In anticipation of our upcoming event at Grocery on Home, I’ve been going through The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, by William Arnett, Alvia Wardlaw, Jane Livingston, and John Beardsley again this week. It’s only serving to make me really excited. The book is rich with history and filled with gorgeous photographs of hand-stitched quilts and the stories of the women who made them. The mini-autobiographies of each quilt maker provide snapshots of life in Gee’s Bend. Each entry is written in the seamstress’s own words, like this opening paragraph in Helen McCloud’s story:
“I was born down in Clifton, out from Annemanie. My mother was Della Mae Bridges. We worked in the fields, raised cotton and stuff. Kind of rough. My daddy was a big farmer-cotton, corn, rice, peanuts, squashes, cucumbers, beans, oats. And, Lord, we had to get out there and pick them. Jesus, I hated that, but if you didn’t, you get tore up. Watermelons, too. Two hundred pounds of cotton wasn’t nothing for me to pick. My daddy was so mean to us.”
There’s a cluster of Polaroids in our production office that never fail to captivate our visitors, and even though they’ve been there for the better part of a decade we still find ourselves staring. They’re so beautiful. It’s hard to look away.
Those Polaroids are from our first fashion show— 8 years ago—a cast of women assembled by the amazing Jennifer Venditti of JV8, Inc. Jennifer, a director and pioneer of selecting models whose beauty is far from typical, introduced us to a group of ladies whose poise, confidence, and style were unmistakable.
Mimi Weddell was among this incredible ensemble, a vibrant actress and New York fashion icon. She was most known for her lifetime obsession with hats. We love that her words are the introduction to Ari Seth Cohen’s book, a celebration of personal style at any age, Advanced Style:
“I can’t imagine going without a hat. The only romantic thing left in life is a hat.”
Alabama Chanin, Florence, Alabama, in collaboration with Drew Robinson, Jim ‘N Nick’s, Birmingham, Alabama
64 yards 100% organic cotton jersey, colors white and nude
47 spools Button Craft thread
112 yards embroidery floss
1 pound white glass beads
9 garment patterns
4 stencil designs
1 quart textile paint
24 talented embroidery artisans
Embroidery scissors, both large and small
8 sticks hickory
Construct garments by combining the first 10 ingredients, adding love and care. Once constructed with love and care, smoke embroidered dresses with hickory. This is the wood most commonly used for barbecue in our part of Alabama because it is the most plentiful. As luck would have it, burned hickory produces a subtle flavor and color in pork and dresses, respectively.
It made sense to us to use the same wood to smoke our homegrown garments (well, as much sense as it could make to smoke a dress, anyway). Like a pig, dresses require a low temperature and lots of finesse.
Once you get the fire going, smoke your dresses at a temperature close to 170 degrees for about 18 hours.
Serves the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, 2012.
BBQ, Barbeque, Bar-B-Que, Bar-B-Q. However you spell it, we are awash in this delicious madness here in North Alabama. Mention barbeque and you will have an instant conversation starter: “Mustard based sauce!” “Are you kidding me? No way! Ketchup!” “What! Please don’t tell me you are putting mayonnaise on that meat?” These are the ingredients that can bring men and women alike to heated discussion. We have spent the last few weeks preparing for an exhibition celebrating the Southern Foodways Alliance’s 15th Annual Symposium, entitled Barbecue: An Exploration of Pitmasters, Places, Smoke, and Sauce.
On set today @ GAS Design Center. Look for new collection pieces AND our new website. Coming November 2012.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, to view “Creation Story: Gee’s Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial.” I spent forever moving from one quilt to the next – leaning as closely in as I could without being reprimanded. No matter how many times you see those beautiful pieces, they never fail to amaze and inspire. The quilts, while spectacular, were meant for everyday use and were made with whatever materials were available. The personal stories associated with each quilt drove that point home. Each was described by the maker in simple terms and plain language, as if what they produced was no big deal, as though anyone could do it. I was particularly taken by the quilts of Missouri Pettway, both intricate and simple in their constructions. One quilt, made from her husband’s work clothes, demonstrated the love that went into each and every one of these works of art. I felt a lump rise in my throat as I read the description, as told by the quilter’s daughter, Arlonzia:
“It was when Daddy died. I was about seventeen, eighteen. He stayed sick about eight months and passed on. Mama say, ‘I going to take his work clothes, shape them into a quilt to remember him, and cover up under it for love.’ She take his old pants legs and shirttails, take all the clothes he had, just enough to make that quilt, and I helped her tore them up. Bottom of the pants is narrow, top is wide, and she had me to cutting the top part out and shape them up in even strips.” Continue reading
I recently read a NYTimes article about the comeback of curvy body shapes among the Y- generation. It seems that an increasing number of women in their 20s and 30s are finding the “calendar girl” silhouette appealing. Along with a curvaceous silhouette, the look includes Betty Page style bangs, swing skirts, and bright red lips.
The classic 50s and 60s pin-ups were before my time. By the time the 70’s arrived, the style of the day had evolved. Pin-ups looked different – beach blondes, tiny waistlines and overly-styled looks were on trend. These were the images that surrounded me when I first began to think about my own definition of beauty and develop my own sense of style. I was an awkward teenager. Growing up with limited resources in our small community, my sense of beauty and style was dictated by Seventeen Magazine. And I don’t remember anyone in my little world that looked like me. I remember my mother—who was a teacher at my school—telling me that none of the little kids looked like me. I had black hair, black eyes, a “foreign” look. In fact, years later a friend of the family looked at my cousin and said “Pam, you have just grown up to be the most beautiful young woman.” Then, as her eyes descended upon me, she exclaimed, “And, Natalie, you are so, so, so EXOTIC.” For a shy and somewhat delicate girl, that felt like the kiss of ugly.
This month’s desktop features our organic cotton jersey fabric with Wet-Paint Stenciling from page 48 of Alabama Studio Style. Using an Angie’s Fall stencil, this distressed, painted version of our Faded Leaves fabric was actually an accident. Often times, the best and most exciting things in life come from accidental meetings, accidental spills, and accidental conversations. This fabric is the same.
This hi-resolution photograph is for use as your computer desktop background and is now available to download from our Resource Downloads.
A Short Note on Wood from Brave Old World: A Practical Guide to Husbandry, or the Fine Art of Looking After Yourself:
Do you have enough dry wood to last through the winter? Should you order some now so that you will have a good dry pile in twelve months’ time? September is the month to make sure that this is sorted out.
As the days grow shorter and the nights become chillier, I find myself craving an evening around the fire. In my family, I am a renowned fire builder. My patience for building fires was nurtured as a child as we built fires at our family camping spot to roast hot dogs and grill hamburgers; at summer camp, a fire pit meant a night of songs and making “best friends forever.” These days, I love building a fire because I know that it means a night of grilling vegetables, toasting friends, great stories – warmth inside and out. I have spent hours with a friend in our community talking about techniques, fireplace designs, and wood.
To safely** make a fire, I recommend gathering the following:
A SAFE PLACE TO START YOUR BURN. Make sure that you are a safe distance from structures, trees and bushes.
A SOURCE OF WATER. Whether a hose, a bucket, or any other vessel, make sure that you have water to put out the fire or to use in case of emergency.