In the northwest corner of Alabama it sometimes feels like we are in our own little world (or, perhaps, just in our own little state of mind); we have our own way of doing things. This area boasts a beautiful terrain, unpredictable weather, its own unique musical sound, white barbecue sauce, and, of course, chicken stew. But, even as we boast about our unique quirks, claims to fame, and attributes, it must be said that other areas of Alabama certainly have special qualities and points of view, different from our own. Though each region or county or city has its own distinct flavor, we share in a creative spirit that can be found anywhere in the state. (Visit the Southern Makers gathering for verifiable proof of what Alabama has to offer artistically.)
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
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.
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.
Once our garments are born and leave the nest, they have rich lives. At least that is what we hope—what we believe. We work hard to design and construct pieces that will last for many years and become heirlooms, passed down from one generation to the next. For owners of Alabama Chanin garments, it’s common that the garments are integrated into their lives for years and years. In celebration of this sentiment, we decided to highlight garments from our archives—and, where possible, to follow their journeys and see where they have landed.
My closet seemed the natural place to start, and so we begin with a very personal dress from my life:
Project Alabama Garment #5387
Built in August 2002
Pattern: A-67 Slip Dress (18 pattern pieces)
Stencil: 116 Star Flower
Fabric: Recycled T-shirts in shades of Navy
Seams: Outside Felled
Owner: Natalie Chanin
“From a scientific point of view, it can be said he [Thoreau] documented for the first time how ecological succession works … The mechanism was animals and weather. Squirrels carry acorns so oak trees replace pine when the pines are cut down. And pine seeds blow over to replace the oak.” – Richard T. Forman
I started writing this piece about two weeks ago. I was talking about succession over trend with a colleague and she asked me to put down my thoughts about how that worked. And so I started…and as I was writing, the question of trend began to appear in the press and this story seems on one hand less important and on the other hand more important. I’ll let you be the judge. In any case, thank you for coming here. Thank you for reading:
There is a small stop at milepost 330.2 on the Natchez Trace Parkway called Rock Spring Nature Trail. I’ve been going to this spot on the Natchez Trace since I was a little girl. Perk, my maternal grandfather, used to take me (and all of the cousins) there en route to Colbert Ferry park on the “other side” of the Tennessee River from our home. From there, we would launch his small fishing boat and run the trotline of baited hooks for catfish (more on this boat and Perk’s trotline coming soon).
Rock Spring is a natural aquifer that merges with Colbert Creek where this nature trail now stands. The creek is a small, meandering stream of rare beauty (see the photo above)—named after George Colbert—who ran the Ferry that crossed the Tennessee River along the Trace before the days of a bridge.
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and we are honoring his legacy and observing the holiday through service to our community. In the past few weeks, the Civil Rights Movement along with the work of Dr. King has received much media attention, due in part to the film Selma. The film, directed by Ava DuVernay, tells the story of how the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came to be and chronicles the events leading up to its monumental passing.
There were three marches that took place in March of 1965—the first is referred to as “Bloody Sunday” due to brutal attacks on the marchers, and the second march was cut short, as Dr. King felt the marchers needed protection by a federal court to prevent further violence. On March 21, 1965 the third march began—this time with the protection of the Army, Alabama National Guard, FBI Agents, and Federal Marshalls. The marchers arrived in Montgomery, at the State Capitol building, on March 25. The route taken from Selma to Montgomery is now a U.S. National Historic Trail.
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.
With 2014 coming to a close and a brand new year upon us, it is time to reflect on all we’ve accomplished—slow in design, but rapid in growth—during the past year. But first and foremost, we want to thank each and every single one of our supporters, friends, collaborators, partners, and everyone who has made 2014 the success that it has been. Without you, none of this would be possible.
No feat was as challenging—or as rewarding—as our organic Alabama cotton adventure. From a seedling of an idea to the harvest of pillowcases full of beautiful, white cotton, the success of this project is one of our proudest achievements. Not only were we able to physically see the fruits of our labor, we were also able to see the rewards of sticking to our ideals: sustainability, community, education, open-source sharing, and transparency in method.
INSCRIPTION FOR AIR by Jake Adam York
—excerpted from Gravy 53: Food and Social Justice, page 42
John Earl Reese, shot while dancing in a café in Mayflower, Texas, October 2, 1955.
Not for the wound, not for the bullet,
power’s pale cowardice, but
for you, for the three full syllables
of your name we hold whole
as a newborn by the feet, and so
for the cry, the first note, the key
So every word to follow, the timbre,
The tone, the voice that could sing
Nat King Cole’s “If I May,” and slow
dance the flip side, the blossoms
fallen like a verdict to the jury’s lips,
not to the blood or the broken
glass or the spiders silking juke-box
wires in a junkman’s shed,
but the fingers’ heat still on the dime
when it slides to the switch,
the lamp on the platter, the groove
that tells the needle what to say,
and the pine boards of the café floor
once moved by the locusts’ moan
now warm as a guitar’s wood, revived
with all the prayers of songs, Amens
that flame when a blues turns bright,
not for what was lost, but what
was lived, what is written here,
in the night, in vinyl, in the air,
for the bead of sweat at the hair’s deckle,
the evening star in the trees,
soda-pop sugar wild on your tongue and
for the tongue telling Saturday night
something of Sunday morning, fluent
as a mockingbird, and for the hand
that opens as if in praise, as if in prayer,
asking for another to fill it there,
for the smile and for the smile of skin
behind the ear where love might lip its name,
for you, if we may, pull back the arm
and start the music once again.
Jake Adam York (1972-2012) was a poet from Glencoe, Alabama, whose work often focused on the civil rights movement in the American South. “Inscription for Air” was originally published in Abide, copyright 2014 by the Estate of Jake Adam York. Reproduced by permission of Southern Illinois University Press. The SFA thanks Sarah Skeen, Joe York, and Southern Illinois University Press. PHOTO BY Mike Garofalo.