Our first collaboration with Heath Ceramics, launched in 2011, has built a lasting, creatively symbiotic relationship. That joint development was a beautifully intensive design process that blended our techniques with theirs. Our Heath + Alabama Chanin line of dinnerware is made by hand, just like our Alabama Chanin handmade Collection. The artisans at Heath etch the designs into clay in much the same way that we embroider our garments. And just as our stitchers initial the garments they create, the Heath artists leave their marks on each of the finished products.
Over the last year, as we began experimenting with our indigo dye house, we became excited about the possibilities of this natural color and the richness and variations it creates. This excitement carried over into our ongoing conversations with Heath about expanding our collaboration. The new pieces build upon our previous work together and today we launch two new themes in our Alabama Chanin + Heath Ceramics collaboration: Indigo and Bird’s Nest.
Two years ago, Cathy Bailey and her son Jasper came to visit Maggie and me in The Shoals via train. It was Jasper’s spring break and they boarded the California Zephyr to Birmingham by way of Washington D.C., and traversed the entire country to spend time in North Alabama. Needless to say, Jasper and Maggie became fast friends, our collaboration with Heath Ceramics continued to grow, Cathy and I became even better friends, and the next year, they came again. In a few short days, Maggie and I will be taking the California Zephyr to San Francisco. We’ve come to call it “Jasper’s Trip,” since Jasper has given me (and Maggie) a renewed love for trains.
Over the last five years, our work with Cathy Bailey and Robin Petravic has been some of the most productive, exciting, and meaningful work that we’ve had the opportunity to do. Robin and Cathy are husband and wife, parents to Jasper, writers of the new book, Tile Makes the Room, and the owners and operators of Heath Ceramics. Cathy was an early member of our Makeshift initiative and has participated in almost every major Makeshift event since its inception. Our ongoing collaboration with Heath is one of our proudest (and longest lasting) joint design ventures. And throughout the process, Cathy has become a trusted friend.
Prior to her work at Heath, Cathy founded One & Co., a design consultancy with clients like Microsoft, Palm, and Apple. (Prior to THAT, she worked as a footwear designer at Nike in Portland.) In 2004, she and Robin purchased and rehabilitated Heath Ceramics, founded by Edith Heath in 1948 and run by Edith and her family until Edith was in her 80s. When they made the purchase, both were searching for more satisfying outlets for designing and making—and found that at Heath, which required hands-on work to revive and preserve, while keeping the original design aesthetic intact.
It’s no secret that we at Alabama Chanin have long been admirers of Heath Ceramics—their work, their approach to responsible manufacturing, and their embrace of beautiful, sustainable design sets them apart from so many companies today. We have also been honored (and excited) to collaborate with them on several projects, including a line of dinnerware, the MAKESHIFT conversations, and most recently, two clocks designed to celebrate the 10 year ownership of the company by friends Cathy Bailey and Robin Petrovic.
Edith Heath originally founded Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, California, in 1948. She was an accomplished ceramist who cared deeply for the craft and believed in the importance of using quality materials. She grew up in rural Iowa during the Great Depression, which made her a natural conservator. In the late 1930s she worked with Bauhaus artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, which influenced her design aesthetic. Heath searched constantly to source the right materials and experimented for years to find the best techniques and glazes; she was once quoted as saying that she wanted to use clay that had “character” and “guts”.
Alabama on Alabama is a month-long journey to the soul of the Modern South, held in the Boiler Room and showroom at Heath in San Francisco. Refined, raw and radical, the Modern South connects place, people, process, and tradition in a way that cuts across geography and time. From July 24, 2015, the Boiler Room will exhibit the work of the widely acclaimed and celebrated textile artist, designer, and slow design pioneer Natalie Chanin. It will also include work by Butch Anthony, best known for his “intertwangled” paintings and creations using found objects and materials, and works on paper by outsider artist Mr. John Henry Toney. Alabama on Alabama will also feature the work of frequent Natalie Chanin collaborator and photographer Rinne Allen. Visit boilerroomsf.com to learn more.
I met Stella Ishii over a decade ago, as I was just beginning to define who I was as a designer. She was simultaneously likeable and intimidating—but intimidating only because of her impressive resume and effortless cool. She began her career in fashion not because she was fluent in design technique—but because she was fluent in English. Japanese-born Ishii heard of a job opening for a translator at a design house and eventually was hired to work for Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons. By the mid-90s, she was head of Staff USA—a branch of Staff International, the Italian parent company of fashion brands like Maison Margiela and Vivienne Westwood. Ishii and Staff USA were key to introducing these (and other) brands stateside.
Stella launched The News in 2001, a sales and press agency—slash—showroom and incubator located in a Soho loft. The News has helped nurture and grow designers and brands like Alexander Wang, The Row, and 3.1 Phillip Lim. Just about 3 years ago, she and her business partner Lasse Karlson launched 6397 (N-E-W-S on a telephone keypad), a denim-oriented line of clothing designed by Stella—a true denim aficionado. Stella has long depended on denim as her most reliable (almost iconic) wardrobe staple. 6397 captures the androgynous elegance that well made denim can offer.
Anna Maria Horner and I have been friends and collaborators now for about 6 years; but, she is the kind of friend you feel like you’ve known forever. I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside her on more than one occasion and we created two stencil designs, Little Folks and Little Flowers, together—based on her extensive collection of fabric designs. Her books have influenced my thoughts on making; they have resulted in some beautiful projects and garments. We’ve even dedicated a section of our studio library to her publications. She has accomplished all of this while beautifully mothering six children…whew—what a woman.
This October, I’ll find myself in Nashville at Craft South, Anna Maria’s newly opened brick and mortar store, for a Two-Hour Sewing Workshop. (Register here.) We’ll also be hosting a book signing and trunk show. Mark your calendars now. Congratulations to Anna Maria on her new and exciting chapter at Craft South. We’re proud for The School of Making to be a part of it, and we’re over-the-moon for her kind review of Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns. Continue reading
Part of the excitement of living in The Shoals is seeing how the area has changed over the years. Though we have such an impressive collection of musicians in the area—musicians who have been an important part of the American musical landscape—when I was young, it was difficult to find a place to hear live music. There were family gatherings with guitars and impromptu songwriters’ nights—but there was no real place for people to gather and listen to a live band. On the flipside, local musicians—whether upcoming or established—had no place to play, reach their audiences, and try out new material.
The renowned FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound musicians were primarily studio session players. They created iconic sounds, but often during business hours and behind closed session doors. Because those musical talents were being developed in studios and not in bars or venues, we never had much of a music “scene” to speak of. This directly impacted the musicians who eventually founded Single Lock Records. Each learned their trade in makeshift music venues like garages, house shows, or anywhere that would have them.
That is why The Shoals’ newest music venue 116 E. Mobile (conveniently, the physical address) gives locals and visitors a place to see musicians from at home and abroad in a comfortable space. 116 (as it is often called) is located in downtown Florence and is owned and operated by Single Lock Records, in tandem with Billy Reid.
This year, friends and fellow designers were honored in two separate categories of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards (see more about the awards below):
We wrote earlier this week about scale and patterns, and how we reduced and enlarged our New Leaves stencil artwork to create graphic variations of the design. One of our projects that looks at scale is a series of DIY Unisex T-shirts. The shirts feature our New Leaves stencil in five different sizes and can be worked in a variety of techniques including quilting, reverse appliqué, backstitch reverse appliqué, and negative reverse appliqué. We used a chain stitch for the DIY Mori and DIY Novus T-shirts, the first time this technique example has been shown in our DIY Sewing Kits.