We learn our first real poem around the age of 2 — the ABC Song. Soon, we graduate to nursery rhymes, then rhymes for jumping rope. By the time we reach junior high and high school we’re reading Epic Poems, like The Odyssey, and reciting Shakespeare in Iambic Pentameter—well sometimes. Songs can be poems set to rhythm. If we’re lucky, perhaps someone has written a love poem or a song—or two—for us.
Poems are rhythmic—they have patterns, beats, stanzas, couplets, and verses. They have been instrumental at critical moments in our history. Witness:
I’ve been thinking about painting my back porch and deck white since it was built last summer. After all, we spend about fifty percent of our time out there. I’ve long disliked the toxicity of commercial paints on the market. Most common indoor and outdoor household paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs contain a variety of chemicals, some of which give off noxious fumes and may have short term or long term adverse health effects. According to the EPA, levels of some VOCs are 2 to 5 times higher inside a home than outside; when you are painting or stripping paint in your home, particularly in older homes where lead paint may have been used in the past, indoor levels of VOCs may be 1000 times that of outdoor levels. I’ve used VOC-free paints for all of my indoor and outdoor painting since they came on the market some years back.
In thinking about my outdoor living area, I wanted to investigate additional ways to paint more safely, and came across two options that I could possibly make myself: whitewash and milk paint. Whitewashing, which many of us remember from Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, was commonly used for years because it is inexpensive, can be homemade, and homeowners could use ingredients they had on-hand, improvising their own recipes. It is still used in rural areas to protect wooden surfaces like fences and barns, or by designers who want to give furniture a rustic look. The mixture’s base is always lime and water, which makes a chalky type of plaster. Then, ingredients might be added to thicken or strengthen the mixture, like flour, glue, sugar, soap, soil, or milk.
Yesterday, I wrote about my appreciation of hand-painted signs, inspired by the book Sign Painters, authored by friend Faythe Levine with Sam Macon. Faythe and Sam have directed a documentary – also called Sign Painters, as a companion to the book.
In 2008, Faythe co-authored and directed a book and film, both named Handmade Nation: The Rise of Craft and DIY. We welcomed her to Alabama last April for our Visiting Artist Series, where she highlighted “craftivism” and brought her light-hearted stories to the Factory. This summer she has taken Sign Painters on the road for a series of screenings.
Faythe has an itinerant spirit. She states in the book’s preface, “Many of my earliest memories involve travel, much of which was by car. I’d stare out the window of the family station wagon and watch America transition from one place to the next.”
Growing up in small town Florence, Alabama, a trip into downtown meant a visit to colorful shops, recognized by equally colorful signs. Ye Ole General Store had a block letter, serif-type sign across the entrance way and inside, we could find canteens and hats and overalls for backyard battles and explorations. Next, we’d walk to Court Street and look for the black and orange store front that meant Wilson’s Fabrics. The simple lettering, enhanced by the high contrast color choices, told my grandmother to come right in – the “Tall Man with the Low Prices” had just the cotton and muslin she needed. Finally, the best part of our trip was our visit to Trowbridge’s for hot dogs and milk shakes. The hand painted awning, with its swirling cursive script, told us we were headed in the right direction. The front window advertises: SANDWICHES, ICE CREAM, SUNDAES. We would slide into a booth and look at the hand-painted menu hanging behind the ice cream counter. That beautiful menu is still there today, challenging me to choose between the hot dog and the chicken salad sandwich. I think the town would riot if it were ever taken down.
This sentimental love I have for hand painted signs was rejuvenated when friend and fellow maker, Faythe Levine, and her co-writer Sam Macon published Sign Painters. This book chronicles the histories and modern-day stories of sign painters. In the 1980’s and 90’s, the art of painting signs became doomed to obscurity, or worse -extinction- with the invention and widespread use of vinyl lettering and digital design. In today’s world, full of Adobe software and inflatable dancing tube men, it is hard to remember that every grocery store sale sign, billboard, storefront, and banner was once carefully designed and painted by hand.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading up to Chattanooga, Tennessee for an Alabama Chanin One-Day Workshop, a trunk show, and an exhibit of BBQ’ed Dresses. Yes, we put a few of our handmade garments into the smoker.
Last fall, for the Southern Foodways Alliance 15th Annual Symposium, we BBQ’ed a few Alabama Chanin dresses, with the help of Nick Pihakis from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q in Birmingham, Alabama. John T. Edge was the impetus for the project, asking us to design some BBQ inspired garments that eventually hung proudly alongside Landon Nordeman’s stunning photographs of pit masters and their tools. It is going to be great to see the BBQ inspired collection hang again later this month at Warehouse Row in Chattanooga as part of Crafted by Southern Hands.
May all your dreams come true…
xo Natalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin
P.S.: Belt buckle, pants, and shirt thanks to Neilan Tyree
Every 4th of July, my neighborhood throws a parade in honor of Independence Day. Everyone dresses in celebratory costume – dogs, children, adults, bicycles, scooters, and an occasional fire engine sport some U.S.A. flair. It’s come to be one of my favorite days of the year. We begin on a shady street and promenade in a 6 block radius, to end up back where we started for red, white, and blue ice cream; cookies; cupcakes; and an assortment of beverages.
All of this is followed by the Annual Kids vs. Adults baseball game on a lot built and maintained by the neighborhood children behind the houses of some very community minded neighbors. Then, we share a beautiful pot luck lunch and a pool party. We end the day back at the baseball diamond with blankets, mosquitos, and fireworks, as always, provided by Florence based TNT Fireworks. In my mind, it’s community—and the celebration of a nation— like it’s supposed to be.
Newsletter #6 brings to light our recent conversations on manufacturing, including our newly established machine manufacturing line, A.Chanin, and other important topics around fast fashion and those who manufacture what we wear.
Read about our upcoming workshops, including our One-Day Workshop in Chattanooga, Tennessee, new online store additions like our Indigo Flag Quilt, and DIY Projects on our Journal.
Join our mailing list to receive our monthly newsletter, or update your mailing subscription to include the newsletter here.
xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin
In honor of Independence Day, we chose stars from our Indigo American Flag quilt for July’s Desktop of the Month. The variations of our natural dyed Indigo fabric mirror the diversity that defines our nation and its origins.
This photo displays the intricate stitching and details of each appliquéd star, plus the natural color changes of our Indigo organic cotton jersey. The shades of Indigo vary from piece-to-piece, giving the quilt – and this photograph – depth. View the entire quilt here, or the more traditional version here.
This hi-resolution photograph, for use as your computer desktop background, is now available to download from our Resources page.