Category Archives: THE SCHOOL OF MAKING

A LOVE LETTER TO LOVE LETTERS

Love LettersOnce there was nothing but paper and pen. Not so long ago (a little over a decade), before the email, the text, the tweet, or the Facebook post, there was simply paper and pen.

Think about how special it feels when you get an actual hand-written note in the mail. When you were a child and wrote that super-secret note to your pen pal, covering the envelope in stickers – think of the pure excitement when a response finally arrived. When I was young and corresponded with friends, summer camp bunk-mates, or cousins, I remember watching as they grew and their handwriting changed: a visual representation that we were getting older. As we moved through junior high and high school, the passing of the note in class became high art. As we got older, silly little love notes were left under car windshield wipers, tucked into coat pockets, left on pillows. Some were sappy, some embarrassing, some beautiful – all with one intent: to express affection.

But, at some point we stopped.

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REAL WOMEN: WHER VIA THE KITCHEN SISTERS

This post – part of our new “Real Women” series for 2013 – is dedicated to two of the most “real” women I know: Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva of The Kitchen Sisters.  Without their dedication to telling the “real” story, I would not be the designer, or the person, I am today. Lost and Found Sound changed my perception of storytelling in the Autumn of 1994. I remember the first moment I heard their tracks: in the third story of a rented house on a green square in Savannah, Georgia. Boom. Life changed.

Ira Glass said of their work, “The Kitchen Sisters have done some of the best radio stories ever broadcast. I know people who got into radio because they heard Nikki and Davia’s work, and had no idea anybody could do anything like that on the air.”

These women are my heroes. (Along with a slew of others you will meet this year.)  They continue their storytelling on real women with their series: The Hidden World of Girls, and a new series entitled: The Making of…

Through a Peabody Award winning Lost and Found Sound broadcast, The Kitchen Sisters spurred my interest in this relatively unknown, yet groundbreaking group of women.

“1000 Beautiful Watts.” This was the slogan for WHER Radio – 1430 on your AM dial in Memphis, Tennessee. In October 1955, Shoals native and founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips and his wife, Becky, took an original concept and made it reality: an all-female radio station. Though the station wasn’t technically the first female station to exist, it proudly referred to itself as the “First All-Girl Radio Station in the World.” As such, WHER broadcast for 17 years in the Memphis, Tennessee market.

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MAKESHIFT 2012: THE CONVERSATION

“Craft” might seem like it’s for the amateurs, and “fashion” for the auteurs. Yet we live in an age where creativity and innovation are increasingly found in collaborations between makers and users, crafters and designers, designers and manufacturers, and in the loosening of the boundaries between them. Open sourcing and the emergence of DIY everything (from apps to dresses to education) are THE design stories of the 21st century.

If the philosophers and economists are right, such stories reflect renewed possibilities for building communities, for growing businesses, and for practicing everyday forms of enchantment, ethics, and sustainability. It is time to expand our way of thinking about the relationship between craft and fashion, between the self-made and the ready-to-wear, between fashion as intellectual property and fashion as an open source. What can we learn from the fields of music, product design, and education? Does a backward glance help us see how fashion was at the forefront of these innovations from the start? What is a Vogue pattern if not an open source? What are les petits mains other than artists?


MAKESHIFT 2012:

SHIFTING THOUGHTS ON DESIGN, FASHION, COMMUNITY, CRAFT & DIY

Over the four days of New York Design Week (May 19-22, 2012), Alabama Chanin–in collaboration with its fashion and design partners–is organizing a series of talks, workshops, and gatherings with leaders in the fashion, design, and craft/DIY communities. The events bring together a dynamic combination of industry leaders to explore the ways in which the fashion, art, and design worlds are inextricably linked to the world of craft/DIY and how each of these worlds elevates the others. We look to create an intersection–a meeting point–to explore, discuss, and celebrate the role of local production, handmade, and craft/DIY in fashion and design as a way to empower individuals, businesses, and communities.

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DIY MUSIC: SONG READER OR “DO WE? WE DO.”

You know how we at Alabama Chanin feel about open sourcing. We offer our techniques and the information necessary to recreate our products, should you decide that you want to do-it-yourself. After three books, countless DIY Kits, and an amazing array of workshops, we have learned some important things: people will take your ideas and run with them; what you put into the world will come back to you in ways that you never imagined; the world is a creative place; and you never know what people are capable of until you give them the tools and the opportunity to create.

That being said, I think we’ve found a kindred spirit in the musician, Beck. While listening to one of my podcast staples, All Things Considered, I caught an interview where he described his newest album – an album that he, himself, hasn’t actually recorded. Song Reader (published by, awesome, McSweeney’s) is a set of 20 songs that Beck has released only in sheet music format. His hope is that other musicians will take the material and record their own versions. After releasing so many solo albums, he said that crowdsourcing his music seemed like a way to make the process less lonely.

From All Things Considered: “When you write a song and make a recording and put out a record, it’s kind of [like] sending a message in a bottle,” Beck says. “You don’t really get a lot of feedback. This is a way of sending that song out, and you just get literally thousands of bottles sent back to you.”

There are plenty of artists that have taken up this artistic challenge. You can hear many of them at Beck’s Song Reader website. Maybe, you’ll find your own inspiration there.

To hear the entire interview and some of the songs that have been recorded, listen to the All Things Considered segment here.

P.S.: Sheet music image from “Old Shanghai” by Beck and included in Song Reader. Illustration for that piece by Kelsey Dake.

THE NEW YEAR TRINITY

In our family (as many families in my community), today will be celebrated with Hog Jowl, Collards, and Black-eyed Peas (although you might want to try the Three Sisters with some root vegetables). It’s one of the few days of the year my father (who is gratefully still with us and in remission) actually cooks (well, at least the Hog Jowl).

This holy trinity of the South supposedly brings us health, prosperity, and love (along with our famously thick waistlines). Tomorrow is (gratefully) another day and we will take care of our waistlines then…

Happiest New Year,
xoNatalie

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THE (NEW) HOLIDAY LUXURY

THE NEW HOLIDAY LUXURY

In a world of mass-production and over-harvested resources, I find it a delight and a luxury to come across a responsibly crafted product, especially around the holiday season.  Unsurprisingly, living, producing, and creating sustainably has become a skillful artistry, and sustainable craftsmanship and process is quickly on its way to being the ultimate in luxury production.

It has been extremely encouraging for me to see the Slow Design movement taking root around us. One may see such artistry in the culinary world, as so many chefs joyfully curate the finest, locally raised ingredients with which to design.  From olives in Georgia, to Alabama milk, I find hope and inspiration all around me.

And it truly is a luxury, one that I hope may become more common than not, that each of us will know the source and quality of their food.  The openness regarding the source and quality of sustainable dining holds both the chef and the diner accountable, allowing both parties to take pride in their choices.

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PURPLE.

Amethyst, aubergine and lavender; lilac, mauve or mulberry; orchid, perse, plum, and violet. All of these beautiful words for one color, and yet, purple has never been one of my favorite shades. While I haven’t had any adverse experiences with the color purple (it is, after all, one of my favorite books— ever), it is just not a color that I have used often as a designer. (Although, I have enjoyed Purple Fashion since my days as a stylist.)

Perhaps it was those purple flavored hippie years in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, or maybe a sensitive palate as a Supertaster for colors, but I have a hard time finding shades of the color to adore.

However, I note that there have recently been more and more requests to make items for friends, fans, and family in purple.  Yesterday as I sat down for my morning reading, I was a bit perplexed to come across this article from Forbes titled “NASCAR Green is Really Purple.”

Purple, in this case means the merging of right and left, red and blue, Republican and Democrat for a common cause.  It seems that everywhere I turn today, people are finding ways to reach other people IN SPITE of politics.  Purple.

This past weekend, en route to the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, I listened to podcasts from The Civil Conversations Project— ideas and tools for healing our fractured civic spaces—from On Being. These talks of extremes between sides and WITHIN sides sprung to mind as I read through the Forbes article.  Purple.

Can it be that we are finding ways to get along and that this color, which has never been my favorite, might be where we start conversations in this country? The world? With no screaming?  No threats?

Community, conversation, and relationships are at the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin. In the end, I’ve come to realize that purple truly is a beautiful color. Don’t you think?

Look for Grape colored fabrics coming soon…
xoNatalie

LUBBOCK, TEXAS

I’ve heard Lubbock called the cotton capital of the United States, if not the world, by a handful of people in the industry. Flying into Lubbock, I saw farmland that continued as far as the eye could see.  Once I landed, those fields became stretches of white that reached out to the horizon.

Today, thanks to Kelly Pepper and the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, I visit these fields first-hand, along with a cotton breeding facility and test nurseries. For the first time, I will meet some of the farmers who grow our organic cotton face-to-face.

I’ll have a glimpse of the hard work that (as we have learned first-hand) goes into cotton’s growth and development. I will walk through the entire process, from the field to the gins and the warehouses where it is cleaned and stored, before it travels east to the Carolinas to be spun, knit, dyed, and finally sent to our factory in Florence.

I will listen and watch and then take this information back to Alabama so we can improve our field for next year’s crop. (Yes. Next year.)

All of us at Alabama Chanin are so grateful to Kelly Pepper and the entire Texas cooperative for paving the way for the future of Alabama organic cotton.

-Erin

#ACorganic

NOTHING HAPPENS (OR HOOKED ON HANDWORK)

My first sewing project was a “picture” of a flower that I made when I was about seven. I chose green and purple ribbon for the stem and petals, respectively, and a white button for the bloom’s center, which I attached to a square of quilted light blue Swiss dot fabric – aka the sky – with long, sloppy stitches.

It’s not a masterpiece by any means, with its loose stitches, unfinished edges. But precision is supposed to be beside the point when you’re a kid learning a new skill; the fun lies in the creative process, not necessarily the finished product.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had a rather hard time remembering this. I’m more than a little neurotic, and a bit obsessed with perfection, whatever that means. My natural inclination to create with abandon is at permanent odds with my OCD-driven desire for unsullied excellence, and it’s not always pleasant.

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