HEIRLOOM #1: GRAM PERKINS’ BLANKET

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Alabama Chanin has always aimed to make products that will last a lifetime – even multiple lifetimes. We create things that are both beautiful and durable and we embrace the ideas of Slow Design. But, once upon a time, Slow Design did not exist as a theory or a process; rather, it was simply how things were made. Those that were fluent in “The Living Arts” knew how to make things – food, clothing, shelter, etc. – and they didn’t want to make them more than once, unless they had to. Durability was necessity. Craftsmen and women were born out of requirement. But, often those craftsmen became so skilled that their products were, quite simply, art. Their creations that remain behind and are passed along—heirlooms—still hold meaning.

For some, the word “heirloom” brings to mind a valuable painting or, perhaps, an antique necklace. Certainly both of those things qualify; but, as part of a new series on the Journal, we want to highlight some of our own personal heirlooms – things that are valuable to us on a personal level, regardless of their financial value. As always, we want to celebrate the things that last, the things that we choose to keep in our lives, the things that we assign meaning to, on a personal level.

From Natalie:

The blanket above rested on an upstairs bed at my Grandmother Perkins’s—called Gram Perkins—house for as long as I can remember. In my mind, it belonged to my uncle, but I’m not absolutely sure. The upstairs of my grandparents’ home was completed when my mother was already in high school (although they had lived in the house for many years, starting in the basement and building up as they could afford).  In the upstairs, there were rooms for each of the four children. The older children were already in college by the time it was finished, so my uncle, the youngest sibling, spent the most time in the space and, though all of the bedrooms were filled with things, his room felt the least “empty.”

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DKNY VOGUE PATTERN + AN ALABAMA CHANIN DIY DRESS

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Vogue designer patterns, which are available to all at reasonable prices, are excellent examples of resources contributing to and encouraging the DIY opportunities in modern fashion. The existence and availability of such resources help us to continue our ongoing conversation on Design, Craft, and Fashion and how they intersect.

As part of our ongoing series adapting open-source designer patterns using Alabama Chanin techniques, we selected a dress from DKNY—Donna Karan New York—the mainline label for the Donna Karan brand. I’ve written before about the connection I have with Donna Karan as a designer and we’ve previously featured another of her Vogue patterns as part of this DIY series.

This modern shift dress pattern is flattering on all body types, simple enough for beginners, and can be easily accessorized and embellished. We made both a Basic version, as well as an embellished version, featuring the Check pattern, our Stencil of the Year.

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CHICKEN STEW

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As a Southerner and a cook, I often find myself included in lively debates about regional cuisine, long-winded discussions of the dozens of types of barbecue preparations, cornbread recipe swaps, or conversations on the perfect biscuit dough. Those of us who love food treasure the dishes we were raised eating and love to swap recipes and tips.

In my travels, I have done my fair share of boasting about my hometown’s specialties. One dish that I speak of frequently, that is such a big component of The Shoals’ local food culture, is chicken stew. And almost every time I mention it (outside of my home region), no one else in the room seems to know quite what I’m describing.

“Is it like a vegetable soup?” Not exactly. “A Brunswick stew?” Hmm. Not really.

So, I gradually came to understand that this dish—that was as ubiquitous to every neighborhood kitchen as cornbread or tea—wasn’t a staple meal for the rest of the world. In fact, it really doesn’t exist much outside of our small region of the Tennessee Valley.

Truthfully, the origins of chicken stew cannot be traced. And, no one can explain exactly why it is so specific to this region. I remember being told by an aunt that, once upon a time, chickens were kept for the eggs they produced. By the time a family killed a chicken for its meat, it was a “tough old bird,” only suitable for stews and other slow-cooked dishes. As with many rural households, you made the most of what you had and, logically, a stew fed more mouths than one fried chicken. Most likely, as with most regional foods, the recipe was created when poverty crossed paths with farmers, native people, and West African-style dishes. The result, in this case, is a dish that’s similar to existing recipes but that remains explicitly exclusive to one place.
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A MANUFACTURING COLLABORATION: LITTLE RIVER SOCK MILL

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Alabama Chanin recently partnered with our friend Gina Locklear of Little River Sock Mill (and Zkano) to create a line of Made in the USA, organic cotton socks as part of our new collection.

We’ve written before about the textile and manufacturing history of the Shoals, and our current strides towards revitalizing manufacturing within our community (and beyond). Florence was once known as the T-shirt Capital of The World, and another northern Alabama town—Fort Payne (home to Little River Sock Mill)—held the title of Sock Capital of The World. We are proud to launch this line of Alabama-manufactured organic cotton socks, alongside the machine-manufactured line A. Chanin.

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ADVICE ON SEWING, FROM 1949

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Prepare yourself mentally for sewing. Think about what you are going to do… Never approach sewing with a sigh or lackadaisically. Good results are difficult when indifference predominates.

Never try to sew with a sink full of dirty dishes or beds unmade. When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do these first so your mind is free to enjoy your sewing. When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible. Put on a clean dress. Keep a little bag full of French chalk near your sewing machine to dust your fingers at intervals. Have your hair in order, powder and lipstick put on. If you are constantly fearful that a visitor will drop in or your husband will come home, and you will not look neatly put together, you will not enjoy your sewing.

Sent from our friend and fellow sewist Rosanne Cash—who always looks absolutely gorgeous no matter what she does. And, after reading, our friend Sara recommends following all of the advice so generously given, but to “keep a little bag full of French fries” nearby, instead of the recommended French chalk.

 

THE FACTORY | THIS WEEK 2.17.2014 – 2.21.2014

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“A soup course is almost always welcome. The simplicity of aromatic sweet vegetables slowly simmered with a fragrant chicken broth makes me very happy. Soups are a healthy way to transfer seasonal vegetables into soul-satisfying dishes.”
–Frank Stitt, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table

We are in the thick of winter here in Alabama, and hearty soups and stews are, indeed, always welcome at my table. This week, The Factory Café is featuring a roasted root vegetable soup that some might describe as “soul-satisfying.”

Hoping that we will see you soon (now that the ‘Alabama snow’ has cleared),
xoNatalie

Here is what we have going on at The Factory Store + Café this week, Monday, February 17 – Friday, February 21:

CAFÉ:
Join us in the café this week to experience some of our new menu items, including creamy polenta, savory puff pastries, and grilled cheese sandwiches (perfect for picky eaters, age seven and under).
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THE HEART: JENNIFER RAUSCH

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Shortly after my move from New York to Alabama, I was sitting alone at our local Italian restaurant, reading magazines. After a while, a couple who’d been sitting across the room approached and introduced themselves to me. That couple, Jennifer and Robert Rausch, quickly became fixtures in my life; they’ve remained integral members of my Alabama family since that day.

These days, you can find Jennifer overseeing the day-to-day operations of the new flagship store and café at The Factory. She agreed to work with us at just the right time. The company was growing and I needed someone I could trust to help me make decisions that were thoughtful and confident. Growing a company can make one feel vulnerable; having an old friend there for support (especially one with an incredible work ethic) put me a bit more at ease.

She moves effortlessly between tasks and has a real desire to connect with everyone who walks through our door. This genuine approach, coupled with her wicked, infectious laugh, drew me to her initially and continues to make me smile, calm me, and draw me out of my shell when I become too introspective. She is practical and doesn’t hesitate to offer her opinion, even to play devil’s advocate in tough situations.

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DIY HEARTS JOURNAL

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I’ve kept a journal, or some type of notebook, on and off since I was fifteen years old. My current journal is full of messages, reminders, sketches, and sweet notes and drawings I’ve collected from Maggie over the past few weeks—which, since Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, includes a lot of heart-shaped and heart-adorned things.

I first started making these covers for well-worn (and well-loved) books. Soon, most of my binders, notebooks, and journals had covers, as well. Each time I retire a journal to my shelves, I slip a new one into my hand-sewn cover.

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NAPKINS + A COLOR UPDATE

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With the launch of the new collection and several new fabric colors, we have also updated our selection of cocktail napkins and organic cotton jersey dinner napkins to include fresh, new, seasonal colors.

The neutrals and greens (shown above) are a nice reminder that spring is on the way. Lime—a color exclusive to collection pieces (until now)—is being offered as both a cocktail and organic cotton dinner napkin color and will give your bar or kitchen area a nice pop of color.

Previously, our line of cocktail napkins was limited to five colors: Sand, Baby Blue, Forest, Carmine, and Burgundy. The selection now includes 15 colors: Denim, Storm Blue, Navy, Baby Blue, White, Plum, Ochre, Butter, Nude, Natural, Tea, Emerald, Lime, Burgundy, and Dark Grey.

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