Category Archives: THE SCHOOL OF MAKING


I keep thinking, over and over again, about this quote that I read on in the midst of the Earth Day celebrations:  

“Writing in Mother Jones, Joel Makower waves the white flag. Green consumerism, it seems, was one of those well-intended passing fancies, testament to Americans’ never-ending quest for simple quick, and efficient solutions to complex problems. It’s only a matter of time before… the public recognizes that for every pound of trash that ends up in municipal landfills, at least 40 more pounds are created upstream by industrial processes – and that a lot of this waste is far more dangerous to environmental and human health than our newspapers and grass clippings.

At that point, the locus of concern could shift away from beverage containers, grocery bags, and the other mundane leftovers of daily life to what happens behind the scenes – the production, crating, storing and shipping of the goods we buy and use.”

Read the whole story here.

It also reminds me of The Story of Stuff and that, as designers and consumers, it is our responsibility to consider the impact of each and every decision in the design, development and manufacturing process.

As I told a group of students at SCAD last week:  For a very long time, designers have been at the core of the problem, creating product, after product, after product without regard to the consequences.  It is time for us as designers to solve the problem and design the solution.

My Maggie, pictured above, thanks you…


My grandmother Christine once told me that she “sewed every dress that the girls” – her three daughters – “wore until they left home.” I remember as a little girl how she sewed everything from nightgowns and underwear to prom dresses and quilts.    Although her eyes don’t see well enough to sew these days, she is an inspiration to me and can sit for hours telling stories about fabrics, scraps and how one can tell the weather just by looking at the sky.   I am starting tonight to make “Mamaw Chris” these flowers (pictured here) in time for Mother’s Day on the 10th of May.   If you already own a copy of our Alabama Stitch Book, start making flowers today for your maternal heroes…

**I wanted to name my daughter after Mamaw Chris whose full name is Fanny Christine.  I have loved that name since I can remember hearing it; however, she made me promise that I would not “do that to a girl.”



Bravo to Cathy and Robin @ Heath for their commitment to quality, exceptional design and community.

From The New York Times:

April 23, 2009 A Label of Pride That Pays

In a timeworn factory in Sausalito, Calif., 67 workers turn out Heath ceramics, doing everything from mixing the clay to applying the finishing glazes. Twenty miles away, a Japanese robot called Ziggy works day and night in a converted brass foundry in Berkeley, making precision-cut office furniture.

Continue reading


In celebration of Earth Day, we would like to honor our farmers – stewards of the land – who strive to grow cotton that sustains the earth and enriches our lives. To Green Textiles, our knitters, who support the work of those farmers and create the most luxurious fabrics that are the basis of our garments.

Thank you to our artisans, the heart of our company, who use their wondrous talents to create our garments one stitch at a time with needle and thread.

A thank you to STC, and Melanie, for providing us a platform to share our philosophy, history, techniques and products through Alabama Stitch Book and our upcoming Alabama Studio Style (February 2010). We are grateful for the wonderful process of learning to share and having the opportunity to teach how to make your own garments.

A hearty round of applause to our crafters and sewers who work to recycle items from their closets (and local thrift stores) into their own lives and who support our efforts each and every day…

What better way to celebrate the bounty that is our earth. Happy Day…


What can be said about quilting?  It is a process I love: the history, the stories, the fabrics, the people.  (I even made a documentary film called Stitch about old-time quilting circles.)  At Alabama Chanin, we even take vintage quilts, refurbish them and add the oral histories of textile workers, collected from my community.

I am in awe with The International Quilt Study Center, as the pieces there tell a history of women’s work that cannot be seen anywhere else on the planet.

The now-famous Gee’s Bend quilts and their simple magnificence rooted in a complex history have long been an example of beauty sprung from necessity. I cried the first time I viewed the Gee’s Bend exhibition at the Whitney.

It has been said that our collections are based on quilting.  This is only partially true. Alabama Chanin garments derive from a basic quilting process of the straight stitch, and we tie layers of fabric together with quilting stitches. But our garments are not quilts.

I have never really been a great fan of contemporary quilting (Although I LOVE it when the subversive finds its way into the contemporary).

That is until I learned about Julie Floersch.  Julie’s pieces are stunning, refreshing, contemporary and inspiring. And, friend and colleague, Denyse Schmidt adds such beauty to the realm of contemporary quilting.

Ultimately, the quilting process influenced the foundations of Alabama Chanin and will be with us as we continue to grow.


Thanks to Venessa Lau at Women’s Wear Daily for this great piece:

Wedding Belle:  Alabama Chanin Launches Bridal

–April 7,2009, WWD, Venessa Lau
It’s not often that a bridal designer will liken her dresses to pajamas — but, then again, not many bridal designers are like Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. “You need to feel beautiful but also comfortable,” says Chanin, who launches her first bridal collection, The Wedding, this week. “You shouldn’t be afraid that your bra’s going to show or be picking at your dress while you’re standing in front of everyone. It should be something that sits on you like a pajama.”

That comfort-driven mind-set is nothing new, of course, for those already familiar with Chanin’s work. In 2001, she launched Project Alabama, famous for its cotton garments handmade by artisans in her hometown of Florence, Alabama. And she didn’t skip a beat when, in 2007, she split with her partner and lost the rights to the label’s name; later that year, she launched Alabama Chanin, which works with the very same quilters and stitchers. “We’re already set up for custom orders,” says Chanin, who is also holding a trunk show for her signature collection at Barneys New York on Wednesday. “Every piece we make [for the main line] is cut and sewn by hand, whether we’re making one piece or 200.”

Still, entering the bridal market wasn’t an obvious move for the designer. “I’m not sure why it took us so long,” she says, noting it was her recent spring lineup that put those nuptial gears in motion. “Spring was inspired by ceremonial dresses, so we did a lot of white looks. It just kind of developed from that.”

The 50-piece Wedding collection, which includes long V-neck gowns, tunic dresses, skirts and tanks, as well as matching vests and jackets, continues in the same folksy vein. Everything comes cut in her trademark organic cotton jersey and, Chanin proudly notes, is machine washable. But she doesn’t sacrifice elaborate design for ease of care (and wear). The garments, priced from $150 to $4,000 wholesale, are embellished with visible stitching, reverse appliqués, beading, stencilwork and embroidery galore — the artsy-craftsy techniques core to her clothes.

“When you’re looking at the wedding market, I think we have something truly different to offer, something that’s outside the norm,” says Chanin. “The dresses we make, they’re heirloom pieces.”

She adds that clients can also customize their own garments — pairing a silhouette with an embroidery pattern from the Alabama Chanin archives — or rework them into similar styles for bridesmaids or flower girls.

And yet another bonus: In keeping with her sustainable sensibility, Chanin is able to overdye the pieces after the big day. “I know a lot of people save their wedding dress for life,” she notes. “This way, they can wear it more than once.”


As we know, the fashion industry (along with many others) has spiraled out of control.  I have recently spoken with many colleagues and it is my belief that this is the time to work hard(er) to make it better – rather than to sit and wait for something to happen.  I saved this article from Bridget Foley for a few months now and ran across it again today.  It feels pertinent and real to me as I navigate towards the future.

May we all strive towards making the right changes for our wardrobes, our families and our futures.

A heartfelt thank you to WWD, and Bridget, for striving towards that future:

“Tis the Season. Or is it?”

Posted by Bridget Foley- Executive Editor

Women’s Wear Daily 7:52PM EST, December 9, 2008


To the rest of the world, pre-fall, the time before fall, is late summer. You know, the days are still sticky; lucky two-residence types resign themselves to spending less time at the beach; and kids, to going back to school. Back in the day, that’s when most people started thinking about fall shopping. Just the thought of that new chilly-weather wardrobe brought a rush of excitement, the promise of crisp days that one would greet bedecked in cozy tweeds and cable knits. Nostalgic enough for you? Well, let’s go a wassailing with the ghost of autumn present. Technically, we’re still in fall ’08, which according to the calendar doesn’t end until Dec. 21. But the fashion world knows better. This fall at retail was over long before the first tree leaf, or the first investment house, Lehman Brothers, fell. It ended back in May, June and July, when pre-fall and fall started hitting the stores, and those shopping throngs who allegedly love to buy early never materialized. Yet here we are again, the world as we know it having gone to hell in a handbasket, and pre-fall is proceeding seemingly business as usual. Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein and Zac Posen have already staged full-on shows; Donna Karan, Carolina Herrera, Isaac Mizrahi, J.Mendel and numerous others have opened with showroom appointments, as will countless more, both here and in Europe, from now into January.

For what, exactly? A fall ’09 redux of 70 percent off by Nov. 1? Or perhaps these extensive pre-fall collections are in-house exercises, since retailers are slashing inventories to shreds. Might not this be a moment for a massive communal reevaluation of that beloved but seriously flawed behemoth, “the fashion system”?

Everybody knows there is something drastically wrong, starting with way too many clothes, and that was back when consumers consumed. Then, there’s the strident adherence to absurdly early deliveries. Fashion house executives blame retailers. “The department stores make me deliver early,” said Mario Grauso, president of Puig Fashion. “Now the markdowns. We’re training the customer to buy on sale.” For Donna Karan, it’s a familiar motif. “I’ve been on this for years,” she said. “We’re teaching the customer that it’s a white sale business.”

Perhaps in some fairy tale past, the oft-cited cliché that the pre-seasons sell best because they’re on the floor longest had some validity. But the dearth of store sales prior to the current economic train wreck has rendered that premise flagrantly anachronistic.

And what of the emotion of fashion? As an industry we’re all trained like Pavlov’s dogs to rush with passion to what’s new, what’s next. How about a little time spent celebrating the joys of fashion right now, rather than ignoring fall — once everybody’s bread and butter — in anticipation of resort?

“We should as an industry take a deep breath, look at what’s going on, and try to fix it,” Karan said. “It’s got to be everyone — retailers, designers, press.”

Or, we can wait for total industry Armageddon, à la the financial and auto industries, to step back and try to set things right.

Business as usual? We all know it’s anything but. Let’s deal with it.


Robert Rausch just finished our final catalog and lookbook for The Songbirds…

The photographs are lovely – thank you to Russ Harrington and everyone involved. It was a beautiful process. We are working on updating our website and will soon have this and a slew of other new projects going up. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorites: