Past & Present is a collection of essays on decorative art history and DIY projects by Design Sponge columnist, Amy Azzarito. Grace Bonney, founder of the very popular Design Sponge website, first met Amy while working on a video project at the New York Public Library. The two became instant friends, as Grace was impressed with Amy’s knowledge and passion for design and the history behind it. Thus the column, Past & Present, was born. In this book, Amy highlights some of her favorite styles in the history of decorative arts and pairs her essays with advice from various designers on creating DIY projects that reflect the eras she writes about.
We chose to create one of the projects, using our 100% organic cotton jersey, to make a Shaker-style hanging lamp.
Yesterday, we heard from Heather Wylie about her Bohemian Bop venture, her love of printmaking, and how she got into screen printing t-shirts. Today, Heather shares with us a recipe for screen printing at home, based on her own self-taught experience and by following You Tube videos and a few books on the subject, including Printing by Hand: A Modern Guide to Printing with Handmade Stamps, Stencils and Silk Screens by Lena Corwin, which we wrote about here a few years ago.
As Heather mentioned yesterday, printmaking requires many steps and each step demands careful attention in order to get the desired outcome. Anyone can print at home, but it is a lengthy process.
Heather Wylie is the daughter of Alabama Chanin friend and mentor Terry Wylie, and a welcome creative force in our shared factory space on Lane Drive. Heather is recently graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York, where she earned an MFA in Design and Technology. She learned printmaking as an undergrad at the University of Alabama, and it is her love of printing and her ingrained knowledge of the t-shirt business (thanks to Dad) that led her to create Bohemian Bop, a line of hand-printed, silkscreen and lace embellished tee shirts. We visited Heather’s studio to learn a little more about Bohemian Bop, her love of print making, and the future for Heather Wylie.
This summer’s harvest has begun to reveal its bounty. Tomatoes and cucumbers are in full-swing and soon I will have all of the squash and zucchini I can stand (and plenty for the neighbors) not to mention, beautiful Italian basil, which I love with a tomato sandwich. I recently received this book, Vintage Craft Workshop, from friend and author Cathy Callahan. The macramé planter project immediately caught my eye and got me thinking about the possibility of year-round fresh basil and mint.
In my mind, I am planning several hanging pots that will live just inside a large window, where they will get lots of sun. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of hanging pots are the macramé plant holders in my home in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. They ran along the kitchen wall in varying heights, usually filled with ferns and the random “Spider Plant” (Chlorophytum comosum). Here, we attempted our own Alabama Chanin version, to test out the sizes we could make, the height, and how they would look made with our cotton jersey pulls. No surprise – they look exactly as I remember them.
Kristen Wentrcek is the founder, owner, designer, and creative director of Wintercheck Factory, a Brooklyn, New York, manufacturer producing American-made, design-focused goods for living. Wintercheck Factory began designing and manufacturing furniture in 2009 and soon after, expanded into soft goods, including apparel, accessories, and home goods with a balance of aesthetic and functionality.
During MAKESHIFT 2013, Kristen Wentrcek joined us as a presenter and moderator for MAKESHIFT @ The Standard, an evening of conversation and making centered around the concepts of fashion, food, design, craft, and DIY and where they intersect. As a presenter, she helped lead the conversation, moving between three groups of makers and along with other presenters, shared her experiences with starting and running Wintercheck Factory, and how the elements of fashion, food, design, craft, and DIY have impacted her venture. She also re-crafted the above tote for the MAKESHIFT Conversations Image Quilt.
Kristen joins us today for a brief Q&A about Wintercheck Factory, making, American manufacturing, and MAKESHIFT.
While we are known for our elaborate hand-sewn, hand-embellished garments, collaboration has long been an integral part of our philosophy. My cousin’s family owns MTM Recognition in Princeton, Illinois, where they make an array of hand-made jewelry pieces produced by skilled craftsmen. When the opportunity to create jewelry together came up, the idea of capturing the texture of cotton jersey fabric and the detail of hand embroidery into a bracelet felt like a natural addition to the Alabama Chanin line. The Cast Fabric Cuff was designed with our hand-sewn, heirloom garments in mind.
In Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory, Cathy N. Davidson writes:
“When the last worker passed through the doors of White Furniture Company in May of 1993, hardly anyone beyond the city limits of Mebane, North Carolina, noticed. In national terms, it made little difference that 203 men and women were out of work or that a venerable, family-owned firm (the ‘South’s oldest maker of fine furniture’) had been sold to a conglomerate and now was being shut down. After all, what happened to White’s is hardly unique. In the 1990s, in every walk of life and on all social levels, Americans have had to learn a new vocabulary of economic anxiety – layoff, outsourcing, buyout, off-shoring, downsizing, closing. The statistics are mind-numbing: 70,000 people laid off from General Motors in 1991; 50,000 workers from Sears and 63,000 from IBM in 1993; 40,000 from AT&T in 1996. In these times, why should we care about the closing of one furniture factory in a small southern town?”
Davidson’s text accompanies Bill Bamberger’s photographs, which document the closing of this small American factory and capture the artisans, many of whom were masters of their craft. White’s Furniture Company operated by assembly line, though many of the details were executed by hand. The company was small, almost unknown, but to people in the know, White’s was regarded as one of the highest quality furniture crafters in America. Though Closing was published in 1999, nearly fifteen years ago, the trend of downsizing and outsourcing has continued, and our American factories have all but disappeared. Production, as we well know, has mostly been shipped overseas.
I’ve been thinking about painting my back porch and deck white since it was built last summer. After all, we spend about fifty percent of our time out there. I’ve long disliked the toxicity of commercial paints on the market. Most common indoor and outdoor household paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs contain a variety of chemicals, some of which give off noxious fumes and may have short term or long term adverse health effects. According to the EPA, levels of some VOCs are 2 to 5 times higher inside a home than outside; when you are painting or stripping paint in your home, particularly in older homes where lead paint may have been used in the past, indoor levels of VOCs may be 1000 times that of outdoor levels. I’ve used VOC-free paints for all of my indoor and outdoor painting since they came on the market some years back.
In thinking about my outdoor living area, I wanted to investigate additional ways to paint more safely, and came across two options that I could possibly make myself: whitewash and milk paint. Whitewashing, which many of us remember from Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, was commonly used for years because it is inexpensive, can be homemade, and homeowners could use ingredients they had on-hand, improvising their own recipes. It is still used in rural areas to protect wooden surfaces like fences and barns, or by designers who want to give furniture a rustic look. The mixture’s base is always lime and water, which makes a chalky type of plaster. Then, ingredients might be added to thicken or strengthen the mixture, like flour, glue, sugar, soap, soil, or milk.
Yesterday, I wrote about my appreciation of hand-painted signs, inspired by the book Sign Painters, authored by friend Faythe Levine with Sam Macon. Faythe and Sam have directed a documentary – also called Sign Painters, as a companion to the book.
In 2008, Faythe co-authored and directed a book and film, both named Handmade Nation: The Rise of Craft and DIY. We welcomed her to Alabama last April for our Visiting Artist Series, where she highlighted “craftivism” and brought her light-hearted stories to the Factory. This summer she has taken Sign Painters on the road for a series of screenings.
Faythe has an itinerant spirit. She states in the book’s preface, “Many of my earliest memories involve travel, much of which was by car. I’d stare out the window of the family station wagon and watch America transition from one place to the next.”
Growing up in small town Florence, Alabama, a trip into downtown meant a visit to colorful shops, recognized by equally colorful signs. Ye Ole General Store had a block letter, serif-type sign across the entrance way and inside, we could find canteens and hats and overalls for backyard battles and explorations. Next, we’d walk to Court Street and look for the black and orange store front that meant Wilson’s Fabrics. The simple lettering, enhanced by the high contrast color choices, told my grandmother to come right in – the “Tall Man with the Low Prices” had just the cotton and muslin she needed. Finally, the best part of our trip was our visit to Trowbridge’s for hot dogs and milk shakes. The hand painted awning, with its swirling cursive script, told us we were headed in the right direction. The front window advertises: SANDWICHES, ICE CREAM, SUNDAES. We would slide into a booth and look at the hand-painted menu hanging behind the ice cream counter. That beautiful menu is still there today, challenging me to choose between the hot dog and the chicken salad sandwich. I think the town would riot if it were ever taken down.
This sentimental love I have for hand painted signs was rejuvenated when friend and fellow maker, Faythe Levine, and her co-writer Sam Macon published Sign Painters. This book chronicles the histories and modern-day stories of sign painters. In the 1980’s and 90’s, the art of painting signs became doomed to obscurity, or worse -extinction- with the invention and widespread use of vinyl lettering and digital design. In today’s world, full of Adobe software and inflatable dancing tube men, it is hard to remember that every grocery store sale sign, billboard, storefront, and banner was once carefully designed and painted by hand.