Last fall, as an extension of our Makeshift initiative, we began a new series of events and conversations called On Design. The series explores art, design, makers, relationships, and the elevation of craft. Our conversation in January explored William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Here are some of Natalie’s thoughts from the presentation. Feel free to share your own thoughts and join the conversation.
When I started the company that Alabama Chanin has become today, I had a vision for what I wanted to accomplish. At the time, I wouldn’t have identified that vision as a business model—but as the company expanded, I understood that I wanted to design and grow the business in a sustainable way. In a world of fast fashion, mass production, and machines, I wanted to design slowly and thoughtfully. I also wanted to promote skills that seemed to be vanishing, particularly hand-sewing skills—like those used by quilters.
I took the pieces you threw away, and put them together night and day, washed by rain, dried by sun, a million pieces all in one.
-Howard Finster, “Poem for the Garden”
Howard Finster, a Southern Baptist minister and self-proclaimed “man of visions” moved to Pennville, Georgia in 1961, having purchased four acres of land that was mostly swamp. After draining the land with a series of homemade canals and channels, he began building the Plant Farm Museum, a biblical roadside attraction that would house “all the wonders of God’s creation.” Finster’s modern-day Garden of Eden was covered in biblical verses, paintings, and sculptures of the artist’s own design and punctuated by a series of structures including the Bible House, Mirror House, Hubcap Tower, Bicycle Tower, and a Folk Art Chapel which was five stories tall and built without plans or the aid of an architect.
In 1965, Howard Finster retired from preaching and increasingly dedicated himself to the Plant Farm Museum and his burgeoning career as a visual artist.
Ten years later, Finster’s elaborate environment was featured in Esquire magazine and renamed Paradise Garden. The garden has changed greatly over the years, and many of its original works have been acquired by collectors and museums. Few images of the garden in its original state exist.
Fortunately, one anonymous visitor to the garden in the mid-1970s held onto his or her pictures, and we are able to experience the garden at the height of its beauty – intact and un-plundered.
–Phillip March Jones
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 Horner, Kristine 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…
I originally wrote the post below for the Etsy Seller Handbook. It ran on September 14 of 2011—just before my lecture at Hello Etsy. I ran across these “truths” recently while writing this post on The Business of Fashion’s “How To Set Up A Fashion Business” and still find them true today.
From the Etsy Blog:
I’ve often described my creative journey as “falling off a cliff,” yet thinking about it recently, I’ve realized — to my great surprise — that my journey has actually been quite linear. I went from design school, to working in the fashion industry, to styling, and then back to fashion with Alabama Chanin. It is unlikely that I would have appreciated how direct my path has been if I hadn’t been asked to reflect upon my journey. Thanks to a few flight delays, day-long drives, and long afternoons spent gardening, I’ve been able to spend some quality time reflecting upon the events of my past. Sometimes it takes a little time to gain perspective.
I am incredibly proud of my company, my amazing team, and everything we’ve accomplished in the past decade. When things are running smoothly in our studio (as has happened once or twice in the ten years since we opened our doors), I feel an unrivaled sense of calm and satisfaction. However, it is the creative chaos, the phones that ring (but cannot be found), the revolving cast of friends and clients, and the unwavering support of my family that are much more invigorating and make me understand that my path has been the right one — for me.
As we wrote in last week’s post on our DIY Exploding Zero T-Shirt, inspiration comes at us from every direction. Recently, our design team has been (almost endlessly) inspired by Eames: Beautiful Details. The use of color and form shown by Ray and Charles Eames is bright and modern, even by today’s standards. The image shown above at left inspired the swatch above right, and can be recreated using the basic instructions below in any combination of colors and techniques you choose. This is a perfect project for our Fat Eighths or scraps from your own stash.
7” x 9” cotton jersey fabric for top layer
7” x 9” cotton jersey fabric for backing layer
100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey scraps in various colors
Button Craft thread
Basic sewing supplies: scissors, pins, needles, ruler, rotary cutter
Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style, or Alabama Studio Sewing + Design: All three of these books contain the basic sewing and embroidery techniques we used to appliqué the squares and add decorative stitches and beads.
While writing this post about March and our Swatch of the Month, I mentioned the Encyclopedia of Needlework by Thérèse de Dillmont which I am currently reading in preparation for a new book we are writing (yes, another book) on the tools of handwork. I became curious about the life of Thérèse de Dillmont who so meticulously documented the types and processes of handwork in the 1880s. I did a Google search and fell into a rabbit hole of handwork and feminist backlash. I’m still working my way out of this hole but I wanted to show you how a sewing needle or a spool of thread can take you from honored hobby to exercising naked in the fresh air to the feminist act of running a business.
Thérèse de Dillmont (10 October 1846 – 22 May 1890) was an Austrian needleworker and writer. Dillmont’s Encyclopedia of Needlework (1886) has been translated into 17 languages. She owned a string of shops in European capitals and she was “one of the most important pioneers in the international and multicultural enterprise of hobby needlework in the late nineteenth century”.
That last sentence struck me, …”one of the most important pioneers in the international and multicultural enterprise of hobby needlework in the late nineteenth century”.
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.”
February is technically a short month, but it was so fast and furious that I had to make conscious efforts to be mindful AND productive. March looks to be just as busy, but in the best way—full of things I want to do and people I want to see.
It is National Women’s History month, so we hope you will take time to revisit some of our favorite stories of Real Women and to share your own.
Here is what March looks like for me (deep breath):
March 2 – Dr. Seuss’ birthday, now known as Read Across America day. I’m currently working on several books, among them: The Optimistic Child by Martin E. P. Seligman, Encyclopedia of Needlework by Thérèse de Dillmont (in research for a possible new book on the tools of handwork), and revisiting Mary Renault’s The Last of the Wine.
Our On Design conversation in December focused on the practice of stenciling—including examples of designs throughout history and various techniques used over time. Stenciling is at the core of our Alabama Chanin collections; currently it is the sole means by which we transfer decorative patterns onto our fabrics. We have explored DIY stenciling in our Studio Book series, and are even offering a one-day workshop on the topic next year.
The use of stencils dates back over 37 thousand years, as evident in Neanderthal cave art found in Spain. These paintings are outlines of hand prints; it is theorized that Prehistoric man or woman would place their hand against the wall, and then blow finely crushed pigment around it. These stencils were accompanied by shapes from the natural world and daily life: animals, hunting scenes, and ritual all figure prominently.
The photo above, by Stephen Alvarez, can be downloaded to use as wallpaper for you desktop here. Link through to see the color version and see more of his caving photos here.
In October of 2014, and as an extension of our Makeshift initiative, we began a new series of events and conversations called On Design. This series explores art, design, makers, relationships, and how those who create can elevate craft in general. Natalie hosted our inaugural event, which was an exploration of the school of Bauhaus and the creative process. While it’s no substitute for being there in person, here are some of Natalie’s thoughts from the presentation. Feel free to share your own thoughts and join the conversation. (And we look forward to seeing you at the next event.)
When making plans to expand The Factory beyond a space used solely for manufacturing, I initially imagined a place for our workshops to be housed along with a kitchen for catering. We now have a beautiful space for working and making, as well as a kitchen that accidentally developed into a weekday, lunch-only café that works in-service to our store and design + manufacturing facility.
This space has further developed into a place for the community to meet over tables and food and design and conversations and (hopefully) more.
I grew up in the community of Central, which is about 10 miles west x northwest of The Factory, as the crow flies. I grew up in a time when there was very little art in the school curriculum, but there was still much making being done in the home. My grandmothers and grandfathers planted gardens, raised cows, put up tomatoes, made bread, tatted lace, and made their environments as beautiful as possible with the resources they had available. This work came to inspire my entire work history and the space known as The Factory today. I always said that I went to the art school of “Pinkie and Blue Boy.” Those were the only paintings that hung in our home as I was growing up. These, along with several other paintings, with names like Tyrolean Hof, and Jesus on the Rock, were always in the background, subtle inspiration for our daily lives.