Author Archives: Alabama

HEIRLOOM IN THE MAKING: MIKE’S CROSS

CROSS-1 Over the past months, we have been exploring heirlooms through ongoing Journal posts. Our intention is to look at the things we hold dear and examine how we find meaning in our personal heirlooms and mementos – even if those things don’t necessarily have great monetary value. The Heirloom series is meant to celebrate things that last and the things that we assign meaning to in our lives. This week, we look at the process of creating something with intention – the act of making something designed to last and assigning a meaning to that object from its inception. Our friend and Journal contributor Sara shares stories of her late father-in-law, told from the perspective of some of his children: A few months ago, my family suffered a loss with the passing of my father-in-law, who we all called Mike. It was a heartbreaking time but, as is often the case, the painful loss provided the opportunity to share memories, spend time together, grieve, and heal. The ironic part of the rituals surrounding a death – the preparations, family gatherings, storytelling – is that you constantly look at one another and think: He would have loved to be here… He would have loved this. My husband, Kory, has six siblings. They rarely see one another. We don’t live terribly close to most of them and, though we might have great intentions of visiting one another (or at least calling more often), inevitably life happens. Days and weeks and months and seasons pass with only brief “hellos”, the occasional text message, or the rare visit. When Mike passed away, we all found ourselves in the same room, thrust upon one another in the middle of life. We were brothers and sisters, spouses and children, nieces and mothers and aunts and uncles – together with one terrible agenda settling in over the room. But, as happens, there are things that must be done, plans to be made, decisions to ponder, meals to cook, and logistics to navigate. You begin the tricky balance of working, grieving, and healing. Your loss is personal and it is also communal. Continue reading

REAL WOMEN: SOLA

REAL WOMEN: SOLA

Do you remember your first day of school? I don’t remember the actual day, but I do have photos of myself, standing outside my first grade classroom, smiling, wearing a plaid dress and knee socks. I do remember my children’s first school days—the nervous excitement they showed and the bittersweet pride I felt at witnessing this important milestone. While I don’t take those moments for granted, there was never a doubt that those moments would come. It’s common now to see Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram light up with school photos that document every moment of our children’s educational lives. A few months ago, I received an email from an old friend that provided some much-needed perspective.

The email offered a link to a Ted Talk by a woman named Shabana Basij-Rasikh, co-founder of SOLA—Afghanistan’s first all-girl boarding school. The word “sola” means “peace” in the Pashto language, but it is also an acronym for School of Leadership, Afghanistan. Shabana was 6 years old when the Taliban took over Afghanistan and made it illegal for girls to go to school. So, for five years, her family dressed her as a boy and sent her to a secret school to learn. Even at this young age, she understood the risks that she—and her parents—were undertaking. She would walk for 30 minutes, even an hour, to schools. The locations would move, and she would walk different paths each day; sometimes class would take place in the morning and other times in the afternoon.

REAL WOMEN: SOLA

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SWATCH OF THE MONTH: NOVEMBER 2014

SWATCH OF THE MONTH: NOVEMBER 2014The Swatch of the Month for November highlights one of my all time favorite designs, Climbing Daisy. The technique uses ribbon embroidery, which beautifully adds dimension and detail to projects and garments. The concept is simple: we use cotton ribbon rather than thread or embroidery floss to stitch the design. This technique can be applied to almost any of our stencil designs and combined with any of our stitching practices.

To create the swatch, begin by stenciling the design to the top layer of fabric using your transfer method of choice. (The Climbing Daisy stencil is available for download from our Resources page.)

Stitch the larger petal shapes using 100% cotton tape and a large-eyed embroidery needle. (Note: over the years, we’ve found that upholstery needles with a large eye also work quite well with this technique.)

After the larger petals are stitched, create French knots (see page 75 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design) with the cotton tape at the center of the petal shapes, as well as along the stems.

Next, stem-stitch (see page 85 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design) long, curving stems using the embroidery floss. Repeat this process until you have stitched each of your stenciled shapes.

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JONATHAN HARRIS: NAVIGATING STUCKNESS

JONATHAN HARRIS: NAVIGATING STUCKNESS

Over the past thirty-five years, public radio producer Jay Allison has accumulated a wealth of inspiration in his extensive audio archive of human experience. A personal hero of mine, he has brought innovative storytelling to the forefront of radio journalism. His new project, Transom.org, won the first Peabody Award ever given exclusively to a website. This site provides resources and community for young journalists, diarists, artists, and reporters by combining the power of the recorded spoken word and the internet. It also brings otherwise unheard stories to a broad audience.

I discovered this inspiring piece written by artist and computer scientist Jonathan Harris on the Transom Review, a collection of written narratives on Transom.org. “Navigating Stuckness,” is an unashamed look at the journey Harris has taken to understand life’s meaning and the loss and gain of momentum in the long run. The story of his work is actually the story of his life. This may be one reason I found the piece so appealing.  Our work is a direct reflection of our developing state.

JONATHAN HARRIS: NAVIGATING STUCKNESS

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OCTOBER PLAYLIST 2014: DANIEL ELIAS + EXOTIC DANGERS

OCTOBER PLAYLIST 2014: DANIEL ELIAS + EXOTIC DANGERS

The music that flows through our community is nothing short of amazing. I’ve written many times about the rich musical history of The Shoals area—and I’m proud of all the up and coming artists, producers, and managers that strive to create great music in our hometown (including members of the Alabama Chanin staff).

Our graphic designer, Maggie, and her husband, Daniel, are gaining attention with their new rock ‘n roll band Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers. Below, they share how they got involved with music, along with some of their favorite songs.

Name(s): Daniel and Maggie Crisler
Band: Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers
Instrument(s) you play: Daniel – guitar, harmonica, vocals; Maggie – electric organ and percussion
Hometown: Daniel – Florence, AL; Maggie – Sheffield, AL
Presently residing: Florence, AL

AC: When did you start playing music?

DC: I remember my pop first teaching me a couple of chords on the guitar around age eight. I learned the piano, as well. The Blues was and is my first musical love, so that’s what I learned, forming the foundation for everything I play—no matter what the style is. I played (and still do) in the church band for many years before writing my first song or playing my first rock ‘n roll show.

MC: I’ve always loved music. When I was growing up, I heard a lot of Motown and classic rock because that’s what my parents listened to. I started playing piano when I was six and took lessons for about ten years. In that ten years, I also learned to play violin, clarinet, and bass guitar. I picked up the keys again when Daniel bought me a vintage Farfisa organ and asked me to play with him in a new project (which developed into this band).

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Q+A WITH NICHOLAS AND DREW

Q+A WITH DREW AND NICHOLAS

Alabama Chanin will host our final “Friends of the Café” Dinner of the 2014 season next Friday evening. The creative team from Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q, including Nicholas Pikakis and Drew Robinson, will be on hand to direct the menu. I find it amazing that Jim ‘N Nick’s currently operates over 30 restaurants across the South and manages to maintain consistency and high standards. Their commitment to sustainability at such a large scope is outstanding. They care about every detail—from the farmers and hogs, to their choice of wood, to every seasoning and side dish…it seems they do it ALL.

We caught up with Nicholas and Drew and persuaded them both to answer a few questions.

AC: What role do you play in the oversight of those individual locations? How involved are you in the day-to-day operations?

Drew Robinson: I don’t oversee any one restaurant. We have a lot of talented local owners, general managers, chefs, dining room managers, and very dedicated staff that operate great restaurants every day. I’m engaged in culinary development—new recipes, products, menus—for the company. Operationally, my role beyond that isn’t to oversee a restaurant as much as it is to continually convey the standards of our food and coach what our chefs and cooks do so that we are, hopefully, always improving.

AC: I once heard that you have no freezers—whatsoever—at any of your restaurants. Truth or legend?

DR: Truth. The “no freezers” rule is one of our core values that started with Nick and his dad, Jim. They believed in bringing all the ingredients in fresh—we start fresh and prepare fresh. They were closely joined at the hip with that value of theirs, so there was no question about doing that across the board in each of the stores.

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HEIRLOOM #5: PEGGY LOUISE’S CLOCK

HEIRLOOM #5: PEGGY LOUISE'S CLOCK

Through our Journal’s Heirloom series, we’ve been exploring the things we value and why we hold them dear. Each story reveals the value of tradition and honors possessions that were made to last. While these items may not be valuable to the world-at-large, to the owner they are priceless.

This week, Kasey, our Production Coordinator for the Alabama Chanin collection shares memories of the clock she inherited from her grandmother.

From Kasey:

My grandmother, Peggy Louise, was a mother of 6, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of 17 – and she somehow knew how to make each of us feel special. The time we spent together was filled with food, stories, and – above all – laughter.

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SWATCH OF THE MONTH: OCTOBER 2014

SWATCH OF THE MONTH: OCTOBER 2014

The October Swatch of the Month highlights one of our most popular embroidery treatments—Alabama Fur. The technique, first presented in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, combines our Spiral stencil with backstitch-worked embroidery floss, and incorporating exposed knots and tails. Simple, yet time consuming, the end result is a hypnotic continuation of curves that is both a beauty to behold and touch (the texture is irresistible).

To create the swatch, begin by stenciling the design to the top layer of fabric using your transfer method of choice. (The Spirals stencil is available for download from our Resources page.)

Align your top and backing layers of fabric, with right sides up and pin together. Using four strands of embroidery floss (or two strands doubled) thread your needle. When you knot off, use a double knot and make sure to leave a 1” tail of floss (note that this tail is longer than we use when working with Button Craft thread, for effect).

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PATAGONIA @ ALABAMA CHANIN: TRUTH TO MATERIALS

PATAGONIA @ ALABAMA CHANIN: TRUTH TO MATERIALS

Eight years ago, and three months after Maggie was born, I stood in the wings on a stage in New York City, waiting to go on and tell the story of Alabama Chanin. I was nervous and jittery, waiting my turn while a woman named Jill Dumain talked about the sustainability work of the company she had worked with for over a decade. It was an unexpected life-changing moment.  Instead of thinking and preparing for my own talk, I got carried away by the story of Patagonia and their mission. I had always been a fan, but that day I became a devotee.

My own talk on that massive stage paled in comparison to the sharp wit and factual detail that Jill Dumain offered—the same determination that she brings daily to the job she loves. Jill and I became friends over the course of that weekend, and we stayed in touch over the following years. Two years ago, she emailed me about the possibility of collaborating on a project using Patagonia down jackets that had reached their end-of-life. The “dogs” she called them: jackets that really couldn’t be recycled as usable garments. They were garments with beautiful stories, jackets that may have been down and/or up mountains, weathered many a winter with their wearer, and come to a final resting place in a warehouse. You see, Patagonia takes responsibility for every garment they make—from design to discard method, they are involved.

Any garment you purchase from Patagonia can be returned to Patagonia—at the beginning of its life or at the end of its life. Over the years, the company goal is to extend the life of a garment through good design and great materials, as detailed in their Worn Wear stories. At the same time, Patagonia has implemented buy-back programs for used garments in good condition and have offered initiatives like the Common Threads Partnership that repair garments, extending their lives beyond one user. Their newest initiative, Truth to Materials, is the culmination of this work towards Cradle-to-Cradle design and manufacturing. The ultimate goal is for every product to reflect sustainability from the beginning of life as a raw material, through design, manufacturing, active life, and end-of-life processes. Garments that have reached the end of their lives become an active part of the environment through composting or upcycling into a new form, like our reclaimed down scarves.

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