Category Archives: THE SCHOOL OF MAKING

QUILTING

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.

WEDDING BELLE

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.”

SEASONS CHANGE

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

Pre-fall?

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.

THE SONGBIRDS

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:


WEEKEND MUSIC

It was a great weekend for music in the Shoals…

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit launched their self-titled CD at the newly remodeled Shoals Theatre in downtown Florence. It was staggering to see this iconic venue from my childhood develop to fantastic music venue.

The place was packed with friends, family, fans. Fame Studio, Muscle Shoals Sound, music giants Dick Cooper, Spooner Oldham and others watched as the theatre transformed.

CONGRATULATIONS go out to Spooner Oldham, and his wife Karen, for Spooner’s recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. What a great, and well deserved, honor. All of us in the Shoals are proud to call Spooner friend and hero.

Also, a GIANT shout-out to Shonna Tucker (more amazing than everyone raves) of the Drive-By Truckers for stories, laughter, good food and company… we can’t wait to photograph Shonna for the upcoming Songbirds catalog.

And we are all looking forward to seeing the Truckers @ the Shoals Theatre in the near future..  

Thanks to Traci @ Thirty Tigers and Logan @ Lightening Records for making it all happen…

THREE-LAYER CAKES

My holidays – up until Monday morning – were a cookbook extravaganza. We made birthday dinners (Fried Chicken a la Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock), holiday brunch (Turkey Pot Pie a la Screen Doors), buttermilk rolls (The Joy of Cooking) back-yard picnics (Bunyan’s Barbeque and anything from White Trash Cooking #2), homemade truffles (a la Nicole Spiridakis) , seasoned pecans (Bon Appétit Y’all) and an array of other goodies. But the highlight of two weeks “kitchen play” was the three-layered (and sometimes two-layered) cakes.

I told Angie recently that I am terrified by the three-layer cake. Although I see myself as accomplished in the kitchen, I have never been one to do much baking. However, I have become obsessed with the three-layer cake. My grandmothers and great aunts could whip out a cake in an early morning. They made layer cakes for church bazaars, birthdays, neighbors who fell ill or just because it was time for Sunday supper.

I took the holidays as an opportunity to face my fears, channel Angie, go beyond the simple cupcake and try my hand at the stacked treasure. (I have actually been working up to this for months.) In August, I purchased a cake decorating set which has been unused in the drawer since purchase. And recently I purchased 3 – 9” round cake pans.

First step: Butch requested a Red Velvet Cake with Chocolate Icing and Pecans for his birthday on the 24th of December. I got an old-time recipe from page 277 of my favorite, A Gracious Plenty, the soulful Ellen Rolfes Book from John T. Edge. The Chocolate Buttermilk Icing is a recipe passed down from my great-aunt (in Alabama Studio Style) and this was topped off with fresh shelled pecans from Butch’s grove.

Second: It was hard to believe that my son Zach turned 27 on January 4th! And although he does not really like sweets, I asked him to name his favorite cake. He said that he once ate a yellow, chocolate chip cake with cream cheese icing that was the best cake he ever tasted. In adventure mode, Maggie and I attempted a yellow cake, scattered with chocolate chips and our three layers became two when one layer fell apart!

Not to be deterred, I attempted it again and wound up with two perfectly iced layers.

I found a great set of cake tips on page 460 of The Lee Bros. Southern Cook Book and ordered The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum – which came highly recommended by Angie.

My copy of BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher arrived yesterday morning & it is AMAZING… lovely how baking can be broken down to a science. Shirley prefers to bake one cake and then slice into three layers. The book is filled with interesting math – like the perfect measuring methods and baking stones. I now know how little I know and can’t wait to get started baking again…

Butch swears that he is going to make cakes every Thursday of the New Year.

Now, I am off to the gym…

Anybody have a recipe for Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Icing?

Posted at 8:08 am