Author Archives: Alabama

THE SECRET GARDEN

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One of the great joys of my job is the fact that we sometimes get to review books for other authors. Sometimes we order the books from a catalog of new titles and sometimes, the books just arrive like magic in the mail. This was the case last year, when we received a book called Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. The coloring book—intended for children and adults—was published by Lawrence King and immediately found its way to my pile of books I love. On the inside cover is a quote that reads, “Tumble down the rabbit hole & find yourself in my inky wonderland…” And that is exactly how I felt after browsing just a few pages. Although we have played with permanent markers for years in writing on quilts and garments, looking at page after page of beautiful detailed illustrations, I was overwhelmed by inspiration.

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Through some experimentation, we found out that black and white photocopies will transfer onto white and/or natural colored fabric with a hot iron.  This made it possible for us to transfer the pattern one-to-one from this or any coloring book, stencil, or black and white design. There are arrays of fabric coloring tools available at local craft stores and more arrive on the market each year. We found that the pastel dye sticks and fabric markers (designed for children) work very well.

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THINK (RE)THINK: THE FACTORY CAFÉ

THINK (RE)THINK: THE FACTORY CAFE

From time-to-time, we write about the business of running a business: about how we make decisions, about how many times decisions just make themselves from lack of decision-making, and about how those decisions sometimes work—and often don’t. The truth of the matter is that running a business (or a life, or a family) is about thinking about something—and then rethinking it again—and then rethinking it again. So it is with our menu at The Factory Café.

In some ways, it’s hard to believe that The Factory—including the store and the café— has only been open since November of 2013. The Factory space feels like such an important part of our studio; in reality, we’ve celebrated our connection to our community over and around our farm tables for less than a year.

In the kitchen, we’ve developed new recipes, presented delicious dishes from award-winning chefs, and celebrated those chefs (and an array of worthy organizations) through our Friends of the Café Dinner Series.

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GRAVY #52 – LEARNING TO LOVE THE STRIP-MALL SOUTH

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Thank you to the Southern Foodways Alliance for allowing us to share “I Fell Hard for Buford Highway” by John T. Edge.

From Gravy #52:

I grew up in the country. On fourteen acres of red Georgia clay, cut by gullies and skirted by cedars. I grew up fishtailing down gravel roads in pick-up trucks. And running barefoot through honeysuckle patches. Out in those boonies, I developed an urban crush. After a fitful college run through Athens, I hightailed it for Atlanta and made a life in a neighborhood near the city core.

I could walk to two Indian restaurants, a bookstore, and a co-op grocery. I pinch-hit on the softball team of my neighborhood bar. I became the worst sort of city snob: an arriviste. I was quick to dismiss my country birth and even quicker to declaim life in the white-flight suburbs, which I considered a homogenous wasteland, absent of sentient folk and sidewalks.

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BUBBLES (+ INEZ HOLDEN)

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Last year, I was introduced to Inez Holden over a glass of dry white wine at a fundraising event in our community. Mrs. Holden’s story, told with humor and passion, reminded me that the fashion industry runs deep here in our community. Before Alabama Chanin and Billy Reid, there was Bubbles Ltd.

As Alabama Chanin continues to explore the world of machine-made fashion with our new line and manufacturing division, A. Chanin and Building 14, respectively, Mrs. Holden reminded me that we humbly follow in a line of companies that completely designed and manufactured a fashion line in The Shoals and the surrounding area.

We’ve previously spoken about the rich history of textile production in our community and some of the local manufacturers who led the nation in textile and t-shirt production, but we were excited to discover Bubbles Ltd.

Around 1983, Mrs. Holden got her start as a designer quite by accident. She bought an oversized top and banded bottom pant that she loved the style and fit of, but the material was very rough and scratchy. So, she asked a friend of hers to help her make more sets in a similar style, but out of jersey fabric. She had about five sets of these pantsuits made in different colors, but kept giving them away because so many of her friends and family wanted them.

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THE FACTORY CAFÉ CHEF SERIES: ASHLEY CHRISTENSEN

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I am just going to say it: Ashley Christensen is a badass. (And there are many who would agree with this sentiment.) I could say plenty of nice, lovely things about her and they would all be true. But, if I’m being honest, that’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of her: badass. How else could she open and operate five successful restaurants (with more on the way) AND walk away with the 2014 James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in the Southeast award – all while still in her thirties. You have to wonder if Ashley operates at any speeds slower than an all-out sprint.

In today’s food-obsessed culture, five restaurants equates to a virtual culinary kingdom. And yet, somehow, Ashley still manages to seem real and relatable. Perhaps more importantly, the food is approachable and delicious. She is an actual presence in each of her North Carolina-based restaurants: Poole’s Diner, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Chuck’s, Fox Liquor Bar, Joule Coffee, and the soon-to-be-opened Death and Taxes. Crowds have been known to line up around the block at Poole’s, a former pie shop turned diner, where the egalitarian approach does not allow for reservations; it’s first come, first served. I once heard the story of Ashley driving her car to the front of Poole’s and serving drinks from her opened trunk on a busy night with an especially long wait time. That’s what I mean: badass.

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PORTRAITS IN CREATIVITY: MAIRA KALMAN

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We at Alabama Chanin have long been obsessed with and inspired by Maira Kalman. She has a rich and singular voice – as a visual artist, author, illustrator, and storyteller – that imbues people, objects, and words with knowing wit and humanity.

Maira has written and illustrated 18 children’s books, all of which have been popular nighttime reading with my daughter Maggie. Maira’s illustrated version of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style resides, beautiful and dog-eared, on my desk each day—as it has become part of our company style guide. And for years, I have traded and passed on copies of and links to her columns from the New York Times, The Principles of Uncertainty and The Pursuit of Happiness (both of which are now published exquisitely in book form).

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DIANE’S NATURAL DYE HOUSE

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About four years ago (to my dismay), Diane Hall, our head seamstress and studio directress, turned in her five-year notice. However, as her retirement grows closer, it has become evident to all of us at the studio that we will continue to see her around The Factory after her “official” retirement.

Diane has developed a passion for natural dyeing—in addition to sewing, pattern making, etc. She first encountered natural dyeing with indigo during our workshop at Shakerag in 2012. Her experience there with the renowned dyer Michel Garcia left a lasting impression. Last summer, while our entire company was writing a 10 year vision, Diane wrote that she envisioned a natural dye house here at The Factory and volunteered herself as the head dye master after her retirement.

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After that simple act of writing our vision, the dye house miraculously began to take shape.

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THE TOTE BAG

THE TOTE BAG

The tote bag has almost completely replaced all other sorts of bags in my house. I have different types of bags for different purposes. There are organic canvas totes in a variety of sizes for trips to the grocery store and for holding my laptop and supplies as they are ferried between my home and office, plus smaller bags to keep Maggie’s school supplies and lunch in one place as we travel between home and school. Hers are clearly marked in case they wander off somewhere. I have wicker market baskets to hold large, heavy loads from the farmer’s market and a sizeable leather tote for when I need to carry an arm’s load of items to an event.

The tote bag has been described as the new “purse” by Style.com, Vogue, and the likes. And as the desire for sustainable living increases, the increased usage of the tote bag, particularly in place of plastic shopping bags or other disposable carrier bags, is a more than welcome sight.

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THE HISTORY OF WEAVING (AND RAG RUGS)

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Our team experiments with all types of fabric manipulation here at Alabama Chanin. We have used ruffles to create texture in our textiles and jewelry; have featured crochet work in our collections and projects, and love how something so simple as a knot can add complexity and depth to a piece. In Alabama Stitch Book, we showed how fabric might be used to repair and repurpose farm chairs – an idea that we explored further in our MAKESHIFT 2013 Chair Workshop. Lately, the team has been experimenting with a large floor loom in The Factory. I have long wanted to incorporate rugs into our lifestyle collections, which would also be a wonderful way for us to utilize scraps and decrease waste. I remember my grandmother saving fabric to make rag rugs and there was always a rag rug in front of her sink.

In its most basic definition, weaving is a way to produce fabric using two sets of thread, yarn, or fabric, that are interlaced to form cloth. The longitudinal threads are called the “warp” and the lateral threads are the “weft.” Though hand and finger weaving is suitable for small projects, larger fabrics are usually woven on a loom.

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Weavers have been valued craftspeople almost since the beginning of humankind. Very rudimentary woven cloth has been found in prehistoric graves and settlements. Tens of thousands of years ago, man began to develop string by twisting together plant fibers. Weaving together this primitive string by hand was the next logical step. The first, crude weaving looms were likely developed in the Neolithic Era. Weaving looms were developed from this basic form in China, where silk from silkworm cocoons was utilized and the weaving of this silk was a well-defined craft.

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