bib-tucker-sew-op-logoLillis Taylor, co-founder of the sewing cooperative Bib & Tucker, is a Birmingham native with the soul of an artist and a passion for community (in addition to textiles). Recently named to the 2016 class of “Innovators Changing the South” by Southern Living, she talks quilts, growth and the vision she has for Birmingham’s first “Textile Row.”

You’re a long-time Birmingham resident, what gets you most excited about what is going on in Birmingham right now?

I am a Birmingham native and when I graduated from high school, I couldn’t wait to get out of Dodge. At the time, there didn’t seem to be anything exciting happening in the fields that I was passionate about. Not to say that artists and community activists weren’t working hard, rather that opportunities for young people to engage were few and far between. I spent about a decade away: studying, living abroad, working professionally, and then I came home. It has been really exciting to be in Birmingham for the past five or six years because now, everywhere I turn, there are creative possibilities and community involvement opportunities and even social entrepreneurship, which is very progressive. Also there is locally crafted beer. I am very happy about this. Go, Ghost Train!

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What inspired you to open the Bib & Tucker Sew-Op?

When I moved back in 2010, I had a degree in Industrial Design and experience in overseas manufacturing. I started a company with my father, artist Trés Taylor, called Tré Lilli, which is a line of textiles for clothing and home decor. After spending a year traveling to festivals with my father, I came to the point where I needed to scale up, and I was not interested in taking the line overseas. I had a wild idea that I could hire local seamstresses to manufacture my products, but I realized that in order to have the best quality, those seamstresses would need to be under one roof. Since returning in 2010, I had taught myself to sew and had been sharing my new knowledge with a group of women at Inglenook Library. One woman in particular, Ms. Annie Bryant, had started the group with me, and we became extremely close and grew the group. She encouraged the group to focus on fellowship and sharing and cultivating skills, and I envisioned that the group would eventually be able to take on manufacturing jobs. We named ourselves Bib & Tucker Sew-Op and this year, we have procured our first manufacturing job for PNC Bank’s “Words Are Our World” program, which is an early literacy initiative through UAB’s ArtPlay andMcWane Science Center. And, with the help of a grant from UAB’s Community Health Innovation Awards, we have started a pilot program called Woodlawn Sewing Training.

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You’ve spent a lot of time in Woodlawn, what is special to you about that neighborhood?

Ms. Annie, my Bib & Tucker co-founder, is and has been a resident of Woodlawn for many decades. When Bib & Tucker Sew-Op moved from Inglenook to Desert Island Supply Co. on 1st Avenue North, our membership grew, and we were as diverse as a patchwork quilt. Often, Ms. Annie and I would converse before or after our weekly meetings and she would give me an education about the neighborhood. When we moved to our temporary home at 55th Place Arts, we had a street presence and were able to draw all sorts of people into our space because the quilts and thread and fabric and sewing machines were evocative to so many. I love that there is a thick community in Woodlawn. People know people. They’ve known one another for a long time. Ms. Annie doesn’t meet strangers, and I just didn’t have that kind of experience growing up in Southside. Woodlawn feels like a small town and I like that.

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Why are quilts important?

I love this question! If you had asked me that 15, nay 10 years ago, I don’t think I would have really known how to answer you. But, in 2007, I went on a trip with my father and my now-fiancé all around Southern Alabama. We met folk artists and eventually made it to Gee’s Bend. At the time, I could count on one hand the number of times I had successfully worked a sewing machine. I had never done one stitch of hand-sewing. After meeting those women, seeing their work and hearing them talk about it, something inside of me shifted. It wasn’t until 2009, while I was living in Italy that I put this shift to work. I wrote a proposal to attend a festival in Poland. The proposal involved hand sewing, and I asked the question, “Can community be created through hand-sewing quilt blocks among women without a common language?” The answer was, in fact, yes! And I’m thrilled to say that I have sewing compatriots in France, Italy, Turkey, Greece and Romania thanks to that festival proposal. Quilts are so important! They are practically important because they keep your loved ones warm. They are aesthetically important because there are infinite possibilities when it comes to piecing a quilt. This allows for creativity in the production of a useful object, which, to me, is one of the best kinds of creativity. Quilts are also important because they can be passed down from generation to generation and can transmit all kinds of history — if one is willing to play detective.

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Now that you’re in Avondale, what do you enjoy most about that neighborhood?

Actually, we like to think of ourselves as located in Crestwood North. We see ourselves as the thread connecting Woodlawn to Avondale. I especially love our current neighborhood because we’re about to have another sewing endeavor move in next door — Christine McLean and The Red Pincushion will be our neighbor. Both Christine and I have big dreams of expanding on all things sewing, and who knows? Maybe we’ll even be the beginning of a Textile Row!

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