This text – some of our most important sewing tips at Alabama Chanin – is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design (which we plan to receive and start shipping around the 15th of this month). It is important to us at Alabama Chanin that we as a humanity (women and men – girls and boys) take back the essential survival skill of hand-sewing, and that we also understand the physics behind the clothing that shelters our bodies. It’s as simple as picking up needle and thread.
Old Wives’ Tales and Physics
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of old wives’ tales around the sewing room, but I’ve come to learn that many of these tales find truth in everyday life. And as tale after tale has proven true, I’ve also come to understand that there’s reason, or “physics,” behind them.
Needle your thread; don’t thread your needle:
This makes perfect sense in that the thread is the weaker of the two elements and easily moves or bends. Moving the more stable element—the needle—over the thread to “needle the thread” makes this a simple task.
After a few months and a busy holiday season, I’ve finally begun to process the experiences of my momentous trip to Oxford, Mississippi, for the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. I left the event full of delicious food and copious amounts of knowledge. More specifically, Elizabeth Engelhardt’s talk, “Tales from the South’s Forgotten Locavores,” filled my hungry mind with questions on how I can contribute to the preservation of heirloom fruits, vegetables, and plants.
On the 18th of November last year, Natalie held a Facebook Chat about Design Process + Manufacturing as part of her EcoSalon Post titled: From Field to Fashion. Here is a synopsis of the conversation that unfolded. Keep the conversation going in the comments section of this post and come back each week to read our post for Sustainable Design Tuesdays. Thank you to everyone who joined us that Friday afternoon.
Tammy Abramovitz: Well, I would like to take this opportunity to voice my adoration of you and your company! Love all things Alabama Chanin!!!!
AC: Thank you Tammy!
Doc Waller: Same here, The Layman Group and I are fans as well!
Amy DuFault: Natalie, what was the first piece of clothing/design you ever created?
AC: I started sewing with my grandmothers… so, I would have to say that the first piece was way back then. But, the first piece I sewed “Alabama Style” was a t-shirt – of course.
Penland School of Crafts is a magical institution nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its mission and philosophy are as inspiring as the surrounding landscape, and believe me- it’s an incredible setting. I first learned of Penland as a student at the NCSU College of Design. As a young mother with little time and no money, Penland seemed so out of reach. My son, Zach, wasn’t even two when I started university and I was barely twenty; there was never time for more than being mom, working, and school and the ends never seemed to meet.
At the suggestion of one of my professors I applied for a Studio Assistantship. Luckily for me, the stars aligned and I was admitted – the rest is history. My mother helped with Zach, Penland took care of tuition, and I learned to dream of design. I’m still living that dream and will be forever grateful for that single summer that changed everything.
My son is now 30 – and expecting a child of his own. (Yes! I am going to be a grandmother!) I visited Penland for a few days last summer in anticipation of teaching for two weeks this coming summer. Life comes full circle.
Check out our post today @ EcoSalon:
Sewing for Humankind
There was a time – not so long ago on humanity’s calendar – that sewing was not considered “women’s work,” but rather a tool for survival.
Hunter/gatherers looking for food on a cold winter’s day, some miles from their camp, might have a shoe wear through and break – and their ability to sew that shoe back together in a simple repair stitch might have meant the difference between safe return to the camp, the loss of a foot to frostbite – or an even worse fate, death.
It is thought that healers began to sew human wounds back together in ancient Egypt – formed as a unified state around 3150 BC – and most likely before. Over 5000 years ago, sewing was taught, not as craft, but as a survival skill necessary to human life. In fact, a heavy-duty needle and thread for repairing clothing and equipment (and sewing one’s own flesh) is still included in first aid and survival kits today.
Sewing was an invention that greatly aided our advancement as a people and it is believed that needle and thread existed as early as 15,000 years ago.
Thank you notes are an integral part of a Southern woman’s upbringing. We are taught to be grateful, always say please and thank you, and appreciate the many gifts in life. This is how I was raised and this is how I choose to raise my daughter Maggie. I want her to grow up with a grateful manner. I want her to be thankful for all that life has to offer.
However in this busy day-and-age, I often forget or don’t seem to find time for a personal, hand-written thank you note. I plan to remedy that situation and I’m just now getting to my holiday thank you list. To those on my list, please be patient with us. We WILL make more time to sit with pen, scissors, and paper over the next weeks.
Biscuits are a popular topic of conversation here at Alabama Chanin. We’ve enjoyed their flaky goodness in friends’ company at Blackberry Farm, pondered the great question of butter or lard (butter trumps here), and – of course – given you our favorite recipe in Alabama Stitch Book. Just when we think we know all there is to know about biscuits, Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart teach us even more in their glorious cookbook, Southern Biscuits, that pays homage to the floury, doughy concoctions. Continue reading
When I began work at Alabama Chanin almost 10 years ago, I had no concept of what the company did or what it would eventually mean to me. I walked into my interview in my only suit, having answered an advertisement in the paper. As soon as I found out what the company did, I broke into a cold sweat.
Luckily for me, they hired me. As I worked each day at my computer, I would glance over at the beautiful garments being produced with a jealous eye. I wanted to know how to make things as amazing as these. But I didn’t know how.
Natalie has often talked about the importance of preserving the “living arts,” those things that are essential to our survival – things that we as a society have forgotten or simply chosen not to learn. I was a perfect example of the person who never learned these skills.
My mother cooked family dinners, but she worked hard all day and it sometimes seemed a joyless task for her. She could make delicious meals, but after a day’s work it was often a chore. I was always fascinated to watch my paternal grandmother – a former cafeteria cook – craft large, luscious meals. I would watch pots bubble on the stove all day, their contents creating amazing smells. She was happy as she stirred those sauces or rolled out her biscuits; there was real joy and pride there. I wanted to understand it.
“Last winter, I came into possession of the papers of an émigré psychiatrist who practiced in New York in the late 1940s and 1950s,” Janet Malcolm explains in an article in the New York Review of Books. Malcolm is describing a set of papers she found and used as both inspiration and materials for her collages. These works were exhibited in a show, Janet Malcolm: Free Associations, that ran through January 14, 2012, at Lori Bookstein Fine Art in New York City. This sentence was also posted in the gallery.
I used to go sit at Tom Hendrix’ wall to think, particularly on days when I thought I couldn’t take running my business anymore. I would ask Mr. Hendrix over and over again, “Where do you find the passion and will to continue creating 25, 26, 27 years into your work?” He would patiently listen to me, laugh, and tell me to go sit in the prayer circle. It always worked. Eventually the wall came to change my entire life – but that is a story for later. Come back in a few weeks to read the rest. This is the story of “The Wall,” as I know it.