“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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.”
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.
During Makeshift 2012, we dedicated a portion of one event to “Worn Stories,” a concept defined and documented by Emily Spivack that explores the stories and emotional attachments surrounding our clothing. Jessamyn Hatcher introduced us to Emily and her work about the relationships we create with our garments and the rich memories we associate with our clothes. Those memories are certainly why we hold on to items long out of fashion, in sizes we will never wear again. The clothing is a physical representation of our emotional scrapbook.
Spivack’s recent book, also titled Worn Stories, is moving and relatable—and earned it’s way to the New York Times’ Bestseller List. In it, she collects over sixty clothing-inspired remembrances from famous faces and everyday people; each was asked to describe the most meaningful item of clothing in their closet—and the stories that surround them.
Worn Stories is meant not only to unearth memories through storytelling, but also to offer intimate glimpses into the lives, memories, and psyches of the tellers. It also prompts readers to delve into their own closets and consider the role clothing plays in their own lives. The book and website together amount to an extensive catalog of oral and written histories, all surrounding garments.