Alabama Chanin has always aimed to make products that will last a lifetime – even multiple lifetimes. We create things that are both beautiful and durable and we embrace the ideas of Slow Design. But, once upon a time, Slow Design did not exist as a theory or a process; rather, it was simply how things were made. Those that were fluent in “The Living Arts” knew how to make things – food, clothing, shelter, etc. – and they didn’t want to make them more than once, unless they had to. Durability was necessity. Craftsmen and women were born out of requirement. But, often those craftsmen became so skilled that their products were, quite simply, art. Their creations that remain behind and are passed along—heirlooms—still hold meaning.
For some, the word “heirloom” brings to mind a valuable painting or, perhaps, an antique necklace. Certainly both of those things qualify; but, as part of a new series on the Journal, we want to highlight some of our own personal heirlooms – things that are valuable to us on a personal level, regardless of their financial value. As always, we want to celebrate the things that last, the things that we choose to keep in our lives, the things that we assign meaning to, on a personal level.
The blanket above rested on an upstairs bed at my Grandmother Perkins’s—called Gram Perkins—house for as long as I can remember. In my mind, it belonged to my uncle, but I’m not absolutely sure. The upstairs of my grandparents’ home was completed when my mother was already in high school (although they had lived in the house for many years, starting in the basement and building up as they could afford). In the upstairs, there were rooms for each of the four children. The older children were already in college by the time it was finished, so my uncle, the youngest sibling, spent the most time in the space and, though all of the bedrooms were filled with things, his room felt the least “empty.”
During the holidays, this house came to life when the aunts and uncles filled those empty rooms with luggage and cousins from far away. There were so many that an additional bed was permanently kept in the hallway and it was always in use during these busy days. For an only child, it was an amazing sight and a time of magic. This space, in which I was normally left to my own devices, was filled with people and noise and laughter. In my memory, however accurate or inaccurate, this blanket was always on the bed in the hallway – integral to these memories of family, laughter, and beautiful chaos.
I inherited this blanket after both of my grandparents had passed away. To this day, it provides me with a powerful sense of being young, exploring new spaces, imagination, and feeling free. This simple blanket makes me feel tied to my grandmother and the home she created for her family—a home that felt like my home.
I have carried the blanket with me for many years and it is in rough shape—and was already repaired before I received it; however, it tells a deep part of my own story and to honor those stories. I’ve now repaired my heirloom (shown below), Alabama Chanin-style.
In future installments, some of our Alabama Chanin family and friends will share personal stories, windows into their lives, their treasured memories, their family customs and traditions, and the things that each of them hold dear. We invite you to share your own heirloom stories. Challenge yourself to unbox your grandmother’s china or unfold and restore your childhood quilt; beautiful things which are meant to see the light of day.