I have known many storytellers in my life. Some have a natural and unrehearsed style that feels captivating and immediate; some present new or unfamiliar points of view; others are quite deliberate and thoughtful in approach; all of them are enthralling to me. As a storyteller born into a family of storytellers, I find master storyteller Gael Towey both compelling and inspiring. She has a distinct perspective and is skilled at many things: crafting a storyline, discovering and highlighting the unique qualities of her subjects, eliciting a response from the audience, and designing beautiful visual elements. Her work has informed contemporary visual language in a way we can barely imagine.
I was lucky to be among Gael’s subjects as part of her series of short films about artists called “Portraits in Creativity” www.portraitsincreativity.com (and I especially love her piece on friend and heroine Maira Kalman). Each of her portraits uncover the unique qualities of her subjects and reveal Towey’s fascination with the creative process. For over two years, we have been speaking with Gael about her past, her present, and the creative processes, media, and methods she uses to propel her ideas forward.
Gael was raised in New Jersey and was the oldest of six children. She revealed that, as a child, she was mildly dyslexic and almost flunked the second and third grade because she couldn’t spell; she reversed all her consonants and vowel combinations. She was drawn to art and studied it enthusiastically through college. “I loved printmaking and accidentally signed up for a class in typography, and I fell in love with it from the first lecture,” Towey says. “I’d never looked at the design of a letter and had not noticed how beautiful they are.” She switched her major to graphic design and graduated from Boston University, College of Fine Arts. Gael said, “I was extraordinarily lucky. I have met so many young people who don’t know what they want to do, but I always knew. I struggled academically and art was the only thing I was good at… And it’s funny that I wound up working in the publishing business since I had no confidence in my ability to write properly.”
Gael worked on the book, In the Russian Style, with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
I met Julien Archer when he was only sixteen, in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. I was leading a workshop at the Visual Arts Center there. He was a creative and enterprising sophomore in high school who had already started a screen-printing business (and had designed shirts for the venue where we were holding the event). A few years later, I was reintroduced to Julien at our first Makeshift event in New York City. He was living there at the time and expressed that he was ready for a change. So, I laughingly replied, “Move to Alabama!”
The two of us kept in touch and, several months later, he attended a Studio Weekend workshop at The Factory with his mother (and sometimes Alabama Chanin Trunk Show hostess). During that weekend, I had dinner with the two of them and offered Julien a three-month apprenticeship here in Alabama. Surprisingly, he accepted and – two years later – he is still here. A prolific member of our design team, he also works as a pattern maker and helps manage operations at Building 14.
Last year, I was introduced to Inez Holden over a glass of dry white wine at a fundraising event in our community. Mrs. Holden’s story, told with humor and passion, reminded me that the fashion industry runs deep here in our community. Before Alabama Chanin and Billy Reid, there was Bubbles Ltd.
As Alabama Chanin continues to explore the world of machine-made fashion with our new line and manufacturing division, A. Chanin and Building 14, respectively, Mrs. Holden reminded me that we humbly follow in a line of companies that completely designed and manufactured a fashion line in The Shoals and the surrounding area.
We’ve previously spoken about the rich history of textile production in our community and some of the local manufacturers who led the nation in textile and t-shirt production, but we were excited to discover Bubbles Ltd.
Around 1983, Mrs. Holden got her start as a designer quite by accident. She bought an oversized top and banded bottom pant that she loved the style and fit of, but the material was very rough and scratchy. So, she asked a friend of hers to help her make more sets in a similar style, but out of jersey fabric. She had about five sets of these pantsuits made in different colors, but kept giving them away because so many of her friends and family wanted them.
Maria Popova is the founder of Brain Pickings, a website designed to introduce you to a broad variety of subjects that feed one’s mind and inspire creativity. Since founding Brain Pickings, Maria has spent countless hours researching and writing – hours that have taught her many life lessons. In honor of the website’s 7th birthday last fall, she was generous enough to share 7 things she learned from those 7 years of reading, writing, and living.
The 7 Lessons:
- Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.
- Do nothing out of guilt, or for prestige, status, money or approval alone.
- Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words.
- Build pockets of stillness into your life.
- Maya Angelou famously said, ‘When people tell you who they are, believe them’. But even more importantly, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.
- Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. As Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
- Debbie Millman captures our modern predicament beautifully: “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.”
We often speak about our home, our state, and our community that provides an incredible amount of inspiration for our work. We are not alone: friend and occasional collaborator, Billy Reid, also headquarters in the same community. It has been mentioned (and is remarkable) that Alabama has the third largest membership in the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), numbering at two; we rank just behind New York and California. And just as there is a rich history of textile production in our community, there is a somewhat unknown or unrecognized group of designers that have emerged from our home state.
Based on feedback that we have received from some of our DIY customers, we are now offering supplementary instructions in each of our DIY Kits. Each kit will be shipped with an insert that includes basic instructions, including how to “love your thread,” directions on completing basic stitches, simple construction tips, and how to add rib binding to your item. We hope that this will help make completing your DIY project easy and stress-free. As always, complete instructions for projects can be found in the Alabama Studio Book series.
We have recently been highlighting natural dyes and Alabama Chanin’s new dye house, run by our head seamstress, Diane. This project highlights the beautiful new shades of indigo that are emerging from our dye vats, shown here on one of our most popular silhouettes – the Camisole Tank. The tank can be adapted to fit almost any body type and its simple design is well suited for most stencils and embroidery techniques.
The tank is form fitting and features feminine back and necklines. It measures approximately 25” from the shoulder.
Garden & Gun magazine, in partnership with the Savannah College of Art and Design, has launched their fifth annual Made in the South Awards.
The awards are split into five categories: Food, Drink, Style + Design, Outdoors, and Home.
Entries for Southern-made products are being accepted through August 1, 2014. For more information on joining the competition, visit here.
Natalie will be judging the Style + Design category. Stay tuned for more information soon… (and good luck).
The July Swatch of the Month demonstrates one of our popular beaded embroidery techniques, the Satin Stars design. This technique is highlighted in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, where you can view an in-depth fabric map of the embroidery. Use the Satin Stars design to add embellishment using either an allover or placement technique, as it works well in both small and large quantities.
An enlargeable version of this stencil can be found on page 128 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design or you can download a version from our Resources page. Transfer the stencil to your fabric using the stenciling method of choice.
Begin working the smaller star shapes first. You will fill the “arms” of each small star using a satin stitch, adding one seed bead or chop bead to each stitch. (See page 84 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design for more information on the satin stitch.) Next, you will work a beaded backstitch – adding one bugle bead to each stitch – around the inner circle of each small star shape. Fill the center circle of the small stars with full chop or seed beading.
We’ve written before about the importance of color – from a cultural standpoint and a design perspective. At Alabama Chanin, we tend to embrace more muted tones for our design color palette. Muted colors have a reduced intensity, so any saturated color stands out in comparison. We are drawn toward natural tones and some of our fabrics are colored with natural dyes to create rich, pure shades of color.
When it comes to individual style, our feelings about color can be personal; a color can make you feel happy or sad, energetic or depressed. Colors can transmit mood, thought, and feeling. When discussing the best way to exhibit the color options for our DIY projects, Olivia – a member of our design team – suggested that we approach the display as an art project. The result of her work, this wrapped canvas, is beautiful, simple, and focuses the viewer’s attention directly on color. Anything else you take from this, like your thoughts on color, is personal.
The Alabama Chanin Gore Skirt is one of our more popular DIY items because it is a simple design that is the perfect canvas for a wide variety of colors, stencils, and embroidery techniques. Shown here in reverse appliqué in our Magdalena design, the skirt sits low on the waist and flares to the hem—creating a beautiful, flowing silhouette.
Using our Custom DIY options, you can choose every aspect of a reverse appliqué garment to fit your style and personality. For instance, you can go for a subtle, yet beautiful tone-on-tone approach, as we have shown here. Or, you may choose a high contrast option for your backing and top layers. The Gore Skirt featured here is just one example of how you might create your own garment.