Makeshift is a series of events, talks, workshops, and gatherings that invite a dynamic group of participants to explore the ways in which the fashion, art, and design worlds are inextricably linked to the world of craft and DIY, and how each of these worlds elevates the others.
In its fourth year, Makeshift conversations create an intersection where we can explore, discuss, and celebrate the role of local production, handmade, and craft/DIY in fashion and design as a way to empower individuals, businesses, and communities.
We continue to expand the ideas that were born from our first Makeshift event in 2012 to create a global conversation among artists, designers, and makers. Each year, panelists and participants share their stories and experiences involving collaborative projects and making within their industries. And in 2013, we introduced a method to facilitate the conversation: guests were invited to express their thoughts, literally or conceptually, using an organic cotton tote bag from Alabama Chanin as a blank canvas. A variety of materials were also provided to design, decorate, and customize each bag.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
This week, we take another look at the lives our clothes have led and the memories forever linked with them. For some reason, we associate memories with objects—or in this case, clothing. Every time I look inside, I think that my closet is, in a small way, some sort of prism through which I see the world.
Project Alabama Garment #17821
Built in September 2005
Pattern: A-359 Long Coat
Fabric: 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Outer layer color: Sapphire
Backing layer color: Black
Beads: Black bugle and chop
Sequins: Gun Metal
Seams: Inside felled
Owner: Natalie Chanin
The Beaded Facets Coat was originally created for the Project Alabama Spring/Summer 2006 Collection, as you can see in the picture above left. It was presented in the first and only runway show we ever produced (thank you Gail Dizon, Jennifer Venditti, Lori Goldstein, Jake Xerxes Fussell, Ruby Jane, and to UPS—who sponsored the show). I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that show made the cover of Women’s Wear Daily the next morning. I had to look three times to realize that it was actually the cover and not from the interior of the magazine. There were eventually 14 of these coats produced in both the Amber and Sapphire colorways shown above for Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Jeffrey Atlanta, and a few special clients.
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):
Last July, we explored Alabama’s fashion design history and, in our studio conversations about that post, we started asking one another about other designers that have emerged from the South. Dana Buchman, Pat Kerr, Johnny Talbot, and Wes Gordon all hail from states neighboring our own. When searching my brain for designers from Mississippi, the first that came to mind was Patrick Kelly.
Patrick stands out so significantly in my memory because he emerged as a designer of note in the 1980s and during my time in design school. He is, in many ways, a designer with sensibilities completely different from my own; he created body conscious garments with flamboyant embellishments. In other respects, we have a certain kinship, as he found ways to repurpose and recycle clothing into new garments. He also found inspiration in his community and neighbors, once telling People Magazine, “At the black Baptist church on Sunday, the ladies are just as fierce as the ladies at the Yves Saint Laurent haute couture shows.”
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.