REAL WOMEN: WHER VIA THE KITCHEN SISTERS

This post – part of our new “Real Women” series for 2013 – is dedicated to two of the most “real” women I know: Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva of The Kitchen Sisters.  Without their dedication to telling the “real” story, I would not be the designer, or the person, I am today. Lost and Found Sound changed my perception of storytelling in the Autumn of 1994. I remember the first moment I heard their tracks: in the third story of a rented house on a green square in Savannah, Georgia. Boom. Life changed.

Ira Glass said of their work, “The Kitchen Sisters have done some of the best radio stories ever broadcast. I know people who got into radio because they heard Nikki and Davia’s work, and had no idea anybody could do anything like that on the air.”

These women are my heroes. (Along with a slew of others you will meet this year.)  They continue their storytelling on real women with their series: The Hidden World of Girls, and a new series entitled: The Making of…

Through a Peabody Award winning Lost and Found Sound broadcast, The Kitchen Sisters spurred my interest in this relatively unknown, yet groundbreaking group of women.

“1000 Beautiful Watts.” This was the slogan for WHER Radio – 1430 on your AM dial in Memphis, Tennessee. In October 1955, Shoals native and founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips and his wife, Becky, took an original concept and made it reality: an all-female radio station. Though the station wasn’t technically the first female station to exist, it proudly referred to itself as the “First All-Girl Radio Station in the World.” As such, WHER broadcast for 17 years in the Memphis, Tennessee market.

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FROM SARA: TOO FAT FOR FASHION

I’m going to admit something that might seem a little pedestrian to some of you, perhaps a little familiar to others: I watch a lot of television, all kinds. I’m simultaneously a television snob and a consumer of frivolous content. I’m not sure how I rationalize all of that, but to quote Whitman in a post about popular culture: I am large, I contain multitudes.

So, as a consumer of all of this entertainment content, I include among my weekly dvr selections a show called Project Runway. I’m going to go ahead and guess that most of you have heard of or watched this reality-based competition. If so, you may be aware that each season, the contestants are given the challenge of designing for “real women,” that is, women who are not models and have normal, everyday shapes and sizes. And, without fail, every season there is a designer who throws an absolute tantrum about how difficult this challenge is, about how this isn’t what they “do” as a designer.

I know that what happens on television might not be the most accurate representation of reality, how designers design in the privacy of their studios, or how garments travel from paper to product. But, the fact that this attitude continues to present itself causes me to ask: whom do designers think that they are designing for, if not real people?

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PEACE: THE BIOGRAPHY OF A SYMBOL

In 2008, to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the peace symbol, National Geographic published Peace: the Biography of a Symbol, by Ken Kolsbun with Michael S. Sweeney.

The book documents the symbol, from its creation in 1958, through its usage in the folk scene of the 1960s, its very visible presence in the 1970s at Woodstock, Vietnam war protests, and in the artwork of Peter Max, until today, with its wide use in commerce and as a cultural icon.

National Geographic has a moving photo gallery of the peace symbol that you can view here, starting with the gorgeous photo of Arlo Guthrie below by Bettman/CORBIS.

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MAKESHIFT 2012: THE CONVERSATION

“Craft” might seem like it’s for the amateurs, and “fashion” for the auteurs. Yet we live in an age where creativity and innovation are increasingly found in collaborations between makers and users, crafters and designers, designers and manufacturers, and in the loosening of the boundaries between them. Open sourcing and the emergence of DIY everything (from apps to dresses to education) are THE design stories of the 21st century.

If the philosophers and economists are right, such stories reflect renewed possibilities for building communities, for growing businesses, and for practicing everyday forms of enchantment, ethics, and sustainability. It is time to expand our way of thinking about the relationship between craft and fashion, between the self-made and the ready-to-wear, between fashion as intellectual property and fashion as an open source. What can we learn from the fields of music, product design, and education? Does a backward glance help us see how fashion was at the forefront of these innovations from the start? What is a Vogue pattern if not an open source? What are les petits mains other than artists?


DIY PEACE (A SKIRT TOO)

No one can find inner peace except by working,
not in a self-centered way, but for the whole human family.
- Peace Pilgrim

There are many ways to make DIY Peace.

Mildred Norman set off on New Year’s Day and began to walk across the country in the name of peace. Changing her name to Peace Pilgrim, she said, “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace.” Peace Pilgrim continued her journey until her death in July 1981.  That’s 28 years of walking for peace.

Others have worked for peace in their own ways. There have been singers for peace, like Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, or Bob Dylan. Many have spent their lives attempting to create peace on a global level: Nelson Mandela, fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter, Elie Wiesel. There are those like Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, who have devoted their lives to prayer and meditation for peace. So many across the world continue to protest and work for peace.

At Alabama Chanin, we only know how to do what we CAN do to promote peace… So, for today, while it may seem trivial, that’s as simple as our Peace Skirt.  It’s not earth shattering; it’s a skirt. However, perhaps the time sewing, and/or the time wearing will give us each a little time to reflect, or to work towards peace it in small ways for our own lives.

Make your own or purchase our DIY Peace Skirt Kit (kit comes ready-to-sew and includes all fabric, floss, and thread needed to complete your project).

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MAKESHIFT 2012:

SHIFTING THOUGHTS ON DESIGN, FASHION, COMMUNITY, CRAFT & DIY

Over the four days of New York Design Week (May 19-22, 2012), Alabama Chanin–in collaboration with its fashion and design partners–is organizing a series of talks, workshops, and gatherings with leaders in the fashion, design, and craft/DIY communities. The events bring together a dynamic combination of industry leaders to explore the ways in which the fashion, art, and design worlds are inextricably linked to the world of craft/DIY and how each of these worlds elevates the others. We look to create an intersection–a meeting point–to explore, discuss, and celebrate the role of local production, handmade, and craft/DIY in fashion and design as a way to empower individuals, businesses, and communities.

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PEACE CHICKEN (WITH OLIVES)

It’s a bit of a stretch to call chicken made with olives “Peace Chicken,” but it did recently bring a bit of peace to my family life.  Here’s the story:

Although I have spent years cultivating my backyard garden, honing my cooking skills, learning how to shop in my small community (grass-fed local meat from here, fresh vegetables from there, rice in bulk, milk from only one store in the community – on Thursdays only.) Yes, years have been spent on this orchestration.

All these years of refinement, patience, planning, and adaptation and I am stuck with a six-year-old who can’t stand my food – any of it. “This is the worst dinner I have ever had,” she sighed (loudly) in the kitchen one night. She has a sweet tooth of the worst kind. I would like to blame her, but the love of sugar does run in my father’s family so, as we say in Alabama, “she comes by it honest.” I have twin aunts who are as “big as a twig” put together and, as a child, I remember them eating only sweets (or at least it seemed that way).

My father and my six-year old have come up with elaborate excuses to head out to my most dreaded part of town, “The Mall,” only to return with a dozen Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. These days, they have stopped making up excuses and just go, on a regular basis. They will visit one of my twin aunts and grandmother with a dozen. Ritual.

This child of mine would eat jelly toast at every meal if I would let her. For a change of pace, she would like biscuits or pancakes.  To her, the ingestion of one-quarter of a freshly picked, crisp apple is worthy of a trophy and, as far as she is concerned, that trophy should be of a bowl of ice cream (not sorbet).  It’s enough to make me crazy.

I go through phases where I just tell her to go hungry. She will, after all, eat those peas if she is starving?  Instead, she has a will of stone and far more patience than I ever possessed in my 50 years; she will hold out until school, or Meme and Pop’s house, or anywhere else she can eat to avoid a freshly cooked vegetable.

However, this particular chicken recipe resulted in a sweet glance and the words, “Mama, this is the best chicken I’ve ever eaten.” See what I mean? Peace Chicken. The funniest part is that the first time I made this dish, I was simply trying to clean out the refrigerator; just about everything went into the pot. It never crossed my mind that she would eat it, let alone like it. Continue reading

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DIY MUSIC: SONG READER OR “DO WE? WE DO.”

You know how we at Alabama Chanin feel about open sourcing. We offer our techniques and the information necessary to recreate our products, should you decide that you want to do-it-yourself. After three books, countless DIY Kits, and an amazing array of workshops, we have learned some important things: people will take your ideas and run with them; what you put into the world will come back to you in ways that you never imagined; the world is a creative place; and you never know what people are capable of until you give them the tools and the opportunity to create.

That being said, I think we’ve found a kindred spirit in the musician, Beck. While listening to one of my podcast staples, All Things Considered, I caught an interview where he described his newest album – an album that he, himself, hasn’t actually recorded. Song Reader (published by, awesome, McSweeney’s) is a set of 20 songs that Beck has released only in sheet music format. His hope is that other musicians will take the material and record their own versions. After releasing so many solo albums, he said that crowdsourcing his music seemed like a way to make the process less lonely.

From All Things Considered: “When you write a song and make a recording and put out a record, it’s kind of [like] sending a message in a bottle,” Beck says. “You don’t really get a lot of feedback. This is a way of sending that song out, and you just get literally thousands of bottles sent back to you.”

There are plenty of artists that have taken up this artistic challenge. You can hear many of them at Beck’s Song Reader website. Maybe, you’ll find your own inspiration there.

To hear the entire interview and some of the songs that have been recorded, listen to the All Things Considered segment here.

P.S.: Sheet music image from “Old Shanghai” by Beck and included in Song Reader. Illustration for that piece by Kelsey Dake.

PEACE: SYMBOL, MEANING, AND RESOLUTIONS

The ancient Greeks believed that the olive branch brought not only food, but deliverance from evil—or that is to say, they believed that the olive branch kept evil away. Since that time (and most likely before), the olive branch or the olive branch in combination with the dove, can be found in all manner of art and design. The incorporation of these images always infers peace.  Not inner peace—if I understand it correctly—but the absence of war.

This imagery also found its way into literature with the “offering of the olive branch.” The item itself has been beloved in the kitchen since first tasted, is the base for creating the best oil you can find to eat (in my humble opinion), can be used for creating cleaning supplies, and is now a popular name for little girls my daughter Maggie’s age. Perhaps that comes from the sweet little exhausting mischievous pig Olivia. And, as you know, we also have an Olivia in our studio.

But I diverge…

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