Category Archives: BEAUTIFUL LIFE

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DESKTOP OF THE MONTH: NOVEMBER

For November, we’re featuring the Couching technique as our Desktop of the Month. Couching lends substantial weight and warmth to any garment. The final days of October brought quite a chill to Alabama, perfect weather for my favorite couched coat. I love pulling out my coats for the first time of the season; a sure-fire signal fall has arrived and the holidays are just around the corner.

We hope you have a cold-weather favorite you reach for year after year. Or, if it’s time to start working on a new favorite, you might consider making your own coat and embellishing with the Couching technique. The Alabama Chanin version of the technique is featured on page 110 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design and shows several variations to work using beads or cotton yarn with a parallel whipstitch.

This hi-resolution photograph, for use as your computer desktop background, is now available to download from our Resource Downloads.

xoNatalie


NEW WEBSITE

We often hear that you have to see an Alabama Chanin garment in person to really appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship that goes into every piece. We sincerely believe that our upcoming website is the next best thing.

As our brand continues to grow, and our interests and projects become more diverse, we rely more and more on AlabamaChanin.com as a way to showcase our endeavors, share our experiences, and interact with a community that is constantly expanding.

This is a place to share our life at the Factory, or at least a sampling of it: Weekend workshops, DIY craft, custom couture garments, cotton farming, upcycling developments, Thursday potlucks, visiting artists, and the list goes on. We wanted a site that would reflect all of the things that we are – and all of the things that you, our customers, are. We wanted a meeting place that is both welcoming and engaging and, of course, easy to use, because we know first-hand that when you have so much going on in one place, things can be a little difficult to navigate.

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THE QUILTS OF GEE’S BEND

THE QUILT'S OF GEE'S BEND - Photo by Robert Rausch
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.”

The Quilts of Gee's Bend. Photo by Robert Rausch
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ADVANCED STYLE

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.”

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A RECIPE FOR BBQed DRESSES

Alabama Chanin, Florence, Alabama, in collaboration with Drew Robinson, Jim ‘N Nick’s, Birmingham, Alabama

Ingredients

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
27 needles
Embroidery scissors, both large and small
8 sticks hickory
Kindling
Matches
Patience

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.

BBQED DRESSES

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.

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“AS LONG AS I CAN SEE, I’LL BE TRYING TO THREAD THAT NEEDLE.”

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

PINUPS

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.

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