This week's DIY is a t-shirt DIY — which is, in case you haven't guessed, one of myfavorite kinds of do-it-yourself project, because of the ubiquity of the raw materials. And this t-shirt DIY comes to you with the help of a very special guest: fashion designer Natalie Chanin, of the label Alabama Chanin. She showed me how to do the most incredible things with a needle and thread.
In addition to the acclaimed Alabama Chanin collection — for which Natalie has been nominated for a Council of Fashion Designers of America award, and which you might have seen in the pages of such magazines as Vogue — Natalie Chanin runs sewing workshops and sells DIY supplies, clothing patterns, and kits on her Web site. She's also the author of three DIY books. That hands-on focus is unusual in high fashion, to say the least, which often likes to preserve as many illusions as possible about where (overseas?) and how (proprietary!) and by whom (paid?) it is made. And Alabama Chanin definitely is high fashion — its clothing can retail in the thousands of dollars.
Chanin is out to challenge the idea that "fashion" is about the designer, and "sewing" and "craft" is about the home-made. As sheputs it, making things needn't be viewed as a competition between the "auteurs" and the "amateurs." (This view also has a gendered dimension that is itself inherently problematic — "fashion" connoting that which is hierarchical and male, "craft" that which is humble and female.) When she started selling her patterns, she says, others in the industry told her, "You just killed your business." But sales of her collection remain robust, she says — probably because the many hours of work that go into most pieces make them difficult to truly replicate — and the DIY side of Alabama Chanin has meanwhile grown to nearly match the fashion side.
Natalie Chanin lives in Florence, Alabama, where her design workshop is located (and where her clothing is made, by local seamstresses who earn a living wage in an area of the South that has been ravaged by unemployment and industry flight). But this week, when Chanin came to New York for the Makeshift conference on sustainability and DIY culture in fashion, I jumped at the chance to meet her. We drank chamomile tea and talked DIY and did DIY. I learned things.
If you're like me, you believe that making things can be powerful. It's an exercise in autonomy, and it's a demonstration of thrift. I find sewing a purse, even if it takes me a week's worth of evenings (maybe because it takes me a week's worth of evenings) much more empowering, and certainly more satisfying, than I do buying one.
Songwriter Tift Merritt is a North Carolina native who wanted to be a writer until her father taught her guitar chords and Percy Sledge songs. Over the course of four studio albums, she has built a unique, uncompromising and critically acclaimed road of audio short stories. Emmylou Harris calls her a diamond in a coal mine. She has toured with Iron and Wine, Nick Lowe, Andrew Bird & Gregg Allman, appeared on "Austin City Limits" & "Late Night with David Letterman," been Grammy nominated for Country Album of the Year, and nominated for four Americana Music Awards. Currently at work on her fifth studio record, Traveling Alone, Tift also produces a handmade radio show, The Spark, which is a monthly conversation about process, integrity, and making things for Marfa, Texas Public Radio.
Tift lives in New York City with her husband who is also a musician. If you can't find her, she has probably rented an apartment with a piano in a town where she doesn't know anyone and will be back before too long.
MORE MAKESHIFT 2012
We had the best intentions of posting lots of pictures and stories from our Makeshift event yesterday and the day just got away from us. There IS so much more to come and to write about, but for the meantime, here some great pictures of the making process at The Standard East Village on Tuesday night. More to come soon… xoNatalie
Join us for our Crafted Fashion pop-up shop tonight at the Billy Reid store from 6pm-until at 54 Bond Street in New York City, with a performance by Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Tift Merritt at 8pm.
The beautiful Maria Cornejo talked about making as a way to build a brand.
Beads from Heath Ceramics were given to each of the Makeshift guests to incorporate into their “making.”
The sweet- and amazing designer- Tina Lutz who came into New York for the event. (Come to Alabama soon Tina!)
Photographer: Peter Stanglmyr