My Television experience on the show Uncommon Threads with host Alison Whitlock.
Leora Raikin, African Folklore Embroidery
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Back to Our Roots
During summer I spent seven weeks in South Africa, regrouping, rediscovering, spending time with different tribes, learning new cultures and traditions, sourcing new & unique African products, visiting with family, meeting with the African folklore Embroidery designers, experiencing the African wild life and meeting with people who are making a difference to help with the country’s SEVERE aids & unemployment crises. South Africa has a 30% unemployment rate and severe aids crises. While I was in South Africa, I received an email from the producers of the television show Uncommon Threads, a show on the Do It Yourself Network inviting me to appear as a guest on their show. While I was excited to receive this invitation, I had no idea what this would involve.
I decided to invite one of my students to be on the show with me. It was a tough choice as so many people have completed such beautiful and creative African Folklore Embroidery designs. I finally decided on Analee Perica, a retired teacher andfiber artist, who is really creative. Analee was first introduced to African Folklore Embroidery after reading an article about my African Folklore Embroidery teaching program in the Los Angeles Times in 2003. I also knew it would be fun and helpful to have someone help with preparing all the mock-ups or as they call themin show business “step-outs” for the show.
On arriving back home to Los Angeles, I met with the producers of the show at their studio in Burbank, California. Since they were experienced in producing craft /needle art type shows, they knew exactly the type of format and what they wanted the viewer to experience in African Folklore Embroidery. Let us say that any expectations that I had that the project would actually be done on the show evaporated quickly. I soon learned that I would need to prepare before filming ten mock-ups or as in the industry calls them step outs of the single design. The producers decided that the giraffe design would be a good one to film. I had one week to embroidery ten examples of the giraffe, with each giraffe's design building on the steps and stitches completed in the one before. The aim is that it should read like a book. If you flip through from the first step out where there is just the design to the final design which is complete with all the techniques, beads and fibers.
I have never stitched so quickly, so much or so fast in any one week. The producers went through the format of the show and what kind of things we could or could not say. They were interested in the techniques involved in completing an African Folklore Embroidery design, the fact that you do not need a hoop, can use any color to stitch ( no wrong color). The fact that your stitches do not need to be perfect as there are no needle art police coming to inspect, really fascinated them. They were also interested to know that I had learned African Folklore Embroidery in South Africa ( my mom taught me) and to understand the method I used to teach over 3,000 people the art of African Folklore Embroidery over the past three years at guilds, schools, camps, enrichment programs, senior centers, girl scouts and conventions.
When the day came for the actual filming I was nervous. They had told us what we could wear, that to film a thirty minute segment we would need to be at the studio for four to six hours, (there is a lot of stop, start and waiting involved- so my African Folklore Embroidery came in very handy during those “down Times”) and even what jewelry was suitable and appropriate so would not distract . And of course to have clean nails, not polished. We needed to bring three potential outfits from our own for wardrobe for their review and once they selected the one they felt was most suitable it was off to make up- to touch up. Throughout the day there was a constant stream of food being provided. I do not know how the people in the film industry remain so skinny with all that delicious food on set.
I was amazed at how many people are involved in the filming of a thirty minute segment from several camera people, as they film from all angles, to several directors, producers and assistants. Seeing the set for the first time was an experience. It is set up to look like someone’s living room. There are lovely sofas, beautiful pictures, art and other interesting objects on the walls and on display, every item specifically chosen and located, staged in a particular way. Nothing is on the set randomly. On the coffee table there were mugs, I expected to be sipping my coffee throughout the show and was surprised when the producers said they were to be empty, no coffee drinking as they were only for effect. This was my rude awakening to the world of television, where everything is staged, when I voiced this opinion to the producer he said that he had ruined television viewing for many people who had appeared on the show.
The host of the show was amazing, Alison Whitlock, made me feel so comfortable and at ease throughout the entire taping. I do not know how she does it, filming sixty five shows, three a day in five weeks. She looks beautiful, is calm, inviting and one really does feel like you are in her living room discussing your favorite project. Her interest is genuine. There were many times through-out the filming we had to do the same scene several times due to the angle being incorrect or a thumb covering a design or any number of small, little things. We were never made to feel bad if we had to do a scene several times.
Most of all the whole process gave me a huge sense of appreciation for all the work that goes into filming a television show. The experience was fun, even if I never got to drink my coffee.
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