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Fashion Design: Instant Language from a social worker in creative practice. (An excerpt from Cabarrus Magazine)

Cabarrus Magazine

Fashion Design: Instant Language

Apr 01, 2018 08:30AM ● Published by Jason Huddle

Fashion Design: Instant Language

“Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It’s not about brands. It’s about something else that comes from within you”

  – Ralph Lauren

Creativity comes in many forms – painting, pottery, jewelry and fashion among them. Regardless of the medium, skill in manipulating it is a talent. While other artists work with paint, clay or metal, the fashion designer’s tools are fabric, thread, buttons and zippers.

Clothing was originally made based on function and culture, a symbol of the wearer’s lifestyle. Eventually, artistic expression came through in textile design.

“For people interested in fashion, especially those interested in making their own clothes by hand, sometimes the process of creating the item or the pure beauty of the item itself can hold more importance than any personal or generational statement of dress or meaning,” says LEAFtv, a modern lifestyle resource for women. “Fashion is often fueled by the desire to be different enough to stand out, but similar enough to belong to the group that your clothing helps identify.”

And there are fashion designers in Cabarrus County making their own statements.


Sunya Folayan

Sunya Folayan, who has an extensive education and career in social work, added artisan to her resume´  for several reasons. “I consider creativity a natural part of myself,” she says. “I am a social worker, and began taking care of my mother in 2008 until she passed in 2012. I just decided that I needed to create my own artwork. It’s an extension of the healing community – small, repetitious stitches that we do throughout our lives.”

“Our” refers to women, and Folayan strives to tell the story of strong, hardworking women, both West African and those struggling in today’s communities. She maintains a studio at Concord’s ClearWater Artist Studios for her craft.

“I make things in small quantities, by traditional methods and by hand. I make things that may be functional or strictly decorative. My affinity toward cotton, natural fiber, stitching and mark making comes from a deep place of memory from within. I use these tools as vocabulary to honor the tedious, unrecognized work of women’s hands. My work also honors the unpaid work of my foremothers’ hands,” she explains.

Creating both art and fashion, Folayan first painted on silk, giving away the completed pieces to her family. That evolved into dying natural fiber.

“Sometimes the fabric tells me what to do. I’ve had that bolt of cotton sitting over there waiting for a purpose. I’m looking for cotton manufacturers in the South as well as local dye manufacturers. There are a couple really good distributors in California and up north, same with dye; local dye companies won’t sell in small amounts.”

When creating one of her wraps (page 15), Folayan explains her technique. “I remove the fabric from the bolt and scour it by machine to remove any dirt and chemicals from the machines that process the fiber. Although I sometimes work with wet material, for these wraps I use dry fabric so I have more control over color and design placement.

“I then cut out and stitch the garment. Then I determine the colors and general theme. I use fiber-reactive dyes. As a surface designer, I use a variety of techniques to transform the essence and plane of the garment. This usually involves using a variety of techniques that cause the fiber to take in color in some places while creating active resists in other places.

“In addition, I selectively add and remove more color, and I often use paint and screen printing techniques for further customization. Finally, once complete and the excess dyes rinsed away, the garments are sometimes embellished with paint or seed beads, etc., dried, steamed and pressed as finishing. The iron is one of the most important tools of the art of this craft!

“Much of my work is evocative…typically, if I construct a garment for someone, the work is intuitive,” she adds. “I usually interview the person to get a feel for them and I allow that energy and knowing guide the work.”

Having delved deeply into the history of indigo last year, Folayan plans to offer Blue Prints – A Surface Design Class in Glorious Shades of Blue, beginning this month at ClearWater.

“In my studies on blue, I’ve learned lots about indigo and its importance to trade and global economy: How human lives were exchanged for blue cloth in West Africa, how the color became associated with transcendence, pain, fine artisanship and hope,” she says.

One of Folayan’s affirmations is, “Be a lifelong learner.” If you’d like to learn more about her design work or would like to join her in Blue Prints, call ClearWater Artist Studios at 704-784-9535 or visit clearwaterartists.com.




Photo of iron vat-dyed indigo on Manta Cotton. Jalisco state, Mexico 2021

Reawaken: (Definition) A feeling or state. Emerge or cause to emerge again. Awaken again.

This is my first blog post since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it reflects my own reawakening. The ongoing shutdown marked a long period of solitude and reflection for me, and I thrived in it- until the end. The exhaustion of the political upheaval and distance from my family began to affect my mental health and I did not have the energy to create very much, so I was eager to start a new chapter when things began to open up again. As we slowly reclaim the rhythms of our lives, I return to actively creating.

Currently, I am in Mexico attending a 2 month self-designed art residency. My reawakening has been supported by the vibrant beauty, textures, and colors I see around me every day- and in the simplest of things. The spices. aromas, sounds, textures, and the amazing variety of flora and birds have deepened my awareness of color theory, balance, rhythm, and composition- all basic elements of art. …And the textiles! My heart is full with inspiration!

Specifically, I am working on my first art installation which will involve many hundreds of handcrafted indigo-dyed masks. I am speaking to the issue of medical apartheid and implicit bias in medicine and the ongoing health and financial disparities affecting Black women, our communities, and other communities of color. Traditionally indigo is deeply rich with historical and cultural significance that lends itself metaphorically to what I have to say in this work. As a Black female textile artist, descended from talented craftswomen (who did not give themselves that acknowledgement) I give homage to the women: the Black textile dyers, weavers, and spinners who have been erased in U.S. history, and on whose shoulders I stand. As I travel within Mexico I am drawn to the similarities in the culture here with my own. I also understand more fully how Black voices have been erased here, too.

Technically, I am working with Manta algodon (cotton) woven locally, and I am experimenting with an iron indigo vat. I will also continue working with the fructose vat formula I was able to perfect in my studio at home using fruit from my local market.

Future plans? Collaboration with artists in Mexico- how might I add my music to the beautiful sounds and rhythms here? What are the opportunities to collaborate with Black Mexicans who are now raising their voices- no longer willing to be marginalized and considered invisible? Further growth and development: I have met two amazing textile artists since I have been here, Deborah Kruger and Shelly Stokes- both of whom show their work internationally. What can I learn from them regarding process, discipline, and business? What does it take to have a great team assisting in the production of work? And finally, my goal is to think bigger, dream bigger and live bigger- and move my writing projects along.

Reawakening is a continual process, and the journey continues.

Engaging Rest as Resistance

Participants” Hand-crafted” Blue Prints” on Cotton Cloth

      Long before the Covid-19 global pandemic shut down everyday life as we know it, I’d been having a conversation about the importance of slowing down in order to allow more reflection about my life, interests and legacy.   My studio is a sacred place for my own growth, reflection and development. It is also a space I hold for others- clients, community members, and student participants: to engage in a similar process. In fact, I had determined that this year (“2020-  my year for clear vision and laser focus on goals”) my art practice would focus on three areas that I find to be interconnected along with another area I choose to explore in an expressive way: 1.) Telling stories connected to the work of women’s hands, particularly textile work 2.) Continuing to develop my work and skill building around indigo, and the color blue and 3.) Telling the stories of the women and children who cultivated indigo, one of the cash crops that jump ignited the American economy and transformed the United States into an early superpower (Shields, 2020).

     These ideas organically lead to my paying more attention to women’s labor and the control of women’s bodies/and the exploitation of their labor. As a doctoral student I learned the importance of telling a story through a certain lens, as well as teasing out a small slice of vast information in order to research it thoroughly. So, my interest at this time is in exploring my art practice goals through the lens of Black women and girls, because our voices were often marginalized or silenced throughout history, and because they continue to be so. I believe that for Black women, often the very act of rest is empowering freedom and is often an act of resistance to societal norms.

     In late winter of 2020, I facilitated a Blue Prints class in my studio. My classes involve an expressive,  interactive, meditative process involving poetry, reflection, and community building. In this particular class, participants leave with handmade, abstracted and intuitive blue- themed  memories abstracted into cotton textile prints.   A racially and economically diverse selection of  5 women and one man enrolled, but due to life circumstances and serendipity,  3 diverse Black women showed up as participants to class. What happened was  what is always a magical process: the women bonded, shared stories, worked together, and allowed time to stand still as they entered the process of “flow”.  According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory, (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), flow is the state of heightened concentration and engagement that can be achieved when completing a task that challenges one’s skills. My classes are designed to help participants access this state. They become absorbed in work that supports allowing their bodies to engage in a restful activity that was not attached to a prescribed period of rest such as a vacation or traditional time allotted for grooming, and the typical rest from home responsibilities. This was sacred time spent with other women in retreat; sharing stories, affirming and supporting one another, and girding the soul and spirit- just for the sake of it. Each woman was able to connect and listen to her inner voice and reflect about the amount time served for others,  and time involved in obligatory activities, work often performed to the detriment of themselves.  Each woman expressed realizing the importance of slowing down, without the need to justify it. Each realized the importance of taking time to rest- and how elusive rest can be. Typically they leave energized and with a heightened sense of confidence. My hope is for participants to leave the experience with more creative expression, deeper reflection and an increased capacity to creatively problem solve from a new perspective.

     The women created sacred bonding time. For Black women, our time away from work is especially important. Historically our foreparents’ arrival to this country primarily came through the Transatlantic Slave Trade, although that is not everyone’s history. As time went on we were  born here as descendants of enslaved people. Later we came as immigrants, or we may have arrived as contracted skilled laborers imported from other countries. In our roles as academics, as corporate leaders, as factory workers, as front line health care workers or in various capacities as domestic workers- our time has always equated in some manner to our historic relationship with money, and our unique place in fueling the economy.  Our hard work has caused others to have more leisure. Thus, the idea of “free time” is often an elusive reality for many of us. The flip side of this that our time as women has not traditionally been valued monetarily, so we end up giving a lot of “free” time in the workplace, caring for others and in our homes. For Black women, our time and contributions have been further devalued.  We must to reclaim it. We must value our time, and demand it in our spheres.


Participants in Blue Prints Class Bonding and Sharing Stories While Prepping Fabric

     I am committed to finding and maintaining ways to value my own time, to practice self care and allow myself to rest- with no excuses or justifications. Let’s be mindful of the importance of flow, of connections, and of slowing down. I resist the standard that says my freedom is secured by trading most my time for dollars.  I resist that I must always be in a constant state of  hustle,  and work myself to the point of exhaustion only to end up with compromised health, unfulfilled dreams, and wishing for more time at the end. Even and especially in the age of social distancing and new methods of navigating our lives- I choose rest.  For Black women, and for myself, rest is resistance. Rest is revolutionary. Rest is worth fighting for.


Shields, J. (2020). The dark history of indigo, slavery’s other cash crop. Retrieved from https://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/world-history/indigo.htm

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row.

Textile surface design classes will resume this summer depending on Covid-19 recommendations.

If you would like to be on my mailing list for further updates in my arts practice, please sign up on my website: http://www.sunyafolayan.com or send me an email to: artist@seesunya.online.

3 Myths About Artists and Social Workers Making Money- and the Importance of Knowing Our Worth

65874640_720575448377251_8649302378744381440_nLike many creatives, I have multiple career interests, gifts, and talents. Instead of succumbing to the pressure to fit myself into a single box, I have allowed my heart, spirit, and interests to guide me, and the path has been sweet.  Let me be clear-it’s been rocky at times, but the path has been sweet. As a professional artist,  I have built my art practice upon a foundational career in Social Work: a profession whose core values are service, social justice, recognizing the dignity and worth of others, integrity, competence and elevating the importance of human relationships. Artists center their work from creativity, a desire to contribute to the greater world, and from a need to express themselves beyond words. As a textile artist, I recognize that our patriarchal society sometimes devalues the work of women, which is relationship-centered, “emotional” and often service-oriented. Many artists, social workers, and women succumb to the myth that we should not make money-that the act of helping/creating is enough. Let’s talk about a few of those  many myths:

Myth No.1- Artists, human service workers, women should place service above making money. It’s the altruistic thing to do.

Some feel the more impoverished and unpopular an artist is, the better their work will be. Working in obscurity is often seen as a badge of honor. We rally and cheer underground artists who struggle and barely survive before “making it big”. Many human service, and social justice and advocates believe service and sacrifice are their own rewards. I’ve heard some of my friends and colleagues in these fields state that asking for more in terms of compensation is being greedy. These are limiting beliefs. Having enough money is important in creative and service work. We need money to keep our lights on, to keep a roof over our heada…to purchase the supplies and resources we need to do our best work.  Money purchases another season to create, to make change, provides fuel to help us stay in the fight. It also provides time which gives us more freedom of choice.

Myth No. 2- I’m lucky to be an artist, or I am more fortunate than many of those I help; therefore I don’t deserve to make a lot of money.

Just because we have the ability to work according to our passions does not preclude being adequately paid. People in all sorts of professions-lawyers, doctors, architects, also feel fortunate to do meaningful work. Artists, social workers, human service workers are excellent managers excelling in a myriad of executive tasks. Consider all the planning, designing, and delivery of projects and programs on timelines. In the for-profit sector, these are all considered executive tasks.

Myth No. 3- If I keep my financial life vague, secret, and if I pay no attention to my numbers my situation will eventually change for the better.

You have made great art. You have created strong programs, you have sacrificed for the greater good against great financial odds, no matter how you found a way to do it. But here’s the thing- the more you know about yourself and your finances, the more you can bring the resources you need to your life and work. A small amount of regular attention, pertinent information and strategies will transform our financial lives. Having a Personal Financial Success Plan accesses resources and allows us to get face to face with our numbers. This is an integral part of our personal and financial transformation.

So, let’s put the myths to bed. Once we clear away the negative influences and the naysaying voices (including our own) and get up close and personal with our real numbers we can negotiate better, and bring more support to the work that is so meaningful to us.

Having a Personal Financial Success Plan (PFSS) not only helps us individually, but it helps advance our professions as a whole. The more of us who know and can explain what our work is worth, what our time and needs actually cost- the better the chance all of us have to be paid according to our value.

If you would like to share comments about this blog post, or for more information about having a Personal Financial Success Plan, kindly email me at artist@seesunya.online





Blue Prints: A Textile Surface Design Journey in Blue

Blue Prints…a surface design class in glorious shades of blue!

The color blue historically has been associated with emotion, spirituality, alchemy, mystery and pathos. As I mature in work as a change agent, I take self-care very seriously, and my studio is often my refuge. This year I am studying up on the color blue and its significance in our lives and in particular the intersections of culture impacting my life and work. Having times of mindful meditation is necessary at this time in my life-especially with all the turmoil going on in today’s global, economic and political landscape. For nearly 20 years, I have been working through my own emotions about struggle, financial trauma and the ongoing multi faceted relationship I have with money.

Despite being “well-educated”, and growing up “Middle Class” in the Midwest,  I became a single mother subsequent to escaping domestic violence and divorce. I spent a long time working through the losses of people, places, identity and things- many years struggling to live at or just above poverty. It has taken lots of emotional and physical work to heal from the emotional and structural barriers that made it difficult for me to thrive financially. Last fall I ventured out onto another leg of learning about my relationship with money: I traveled part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade by going to Amsterdam, and London (where it began) and then traveling by ocean liner back to the port of New Amsterdam aka New York City. In my studies on blue, I’ve learned lots about indigo, and its importance to trade and global economy:  How human lives were exchanged for blue cloth in West Africa, how the color became associated with transcendence, pain,  fine artisanship, and hope. My work as a therapist often found myself interpreting affect as clients discussed the various shades of their emotional blues.   As a musician I help provide the background root rhythms for blues and jazz- both art forms created to make sense of often unbearable pain and suffering in this land called the USA.  My current work as a a social work entrepreneur addresses the need to create financial security, and gives shameless permission to make money while simultaneously healing the blues many of us have around money. This is especially true for  some women, American Black women, creatives and professional helpers  As a commissioned studio textile artist, working in blue has helped me to make spiritual connections throughout various aspects of life and culture-literally “tying” it all together!  

Below is a description of a class I’m teaching this summer and fall- all around the color blue:

Course description: Blue Prints- A Surface Design Class in Glorious Shades of Blue

For blues lovers, we’ll be hand stitching, tying, stamping/printing, using immersion and discharging techniques. This course will also provide an introduction to indigo dyeing on natural fiber. The significance of the color blue will be discussed as well as history concerning indigo as color and plant. Participants will use music and poetry as their muse, and we will discuss color theory in composition. Participants will create fabric with their personal memories abstracted onto cloth. Participants will leave the course with yards of custom fabric which can be used as-is, or further embellished for use in other projects. Classes are limited in size due to the intimate nature of the group.

Price: $140.00 Total; $50.00 deposit to hold your space.
Enroll using PayPal link below.

Class times: For 2-day workshop, Generally 10am-12pm is instruction/prep, 1pm-6pm, application and clean up; lunch options are sent upon receipt of deposit.

Final Payment is required no later than 7 days prior to the beginning of class.

This class will also be offered as a Beta class June 2,3, 2017; and June 9-11, 2017.

Location Clearwater Artist Studios 223 Crowell Dr. NW Concord, NC Studio 150: Cotton/Copper Cowrie Studio of Sunya Folayan

Deposit and Remainder of fees can be made here:

Materials list and class specifics will be sent upon receipt of deposit.

Art ⋅ Film


The demise of the “Strong Black Woman” and the rise of mindful practice

She’s gone. She left sometime after my mother’s death and my youngest child’s entry into college. I downsized my home, got a room mate for the first time in life, spent more time in my studio, and decided to start figuring out this thing called life. I also wondered how it all related to my identity as a social work practitioner. In the midst of all this transition and change the Strong Black Woman who resided in my mind and body…left. I know not where she went, but I am glad she is gone. Much research has been garnered about the Strong Black Woman whose roots lie in survival during oppression and occupation in the lives of Black people as a result of the holocaust of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. She’s lived through the periods of slavery, Jim Crow apartheid, and the present New Jim Crow era where of mass incarceration pierces the peace of so many families. It’s never been natural to act as both mother and father, to perform with precision when healing from or reacting to trauma,  to have to seek refuge in an alternate reality which denigrates one’s own. Yet, we have survived and thrived to a degree in the midst of the impossible.The Strong Black Woman still lives in the lives of many.She can’t make mistakes, makes miracles out of impossible situations; she’s the bedrock of the family, the salt of the earth, the capable community advocate and erstwhile church fixture. She gets things done,  at all costs because she’s all in.

On February 1, 2012, my mother passed away. She was the strongest, most beautiful,  gentle and magical woman I have ever known. As a young, Black female mental health practitioner at the Menninger Foundation during my childhood, racist and sexist policies were the norm, not the exception. She was not allowed to obtain a clinical specialist’s license but she did become a licensed technician.in mental health. She was also an artist: a ceramicist, china painter, upholsterer; beer and wine maker and baker of exquisite culinary delights. She could race a car and cry her way out of a ticket.  Sometimes she worked to the point of exhaustion, and she must have worked a lot through the grief of miscarriages, a challenging marriage, and the death of a newborn. As the years progressed  she began to travel and think less of what others thought, including her own husband. She was a brave soul; a courageous and beautiful woman. She had all the answers, even when she didn’t- because she had to.

I no longer have the answers.

I no longer have the answers, nor do I have to have them. I’m curious and anxious and  a little off-kilter, but I am not surprised about the current state of political affairs. This has been our reality for as long as I can remember.  I’m refashioning myself, refining my artistic voice, resuming dance class, and finding it easier to speak my mind. I cry in front of people I work with, accept gifts from them, and give gifts in return. I gently support my daughters, but I don’t take on responsibilities that are no longer mine (Their failures to plan are not my emergencies.) Mostly, the best gifts I give my grandchildren is my time. I travel, spend time alone, and with friends. I think a lot, and laugh out loud. I enjoy dressing up, going out on occasion, and being catered to. I love to read. I weave, dye and paint patterned textiles. These activities give me the strength and energy to do the work of addressing the issues of financial capability, and justice- based food access,  all of which directly affects the safety, security, mental health and well being of women, girls and families. The Strong Black woman is gone, but in her place, I have found a mindful space, and a slower pace to accomplish this important work. The work will not happen in a day, perhaps not even in this generation, but eventually, it will get done. The wonderful thing, is I don’t have to do it all.

imag1221-2Photo of my mother’s china painting amid my textile work and other treasures

1-14-2016 #MacroSW: Financial Capability and Asset Bulding for All

This week’s Twitter chat is our first #MacroSW discussion on The Grand Challenges for Social Work Initiative- a series of working papers brought forth by social work practitioners, scientists and scholars under the umbrella of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW). This chat, hosted at 9:00pm EST by macro practitioner, Sunya Folayan- will address the Grand Challenge: Financial Capability and Asset Building for All. One aspect of this Grand Challenge asks social work educators, researchers, practitioners and students to be financially literate in order to promote social and economic justice in society; and to infuse financial literacy into practice, research and teaching. The Grand Challenges for Social Work are described as ambitious but achievable goals for society that mobilize our profession, capture the imagination of the public and require innovation and breakthroughs in science and practice to achieve. The AASWSW invites social work practitioners, scientists and scholars to participate broadly in discussion and problem solving dialogue. This Grand Challenge chat @#MacroSW will engage members of our profession in bringing our brightest ideas, creative collaborations, and intentional innovation to the fore.
Our weekly generated resource bank will add to the body of knowledge created in addressing social work’s grand challenges. Social Workers have been powerful societal change agents for over a century- moving the nation through periods of stress, and unrest that characterize periods of social change and industrialization. Today’s global 21st century landscape brings with it more complex and interrelated problems which will require higher levels of problem solving. Today’s social work professional must play a more central, collaborative and innovative role in our ever changing world. If there ever was a need for the social work profession-that time is now.
#MacroSW is a collaboration of social workers, organizations, social work schools, and individuals working to promote macro social work practice. Macro social work practice focuses on changing larger systems, such as communities and organizations. It encompasses a broad spectrum of actions and ideas, ranging from community organizing and education to legislative advocacy and policy analysis. The chats are held weekly on Twitter every Thursday at 9 p.m. EST (6 p.m. PST).
Financial Empowerment for Social Workers: http://aaswsw.org/proposed-grand-challenge-submissions/financial-empowerment-for-social-workers/ retrieved January 10, 2016

Sherraden, M.S. Huang, J.,Callahan, C., Clancy, M.M., & Sherraden, M. (2015). Financial Capability and asset building for all (Grand Challenges for Social Work Initiative Working Paper No 13), Cleveland, OH: American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.

Open Mic Night! #MacroSW Chat 1/7 at 9pm EST

Open Mic Night! #MacroSW Chat 1/7 at 9pm EST


Welcome back from the busy holiday season! Join host @karenzgoda and the #MacroSW crew for an hour of YOUR issues, comments and ideas on Thursday, January 7, 2015 at 9pm EST.

Spring Schedule Highlights: We are excited to announce our new weekly chats!

  • Grand Challenges for Social Work Theme Nights. In these chats, we will explore the Grand Challenges initiative by the American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare. Our first Grand Challenge chat will be on 1/14 discussing Building Financial Capability for All.
  • #PoliticsNOW. We will be taking a deeper look at policy, politics, and the upcoming Presidential election. Our first #PoliticsNOW chat will be on 1/21.
  • Documentary movie nights. Our first movie night will be on 1/28  discussing the film Growing Up Trans.
  • Twitter Combination Hashtag event during Social Work Month. March is Social Work Month and we are working with folks behind other social work Twitter hashtags to develop an awesome event(s). Date(s) TBD!

About us:

#MacroSW is a collaboration of social workers, organizations, social work schools, and individuals working to promote macro social work practice. Macro social work practice focuses on changing larger systems, such as communities and organizations. It encompasses a broad spectrum of actions and ideas, ranging from community organizing and education to legislative advocacy and policy analysis. The chats are held weekly on Twitter every Thursday at 9 p.m. EST (6 p.m. PST).

For information about how to participate in the #MacroSW chat, view our FAQs. For chat schedule and chat archives check out: http://macrosw.com

Inequality for All: Student-Focused #MacroSW Twitter Chat on 10/8/15

Assessment and Evaluation of SW Macro Practice Skills: Practice Wisdom From the Field #MacroSW Twitter Chat 9-24-2015 at 9pm EST