Tag Archives: Heroes + Heroines

CELEBRATING 10 YEARS OF ARTISANS

For a decade, my work at Alabama Chanin has been made possible by our artisans.  Without them and our amazing staff, there would be no Alabama Chanin.

Many of the artisans working with us today are the very same women who sewed those first deconstructed t-shirts.  I want to express my deep gratitude.  Wielding needle and thread for a decade, they have brought beauty, laughter, amazement and joy to my life and company (not to mention all the garments, home-furnishings and projects along the way).

Over the decade, they have ranged in age from 20 to 80; among them have been secretaries, students, former textile mill employees, retired school teachers, and single mothers. They are mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters, husbands, wives and friends but above all, they have proven talented, committed and proud to do the work they do.

Thanks to each and every one of you who has passed through our door- it has been a wonderful (and still growing) adventure…

*Photos from Elizabeth DeRamus

JULIE GILHART + THE DALAI LAMA

Many of my regular readers know a bit about my history… but to sum it up for those of you that are new:

In the year 1999, I took (what I thought to be) a four month sabbatical from my life and loves in Vienna, Austria. Beginning on an island off the northern coast of Venezuela, my plan was to end my travels in New York City, spend one month, then go home to Vienna.  That never happened.

I went to New York City, one month became two, two months became three and – obviously – I never moved back to Vienna.  In the course of my extended sabbatical, I cut apart and reconstructed a t-shirt and a company called Project Alabama was born.  The history of Project Alabama and my subsequent move to Alabama Chanin has been well documented – no need to elaborate.  However, the simplified version above skips over so many, many people who are intricate to making Alabama Chanin the company that it is today.

Julie Gilhart from Barneys New York is one of these people.  She came to a make-shift “showroom” in the Hotel Chelsea and that first collection of recycled t-shirts came to life.  She consequently went out into the fashion industry and told everyone she met about the work.  Julie and the amazing buyers at Barneys have bought, sold and paid for every subsequent collection since the year 2001 – including the difficult time during the transition from Project Alabama to Alabama Chanin.

I luckily have had the opportunity to get to know Julie Gilhart over the last decade and the honor to call her “friend.”  And through this friendship, I heard the following story about a year ago:

It was the year 2000 and Julie had taken some time at the end of the year to hear a lecture from the Dalai Lama. After this amazing experience, she returned to her office at Barneys early in 2001 to be confronted with a pile of fashion week invitations and catalogs that covered the span of her desk and reached above eye-level.  The sheer amount of information was overwhelming.  She sat there looking at the pile, wondering where to start when a colleague from Barneys stopped by her office.  The visitor picked up a brochure from the Dalai Lama that Julie had lying on her desk, thumbed through and remarked, “This is everything we don’t do.”  Julie looked at the colleague, replied, “You are right.  We have to get out-of-here right now.”  She looked at the pile of invitations and catalogs on her desk, reached for a random item and pulled out a hand-made catalog from a new company:  Project Alabama.

Consequently, Julie called the number on the catalog, took a cab to the Hotel Chelsea, and Alabama Chanin came to life on that day.

Amazing to me that a decade of work can come from one simple moment of faith and belief…  stemming from a committed, brilliant, beautiful, rich, spiritual, whole, funny, light, surfing, friend of a woman.

Since those simple beginnings in 2000, I have had the opportunity to lecture and hold workshops around the globe on sustainability in design and to act as an expert in the fields of micro-economics and the use of local labor.  Alabama Chanin and me, Natalie Chanin, are what we are today because of the unfettered belief and support of Julie Gilhart. I am deeply indebted.

Julie’s recent departure from Barneys New York marks a new milestone in her own personal journey; a journey that I am sure will be filled with richness and beauty.

**T-shirt #90  “Sister Shirt” – shown above – was part of that very first collection and photographed by me.

CITIZEN ARCHITECT

Tune into PBS on MONDAY, AUGUST 23rd, 9PM CST

(AFTER HISTORY DETECTIVES)

for the National Broadcast of

CITIZEN ARCHITECT: SAMUEL MOCKBEE AND THE RURAL STUDIO

More Information Here:   http://video.pbs.org/program/1548466406/

If you can not tune in, check out the website / or facebook page for theatrical screening updates / or buy the DVD online:

http://www.citizenarchitectfilm.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/CITIZEN-ARCHITECT-FILM/285692586601?ref=ts

Bravo to our friends Sam and Jay… and, of course, to Samuel Mockbee – who inspired a generation.

Watch and then plan your road trip to Hale County, Alabama…

CHARLES MOORE: 1931 – 2010

Famed photographer Charles Moore changed the course of American history the only way he knew: with his camera.
The life of our friend, hero, and neighbor will be celebrated this Saturday.
Please join us for an evening of powerful imagery, inspiration, talks, friends, music food and a look at how one man made a difference:
Life Celebration for Photographer
Charles Lee Moore
Saturday, June 5th
7pm at GAS Design Center
109-A West 6th Street
Tuscumbia, Alabama
Powerful Days indeed…
*Photograph of The Selma March by Charles Moore – March 1931 to March 2010

MAMA + THE BABIES

What to say about Anna Maria Horner?

I love her. Not just because of her lovely fabrics. Not because of her books.
Not because of her calming aesthetic. I just really love her.
We have bonded (in short, stolen moments) over everything from food, family, work, studio, children (she has six to my two) and sewing, to illness in our families, gardening, and everyday life.
Before I was able to spend time with Anna Maria, I thought that she might just be – you know – a little too sweet. I mean just look at her. NOT SO, her spunk, cheerful sprit and dry humor overwhelmed me with respect – and side-splitting laughter.
I have been sitting with Handmade Beginnings – her newest book – like a good cup of coffee. What I find most beautiful about the book is how family radiates from every page. She is mother, designer, wife, writer and friend.
Congrats to Anna for a lovely story to add to your library:
I will be making Nesting Cubes for all the babies in my life…
and looking forward to our next visit.
From Handmade Beginnings:”Every family has a story. Each time we’ve welcomed a new baby, the story of our own family has a new beginning. Our children have brought more than their own chapter to our story, but they have, in fact, rewritten the rest of us. The whole family, together and individually, is remade into something it wasn’t before- something we wouldn’t have ever guessed or expected. I have always felt compelled during my pregnancies to make items for the new one. Similar to the quintessential image of an expectant mother working away with her knitting needles on a pair of baby booties, I set out to stack fabrics and ideas in high piles that I can work through as my belly grows. Perhaps its just the typical nesting that all mothers go through, or maybe its nervous energy. Whatever the explanation, answering the desire to create as I await a new baby seems to be my own way of nurturing.”
Congrats to Nicole DeCamp for being our sweepstakes winner! And thank you to everyone who commented and shared their stories… prosperous sewing to all.

WORD OF THE DAY: CELEBRATE

Celebrate – verb:

To observe (a day) or commemorate (an event) with ceremonies or festivities:
Today we celebrate Earth Day and the joy of life.

To make known publicly; proclaim:
The newspaper celebrated the beauty of her life.

To perform with appropriate rites and ceremonies; solemnize:


We will celebrate the light that her life brought to Earth.

While today we begin our Earth Day Celebration @ The Factory, it is a mixed blessing as Tuesday of this week our friend, mentor and local hero Marigail Mathis passed away.    While this is a sad time for all of us, Marigail was the kind of person who made life worth celebrating.  Her vision, joy, enthusiasm, support, laughter and kindred spirit will be sorely missed in my life; however, what she has given to me – through her friendship – will be celebrated eternally.

Celebrate the life of someone you love today.

FISH SOUP

In 1999, at the tail end of the last decade, I chose to leave my life in Vienna, Austria, to spend what I deemed a “sabbatical” on an island off the northern coast of Venezuela called Los Roques. How I got there is a story for another day. What had drawn me there was a woman – Nelly – and “El Canto de la Ballena.” Little did I know that my entire life was about to change.

I credit the beginnings of the work I have done the last ten years with a few months spent on that island. It was a time when hurricanes and storms wreaked havoc and destruction to the coast of Venezuela. I was on this tiny island – due north – as the weather passed through for weeks on end.

I wrote this story in February of 2000 when I had landed in cold New York but still had the stories of Los Roques fresh on my mind… I hope that my translation of Nelly’s words from the original Spanish do her justice.

Fish Soup

The point of the whole thing is food,” she said. “Good food. Real good food. A lot of people have forgotten,” she continued. “Three meals a day, sit down, take your time and eat warm food that is prepared with good ingredients and love. That’s the key,” she stresses, “love. It’s the way it’s washed, it’s the way it’s cut, it is the way one touches and it is the way one thinks as one touches. That,” she said, “is food and food is love.”
–Nelly Camargo, December 1999, Los Roques

Nelly made fish soup that day. I remember that is was one of those first days when the waves began to crash onto the porch. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but I know that by that day, the beach was already gone, taken by the hurricane. And, I definitely remember that it seemed on that day like the waves were coming back for the porch. Soon after this day, we made sandbags because shortly after, the house next door fell into the sea.

The soup took hours. As the weather had been acting up again, everyone had the feeling of being wet and cold. Saying nothing, Nelly just went into the kitchen and started to work. In went the fish, the heads, the bones and just about everything else that could be found in the kitchen and on the island.

I guess that everyone who passed Nelly’s house that day could smell what was going on. So the soup cooked and the word spread, “Nelly is up to something.” And before I knew it, we were five people in the kitchen. Everyone was washing and cutting and chopping and rolling and laughing and talking. I know that I had never seen anything like it before that day. Music blared from the stereo and some were even dancing in the tiny, warm space.

In Nelly’s kitchen there is a window which looks down the hall and out to the sea. When you stand there and see the wooden spoons and the open window and the green-green sea in the background, you cannot help but stand still for a moment and breathe deeply. But that day, no one even looked to the window until about one in the afternoon, when the first faces began to appear.

The islanders were greeted with a big, warm smile and the question, “Are you hungry?” We went on that day to feed what seemed to be the whole island. Many faces and stories and laughter passed through my life that day. Nelly asked everyone, “Have you met Alabama?”

The feast went on into the night and here are a few of the recipes that were made. The fish soup was the best I have ever tasted in my life, but it remains Nelly’s secret. All I can remember is to put in everything you can find (plus coriander – the “spice of life”) and to do it with lots of love and laughter.

Fish in the Pan

Crush 5 cloves of garlic and salt in mortar. Add juice of two limes and a splash of soy sauce Pour over fish fillets and let stand for awhile. Cook the fish on hot skillet with  the marinade.

Zucchini Carpaccio

Grate zucchini with skins into thin rounds. Lay flat on a big plate. Cover with juice of lime, salt, pepper and a little vinegar. Finish by grating parmesan cheese to cover.

Serve.

Red Cabbage

Cut cabbage into very thin strips. (The cutting is very important!) Crush garlic and salt in mortar; add roasted sesame seeds and crush a little bit more. Add vinegar, a little sugar, a little sesame oil and more roasted sesame seeds. Pour over cut cabbage and serve.

Nelly’s Arepa

Mix salt (about one-half teaspoon) and warm water (about three cups) in a big bowl with a tablespoon of oil. To this mixture, add ”P.A.N” or Arepa Flour until dough is of a consistency to roll in your hand. Shape into 1/2” thick rounds and fry in hot oil. Cook until brown. When they are finished, you have to “thump” them. If they are really done, they make a kind of hollow sound.

This is just the basic recipe. You may choose to add white cheese, sesame seeds or just about anything you want to add.


Nelly moved El Canto de la Ballena in January of 2000, just after the storms had stopped. The new building is a bit further from the beach and behind the fishing pier.

I left Los Roques a few weeks after the Y2K panic was over and our world continued to spin; however, I don’t think that we would really have noticed any computer meltdown on that island. I have not laid eyes on Nelly since that time and have not spoken to her for much too long. I hope that she remembers me and will be proud when I say that the seeds for my work with the former Project Alabama and now Alabama Chanin were watered in her kitchen.

LES BLANK

It is an amazing thing in life when your heroes become your friends. And so it is with friend Les Blank.

I rented Gap-Toothed Women in the 1990’s when I was living in Vienna. And then came Burden of Dreams. A clear addiction to documentary films ensued.

Don’t miss this great interview with Les @ Vice Magazine.

MOTHER’S DAY

My grandmother Christine once told me that she “sewed every dress that the girls” – her three daughters – “wore until they left home.” I remember as a little girl how she sewed everything from nightgowns and underwear to prom dresses and quilts.    Although her eyes don’t see well enough to sew these days, she is an inspiration to me and can sit for hours telling stories about fabrics, scraps and how one can tell the weather just by looking at the sky.   I am starting tonight to make “Mamaw Chris” these flowers (pictured here) in time for Mother’s Day on the 10th of May.   If you already own a copy of our Alabama Stitch Book, start making flowers today for your maternal heroes…

**I wanted to name my daughter after Mamaw Chris whose full name is Fanny Christine.  I have loved that name since I can remember hearing it; however, she made me promise that I would not “do that to a girl.”

 

THE SONGBIRDS

Robert Rausch just finished our final catalog and lookbook for The Songbirds…

The photographs are lovely – thank you to Russ Harrington and everyone involved. It was a beautiful process. We are working on updating our website and will soon have this and a slew of other new projects going up. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorites: