Category Archives: THE SCHOOL OF MAKING

STORIES FROM THE COTTON FIELD: 8/30/12 (+ 8/29 too)

 

Sent: Thursday, August 30, 2012 11:04 AM
Subject: Our first cotton angel

Hi Everyone,

I was at the cotton field this morning when a car pulled up and a tiny young lady got out and put on her work gloves and went to work!!  She is still there working!!!  I sent a photo from my phone to your phone with her name.  Can you believe she drove from Giles County Tennessee to Lawrence County Alabama to work in the hot steamy cotton field!

She is a wonderful person.  I hope she will be in touch with you so that you can know her.  Jimmy and I were so touched that she came such a long way and is such a hard worker.  She is devoted and she is one in a million.

Love you guys,
-Lisa

P.S. when I left the cotton field this morning with my pillowcase pick sack, I drove straight to the Trinity Post Office to get them to weigh my pick sack!  I walked in covered with sweat from head to toe and carrying a pillow sack with a lump of cotton in it.  I’m sure they thought I was on Meth or Crack or something.  I picked 2 pounds and 9 ounces of cotton this morning.

Don’t laugh.  Imagine bending and stooping and sweating and gnats up your nose and ants biting your legs and stinging weeds with thorns..  It ain’t pretty work, that is for sure.  Jimmy informs me that he was paid $3.00 for picking 100 pounds of cotton.  Oh my god it makes my back hurt to think about it…..

 

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A PLEA FOR COTTON

If you’ve been following our blog, you’ve read about the rollercoaster that has been our first exposure to cotton farming. Having survived the terrible drought, the cotton has been carried through the summer by equal parts rainfall and sunshine. Right now, the bolls are looking healthy, but so are the weeds. Following the organic guidelines, we did not use any chemicals to eradicate the weeds. Lisa and “friend” Jimmy have done the leg, and arm, and back work.

Last Wednesday, the Alabama Chanin staff, along with Lisa and Jimmy, made a trip to weed the field. We arrived to a daunting 6 1/2 acres of beautifully forming cotton alongside big, ugly weeds. The next few weeks are crucial to a successful harvest of the first ever organic cotton crop in North Alabama (that is, since the invention of pesticides and genetically modified seeds). Our plants need ample light, air circulation, and nutrients from the soil to continue to develop and open.  We were overjoyed when Lisa sent images on Saturday morning of the first bolls that have opened. But some of the weeds have still got to go. If this crop is to see a successful harvest, it’s going to need more help to survive and thrive.

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EcoSalon: NATALIE CHANIN ON WORKING HER OWN ORGANIC COTTON FIELD

Thanks to Amy DuFault and EcoSalon for sharing the story of our cotton on their blog today:

Last week, the Alabama Chanin team, along with friends Lisa and Jimmy, took to the organic cotton field we share with the team from Billy Reid. With rubber boots, loppers, and gloves in hand, we were there helping our organic cotton bolls survive after a long summer of drought and heat followed by excessive rain and weed growth.

We walked the rows, hoed, chopped, and pulled until the sun and heat forced us out of the field. Hard to imagine the days in Alabama heat where people were not allowed out of the field. Makes me think about how things were, how things are, and how things will be.

Nine of us barely made a dent in the work that needs to be done. As we documented the day with black and white images, it looked so romantic and felt like a moment from a Willa Cather novel. But the reality behind the black and white is a sordid, ugly history. I can’t pretend that I didn’t think about those that did this work because they had no choice. But I live TODAY and I WANT to grow organic cotton in the state of Alabama TODAY.

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THE HEART: COTTON UPDATE + JIMMY AND LISA

Wednesday morning, Alabama Chanin closed its doors for half the day and made a trip out to the cotton field to visit (and weed with) Lisa and her husband, “friend” Jimmy (as he jokingly refers to himself). Jimmy and Lisa have been the determined and loving caretakers of our cotton these last months. Living near what we understand to be the FIRST privately owned organic cotton field in North Alabama (if not the entire state), they stop by each day to keep a watchful eye on our crop and monitor its progress.

Jimmy grew up less than a mile from the site of the field. His strong determination and easygoing personality, paired with a true farmer’s work ethic, have made him invaluable to the establishment of our field.  Recently retired, and a friend of K.P. and Katy McNeill of Billy Reid, Jimmy was interested in finding a way to occupy his newly acquired free time. He offered to plow, plant, and cultivate the cotton field. He and K.P. have spent many weekends in Trinity this summer, discussing and working the land. Having chopped and picked cotton growing up, Jimmy expressed (with some disdain) he did not want a role in those later processes. He knew better.

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THE HEART: ARTISAN NATURAL DYEWORKS

Sustainable. Natural. Organic. These are all words that are integral to the Alabama Chanin identity. Our core values compel us to take a holistic approach to our design methods, looking at every aspect, quality, material or person that may play a part in our production process. This way of thinking led us toward using natural dyes on our fabrics. One of the companies that carefully colors our fabrics is Artisan Natural Dyeworks based in Nashville, Tennessee.

Alabama Chanin was originally introduced to the women behind the company by a mutual acquaintance. At the time, the dye company was being run by sisters Alesandra and Sarah. The sisters, both transplants to Nashville, decided to start a business together, but wanted to make sure that it reflected their values, drew from their strengths and interests, and celebrated their deep love for the earth. Though neither sister had any experience with natural dyes (or apparel, or production), they ambitiously decided that establishing a natural dye house would perfectly integrate all of their requirements.

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OLIVIA DRESS

The Olivia Dress is the newest addition to our Indigo + Carmine collection. Designed by (and named for) our Studio Assistant, Olivia, this pull-on dress is hand-stitched and made from our indigo-dyed, organic cotton jersey. Clean lines accentuate the waist and bust line. The right amount of swing in the A-line skirt allows for easy, beautiful movement.

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NATURAL DYES

A combination of hand and manmade dyes are used for our fabric selection (over 45 colors and growing) at Alabama Chanin. Today we share some information on the natural dye processes, which we use for four of our fabrics: our current Coral and Indigo, Light Golden, and Goldenrod.

Our organic cotton jersey is dyed at two locations in the southeast region: Tumbling Colors in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the Artisan Natural Dyeworks in Nashville, Tennessee. In the Bronx, New York, we dye Indigo with Father Andrew at Goods of Conscience.

Artisan Natural Dyeworks naturally dyes our cotton jersey fabric from the following plants: common madder root to produce Coral, the indigo plant to produce Indigo, and osage orange wood and myrobalan fruit for our Light Golden and Goldenrod fabrics. (More on Artisan Natural Dyeworks this Friday.)

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BASILICA HUDSON WORKSHOP

We will host our first One-Day Retreat of the fall season in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley on Sunday, September 16th. Our day will be spent in a restored nineteenth century factory and will feature local food from Barbara Goldstein of Blima’s.

We were able to talk to friend Melissa Auf der Maur from Basilica to find out a little more about the history of the space, future plans for the center, and where to spend the rest of our weekend in the Hudson Valley.

Below we share what learned – which includes lessons on historic preservation and roof gardens.

xoNatalie

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THE HEART: ERIN STEPHENSON

If you’ve called or stopped by the studio lately, perhaps you’ve met one of our newest team members, Erin Stephenson. Erin has her hand in many pots here these days, doing everything from writing, to graphic design, to closely monitoring our organic cotton crops. Her ability to seamlessly handle multiple projects makes her an excellent fit here at Alabama Chanin – since all of us have to pitch in to keep the place running, frocks sewn, and fabrics shipped.

I met Erin at a lecture at nearby Athens State University.  She’d recently returned to Athens, Alabama, from New York, where she was working after studying Architecture at Cooper Union. Erin says that, while she was living in New York, a friend attending school at the Fashion Institute of Technology showed her one of our books – and she was shocked and proud to find that the author was from her own community.

The lecture in Athens was on a rainy day, and while I believe many people stayed home because of the rain, at the last minute Erin decided to attend. Something about her story and personality urged me to invite her to an upcoming Weekend Workshop at The Factory. She took the workshop, was very quiet, watched, listened, learned, and we went our separate ways.

About the same time, without my knowing, Erin started a blog, just to keep a journal of things that she was interested in, things that she made and cooked, and general “life in the south.” She wanted to find a way to explore, rediscover, and document this place where she grew up. She took up sewing as a hobby, making many of our projects. She says it was very therapeutic and calming to stitch and make.

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