I have done a bit of traveling and it has been my lifelong habit to observe local fashion trends – what crosses regional boundaries or doesn’t, what I predict will be a passing fad, and what has become a mainstay. In the last couple of years, it has become evident that tweed is reappearing in a big way all across the globe. Years ago, it was considered by many to be an old man’s fabric, representative of a stuffy, moneyed culture. It is refreshing to see that contemporary designers and connoisseurs have adopted tweed and added modern styling touches. Tweed is timeless. And today, certain varieties of tweed are still hand woven by individual artisans in their own homes; a skill that is reminiscent of our own artisans.
Tweed was first crafted in Scotland and Ireland in the 1700s; a coarse cloth woven from virgin wool, it is naturally wind and water resistant and well suited for the local farmers working in damp, cold climates. In fact, surplus cloth was often traded among farmers and workmen – becoming a form of currency in the Scottish Isles; it was not uncommon for islanders to pay rent in tweed blankets or bolts of cloth. There are a remarkable number of types and classifications of tweed. There are clan tartan tweeds, which are used to identify members of a specific family, and estate tweeds, which were used to denote people who lived and worked on an individual estate. Some tweeds are named for the type of sheep who produced their wool (like Cheviot or Shetland); others denote their region of origin (Donegal or Saxony). There are also brand names of tweed – such as Pendleton Woolen Mills and Harris Tweed (the latter being one of the most well-known).
The process of starting our own dye house began with an exploration into the materials and methods that involve the chemistry of dyeing. That exploration began with indigo.
In its natural form, indigo is a tropical, leafy shrub and a member of the legume family, and a version of the plant is native to our own Alabama climate. The wide range of blue shades that this ancient plant can produce as a dye has made it one of the most popular (and successful) dye plants throughout history (and present day).
Alabama Chanin has experimented with indigo and other natural dyes for years, and recently set up two dye vats in-house, that we can better produce our classic Indigo colors here at The Factory. Diane, our head seamstress (and now head dye master), is overseeing the project with the assistance of Maggie, one of our studio team members. The vats were set up with the help of Zee Boudreaux — a friend we met during our time at Penland — who has spent time studying indigo and other natural dyes.
Zee worked here in our studio with Diane and Maggie during our beginning phase and generously answered a few questions for us about indigo and his experiences with natural dyeing.
AC: How did you first become involved with natural dyes?
ZB: In 1995, I was traveling and met a weaver/dyer who introduced me to textiles; she wasn’t using natural dyes, but my established environmental awareness and love for traditional processes led me to look for a natural dye class. I found natural dyer Cheryl Kolander and attended one of her workshops. I even apprenticed with Cheryl after the workshop. Seeing natural color come out of the dye pot for the first time was all it took to lead me down this path.
The Alabama A-Line Tunic is a popular summertime selection from our Basics collection. The classic design—part of Natalie’s daily “uniform”—is both feminine and forgiving and allows for a range of styling options.
The silhouette is fitted through the bust with an empire-style flare that falls just below the hip. The tunic measures 31 ½” from the shoulder. Choose from multiple color options in either lightweight or medium-weight cotton jersey. Shown here in Navy. Wear it with jeans or layer it under our A. Chanin Long Sleeve Cardigan.
Made with our 100% lightweight cotton jersey and painted with our Small Polka Dots design, the Alabama Chanin Sarong can be worn for a variety of occasions.
Here, we share some of our favorite ways to style a sarong (for summer). While this isn’t a step-by-step guide, it should inspire you to create your own unique look.
About four years ago (to my dismay), Diane Hall, our head seamstress and studio directress, turned in her five-year notice. However, as her retirement grows closer, it has become evident to all of us at the studio that we will continue to see her around The Factory after her “official” retirement.
Diane has developed a passion for natural dyeing—in addition to sewing, pattern making, etc. She first encountered natural dyeing with indigo during our workshop at Shakerag in 2012. Her experience there with the renowned dyer Michel Garcia left a lasting impression. Last summer, while our entire company was writing a 10 year vision, Diane wrote that she envisioned a natural dye house here at The Factory and volunteered herself as the head dye master after her retirement.
After that simple act of writing our vision, the dye house miraculously began to take shape.
The Alabama Chanin Panel Tank is one of the most popular and versatile pieces from our current collection. The pull-on tank is flattering for all body types as it provides a secure fit at the bust and flares at the waist. This shape flatters and floats easily along natural curves, but can also create a curvier look for those with a naturally straight silhouette.
The top measures 26” from shoulder to hem. Select from medium-weight or lightweight cotton jersey fabric (shown here in medium-weight Natural). Pair it with our Magdalena Wrap Skirt – or layer it underneath a corset for added length and coverage. The Panel Tank will quickly make its way into regular rotation in your everyday wardrobe.
Introducing the newest addition to our machine-made A. Chanin line—the Long Sleeve Scoop Neck Top. Made from our 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey, this casual top features a scooped neckline in the front, drawing focus to the collarbone and shoulders.
Choose your size and color here.
Made in the USA.
Each month, we feature a favorite Alabama Chanin embroidery technique as part of our Swatch of the Month Club. Additionally, we offer suggestions as to how you might put your completed swatches to use. Past month’s project offerings have included the DIY Clutch, DIY Book Covers, and DIY Swatch Pillows. This month – with 6 completed swatches to utilize – we offer instructions on how to construct a Tied Wrap. Our wrap uses our completed swatches from January through June; each reworked using a White/Natural colorway.
6 completed Swatch of the Month panels (or 6 – 10” x 16” cotton jersey fabric swatches of your choice)
1 – 20” x 48” rectangle of cotton jersey fabric, for optional backing layer
2 cotton jersey ropes 18” long (see page 8 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design)
Basic sewing supplies: scissors, needles, thread, pins, and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, which includes all necessary instructions for completing swatches and Tied Wrap.
The Collared V-Neck Shell Top is a new style for our Basics collection. It has a feminine silhouette that draws focus to the collarbone, without being too revealing. The top pulls on over your head and flares slightly from the waist. You have the option of selecting either our medium-weight or lightweight cotton jersey fabric for your garment (shown here in lightweight Nude). The top allows for a comfortable fit with a focus on feminine structure while the collar adds a bit of softness at the neckline.
The top measures 26” from the shoulder to the bottom hem. Pair it with jeans for a casual look, or with our Basic Wrap Skirt or one of our Full Wrap Skirts – like the Whispering Rose Full Wrap Skirt – for an elegant, curvaceous silhouette.
This is the time of year to celebrate the men in our lives: fathers, husbands, partners, sons, and brothers who have been there through it all, and continue to support us through thick and thin. This year we’ve selected a few favorite Father’s Day gifts which will be discounted from our online store through Friday, June 13.
The Thursday before Father’s Day, we are hosting our inaugural “Friends of the Café” Dinner Series benefiting Alabama Gulf Seafood. The dinner features James Beard award-winning chef (and father) Chris Hastings who will prepare a three-course meal, followed by a book-signing. Buy a ticket for dad (and yourself) and visit us at The Factory in Florence. Get more information and purchase tickets here (and be sure to get a copy of Hot and Hot Fish Club).
If you can’t make the trip to Florence, you can always make something special or give something handmade; we have a selection to help celebrate the dad who deserves the best.