Category Archives: SUSTAINABLE LIFE + DESIGN

WHY IS IT WORTH SO MUCH?

We have been getting many emails and questions about a post that appeared this week on Ecouterre.com entitled “Does the Art of Craft and Handmade Matter in Fashion?”

My answers seemed to spur yet more questions… and a few angry emails.

After mulling over these questions, I have to think about Gina and Linton Hopkins from Restaurant Eugene along with Holeman & Finch in Atlanta…

(Stay with me here: You might remember that we were asking these same questions a few years ago about the food we eat and have seen – at least in my community – a marked difference in how we choose food and how we incorporate the cost of that food into our budget.)

Angie Mosier reminds me over-and-over-again (& again this weekend @ Blackberry Farm) about a saying from Gina and Linton:

“It is not why something costs so much; it is why something is worth so much.”

I believe – and have seen firsthand – that the fashion industry will also come around and consumers will begin to ask more-and-more questions.

Yes indeed: Why is it worth so much?

**Photo of Holeman & Finch lifted from the Gourmet (RIP) article by John T. Edge and taken by Gina Hopkins.

PROSPERITY + ALABAMA CHANIN

The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum has announced their upcoming National Design Triennial series for spring 2010.

“Why Design Now?” will be on view from May 14 through January 9, 2011, and will explore the work of designers addressing human and environmental problems across many fields of design from architecture and product design to fashion, graphics, new media and landscape design. Organized by Cooper-Hewitt curators Ellen Lupton, Cara McCarty, Matilda McQuaid and Cynthia Smith, the Triennial will be global in reach for the first time, reflecting the connectedness of design practices and the need for international cooperation to solve the world’s problems.

We are incredibly humbled & proud to announce that Alabama Chanin will be featured alongside esteemed designers like Martin Margiela in a section entitled “Prosperity:”  

Progressive designers and entrepreneurs are building engines of prosperity that enable local communities to use their own resources to create their own wealth, as well as to participate in the global economy. Projects on view include a number of items that address basic necessities, such as a pearl millet thresher and a low-smoke stove developed for use in India; examples of slow design such as hand-made, limited-edition clothing by Alabama Chanin; and works made in collaboration with international designers and local craftspeople like the Witches’ Kitchen Collection, Design with a Conscience Series, manufactured by Artecnica.

Read the full press release here.

The exhibition opens on May 14th, 2010 and runs through January 11, 2011 and will include garments and fabrics from our Alabama Chanin collections.

Thanks to all of our supporters who have helped to make this possible.

Natalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin

FARM-TO-TABLE

Okay – before I start – I have to say – JOIN THE SOUTHERN FOODWAYS ALLIANCE… good?

I made it through the snow and ice in Arctic temperatures to Walland, Tennessee. My trip to Blackberry Farm might be one of the most extraordinary trips I have ever taken – anywhere. I know that is saying a lot BUT the warm, gracious hospitality that you experience from the time you drive in the gate is exquisite. Add to Blackberry the wit, education and pure joy of the Southern Foodways Alliance and you have – hands down – one of the best events in the world.

I could fill this entire page but have to just highlight a few morsels of the weekend:

Blackberry Farm – I had the luxury of sitting next to Sam and Mary Celeste Beall on Thursday night and was struck at their deep knowledge of this farm and understanding of the ultimate Farm-to-Table experience.

The Blackberry Farm Cookbook – on the inside flap – says it best: “In the foothills, you don’t eat to eat, you eat to talk, to remember, and to imagine what you will eat tomorrow.” The book is lush with photographs of the estate, the kitchens, the gardens and luscious Farm-to-Table recipes.

While talking about the upcoming weekend, Sam and I spoke about the biscuit making classes (see below) and he asked me, “Butter or Lard?” This was just about the best question I have ever been asked over a five course dinner – with wine parings. You just have to love a man who understands the true essence of good bread. I laughed and replied, “Butter.”

Friday morning, the Blackberry Farm Chef Team of Josh Feathers, Adam Cooke and Joseph Lenn offered a Cast Iron Skillet demonstration – which I unfortunately missed – but came home with the following recipe by Chef Josh Feathers which I am going to make and then bake in my cast-iron:

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes **Courtesy of Taste of the South notepad so generously supplied for all our cooking and tasting notes!

3 pounds red bliss potatoes 6 ounces butter 10 ounces buttermilk half & half – as needed Kosher salt – to taste 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Simmer potatoes until tender. Strain and dry in 300 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Run potatoes through a food mill with medium die to mash. Stir in remaining, heated ingredients. Taste for seasoning.

Note: Those of you who are new to cast iron, NEVER wash your pan with soapy water. Clean your skillet first with a handful of kosher salt then rinse in warm to hot water and dry thoroughly. I learned this from Angie Mosier while working on Alabama Studio Style.

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RECIPES, GRAVY + BLACKBERRY FARM

Forgive me for taking a vacation just after the holidays; BUT, I am headed out today for my first vacation – on my own – in 10 years (snow permitting)… very excited & for good reason:

Taste of the South @ Blackberry Farms

Alabama Chanin donated one of our Textile Stories Quilts to the auction benefiting the Southern Foodways Alliance at Blackberry Farm this weekend.

The quilt – shown above – is called Aunt Mag’s Chicken Recipe – a story from my favorite great-aunt about her secret recipe for fried chicken that she served only for her quilting circles.

Our entire series of quilts was inspired by the Oral History program  – a series of inspiring recipes, stories and films that are made, collected and cataloged by the Southern Foodways Alliance.

SFA Oral History:  The Story Behind the Food

Thank you to John T. Edge, Angie Mosier, Mary Beth Lasseter, Amy Evans, Joe York and a million more who make the SFA Oral History possible.

If you are not already a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, join today – if for no other reason than to receive your printed copy of Gravy.

Back next week rested and with recipes and stories for the next decade – Natalie

RECYCLED

And back to the thought of using what you have…

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if we only brought products (things) into our homes that we wanted to keep for the rest of our lives?  And when those products and things become old, we simply recycle them into our own lives.

So it is with this coat that one day no longer suited my life but is now one of my favorite pieces. I am continually stopped in airports, shops, and restaurants and asked, “Where did you get that coat?”

“Recycled,” I answer.

I used the Rose Stencil – from Alabama Stitch Book and new to our online store – to paint the bottom of my coat with our textile paint and then appliquéd the Rose stencil in our 100% organic cotton jersey fabric using our burgundy color, burgundy thread and a whip stitch.

William Morris said: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

I would say it this way: “If you want to make a difference on the planet, this is it: Have nothing in your home or life that you do not know to be useful, believe to be beautiful or know that you will strive to keep in your life forever.”

**Photo of my (not yet finished) coat in our studio taken by me.

ARCHEOLOGY OF THE FUTURE

A photo from Li Edelkoort’s exhibition last year titled: Archeology of the Future

A table from Studio Jo Meesters in collaboration with Marije van der Park sits before one of our Textile Stories Quilts – a project included in our new book Alabama Studio Style.

*Photo courtesy of Li Edelkoort

MIND OVER MATTER

After a bit of reflection this week, I am able to answer a question that has evaded me for a decade:
What inspired you to start this work? I was inspired and taken by the beautiful decay of an archipelago and how everything was used – everything.    It inspired me to begin collecting scraps of paper, taking photographs, finding discarded stories and trying to build them back together – a technique I used with t-shirts (and my life) once I arrived and settled in New York.   I never really moved back to Vienna.

PATTERNS

Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.Richard P. Feynman

My life tends to run in patterns.  Sometimes I dream of patterns. My favorite subject in design school was the study of pattern & repeat. One semester I spent a week just discussing the word repeat (and an entire semester trying to define the word). I have certainly spent the greater part of the last decade working with patterns. I look for patterns everywhere I go and in everyone I meet.

Find a selection of my favorite pattern books organized here.
and pattern making (stenciling) tools from our online store.

FISH SOUP

In 1999, at the tail end of the last decade, I chose to leave my life in Vienna, Austria, to spend what I deemed a “sabbatical” on an island off the northern coast of Venezuela called Los Roques. How I got there is a story for another day. What had drawn me there was a woman – Nelly – and “El Canto de la Ballena.” Little did I know that my entire life was about to change.

I credit the beginnings of the work I have done the last ten years with a few months spent on that island. It was a time when hurricanes and storms wreaked havoc and destruction to the coast of Venezuela. I was on this tiny island – due north – as the weather passed through for weeks on end.

I wrote this story in February of 2000 when I had landed in cold New York but still had the stories of Los Roques fresh on my mind… I hope that my translation of Nelly’s words from the original Spanish do her justice.

Fish Soup

The point of the whole thing is food,” she said. “Good food. Real good food. A lot of people have forgotten,” she continued. “Three meals a day, sit down, take your time and eat warm food that is prepared with good ingredients and love. That’s the key,” she stresses, “love. It’s the way it’s washed, it’s the way it’s cut, it is the way one touches and it is the way one thinks as one touches. That,” she said, “is food and food is love.”
–Nelly Camargo, December 1999, Los Roques

Nelly made fish soup that day. I remember that is was one of those first days when the waves began to crash onto the porch. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but I know that by that day, the beach was already gone, taken by the hurricane. And, I definitely remember that it seemed on that day like the waves were coming back for the porch. Soon after this day, we made sandbags because shortly after, the house next door fell into the sea.

The soup took hours. As the weather had been acting up again, everyone had the feeling of being wet and cold. Saying nothing, Nelly just went into the kitchen and started to work. In went the fish, the heads, the bones and just about everything else that could be found in the kitchen and on the island.

I guess that everyone who passed Nelly’s house that day could smell what was going on. So the soup cooked and the word spread, “Nelly is up to something.” And before I knew it, we were five people in the kitchen. Everyone was washing and cutting and chopping and rolling and laughing and talking. I know that I had never seen anything like it before that day. Music blared from the stereo and some were even dancing in the tiny, warm space.

In Nelly’s kitchen there is a window which looks down the hall and out to the sea. When you stand there and see the wooden spoons and the open window and the green-green sea in the background, you cannot help but stand still for a moment and breathe deeply. But that day, no one even looked to the window until about one in the afternoon, when the first faces began to appear.

The islanders were greeted with a big, warm smile and the question, “Are you hungry?” We went on that day to feed what seemed to be the whole island. Many faces and stories and laughter passed through my life that day. Nelly asked everyone, “Have you met Alabama?”

The feast went on into the night and here are a few of the recipes that were made. The fish soup was the best I have ever tasted in my life, but it remains Nelly’s secret. All I can remember is to put in everything you can find (plus coriander – the “spice of life”) and to do it with lots of love and laughter.

Fish in the Pan

Crush 5 cloves of garlic and salt in mortar. Add juice of two limes and a splash of soy sauce Pour over fish fillets and let stand for awhile. Cook the fish on hot skillet with  the marinade.

Zucchini Carpaccio

Grate zucchini with skins into thin rounds. Lay flat on a big plate. Cover with juice of lime, salt, pepper and a little vinegar. Finish by grating parmesan cheese to cover.

Serve.

Red Cabbage

Cut cabbage into very thin strips. (The cutting is very important!) Crush garlic and salt in mortar; add roasted sesame seeds and crush a little bit more. Add vinegar, a little sugar, a little sesame oil and more roasted sesame seeds. Pour over cut cabbage and serve.

Nelly’s Arepa

Mix salt (about one-half teaspoon) and warm water (about three cups) in a big bowl with a tablespoon of oil. To this mixture, add ”P.A.N” or Arepa Flour until dough is of a consistency to roll in your hand. Shape into 1/2” thick rounds and fry in hot oil. Cook until brown. When they are finished, you have to “thump” them. If they are really done, they make a kind of hollow sound.

This is just the basic recipe. You may choose to add white cheese, sesame seeds or just about anything you want to add.


Nelly moved El Canto de la Ballena in January of 2000, just after the storms had stopped. The new building is a bit further from the beach and behind the fishing pier.

I left Los Roques a few weeks after the Y2K panic was over and our world continued to spin; however, I don’t think that we would really have noticed any computer meltdown on that island. I have not laid eyes on Nelly since that time and have not spoken to her for much too long. I hope that she remembers me and will be proud when I say that the seeds for my work with the former Project Alabama and now Alabama Chanin were watered in her kitchen.

SIT

In the next decade, I will sit at my table more often and think.

In the next decade, I will sit at my table more often.

In the next decade, I will sit…

SIT : obs. 3d pers. sing. pres. of Sit, for sitteth.

To rest upon the haunches, or the lower extremity of the trunk of the body; — said of human beings, and sometimes of other animals; as, to sit on a sofa, on a chair, or on the ground.

To perch; to rest with the feet drawn up, as birds do on a branch, pole, etc.

To remain in a state of repose; to rest; to abide; to rest in any position or condition.

To lie, rest, or bear; to press or weigh; — with on; as, a weight or burden sits lightly upon him.

To be adjusted; to fit; as, a coat sits well.

To suit one well or ill, as an act; to become; to befit; — used impersonally.

To cover and warm eggs for hatching, as a fowl; to brood; to incubate.

To have position, as at the point blown from; to hold a relative position; to have direction.

To occupy a place or seat as a member of an official body.

To hold a session; to be in session for official business; — said of legislative assemblies, courts, etc.; as, the court sits in January; the aldermen sit to-night.

To take a position for the purpose of having some artistic representation of one’s self made, as a picture or a bust; as, to sit to a painter.

To sit upon; to keep one’s seat upon; as, he sits a horse well.

To cause to be seated or in a sitting posture; to furnish a seat to; — used reflexively.

To suit (well / ill); to become. To sit with a child.
Definitions of sit (sort of) from www.brainyquote.com , instructions for my Farm Table – pictured above – in Alabama Studio Style, inspiration to sit from a poem once given to me by a dear friend: