Tag Archives: Books



Over the years, I’ve managed to amass quite a library of design, photography, and art books alongside my treasured cookbooks, novels, and random printed matter that continues to inspire. The shelf that Sara first organized has become four packed-to-the-top rolling shelves that now inspire an entire company. We were recently discussing the best way to archive these books that we can continue to loan them out—but also keep the collection intact, when it occurred to me that libraries all over the world have already invented  pretty intricate systems for organizing books. Why reinvent the wheel – or, in this case, the card catalog…

As I began to read more on library classifications, I discovered there are two systems that seem to be most frequently employed by libraries: the Dewey Decimal Classification and the Library of Congress system. Both systems allow books to be classified in very specific, detailed ways. They just approach their systems of organization a little differently.

The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) is a library classification system created by Melvil Dewey in the late 1800s. What made the Dewey Classification unique was the introduction of the idea that books should be grouped together based on subject matter. The decimal system structure allows us to drill down deeper into a subject matter, making room for more and more specific and specialized book topics; the fractional decimals allow categorization into as much detail as necessary. Finding books – and returning them to their proper spot – became almost a science.

Before the Dewey system was widely adopted, many libraries used a fixed positioning system where books were placed on the shelf based on the book’s height and date of acquisition. Because early libraries were not always open to the public, “browsing” stacks wasn’t encouraged; only privileged patrons and employees looked at the shelves. The Dewey Decimal Classification ultimately made libraries more accessible to the public, because patrons were able to search for books on their own.


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“I am a designer and I want to design things.”  – Ettore Sottsass

When Alabama Chanin started our MAKESHIFT conversation nearly three years ago, inspiration came from several places and sources. The core idea was, and still is, that through the gathering of like-minded folks (writers, designers, thinkers, artisans, creators) we could elaborate on the simple act of making—and find the point where design, craft, art, fashion, food, and DIY intersect.

The conversation at the first MAKESHIFT event in 2012 began with the study and discussion of an essay by Ettore Sottsass, titled “When I Was a Very Small Boy.” The essay (which was brought to our attention by Andrew Wagner) is about the act of making and embraces the idea that when we are young, we don’t have preconceived notions about what or how to make; we just do. And by doing, we learn. During MAKESHIFT, in keeping with the Sottsass essay, we embraced the act of working outside out of our comfort zones to try something new. By doing so, we can evolve together—by exploring, not thinking or judging.

Our On Design series allows us to have MAKESHIFT-based discussions on a local, community-based level—translated here. March’s On Design lecture was titled “1980 + The Memphis Group” and focused heavily on the work of Sottsass and his partner and fellow Memphis member, Barbara Radice. During my own design training, I began to study and follow the work of Sottsass—including his achievements with the Memphis Group during the 1980s. Sottsass founded the design collaborative in Milan, Italy. Barbara Radice elaborates on the group’s beginnings in this interview with Phaidon.com:

You should not imagine that we would sit around and actually talk about “the future of design”. There was a necessity of updating figurative language because what was around, as Ettore used to say, after a while felt like chewing cardboard. So you need a little mustard, don’t you? We were talking about life, and design was part of it. That is why they (the designs) were so intense and bright.


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Today, we continue our series of blog posts from some of our favorite makers highlighting DIY garments, customized using the techniques and patterns of Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns. We last heard from Amy Herzog, who described the fit issues she has faced over the years—particularly garment length. This week, we are blushingly grateful to post Heather Ross’ review.

I have long been an admirer of Heather, who has an exceptional eye for design and motif. She is also a talented writer who can combine the poignant and humorous in her books and her designs. We once asked her how she translated humor into her fabric designs and she said something that still sticks with me: “Funny is just a mix of happy and ridiculous. Ridiculous is easy.”

In her review, Heather talks about the difficulty of finding ready-to-wear clothing that fits her long torso. She writes, “…in many Ready To Wear dresses and blouses I find myself hunching over to make up for their lack of length, as though I can bring a waistline down by scrunching myself up.” And she shares memories of her grandmother’s handmade clothing and how wearing those custom dresses gave her confidence. “I felt flattered, rather than awkward, and much more myself. This is the thing about wearing clothing that really fits you: It makes you feel good.”

And I agree. Though I have my own body image struggles, my clothing makes me more comfortable in my own skin. (Most of the time) I know exactly who I am in these clothes. I wrote Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns with the hope that more women can have that feeling, by taking control of their wardrobes and dressing their bodies exactly as they are.

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NEVER A PAL LIKE MOTHERDust-to-to-Digital is a unique recording company that serves to combine rare recordings with historical images and descriptive texts, resulting in cultural artifacts. We have previously written about several of their collections that resonate so well with our brand. We believe in preserving traditions, and Dust-to-Digital truly speaks to that with their historically rich albums. We revisit one of their books, Never A Pal Like Mother: Vintage Songs & Photographs of the One Who’s Always True, for Mother’s Day.


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Like the rest of the world, the fashion industry has widely utilized Instagram (the photo sharing app with over 300 million users) to share insider glimpses into brands and lives, highlight the creative process, and find simple ways to connect to followers. Brands and consumers are sharing personal, visual “moments” in their lives (of course, perfectly oriented and filtered). In celebration of this relationship between the fashion industry and social media users, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) released their newest book, titled Designers on Instagram: #Fashion.

The book includes photos from CFDA designers (including Alabama Chanin), hand selected by the council and separated into five chapters, categorized by hashtags: #BehindtheSeams, #Selfies, #Inspiration, #Fashion, and #TBT (aka “Throwback Thursday,” for the uninitiated).

The colorful hardbound release is appropriately square shaped, like all Instagram photos. We think it’s a beautiful volume; the photos make you feel like a fashion insider, even if you are on your couch eating popcorn in your pajamas (no comment) or dressing a seven-year-old for school (or at least trying to dress a seven-year-old).

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Last Thursday we started shipping our newest book, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns.  Stacks of books around the office moved quickly into boxes and off into the hands of readers.  Thank you for all your sweet notes of praise and excitement.  We find it equally exciting to move on to this next chapter.

Look for our post tomorrow on “How To Print a Pattern,” fresh DIY Kits—inspired by the new book—launch on Thursday, Friday our updated Resources page arrives with a new downloadable garment pattern and improved stencil design PDFs, and look for our (first-round) blog tour over the coming weeks, featuring Heather Ross, Anna Maria HornerKristine Vejar, Amy Herzog, Joelle Hoverson, and Amy Butler (in no particular order).

Once you’ve had the chance to open your box and digest the contents, let us know what you think. Looking forward to hearing from each and every one of you…





In our week-long profile of designers Charles and Ray Eames, we studied their design aesthetic and philosophy and talked about the various media they used to forward those philosophies. They made hundreds of explorations into film, for varied purposes. Produced in 1977, Powers of Ten is perhaps their best-known film—and includes a book version. In it, the Eamses utilized the system of exponential powers to demonstrate the importance of scale.

The premise of the film is simple, though its scope is wide: a narrator—physicist Philip Morrison—guides the viewer on a journey that begins with an overhead shot of a couple in a park. The camera then pans back to see what a ten-meter distance looks like, then 100 meters, then 1,000 meters. Every 10 seconds, the viewer’s distance from the initial scene of the couple is magnified tenfold. We expand to the point of 100 million light years from Earth, a field of view of 1024 meters—the size of the observable universe.


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On May 21,2009, Matthew B. Crawford published an article in The New York Times Magazine titled, “The Case for Working With Your Hands.” Later that month, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work arrived on my desk at work.

Three paragraphs down in the New York Times piece, Crawford describes our situation:

“High-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become “knowledge workers.” The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass. To begin with, such work often feels more enervating than gliding. More fundamentally, now as ever, somebody has to actually do things: fix our cars, unclog our toilets, build our houses.”

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Vino or Moonshine? Both, please. Memphis chefs, Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman’s new cookbook, Collards and Carbonara: Southern Cooking, Italian Roots published by Olive Press, showcases their distinctly Southern-Italian dishes—or is that distinctly Italian-Southern dishes? Either way, it’s fusion cuisine with an accent.

The two chefs and best friends opened the upscale Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in Memphis back in 2008. After much acclaim, they opened a more casual sister restaurant, Hog & Hominy, right across the street in 2012. The two attended culinary school together in Charleston, South Carolina, and refined their skills in Italy. They compare their partnership to the dynamic of being in a band; they feed off one another for ideas and are always discovering inspiration together. The cookbook is a manifesto of sorts that establishes the greatness of duplicity in heritage cooking. At the root of their success is the fact that they simply love to play and work and learn and cook together. They share their stories revealing the secret to their success and the gospel of food according to these good Italian boys.

Each dish represents a new discovery and a step on their culinary pathway. The funky fusion dishes are as beautiful as they are humble. Warm pig’s ear salad with pears and Gorgonzola, fried green tomatoes with blue crab and bacon jam, gnocchi with caramelized fennel and corn; the pairings may seem unusual, but the flavors make sense together. Recipes for basic dishes like their famous boiled peanuts and pizza dough each have unlikely nuances that bring Italian and Southern American cuisines together.


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