For Chambers Feature: Jessie McCrary - Quilting and Writing in the ATL

By Jacob A. English

For Chambers Features highlights the journeys of folx in our community. They are willing (and brave enough) to offer an authentic account of where they are in their journey. 

We hope that a peek into their journey will help you along your own.

Next Up - Jessie McCrary.

Jessie McCrary is not afraid to explore her interests. She is a fiber artist, writer, doctoral student, educator, and podcast host. Most importantly, Jessie is just a fantastic human being. Check out her story below! 

Jessie, can you tell us about your journey? What was your path to where you are today?

What a question! I am verbose so I could answer this question with a full-length memoir, but I'll try to keep it short. I started adulthood wanting to be a journalist and was the editor in chief of my college newspaper. But I wound up earning my bachelor's in history, because I was so excited by the idea that history changes depending on who you're asking. That underlying complexity has driven me ever since, through a master's degree in public history (think archives and museums) and into higher education, where I continue to encourage students to pursue their own authentic journeys (rather than what anyone else wants them to do). Stories seems to be the driving theme that links together all my experience so far. In my work with students and in the community, I hope I provide the support for them to confidently live their story. It's funny, now that I'm in my thirties, so many of my interests are bearing fruit -- things that felt so far away in my twenties.

"Velvet Jumpsuit" made by Jessie, October 2019

I have a podcast, The Origins Of, that I cohost with my longtime friend Olivia, where we dig into the weird and interesting "origins of" various things in our lives we take for granted. We end up researching all these fascinating topics and asking really big questions of mankind -- like why do myths of sea monsters have such staying power? This might seem like an unimportant question, but the answer is quite profound: we are endlessly curious about the things we cannot see and know. This podcast has allowed me to use my research skills to a really pleasurable and public end.

Also, I have been quilting for over ten years now and have quilted dozens of heirloom pieces of art that are in rooms of clients, family, and loved ones all around the place. I've traveled to thirteen countries. I started crocheting and knitting in 2016 and haven't been able to quit the addiction since. It's such a fun, challenging, and meditative creative practice. In 2018, I went back to school for my PhD, which I'm earning in rhetoric and composition. This degree builds on the work I do with students, the questions and interest I have in how we compose and how we share stories and with whom, and improves my ability to engage in history and the past - an endeavor I began back in college almost 15 years ago(!). Add to that a happy marriage, friendships that have evolved over the years, and a boisterous and loving family, and I have to say: I am blessed to be where I am. It's not all been easy, and some of the most painful days and months of my life feel so important in retrospect -- this is when I was learning the key things I needed and determining the crucial steps to take to lead me to right now. It all sounds rosy now, but it’s been well-earned, and despite challenges that continue, I am really proud of my journey so far!

"Neighborhood" - Jessie's version of the local quilt by Carolyn Friedlander

Speaking of today - a lot is going on in the world right now. How do you manage life’s challenges?

I manage life's challenges by knowing my limits in work and demands and taking moments for myself to find peace. I'm a person who really has to believe in what I'm doing, so my work at Georgia State University (my professional role and work as a PhD student) is incredibly worthwhile and that keeps me motivated when I might otherwise feel defeated or hopeless. My students and my research projects really bring meaning to my days. I'm also a learner - so when life gets challenging, I tend to seek information and learning -- from my community, friends and family, colleagues, books, podcasts, tutorials -- in order to do and be better. I'm curious and always interested in thinking about the world around me in ways I have not before, and especially, in hearing the stories and experiences of others. Also, quite simply, I turn to creative projects like knitting and sewing as a way to use and stretch my brain but also bring joy and quiet moments. Creative projects are an incredible meditative pastime. Knitting especially has been a source of comfort for me during 2020.

"PENGUONO" made by Jessie, February 2020

If you could go back in time and talk to your past self (even though we know that when you time travel you aren’t supposed to talk to yourself, but if you could) 1) to what year would you travel 2) and what would you tell yourself?

I see all my experiences (especially mistakes and missteps!) as informing who and where I am. I try not to subscribe to regrets and definitely don't dwell on the past. That said, I would definitely go back to 2008 and tell myself NOT to get that perm; it took forever to grow out and you're not good at managing curly hair! Not a cute look!

Now, of course, we have to discuss fashion and style. We love the way you have been styling your For Chambers apparel. How would you describe your style?

Jessie is wearing the Storm - OMJ Shirt.

I love my For Chambers apparel. This has been a big year for fashion, honestly. I think we're moving into a more casual style for work, influenced by all these months we've been working through a pandemic, and I hope some of that comfort stick around. It's definitely meant I wear more t-shirts than I ever have before. I wear my t-shirts, including Owning My Journey, cropped and boxy! I would describe my style as a little bit academic, a little bit hip, and a LOT handmade. Since I first started sewing my own garments in 2016, I have slowly but surely built a closet of staple pieces that I really love. To that end, I wear a lot of dresses over leggings, shirtdresses and button-ups with sweaters, in my signature color scheme: black, camel, olive green, and dark purple. Navy and grey are great too -- like the Storm color of my For Chambers duds!

How do you feel when you wear For Chambers apparel?

When I wear my For Chambers shirt, I feel a sense of pride in how far I have come and confidence for the road ahead.

Lastly, do you have any last words of advice you want to give to the people?

I would echo the ethos of For Chambers - you are like no one else, so do not compare yourself to others! We are all on overlapping journeys. Embrace and own yours!

Instagram: @jcemcc



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