A few notes from the road:
We packed way too much. One suitcase and a favorite pillow would have done.
We haven’t taken nearly enough pictures to describe the magnificent journey this has been.
Snacks are good.
Rain from a train is very beautiful.
Tunnels can be a little dark and scary.
Origami makes people happy.
The absence of cell phone service and Wi-Fi can be a blessing.
There is a beautiful juxtaposition of rugged industrial and breathtaking scenery to be found along railroad tracks (and sometimes side-by-side).
Great satisfaction can be found in just sitting still.
xoNatalie and Maggie
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.
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.
This week we reach the three-year anniversary (and the 10,000-follower milestone) of our Instagram account. We’ve enjoyed the projects you’ve shared through #theschoolofmaking and the meals you’ve had at The Factory through #alabamachaninfactorycafe. Thanks for all of the ongoing conversations and for following along…
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When I was a little girl, I started a postcard collection. Postcards were then—and are now—a low cost memento of a trip (and a low stakes investment for a parent to make on a souvenir). I don’t remember how old I was when I started accumulating these paper treasures, nor can I identify the first postcard that found its way into the old shoebox that housed the collection. As any collector knows, there is often no clear rhyme or reason behind why something appeals to us. It sometimes requires years of study for a true collector able to identify trends and collecting tendencies. After a half of a century of amassing them, I have begun to understand that the postcards were my first connections to travel and to experiencing the world.
I can look through the shoebox and clearly see that early postcards reflected my grandparents’ trips to Florida—to visit a rogue branch of our family that left north Alabama for parts unknown. The photos were of places and attractions that felt exotic to a child. Finally, I made my first trip to the Florida panhandle and Panama City—what today we call the “Redneck Rivera”—when I was 5 years old. After an overnight drive with my mother and a group of her friends, I awoke as we neared our destination and declared, “It snowed!” because the beaches were so white. A collection of 1960s style post cards document that trip: Goofy Golf and images of white sand and turquoise blue waters.
A few years later, my cousins moved to Texas and my grandparents’ adventures expanded. I received postcards from Hot Springs, Arkansas, the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial in Dallas, Texas, and all the stops in between. My Aunt Elaine took a job as a teacher with the Armed Forces and set off for the Azores, and my collection grew further. I remember clearly sitting down across from her with a spinning globe between us, searching for the tiny archipelago of islands off the coast of Portugal. From there Elaine began to send a series of postcards that documented every stop of her travels. As my collection continued to multiply, friends and family members would purchase postcards for me from every place they went. Sent and delivered from around the world, these small rectangles of paper most likely created in me a need to travel and see as much as I could in my life.
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.
Indigo – electric, deep, light, or tropical
Indigo can be bright, violet-blue, midnight blue.
Electric indigo represents the sixth chakra—the Anja—that includes the third eye.
It is the color of intuition and self-awareness.
Today, the New Leaves stencil + layers of indigo of the Indigo Shell Top made me think of this:
A creation of Miya Ando: a representation of the bioluminescent bays of Puerto Rico.
Phosphorescent leaves floating on a pond, lighting up the night with a dreamy, radiant blue glow.
More one-of-a-kind Indigo pieces have been added to our current Collection.
As we continue to get feedback from some of our favorite makers on Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns, we realize how lucky we are to be part of such a positive DIY community. So many fellow writers, designers, knitters, and Journal followers have contacted us with generous responses and honest commentary. How heartening it is to find ourselves in the middle of a group of makers who choose to lift one another up.
That being said, we received a lovely review from Kristine Vejar, founder of A Verb for Keeping Warm. You may remember that we spoke with Kristine in the past, specifically about the Seam Allowance Project, a clever and beautiful approach to sustainability. (Read more on the project here.) In her review she points out something many readers have also noted: Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns is not necessarily written for beginning sewers. It was written for those who want to learn more about patterns and customization. Manipulating patterns is something that most of us graduate to rather than begin doing (though it’s not impossible).
When considering customizations for a her garment, Kristine took into account both practical and stylish considerations. First, she likes to keep things simple, without toting lots of bags here and there. The solution was easy enough: add pockets (see Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns, pages 28-29 for detailed instructions and photos). Secondly, the breezy San Francisco weather leaves her reaching for long sleeved garments. Another easy solution: add sleeves to her chosen A-Line Dress (see pages 121-123 for instructions).
This week, we feature another in our series of posts from makers we admire highlighting Alabama Chanin garments—specially tailored for the wearer, using techniques outlined in Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns. Previous posts from Amy Herzog and Heather Ross reveal what we really already know: we are not defined by our garment fit issues and owning something that truly fits your own body can enhance your confidence.
Today we are delighted to post kind words from Amy Butler. Amy is a designer whose fabric prints are instantly identifiable; her sewing patterns (we love her unique bags) are exciting and feel fresh. Over the years, Amy has created a signature line of home goods that include lush looking rugs, covetable wallpaper, and lovely wall art and stationery. Make time to browse her website—I guarantee you will end up with a wish list a mile long.
In the past, Amy has had varying degrees of success finding the right garment length, so we tailored our Classic Coat pattern to fall at exactly the right place for her height. View Chapter 2: Fit + Customization, pages 112-115 in Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns for more suggestions on how to best alter your garment’s length to your own measurements.
In April, I traveled to Chicago to lecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. While there, I spent some time at the Art Institute and found great inspiration from the works displayed in their galleries. (For someone who has been considering scale and texture quite a bit lately, Elena Manferdini’s exhibition gave me plenty to think about.)
I immediately felt connected to one of the Georgia O’Keeffe paintings, which took me back to 2012 when Alabama Chanin hosted a Weekend Away Workshop in Taos, New Mexico. The workshop was held at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, and I slept in the very room that Georgia O’ Keeffe stayed in some 60 years ago.