nothing. I mean, it all has to do with sewing because our lives intersect in many complicated ways. However, specifically, I’ve done a lot of travel in my life, I am lucky that I have been able to. And the one thing that I really feel as an adult, is that at the end of the day, I am so American. And so when you talk about like, you just wanted that American experience, I actually had the opposite. Like, my mom really wanted us to be American, she wanted us to not, she wanted us to fit in. So there’s like a culture of parents who I’m a little older than you guys. But there’s a culture of immigrant parents, I think that just wanted their children to fit in. So we did not grow up learning anything about our culture, or heritage or anything, no language, no holidays, no customs, no nothing. So I feel that I feel like I wish that I had that. But the thing that I feel is that I am so American, we are also American, like you could not dump me anywhere else. And I would fit in impossible. Like, yeah, I am American and so that, you know, it’s just so stressful to to feel like this is my home, this is where I belong. This is my whatever we have this is my country family, or like what however we call that? And why do some people not like me or not think that I am one of you like it’s feels very, very confusing.
Nicole: Why do you have to prove that you are you belong here when you clearly do like? I yeah.
Jennifer: I so that’s what I thought about when you’re talking about that, like you just wanted to, you know, you shouldn’t have to prove yourself.
Ada: That’s why when people tell me go back to where you came from, which still happens today. I just go, “Okay, so like to New Jersey”, New Jersey gets kind of a bad rep across all 50 states, DC and Puerto Rico anyway. So yeah, I don’t think that’s what you like, I’ll usually just be like, so that’s like, really what you meant, hmm. And it’ll just make the awkward situation even more awkward. But I agree. It’s, I think especially traveling outside of the US and Canada, even Mexico, like North America, like all the times I’ve been to continental Europe, if I go shopping, or to a restaurant. They’re like, it’s probably gotten better in the last few years. But I remember distinctly it being like an issue of your face looks like this. So we expect you to act like this and sound like this. Like, I mean, I can use Chinese, I don’t think you can use it back with me. So it just be a fruitless conversation, like let’s just use English. And getting very confused looks a lot of the time. And it’s interesting, I think just to think about how that continues to evolve and how the experience continues to evolve. Obviously, no one is really traveling right now. And I kind of wonder, like, what will that experience be like, after? or whatever it is to kind of do that again.
Nicole: I have a question for Ada. And maybe we can cut this out because I don’t want to take the focus off of you, Jennifer, but maybe it’s like a good conversation. So I’ve been speaking to some people about and listening to a podcast called Asian Enough from the LA Times. And a guest I think is Dante Bosco, the Filipino American actor said that when you go to San Francisco or the Bay Area or Hawaii, that you don’t feel it’s like the few places in America where you don’t feel out of place as an Asian person were like, I spoke to somebody you know, and she had said, your Asianness isn’t questioned in these places. You’re like Jennifer said, You can’t drop me in the Philippines and expected people to believe that I’m from there even if I spoke the language perfectly like it’s just not what happened. So I don’t know eight I know you’ve lived that you lived in the Bay Area for a while. Do you feel like that was your I felt like that? When I visited for the first time, I was like, wow, like this is cool. Like, I feel like me being Filipino. Like, it doesn’t matter in the way that it makes me stick out and like make people do a double take to wonder if I actually belong in this space. Did you feel like that and in the Bay Area?
Ada: I don’t know, I guess kind of, but I would say that my experience was more formed even earlier than that, like I grew up in central New Jersey, and at a time when white flight was taking place. So the town that I grew up in, Edison, is very well known in Asian circles now, for being one of the highest concentrations of Indian population outside of India. And like in the world, you can just in New Jersey, or the states, like, if you talk to anybody, they’ll be like, Oh, yeah, I know, somebody from there. Like, I know, like, this is where we go to shop. There is a heavy East Asian presence there, too. And growing up, I remember I went to public school for kindergarten. And it was me, and a family friend who was also Taiwanese American, and a whole class of like white Jewish kids. And by the time I got to like fifth grade, we started having, like, I remember, some of my friends were Korean American or Chinese American. And then when we got to middle and high school, you really started to see a pronounced change, because like Edison used to be home to a Ford Motor plant, and then it shut down or that downsized or something like that. And the town itself became very segregated, like not that they were actively trying to do anything but white flight was happening, and a bunch of immigrant parents were trying to look for the best high school in New Jersey, or whatever. And so they were moving on specifically to our neighborhood. And so by the time I got to high school, when I was a freshman, and my entire class in English, in ninth grade was taught by this little old white lady, Mrs. Ferrari. And there were like, 35 of us, and there’s one white kid, Alex, and everybody else was East or South Asian. And so you didn’t know like, I functioned in that world for the first 14 years of my life not knowing. And for a certain amount of time, I was actually not in that school system. I was in a charter school in a different town with predominantly black and Hispanic kids. So you know, your as a kid, you don’t really know. But then I remember thinking back to that class being like, Oh, this is like an interesting English class because they would level it out, which is like another form of segregation in our public schools, and classism and privilege and all this stuff. And so I remember not realizing that I was not Asian, like, I guess, not realizing that I was like, not white or that like the Asian experience in America was different in the immigrant experience was different until I moved after that summer. And we moved to Princeton, which is a very white, very liberal university town. You may have heard of it. There’s a lot of Ivy everywhere tigers, and I cannot make this up. They have tour buses, like Chinese language, tour buses, I’m sure there’s other Asian language tour buses that drop people off in town. And the town itself is very small and walkable and very cute like think Gilmore Girls like that level of like cutesy east coast. And getting to the public school there where it was like 80%, white and like 10% Asian. So in a class of 300, 200 people, you knew all the other Asians because you like, you’d be like, I know you I know. You know, you know, you’re somebody. Yeah. And so I think having that experience really young made me very aware so that by the time I got to San Francisco a decade later, I was like, looking around, like where am I again, but I will say also like the school situations and settings that I was in, in undergrad, again, going to two schools. I was part of all of the Asian American orgs and cultural orgs. So I was very much surrounded. I chose to be surrounded, I think after that culture, reverse culture shock by people who looked like me, who could share similar experiences with me. And so that kind of like, I can’t even make this up my undergrad graduating class within the business school at my university. There were probably six or 700 kids and it was like 80% Asian, and not just Asian American, like Asian from Asia, first generation or 1.5. arriving here for college. Yeah. And so like our graduation, oh man, the professors who had to pronounce all the names, it was you know, they got the card, and they’d be like, I don’t know how to say this. And it was like, wild I think thinking that this is the whole class of people that were theory training, primary way to go into finance and accounting, but it was like predominantly Asian, and they claim to use a race blind admissions process. And I don’t to this day, I can’t tell you, I don’t know. But it was very interesting to constantly be in these situations and then not and so it’s like, back and forth and always always. What’s the term for it? Context switching…
Jennifer: Code switching
Ada: Code switching, code switching, always code switching. Yeah, my life is code switching, especially now, especially here.
Nicole: Maybe will Yeah, I think I had the opposite experience where I just grew up in, like I said, predominantly white suburbs of Chicago. And then we all stuck together, you know, and so, yeah, well, thanks for sharing your experience. I yeah, I think we could talk a lot about this. And I think maybe we can in the future. But I just it was a thought that popped into my head. But I do want to turn back to Jennifer. So Jennifer, tell us a little bit about your sewing journey in general, like where when did you start sewing and why? And then what do you like to sew for yourself?
Jennifer: I learned how to sew in high school in an independent study class. So I don’t have like a very defined origin story. Everyone loves the origin story. I just remember that I had a male friend and his mother sewed. So the only thing I can think is that’s where I was introduced to it. She made me a few things, including a homecoming dress one year. And so I was in this independent study class, the best I can surmise is that I was introduced to the concept I thought it was cool. And independent study, I had to pick something. So I picked a sewing and my the teacher who led that class, she actually got me a sewing machine borrowed it from a friend or something. So that was the first sewing machine that I learned on and then eventually convinced my mother to buy me a sewing machine from Sears. So American, and so that was my start, I started learning how to sew by making sewing patterns. So McCall’s, Butterick, Simplicity. And I did not, you know, I tried to follow directions, but I didn’t know anything. And those patterns, they don’t teach you, they do walk you step by step through, like how to do things, but they don’t say like, press after every, they assume you know that which I didn’t know. So like it’s hilarious. Looking back at some of my old things, they’re all bubbly. Because I didn’t know like ironing is just as important as the actual stitching. It’s, you know, it’s just like wacky. And then also nothing fit me because one I didn’t know how to, I was guessing on sizing. I didn’t know how to read size charts and all that. And then I had no idea about alterations, and so nothing fit. So I gave up. And I transitioned to quilting. So I did a lot of quilting in high school. And then I don’t know at some point back in college or after I picked up sewing again, clothes, and then I really was like I got to figure out this clothes thing, like in a in an organized way. So when I was still working in an office, I started taking classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology here in New York City, just for fun. And that was sort of I think, where I made like, bigger, you know, leaps into making clothes that look nice and could fit me and all of that so and then at some point, I left an office job and then decided to start teaching sewing and some other things. And what I really discovered was that listen, I’m biased. It’s me. I love myself. I think I’m a great teacher. Am I like the number one best seamstress or sewer or sewist or whatever you want to call me. Am I the number one best in the world? No. But I’m a really good teacher. And so that’s what I identified pretty early on in my in the journey of Workroom Social was that my strength is my ability to connect with people, my ability to teach others and my ability to produce events. And so that’s why Workroom Social really is about the classes and the events. But what I like to sew for myself mostly dresses just because I think that they are easy to wear. I don’t love coordinating so if I match a top with a bottom, I get a little overwhelmed. And I have I keep looking over here to this side actually have my wedding dress that I made in a crumpled heap on a bunch of fabric that I’m like, Oh yeah, I made that. That’s cool. But yeah, I mostly sew dresses I think, but to be honest, I don’t I haven’t sewn a lot for myself and over the course of the pandemic, and also I don’t really so very much for myself in general, because I so a lot of sampling classroom samples, samples for fittings and things like that. So I always say every year my new year’s resolution is to sew more for myself, and then I never do. That’s okay. I’m coming to terms with it now.
Ada: And rewinding a little bit prior to Workroom Social, what was your office job? And like, what was your background in?
Jennifer: So I used to work in film marketing as a publicist, essentially. So that, I think, is where a lot of my practical knowledge of event production comes from. Yeah, it was, I liked doing it because I liked. I like working on big teams and seeing like, how everyone comes together to produce like this thing. But my personality and the personalities of everyone else did not go well together for my own mental. Just tough. Yes, stressful work. For something that I think is really should be about fun and creativity and but at the end of the day, it’s not it’s about money. So you know.
Ada: So now that you get autonomy over what programming you get to do with Workroom Social.
Jennifer: It’s the best!
Ada: What kinds of programming Do you include? I think you mentioned some of it at the beginning, but for our listeners who are interested in up leveling their skills, or even getting started with sewing, like what can they expect to find from you?
Jennifer: So at Workroom Social, we only oh class, we only offer I don’t know why I said oh, we only offer classes in fashion sewing. So very specifically, it’s only about sewing clothing. Within that realm, we do project based classes. So like, learn how to make a pair of jeans, learn how to make a dress, learn how to make a button up shirt. And then we also have some skill space classes. I teach one that I really like called Advanced Sewing Techniques so that when you don’t make a garment but you learn all the techniques to make different garments, and you make samples so then you have these samples that you can keep and refer back on so like you will learn you know in the button up shirt making class you will obviously learn all the skills you need to make a button up shirt by making a button up shirt. In the Advanced Sewing Techniques class, you learn similar skills you learn how to install a cuff, how to sew a button band, how to sew a shirt, net color, stand and color, but you don’t actually construct a shirt you do all of these things on samples. And so I personally enjoy that a lot because it feels like a lot less pressure than to have I mean it’s I always say this to students like you’re making a button up shirt it’s the first button up shirt you’ve ever made in your entire life it’s unreasonable to think that this is going to be like stellar, right like we’re going for a B minus not like an A plus
Jennifer: However, it’s really really hard to convince people to feel that energy they hold on to the energy of wanting the A plus so the samples I think, you know, kicks it down kicks the stress level down, but we also offer fitting classes so where you learn how to fit clothes, how to alter clothes, where you’re not necessarily constructing or you’re not necessarily yeah constructing the garment you’re learning how to do the fittings and I think perhaps that is it I can’t think of anything else right at the moment. Um, and I am personally interested in process and organization because I think that makes for a more enjoyable and productive experience and by productive I just mean that you go through a process and you complete it How many times have you started something and you didn’t finish it? Which is totally fine, too if you’re okay with that.
Ada: Nicole’s face right now.
Nicole: A lot.
Jennifer: Me too. And I mean, if you’re fine with it, I think that’s totally fine. Do you know you do you whatever makes you happy, but for people who would like to finish more things. I’m very interested in how how can we inject a little bit process into this hobby of ours so that we can actually complete things more. Now that doesn’t mean it’s going to be your favorite thing in the whole world. But it is nice to have like a thing you finish.
Nicole: I feel like I would be one of those students where you would have to convince me that like it’s okay that it’s not an A plus and I think that’s why I have a lot of unfinished things because I get dissatisfied with how I’m working out a lot I’ve heard a lot but for me it’s like a few I get frustrated or dissatisfied and then I put it aside so it sounds like you know your model focusing on the process as opposed to the process and the gaining of skills as opposed to like a pretty finished product necessarily that sounds like it would work really well for me.
Jennifer: Well and like mindset shift instead of getting dissatisfied or frustrated midway through a project that’s not going well you have to change your mindset and say imagine if I finish this and imagine if I make another one and another one gosh by the fifth one the fifth one is going to be an A plus and I’m not going to get to the fifth if I don’t finish one through four.
Nicole: Yeah you’re right you’re right I am I am garbage at mindset shifting like that’s something I have to look for everything I get stuck
Jennifer: Me too me too.
Nicole: So just shifting a little bit we talked about you mentioned earlier, your fabric and this was a surprise to me like when I went to go check out your website. Oh, I like fabric right? So you said they’re they’re 100% rayon and they’re all original designs and I wanted to ask do you design the fabric?
Jennifer: Good question. The answer is no. When I actually first started being self employed when I left my office job I did go through a phase where I was like I’m gonna design fabric and I’m going to screen print it myself this is gonna be amazing that was not a workable idea for me personally. I’m just not a very talented at this stage artist which I truly believe that if I want it to be I could learn and practice to be but I don’t care that much. So I am not investing my time in that arena. So no, I do not design them they are designed by people. Um, yeah, really, I I have to say team I am so this is my full time business and this is how I make a living. And I do make a living what I am not is rich. And what I am not is a hustling go getting super grower. So I am not I am interested in being able to support myself on my own terms, but I just don’t have a drive that I think our at least our American culture has been very aggressive in communicating to women in the last however many years which is like you need to have a side hustle, you need to not sleep you need to like be doing all these things, blah, blah, blah. I will take a nap, spend time with my husband, go hang out with my friends before I put in extra hours of work any day. Yes. So with all of that in mind, I am here. Part of what I want to do is help other people who are interested in doing those same things who might not have the opportunity to because of gatekeepers. So the fabrics right now are just designed by people I know who wanted to do a project and I said cool like you have some abilities let’s work together I’ll pretend I’m an art director and I’ll help you get there and I will pay you I don’t know how other people like I assume if you’re if you have a contract with like art gallery or something you know, I don’t know I assume that your licensing so I don’t license I pay outright for the art which is you know, it’s like a compromise. Like if you’re willing to compromise with me, I’m willing to compromise with you and let’s make something together. So the so far I have three collections. Two are made by a weaver, actually who was interested in fabric design. She’s based here in Brooklyn, and her name is Whitney Crutchfield. And then one collection is designed by Kelli Ward actually who owns True Bias. And she is someone else who was just like interested in fabric design and wanted to make a collection you know but didn’t want to go through the whole thing of trying to pitch a big company and all of that so I’m working with two other artists right now one who is an illustrator who has no back I mean should no official background in you know this kind of stuff and then one art school student who like paints and things but is also not an artist in any kind of official capacity. And I welcome anyone listening if you are have some skills and are interested in doing something reach out to me, I would love to do more. I mean, I haven’t produced a new collection like manufactured in a couple of years again, because I’m not hustling like a maniac, so but I love working with people and even if you just have one design you want to do that’s fine too. So all of that long winded ness to say no, I don’t do any of the art.
Nicole: I’ve, yeah, I’ve I think maybe about six months ago I was like I’m gonna design something and like throw it up on a website where you can you can get it printed, you know, but so when I saw that you were working with other artists that I thought that was really neat. I love the moon phases one I’ve been trying to figure out like I just like be like, I do I get the sound idea as a real thing. moon phases or thing I just like imagery and art based on moon phases. So I saw that I was like, wow, this is really nice.
Ada: Make another dress, make another dress.
Ada: Yeah, yeah.
Nicole: Yeah, I know. I’ll have a look. I like it. I like I like what I see.
Jennifer: Nicole, what if we make a deal? I’ll send you the fabric if you sew it, but you have to finish it.
Nicole: I can probably do that.
Ada: She could definitely do that.
Nicole: You give me a deadline and I’ll make make it if you let me loose on my own. I’d be like, I don’t know what do what do I do now?
Jennifer: Can I just throw this out there? This is stereotypical, but I feel it to my bones. Is that like an Asian thing? If you give me a deadline? I am on it. I don’t know if I’m imagining my mother screaming at me for being late. Or like what?
Nicole: I think for me it’s it’s having structure is like how rigid and yeah, like my upbringing was I actually grew up with my grandparents in the household. My mom worked nights, my dad worked days. So it was like it was my grandparents. And they I like to think that they were this is probably why our experiences or maybe our experiences were different because I was raised like you are Filipino. Like, I went to church every Sunday and then like novena is with a lot of really old Filipino people like with my grandparents and like I would lead prayer and we would do cultural dances. I think if it was my mom, you know, like just my parents it would have been different but she like so but it was very rigid to the point or probably actual authoritarianism, like in the house. So for me, I’m like, if I have a deadline, like that helps me order myself better. But if I’m if I, I don’t do well with loose free thinking, creativity, which I admire and love and would love to aspire to, but it’s harder for me to operate that way.
Jennifer: I feel that.
Ada: I feel that the interesting thing that happened a few days after I met up for it was that it was the day after this wedding that I had gone to and we were debriefing with the bride and groom and matron of honor. And they both the bride and matron of honor our high school friends with my partner and they were all saying like, did you know we’ve been going through life going at 100% putting ourselves through all this stuff for so long and trying to get the highest SAT scores, AP scores, blah, blah, blah, college, grad school, working, getting married and having children and everybody else like we could have been coasting at like 50% and having all this time and breathing a little bit and having a life and being able to be more creative and nobody would have like nothing would have gone wrong.
Jennifer: I also feel that.
Ada: Yeah like I think it might actually feel like I don’t know if it was like an Asian thing or like an immigrant parent being or maybe both. But yeah, deadlines deadlines are my friend. I’m a panic sewer, too.
Nicole: You’ve said that. Yeah.
Ada: If I know I have like I made shorts so I could wear them for an event that I was doing. I’m a panic sewer or you know this dress, not the wedding that I just went to but like a while before panic sewed that dress, give me a deadline and I will hit it. Which is why I’m very I don’t think I can panic sew as well as Nicole because you managed like I have to finish this and then photograph it I’m like I have to finish it and then I’m going to photograph it like the morning I need to send this out.
Nicole: That’s been me recently yeah that’s been like oh it’s due today well we’re gonna go take pictures today I can. Yeah, I can deal with it. If I’m given enough advance notice I think I’m good at planning for like I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m a panic sewer or I think I’m more like if I have the deadline then I can structure myself my time better. I think if I were if I were in panic selling mode, I would just drop it I’d be like, I’m not into this like, like, I’ll wear something I already Oh, and like i don’t think i don’t think i do i have the opposite reaction. I’d shut down. Be like, no, we’re not doing this. That’s, that’s some good insight.
Ada: Taking a hard left. Jennifer’s wearing a Camp Workroom Social t shirt today. Love it. So let’s talk about Camp because that is one of the biggest things that you do. And so for anyone who isn’t familiar with it, can you describe what it is?
Jennifer: Camp Workroom Social is sleepaway camp for grownups who likes sewing and do sewing. I think that’s what it is.
Ada: And where did the idea for camp come from? Like was going to camp something that you did when you were growing up?
Jennifer: Yes, I am a real life summer camp counselor. I think it’s funny because I think if you meet me, while Ada can say she met me in real life, I think that I will always have that energy. I don’t know why but summer camp, when I was a child attending was a huge influence I think on my life, everything from like my independence and very independent my love of travel, my sort of like self sufficiency, my a lot of my social skills, I think probably like having to make friends with new people every week. And then you know, becoming a counselor when I was older, it really helped me learn how to be organized, how to communicate things, how to get a sense of people’s emotions, when you’re in a group. It has helped me practice how to learn people’s names. All kinds how to adapt how to make people feel welcome and comfortable and have a have a less have less discomfort with changing your mind I think especially Americans have a real issue with like, I can’t be wrong, I can’t do something wrong and changing your mind i think is a way can be an indication that like, Oh, I said this before, like I have to stick to that for whatever we I feel like being a summer camp counselor taught me like it’s okay to you know, so anyways, love summer camp, advocate for all the parents out there, send your kids to a summer camp that you research and think is safe, and all of that. And Camp Workroom Social, just came as an idea because when I very first started the studio, I didn’t have a physical space. So I’m in the physical studio space right now. And this is actually the third location that I have had. And before all of that, I wanted to produce my own events, but without a physical space, I kind of went to the conference model. So rent a space and have everyone bring stuff in and all of that so I originally was like, “Okay, if I could plan like an event in a less expensive city compared to New York, and have 12 people in a dress making class you know, that could that could really work, you know, for an event”. And so I recruited some friends to like help me do planning and other cities. And I just remember one of them thought that it was really she just didn’t believe in my idea. She didn’t think that my price point what I was offering like the event, you know, she just didn’t think it could work. And so I let it go. I was like, “Oh, well, maybe she’s right”. So I just kind of like died. And then between then and when camp when I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna do camp”, I was able to like, get a space I was hosting real classes and stuff like that. So then now I’m back to the retreat idea, like okay, I’ve done in these classes, now I want to go back to the retreat. And my husband and I actually got married at the summer camp that Camp Workroom Social happens in in New York. And so I don’t know how the thought came into my mind. But at some point, I was just like, let me just call them, because I’m sure they remember me. Because when we got married, I was very much you know, like you have a wedding at a venue, you basically transform the venue no matter where it is into your wedding. But for me, when we got married, I was like, “No, no, I don’t want to transform this into anything”. We’re getting married at the camp, like the camp is not going to turn into my wedding. And so the staff there all remembered me because I was doing things like running around, oh my gosh, at my wedding, I did bunk checks. This was something that counselors did at my camp growing up. So I had a friend who came to the wedding who we were counselors together, I was like, let’s go do bunk checks. So we went around to people’s room to see how clean they were. While they were out doing activities. Anyways, the staff there remembered me because what kind of weirdo you know who’s getting married is like doing these things. So when I call them and said, “Hey, remember me, like I got married there two years ago, I have this idea. I would like to, you know, rent out space to do like a sewing conference thing”. And they were just like, “Yeah, sure”. So that’s sort of like how it started, really. And I remember the first year I did it, I sold the admission or tickets or whatever. Like I sold it before I even signed the contracts for the event because I was so nervous that no one would want to come that I was like, Okay, well, if 10 people come, I’ll just refund them like, but I wouldn’t have signed the contracts for the venue. So then I wouldn’t have to you know, pay anything. I was so worried that I was gonna have to, like pay these bills, but not have an event.
Ada: Oh, little did you know.
Jennifer: That was seven, seven years ago. So yeah, I’m glad that people are you know, very, very, I’m glad that people see my vision and like my vision for sewing camp.
Nicole: So camp wasn’t, I guess available. Like it wasn’t a thing. And maybe again, it’s maybe it’s my parents, my mom was very, like, you can’t stay over another person’s house like you can’t sleep over at other places. And I’m totally intrigued by this by your camp. So where are most camp attendees traveling from? And I’m asking because can someone from Chicago easily travel and attend easily is relative I know but…
Jennifer: Yes, I’m not sure about most we have attendees from the entire United States, including Chicago. And people from lots people from the West Coast, Pacific Northwest, California, I would say probably not a huge representation from the Southeast we have a couple but I don’t think that’s like a huge anyways, you can come from anywhere. One of the benefits I think of attending this is you fly in and out of New York City. So being that we have three major airport options, you know, it’s very doable, we do have at least one person that I can think of perhaps more fly into Albany, New York, which is North a bit and then rents a car and drives directly there. But for anyone who’s flying into New York City, and then needs to get from New York City into the middle of nowhere, which is where the event is, um, I charter shuttle bus so we bus everyone there. We have a lot of Canadians who come although not this year, because of COVID and I have had visitors from the UK and Australia.
Ada: Wow, that’s cool. That’s dedication.
Jennifer: Yeah, it’s fun. I mean, it’s all you just have to get yourself to and from New York City. Other than that, it’s all inclusive and you can arrive the day it happens and fly out the day it ends although a lot of people book extra days on either end so that they can you know, go to Mood and do some other New York City things too.
Ada: And by the time this episode airs, we will be one week away from camp.
Jennifer: Oh my God, I am Oh my God, I will be I will not be sleeping very much by then.
Ada: And I think obviously registration has already closed her that but can you tell us when the next camp and camp like events will be for folks who hear this episode and are really excited and want to sign up.
Jennifer: So Camp Workroom Social Wardrobe Week happens in the spring, and probably the registration will be closed for that as well. By the time this airs, I tried to do registration almost a year in advance, due to COVID. The schedules a little messed up so hard to say, the event that I am planning hopefully to launch summer 2022 registration might have happened it might not have so definitely I would say if you’re interested visit campworkroomsocial.com for information but the registration for Fall Camp 2022. So that’s in one year from now, in an ideal world that registration opens in February. So you can definitely have the opportunity to go to that, then I will say it is it, it can feel competitive to get in. And that is only because as I mentioned earlier, I don’t I value, my free time and just the general health and well being of myself and my family more than I value like growing this company, bigger, faster, whatever. So the event really is not getting any larger than it is. And so because of limited supply, you know, it can feel a little stressful to get in. So I do do a lottery ticketing situation so that there’s no like, rush to register at a certain time or anything like that. But, you know, as it feels right, I am hoping to do more events just because I love them. And the new event that I’m planning again, I have no idea if people will like it, people might hate it. It might be a big flop in which case it doesn’t happen. But it was just something that is again very like special to me. It feels very personal and empowering to me. And I just wanted to share that with other people. But other people might not like it. So as things come up in my mind that I’m like, Oh, I think people could benefit from this or enjoy this or whatever. I’ll make new new things and and hopefully maybe something will be right first someone out there.
Nicole: That does sound very cool. And I think you I mean you’re not going to know if it’s successful until you try it at least once right?
Jennifer: Yes, gotta try it.
Nicole: Well I will look forward to checking out camp and hopefully our listeners will be able to join at some point in the future. So just to close out you mentioned you don’t sell a ton for yourself. But are you working on any sewing projects for yourself right now?
Ada: That’s so cute.
Jennifer: Now you two are podcasters so I understand we have to explain. I am a YouTuber where everything is visual. So I just finished making the Verano Dress by Christine Haynes Patterns. And I made it out of Workroom Social rayon out of print that was designed by Kelli Ward and it is I really like it I had someone like read my colors I don’t know if you guys have heard of that they like look at your skin tone and tell you what colors look good on you some kind of silly thing. Um, and I mean I think everyone should wear whatever colors make them happy. But I did agree with a lot of the things that the person said and so my dress has a lot of like, like warm yellows, kind of like greenish yellows and red and orange like very warm colors. And then I adapted the dress. It’s a The varano is a sleeveless sort of like tank top bodice with ruffles down the dress. And I adapted I drafted these little flounces for the for the tank top portion. It just came out with the wash so it’s really wrinkly to steam steam it out but I did just finish that which was great. And now I probably won’t make anything for myself for five months.
Nicole: It’s beautiful. I love the color. I like a good bright color.
Ada: Thank you, Jennifer for being on with us today. We had such fun talking with you. Can you remind our listeners where they can find you on the internet?
Jennifer: You can find me on the internet all things workroom social. Workroomsocial.com, Instagram is Workroom Social, YouTube is Workroom Social. I have like a slightly bizarre company name perhaps so, workroom social it is.
Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. Next week we will be talking about imposter syndrome and how it can creep into our lives sewing and otherwise. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Ko-Fi. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and will allow us to give a little back to her currently all volunteer team and our guests. And I know that we’ve kind of talked about it a lot, but our team works so hard to provide you with new content each week. The link to our Ko-Fi page can be found in the show notes on our website, and on our Instagram account that’s Asian Sewist Collective. One word at @AsianSewistCollective. You can also help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends we would appreciate it if you could rate, review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, PocketCasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website that’s asiansewistcollective.com. And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments or even voice messages if you’d like to be featured on a future episode at email@example.com.
Nicole: This episode is brought to you by your co-hosts Ada Chen and Nicola Angeline and we also produced this episode together. This episode was researched by Eileen Leung and edited by Henry Wong and Shilyn Joy. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.