“We are happy when we are growing.”
- William Butler Yeats
The Factory has been home to the Alabama Chanin design and production studio since 2008 and over the years has hosted workshops, events, and dinners. The space is filled with books, music, and the hum of making. Now, we are expanding The Factory to include a full-service café, serve as Workshop headquarters, and house the Alabama Chanin store.
Pumpkin carving has a deep-rooted history in American culture. As a child, my family always used the butcher knife/three-triangles-and-a-mouth method. Today, there are specialized carving tools available from a range of sources. Martha Stewart, a lover of all things Halloween, has brought pumpkin carving to a new level, offering creative designs and techniques. Meanwhile, Maggie’s dad, Butch, looks for the strangest pumpkins available and stacks them in towering sculptures before Halloween, and then plants rows and rows of the leftover seeds in his garden after the holiday.
Without fail, the arrival of autumn marks the season of all things pumpkin. From pumpkin bread, to pumpkin scented candles, to my daughter Maggie’s ubiquitous visit to The Pumpkin Patch, the pumpkin is an essential part of the seasonal change. Pumpkins are present in our literary and popular culture, making appearances in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, and Cinderella. This fruit (and, because it develops from a flower, it is technically a fruit and not a vegetable) is the most common symbol of the fall season and Halloween.
The act of carving pumpkins dates back thousands of years to the Celtic festival of Samuin, or Samhain. This festival marked the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of harvest and it was used as a time to honor the dead. Some believed that this was the night when the separation between the worlds of the living and the dead was the thinnest, making it easier to communicate with those on the “other side.” Celts who sought to ward off evil spirits would often light great bonfires to dissuade unfriendly visitors. As Christianity spread, the fires became more contained and were placed inside large gourds or turnips. Families would carve the fruits and vegetables, placing them in their windows and hoping to deter the otherworldly from entering their homes. Continue reading
Recently, the always-inspiring Southern Foodways Alliance symposium, held in Oxford, Mississippi, sponsored a rollicking debate on an intensely dividing subject: Which is better: Pie or Cake? While my love for a good cake has been well documented, some of the arguments for pie, eloquently spoken by Kat Kinsman from CNN’s Eatocracy, spurred me to take another look at the versatile dish. Devoted pie makers everywhere may relate to her statement that, if you are ‘crafting’ a pie crust:
“…it’s most likely because, at some point in your life, someone thought well enough of you to stand beside you at a counter and gift the muscle memory from her hands to yours. Your mother, your aunt, your grandmother, or – heaven forfend – your mother-in-law decided it was time to truly assume you into the sisterhood. She guided your fingers as they worked the flour into the fat, flicked in the water, and kneaded it all to the proper mass.”
The holidays offer a unique opportunity for each of us to spend a little bit of time and energy creating for those we love. If you are a maker, you may innately understand the value of a handmade gift. Creating presents an avenue for you to express your love and admiration in the most personal of ways. Receiving a handmade gift often feels like an honor; you are touched to know that someone cared enough to spend time creating something specifically for you.
We at Alabama Chanin believe that the act of making can move beyond craft, into another space that includes design and fashion – without losing the personal elements of creating something by hand. Our Handmade Holiday collection is one way to embody this philosophy – embracing craft, style, fashion, and tradition. You can choose to make elaborate garments or home décor, or you can opt for a sentimental favorite, like this handmade holiday stocking. Holidays are the centerpieces of so many of our memories. Hand customizing something as traditional as a holiday stocking can elevate something that might otherwise be overlooked to high art.
If you visit our studio here in Alabama, you will arrive to find that we are housed in a sturdy, industrial-style, metal building which we call “The Factory.” Our community was, for generations, home to textile mills that employed an incredible number of area residents. This industrial building where we work and spend hours of our lives has seen thousands of workers pass through the doors over the years; it has heard the hum of machines running and the voices and laughter of employees passing the day away. This building is part of Alabama Chanin’s history, but, more importantly, it is part of our community’s history—a symbol of economic boom, hard times, and community rebuilding.
Mary Adams studied art, not fashion, in college, but eventually chose fabric, specifically, the dress as her medium of choice. Her first storefront in New York City was in the Lower East Side, on the corner of Ludlow and Stanton in the early 1980’s, when that area of the city was cheap and dirty and home to artists, writers, musicians, actors, and designers. In her book, The Party Dress Book, Adams shares a glimpse of New York at that time and how the city and its creative inhabitants influenced her work – the brightly colored, twirling dresses she and her friends would wear to nightclubs and parties. Adams worked in an influential time and place for fashion history and her work continues to resonate. Her stories of inspiration introduce how-to instruction on specific dressmaking and embellishment techniques for designing and constructing the best looking dress at any party, anywhere.
The Party Dress Book inspired us to adapt one of our favorite, featured projects into an Alabama Chanin piece, Mary Adams-style.
As part of our Handmade Holiday 2013 selection, we are offering limited edition Holiday DIY Kits. Look for brand new items, some favorites from the past, and special, holiday picks. Alabama Chanin believes that holiday gifts mean more when they are handmade.
This DIY Onesie + Baby Blanket Kit is a two-item option normally only offered for our One-Day Workshops. The smaller scale of each item means that experienced sewers will quickly have a completed gift, ready for wrapping; beginning sewers can learn, practice embroidery techniques on a smaller canvas, and expectant parents (and/or grandparents) can spend (at least a little) time making for baby.
I met photographer Rinne Allen years ago, through mutual friend Angie Mosier, and have adored her ever since. Her work inspires me over and over again as it is always stunning and captures intimate aspects of life that many overlook.
Over the years, our Journal has developed a growing community of readers. What began as an occasional post about the progress of my garden or a favorite book has become a six-year,1,000 post chronicle of everything from DIY projects and recipes to important conversations on sustainable design and fashion. The Journal is our platform to connect with and learn from our readers. Our always-growing readership allows us to write about an expanding range of topics and explore new people and places; this provides constant inspiration and education for us.
Recently, we added a new option to our mailing list subscription: DAILY JOURNAL. By signing up, you will receive daily Journal posts, sent directly to your inbox. Join our mailing list to receive our Daily Journal, or update your subscription to include it here.
xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin