We frequently talk about the heirloom aspect of our hand-made clothing, the timeless design and lasting quality that allows for an Alabama Chanin garment to be worn for years and, in some cases, passed along to a younger family member. While we know this to be true, we don’t often have the opportunity to witness a specific garment change and evolve over time. Perhaps a perfect example: my daughter, Maggie has been wearing the above dress for five years (and counting).
The dress was made for her, cut from an oliver + s pattern, when she was a curly headed, cherub faced two year old. Made with our organic cotton jersey in Butter and Natural, the dress has been through about a million washes and worn on too many occasions to count. It’s been stained, ripped, appliquéd (to cover the rips), and dyed blue (to cover the stains). No longer a dress but a summer top, she will not give it up.
I’ve known Heather Ross for almost five years now. We first met in New York, at a show celebrating our collection based on the work of famed Alabama photographer Charles Moore. Heather arrived with my editor, Melanie, and I was bowled over by her beauty AND her spirit. When Alabama Studio Style launched back in 2010, the book went on a wonderful (digital) Blog Tour with a stop by Heather’s blog. The interview that ensued is one of my favorites to date.
Heather Ross is almost universally beloved in the sewing and craft communities. Her designs are whimsical and totally unlike any other options on the bookshelf. She excels when designing and illustrating for textiles and paper, with lines of fabric and stationery; she has also illustrated children’s books and has even worked on a line of surfboards for young girls. She has published a range of books, from the highly popular Weekend Sewing to a children’s book called Crafty Chloe.
Cemetery Shadow, 2012
A few years ago, Walgreens launched a clever promotion for a reusable film camera in a world full of digital devices. The cheap plastic cameras, which retailed for about ten dollars, advertised “free film for life” in big letters. The catch was that you had to have the film processed at Walgreens, but it seemed like an opportunity to Lina Tharsing, a young painter and photographer from Lexington, Kentucky.
Lina Tharsing is best known as a painter but has been making photographs since she was a child. According to Tharsing, “I remember my first roll of film exactly. I was only eleven, and in an effort to amuse a bored child, my mother handed me a camera and told me to go out into the yard and take some pictures. At that moment, my view of the world changed, the lens revealed something my eyes hadn’t seen before. It was the ability to capture a fleeting moment and freeze it forever, to frame a scene.” Tharsing carries a camera with her everywhere she goes in a relentless pursuit of light and a self-described “singular moment where reality and fiction intersect.” She seeks out the brightly lit tree in the middle of a forest or the deep shadow that forms a portal into some other dimension. The resulting images of figures, interiors, suburban scenes, and natural landscapes challenge our perception of truth, offering a composed tension of multiple realities that would otherwise be forever lost.
Portal Light, 2012
Any style connoisseur or budding fashionista has to admit, that even for those who try to keep track of fashion terms and trends, the jargon; vernacular; names of colors; shape; and designers, can be difficult for many to remember. That is where Alex Newman and Zakee Shariff’s Fashion A-Z: An Illustrated Dictionary comes in handy.
We have the miniature version (the book is about as tall as my hand), but the content mirrors the regular volume; this one is simply easier to travel with. The book literally breaks down terms alphabetically and is incredibly detailed. It also includes cultural significance and historical facts for listed items.
Friend (and heroine) Makalé Faber-Cullen is a storyteller and anthropologist who has worked with the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Festival of American Folklife, for which we collaborated on some t-shirts with Makalé a few years ago. She served as the first U.S. Director of Programs for Slow Food, where she co-launched and directed Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT), a coalition of seven of the most prominent non-profit food, agriculture, conservation, and education organizations dedicated to rescuing America’s diverse foods and food traditions. She also served on the Board of Directors for the Southern Foodways Alliance, where she helped produce The Global South and The Cultivated South symposiums. Her current project, Wilderness of Wish, gives context to unusual and out-of-place objects in the course of our daily lives. In Makalé’s words:
“I founded the Wilderness of Wish in 2010 to excite an interest in the artful presentation of contemporary ethnography and material culture. With carefully chosen client-partners we showcase the people, places and goods that give our lives meaning and our communities value. I enjoy merging anthropology, commerce and art for the public good. I’m particularly interested in occupational culture and the role of objects in our relationships — to ourselves and with each other, hence my company’s retail arm.”
A physical place can be filled with such meaning. Just think of your hometown; do you have recollections of your favorite spot? Or maybe you couldn’t wait to get away and that feeling is still palpable. Returning to places that I have lived before, I have a sense memory of how to get around and I associate feelings and memories with specific locations. In a city as large as Manhattan, the sheer number of these feelings and remembrances must be infinite, many times the number of inhabitants.
As we head to Manhattan this week with our newest collection, this conversation feels especially interesting. Our own personal map of the city, marked with new clients and boutiques, will guide us as we write another chapter into the Alabama Chanin story.
In 2007, Becky Cooper became interested in locations and maps after studying Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and she was inspired by an internship with non-profit organization CultureNOW, where she worked to map Manhattan’s public art spaces. She told the New York Times, “I’m really bad at geography. But I think it helped me to see maps more as a biography.”
Last October, we held a One-Day Workshop in Atlanta, Georgia. DIY Kits for the workshop had been cut, packaged, and shipped days before the event, but they never arrived in Atlanta, lost in transit. This was a workshop crisis. However, this particular workshop turned out to be one of our best to date. In a beautiful expression of communal crafting, twelve people collaborated to create two Alabama Chanin Swing Skirts from the only kits I happened to carry with me. While we were initially disappointed over the lost box, we soon learned of the people in the Northeast who lost lives and homes as Hurricane Sandy beat down on the New Jersey and New York shores. We didn’t know how lucky we were.
Friend and native son Ben Tanner grew up in the Shoals. He graduated from Muscle Shoals High School, and after a few years living in Memphis, Tennessee, and Paris, France, returned to the area to work at FAME Studios with the hope of gaining some valuable experience. That stint was supposed to be a “brief stopover.” But, he says, “I found a really amazing and diverse community of musicians working here, so I’ve stayed.”
An accomplished musician and producer, Ben is also a founding partner in Single Lock Records, a new, local record label focused on helping musicians make better records without going broke. He spends much of his time playing keyboards as part of the Alabama Shakes, though he does play some guitar and bass. “Most things with strings I can pick on a little bit (excluding bowed instruments),” he says.
“Playing and recording music is hard work, and I’m often very hard on myself, but I have brief, occasional moments where I’m consciously aware that I’m a part of making something beautiful that wasn’t there before. Those moments are ecstatic and rare, but they keep me going.”
The playlist below, curated by Ben Tanner, has a “weird South” theme, meaning, it’s Southern music that doesn’t exactly fit the mold of stereotypical “Southern.” He also worked on two tracks on this list with local bands, The Bear and Doc Dailey and Magnolia Devil.