Category Archives: THE SCHOOL OF MAKING

LAUNCHING: ALABAMA STUDIO SEWING PATTERNS

LAUNCHING: ALABAMA STUDIO SEWING PATTERNS

As I’ve mentioned before, writing a book is no easy feat. It involves months (often years) of planning, drafting, edits, new designs, reviews, rewrites, photo shoots, patternmaking…basically, equal parts labor and love. So, I honestly surprised myself when I agreed to write another one. While still a work in progress, the end is in sight, and I’m proud to officially announce Alabama Chanin’s upcoming book, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns. This is the fourth (yes, fourth) book I’ve worked on with my editor (and friend), Melanie Falick, of STC Craft and Abrams.

Around the studio, we’ve been referring to this project as the ‘addendum’, as it acts as a supplement to our Studio Book Series—Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style, and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

LAUNCHING: ALABAMA STUDIO SEWING PATTERNS

Continue reading

INSPIRATION: MINECRAFT

INSPIRATION: MINECRAFT

Where does inspiration come from? Do ideas spring from a single stimulus? Or are they generated by a creative environment fostered over time? Of course, we know the answer is both – and many more sources.

My daughter, Maggie, is obsessed with Minecraft, which (if you don’t already know) is an open-ended game that relies upon the player’s creativity to build her own world and solve problems along her journey. The game’s virtual world is made of cubes of materials – grass, dirt, sand, bricks, lava, and many others. Players survive and earn accomplishments by using these blocks to create other materials, structures, and any three-dimensional form.

Continue reading

THE SCHOOL OF MAKING

THE SCHOOL OF MAKING

Alabama Chanin as a concept and a company began as a DIY enterprise. I made the first garments by hand, to fit my own body. Our entire business model was created because I couldn’t find manufacturing for the sort of garment I wanted to make—and so, we created our own manufacturing system, one stitch at a time.

Because those first garments were made from recycled t-shirts, many of our customers took the concept and re-imagined it for themselves, making their own patterns and clothing. Others felt that—with just a little help—they could create something similar, something that was their own. Almost accidentally, our garments were stirring in others the desire to make. Slowly, and as the internet became more robust, sewers formed groups on the internet to share their Alabama Chanin-style garments and swap ideas. This was the beginning of a more formal DIY presence in our company.

These things were happening at the same time as I began writing our first Studio Book, Alabama Stitch Book. Writing that book helped me crystallize my thoughts on making, open sourcing, and education. It was, in essence, me putting voice to what was important about sharing ideas and creating a community of makers. Throughout the writing process—and as the company grew and evolved over the years—I returned again and again to the idea of keeping the living arts alive. It’s the belief that survival skills for food, clothing, and shelter, are important arts that we live with every single day. And these arts—often considered secondary arts—are equally (and perhaps more) important as the “primary” arts of painting and sculpture.

Continue reading

ALABAMA COTTON REVISITED

ALABAMA COTTON REVISITED

A warm “thank you” to Debbie Elliott and everyone at National Public Radio for their story about our collaboration with Billy Reid on Alabama grown cotton.

And, thank you to K.P. and Katy McNeill, Erin Dailey, and Lisa and Jimmy Lenz—they all know how to dream big (and work hard to get there).

If you haven’t heard this piece yet, you can listen online here.

REVIVING A SOUTHERN INDUSTRY, FROM COTTON FIELD TO CLOTHING RACK
National Public Radio, October 10, 2014

You’ve probably heard of “farm to table,” but how about “field to garment”? In Alabama, acclaimed fashion houses Alabama Chanin and Billy Reid have a new line of organic cotton clothing made from their own cotton field.

It’s not just an experiment in keeping production local; it’s an attempt to revive the long tradition of apparel-making in the Deep South. North Alabama was once a hub for textile manufacturing, with readily available cotton and access to cheap labor. But the industry all but disappeared after NAFTA became law, as operations moved overseas.

Now, Sue Hanback is again working a sewing machine in a cavernous building that was once part of the biggest cut-and-sew operation in Florence, Ala.

“I’m gonna five-thread this shirt,” she explains, stitching cuffs onto an organic-cotton sweatshirt.

Hanback was last laid off in 2006 when this was a T-shirt factory. Her husband worked in the dye house. She’s been a seamstress all her life.

“Ever since I was 18 years old,” Hanback says. “So that was like, 48 years.”

ALABAMA COTTON REVISITED

Continue reading

HOW TO STUDY FASHION IN THE SOUTH

HOW TO STUDY FASHION IN THE SOUTH

Written by Ted Ownby and Becca Walton

Situated at the intersection of necessity and creativity, southern fashion lets us ask questions about place and historical context, power, and identity. Every garment has a designer, maker, wearer, and viewer, and we can study all of them.

We can tell local stories about designers and seamstresses, farmers and factory workers. At the same time, we can see the South’s centuries-long engagement with a global economy through one garment, with cotton harvested by enslaved laborers in Mississippi, milled in Massachusetts or Manchester, designed with influence from Parisian tastemakers, and sold in the South by Jewish immigrant merchants.

It isn’t clear where to start, and that’s exciting. The term “southern fashion” doesn’t seem to be clearly defined by terms or limits, so we may not need to spend energy overturning conventional wisdoms. Do we start with creative reuse, with Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” or with Scarlett O’Hara’s curtain dress? Do we start with osnaburg, the so-called “negro cloth” of the 19th century, or with farm families wearing garments cut from the same cloth, or with women who did sewing every day but Sunday?

Continue reading

MODERN ORIGINALS

MODERN ORIGINALS

In 2005, photographer Leslie Williamson made a wish list of all the houses that she hoped to visit in her lifetime. The homes belonged mostly to her favorite architects and designers, who had offered her creative inspiration throughout her career as a photographer. She was curious to learn what inspired them in their home and studio environments, and since there was no book containing images of these spaces, she decided to take on the project herself. The result was 2010’s Handcrafted Modern: At Home with Midcentury Designers. Her book’s success surprised Williamson and showed her that she was not alone in her curiosity about environment and inspiration. She then set out to create a “library of these designers and how they lived for future generations”.

Her recent follow up, Modern Originals: At Home with Midcentury European Designers, is another beautifully photographed book featuring the private spaces of European architects and designers. The book—funded in part with a gorgeous Kickstarter film—provides an intimate look into the at-home design choices of notable creative minds, showing not only their design and architecture choices, but also illuminating some aspects of their lives. Williamson writes that she felt she was “meeting these people as human beings through being in their homes and learning about their everyday life.”

MODERN ORIGINALS

Continue reading

PATAGONIA: JILL DUMAIN

PATAGONIA: JILL DUMAIN

Previously, I shared the story of my first encounter with Jill Dumain of Patagonia. Meeting Jill and hearing her speak not only opened my eyes to the good work that company was going; it opened my eyes to what is possible. Years of conversation finally resulted in a collaboration between Alabama Chanin and Patagonia, as part of their Truth to Materials initiative. By repurposing garments that have reached the end of their lives into new products—Reclaimed Down Scarves—we create a new product, with a life cycle of its own. We recently had the chance to speak with Jill Dumain about this project and about Patagonia as a company, and she generously took the time to answer some questions.

AC: Your title at Patagonia is Director of Environmental Analysis. That sounds like a pretty expansive area of oversight. How would you describe your primary responsibilities? What issues that you address are nearest to your heart?

Jill Dumain: Yes, it is certainly an expansive area, and that can be a little daunting at times. I think what also makes it especially daunting is that people look to Patagonia to see what we’ll do next. It’s a challenge and an opportunity to meet that expectation. I, personally, look at what we do from a business standpoint and examine how we can be doing better from an environmental perspective. It runs the gamut from evaluating new carpet to bioswale installations to new products to communication on our website. But for me, it’s really about how I do my job and empower people at the same time. I look for the projects that “teach people to fish” versus just giving people fish. It’s thrilling when I’m able to encourage my colleagues and get them excited about bringing environmental work into their lives. It’s good for the company. It spreads knowledge throughout the ranks and gets the greater Patagonia family involved in the process, not just my team. And they’ve really become experts in their areas. We recently switched our catalogue to be printed on 100% recycled content, and that decision came from within our creative department. It’s a huge win to see it work that way!

Continue reading

THE HISTORY OF WORKSHOPS (+ NEW GROUP RATES)

THE HISTORY OF WORKSHOPS (+ NEW GROUP RATES)

Quite a few years ago, I loaded up the car with scissors, needles, and an array of other sewing supplies and took a trip with a group of friends and fellow stitchers to a women’s prison facility (at their invitation, of course). My friend Kyes had organized this meeting in the hopes of developing a program within our Alabama Prison system for training life and job skills. The scissors wound up staying in the car for security reasons, but the experience was life changing. The intent of the day was to show these women—on their way out of prison and back into the “real” world—how to hand stitch and work together. We wanted to help them see that they could make something beautiful with their own two hands and, at the same time, perhaps challenge all of our preconceived notions about our neighbors and the world at large. It’s fair to say that I walked away from that day and the experience a different person. At that point, I’d begun to realize that education was going to be an important element in the life of my company. I wanted to help others understand how essential “living arts” are—and what it would mean if we lost connection to those skills and our shared history.

Slowly, Alabama Chanin added stitching workshops to our traveling trunk shows. We scheduled intimate one-off events that were as much about storytelling as they were stitching (as Blair Hobbs famously exemplified with her “granny panties” story years ago). We were creating a community through making. It was happening. And so we committed to this enterprise of creating communities for makers, of building workshops both here at The Factory and across the globe. Alabama Chanin and our customers have become part of one another’s lives in ways I never imagined; we’ve made lifelong friends, helped create wedding gowns, hosted classrooms of college students, and traveled across the country. I’ve met some of my personal heroes through sharing ideas on making and sustainability.

THE HISTORY OF WORKSHOPS (+ NEW GROUP RATES) Continue reading

PATAGONIA @ ALABAMA CHANIN: TRUTH TO MATERIALS

PATAGONIA @ ALABAMA CHANIN: TRUTH TO MATERIALS

Eight years ago, and three months after Maggie was born, I stood in the wings on a stage in New York City, waiting to go on and tell the story of Alabama Chanin. I was nervous and jittery, waiting my turn while a woman named Jill Dumain talked about the sustainability work of the company she had worked with for over a decade. It was an unexpected life-changing moment.  Instead of thinking and preparing for my own talk, I got carried away by the story of Patagonia and their mission. I had always been a fan, but that day I became a devotee.

My own talk on that massive stage paled in comparison to the sharp wit and factual detail that Jill Dumain offered—the same determination that she brings daily to the job she loves. Jill and I became friends over the course of that weekend, and we stayed in touch over the following years. Two years ago, she emailed me about the possibility of collaborating on a project using Patagonia down jackets that had reached their end-of-life. The “dogs” she called them: jackets that really couldn’t be recycled as usable garments. They were garments with beautiful stories, jackets that may have been down and/or up mountains, weathered many a winter with their wearer, and come to a final resting place in a warehouse. You see, Patagonia takes responsibility for every garment they make—from design to discard method, they are involved.

Any garment you purchase from Patagonia can be returned to Patagonia—at the beginning of its life or at the end of its life. Over the years, the company goal is to extend the life of a garment through good design and great materials, as detailed in their Worn Wear stories. At the same time, Patagonia has implemented buy-back programs for used garments in good condition and have offered initiatives like the Common Threads Partnership that repair garments, extending their lives beyond one user. Their newest initiative, Truth to Materials, is the culmination of this work towards Cradle-to-Cradle design and manufacturing. The ultimate goal is for every product to reflect sustainability from the beginning of life as a raw material, through design, manufacturing, active life, and end-of-life processes. Garments that have reached the end of their lives become an active part of the environment through composting or upcycling into a new form, like our reclaimed down scarves.

Continue reading

ON DESIGN: A MAKESHIFT CONVERSATION SERIES

ON DESIGN: A MAKESHIFT CONVERSATION SERIES

Beginning  October 13th, 2014 and as part of our ongoing Makeshift conversation, Alabama Chanin will host a series of discussions and lectures about design, art, business, community, and plenty of other topics. Events will be held at the Factory on the second Monday of each month. The format will shift, depending on topic and presenter, but you can look forward to informal talks, multi-media presentations, and hands-on workshops.

Makeshift began over three years ago as a conversation about design, craft, art, fashion, and DIY—how they intersect and how each discipline elevates the others. Since its beginnings, we have expanded the conversation, discussing how making in groups can build relationships and communities, all the while examining what the design community can learn from the slow food movement.

ON DESIGN: A MAKESHIFT CONVERSATION SERIES

Continue reading