The tote bag has almost completely replaced all other sorts of bags in my house. I have different types of bags for different purposes. There are organic canvas totes in a variety of sizes for trips to the grocery store and for holding my laptop and supplies as they are ferried between my home and office, plus smaller bags to keep Maggie’s school supplies and lunch in one place as we travel between home and school. Hers are clearly marked in case they wander off somewhere. I have wicker market baskets to hold large, heavy loads from the farmer’s market and a sizeable leather tote for when I need to carry an arm’s load of items to an event.
The tote bag has been described as the new “purse” by Style.com, Vogue, and the likes. And as the desire for sustainable living increases, the increased usage of the tote bag, particularly in place of plastic shopping bags or other disposable carrier bags, is a more than welcome sight.
Last weekend, some of our team traveled down to Montgomery, Alabama for the second annual Southern Makers event. Southern Makers is a one-day experience that celebrates innovation and creativity of all types of makers in Alabama. The day is filled with everything from panel discussions and live music, to cooking demonstrations and workshops. Some of the top talents working in design, architecture, fashion, and food throughout the state are celebrated each year.
Maker booths are organized by region; North, Central, and South Alabama were all represented at this year’s event. Alabama Chanin set up shop next to our several of our neighbors and friends, including artist Audwin McGee, Scout By Two, Billy Reid, Zkano, and Butch Anthony.
In continuing our collaborations with partners that share our sustainable philosophies and values, Alabama Chanin is proud to launch a line of hats alongside our current collection. The hats, designed and manufactured by Leigh Magar of Magar Hatworks, were also inspired by the same photographs that served as inspiration for our most recent collection: Three For a Dime photographs of families during the 1930s and 1940s in rural Arkansas.
Leigh’s sustainable design philosophy includes utilizing old techniques and craft, while embracing artful and unique design.
“I use the original process of hand making hats,” she explains. “The hat blocking technique—using antique wooden hat forms to create shapes. Each hat is steam shaped, hand sewn, and then adorned by hand.”
Our team experiments with all types of fabric manipulation here at Alabama Chanin. We have used ruffles to create texture in our textiles and jewelry; have featured crochet work in our collections and projects, and love how something so simple as a knot can add complexity and depth to a piece. In Alabama Stitch Book, we showed how fabric might be used to repair and repurpose farm chairs – an idea that we explored further in our MAKESHIFT 2013 Chair Workshop. Lately, the team has been experimenting with a large floor loom in The Factory. I have long wanted to incorporate rugs into our lifestyle collections, which would also be a wonderful way for us to utilize scraps and decrease waste. I remember my grandmother saving fabric to make rag rugs and there was always a rag rug in front of her sink.
In its most basic definition, weaving is a way to produce fabric using two sets of thread, yarn, or fabric, that are interlaced to form cloth. The longitudinal threads are called the “warp” and the lateral threads are the “weft.” Though hand and finger weaving is suitable for small projects, larger fabrics are usually woven on a loom.
Weavers have been valued craftspeople almost since the beginning of humankind. Very rudimentary woven cloth has been found in prehistoric graves and settlements. Tens of thousands of years ago, man began to develop string by twisting together plant fibers. Weaving together this primitive string by hand was the next logical step. The first, crude weaving looms were likely developed in the Neolithic Era. Weaving looms were developed from this basic form in China, where silk from silkworm cocoons was utilized and the weaving of this silk was a well-defined craft.
I have a deep respect and admiration for the work happening at Rural Studio, located in Hale County, Alabama. Founded in 1993 by the late Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee and D.K. Ruth, the studio is now celebrating its 20th anniversary.
After having the chance to visit the stunning Yancey Chapel in 2008, I noted on the Journal that “the work and life of Samuel Mockbee is a yardstick for us to hold up to our lives each and every day to take measure of the road that we walk on this planet.”
I will be heading to Hale County this weekend, for a special dinner and pig roast as part of their yearlong 20th anniversary celebration. My friend (and acclaimed chef) Scott Peacock is preparing the menu and family-style meal. The evening will be a celebration of Rural Studio and an acknowledgement of their ongoing community project at Rural Studio Farm—where students are working to construct a greenhouse, irrigation system, planter beds, and more. In fact, a few of the vegetables that will be served over the weekend were grown by students at the farm. The Hale County community is contributing to the dinner, providing fresh hen eggs for deviled eggs and the local pig that was raised to be roasted just for this occasion. Friends of Rural Studio are also making contributions—Alabama Chanin donated 170 organic cotton jersey napkins for the event, which students of the studio will manipulate and design for the dinner. It will be an evening filled with laughter, community, delicious food, and storytelling.
Long-time friend and artist Jack Sanders is also an architect, filmmaker, and baseball enthusiast. He is the founder of Design Build Adventure, a full-service “design, build, and adventure company” that focuses on collaboration.
I first met Jack when he was a student of Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee of the Rural Studio. I sent him a box of t-shirts (which he never returned) in the hopes that I could convince Rural Studio to come up to Florence and build us a production facility. (It turns out that work outside of the Black Belt wasn’t possible.) But Jack (then known as “Jay”) and I remained friends. Years later, he co-produced a feature-length documentary on Sambo, called Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio which won many accolades.
As you may remember, our MAKESHIFT initiative asks the questions: How do we define and transform the intersection of fashion, food, design, craft + DIY through innovation and collaboration for the better good? How can varied disciplines work together as one?
“We are celebrating a generation of makers. We are reshaping how people consume and interpret the handmade. I want to remind people that craft is what you make it… It is a labor of love, appreciation, and respect.”
–Faythe Levine, Handmade Nation
At Alabama Chanin, we like to describe ourselves as makers and educators, working to elevate and merge design, craft, and fashion. We hope to see you this week at The Factory and that you may be inspired to create something yourself…
Here is what we have going on at The Factory Store + Café this week, Monday, February 24 – Friday, February 28:
This week, we are having an in-store special on stenciled fat eighths. Come browse our Studio Style DIY section, and receive a 15% discount on our selection of fat eighths—9” x 20” pieces from our 100% organic cotton jersey. They are perfect for quilting, appliqué, placement reverse appliqué, and small projects.
These days it’s rare that I get the chance to sit down and read. Between second grade homework and taking out the compost (which seems an endless—and perpetually thankless—chore), my days don’t involve moments to sit, read, and ponder. In fact, “pondering” seems to have become a lost art in our busy, busy, busy (badge of honor) lives.
So, it was with relish that between listening to “Mary Had a Little Lamb” played on our new piano (43+ times—right hand, left hand, right hand, left hand, and one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four…) and watching Spy Kids: All The Time In The World, I was able to thoroughly read the new Garden & Gun magazine—cover to cover. And what an issue it is: Patterson Hood, Do-It-Yourself Moon Pies (more on this story next Wednesday), and Classic Southern Drinks (my personal favorite).
Scout By Two is a collaboration of two artists, via Alabama and New York. Marisa Keris and Constance Sepulveda met while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, and their shared aspiration to design and make products they’d use themselves led them to launch Scout By Two earlier this year. “Our mission is to seek and extract the spirit of vintage goods. Inspired by American style and tradition, we integrate natural materials to create modern, functional works of art,” says Marisa, who resides and works in the Shoals.
If you have visited The Factory Store, you’ve seen Scout by Two’s handmade collection featured in our Holiday Market. For a limited time, Alabama Chanin is featuring the Peacemaker Wallet in our online Holiday Gift Guide. The wallet is crafted with waxed canvas, premium vegetable tanned U.S. cowhide, and solid brass hardware. Vegetable tanning is a traditional process that uses bark, roots, and other vegetable matter to convert skins into leather. The leather will gradually soften and develop a patina with exposure to natural elements.
The Memphis, Tennessee-based Shotwell Candy Co. produces delicious, hand-crafted caramels, soon to be some of your favorite things. I learned about the company from John T. Edge of the Southern Foodways Alliance. The company was launched last year in the home kitchen of Jerrod Smith – a corporate lawyer and, now also, confectioner. Jerrod was inspired to create his business by his great-grandfather, L. Shotwell George, also known as “Grandpa Shot”. Grandpa Shot owned a general store in Kentucky, which was always stocked with candy bins full of chewy caramels and other sweets. Jerrod (who admittedly has a sweet tooth, especially for caramels) has recreated timeless flavors through experimentation with complimentary ingredients, such as beer and pretzels, espresso, whiskey, and salt.
We love the Original Salted Caramels, featuring buttery, soft caramel infused with house-made Tennessee whiskey, vanilla extract, and finished with flaky Celtic grey salt. Purchase them in our café or through our online store here.