Alabama Chanin’s first-ever sewing workshop took place in 2008 alongside a seminar on Southern cooking, organized and presented by our friend and collaborator, Angie Mosier. While the sewing participants stitched and chatted, the food preparers fried up some chicken, steamed collard greens and made pot likker, then baked the most delicious Lane Cake. At each meal, Angie explained the history of each dish and its significance within Southern culture. This is where I first learned the details behind one of Alabama’s culinary specialties, the Lane Cake.
Lane Cake was created by Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama, as her entry into a county fair baking competition in Columbus, Georgia. She originally called the recipe, “Prize Cake,” but eventually leant her name to the dessert for all posterity. She self-published a cookbook called Some Good Things to Eat in 1898 and included the recipe as one of her featured desserts. Lane Cake is a white, layered sponge cake (originally designed for 4 layers) iced with a frosting that includes coconut, raisins, pecans, and bourbon. It is often found in the South at receptions, holiday dinners, or wedding showers. Chef Scott Peacock writes in The Gift of Southern Cooking that he was served a Lane Cake every year on his birthday.
Illustrator and author Maira Kalman has long been a personal hero of mine. She visited The Factory a couple of years ago, along with Rosanne Cash and Gael Towey, for a two-day sewing workshop and some adventure. It was then that I learned Maira is not only a talented illustrator, but also an avid embroidery expert. I love everything she creates (but especially her drawings and unique storytelling perspective), and am happy to call her my friend.
In her book And the Pursuit of Happiness, Maira explores American democracy and its workings. Originally published as a 12-part online series for the New York Times, this complete bound volume tells the colorfully illustrated and hand-lettered history of America.
Another month has come and gone. Looking forward to spring and all it brings.
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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.”
Prepare yourself mentally for sewing. Think about what you are going to do… Never approach sewing with a sigh or lackadaisically. Good results are difficult when indifference predominates.
Never try to sew with a sink full of dirty dishes or beds unmade. When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do these first so your mind is free to enjoy your sewing. When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible. Put on a clean dress. Keep a little bag full of French chalk near your sewing machine to dust your fingers at intervals. Have your hair in order, powder and lipstick put on. If you are constantly fearful that a visitor will drop in or your husband will come home, and you will not look neatly put together, you will not enjoy your sewing.
Sent from our friend and fellow sewist Rosanne Cash—who always looks absolutely gorgeous no matter what she does. And, after reading, our friend Sara recommends following all of the advice so generously given, but to “keep a little bag full of French fries” nearby, instead of the recommended French chalk.
Due to icy roads and winter weather, Alabama Chanin and The Factory will be closed today.
We are asking all of our friends, family, and team members to stay safe, stay warm, and to make snow cream (at home).
Thank you to the Southern Foodways Alliance for allowing us to share “She Spoke, and I Listened” as told to oral historian Sara Wood by Haylene Green.
From Gravy Issue #50:
The evening I met Haylene Green, an urban farmer in Atlanta, Georgia, rain mercilessly poured on midtown Atlanta—and on me. I squeaked across the lobby of Ms. Green’s apartment building and followed her to a small room in the basement. There, she opened a thick photo album with pages of fruits and vegetables from her West End community garden. And she started talking. I put the recording equipment together as fast as I’ve ever assembled it. My job was simple: She spoke, and I listened. All of her answers were stories.
Speaking of his book The Storied South on a radio program, folklorist Bill Ferris recently said something that stopped me in my kitchen: “When you ask a Southerner to answer a question, they will tell a story. And embedded in that story is the information that they feel is the answer to the question.”
Oral history, like the most satisfying literature, relies on listening and observation. The way people speak, how they tell stories, where they choose to pause and scratch their nose, to me, is the greatest part of listening. Being an oral historian or a writer requires you to listen as though your life depends on it. What seems like a simple act is actually the heart of the work. To that end, I share an excerpt from my interview with a farmer who also happens to be a storyteller.
In case you aren’t familiar, St. Paul and The Broken Bones is a band packed full of make-you-feel-good soul. Their recent single, “Call Me”, is on constant rotation here at the studio. Although based in Birmingham, Alabama, the group has ties to the Shoals – lead guitarist Browan Lollar is a Shoals native, and the band’s upcoming debut album, Half the City, was produced by Ben Tanner and is being released by Single Lock Records on February 18. The playlist below, curated by “St. Paul” himself, displays a playful knowledge and enjoyment of soul-rooted music.
Name: Paul Janeway
Band: St. Paul and The Broken Bones
Instrument(s) you play: Holler in a microphone
Hometown: Chelsea, AL
Presently residing: Birmingham, AL
AC: When did you start playing music?
PJ: When I was 4 years old, I started singing in church. I think my first song was “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”. I started playing guitar as a freshman in high school. I am a pretty lousy guitar player though.
AC: What are some of your proudest moments as a musician (or in your life)?
PJ: The first time we sold out a show at Bottletree Café here in Birmingham was a great moment. Also, the time I sang at the Muscle Shoals documentary premiere up in Muscle Shoals. I got to sing “When A Man Loves a Woman” and Spooner Oldham was playing keys to my right. It doesn’t get much bigger than that in my book.
It’s hard to believe January is almost over. It has been an incredible month here at The Factory (and beyond), and I am looking forward to what the rest of 2014 brings…
My love of books is no secret. I still have a decades-old public library card, probably obtained when I was about 8 or 9, printed on card stock and housed in a small, paper envelope. It was one of my most prized possessions as a child. Today’s library cards can be scanned and swiped, but obtaining one is still an important rite of passage for so many.
In the past, we’ve explored the emotional responses that a love for books and for libraries can elicit from anyone who shares that same admiration. Our local library, the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, is a wonderful example of how a brick and mortar building can grow into a community of sorts, adapting to meet the needs of the public at-large, and embracing new technologies while reinforcing the importance of learning. This library, like many modern public libraries, has special initiatives geared toward younger children and teens, but also has a strong local history and genealogical research team. They are creating interactive experiences for the community through classes, meet-ups, and year-round programs. I am proud to see what an important part of our community the public library remains.