Category Archives: SUSTAINABLE LIFE + DESIGN

ON VULNERABILITY

I struggle these days – not with what to do but – with how to do things the right way.

I find myself sitting up at night, rolling through ideas, and questioning action.

Visiting 2 or 3 Things I Know , I was reminded of Juan Ignacio Moralejo.

I adore his way of looking at work:

“I prefer the vulnerability of trying to do something honest.” Continue reading

WILD CARD QUILT + GULF OYSTERS

Back in the studio today after almost a month of working from home, the holidays, an amazing trip to Taste of the South and a few (beautiful) snow days.  It was a great luxury to have some time to read over the holidays and I have savored many a volume (both trash and treasure).

Wild Card Quilt by Janisse Ray is such a beautiful, soulful  story of coming home. It speaks to sustainability of community, of people, and of the plants, foods and stories that tie us together.  I find the stories especially moving a decade after I made the leap to come home – a move that changed my life.

This year Taste of the South featured a fantastic talk by Gary Nabhan (Coming Home to Eat - another wonderful book).  Gary spoke gushingly of Janisse Ray (and read a portion of the essay below) while my dear friend Angie leaned over and said, “I just LOVE Janisse Ray.”

I adore her too.

Some of you will remember my mention of The Ecology of a Cracker Childhood Janisse’s story of her Georgia youth and the Longleaf.

I love the line below from page 43 of Wild Card Quilt.  Anyone with a rural Southern childhood will understand:

“I heard Mr. Henry Eason say one time, with the advent of paved roads and electric lights, there ain’t near as many ghosts as there used to be…”


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A YEAR OF GRATEFULNESS

One day a small and unassuming envelope arrived at the office addressed to me. Inside was a card with the words “a year of gratefulness” beautifully embossed into white card stock.

On the back, a small typewritten note was affixed:

“this is my year of gratefulness. I am writing two letters a month, one to someone I have met & the other to someone I have not met, telling them I am grateful for their talent, friendship and most simply for being who they are. And you are one of those people. thank you.”

Inside was a hand-written note outlining the reasons I was receiving this card of gratitude.

I have been carrying the note around now for awhile in my journal and have re-read it often. What a lovely idea: Spend a little time in the next year of my life letting people I know and love (and don’t know and love) understand that I am deeply grateful.

Thank you to Wendy (who I don’t know) for reaching out and to all of you who have come here to share our lives and work at Alabama Chanin this last year (and decade).

I am grateful.

(And looking forward to 2011 – Happy New Year!)

*Photo above of my journal for next year with laser-cut Thank You card from ThoughtBarn glued to the cover.  Photo below of Wendy’s note.

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ERICA JONG – MOTHER MADNESS

I ran across this article by Erica Jong on the madness of modern motherhood through another favorite author: Elizabeth Wurtzel.

The article made me sit back in my chair and I have been thinking of it randomly for weeks.  Perhaps because I am raising two children across two very different decades, or perhaps because I am a working, single mother who is responsible (most of the time) for daily life or perhaps just because there is a small feminist (Charlotte Perkins Gilman are you listening?) ember somewhere inside of me,  I find relief in Jong’s words.

(Admittedly, I have read every book that Jong ever wrote and have always adored her humor.  Fanny, one of my favorite Jong books, was written in response to John Cleland’s Fanny Hill.)

Although I made the conscious decision this last year to take more time for family life, I am still the breadwinner AND the bread baker.  And I stand by my decision and will tell anyone who asks that it was the best decision I ever made.

When my son was young, 29 years ago, I didn’t have that option (which is a luxury).  Yet, I have shed many a tear and endured many moments of guilt and self-loathing in thinking about decisions I made. The last line of Jong’s article feels like an absolution to me:  “Do the best you can. There are no rules.”

Read the Wall Street Journal article and tell me what you think:  Mother Madness

And don’t miss the additional piece by Molly Jong-Fast:  Growing Up With Ma Jong

*Raphael. The Niccolini-Cowper Madonna. 1500. Oil on wood. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

I AM LOVE

Last night, I finally saw Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love.  The cinematography of Yorick Le Sau  is extraordinary. And Tilda Swinton is stunning…

Manohla Dargis wrote an interesting review for the New York Times.  I love this last paragraph:

“The chase ends in a sylvan perch, where Antonio and Emma make love amid a cacophony of bird calls and a flurry of close-ups of luscious flowers being ravaged by insects. It’s a sublimely beautiful interlude and a touch ridiculous, bringing to mind the blooms of a portentous rose bush in D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers that “expanded in an ecstasy,” a prelude to later forest rutting. Here, the flora and fauna constitute an alternative reality far from the villa that has become Emma’s sarcophagus and which will at last inspire at least one bird to take flight. As the working-class seducer, Antonio serves a Lawrentian stud function, though truth be told, he’s the kind of sensitive beefcake (he cooks and fulfills her sexually) familiar to readers of women’s romantic fiction, who, like Emma, enjoy their afternoons wet and wasted.”

But then, I have never been afraid of Lawrence.

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A WHOLE NEW MIND

I am a few years late since the book was published in 2006.  In my defense, there are a pile of books that move from bedside to coffee table to the office and back again on a regular basis.  Do you know that feeling?

While I am an avid reader, there is a little problem of purchasing more books than can be read at any given moment, a four year old, and a business to run.  Stories for another day…

Over the (cold and snowy) holidays, I explored Daniel Pink’s book –  A Whole New Mind – and found it fascinating.  The core of the book provides really good – and clearly organized – concepts that culminate in exercises for stretching the mind – right and left-brain alike.   (Take the EQ SQ test to understand how your mind processes information.)  And while some of the information presented may seem familiar from observing the changing world this last decade, the way the information is organized feels fresh and inspiring.

In Pink’s opinion, design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning are the basis for life and work in what he calls our transformation from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age.  What comes across most clearly is that we approach a time of balance between two (seemingly disparate) sides of the brain that have been divided in our recent history.

If Pink’s vision proves true, a symphony will be heard and shared:

“It is an age animated by a different form of thinking and a new approach to life – one that prizes aptitudes that I call “high concept” and “high touch.” High concept involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new.  High touch involves the ability to empathize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning.”

My horoscope recently:  “What is your gift to the world?” Perhaps I will spend the next decade trying to figure that one out…

How do you “stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning” in your life?

I WILL SEW MORE.

Over the holidays, I will take more time to sit and sew.

Over-the-Arm Pincushion – instructions from Alabama Stitch Book – on the back porch swing.

Did you know that sewing, cooking and all acts of hands-on making stimulate happiness and over-all well being?

From Kelly Lambert:

“Lambert shows how when you knit a sweater or plant a garden, when you prepare a meal or simply repair a lamp, you are bathing your brain in feel-good chemicals and creating a kind of mental vitamin. Our grandparents and great grandparents, who had to work hard for basic resources, developed more resilience against depression; even those who suffered great hardships had much lower rates of this mood disorder. But with today’s overly-mechanized lifestyle we have forgotten that our brains crave the well-being that comes from meaningful effort.”

Thanks to Catherine Newman for sharing Kelly’s work:

Lifting Depression:  A Neuroscientist’s Hands-On Approach to Activating Your Brain’s Healing Power

CELEBRATING 10 YEARS OF ARTISANS

For a decade, my work at Alabama Chanin has been made possible by our artisans.  Without them and our amazing staff, there would be no Alabama Chanin.

Many of the artisans working with us today are the very same women who sewed those first deconstructed t-shirts.  I want to express my deep gratitude.  Wielding needle and thread for a decade, they have brought beauty, laughter, amazement and joy to my life and company (not to mention all the garments, home-furnishings and projects along the way).

Over the decade, they have ranged in age from 20 to 80; among them have been secretaries, students, former textile mill employees, retired school teachers, and single mothers. They are mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters, husbands, wives and friends but above all, they have proven talented, committed and proud to do the work they do.

Thanks to each and every one of you who has passed through our door- it has been a wonderful (and still growing) adventure…

*Photos from Elizabeth DeRamus

NEW LOGO. NEW LABEL.

New Look.  New Decade.

December 23rd marks 10 years Alabama.

Help us celebrate:

Receive 20% on all orders over $150 from our online stores with the code HAPPYHOLIDAYS20 and also receive a 100% organic cotton Alabama Chanin tote (with our new label) as our way of saying THANK YOU for an amazing decade.

Happy Holidays from all of us @ Alabama Chanin

JULIE GILHART + THE DALAI LAMA

Many of my regular readers know a bit about my history… but to sum it up for those of you that are new:

In the year 1999, I took (what I thought to be) a four month sabbatical from my life and loves in Vienna, Austria. Beginning on an island off the northern coast of Venezuela, my plan was to end my travels in New York City, spend one month, then go home to Vienna.  That never happened.

I went to New York City, one month became two, two months became three and – obviously – I never moved back to Vienna.  In the course of my extended sabbatical, I cut apart and reconstructed a t-shirt and a company called Project Alabama was born.  The history of Project Alabama and my subsequent move to Alabama Chanin has been well documented – no need to elaborate.  However, the simplified version above skips over so many, many people who are intricate to making Alabama Chanin the company that it is today.

Julie Gilhart from Barneys New York is one of these people.  She came to a make-shift “showroom” in the Hotel Chelsea and that first collection of recycled t-shirts came to life.  She consequently went out into the fashion industry and told everyone she met about the work.  Julie and the amazing buyers at Barneys have bought, sold and paid for every subsequent collection since the year 2001 – including the difficult time during the transition from Project Alabama to Alabama Chanin.

I luckily have had the opportunity to get to know Julie Gilhart over the last decade and the honor to call her “friend.”  And through this friendship, I heard the following story about a year ago:

It was the year 2000 and Julie had taken some time at the end of the year to hear a lecture from the Dalai Lama. After this amazing experience, she returned to her office at Barneys early in 2001 to be confronted with a pile of fashion week invitations and catalogs that covered the span of her desk and reached above eye-level.  The sheer amount of information was overwhelming.  She sat there looking at the pile, wondering where to start when a colleague from Barneys stopped by her office.  The visitor picked up a brochure from the Dalai Lama that Julie had lying on her desk, thumbed through and remarked, “This is everything we don’t do.”  Julie looked at the colleague, replied, “You are right.  We have to get out-of-here right now.”  She looked at the pile of invitations and catalogs on her desk, reached for a random item and pulled out a hand-made catalog from a new company:  Project Alabama.

Consequently, Julie called the number on the catalog, took a cab to the Hotel Chelsea, and Alabama Chanin came to life on that day.

Amazing to me that a decade of work can come from one simple moment of faith and belief…  stemming from a committed, brilliant, beautiful, rich, spiritual, whole, funny, light, surfing, friend of a woman.

Since those simple beginnings in 2000, I have had the opportunity to lecture and hold workshops around the globe on sustainability in design and to act as an expert in the fields of micro-economics and the use of local labor.  Alabama Chanin and me, Natalie Chanin, are what we are today because of the unfettered belief and support of Julie Gilhart. I am deeply indebted.

Julie’s recent departure from Barneys New York marks a new milestone in her own personal journey; a journey that I am sure will be filled with richness and beauty.

**T-shirt #90  “Sister Shirt” – shown above – was part of that very first collection and photographed by me.