We are celebrating JUNETEENTH! All. Month. Long. The theme for our Juneteenth commemoration is Creative Liberation. Inspired by Alexis Pauline Gumbs teaching that "Freedom isn't a secret. It is a practice," the Stitch Please podcast celebrates the many ways that Black women, girls, and femmes continually practice creative ways to get, be, and stay free. We begin the month strong. This episode is all about Intentional Sewing and Intentional Living. Our special guest truly embodies this topic. If you know Kamali Obiagu from Instagram, you know that she radiates confidence in photos where she wears her impeccably stitched creations. Lisa talks with her about what it took to get to that place - discovering a sewing community (and PDF patterns!) and learning to love the body she’s in today. They’ll also dive into why Kamali gave herself a new name when she turned 30 and the importance of self-care. Listen in!
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Learn more about Kamali Obiagu!
On Celebrating a New Name
Kamali explains, "Making clothes that fit my body NOW instead of waiting in hopes of a different body has been the biggest change in mindset for me on this sewing journey. My body confidence grew when I started sewing because I stopped limiting my wardrobe and made clothes that fit me well. I love to bring my Blackness and power in my photos of my makes. I am proud of my Blackness and being apart of the African Diaspora. In my makes and photoshoots I try my best to embody that pride because it shows the world who I am. Changing my name to reflect my ancestors roots was/is the most important thing I have ever done. When I changed my name to one that reflected who I am, and who I am to become, I felt whole. Like my pride, mindset, and personality matched with my name."
Lisa Woolfork 0:14
Hello stitchers, welcome to Stitch Please. The official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So, sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.
Hello everyone, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. Joining me from Charlottesville, Virginia, and I am absolutely delighted to speak with you today about the topic of intentional sewing, intentional living. And my guest for this is someone who embodies this spirit. I am speaking today with Kamali Obiagu. Kamali Obiagu is a fantastic and wonderful sewist. She has hot fire looks that I often see on Instagram, and the story of her name, the story of her intentional living is what motivated me to have this episode today. So Kamali, thank you so much for being with us. Thank you.
Kamali Obiagu 1:38
Ah, peace and blessings to you. I'm happy to be here. I'm so happy to be here.
Lisa Woolfork 1:43
Wonderful, wonderful. So, can we start a little bit about—can you tell me your sewing story? How did you get started in the sewing life?
Kamali Obiagu 1:53
Yes. Often when people ask me this, I'm always chuckling over it. Because in 2014, it was income tax time. And I was—I had bought a sewing machine. I said, "Why not?" I was crocheting before that, so I thought, "Let me go ahead and try out sewing." And it didn't work out at all, I think the most I made was like a tote bag, and an—apron paper patterns confused me. And it just didn't work out. It collected dust. So, then I ended up reselling it. And in 2018, mid-year, I was looking at sewing again. Expect this time, I dove in, I did all the research, I picked which machine I wanted it to get and learned how to thread that through YouTube videos and already had joined some PDF pattern companies. And actually never heard of PDF patterns before. I never heard PDF patterns before, and so I dove in. I think Patterns for Pirates was my first group that I joined, and I was looking at YouTube tutorials and like the peg legs and all these other patterns. So I told my husband, I say, "Yeah, I wanna, I wanna get a sewing machine again. And he was like, "It's gonna collect dust again, remember what happened to the last one?" I said, "Nah, I feel different about this one."
Lisa Woolfork 3:05
"I'm really ready. I'm really ready this time."
Kamali Obiagu 3:07
Yeah, yeah, yeah, and I was like then I felt the need to prove him wrong, you know so [laughing]. So, I got the sewing machine. It was the Brother—a CS6000i, I believe. And that was December 2018. In the same day I got it, the same day I made a pair of leggings. I was already hooked and ready to go. And so I decided to make that one pair leggings. Things just took off insanely fast for me. Because then I got addicted. When I first had the sewing machine in 2014, I didn't know the—how much I could do with a sewing machine. I didn't see the power in it at the time. And then to be in a part of the PDF community and see all these things. And then Pinterest is, Pinterest is like my addiction. So seeing all the things I could do with a sewing machine projects through Pinterest, and then all these all these patterns. And I thought this is it. And so, I started with the leggings, and then I moved into Raglan shirts and then jammies. And then I had a friend of mine, her name is Corin. And she mentioned, "Hey, you might want to get into testing. That will help your skills a little bit more." And I was intimidated with testing because I felt like that was something that was for the higher up, more advanced people.
Lisa Woolfork 3:40
But it is also for testing and practice. So any skill level, all skill levels, I think would be beneficial.
Kamali Obiagu 4:27
Yes, and that's true. And that's what I ended up—that's what I ended up learning, and it definitely helped me out. Because even though I was making a lot of stuff, I was still the novice. Testing once I had my first test, I think it was some bell bottoms for my baby girl. Bailey Bell Bottoms [by] Made for Mermaids. And once I made that, then I was like, "Okay, this is great." And I kept, ever since then, I've been testing, testing, testing, but it was different because I always said that when it comes to a new craft, don't dive in so quick. But I dove in so quick and was able to maintain that for so long. And it just really became a love of mine, along with being able to work on this project and then be able to wear it and show it off. And on, on top of that, the sewing community that comes with it, I didn't have, you know, I was crocheting beforehand, but I wasn't heavy into the crocheting community. So, the sewing community, just, just—
Lisa Woolfork 5:18
I so love this phase of your story, Kamali, and I want to back up a little bit and go back to 2014. So, you said it's tax time. I'm just assuming that you got a refund. And so you had a little bit of extra money that you were saying, "Let me just see if this will work." Where, where do you imagine your mind? Can you reflect on, and let me know where your mindset was in 2014 with the—I imagine you know if you're gonna spend your tax refund on this, that you were, you were thinking it would work out? You didn't go into it in 2014 thinking, "Ah, no, let me just throw my money away." That's not what you were intending. So, tell me what, tell me about where you were in 2014? If you can, if you can remember that far? Or if not, what's the difference between 2014 for you and 2018?
Kamali Obiagu 6:06
In 2014? Let's see, I was a mom of two. At the time that I bought the sewing machine, we were in Mississippi. We were only in Mississippi for a year, my husband's in the Marine Corps. So, we bounced around a lot. And so I thought, let me, let me go—I don't even know who was the person that might have, you know, put the idea in my head with the sewing machine. But I just knew that I was crocheting, and you know, certain crafts are like a gateway to other crafts. And that once I was crocheting all this stuff. I guess I had the thought of What if I could sew this stuff too that I'm crocheting? Would it be faster for me, you know, and I forget who the—Misha Sew was, I think that was what her name was. She made some incredible items that made it seem so easy for me to make. Uh, and I was inspired by her beautiful spirit and her tutorials. She made it almost so easy to just look at her videos and feel like, yeah, I could do this too. And I got the sewing machine, I didn't know much about threading, and so, I looked at the manual and stuff like that. I didn't do as much research on the machine. I believe I had a Project Runway Brother. And I just was like, "Oh okay," and then I became overwhelmed by it. And then looking at the paper patterns and being a new beginner and not knowing the symbols. I didn't look at any videos at all. I'm a visual learner, so videos helped me.
Lisa Woolfork 7:28
Kamali Obiagu 7:29
So, I was overwhelmed by all the, all the symbols on paper patterns and thin papers.
Lisa Woolfork 7:36
Oh yeah, the tissue papers.
Kamali Obiagu 7:36
And so only I was able to make an apron for it and felt so proud of myself. And I think I did make a dress and then a tote bag later on. But I was so overwhelmed that I doubted myself. I would just figure since I'm a mom of two, I know I can do make something, you know, for these kids. And I, and I limited myself because I said, "This is too hard, I'll come back to it another time." And then, I was already good with crocheting, so I just stuck with crocheting. And that's how the—it collected dust. But I also dealt with a lot of insecurities within my own self during that time. So, it was quick for me to make that machine collect dust.
Lisa Woolfork 8:12
And what I'm hearing and so appreciate about one of the ways that it seems to me that your intentional living is reflected in your sewing is that what you're describing now, it sounds to me like you weren't ready in 2014. That you were able to, that crochet was the thing that you loved. You were really good at it. You knew what to do, you knew how to map out a garment or a piece in crochet, how to start and finish it. Even if you use crochet patterns, you knew how to read all those symbols. You just weren't ready to learn and take on all this new stuff. But 2018 sounds like you were a different Kamali. Or maybe you weren't at this point, I think in 2018, you might not have even been Kamali. I don't know.
Kamali Obiagu 8:52
No, not at this moment. Not at this moment. But, uh—
Lisa Woolfork 8:56
It's nice to imagine 2018 being like a year when you were like, "You know what, I'm going to commit to this." Now, did you have any—you said you had two kids in 2014. By the time 2018 rolls around and you jump into sewing deeply, how many, um, had your family grown then?
Kamali Obiagu 9:13
Yes, in 2014, I had my two boys that were, at the time in 2014, they were four and one. But I also had my brother, who was 14 at the time. So, I had custody of my brother as well. And in 2018, I did have my baby girl, so this is my third child, and then my brother was, well, he was 18 at the point. So, 18 for my brother. My boys were, let's see here, I feel like I have too many kids trying to keep count here.
Lisa Woolfork 9:48
You've got a lot of love. You've got a lot of love to give, and you've got a lot of love to receive. So, you've got two kids, you've got three kids; your, your brother and your two little ones. And then your brother's still growing, thankfully, and you've got, now you've got, you go from three to four, so?
Kamali Obiagu 10:02
Yes, yes, yes, yes, then, so I have my baby girl, who's at the time was a year old when I first started, which I felt like she was really the inspiration when I found there's so many options for— [laughing]
Lisa Woolfork 10:15
A lot more options to sew for girls than there are for boys. That is true.
Kamali Obiagu 10:18
Yes, yes, it's great, but it's also frustrating. Because you see more variety. [laughing]
Lisa Woolfork 10:24
It's, it's great, it's also problematic because it's rooted in patriarchy. I'm convinced that the reason that there's more girls patterns and women's patterns is that women are seen as more decorative and ornamental than boys. Um, I, because I only tend to sew for boys. Yeah, that because that women and girls are objectified, there's a certain way that, you know, that the fashion industry and the sewing industry reflects that. And that's why I think that you can see the exact same boys patterns in some of these big four pattern books that have been there since the 50s. The exact same patterns. [laughing]
It's, it's definitely, it's challenging, it's challenging, and I find myself still often thinking about man, you know, there—I don't have a problem with finding things for you know, baby girl, as far as in patterns. I would like some more variety when it came to what my boys are interested in.
Kamali Obiagu 11:14
When I was, when I was pregnant, I will see all these beautiful outfits and things and seeing how much that could be done, all the outfits that I will see in stores. And so, when I decided to pick back up on sewing, I would often look in the stores, and I'd be like, "Hey, I could make this," you know. And so, me realizing that I could do such a thing, it really helped me to say, "All right, yeah, this got to work, this here got to work." Because there's lots of patterns that it will make me feel good. And when I made them for my baby girl—and what I actually started off sewing, I made the items for myself, but I also made it for the boys first before moving into sizes for her. And so, it was just that first couple of projects that I did think I made my boys Jammie pants and a shirt. And then from then, I got so, so excited about that I started making them matching outfits, which they loved. But then, it's that feeling when they put them on, and they get so excited, you know, and it was more of an excitement that I made it for them versus them just getting new clothes from the store.
Lisa Woolfork 12:16
Kamali Obiagu 12:17
And that really just, it had me feeling okay, I'm just gonna take off with this. Okay, I got to take off with this. I gotta make more. What else can I find? And then I find more patterns. And that's how the kind of snowball went off in my, in my sewing journey.
Lisa Woolfork 12:29
I really love that, I really do. And I really love how you have—that the boys were so excited that what they were wearing came from you. And that they could appreciate, even at an early age, and perhaps, especially at an early age, that this was something that their mother uniquely made for them. That it's not just about having new clothes, it's about having new clothes that were made for them by someone who loves them more than anything in the world. And that I think is such a beautiful feeling. It's also, I think, super smart on your part, and I say this because it's what I did.
Is that it's helping to start them early on the idea that make—that having something made for you is a normal thing. That, my boys I started sewing for them when they, when they were babies and toddlers. But I also started, uh, when my youngest was in kindergarten doing matching outfits for two boys who were in the same school. And, and, that then that, that blossomed into matching family outfits that I would make at Easter and at the beginning of the school year for all of us, from my husband and me and both boys. And my youngest boy is about to graduate high school. And I made him a shirt for that first day of school and, well as well as for the most recent Easter. And my oldest boy is graduating college, and I still make him a shirt for the first day of school and for Easter. Now we have to see if my youngest boy is going to keep the tradition while he is at college next year. I don't know. But it's, it's—a friend asked me like, "How do you get your boys to wear what you make? How do you get them to do that?" And I'm like, they think it's normal.
Yeah, yeah [laughing], so I really feel like I've spoiled them for any spouse they might have in the future because they're like, "Why don't you make my underwear like my mother did? Why don't you make my [laughing]? Why don't you make me this? I need a costume. Why don't you just go down into the sewing machine and pull out the magic outfit from the machine like my mother did?"
Kamali Obiagu 14:29
You set the bar high.
Lisa Woolfork 14:32
So, it's just really, it's, it's really a beautiful tradition, and I'm so so glad to hear that you've been able to establish that in a way that's meaningful for your family. And that's the thing that I think is so wonderful and why I decided to invite you to the podcast today to talk about intentional living, intentional sewing. Because it feels like in 2014, you weren't able to be intentional about it. You weren't ready. The thing that I find so is so amazing is that in 2018 you had more kids. I think I need a couple, two, three more kids to add to the equation. And then, then I'll be ready. Because you know, having just three kids is not that much work. But you know what, let me add a fourth, that'll really get me going.
Kamali Obiagu 15:16
It's just—it's, what's, what's beautiful is that, as you know, making clothes for them, I, when—I have, I have neighbors that they talk about how when they were younger, their parents would make clothes for them, and they didn't it appreciate as much because they will go to school, and be joked about it. But I thought it was amazing then when I would see that. But in 2021, we now—we have custom fabrics, we have all these colorful fabrics. And they—my kids have not had anyone joking, they think it's cool that their mom makes them these clothes with these fabric colors and all these other things. And it's just something that, you know, often beforehand might—I would get my clothes for the kids, I would get them from, you know, chain stores, so, you know, that there's another kid, there's quite a few other kids as we wearing the same thing that your kid has. And so, when I started making clothes for my kids, it was like, "Okay, I know nobody else is going to have these print, so they get to stand out more." They are—personalities themselves already stand out, but their clothes, match them. But I think that's a beautiful thing. You know, knowing that they're going to have an item that you know, they're like, "Oh, hey, where'd you get it from? Oh, my mom made it." And meanwhile, I'm just sitting here patting myself on the back—
Lisa Woolfork 16:27
You better, you better pat yourself on the back, on the back, on the head, on the belly, everywhere! Pat yourself everywhere! Because you have done the damn thing. Absolutely. One of the things I appreciate too that I hear in the difference between your 2014 and 2018 journey is the relationship between paper patterns, Big Four patterns, and PDF patterns. It seems as though there was a difference in that for you. Can you tell me about why you think? Or if you do think, do you think that the Big Four patterns, the tissue fitting patterns was a deterrent to your sewing? Because the way that you described it, it sounded like, and you're like, "Oh, I didn't understand the symbols. I didn't understand the instructions. The papers were too thin." Was there—was there a way in which that PDF patterns gave you a bit more than paper patterns did?
Kamali Obiagu 17:19
Yes, I feel like in order to talk about this, I should go back to when I first started crocheting.
Lisa Woolfork 17:23
Kamali Obiagu 17:23
Because when I first started crocheting, I believe it was 2012, and I was looking at YouTube videos. And I was really only following YouTube tutorial videos on crocheting, meaning not an exact pattern, or at least not a written pattern. It was just following them on doing the same thing they did. And I remember knowing that I needed to foll—I needed to have written crochet patterns in order for me to have more variety of things to make. And the abbreviations intimidated me like none other, and I said, "Man, I don't know if I could, I don't know if I could do all this, I maybe—I'll just stick to just watching the videos on it." But then I took a leap, and I said, "Let me try to learn stuff," and the abbreviations were, most of the time, stitches that I already knew it was just abbreviated. But having so many of them in one sitting looking at written patterns, I was like, my goodness. And now I look back at that, and I thought, man, I'm glad I did take that leap and decided to learn these. Because I was able to make way more stuff other than just relying on YouTube itself. Granted, if there was a stitch that I may not be familiar with, I did look at it tutorial for that. But I am able to understand written patterns with no problem because of the crochet, because of learning those abbreviations. And so when it came to 2014, it was—it was the symbols and, and stuff in the paper patterns, but also the texture of it too when it came to cutting into the tissue paper. And I didn't do any research to make it easier on me after that. And I heard nothing about the PDF community at this time. I was not in any sewing groups on social media. So again, not having that community either. It was easy for me to collect that dust. And I—the second time around when it came to 2014, that was when I actually found out about PDF community first through a YouTube tutorial.
Lisa Woolfork 19:20
Kamali Obiagu 19:20
And I thought, PDF? Huh? Like I could print him out at home. I don't have to go in a store and wonder if it's in my size or, or anything like that. Okay, let's try this out. And then I found that with most of the tutorials had picture tutorials, and I was able to understand that a little bit more. It was a little bit more simpler. And oddly enough, those PDF patterns has helped me to understand paper patterns in which I still look at tutorials to make sure I get it right. But I'm thankful that, the second time around, I started off PDF-wise first and then paper patterns. Because it's been, it's been a blast. I can't say that I would have soared the way I did If I didn't start off with PDF patterns the second time around.
Lisa Woolfork 20:02
I really appreciate that. Because when I hear you say that PDF patterns are giving you something that printed patterns don't, one of the things—oh, it sounds like there's two things that PDF patterns were giving you. First, they were giving you size inclusivity, that you don't have to worry about topping out at the size range or having to like do all the blending between sizes and the work that it takes to get a big four pattern to fit on a curvy Black body. You know, there's always stuff that I know I'm gonna have to change. Okay, I'm gonna have to do this way back adjustment. I'm gonna have to do the booty—I call it the booty blessings adjustment. I'm gonna have to do like all of these other things. But so that was one thing, the sizing.
But another thing that seems a bit more intangible but also is important is community. That when you got a PDF pattern, you knew it was going to come with a video, it would—that has tutorials, it's going to come with maybe like a group of people on Yout—on Facebook that are making it, you can check the hashtag on Instagram, and find other folks who have made it and see how they look—how you know. That's something I really love about it, it's being able to say, Oh, this person has a body shape like mine, and that looks amazing, so now I will make it too. So, it seems also that community was an important part of it as well, that it took you from being—it took you from being like an individual maker who was just sitting at her sewing room alone or sitting on the couch, crocheting by herself, looking at the computer, and kind of introduced you to a group of people who were doing this and making it work. Did you—am I—do you think this is a good assessment of what a good summary of what you—of what your process was?
Kamali Obiagu 21:47
Yes, yes, it's very, it was very important to have that community, knowing that I was getting a pattern. And I could see other, you mentioned how, you know, we can see other bodies and see a body like ours. And that was extremely important to me. Because at one point, especially in 2014, I was having my own body issues, where I wasn't as happy with the body that I was in. And sewing has really helped me to gain that body confidence. Because instead of me saying, "Hey,"—you know, before sewing, it was like, I don't want to buy this, you know, this shirt, or this dress or whatever, I want to wait until I reach a "goal weight," right?
Lisa Woolfork 22:22
Kamali Obiagu 22:22
And I want to get small. Post, post mom, excuse me, pre-mom, and then post mom. At post-mom, I was trying to, you know, chase a pre-mom body.
Lisa Woolfork 22:31
Kamali Obiagu 22:34
It was just really [inaudible]. And so I had lots of bodies, so I was—kept it simple with my wardrobe. I kept it very simple because I didn't feel comfortable in other, you know, clothing types. And so to join the PDF community, knowing that there are people who are unapologetically themselves, they own the body that there are in. It is a beautiful thing to see. And therefore, that led me to be able to branch out more. And then the further I got along into sewing and testing, I will look at certain companies, and I said, "I don't see a body like mine." Why not I test?
Lisa Woolfork 23:07
Kamali Obiagu 23:08
And then when I test and then there's people like, "Thank you." There's a body like mine. They're on display. So it's a bliss—a blessing because while I look at other people, I'm looking at patterns that I'm seeing, okay, that's I can see myself in that because there's somebody representing that. There's a there's a beautiful melanated person right there, and I can see myself in this mix, and that's great. And meanwhile, people also looking to me for the same thing.
Lisa Woolfork 23:30
Yes, absolutely. Uh, I want to take a quick break, and when we come back, we're gonna talk about what it means to love the skin you are in because that's another component that I wanted to talk with you about. So when we come back, everybody stay tuned. I am so happy to be talking with Kamali today. She's so incredible. So, stay tuned, and we will be right back after this break.
Lisa Woolfork 24:03
Black Women Stitch and the Stitch Please podcast are happy to announce that we have another way to connect with our community in addition to the IG Lives that we do every Thursday at 3pm. We also now have a club on Clubhouse. That's right friends. They done messed up and given me the chance to have a club.
Lisa Woolfork 24:25
Follow Black Women Stitch on Instagram and now on Clubhouse Thursdays at 3pm on Instagram, and 3:45pm on Clubhouse, Eastern Standard Time. And we will help you get your stitch together.
Lisa Woolfork 24:50
Welcome back everyone, and you are listening to the Stitch Please podcast. I am talking today with Kamali Obiagu, and she is, for me—I title this episode intentional sewing, intentional living because toma—because, because Kamali embodies that spirit of intentional sewing and intentional living for me. If you go and look at her blog, you will see some really beautiful garments, but also really beautiful stories about her own growth and development.
And I was really drawn to the story of her—of choosing a new name. One of the, one of the, one of the great feminist, Black feminists, lesbian feminist icons that I absolutely love, as many people do. Audrey Lorde wrote a book called Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. And there's something about Black women and Black woman's life and culture, that our names are important and sacred, and sometimes are subject to all sorts of abuse and violence. But one of the acts that I really admire about you, Kamali, is the claiming of your name of creating something that reflects who you are.
And so when we were speaking earlier, before the break, it was about—I know that many women, I had some—I can't, well I can't, I won't say many women, I don't like to do that. I don't like to say many people do this. How about I talk about myself.
In myself, in my past, I have definitely thought about my body in the future tense. That one day in the future, I will be this size, therefore, I will not be nice to the body that I have. I will, instead—oh, I'm okay with this body, but one day, I'll have a better one. And that's the stuff that—I'll have to clothes to fit. And it's such—it's so dangerous because it's such a distraction, and it gets in the way of us fully inhabiting who we are at all times. And that's one of the principles of Sonya Renee Taylor's book, The Body Is Not An Apology. That is a book that's been so important to my personal life, as well as to the development and the claiming of the space that Black Woman Stitch claims is empowered and motivated by that radical self-love that Sonya Renee Taylor talks about. Can you talk a bit about how you transition from this future body that one day you would make things for to learning to love and appreciate and revere the skin you are in now as also a sacred expression?
Kamali Obiagu 27:30
I—before, before I really took it upon myself to work on my present self. It was—I kept my wardrobe pretty simple. And I started a health and fitness journey and, and I was going at it hard. And I was working towards a goal weight. It wasn't, it wasn't pre-baby. But I was working towards a goal weight. And I eventually found myself working myself in the ground a little too much, obsessing over the number on the scale.
And what really changed for me was when I started sewing, when I started sewing, and I work on my health and fitness journey for sure. But I realized, you know, I looked at my body then, and I said, "My body is fine now. Like, I have a beautiful body right now." And so how about I stopped limiting myself on what I should wear. What I would, you know, be able to grow into something else, instead of me trying to chase something in the past, you know, so let's branch out a little bit. And the more I branched out the more I thought, man, my body is banging.
Lisa Woolfork 28:34
Yes, sis, yes!
Kamali Obiagu 28:36
Yes, yes. I am a Buddhist, and one of the things that I am constantly being taught is to live in the present moment. And I embodied that when it came to my journey because my body right now is banging. My body right now is beautiful and sexy. I don't need to chase anything else. And so when it came to my health and fitness journey, it shifted to while I still work out, try my best to eat bad food is delicious.
Kamali Obiagu 29:05
Yes, but it was more so do it for the blood work and not the number on the scale. If I'm feeling good, that's okay.
Lisa Woolfork 29:12
Kamali Obiagu 29:13
I began—I said I love my body right here, I'm okay if I stay the same size. That's perfectly okay with me. And then it really changed to where, when I first started sewing, my photos, when I first started sewing, are totally different than they are now. Because there's confidence. There's more confidence now. Because I mean, I can wear an outfit and be like, Damn, I look good. And so I embodied that through my photos. I show that through my photos, unless people are like, "You're so confident, you're so confident, you own what you wear." I wasn't like that before hand. But I stepped out and said, "Look, my body is fine." And with the help of so many people in my sewing community own all these different body types and see how gorgeous they are and how they are before unapologetically themselves. That really helped me out. I said, "Hey, look they owning their body." What am I doing wasting my time trying to chase a body that's not mine when I could be loving the body that I'm in right now knowing that we only get one, you know. So that was that was it was really important for me to just just love where I'm at. And that began to grow even more from me. I felt like more I showed off myself, the more I showed off my Blackness was the more people saw me. People saw me more. And I felt like my true self, which I think is really important. When we love ourselves, we love the body that we're in, we love everything about ourselves. That kind of radiates to people around you. Whether it rubs off on them, and you know, in the way that they like, "Oh, man, maybe I could love myself like that, too." Or them just seeing your own beauty. You know, I began to look within myself, I said I don't care what anybody thinks of me, I myself found myself to be beautiful, and to have a great, amazing body, and my mix will reflect that, reflect that, excuse me.
So it didn't matter what, and I think that's really important too, is knowing that what other people think of you is none of your business. Knowing that what I see myself as is all that matters. So, whether people say good or bad things about me, it doesn't ref—it doesn't matter to me because I see the power within myself. So the sewing community has definitely—learning to sew and learn to have that inner confidence with myself has definitely helped with my sewing journey.
Lisa Woolfork 31:31
And you do that in your photographs, and that is the thing about claiming and practicing a radical self-love. A love that says I love who I am as I am at the size I am, the way I look, the way I walk, the way I talk. This is something, this is—I am a unique expression of the divine however you—I am all me, and that is all I have. The contours of my body are mine and mine alone, and if I don't love it, and if I don't prioritize it, and if I don't worship it, who do I expect to do it?
Kamali Obiagu 32:13
Lisa Woolfork 32:13
Kamali Obiagu 32:14
You know there's so many times where we rely—people rely on outside sources, no work on the inner self. Because that's way more powerful than somebody else's comments, you know, somebody else's negative comments, you know, it's such a beautiful thing. And it's, obviously, something that doesn't happen overnight. It's something that needs to be practiced daily.
Lisa Woolfork 32:32
Kamali Obiagu 32:32
Working on the inner confidence, working on talking to yourself in a more positive way. And when I started talking to myself more positively, it didn't matter what anybody had to say.
Lisa Woolfork 32:42
Kamali Obiagu 32:43
It didn't matter at all.
Lisa Woolfork 32:43
No, that's right.
You know, so that's really, really important. And my husband, he's always showing me all the love. But even I don't rely on him to tell me I look good. [laughing]
It's so important. Now, this also relates really deeply to your new name. And you, you talk about this in the blog from January 2021, about celebrating, like the week you celebrated the anniversary of your new name. And can you, can you talk a little bit about—I know, I'm gonna—I'll be sure, of course, to link the blog post to the show notes. But I do absolutely love that story about how you came to this and why it was so important to you. Can you talk a little bit about that with us right now? About this transition from doing something deliberately to, to help you? I guess I can't—I can't summarize it. Why don't you tell us what, what made you change your name and how that opened doors of possibility for you and your family?
Kamali Obiagu 33:47
Yes, okay. I think I start off as a child. As a child, I was born Natalie Carlow, Natalie Alcyonia Carlow. And as a child and even into early adult, I never had an attachment towards my name at all. I always found interests as a child in African names or unique Black names. And I thought, man, that's great. And growing up, I always thought that if somebody were to change the name, it was either because they were married or religious purposes. So, I—it didn't—none of that register until last year. So, I never had an attachment towards my name. So getting married and changing my last name was easy. You know, there was that. And as—the more I educated myself on the history of African Americans, and how we were brought over and our names being used and passed down, the slave masters names being used and passed down. It was like Monday when I educated myself for this matter. I said, "I wonder, is this the reason why I don't feel like this name fits me." And I remember as a high school student looking up African names to nickname myself with, you know.
If I ever had kids, this what the name would be and all this other stuff. Last year, I believe it was about February. My husband actually was like, "Hey, I should get my name changed for my 30th birthday." And I was—"Huh, okay." And I thought, I could do that?
What if I did that too? And so I said, "Oh my God."
I've been filling this, you know, this non-attachment towards, you know, my name. And I'm thinking, what if I found a name that fit me? And so we talked about it. And we thought, what if we, you know, we would change our last name as a family. How we go about doing this, I didn't want to rely on internet itself. So we did have a book. I think it was called a book of African names by someone who also changed her name to an African name. And it had this list of books, and list of names, excuse me, and I looked, and I looked, and I pretty much just, we agreed on Obiagu, right. Because the biggest thing with names—when it came to naming our kids, we want to make sure the meanings were strong, strong meanings, and definitely a name that wasn't common. So our babies' names are Alistair Cleo, Maverick Amir, and Amethyst Iris.
Lisa Woolfork 36:11
Kamali Obiagu 36:12
So those names meant—thank you. Those names, those names meant a lot to us because they embody what we wanted our children to step out into. Now, granted, our children are their own individuals. But we want it to speak existence and positivity over their lives. So that's what went into the naming process. And when it came to us, we said, "Okay, alright, what can—we want it to name ourselves." So who we are and who we are to become. What struck out to us the most because it is Nigerian for lions hear, and that meant a lot to us. So we had a meeting, we make sure the kids were good with this. We had a couple other names, but everybody was stuck on Obiagu, and I said, "Boom, there we go." Obiagu, and that was a beautiful experience. Because it wasn't just me, and this—it was, it was the whole family. And seeing them excited over a new name was great because I was worried that maybe they would be like, "Oh, but we got the name we have now, you know, why not?" But I also, we also raise our kids to be proud of their Blackness, to know about their, um, African roots. And so, this was seeing them just light up over this [is] what meant the world to us. So, the last name came about, and then it was like, okay, now the first name for myself. What am I going to, what am I going to choose? And Kamali stuck out to me because Kamali means both wealth and perfection.
Lisa Woolfork 37:33
Kamali Obiagu 37:33
And I said, "I love that." You know, it's who I am, who I am to become. I am perfect as I am. You know, I am perfect as I am, and I'm speaking wealth into my life because I'm already wealthy in many other ways. But I know I could grow and bring in more wealth, and I said, "That's it right there." I like how, uh, Kamali flowed, and I, for once, felt like when I named myself Kamali, I said, "This is me, this is me, this is the name that I've that I've needed because this, this represents me." And I didn't look back after I did that. My middle name, which I feel like is, is very powerful to me. And my middle name is Azubike. And Azubike is Nigerian for the past is our strength. And growing up, I've always had this Black pride since—about me. My mother, she was a light skin woman, but she always told me that my skin was beautiful, and she always told me to be proud of that. She, growing up, she dealt with colorism within the whole family and outside the family. And so, when it came to her having a beautiful chocolate baby, she said, "Yeah, you be proud. You have beautiful skin, you are gorgeous just the way you are, don't try to be anything else." And that—having that sense of pride and I was always Afrocentric as a little kid, which led me to stand out from other students too because there was some stuff I felt like I wouldn't tolerate as a young child.
Lisa Woolfork 37:34
Kamali Obiagu 37:36
You know, I was always amazed at our positive stories, our African history or African American History. How we were able to overcome so much. And we would see so much in the media about our, our troubles and stuff like that. But it's, it's the success stories that always made me be like, "Man, I am so proud to be in the skin that am in." Like that it was a sense of pride in me, and it just grew more and more as I grew older. And I, um, think that was a beautiful thing. So, this was so easy for me to do was to change my name to this. And once I found that name, I said, "Only call me by this name and that's it. This is me. This is me. If you can call me by my name, by a new last name when I got married, you can call me by this name right now because I named myself this is who I am." And so, the week after that, I submitted paperwork. Unfortunately, quarantine happened, so the paperwork way longer than normal. And, on January 25, was when we had our court date for the kids having the last name of Obiagu, and for me having the name Kamali Azubike Obiagu. And I just—my mother, when she named me when she was a child, when she was, she was roughly 20 years old when she had me. And she said, "You know, I named you Natalie because I wanted you to have more opportunities." Because it was so common that if you had a unique name, that you were already turned down—resume, because they already, they already—
Lisa Woolfork 40:26
Kamali Obiagu 40:27
You know, yes, yes. They already thought about you certain kind of way. They're like no. But she said she named me this because she wanted me to have more opportunities. And I appreciate what she did with that. Because I know she looked out for my best interests. And so I acknowledged that, and I love the way my mother raised me because she wanted the best for me. And I'm so thankful to have had her in the short time that I've had her, but I'm so thankful for her life and the way she raised me. And so I owned my name, but with respect to my mother as well, because I know she will, she will get a huge kick out—she will love this. She will love this, and she will be really proud knowing that I am stepping into something that I've already been into. But it's just nice to finally have that present and more out there a little bit more. Because as a kid, I was so insecure. I was, I was a follower. I was like a sheep. You know, I was just laying low, and—
Lisa Woolfork 41:23
Go along, get along.
Kamali Obiagu 41:26
Yes, yes. And I didn't walk very confident. I know there was a few times my Mom would talk about, "Hey, you know, lift your chin up, you know, straighten your back out, don't start over." And its—which is great, because then, nowadays, people tell me, "You walk with so much confidence. You walk into a room, and we just we just feel that. And I thought my Mom must be just right—
Lisa Woolfork 41:47
Like that's my baby, that's my Kamali right there. That's her.
Kamali Obiagu 41:51
Lisa Woolfork 41:52
I helped her with that.
Kamali Obiagu 41:54
Yes, yes. And so it took a little bit longer than expected. But, but, it just—I always humble myself when I get compliments and stuff like this because if people knew my story and knew how I was beforehand, they'd know that this took a lot of work, a lot of inner work.
Lisa Woolfork 42:09
A lot of inner work, and that gives us a really beautiful point on which to end. What would you advise Kamali—if you know—for people who are listening right now, who might be struggling with some of the issues that you struggle with before you were able to step into your wholeness, into the wealth of the perfection that you are? How—what are some of the early steps you might give to somebody who was in your position maybe 10, 15 years ago or who would often walk with their chin down instead of—what do you have to say to someone who's listening who might be in that position now?
Kamali Obiagu 42:47
It is easier said than done. But to really just channel out outside, outside comments from other people. And to really look within yourself for what I did was every morning I would get up, and I will compliment my body. And when I will go shower, I will say, "Hey, I love my body," "Oh, I like the way my arms looking," "I like the way my legs lookin'," "My stomach is looking great." And I'm full of stretch marks, and I love those. When I was an early mom, I used to dread them, and now, I love them. But that's because I kept constant telling myself, look, you grew up in here. You gave birth to this human. The C-section scar shows that you went through surgery to give birth to a beautiful blessing—three beautiful blessings. And so, it's a daily practice, it's a daily practice even for myself now being confident. I still tell myself this daily. It is not something that, you know, just, I could go a couple of days without, you know. I tell myself this daily. And really just the more—and writing to myself also helps. I write, I write about what I love about myself. I write about something that I may be challenged with, something I may need to change my thinking on. So writing helps. Looking at myself in the mirror helps. Taking pictures, lots of pictures help you.
Lisa Woolfork 44:06
Yes, and your pictures!
Kamali Obiagu 44:08
The more pictures that I take, the more I feel really good about myself, you know. So the pictures, I can't say that I would, it would be—it wouldn't be the whole package. If I didn't take as many pictures, you know. There were lots of things that contributed to my confidence, and taking these pictures of myself was one of them. Compliment myself was another one of them. You know, outside sources were not the reason why. It great to have compliments from friends and family, but if I don't see it in myself, that doesn't help.
Lisa Woolfork 44:38
It's so true.
Kamali Obiagu 44:40
So I practice that stuff. And I—self-care is also insanely important because if you're not taking care of yourself, you're not really loving yourself. And I know life gets in the way, so it's easy to just slack on that. Trust me. I know. It's easy to slack on that. And I find that whenever—
Lisa Woolfork 44:59
I'm sorry, you said—
Kamali Obiagu 45:00
I find that whenever—it is okay. I find that whenever I'm going through a rut, I realized that it's because I didn't have the self-care that I needed, you know, some time away. Because I can sometimes get swamped with sewing or with the kids or with the house. But knowing that I—if I take care of myself first and put ourselves first, then you're able to do so much better in life. So, putting myself first is a great, is a great thing. You know, I'm—sure I'm a mom, I'm a wife, I'm a sewist, but I'm also Kamali first, and putting myself first and making sure I fill my own cup up first. And that's how I'm able to, you know, help others out and do my job properly.
Lisa Woolfork 45:39
Absolutely love that. Kamali, thank you so much for being here with us today to share this. This is really so powerful and just so generous. Can you tell us where we can find you on the social so we can follow your follow your journey some more?
Kamali Obiagu 45:56
Yes, peace and blessings to you. I'm so thankful for this opportunity. Thank you for bringing me up here. My Instagram handle is kamali.obiagu. That's k-a-m-a-l-i.o-b-i-a-g-u. I also have a blog post that is a blog website, excuse me, that is www.obiagumakes.com.
Lisa Woolfork 46:21
And we will be sure to put those in the notes. So after you listen to this episode, you can just scroll down and click right on these things. And you can see some of the hottest images on Beyonce’s internet because the looks that Kamali puts together are just absolutely inspirational. The accessories—I love the ones that you have with the the cuff, the cuffs on your wrist and the choker, the cuf—oh my gosh, it is just perfection.
Kamali Obiagu 46:46
Yes, I love to bring in that Blackness, that royalty into my, into my photos.
Lisa Woolfork 46:52
That's exactly what it looks like. That's exactly what it looks like.
Kamali, thank you so much. Everyone, this has been a wonderful conversation with Kamali Obiagu. And do indeed check her out. She has been fantastic. And you've been taught—we've been, you've been listening today to us talk about intentional sewing, intentional living. And I hope that this conversation has given you something to practice, it's certainly given, given me something to practice. It has certainly given, it has certainly given me something to practice with the daily affirmations and just little things. You know, you can think things you know—we control our thoughts, we control those, and we get to deliberately direct those for our health and benefit. And so I'm grateful to you, Kamali, for talking with us about this. Thank you.
Kamali Obiagu 47:36
Thank you, I appreciate you.
Lisa Woolfork 47:45
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