Sent: Monday, September 03, 2012 6:47 AM
Subject: Dayum (Georgia word for Damn) Rain
The rain and storms yesterday evening continued to send rain until this morning. About 5:00 am the rain was coming in waves and it sounded like the ocean. It is odd to me that Mother Nature that gives us so much beauty, can wave her hand and destroy so much. Anyway, I’ll be taking a row boat to check our little cotton field as soon as I get some coffee. Yesterday I was picking the beautiful first bolls that have opened on each plant. It was so light and fluffy and gorgeous.
This morning the words “as soon as it rains on the open bolls they start to deteriorate” are causing my head and my heart to ache. In review, lets us all remember that the little cotton field was planted May 10 and got one light rain 3 days later and then the 6 week record breaking drought in Alabama began. The cotton struggled to grow and survive without a drop of water for 6 weeks. In the final days suddenly one night it rained 6 inches and flooded creeks in the area and roadways. The rain brought forth giant weeds but it brought the cotton from knee high and shriveled to waist high and loaded with bolls! Now we are faced with the fact that cotton doesn’t open out all at once.
The first blooms on the lowest branch are the first bolls to open, and then the next level (node) of branches will have their bolls open and then the next and so on. The first bolls are the ones that receive the most nutrients and are the best. The top of the plants have blooms that will probably be killed by frost before they ever open into cotton. People who picked cotton always picked a field twice. The large machinery that harvests cotton picks once and leaves a tremendous amount on the ground.
Coffee is ready; I’ll shut up now. I’ll keep you posted,
(Poet Laureate of Cotton)
P.S.: At least there were no tornadoes and everyone is okay despite the strong storms. Keep your fingers crossed for our little field. More on the Official Picking Party coming this week. xoNatalie
Sent: Thursday, August 30, 2012 11:04 AM
Subject: Our first cotton angel
I was at the cotton field this morning when a car pulled up and a tiny young lady got out and put on her work gloves and went to work!! She is still there working!!! I sent a photo from my phone to your phone with her name. Can you believe she drove from Giles County Tennessee to Lawrence County Alabama to work in the hot steamy cotton field!
She is a wonderful person. I hope she will be in touch with you so that you can know her. Jimmy and I were so touched that she came such a long way and is such a hard worker. She is devoted and she is one in a million.
Love you guys,
P.S. when I left the cotton field this morning with my pillowcase pick sack, I drove straight to the Trinity Post Office to get them to weigh my pick sack! I walked in covered with sweat from head to toe and carrying a pillow sack with a lump of cotton in it. I’m sure they thought I was on Meth or Crack or something. I picked 2 pounds and 9 ounces of cotton this morning.
Don’t laugh. Imagine bending and stooping and sweating and gnats up your nose and ants biting your legs and stinging weeds with thorns.. It ain’t pretty work, that is for sure. Jimmy informs me that he was paid $3.00 for picking 100 pounds of cotton. Oh my god it makes my back hurt to think about it…..
Continuing our conversation around design, craft and fashion, this week we present a Tracy Reese pattern from Vogue Designer Patterns for DIY Thursday. In all my years as a designer, I have not had the chance to meet Tracy, although I have been familiar with her work since the launch of her collection in the mid-1990s. At that time, I was working as a stylist in Europe and spent much of my time in boutiques, reading fashion magazines, and working with clients.
In an effort to understand Tracy Reese’s philosophy, we reached out to her press office for information and received a note stating that they could “not provide any information at this time.” However, this is what I found on the CFDA website:
“Detroit native Tracy Reese is a graduate of Parsons School of Design. Reese apprenticed under designer Martin Sitbon and worked as design director for Women’s Portfolios at Perry Ellis before launching her eponymous collection in 1996. The collection blends the ultra-feminine and nostalgic with modern polish. plenty by Tracy Reese, was introduced in 1998, after a trip to India provided endless inspiration. A joyful color palette, art-inspired prints and playful details are seen on essentials with a bohemian spirit. With flagships in Manhattan and Tokyo, the Tracy Reese and plenty brands have expanded to include footwear, handbags and home goods.”
Martine Stibon remains one of my all-time favorite designers and I used those pieces often during my days as a stylist. I do love the dress that emerged using our organic lightweight cotton jersey fabric with Tracy Reece’s pattern.
Last month, I had the incredible honor of hosting a studio visit from three amazing women who have inspired me for years. On a beautiful summer day, Rosanne Cash, Gael Towey, and Maira Kalman arrived in Florence for a two day sewing workshop and adventure. The idea for the trip was hatched on a spring afternoon in New York City and I can hardly believe that it actually happened. With incredibly busy schedules, these three women cleared their calendars, bought their tickets, organized their lives, picked up their daughters, and headed south. Gael Towey (an incredible woman who has shaped the look of modern life as we know it) wrote about their Alabama adventure for Martha Stewart’s “Up Close and Personal Blog”. I spent an amazing afternoon with Gael talking about all things design and inspiration… that post will be coming in the next weeks.
Magpie + RUTH, my son Zach’s catering company, made a fantastic lunch for us each day. The bread pudding recipe below was a favorite with the entire crew, our Alabama Chanin team, and the photo above a favorite with our Facebook followers.
If you’ve been following our blog, you’ve read about the rollercoaster that has been our first exposure to cotton farming. Having survived the terrible drought, the cotton has been carried through the summer by equal parts rainfall and sunshine. Right now, the bolls are looking healthy, but so are the weeds. Following the organic guidelines, we did not use any chemicals to eradicate the weeds. Lisa and “friend” Jimmy have done the leg, and arm, and back work.
Last Wednesday, the Alabama Chanin staff, along with Lisa and Jimmy, made a trip to weed the field. We arrived to a daunting 6 1/2 acres of beautifully forming cotton alongside big, ugly weeds. The next few weeks are crucial to a successful harvest of the first ever organic cotton crop in North Alabama (that is, since the invention of pesticides and genetically modified seeds). Our plants need ample light, air circulation, and nutrients from the soil to continue to develop and open. We were overjoyed when Lisa sent images on Saturday morning of the first bolls that have opened. But some of the weeds have still got to go. If this crop is to see a successful harvest, it’s going to need more help to survive and thrive.
Thanks to Amy DuFault and EcoSalon for sharing the story of our cotton on their blog today:
Last week, the Alabama Chanin team, along with friends Lisa and Jimmy, took to the organic cotton field we share with the team from Billy Reid. With rubber boots, loppers, and gloves in hand, we were there helping our organic cotton bolls survive after a long summer of drought and heat followed by excessive rain and weed growth.
We walked the rows, hoed, chopped, and pulled until the sun and heat forced us out of the field. Hard to imagine the days in Alabama heat where people were not allowed out of the field. Makes me think about how things were, how things are, and how things will be.
Nine of us barely made a dent in the work that needs to be done. As we documented the day with black and white images, it looked so romantic and felt like a moment from a Willa Cather novel. But the reality behind the black and white is a sordid, ugly history. I can’t pretend that I didn’t think about those that did this work because they had no choice. But I live TODAY and I WANT to grow organic cotton in the state of Alabama TODAY.
Perhaps the most unique piece in our Denim + Carmine Collection is the sarong. This multi-functional piece measures 36” long by 72” wide and is designed for a variety of body types. Made to be fluid and adaptable, the material wraps around the waist and ties at the side.
Our sarongs can be worn for a variety of occasions: add it to your workday wardrobe, wear to work in the garden, or toss in your vacation bag. The sarong is available as a basic, and in two stenciled versions: Full Stencil Sarong and Alabama Chanin Sarong.
Wednesday morning, Alabama Chanin closed its doors for half the day and made a trip out to the cotton field to visit (and weed with) Lisa and her husband, “friend” Jimmy (as he jokingly refers to himself). Jimmy and Lisa have been the determined and loving caretakers of our cotton these last months. Living near what we understand to be the FIRST privately owned organic cotton field in North Alabama (if not the entire state), they stop by each day to keep a watchful eye on our crop and monitor its progress.
Jimmy grew up less than a mile from the site of the field. His strong determination and easygoing personality, paired with a true farmer’s work ethic, have made him invaluable to the establishment of our field. Recently retired, and a friend of K.P. and Katy McNeill of Billy Reid, Jimmy was interested in finding a way to occupy his newly acquired free time. He offered to plow, plant, and cultivate the cotton field. He and K.P. have spent many weekends in Trinity this summer, discussing and working the land. Having chopped and picked cotton growing up, Jimmy expressed (with some disdain) he did not want a role in those later processes. He knew better.
Crocheting was one of my first creative outlets, once I felt the distinct urge to make. When I had a crochet hook in hand, making hats, scarves, bags, whatever I might need, the process came to me like second nature. Often, I couldn’t find patterns to fit what I needed so I ended up making them myself, using trial and error. When Natalie asked me to review the book, So Pretty! Crochet! Inspiration and Instructions for 24 Stylish Projects, I was hesitant; I felt like I had already seen every book and pattern on the market. For me, crochet books rarely used the right kind of yarn, they were at times overly wordy, the photos weren’t always helpful, the patterns were sometimes hard to read, etc. As you can tell, I’m a harsh critic when it comes to this type of book.
However, as I scanned through the pages of So Pretty! Crochet, I felt inspired. We adapted a pattern from this book to make the nesting bowls found on page 115. Instead of using the cotton yarn they suggest, we made our own yarn out of ½ inch strips of the organic cotton jersey fabric that we use to make our yarn balls. The bowls seemed a unique use for our scrap materials. The instructions in the book are easy to follow and exact, when using yarn. Our sizing is slightly different because we used cotton jersey rope rather than cotton yarn, but it doesn’t cause much of a problem. I used the size crochet hook they suggested, but you may want to experiment to see which size hook works best for you.
The warm months in the south are a little extra-warm for us in the studio, so we are always looking for an excuse to cool down- even when having our afternoon coffee. What better way to cool down your afternoon coffee than with ice cream?
The first time I had an affogato was at a friend’s home during one of her “fancy” dinner parties. She always had a knack for making me feel special, pulling out her best dishes, even when it was just the two of us.