One Saturday morning in the mid-1930s, Mancey Massengill, a wife and mother of two, saw people having their pictures made in a dime store photo booth in Batesville, Arkansas. According to her son Lance, “she watched close, and got the name off the camera, then wrote to the company and ordered the lens. She got the money for that by taking about two dozen pullets in for sale.” Her husband, Jim, built a box to house the lens and outfitted a trailer to create a mobile photo studio. On weekends, they would set up in little towns across the state and make pictures, three for a dime.
Jim and Mancey Massengill started this family side-business to make ends meet. The country was in the throes of depression and on the verge of entering the Second World War. Work was scarce in rural Arkansas, but the Massengills understood that even in rough times, life continues. Babies are born, children play, couples meet, and we all grow older. Someone needed to be there to capture those moments and that person could perhaps make a living doing it.
A few years later, the Massengill’s sons, Lance and Lawrence, and their wives, Evelyn and Thelma, worked their way into the business. They outfitted their own trailers and made their own pictures, traveling across the state in search of clients. The surviving family diaries and notes from this period attest to a very strong and entrepreneurial work ethic, with little mention of aesthetics or technique. The men and women of both generations describe where they went, what they did, and how much they made with only fleeting mention of life’s details. With few exceptions, the stories are left to be told by the pictures they made.
We are saying good-bye to summer and gearing up for a busy fall season.
Look for a new collection, new DIY collection, more workshops,
another Friends of the Café dinner, and added events at The Factory.
Celebrate the last breath of summer with our August’s End Sale.
Save 20% online and in-store
Midnight, Thursday, August 29th – midnight, Monday, September 1st
Enter code AUGUST2014 at online checkout
Or visit us at Alabama Chanin @ The Factory
462 Lane Drive
Florence, AL 35630
Friday* from 9:00 – 5:00
(*Please note The Factory Store and Café will be closed
on Monday, September 1st to observe Labor Day.)
*Discount excludes all workshops, collaborations, books + music, Swatch of the Month, Starter Sewing Kit, and Heath Ceramics dinnerware.
One of the great joys of my job is the fact that we sometimes get to review books for other authors. Sometimes we order the books from a catalog of new titles and sometimes, the books just arrive like magic in the mail. This was the case last year, when we received a book called Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. The coloring book—intended for children and adults—was published by Lawrence King and immediately found its way to my pile of books I love. On the inside cover is a quote that reads, “Tumble down the rabbit hole & find yourself in my inky wonderland…” And that is exactly how I felt after browsing just a few pages. Although we have played with permanent markers for years in writing on quilts and garments, looking at page after page of beautiful detailed illustrations, I was overwhelmed by inspiration.
Through some experimentation, we found out that black and white photocopies will transfer onto white and/or natural colored fabric with a hot iron. This made it possible for us to transfer the pattern one-to-one from this or any coloring book, stencil, or black and white design. There are arrays of fabric coloring tools available at local craft stores and more arrive on the market each year. We found that the pastel dye sticks and fabric markers (designed for children) work very well.
A few months ago, I spent a couple of days with friends at Gray Bear Lodge in Hohenwald, Tennessee. While there—in addition to the yoga sessions, sauna time, tub soaks, and hikes—I was treated to a (mini) juice cleanse for a few days. And though I recommend consulting your doctor before embarking on your own juice cleanses, I must say that I walked away from the experience feeling healthy and refreshed.
I returned from my trip, bought a juicer the next day, and it has changed my life. Diann from Gray Bear walked me through the juicing regimen which always seemed a bit complicated and demanding for me. She taught me to: simplify, use ingredients that I like, experiment with combinations, and taste as I go to come up with an array of variations. “Plus,” she says, “once you have the raw ingredients on hand (and the juicer out and running) make enough for a few days.” While that might not be as good as juicing and drinking right away, this is real life, right?
After a few weeks, I also discovered that these fresh fruit and vegetable juices also lend themselves to delicious cocktails. (However, it should be noted that fresh juice cocktails don’t maintain all of the health benefits of fresh juice alone.) During Vivian Howard’s recent dinner at The Factory, we used my juicer to create the Cucumber Ginger Limeade cocktail that opened the evening. Since the dinner, there have been several requests for the recipe. Break out your juicer (but juice—and drink—responsibly).
I have known many storytellers in my life. Some have a natural and unrehearsed style that feels captivating and immediate; some present new or unfamiliar points of view; others are quite deliberate and thoughtful in approach; all of them are enthralling to me. As a storyteller born into a family of storytellers, I find master storyteller Gael Towey both compelling and inspiring. She has a distinct perspective and is skilled at many things: crafting a storyline, discovering and highlighting the unique qualities of her subjects, eliciting a response from the audience, and designing beautiful visual elements. Her work has informed contemporary visual language in a way we can barely imagine.
I was lucky to be among Gael’s subjects as part of her series of short films about artists called “Portraits in Creativity” www.portraitsincreativity.com (and I especially love her piece on friend and heroine Maira Kalman). Each of her portraits uncover the unique qualities of her subjects and reveal Towey’s fascination with the creative process. For over two years, we have been speaking with Gael about her past, her present, and the creative processes, media, and methods she uses to propel her ideas forward.
Gael was raised in New Jersey and was the oldest of six children. She revealed that, as a child, she was mildly dyslexic and almost flunked the second and third grade because she couldn’t spell; she reversed all her consonants and vowel combinations. She was drawn to art and studied it enthusiastically through college. “I loved printmaking and accidentally signed up for a class in typography, and I fell in love with it from the first lecture,” Towey says. “I’d never looked at the design of a letter and had not noticed how beautiful they are.” She switched her major to graphic design and graduated from Boston University, College of Fine Arts. Gael said, “I was extraordinarily lucky. I have met so many young people who don’t know what they want to do, but I always knew. I struggled academically and art was the only thing I was good at… And it’s funny that I wound up working in the publishing business since I had no confidence in my ability to write properly.”
Gael worked on the book, In the Russian Style, with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
I’ve written many times about my friend and multi-talented musician Tift Merritt. She is a singer/songwriter, guitarist, pianist, and creative spirit. Her podcast The Spark with Tift Merritt is a conversation about integrity and process, and features some of the most creative minds of our age, including Rosanne Cash, Andrew Bird, and Kiki Smith (among others). In addition to managing her solo career, Tift occasionally plays with Andrew Bird and the Hands Of Glory. Although she spends most of her time on the road touring, I occasionally get the chance to catch up with Tift in New York City (her home-base)—as was the case during our Makeshift events.
Her album, Traveling Alone, is a source of constant creative inspiration to me. When we last spoke, Tift graciously agreed to create our playlist for August. Below, she shares some of her favorite songs.
AC: When did you start playing music?
TM: I started playing music as a little girl with my father. He taught me to play by ear and I loved listening to him, trying to sing with him, and seeing how happy music made him. I wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember, so writing songs was a very natural way to bring many things I loved together.
Each month, we invite our fellow stitchers to create a favorite Alabama Chanin pattern, embellishment, or embroidery technique through our Swatch of the Month Club. As a companion to that monthly series, we are also offering DIY projects that you can create with your completed swatches. Past projects include DIY Swatch Pillows, DIY Book Covers, a DIY Clutch, and a DIY Swatch Wrap. This month, we illustrate how to add an embellished pocket to a finished tote bag using August’s Beaded Kristina’s Rose swatch.
August’s completed Swatch of the Month (or your favorite swatch of choice)
1 – 1 ¼”-wide strip of fabric, measuring 16” long, cut across the grain, for binding
Alabama Chanin #3 Organic Tote Bag
Complete your swatch of choice according to the instructions – or create a swatch using your personal design choices. Alabama Studio Sewing + Design can provide instruction on techniques and embroidery options, if you need additional guidance or inspiration.
Use your iron to press your 1 ¼” binding strip in half, lengthwise, with wrong sides together. Position your swatch horizontally and encase the top edge of the swatch with your binding. Pin or baste the binding strip into place. Whipstitch the raw edge of the binding to your fabric swatch to secure. You may also opt to use a decorative or stretchable stitch, based on your personal design preference.
Lay your tote on a level surface and smooth the fabric to make sure it lies flat and unwrinkled. Center your swatch – with the finished edge on top – in the center of the tote’s face. When positioning the swatch, align the top edge with the opening of the tote. Pin your swatch onto the outside of the tote bag.
From time-to-time, we write about the business of running a business: about how we make decisions, about how many times decisions just make themselves from lack of decision-making, and about how those decisions sometimes work—and often don’t. The truth of the matter is that running a business (or a life, or a family) is about thinking about something—and then rethinking it again—and then rethinking it again. So it is with our menu at The Factory Café.
In some ways, it’s hard to believe that The Factory—including the store and the café— has only been open since November of 2013. The Factory space feels like such an important part of our studio; in reality, we’ve celebrated our connection to our community over and around our farm tables for less than a year.
In the kitchen, we’ve developed new recipes, presented delicious dishes from award-winning chefs, and celebrated those chefs (and an array of worthy organizations) through our Friends of the Café Dinner Series.
Alabama Chanin’s Friends of the Café Piggy Bank Dinner for Southern Foodways Alliance, featuring Ashley Christensen, was a singing success last Thursday. Not only did the ingredients sing on the plate, but our diners have adopted the habit of singing to our featured chefs. This time, Ashley Christensen was serenaded with a round of Happy Birthday after an enthusiastic round of applause for her inventive take on Southern cuisine.