I’ve heard Lubbock called the cotton capital of the United States, if not the world, by a handful of people in the industry. Flying into Lubbock, I saw farmland that continued as far as the eye could see. Once I landed, those fields became stretches of white that reached out to the horizon.
Today, thanks to Kelly Pepper and the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, I visit these fields first-hand, along with a cotton breeding facility and test nurseries. For the first time, I will meet some of the farmers who grow our organic cotton face-to-face.
I’ll have a glimpse of the hard work that (as we have learned first-hand) goes into cotton’s growth and development. I will walk through the entire process, from the field to the gins and the warehouses where it is cleaned and stored, before it travels east to the Carolinas to be spun, knit, dyed, and finally sent to our factory in Florence.
I will listen and watch and then take this information back to Alabama so we can improve our field for next year’s crop. (Yes. Next year.)
All of us at Alabama Chanin are so grateful to Kelly Pepper and the entire Texas cooperative for paving the way for the future of Alabama organic cotton.
My first sewing project was a “picture” of a flower that I made when I was about seven. I chose green and purple ribbon for the stem and petals, respectively, and a white button for the bloom’s center, which I attached to a square of quilted light blue Swiss dot fabric – aka the sky – with long, sloppy stitches.
It’s not a masterpiece by any means, with its loose stitches, unfinished edges. But precision is supposed to be beside the point when you’re a kid learning a new skill; the fun lies in the creative process, not necessarily the finished product.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had a rather hard time remembering this. I’m more than a little neurotic, and a bit obsessed with perfection, whatever that means. My natural inclination to create with abandon is at permanent odds with my OCD-driven desire for unsullied excellence, and it’s not always pleasant.
We can’t thank everyone enough for coming out to the field on Saturday to help pick (and celebrate) our organic cotton. The skies were blue; the fields were alive with eager hands; we were standing in high cotton.
Thank you to Katherine at Eggton for this beautiful film about our day.
This summer Kristine Vejar, founder of A Verb for Keeping Warm (one of the first stores to sell our fabrics and supplies in a retail setting), began a project that encourages each of us to make 25% of our wardrobe. Simply stated, this means 1 out of every 4 garments in your closet should be handmade- sewn, knitted, crocheted, or constructed in your desired method. I would also include any accessory- hats, necklaces, socks, shoes, and the like.
The project, called the Seam Allowance Project, helps connect those who have the desire to make with a community of sewers, knitters, and other craftspeople within the DIY movement.
A few reasons to pledge to make 25% of your wardrobe:
It’s an ethical choice. You KNOW how your clothes are being made.
It’s an economical choice. You are saving money by making your clothes yourself.
It’s a sustainable choice. You are consuming less because you are buying less.
It’s a creative choice and a beautiful form of self-expression.
I live in a small house. By big city standards (and the Small House Movement), my 1800 square feet might be considered huge. But, by the standards of my community our home is relatively small. Regardless of the size, my home is perfect for me and my daughter, Maggie, the occasional evening babysitting for my new granddaughter, and a rotating cast of overnight guests.
However, earlier this year, where it once seemed the perfect size, my little house began to seem small. It felt that we were bursting at the seams; my life felt disorganized and it seemed I could never keep up with the constant tasks of washing clothes, feeding our (75 pound and growing) poodle, and the endless dishes to be washed. So, I started cleaning house. This process is still going on today and is executed with the ”William Morris Test”: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
Sent: Monday, September 03, 2012 6:47 AM
Subject: Dayum (Georgia word for Damn) Rain
The rain and storms yesterday evening continued to send rain until this morning. About 5:00 am the rain was coming in waves and it sounded like the ocean. It is odd to me that Mother Nature that gives us so much beauty, can wave her hand and destroy so much. Anyway, I’ll be taking a row boat to check our little cotton field as soon as I get some coffee. Yesterday I was picking the beautiful first bolls that have opened on each plant. It was so light and fluffy and gorgeous.
This morning the words “as soon as it rains on the open bolls they start to deteriorate” are causing my head and my heart to ache. In review, lets us all remember that the little cotton field was planted May 10 and got one light rain 3 days later and then the 6 week record breaking drought in Alabama began. The cotton struggled to grow and survive without a drop of water for 6 weeks. In the final days suddenly one night it rained 6 inches and flooded creeks in the area and roadways. The rain brought forth giant weeds but it brought the cotton from knee high and shriveled to waist high and loaded with bolls! Now we are faced with the fact that cotton doesn’t open out all at once.
The first blooms on the lowest branch are the first bolls to open, and then the next level (node) of branches will have their bolls open and then the next and so on. The first bolls are the ones that receive the most nutrients and are the best. The top of the plants have blooms that will probably be killed by frost before they ever open into cotton. People who picked cotton always picked a field twice. The large machinery that harvests cotton picks once and leaves a tremendous amount on the ground.
Coffee is ready; I’ll shut up now. I’ll keep you posted,
Sent: Thursday, August 30, 2012 11:04 AM
Subject: Our first cotton angel
I was at the cotton field this morning when a car pulled up and a tiny young lady got out and put on her work gloves and went to work!! She is still there working!!! I sent a photo from my phone to your phone with her name. Can you believe she drove from Giles County Tennessee to Lawrence County Alabama to work in the hot steamy cotton field!
She is a wonderful person. I hope she will be in touch with you so that you can know her. Jimmy and I were so touched that she came such a long way and is such a hard worker. She is devoted and she is one in a million.
P.S. when I left the cotton field this morning with my pillowcase pick sack, I drove straight to the Trinity Post Office to get them to weigh my pick sack! I walked in covered with sweat from head to toe and carrying a pillow sack with a lump of cotton in it. I’m sure they thought I was on Meth or Crack or something. I picked 2 pounds and 9 ounces of cotton this morning.
Don’t laugh. Imagine bending and stooping and sweating and gnats up your nose and ants biting your legs and stinging weeds with thorns.. It ain’t pretty work, that is for sure. Jimmy informs me that he was paid $3.00 for picking 100 pounds of cotton. Oh my god it makes my back hurt to think about it…..
If you’ve been following our blog, you’ve read about the rollercoaster that has been our first exposure to cotton farming. Having survived the terrible drought, the cotton has been carried through the summer by equal parts rainfall and sunshine. Right now, the bolls are looking healthy, but so are the weeds. Following the organic guidelines, we did not use any chemicals to eradicate the weeds. Lisa and “friend” Jimmy have done the leg, and arm, and back work.
Last Wednesday, the Alabama Chanin staff, along with Lisa and Jimmy, made a trip to weed the field. We arrived to a daunting 6 1/2 acres of beautifully forming cotton alongside big, ugly weeds. The next few weeks are crucial to a successful harvest of the first ever organic cotton crop in North Alabama (that is, since the invention of pesticides and genetically modified seeds). Our plants need ample light, air circulation, and nutrients from the soil to continue to develop and open. We were overjoyed when Lisa sent images on Saturday morning of the first bolls that have opened. But some of the weeds have still got to go. If this crop is to see a successful harvest, it’s going to need more help to survive and thrive.
Last week, the Alabama Chanin team, along with friends Lisa and Jimmy, took to the organic cotton field we share with the team from Billy Reid. With rubber boots, loppers, and gloves in hand, we were there helping our organic cotton bolls survive after a long summer of drought and heat followed by excessive rain and weed growth.
We walked the rows, hoed, chopped, and pulled until the sun and heat forced us out of the field. Hard to imagine the days in Alabama heat where people were not allowed out of the field. Makes me think about how things were, how things are, and how things will be.
Nine of us barely made a dent in the work that needs to be done. As we documented the day with black and white images, it looked so romantic and felt like a moment from a Willa Cather novel. But the reality behind the black and white is a sordid, ugly history. I can’t pretend that I didn’t think about those that did this work because they had no choice. But I live TODAY and I WANT to grow organic cotton in the state of Alabama TODAY.
The Olivia Dress is the newest addition to our Indigo + Carmine collection. Designed by (and named for) our Studio Assistant, Olivia, this pull-on dress is hand-stitched and made from our indigo-dyed, organic cotton jersey. Clean lines accentuate the waist and bust line. The right amount of swing in the A-line skirt allows for easy, beautiful movement.