Episode 38. Jo of @FiveSpicePower

39. Lunar Zodiac Quilt with Berene Campbell and Wendy Chow The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast

To wrap up Lunar New Year celebrations, we chatted with Berene Campbell (@happysewlucky / happysewlucky.com) and Wendy Chow (@the.weekendquilter / the-weekendquilter.com) about their collaboration, together with Kathy Looi (@kathylooi55), on the Lunar Zodiac Quilt. A portion of sales from the Lunar Zodiac Quilt benefitted Asian community organizations in Vancouver and New York City. To purchase Wendy's new book, The Quilted Home Handbook, visit her website or check out our Bookshop collection. For show notes and a transcript of the episode, please visit: https://asiansewistcollective.com/episode-39-lunar-zodiac-quilt-with-berene-campbell-and-wendy-chow/ If you find our podcast informative and enjoy listening, you can support us by buying our limited edition merch, joining our monthly membership or making a one-time donation via Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective 

Patterns & Designers mentioned

Iris Blouse & Dress Zero Waste by Fiber and Cloth

Agave Top & Dress by Fiber and Cloth

Artist’s Box Top by By Taryn Singleton

Artist’s Wrap Skirt by By Taryn Singleton

ZW Tiered Dress by Birgitta Helmersson

Qipao/Cheaongsam by Porcupine Patterns

Resources

More about Jo @FiveSpicePower

InsideVoicesLabels, website

Tauko Magazine #5

Show transcript

Jo
You know y’all don’t start a business if you don’t know what you’re doing

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.

Nicole
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.

Ada
I’m your co host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado, Denver is a traditional territory of the US, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own natural skincare business called Chuan’s promise. That’s C, H, U, A, N apostrophe, s, promise and sharing my marketing tips on my blog. Most importantly, for this podcast, you can find my sewing @i.hope.sew on Instagram.

Nicole
And I’m your co host, Nicole, I’m based outside of Chicago, the original homelands of the Council of the three fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Philippine American woman, a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time, you c an find me on Instagram at @NicoleAngelineSews.

Ada
Before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?

Nicole
I can remember how when we last spoke I said I started four things and I haven’t hadn’t finished any one of them.

Ada
I, literally you paused for so long. I thought you were gonna say I can’t

Nicole
I always can.

Ada
But yes, I do remember things.

Nicole
The, that list is up to five now. Because I started a fifth thing. But this one I am seeing through to the end because guess what, it involves a deadline. And it is a camp style shirt that I am pattern testing for Fiber and Cloth studios by Alexis Bailey. And I really love testing for them and also their their designs. And I recently bought one of their Zero Waste Iris shirt samples, just very much in love with it. So I wanted to dive back into pattern testing, probably because I was like, I’m gonna start this and then I don’t and then yada yada, it sounds like okay, I’ll give myself a deadline. And it’s shaping up to be pretty cute. So it’s a button down short sleeve shirt, there are going to be four views. It’s going to be shirt length with a sleeveless version and a short sleeve version. And then a dress length with the sleeveless version and a short sleeve version. You know, I’ve been trying to do a shirt dress, listeners, probably. I know, it’s like, it’s a shirt shirt this time, because I was like I don’t want to commit to doing anything longer. But it’s gonna happen, it’s totally gonna happen. And it’s actually I’m making it with this mystery fabric that I got at the AI bi fabric sale in February. And it’s going to be perfect for our new mystery fabric content label in our ASC label pack. So I’m pretty excited to finish that up. And it looks like a really clean and simple design for a button down shirt with like an interesting facing. So I’m looking forward to seeing what that’s like. And hopefully I can, once I finish it, it will be ready for me to take on vacation.

Ada
Nice. I’m glad you’re finally making this.

Nicole
I was gonna get there eventually. I think I started talking about it in season two, and we’re in season four. But yeah, I have literally been talking about making a shirt dress and I got one fully cut out even a different pattern and then I stopped making why I don’t know, I’m just in this weird cycle of making things and not finishing them. What about you? What are you working on?

Ada
I similarly, have lots of projects. I did finish a few of them. So I’m going to quickly list what I finished. One is hemming the chiffon bloody chiffon of my bridesmaids dress for wedding in two weeks with using band roll so I did listen some listeners were like, why are you trying to do this with a rolled foot hem just get some band roll. Band roll. Let me tell you everyone, band roll is fucking amazing. Band roll is the best for baby hems. And so I hemmed all, I think it was about five yards total of the chiffon and then the poly lining. So that’s done and then I also had a friend come visit who has been interested and actually purchased one of those kits from Alexis Fiber and Cloth for hand sewing. I told her, Hey, you haven’t finished your shirt. It’s been almost a year. Just bring it and we can finish it on my machine. She forgot her shirt. But I asked her if she wanted to shop my stash. And so we shopped my stash and we made her a, her very first shirt because she hadn’t finished the one from the set. And it was the Artist’s Box Top by Taryn Singleton, and of Artist Made Patterns and then also the Artist’s wrap. I think it’s called the Artist’s wrap skirt, which I pattern tested about two years ago. And I pattern tested in the wrong fabric because when I was thrifting, the fabric, it ended up being upholstery fabric and not wearable fabric and I didn’t know better. And doing it again, the box top we made in a thrifted silk, which turned out really nice. And the skirt was a, I think it was a Blackbird fabrics tencel that I got my very first order from them. And it’s this really nice like kind of oxblood maroon color. And I just like, together they kind of give holiday vibes. But separately, I was like you could wear these all year round, because you live in California, next to the beach, where it’s kind of sunny and temperate.

Nicole
Oh, yeah, it’s like a couple of really good versatile pieces.

Ada
Oh, yeah, I’m so excited. I sadly did not have our labels here when we were doing that. And so instead, she has some other labels in there. I think one of them has curse words on them. And one of them says something like secret pajamas. And my dog also objects to this as well.

Nicole
He’s like, How dare you use other labels?

Ada
Like how dare you use other labels? How dare you use your fabric on somebody else. And my friend was like, I’m gonna try to pay you for this. And I was like, Don’t even because I can’t even remember what I paid for this fabric. And clearly I have a problem and need to use this fabric. So I was just happy to like make with her and introduce her to sewing. And kind of we’ll see where it goes from there.

Nicole
I took my best friend to Frocktails, and she knows how to sew on a machine. But she she hates it. Like she just learned how to do it when she was younger, and something that, but she got so inspired by all of the people that were at Frocktails, because literally everyone made what they were wearing, which is really cool. So she’s asked that I teach her how to sew. And she’s like, you can tell me what fabric to buy. And I was like, none, you’re gonna use this for myself. Because I have so much, it’s unbelievable. She was just like, okay, so it’ll be fun. I’m looking forward to that both of our lives need to slow down a little bit. To to make space for that. But she really wants to learn and she’s very inspired. So by me, who wouldn’t be, look at this face? Podcast listeners can’t see this face,

Ada
Obviously,

Nicole
Just to say But yeah, that sounds like… Wait, you said you had a list. That was three things, more?

Ada
I also tried to start shirring a piece of fabric to make a bodice for a dress. And it turns out that, my vintage machine is not a fan of the hand wound elastic on my bobbins so that, I got four lines in maybe like a half inch each. And it’s not going well. So I’m contemplating my life choices. Because I wound a lot of bobbins Okay?

Nicole
Ouch

Ada
Yeah. And then the other thing that I started was I cut out the Zero Waste tiered dress from Birgitta Helmersson. And I didn’t get to sew it because I was busy helping my friend sew her stuff, but I’m very excited to assemble it because the cutting process on this was actually like quite straightforward, I think in terms of like a zero waste pattern. And I’m trying to think if there’s anything else that’s about it. So yes, like most of the projects are finished ish.

Nicole
Hey, you’re the one that said other people are allowed to start projects before they finish other ones, it’s okay that we do the same. So you know,

Ada
oh, and I asked my friends if they want, if, I had so many scraps and here’s the secret the little sinners will appreciate I went through my closet and I did a clean out of all of my first makes that like I don’t really wear and I don’t gravitate towards because I either didn’t end up really liking the pattern or you know how it came out or it’s a wearable wall that you know, ended up trash. So I ended up cutting them up instead of turning them into their stuff because it was just there were so many and that was like a buy pile. And I turned them into scraps. So they are now filling scrap pillow cases that I made. And those will be inside poufs that I make for my friends who need poufs in their living rooms because I have enough

Nicole
well done.

Ada
So yes, lots of in progress things

Nicole
are these holiday gifts?

Ada
No, actually what I also started with that, which is I think I’m going to rip off the Lululemon belt bag because I have this outdoor fabric that I had for making a cover. I also made a cover for storage on our deck. And I had about a half yard extra because they only sold in full yards. So I was like belt bags are so small. It’s literally a rectangle with a zipper around the front. I can figure this out. So we are hacking that. I don’t own this bag, but we were hacking it and figuring it out.

Nicole
That bag was everywhere all over Disney World and probably everywhere else everyone wears. Like that seems really simple. And I bet that was really expensive. I asked about the holidays because we’re recording in November. And I’ve already decided I’m not making shit for nobody! I might not even buy anything for anybody, because I’m just like, everyone in my life has what they need. And all of us are like, Well, if we want something we buy it. So I don’t know, I don’t think I’m going to be doing anything for anyone. In the true holiday spirit. Yeah.

Ada
Yay, capitalism, but also boo. And I think I have a, I’m working through my feelings on this related to sewing and everything I do. But that is not the topic of the sewing podcast, because we’re here to talk about sewing. So this week, we are very excited to welcome Jo, who you might know as @ five spice power on Instagram. Jo is a digital content creator, label designer, and recently a pattern designer. Welcome, Joe.

Nicole
Hi, hey, Jo

Jo
Hello,

Nicole
we ask our guests about their cultural background. And if it influences their sewing process, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started sewing?

Jo
I was thinking about that, as I’m having to consider what this means a lot, because of all these white men who keep asking me about my heritage. So I’ll be like, Hi. And they’ll be like, Are you from China? And it’s like, you know, as a member of the diaspora in Southeast Asia, it’s, it’s complex. So you can’t be like, yes, but also No. And I’m like, this is hard, because I’m gonna, the time that it really sort of like hit me that, this is actually quite a complex question, was when I was at a crosswalk. And then this guy from the opposite side of the crosswalk, like he makes his aggressive eye contact with me. And he was like, he he like, he had the urge. He was like, hey, I was like wow calm the fuck down, Jesus fucking Christ. But like, that was an interesting question. Because I couldn’t be like, Yes, I am. Because I technically I am not.

Ada
You were literally at a crosswalk.

Jo
I was, I was! I was literally. See, he would have come to me eventually. That was the thing that bothered me. He could have like, walked across, in like, hey, you know, but he, he could not wait. But anyway, I mean, yeah. So it’s, it would have taken much longer to explain that. Technically, yes, my people are from China. But that would have been like my mom’s grandfather and my dad’s parents. And, like, yes, we do retain a lot of pride in our Chinese heritage, like, my parents both speak the dialects that, of their, you know, families, I guess. Then we celebrate Chinese New Year and stuff like that. But we’ve fully evolved to have kind of like, a culture of our own. So technically, yes. But also in a very real sense. No. Um, yeah. So that me,

Nicole
you take that question with a lot of like, everyone reacts to it differently. And yours is a much kinder reaction than like, mine is these days. I used to get it a lot. And I think podcast listeners have heard me say, like, I used to play it up and be like, well, you can have three guesses. And if not, if you don’t guess it, right, you’ll buy me a drink. Like I used to do that. I was like, because you’re not going to get it right. And then the older I got, the more I was, I got tired of the question. And so now anyone that says it and a lot it’s not, it’s typically white men, but it’s not always.

Jo
It’s always white men.

Nicole
Yeah. And but whoever says it, I’m like, where are you from? That’s the question, I’m like, Chicago, and I let them sit with it. I let them sit with the question, like, and they’re like, oh, no, I mean, and I’m like, Chicago.

Jo
So do you mean, where my parents are from? because they’re also from Chicago? Fuck you!

Nicole
Exactly. I’m just like

Ada
Like I can keep going!

Nicole
Yeah, I take it very just like, Chicago, and let them figure out how they feel about the question that they just asked me. Maybe it’s just because I’m like, I don’t know. It’s not that I’m mean, but I guess I’m direct when I say it is, but but I totally understand like that part about living in a diaspora, you know, for me and North America. So how did you start sewing has it have you been sewing for a long time? Or is this relatively new thing?

Jo
And again, I think that sort of like a yes and no thing. So I started when I was maybe about 18 or 19. And that was with the simplest thing possible, which is a fully self drafted brocade cheongsam

Ada
of course!

Nicole
everybody starts with that!

Jo
as one does, and so I was like, you know, how hard could it be? It was very hard! Um, And so it completely, completely imploded as you as you would imagine that it did. And I was like fuck this. And then I just never sew it again. But then I kept, like, I kind of kept the drive to sew. So when I came over here, which would have been, um, when did I come over here?when I was about 22, probably. And then I was at uni, and I bought a sewing machine from one of the polytech students. And I was like, I’ve got it now. And then I just brought it to every flat that I went to. So I moved islands, with a fucking machine with me. And I was like I’m gonna use this! that was like, fully, I think, maybe four or five years, actually I don’t know timelines. But the time when I properly started, like deep diving into sewing, I think it’s much the same as probably quite a lot of people, which is COVID. So the apocalypse hit. And then I was living by myself. And this family’s basement. Actually, it was a really weird flat that I was living in. Like, they lived upstairs and I lived in the basement and there was one window and it was in my bathroom. If you look at

Ada
that explains a lot of your photos.

Jo
Yes, it does. Because it was the only place that I could get natural light in so like, anytime you see one of my earlier photos, I’m in very close proximity to a toilet. Like, just think about that.

Nicole
The magic of editing though we don’t know.

Jo
The magic of editing, no you don’t. But yeah, so you know, I was this basement goblin I had no, like no way of contacting the outside world. Well, it was like, Oh, I got seven weeks. And so yeah, kind of really took off from there.

Ada
Okay, so can we rewind a little bit? Because you said you started with trying to sew a brocade cheongsam

Jo
Oh yeah.

Ada
So how? I mean, I guess my question is like, does your culture and identity now that we’ve kind of established that it’s complicated? does it inspire your sewing process? does it inspire your creativity process? Does it? Was that just a one off? Are we still on that train?

Jo
It’s not a train boy! Look at that! Oh, yeah, that’s right son.

Ada
if you can’t see, if you’re not watching on YouTube, would you like to just describe the collar of what, your lovely garment

Jo
So, what I’m wearing is a cheongsam inspired dress. And it’s based off the cheongsam pattern done by Porcupine Patterns, which is a Singapore based company. Then I’ve done quite a few of these actually. So it’s just got the mandarin collar. It’s got the frog buttons. And it’s also got like a little extra colori thing, which is what I’m wearing.

Ada
It’s so cute. I’m obsessed.

Jo
Yaw. Thank you.

Nicole
So you live in Aotearoa, New Zealand? And can you tell us if your experience living there has in any way impacted your sewing?

Jo
I’m gonna say its hasn’t impacted my sewing hugely, because I did start sewing seriously here. So all my sewing really has been done over here. I did want to kind of come back to the earlier question about culture and identity. And it’s because I don’t actually speak Mandarin. I don’t speak Mandarin. I don’t speak any of the Chinese dialects fluently. And so I actually do feel quite excluded from my culture. The thing about being, I guess, in these communities is that if you can’t communicate, you can’t participate in so I’ve always felt kind of divorced from my culture so to speak. And so we are in this, you know, As I am in, wearing cheongsam and things like that I almost, it’s weird, because I always feel like I’m appropriating a little bit. It’s a complex position to come from because yes, I am ethnically Chinese. But I also don’t feel hugely connected to my culture and so when I’m sewing and wearing these cheongsams, I guess. Or these like cheongsam-inspired like Chinese cultural clothing? I guess. I am I participating in the culture, I guess is, you know, is what comes to mind. But the thing about clothing as well as that it’s an art form in which people observing it can infer something of your identity. And so, it makes me kind of like hesitate also, because then are people going to expect me to speak Chinese to them? Do you know what I mean?

Ada
Yeah,

Jo
yes. So I do have quite a lot of complex feelings around exploring being Chinese through my art. And I would think that there’s a lot more work to be done, for me, at any rate, at this stage.

Nicole
Thank you for backing up and bringing us back to that question. I think the way that you are being so introspective is something that I can say at least most of us, like all of us on the call have thought about with ourselves. And I’ve said this to lots of people in lots of different contexts, but you know, you are Chinese enough. I am Filipino enough, my best friend as Mexican enough. And I think that something that I used to, I used to feel the same kind of disconnect, as you do with my Philippine heritage. My parents were born in the Philippines. I was born in the United States, I don’t speak Tagalog, my Spanish is much better than my Tagalog. I just texted my mom had to say something in Tagalog, because my work wants me to record a short video of me saying it and I’m like, I don’t know how to say that, like I understand it, but like, oh. I work at a nonprofit and so they want to, you know, have various members of staff, you know, in languages that are spoken and with the clients speak, you know, say thank you, but I was just texting my mom. And you know, I don’t I don’t have a connection for the language. I don’t know anything about my dad’s dialect, which is Ilocano, so it’s different from a more commonly spoken Tagalog. I don’t understand it at all, like zero, and there’s a little bit of for me shame in that. There doesn’t need to be and I, I say it a little bit because it used to be a lot more. And now it’s just like a little bit of a wistfulness about wishing that I knew a little bit more but not feeling like I’m any less of a, connected to the roots of my family because of that. I think I can’t speak for anyone else. But I think there are probably people in our lives that are like, you are you’re Oh, you’re not you know, you’re so Americanized, I’m like, I am American. Or you’d because I don’t speak it or either Tagalog or Ilocano. And I think that the older I get, the more I realize it’s sort of a “their problem” with regard to who I am. It has nothing, you know, what they think about, you know, my “Asianess”, quote, unquote, has nothing to do with whether I am Filipino enough, so to speak. And I think that yours is a, is something that many people have, you know, we’re in a diaspora have thought about themselves. And what I’m trying to get at is that, I hear you and I get, I get exactly what you mean. And for me, I felt the same way about what I started to become interested in learning how to make like Terno sleeves, iand Terno outfits, and I was like, why am I making this? What am I going to wear a you know, like, people are gonna think XYZ about me. And then like, the, the more sort of, the more I enjoyed the process, and just how the process made me feel more connected to my heritage, the less I, the less fucks I gave about what other people think. I was like, I’m just gonna wear it, you know. So thank you for sharing, you know, your thoughts on that. I just wanted to respond in a very long winded way and say, I know, I know what you mean. I know what you mean.

Ada
Koss our producer just made some finger hearts, which I agree. Yeah, I think it’s also, I guess, like, I am technically part of the same diaspora, I guess, like, if you talk about like, technically, I guess, ethnically Han Chinese. But like, if you look at my family tree, like, okay, geopolitics aside and the like, you know, when I was little, and I would say I’m Taiwanese, people would then be like, that’s part of China, and then I would have to, like, comprehend that and like, process that as like a five-year-old. So like, you know, working through all that. Now, nowadays, when I say that, I don’t have to say that because Taiwan is unfortunately in the news, a lot, at least Western media. And I’m not gonna go into that right now. But like, it’s kind of like, ethnically, yes. But then, if you think about the history of how the country was formed, it’s like, not a very old culture or country. But then there were people coming over for hundreds of years. So half of my family is, like, you know, from a couple 100 years back moved over. And so they’re so deeply ingrained in like, at what point does it become its own, either like separate or subculture. And then on the other side, like they came over with the revolution, so like, what does that mean? And how does that it’s just like all very interesting. I think once you filter out, like, all this stuff happened way, way before I even existed, or was a thought in anyone’s mind. And then two separate humans decided to move halfway across the world. They met and then they had me. I have to deal with this. No, like it’s just, yeah, it’s a lot.

Jo
Awww Mm hmm. And I think there’s a lot of, how should I put this like, there’s a feeling of not being enough and not being worthy? Really, if you’re not participating in the culture as much “as you should”, quote, unquote, because then you get that feeling like, am I, then just trying to increase my proximity to whiteness? Am I trying? You know, am I a race trader? Like, what? At what point? You know, should I, should I just constantly, because I had that thought when it was Chinese New Year, and we were, I went with my white partner to a Chinese restaurant, and I was sitting between all these Chinese families in front of us there was this, like Chinese family, it was like two, you know, people our age, and they had three little Chinese babies. And, you know, it was I was like, Oh, am I looking into a parallel life? Like? Do you know what I mean? Like, is that who I should be? And here’s me like, I don’t speak any kind of like, dialect fluently enough. And I’m sitting with my white partner ordering in English from the menu, surrounded by all these people, and I was, it was terrible, like, I cried. And then I was like, Whoa, and then everyone thought he was breaking up with me. They were like, Fuck you for breaking up with her on Chinese New Year. And I was like, No, No, we’re fine. It’s okay. Yeah, it was, it was so much to kind of unpack in that one moment. And I don’t often like think about that sort of thing. But it came on very strongly at that moment, like, what am I doing? You know, who am I? And what am I doing with my life? And I think I’m just gonna continue to ask this question.

Nicole
I think I remember you talking about this in a post or maybe in a story and what kind of responses you get to it ?

Jo
Very kind responses. A lot of people are like, yeah, these are big feelings and complex feelings. And you’re not expected to know everything about how you are. And just, again, you know, the internet is a terrifying and very bad place. But I’ve been continually surprised by the kindness of strangers. I had a lot of very kind people, both from people who were specifically like Malaysians, and Singaporeans who are overseas, and saying that, you know, it’s fine. It’s fine. Like, you know, be your feelings. It’s okay, these are really valid things to be thinking and feeling at the same time. And, you know, it might also be homesickness, that you’re feeling like amplifying all of that, but also like people, oh, well, you know, not of color, like white people. Being like, I don’t, you know, I haven’t ever felt this way. But I recognize that this is important to you. When I was like, Oh, thanks people on the internet. So yeah, that that was yeah, that was nice.

Ada
Sometimes the sewing Instagram surprises me, I mean, a lot of times it doesn’t and it’s kind of a dumpster fire. But sometimes it does surprise me and kind of give give me that boost in those moments and makes me feel a lot better. And so with that, I kind of do want to talk about your style a bit, because your style is, I don’t know if you would describe it this way, but I would say very fun. There’s a lot of colors, there’s a lot of different materials, it is possibly what I would describe as the polar opposite of my own style. And you said in the last Tauko magazine, which came out a few weeks ago at the point of when this release is, there might be another one, so go back and look for Jo’s episode or Jo’s, what’s, what’s the episode of magazine. Oh yeah release issue. Go back and look for Jo’s issue.

Jo
What are words? Jo, what is your issue?

Ada
what are words?

Nicole
is it issue 4 ?

Jo
what what what? What isn’t my issue?

Ada
We will have a link in our show notes to the correct issue but you said “life is an unstoppable hurdle into the void and all things should accordingly be as joyous stupid and fun as possible”. So with that being said and Koss has flashed that is number five, and you have a physical copy of it, reminder you can buy a physical copy and support Jo’s work. How would you describe your style?

Jo
How I would describe my style is by, what the things that it’s not. So I dress.. Do you know what I mean? Like I dress the character and the character as me, so I find a lot of times when people talk about style, again, I think it kind of comes back to what we’re talking about just now that style is quite often seen as a way of communication and in like emblematic of your identity in your you dress a certain way to indicate that you value a particular aesthetic or like you belong to a particular culture. And it’s not just like cultural, we’re, it’s things like luxury goods. So luxury goods are indicators of your personal wealth, or that at least that you aspire towards wealth, and you value these things. And like, you know, what’s the boy like, hetero normative dressing that indicates that you ascribe to the gender binary? And so you can see like, it’s, it’s quite a nuanced kind of, but it’s also quite problematic thing that you’re seen as trying to communicate, but you’re really not, if that makes sense. Because, for me, I dress the way that I feel most comfortable. And so kind of going back to the whole, like, gender thing, like, I had a point in my life when I was like, ladies got bitties. And so I shall get a push up bra. And so yeah, I was like, dressing in this way. That was like emphasizing the contours of my body. And that didn’t, that felt quite performative to me. And I was like, Oh, does that mean that I’m trans, you know, and then so for a little while, I presented very masculine, they like cut my hair off. And I was like, you know, like, button ups and things like that. And again, it felt very performative also. And at this point, I was like, I’m dressing to fit into a box, whether it’s one box or another box and, it didn’t make sense to try in, performed to other people’s expectations. And so, I guess, coming back to what you were, in a very long winded way to what you ask of me is that, I would say it’s dopamine dressing.

Ada
Oh, I like that! Which is you know, that that’s the trend, you know, the 2022’s hottest new trend, dopamine dressing, I fucking hate it. Because it was like, it’s quite often portrayed as like maximalism, or like flamboyance and like wearing bright colors and things like that. But what it really means is just wearing stuff that you like. So you wear stuff that you like, and it makes you happy. So what you’re doing is sort of like deliberately curating your external influences for your own personal gratification. In that’s how I would describe my style, love it!

Jo
yeah, so I don’t, yeah, so it’s not a particular thing. You know, it’s not a particular sort of culture. It’s just, I dress as a character and the character is me.

Nicole
I love that.

Ada
I mean, I think that’s a good way to put it. Hey, podcast listeners, looking for a way to support the Asian sewist collective. Well, we have a great way for you to do that now. And we are excited to announce our first set of merch, we’ve launched a limited edition set of woven labels on our Ko-fi page. So K O, dash F I .com/asian sewist collective and you can get a pack of five woven labels custom designed by our very own producer Mariko with some cute sayings from seasons one through three, like “this was a panic sew”, “forgot to pre wash” or “made with fabric purchased while traveling”. And they all have really cute designs on them that you should definitely go check out on our Instagram and on our Ko-fi page. And to get your very own set of five labels, you will be supporting the podcast and helping us bring you new content. And new guests week after week, so head to K O dash F I .com/asian sewist collective

Nicole
So you talked a little bit about you know, the evolution of your your style or your character. And do you think that when you picked up sewing again that this influenced the way that you saw yourself like, did your outward expression of what you put on your body like change with sewing or did it free you, you know from from all the things but ready to wear has to offer?

Jo
I think so in a little way. I think that it enabled me to make things closer to my vision. And I guess in the length, proportional, in a length proportional to my body. But yeah, I was always finding things that I liked before anyway and sort of like trying to make them work. But yeah no, sewing has been quite helpful. I think the way that sewing has really helped me is that, in terms of like ready to wear is that has made me really comfortable with my body in the sense that I suffered For many years with eating disorders and all that fun sort of thing, like you’re, you’re like heavily socialized to be like, You should be this big. And when you turn sideways, nobody should see you. Except if you have bitties, and you should be seen this way and that way. And so it frustrated me for a long time that I couldn’t be the smallest size in the store, things like that. It was just really unhealthy and stuff. And then, so learning how to sew makes me view myself more as a collection of measurements. And these measurements can change. And that is also okay, it’s frustrating, because it means I have to change my block. But otherwise, it’s been really, really healthy. And I have a much healthier relationship with food and my body and stuff like that. And so it’s been good. I would say, I don’t think that quite answered the question. But, you know,

Nicole
I think I think it did, you know, your sewing practice influenced the way like your outward expression, and also, how you see yourself influences that as well. Like, I think that was also one of the big revelations when I started sewing clothing for my body is that, I like how you put it, you know, I just a collection of measurements. Is that what you said? like, I like that not a size, you know, not not a length, but just a collection of measurements that can change over time. And that has really led me to be more comfortable with my body and less tolerant of like, brands that only go to an XL, but they don’t fit me like that type of stuff

Jo
Oh genuinely and like it’s so interesting going shopping with people who don’t sew

Ada
Oh, yeah.

Jo
Yeah. And you’re like oh they’re like, oh, no, I can’t fit this pants ! go a size bigger. They’ve made it too fucking small. You know, it’s not about you not being able to fit into the sizes, that they’re not making the size for you. Yeah, yeah, it’s, it’s very interesting, actually. But it’s also one of the reasons why I don’t really buy ready to wear much, if at all, at this point,

Ada
I had a similar conversation with the friend that I was teaching how to sew when she was visiting. Because she like our whole friendship, she’s just been on the larger end. And right now she’s kind of found her few go-to brands that have the sizes that fit her. And she made a comment while we were sewing that I didn’t correct the time, but I feel like I need to tell her now, which was now that I’ve had time to reflect she was like, Oh, I love this that I can just take the tape measure, measure how big my chest is, and then put that from the pattern to the paper to the, like cutting of the fabric. And then it is me like it is sized for me. And I was like anyone would be like, and we’ve picked the most inclusive patterns here. Because some of the patterns that I have are shitty and don’t go to your size. But like I do have to tell before she dives right in and is like sorely disappointed. But like I do think there’s something to be said, because we have a lot of conversations about like, body image and size and how a lot of disordered eating comes from a lot of just society and shitty things that people say to us and shitty things that doctors say to us even

Jo
Oh God, yeah,

Ada
so yeah, tangentially a, I think it falls on on everybody to kind of like be as introspective. So I appreciate you for sharing so much of yourself.

Jo
oh thank you

Ada
I am curious now that you’re like, I dress for the character that I am, which is me? Are you a fabric first person or a pattern first, like when you are making something? How like, what’s your process? Do you choose a fabric first? Did you pull a bolt at the fabric store? Or do you look at a pattern and say I want to hack that or look at your block and say I’m gonna draw? Like what is it?

Jo
Oh, that’s a really hard one. Um, I, I think it definitely changes from time to time, like, I will get the urge to kind of make something. Do you know what I mean? And I’ll just think about that one thing all the time, like, consistently, and I’m like, Oh, I can make that in this fabric. And I can make it in that fabric. And but sometimes it’s also like just being obsessed with a particular type of fabric as well. So I would say both, but not always at the same time. So like, at this point in time, I’m really really obsessed with rayon.

Ada
That’s a good I mean, that’s a healthy obsession to have. Perhaps just no healthy for your wallet or your storage space. I don’t know.

Jo
No, no. Oh, so I don’t want to muck around with my camera or anything like that. But at this point in time, where I’m at, like I’ve got these plastic bins and they go up to my chest.

Nicole
Oh my gosh,

Jo
I know it’s terrible. It’s so bad as and I’m like, I’ve got plans for that. And I’ve got plans for that. You know, but I just I remember, I was listening to a podcast that episode that you guys had made and I think you said something like, I always have more plans than time.

Ada
Acurate

Jo
And that’s exactly how it is. So, I’m gonna dig I’m been digging through they’re trying to find like, sort of thin, drapey fabric, like rayon basically because I’ve got all these plans for them now. So yeah

Ada
I will point out that you live in the opposite climates, hemisphere? what are words today?

Jo
What are words?

Ada
So it’s summer for you?

Jo
Yes. So it’s not quite summer. Like, I’ve got three layers on. I’ve also got a pair of pants on, let me see if I can stick my leg up. Oh, funny here you go. That’s my leg. Oh, yeah, this summer in Auckland, actually, sorry, this is gonna sound very weird to people listening to the podcast.

Ada
I will point out that Koss is on this call that we’re recording the podcast on and that’s why we have the context of different places in New Zealand and the weather. Because I am literally wearing like, the thickest sweater. It’s probably low teens to freezing. Zero degrees Celsius for everybody who’s not in America. And, and it’s cold. I mean, I live like basically, in the base of a mountain

Nicole
Chicago, today was 75 degrees. I don’t know what that is in Celsius, I’m sorry. It is 20?

Ada
It’s about 16-17 degrees.

Jo
I was like ooooh that was warm!

Ada
Maybe 18? It’s temperate and nice

Nicole
that it’s supposed to drop. But

Jo
oh, that is not fun

Ada
So I’m jealous of your rayon is like the TLDR of all of that. Like, I would love to be sewing some rayon right now.

Nicole
I’m pretty excited to see what you come up with with your many, many ideas. Once you find what you’re looking for. And your Instagram photos. They look so great, like, very stylized and editorial. I know you told us a little bit about where you shot most of the early ones. But for me, like what you see on Instagram is definitely like not what you see every day. I am wearing a running long sleeve shirt right now, for reasons that the pre call, discussion. Like wearing like, this is me all the time. Like is the Jo of your grid, the Jo of the world, like out there at the grocery store and different places?

Jo
Yes and no. So four days a week, from nine to seven o’clock. I’m in scrubs. So not really. But on my off days I guess so because these are just my clothes, you know, I’m not, okay, I will preface this and say like, if you go on my grid, there is a make I’ve made with like a balaclava with a crown on it. And I’m not wearing that to go and buy eggs.

Ada
You could though!

Jo
I could, I could like the there’s another one I’ve made. It’s like a hat. And it’s got little horns on it. And I wore that to a barbecue. It was fun. It was great. You know what I mean? Like so? Yes. But broadly, like, broadly yes actually yeah. You know, like, I get bored with stuff really easily. So

Ada
I couldn’t tell by the frequency of your posts.

Jo
But yeah, so yeah, I’m quite often wearing what I’ve just made, I wouldn’t probably wear everything in a set together.

Nicole
I can see that being problematic.

Jo
Yeah,

Ada
I think you’d just be very warm.

Jo
I would, well it does get cold. But do you know what I mean? Like, I probably like this one I made quite recently. That’s like a four piece set. And it makes me look like like a character from an anime about racing.

Nicole
Sounds fast. So you’re telling me, you look like you’re going fast?

Jo
So I’ve worn all the individual pieces and they work with other bits of my wardrobe, but I wouldn’t wear them all together because I don’t want to be asked if I’m going to a convention.

Ada
Fair.

Jo
I go fast! But yes.

Ada
And you recently, tangential to sewing or I guess like directly related to selwing, you also created a label company. So congratulations. Can you tell us like where, like where did the idea come from and what prompted starting the label company?

Jo
It was Like equal parts: amusement, and naivete. So I was like, oh, it’s gonna be fun. And then I was like, Ah, fuck, it’s not fun

Ada
Agreed

Nicole
That entrepreneur like, thought process.

Jo
Pretty much! Pretty much.

Ada
Okay, but we have to give the listeners context, you heard the plug earlier, like, buy our labels, support the podcast, but let me tell you bits, we ordered the labels. And then we shipped them to me, the only person on the pod with direct, like, the amount of volume e-commerce, like, experience that someone needs, and I just sat on my living room floor, putting one of each type of label into the little tiny, and they’re like annoying, the little compostable cellophane packs, and then having to like, clip them, and then make sure they stayed in there. And then counting things like so I understand for sure! I feel you

Jo
So let me put that into context. I do all the packing myself. I do all the like, so everything, you know, I do. And so when I launched, I think it would have been June, probably when I launched everything properly. For the first time, I had done about 300 of the jumbo multipacks, which have, I think 16 different little labels. And then I had to use these tweezers which I stole from work. Um, so pack them individually into things and it takes a long time. You know, like, you’ve got to put these little guys into the little bags. And then actually, because I’m in the middle of packing stuff now, because I don’t know why I don’t plan these things very well. So I was like, let me drop my labels on Saturday. I guess whenever this thing airs, it will definitely be like, well, well, you know, well away. But yeah, so I’ve got these packed up. And then I’ve got to kind of take the little label the little sticky bit off and stick that down and then, I think from beginning to end, will probably be about an hour for 50 packs. And

Ada
yep,

Jo
yeah. So there’s quite at this point in time. I think when I first started, I think there were like, 16 or so different packs that I had, and they had about 50 of each. So, a lot of work. So I feel ya, it was what I was trying to say. Yeah. How are you doing it without tweezers? That’s the other thing I wanted to ask you.

Ada
I, it had never occurred to me to get tweezers. I’m now going to steal my extra, I have the tweezers you know the serger tweezers or the like, overlocker, the ones that come with your non sewing like…

Jo
So you’ve done this without petty larceny. Which is what you’re trying to say. Yes, yes.

Nicole
It’s my understanding that if you were in a healthcare facility, you’re always committing petty larceny in the forms of band aids and pens.

Ada
Everybody steals pens from every office

Jo
actually that is very true.

Nicole
Growing up all my pens had like, the pharmacy, pharmaceutical, I feel like I talked about this in a previous episode recently but like, like, all the names of the drugs that the people were coming to sell and like all I wanted was a plain old bic, all I wanted was like a plain pen. I had all those hospital pens, right it’s okay she’s retired, she can’t get in trouble.

Jo
Excellent. So I not quite tangentially but so growing up, when I was in Malaysia, so we didn’t have a heat pump, we had air conditioning right. And it has those little slats that go up and down, and sometimes if they break then they go… kind of like hanging down so my dad would use expired material, expired filling material to fix them so we had

Ada
That’s kind of genius

Jo
he’s a smart man you know, air conditioner in our house has these like little tooth colored knobs like propping them up it’s great. God bless him.

Nicole
our families taught us to be… resourceful, thank you I was gonna, words again right, almost foil me, but thank you for that. I really love, we do do speak English.

Jo
Thank you.

Nicole
I really love the prosperity multipack with labels like “I love you like cut fruit and congee” and my favorite one is the one that makes me think of my grandma, where it says, I just I pulled it up, because I remember laughing about it. It says “Aiya, wear so nice for what” So like one my grandmas, they’re both Filipino. And I grew up with them in the house, and I had house clothes, which were just like sweatpants. But if I was wearing jeans or something, you know, or something like nicer, she’d be like, Are you going somewhere? Where are you going? Why are you dressed like that? And I’m just like gonna put on my house clothes then. Yeah.

Jo
Wear so nice for what? huh?

Nicole
Like, yeah,

Jo
For who to see?

Nicole
Where are you going? It just, it just makes me laugh. And you know, this particular pack, you know, references, your heritage, and surely a lot of our listeners can relate to them. And, you know, you sometimes talk about the disconnect of having like, a strict Asian upbringing and family and being out here like having fun with bright colors and selling fun things like can you talk a little bit more about that?

Jo
That’s an interesting question. I’m glad you asked it, I think this whole disconnect with the strictness of the family, I’m sorry, I’m just putting my tweezers down for a hot second, but you know, I will put them back at work. All right?

Ada
No one from work is gonna listen to us and be like, Jo’s stolen a pair of tweezers, we need to get them back.

Jo
Sorry. Anyway, going back to that. The disconnect of the whole, you know, Asian family upbringing, and then out here having fun, I think there’s a real danger of getting into this reductive mindset, which is quite childlike, almost of seeing your parents as these overarching oppressors and the source of all your trauma, and it really kind of like grossly oversimplifies this quite nuanced relationship between a parent and a child. And, you know, just seeing them as these really strict and non communicative individuals doesn’t really allow them to be, like, flawed, human beings, with room for growth and change. And I did kind of view them in that way for a little while. But yet, like, the disconnect for me, really, in not talking to my parents about what I do, is that, partly that, but also that they would laugh at me. So the thing about, you got to know, about my parents is that they’re best mates. So, you know, they’re just their own little thing. They’re, like best friends and like, they’re just, it’s just two of them against the world. And they always, like, make fun of everyone else, which is adorable. You know, it’s really adorable as an adult, it is really traumatic as a child. Why is mom laughing at me? You know what I mean, and so I would be really, I would be quite, like worried about showing them things that I made, or things that I had done, because I didn’t want them, like making fun of me or like, telling me that I couldn’t do things and, or whatever. And so, again, I think as you grow up, you don’t quite, you know, your perception of your parents doesn’t quite grow with you. And I’ve recently had some pretty good progress with it. Because my brother’s been really encouraging me to tell my parents more about the things that I’m doing, and what I’m, you know how I am? And I’ve always been like, oh, no, they wouldn’t understand it wouldn’t be, you know, what’s the point, you know, like, unless it’s work related or success related or like, things like that, they wouldn’t be able to engage with me or in any capacity. And again, just recognizing that it’s actually quite a reductive way of thinking, has really helped my relationship with them. Because I’ve been, in recent times, again, quite pleasantly surprised, both that, they’ve done sort of a complete 360 from, oh no 360 they come back to it again. They’ve done a 180 what I thought they would say or do which is, they’re incredibly supportive. They’re like, oh, you should. Although it does become into that sort of other predictable response when you tell people that you can make things which is you should make me something. And it’s like, no, no, I can’t make things for myself. I don’t have time to make stuff for you!

Nicole
That’s my response yeah

Jo
But yeah, so it’s, it’s a, it’s a question that I’ve grappled with for a little while that, you know, the idea that you can’t be creative, and also have an open relationship with your parents. But that’s nonsense, because of course you can, but there’s work that needs to be done on both sides.

Nicole
My mom surprised me in a similar way too, I think, you know, I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer and I was one of those weird kids. and I am one. And that’s sort of something that has been, you know, people are really proud of, even though not everybody really understands what I do with my law license. But she surprised me when I made her something to wear. And she wore it, we wore it, it was like from scraps from a jumpsuit that I made. And I was like, oh, there’s enough here, Mom, I’ll make you a shirt. And I made and we ended up wearing it to the same event. It was like a memorial service. how proud she was to tell everyone that I had made her shirt. I was like, I don’t. Yeah, I just it was unexpected. And I think I would have, I would have felt the same way. Like, she’s not going to come up to me and say, what you are making is really nice. I’m really proud of you, you know, she’s gonna cut fruits and tell people that her daughter made this, you know, like so. And that is part of my evolution as an adult is like you said better understanding, you know, where our parents come from, you know, accepting that yeah, maybe like, it’s okay to wish that things were different, what may happen, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t love, you can’t like continue to love and respect you know, your parents.

Jo
Exactly

Nicole
I’ve never heard. That’s like the most proud I’ve ever like actually heard her. I know she’s proud of me. But like, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her brag about me ever except for like, when I made her a shirt, it was just a nice surprise. And again, like, if I had not sort of opened myself up to involving her in that, you know, then who knows? I may not have seen that side.

Ada
Yeah, like when my in-laws came to visit, and meet my mom. Like they met my mom for the first time. And we had already been engaged and we’d been together for a while. And my mom and I don’t have the best relationship. It’s, we’re working on it. I’m working on it. She, but she knew that I was like sewing cuz she was just like, what, you made me this like robe thing. And then you made me all these like, had head-scarfy things. So like, you can clearly do the thing. And so they brought it up to my in laws and my in laws, I think like, knew that I had a sewing machine, but didn’t know how prolific I had been. So they were like, they were in our house. So they’re like, go get everything you’ve made. So then I come down with like, an armful of all these hangers.

Jo
Oh my God!

Ada
And my mom’s going through them. And she’s like, you know, I should really tell your aunt like, her oldest sister, that you’re sewing, I should have sent her some pictures and I was like, I didn’t want to be like, yeah, there are lots of photos online. I already have a whole Instagram. She actually, she’s like, Yeah, I should, I should send it to your oldest aunt. And then my mother-in-law was like, Oh, why? And it’s because my oldest aunt who retired early. And it’s definitely like the coolest aunt on that side. I know that none of my extended relatives or cousins will be listening to this and then tell anybody that I said this because otherwise that would start some shit. But she’s definitely, definitively the coolest aunt. And she’s single, no, not married. No kids, had a dog. And she used to be a buyer for ready to wear, for a giant Japanese department store in Taiwan. So she like, has always had the best fashion of all the aunts. And so to have my, that was like as close as we were gonna get to like, you’ve made some cool stuff. It was: “I’m gonna tell your aunt”. Oh, wow. That’s interesting. It’s like the kind of weird backhanded compliment that you don’t really realize the value of until you’re like whoa, you know, you’re gonna tell your aunt Jen had the same similar, had a similar thing with her mom when we were talking to her on the stitch, please podcast and I was like, What is it with? Perhaps it’s like a generational thing. Like, what is it with the moms and not giving you just a direct comment? I don’t know. Maybe it’s also like a, we grew up like, where we grew up and like the context of comments and whatnot. But anyways,

Jo
I’ve always thought it was more like, you know how Asian society is very collectivist and you can’t, like single out an individual. So you can’t be like, you’re great. It’s like, I’m going to tell someone about you. You know what I mean? Like I will make it known within our community that you are slightly more outstanding, than other people are, I don’t know, there’s my thoughts.

Ada
Or perhaps if you flip it the Western like individualist, where perhaps if you grew up with that mindset of like, I must be praised directly for being such a special individual. Where is my prayer for me as a special individual?

Jo
Awww, well you are special and also different.

Ada
Okay, back to being different and the tweezers. I do have a like practical question here. Do you have advice, For people who want to start a small business just for fun, like you did with, besides the tweezers part.

Jo
so don’t steal from your workplace. That’s the first thing, but do

Ada
print your patterns there.

Jo
Yes.

Ada
That’s not stealing. That’s just thrifting right?

Jo
that’s true, I would say that expect a lot more time than you thought that you were going to be putting into it. The other thing is that it’s a real commitment to a long term thing, unless you kind of do the kind of business where it’s just like you do one big drop, and then you never do it again, then yeah, but like the way it was my label thing, people would just find it and buy stuff online, and I’ll get an email being like, hey, someone just bought your labels. And I’m like, Ah, fuck, I’ve got to pack, doing things. And quite often, when you’re starting the thing, you don’t quite realize that you will then get busy with your other parts of your life, and then it becomes another responsibility in the list of responsibilities that you already have. In so yeah, it’s a much larger commitment, than you would initially think, I guess, this one. And the other thing also is that you should really read up about, like, I guess stuff, like taxes. I talked to my accountant. And I was like, I make more money. And he was like, Oh, who are you selling to? And I’ll say, I dunno. Because he was like, different taxes that you pay if you like, if you sell to people overseas, or you sell to people within New Zealand, it changes things and like, what are your overheads? Like? Why are you spending this much money, I’m like, I make things. And so it’s like, as a creative, when you start a creative business, you’re often just thinking about your product. And there’s a lot of things that go into starting a business that are more than just a product, like you’ve got to do all this work around marketing, you’ve got to do all this work around like the admin side of things and like figuring out how not to be a criminal, which apparently is very easy. If you I think if you sell like, that’s why I don’t ship things to Germany, because there’s some weird law about shipping to Germany, where you’ve got to register with something. And I don’t know what that is, and I don’t want to find out. So I’m sorry, German people who listen to this podcast and, the Venn diagram of people who are in Germany, listen to this podcast, want to buy a label, like where you are in that little triangle in the middle. I’m very sorry. But

Ada
Ship it to my friend in a different country nearby and have them mail something to you.

Jo
That’s how people have done it actually. so yeah, um I Guess broadly, to summarize, is a lot of work.

Ada
Agreed. I have to say, agree.

Nicole
Thank you so much for speaking with us today. Jo, I had a really great time getting to know you. Can you remind our listeners where they can find you.

Jo
Um, so you can find me only on Instagram. And that is @ five spice power. So that’s like five spice powder. Which a lot of people seem to like, tag the spice a lot? So they will be like, because I can see when you shared my photo and then there’ll be like, I love this, I love this dress by five spice powder. Like Thank you but also…

Ada
It’s a pun! It’s funny, the handle is funny five spice power or not powder.

Jo
I know.. But it’s like you’ve tagged the spice. That’s fine. Um, anyways, so it’s five spice power without the D

Ada
and where can we buy your labels?

Jo
You can buy my labels also on Instagram. It’s inside voices labels. And I think the website, again, this is, you know y’all don’t start a business if you don’t know how to. Okay, inside voices labels.com is where you can find them.

Ada
Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist collective podcast. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Ko-fi by becoming a one time or monthly supporter or, new this season, buying our stickers and our very funny sewing labels. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and will allow us to give back to our all volunteers team who work super hard to provide you with new content each week. The link to our Ko-fi page is K O dash F I.com/asian sewist collective and you can find the link in our show notes on our website and on our Instagram account. Check us out on Instagram at Asians Sewist collective That’s one word, Asian sewist collective. And you can help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends. We would also appreciate it if you could rate, review, and subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Pocket Casts or wherever you get your podcasts.

Nicole
All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website, that’s Asian sewist collective.com And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments, or even voice messages if you want to be featured on a future episode at Asian sewist collective@gmail.com This episode was brought to you by your co hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Ada Chen and Kossoma Kernem produced by Kossoma Kernem and edited by Shilyn Joy and Henry Wong. 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.

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