When I returned to Alabama over a decade ago to start the project that has become Alabama Chanin, I had NO IDEA that this simple project would surround me with stories of cotton, mill work, and, quite honestly, the history of the small community where I grew up. This blog is proof to the fact that I am STILL learning – each and every day.
While researching the post about Sweetwater Mills and reading William McDonald’s books a few weeks back, I came across Rick Bragg’s book, The Most They Ever Had. As an avid reader and, quite honestly, a Rick Bragg fan, I was surprised that I’d never read this book before. I have followed his work for years: from Anniston, Alabama, to The New York Times, through all the novels, the Pulitzer, to the controversy surrounding his departure from the Times. (Full disclosure, I know some of the parties attached to The New York Times scandal and have a few thoughts on that myself – we will save that for a later day or a face-to-face conversation.)
Thank you to our employees and artisans for their commitment to the extraordinary and thank you to everyone at Etsy for telling our story with this beautiful film. It makes us proud to share the stories that unfold each day in our growing community.
Please visit the Etsy blog to read a little more and leave a comment to enter to win a copy of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design plus a DIY kit that includes everything you’ll need to sew your own Alabama Chanin garment.
I feel so honored and happy to introduce Jessamyn Hatcher as a new contributor to this blog (soon we will add a face to the name). Jessamyn has been a source of inspiration for me as I continue to learn how to frame the work that is so easy for me to DO, but so difficult for me to EXPLAIN in words. My conversations with Jessamyn have taken place across several states, drinks, emails, and phone calls. I am so excited to expand upon those in-depth conversations here with you—beginning today. Please show a big, hearty, and embracing welcome to Jessamyn—our newest contributor and a part of the growing heart and soul of Alabama Chanin. Continue reading →
Sometimes, the hectic nature of running Alabama Chanin makes me feel that we are all running at a frantic pace. I’ll be answering a ringing phone, hurriedly returning emails, picking up Maggie from school – then, I’ll glance up and notice that our Production Department is completely calm. They are moving fluidly along, peacefully and happily making, sewing, cutting, doing. This serene productivity comes to us through our Studio Directress, Diane Hall, and now, Olivia Sherif, who is following in Diane’s footsteps.
Olivia came to Alabama Chanin at just the right time and set about making herself indispensable almost immediately. You see, when Diane turned in her five-year notice, I experienced a not-so-slight panic (along with a few tears). Continue reading →
I’m almost certain she’s the coolest person I’ve never met.
Several pieces of evidence have led me to this conclusion; the first is this article from the NY Times and the second was probably the conference call that spurred our upcoming Visiting Artist event. Natalie and I were hunched over the speaker phone in my office exchanging ideas about “loom rooms,” home-made bitters, and interactive art exhibits with a very agreeable Levine.
Those of you who have visited The Factory, attended a workshop, or simply called the Alabama Chanin office have likely had the opportunity to meet or speak with our Project and Event Coordinator, June Flowers-Stedman. June is an incredibly memorable individual – she has lightning-fast wit, a sultry, knowing voice, and a unique way of making everyone feel special. If you’ve encountered June – or read one of her posts – you remember her.
I first met June in 2010 through my son, Zach. I remember hearing about his friend, Brandy June, and listening to him laugh when recalling stories of her. June was a student at the local university, studying in the Fashion Merchandising department. I didn’t know this at the time, but she attended a lecture that I gave there, which set in motion our inevitable course collision. June had in mind to attend one of our local weekend workshops; her approach was unique and memorable:
When I began work at Alabama Chanin almost 10 years ago, I had no concept of what the company did or what it would eventually mean to me. I walked into my interview in my only suit, having answered an advertisement in the paper. As soon as I found out what the company did, I broke into a cold sweat.
Luckily for me, they hired me. As I worked each day at my computer, I would glance over at the beautiful garments being produced with a jealous eye. I wanted to know how to make things as amazing as these. But I didn’t know how.
Natalie has often talked about the importance of preserving the “living arts,” those things that are essential to our survival – things that we as a society have forgotten or simply chosen not to learn. I was a perfect example of the person who never learned these skills.
My mother cooked family dinners, but she worked hard all day and it sometimes seemed a joyless task for her. She could make delicious meals, but after a day’s work it was often a chore. I was always fascinated to watch my paternal grandmother – a former cafeteria cook – craft large, luscious meals. I would watch pots bubble on the stove all day, their contents creating amazing smells. She was happy as she stirred those sauces or rolled out her biscuits; there was real joy and pride there. I wanted to understand it.
“Last winter, I came into possession of the papers of an émigré psychiatrist who practiced in New York in the late 1940s and 1950s,” Janet Malcolm explains in an article in the New York Review of Books. Malcolm is describing a set of papers she found and used as both inspiration and materials for her collages. These works were exhibited in a show, Janet Malcolm: Free Associations, that ran through January 14, 2012, at Lori Bookstein Fine Art in New York City. This sentence was also posted in the gallery.
I used to go sit at Tom Hendrix’ wall to think, particularly on days when I thought I couldn’t take running my business anymore. I would ask Mr. Hendrix over and over again, “Where do you find the passion and will to continue creating 25, 26, 27 years into your work?” He would patiently listen to me, laugh, and tell me to go sit in the prayer circle. It always worked. Eventually the wall came to change my entire life – but that is a story for later. Come back in a few weeks to read the rest. This is the story of “The Wall,” as I know it.