For those of you who sew often, you likely understand how something as simple as draping fabric can also be very complex. For those of you who don’t, or who are novice sewers, the technique of fabric draping can involve more than just hanging fabric in a lovely way. It is not likely that a Roman emperor casually tossed a bed sheet over his shoulder one day and called it a toga, just as it isn’t likely that a lovely red carpet gown accidentally folds so perfectly around the waist of a posing starlet.
Technically, draping is the ability of a fabric to fall under its own weight into wavy folds. There are different strategies based upon the weight and stiffness of the fabric, its flexibility and tendency to stretch, and the general effect of gravity upon the fabric. Some softer, more flexible fabrics will make drapes that ripple and are more form fitting; stiffer and thicker fabrics will have less flow. When designing patterns, adding draping to your design increases the pattern-making difficulty immensely.
Since the SFA Symposium last fall, the dresses have been at our home studio in Florence, waiting for the perfect place to display again. They still have as rich a hickory smell as the day they were smoked.
Expect award-winning barbeque from Jim ‘N Nick’s, cocktails and beer, and live music to celebrate the evening. Make sure to bring an appetite.
Yesterday, I wrote about my appreciation of hand-painted signs, inspired by the book Sign Painters, authored by friend Faythe Levinewith 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.
This past February, Alabama Chanin partnered with the team at Craftsy, an online community of makers who offer projects, craft ideas, and courses on dozens of topics. Our online class, Hand-Embellishing Knit Fabric: Stenciling, Appliqué, Beading, and Embroidery, has provided us with a new way to interact with our fellow makers and has given us the opportunity to share just a few of the techniques that we teach in our Workshops.
We have talked before about the concept of online learning and how the Internet is making education opportunities that were once expensive and inconvenient cheaper and more accessible. Enrolling in online courses takes geography out of the equation. It is no longer essential to sit in a physical classroom with other participants. You don’t have to plan your life around when classes are scheduled. Online classes, like our Craftsy course, allow you the opportunity to learn the same stitches and techniques as someone on the other side of the country, or the world.
At Alabama Chanin, we practice Slow Design, which focuses on producing goods in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. The intent is to design clothing and home goods that are made from sustainable raw materials using environmentally sound methods, resulting in beautiful, healthy, and long-lasting products. We want to create connections with our customers and for Alabama Chanin pieces to be used and worn for many years, to be incorporated into the life of a customer.
Our business model and method of production is based on sustainable practices. Rather than purchase low cost materials and manufacture products quickly and cheaply, we opt for a Made-in-the-USA approach, using local, artisanal labor sources. To-date, Alabama Chanin items have been made entirely by hand, without any machine work.
We have written before about the rich manufacturing and textile history present in our community. The Shoals area and surrounding communities were working fabric and textile materials beginning in the late 1800’s. Those earlier years were often unkind to the mill workers and their families who worked long hours, lived in factory-owned apartments, and shopped in factory-owned stores. But, as the Industrial Revolution gave way to reform, textile manufacturing stayed in our community and flourished. Eventually, it was something that we in The Shoals were known for, as we were often called the “T-Shirt Capital of the World.”
Terry Wylie’s family founded Tee Jay’s Manufacturing Co. here in Florence in 1976, and in doing so became the foundation for a local industry. Whole families were known to work together, producing t-shirts and cotton products. Typical of our community, the company and the employees were loyal to one another. It was common for an employee to stay at Tee Jays for decades. Our Production Manager, Steven, worked for the Wylie family for years – for a time, working in the same building where Alabama Chanin is currently housed. It was this way until the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Tee Jays and other local manufacturers eventually shuttered all domestic manufacturing. It was an undeniably tough hit for a community that had “worked” cotton for most of its existence. Some of those who hand stitch for us once worked in mills and lost their jobs when plants here in Alabama closed and moved to cheaper locations. This move left our building, once a thriving manufacturing center, an empty shell, as you can see from the picture above. Machines like the ones below were moved elsewhere, and the resounding hum of our once busy manufacturing community was silenced.
Most of us don’t really think about color, or what color is or how it’s made, and yet our entire day is filled with too many shades to count or record. In Victoria Finlay’s 2002 book, Color: A Natural History of the Palette, she writes, “the first challenge in writing about colors is that they don’t really exist. Or rather they do exist, but only because our minds create them as an interpretation of vibrations that are happening around us.”
This leaves quite a bit of objective opinion about color, much of it based on what we are physiologically able to absorb and interpret. The human eye perceives color in different ways, often depending on how light affects the color we are observing. We’ve all witnessed the changing shades of green in the trees or greys and reds on the buildings around us from dawn to dusk as the temperature and quality of light shifts throughout the day. Each person sees color in different ways, notices subtle differences, and has a biased personal interpretation of color. Isn’t one of the first things we learn to answer about ourselves as children, what’s your favorite color?
This year, with MAKESHIFT 2013, we expand ideas that were born from MAKESHIFT 2012 to create a global conversation among artists, designers, and makers. The first part of the MAKESHIFT 2013 SERIES took place at the Standard, East Village where panelists and conversation guides Cathy Bailey – Heath Ceramics, Rosanne Cash – Singer/Songwriter, Natalie Chanin – Alabama Chanin, Jessamyn Hatcher – Professor of Global Studies, NYU, Nathalie Jordi – People’s Pops/Writer/Author, Tift Merritt – Singer/Songwriter, Andrew Wagner – Krrb, and Kristen Wentrcek – Wintercheck Factory, shared their stories and experiences involving collaborative projects and making within their industries. Throughout the evening, guests were invited to express their thoughts from the conversations, literally or conceptually, using an organic cotton tote bag from Alabama Chanin as a blank canvas. A variety of materials were also provided to design, decorate, and customize each bag.
Earlier this year, we featured artist, friend, and collaborator, Anna Maria Horner. As that week came to a close, we were inspired by Anna Maria’s elaborate needlepoint projects and decided we would experiment with more involved embroidery techniques ourselves. For our first project, the Embroidered Flowers T-shirt, we mixed traditional embroidery stitch work with retro patterns using modern silhouettes. We adapted a vintage McCall’s pattern for the floral embroidery design and used the Alabama Chanin T-shirt pattern as the base. The result was relatively simple to complete.
For this project, our Garden Geometry Skirt, inspired by Anna Maria’s pattern of the same name (and available in Anna Maria’s Needleworks Notebook), we adapted our Swing Skirt, creating intricate embroidery designs on a larger scale. In her book, Anna Maria writes, “this is by far the most straightforward approach I have made toward the traditional way of creating a crewel design.” As she also mentions, the pattern lends itself to enlargement and experimentation. The result is a colorful expression of our experimentation. Make your own Garden Geometry Skirt using fabric and thread colors that suit your personal style. There are stitch and pattern diagrams available in Anna Maria’s Needleworks Notebook that can help direct your design.