Category Archives: THE SCHOOL OF MAKING

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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ORGANIC COTTON + BARBEQUE PICKING

We can’t thank everyone enough for coming out to the field on Saturday to help pick (and celebrate) our organic cotton. The skies were blue; the fields were alive with eager hands; we were standing in high cotton.

Thank you to Katherine at Eggton for this beautiful film about our day.

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THE HEART: MADE IN AMERICA

This week our Alabama Chanin fitted dress was included (ON SALE!) for the Chris Brown curated Made Collection titled “EXPLORE  AMERICA.” If you aren’t yet familiar with the Made collection, it is worth the time to create an account and browse their site.  The company, started by Dave Schiff, Scott Prindle, and John Kieselhorst is a self-titled “movement” with an amazing mission.

The company and their simple (fantastic) idea was recently covered by the New York Times:

“The old ‘Buy American’ is get something lousy and pay more,” said Mr. Schiff, 45. Now “it’s a premium product.” All of this touches on what brand changers Partners & Spade called the “Rebranding of America.”  Alex Williams in the New York Times writes:  “Style bloggers were among the early adopters. “ ‘Made in U.S.A.’ has gone through a rebranding of sorts,” said Michael Williams, whose popular men’s style blog, A Continuous Lean, has become an online clubhouse for devotees of American-made heritage labels like Red Wing Shoes and Filson.”

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STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 9/8/12 – 9/24/12

More and more volunteers continue to visit the field. Bolls are opening by the day. In addition to weeding, we’ve begun harvesting the cotton. In the studio, we are preparing for the quickly approaching Picking Party (and field work day). Look for details soon.

I took a trip out last weekend with my daughter Maggie, my friends the Champagnes and their four kids. In just a couple of hours of laughing, talking, and picking we had a pile that amounted to almost 70 pounds and the funny thing was… it was FUN. As I wrote in an earlier post, it is fun for those of us who know we can leave in a few hours, sit down for breaks as we feel like it, and laugh with our kids while working.  There have been times in this county when “cotton work” was very different and we wanted our children to know and understand that. So, the few hours were filled with looking for bugs, talk of seeds and pods, and the life of farming. The kids were amazed to see how much cotton comes from each little boll. Our eight year old friend Joe kept saying, “Look how much was on this one!” and holding up his harvest proudly.

xoNatalie

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SEAM ALLOWANCE PROJECT

This summer Kristine Vejar, founder of A Verb for Keeping Warm (one of the first stores to sell our fabrics and supplies in a retail setting), began a project that encourages each of us to make 25% of our wardrobe. Simply stated, this means 1 out of every 4 garments in your closet should be handmade- sewn, knitted, crocheted, or constructed in your desired method. I would also include any accessory- hats, necklaces, socks, shoes, and the like.

The project, called the Seam Allowance Project, helps connect those who have the desire to make with a community of sewers, knitters, and other craftspeople within the DIY movement.

A few reasons to pledge to make 25% of your wardrobe:

It’s an ethical choice. You KNOW how your clothes are being made.

It’s an economical choice. You are saving money by making your clothes yourself.

It’s a sustainable choice. You are consuming less because you are buying less.

It’s a creative choice and a beautiful form of self-expression.

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LITTLE HOUSES

I live in a small house. By big city standards (and the Small House Movement), my 1800 square feet might be considered huge. But, by the standards of my community our home is relatively small. Regardless of the size, my home is perfect for me and my daughter, Maggie, the occasional evening babysitting for my new granddaughter, and a rotating cast of overnight guests.

However, earlier this year, where it once seemed the perfect size, my little house began to seem small. It felt that we were bursting at the seams; my life felt disorganized and it seemed I could never keep up with the constant tasks of washing clothes, feeding our (75 pound and growing) poodle, and the endless dishes to be washed. So, I started cleaning house. This process is still going on today and is executed with the ”William Morris Test”:  “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

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STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 8/3/12 – 9/7/12

—–Original Message—–
Sent: Friday, August 31, 2012 8:58 AM
Subject: Re: cotton field photos

I was thinking of you this morning and took a few pictures at the cotton field so you can feel like you are here this morning.  My photos are nothing to these that you have sent, but perhaps you will like to see your cotton babies.  I am so happy you found Kacie. She gave Jimmy a business card before he left the field yesterday and gave him the most beautiful garden stakes that she had made!

I had already left the field because I was exhausted. She was a dynamo and pulled weeds on her knees in that hot humid sticky field. She didn’t seem to want any credit for what she was doing. She farms herself in Tennessee.

I just had to take her photo with my phone because I can’t believe she was there and working so hard.  I really think she is an angel.  I will make a point to go to Huntsville and see her business someday. She will always be a very important part of this little cotton field.  She left her mark on the field and in my heart.

Love,
Lisa

—–Original Message—–
Sent: Sunday, September 02, 2012 3:43 PM
Subject: Organic cotton

Hello,

I am the cotton scout assigned to north Alabama and middle Tennessee for the Boll Weevil Eradication Program (SEBWEF).  I noticed the article in Saturdays edition of Times Daily.  My interest in your cotton field is to simply place a boll weevil trap nearby, and monitor it until mid-November.

Cotton growers in the state of Alabama and the Southeast have spent millions of dollars over the past 20 years to eradicate the boll weevil from our fields.  The eradication has also reduced pesticide use dramatically, and actually saved several million in costs and increased yield.

The only way to guarantee that we do not get a re-infestation is to monitor ALL cotton that is in the eradicated zones.  We receive information from USDA each season to locate each cotton field so that we can accomplish a successful monitoring program.  I do imagine that your cotton was not reported to the local USDA Service center because of its nature, but there is a state (AL) and federal law that the cotton must be monitored.  I can take care of this easily, but there will likely be a small fee assessed by SEBWEF.

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THE HEART: THE CHRONOLOGY OF OUR COTTON FIELD

For those of you who have read about (or visited) our cotton field, we’d like to share with you its beginnings and its progress over the last months. These small bolls are more than just crops in a field; rather, they hold a fiber that has shaped the history of our community and, as we have seen in our growing process, binds our community together.

We began our search for organic (non-GMO, non-treated) cottonseed back in March. We worked with Lynda Grose and the Textile Exchange to educate ourselves about the growing process and the many details surrounding the growing of organic cotton. As we pushed forward, we were told by some farmers that March was too late into the growing season to prepare and plant crops. These “magic beans.” as we like to call the cottonseed, were proving very difficult to find. Numerous internet searches and phone calls left us wondering if this endeavor would be possible. But with the help of Kelly from the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, we successfully found a supplier in Texas.

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