Quite a few years ago, I loaded up the car with scissors, needles, and an array of other sewing supplies and took a trip with a group of friends and fellow stitchers to a women’s prison facility (at their invitation, of course). My friend Kyes had organized this meeting in the hopes of developing a program within our Alabama Prison system for training life and job skills. The scissors wound up staying in the car for security reasons, but the experience was life changing. The intent of the day was to show these women—on their way out of prison and back into the “real” world—how to hand stitch and work together. We wanted to help them see that they could make something beautiful with their own two hands and, at the same time, perhaps challenge all of our preconceived notions about our neighbors and the world at large. It’s fair to say that I walked away from that day and the experience a different person.
At that point, I’d begun to realize that education was going to be an important element in the life of my company. I wanted to help others understand how essential “living arts” are—and what it would mean if we lost connection to those skills and our shared history. Slowly, Alabama Chanin added stitching workshops to our traveling trunk shows. We scheduled intimate one-off events that were as much about storytelling as they were stitching (as Blair Hobbs famously exemplified with her “granny panties” story years ago). We were creating a community through making. It was happening.
And so we committed to this enterprise of creating communities for makers, of building workshops both here at The Factory and across the globe. Alabama Chanin and our customers have become part of one another’s lives in ways I never imagined; we’ve made lifelong friends, helped create wedding gowns, hosted classrooms of college students, and traveled across the country. I’ve met some of my personal heroes through sharing ideas on making and sustainability.
Him and Her
Phillip March Jones says, “Seeing is everything. But it takes practice.” Expanding our collaboration with Phillip, we asked him to take a look around our studio as part of a new and ongoing travel series—and an extension of his daily photo blog Pictures Take You Places.
“During my last trip to Florence, Natalie asked me to take some pictures of the re-imagined Factory with its new shop, café, and production facility. I spent an afternoon wandering around the building, amazed at what they had accomplished but also bewildered by this seemingly impossible marriage between a literal factory and the sophisticated, comfortable aesthetic that is Alabama Chanin. Chandeliers hang below fluorescent tubes, soft pieces of dyed cloth are hung to dry against corrugated metal walls, and plant shadows grow over the cracks in the asphalt. I love the idea of this great big metal building in Alabama, all dressed up and ready to go.”
Thank you to the Southern Foodways Alliance for allowing us to share “I Fell Hard for Buford Highway” by John T. Edge.
From Gravy #52:
I grew up in the country. On fourteen acres of red Georgia clay, cut by gullies and skirted by cedars. I grew up fishtailing down gravel roads in pick-up trucks. And running barefoot through honeysuckle patches. Out in those boonies, I developed an urban crush. After a fitful college run through Athens, I hightailed it for Atlanta and made a life in a neighborhood near the city core.
I could walk to two Indian restaurants, a bookstore, and a co-op grocery. I pinch-hit on the softball team of my neighborhood bar. I became the worst sort of city snob: an arriviste. I was quick to dismiss my country birth and even quicker to declaim life in the white-flight suburbs, which I considered a homogenous wasteland, absent of sentient folk and sidewalks.
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.
For the past few years, I have essentially worked as a roving curator seeking out new artists and projects for Institute 193 and occasionally finding time for my personal work. I am on the road constantly: crisscrossing the Southern United States, meeting people, visiting artists, and making pictures. Things happen along the way.
This past fall, I was driving from Atlanta to Dallas, a short twelve-hour jaunt, to deliver some paintings. Around sunset, I pulled over to photograph a roadside memorial near Cuba, Alabama. I had been talking to my mother at the time (I know, distracted driving) and our heated, but lovely, conversation had made it slightly more difficult to slow the car down while crossing multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic. As a result, I was much farther away from my subject than usual. I hung up the phone, jumped out of the car, and zig-zagged through one hundred yards of un-mowed wet grass and weeds to the wooden cross. I typically run along the highway shoulder, but it was narrow; the sun was setting; and one of my obvious but unstated artistic goals of my project is to NOT become the subject of a roadside memorial. The irony would be too much for me to posthumously suffer.
After a long slough through the mud and weeds, I bent down and took the picture. I ran back to the car, tossed my camera onto the passenger seat, put my foot on the brake, and watched a small light on my dash flash the words: NO KEY FOUND. And that is precisely the moment when things got interesting.
Celebrate America, today and every day.
(You’ll find me at our yearly neighborhood parade with Maggie and friends…)
xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin
Friend, inspiration, and collaborator Anna Maria Horner has been featured on our Journal several times. She is a multi-talented woman fluent in more than one creative medium, from her imaginative books and fabric design to fine art. Natalie and Anna Maria’s friendship has only continued to grow as they connect over everything from food and family, to sewing and gardening.
Since we last featured Anna Maria on our Journal, she has added child number seven to her large and happy home. She, her husband Jeff, and their children (aged 1 to 22) live on two acres of land in Nashville, Tennessee. Anna Maria’s ability to balance her life as a mother and entrepreneur is truly remarkable.
Having collaborated with Anna Maria on garment design (and creation the textile patterns Little Flowers and Little Folks), we are excited to work with her once again during an upcoming weekend workshop in Nashville: “Fashion by Hand” with Anna Maria Horner and Natalie Chanin.