I once had a close friend who was the most incredible painter, yet never sold a single piece of art. I (and everyone who saw her work) was certain she was destined for artistic greatness and critical acclaim, if only she could get people to see her work. She thought it unfair and ridiculous to allow a gallery to take a commission on her sales when she did all of the work. As her collection grew, her apartment shrank, and I decided to play hero – or at least middle man.   That was free of charge.

Unfortunately, my efforts met with failure after failure; despite interested buyers, the deal always fell through. Mostly she claimed the piece was in need of some minor finishing then failed to follow up, refused to return calls. How could someone struggling with bills be so unmotivated that they couldn’t even schedule a time to collect some cash? Finally I realized (and after a couple of cocktails she admitted) that she had no intention of selling those paintings- they simply meant to much to her.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an artist who hasn’t experienced this sort of attachment to their art. Investing so much of your time and energy into a piece shapes the way you view and how much you appreciate it. When I begin a project that I know is destined for someone-somewhere else, I take a moment to focus on that fact; I take a moment to hope it will bring happiness to the wearer. Then, I let it go.

It’s hard to see a piece of our clothing in-person and not touch it – strangers have been known to sacrifice their understanding of personal boundaries on more than one occasion. The beauty of hand-stitching is almost shocking in its simplicity, and even the most perfect looking stitches are not- that’s the point. It is impossible to conceal the artistry and expression in a garment that has been made by human hands. Diane, our head seamstress (who you will meet later),  can tell you which one of our stitchers is responsible for a garment with a quick glance… we wonder if she can tell their mood as well.

Alabama Fur (in the picture above) is one of the most time-intensive treatments in the collection; it can take several weeks to complete an all-over application. Every time I run my hands across a sample of it I can’t help but think of how much time it spent with the artist who made it.  Was it put aside at the same time every day in the name of homework assistance? Did it suffer through the new season of True Blood, or help with any important decisions?

The Alabama Chanin collection (in the best case scenario) is made from cotton that is grown in Texas, spun in North Carolina, knit in South Carolina,  dyed in Tennessee and North Carolina, and sewn by our incredible Artists here in Alabama. I’d like to introduce you to the people that take part in the making of your Alabama Chanin pieces, those that cut your fabric, pack the boxes that are mailed to you, and those that hand-stitch our collection on their own terms and time.  Each garment is hand-numbered and signed by the artisan who assembled it. Who made your favorite piece? Check the tag, and if you’re inclined, say hello when he or she is featured. We love learning more about our friends, fans, and clients. We hope you enjoy getting to know us a little better during the upcoming months.

12 comments on “THE HEART

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  1. Elissa

    I love the personal connection of your seamstresses to each individual work of art. I think that speaks so highly of you, Natalie, and your ability to share pieces of yourself (and your artists) with the world. I, for one, am a huge fan. LOVE the Alabama Fur, too! xo

    1. Carolina Ellis

      At every turn, Natalie, you and the wonderfully talented people you are fortunate to work with, surprise and impress me. The cape is a true work of art, personally I feel that every stitch of every one of your garments is a true work of art … like a painting’s brushstrokes, every single stitch is selected to be exactly where it is so as to make the whole have a life of it’s own. Through the years I have greatly appreciated being privy to the process. You have a quality thing going, and I am most definitely not just talking about the beautiful garments you all produce. What you all do makes me beam with pride to be an American. Thank you for sharing it all with me. Carolina

  2. Amy

    Great post, Natalie. I feel the same way every week I post a column – that I have hopefully presented the best work I could, considered my readers, and finally, when I hit “publish”, I let go. I had not thought the same practice would apply to handmade garments, but, of course!

  3. Michelle McKnight Davis

    Lately Ive been a frustrutrated artist. I am generally a very prolific artist and have no problem selling or trading my work because I create it to share with the world and I know I will make more. Lately though, Ive been so busy just trying to stay above water that there is little time for what I love most. I teach, which I adore, but because I am only adjunct I teach 5 classes-schools are in trouble right now as you know-especially in the art dept. and I want to help-the students are the bottom line. I teach them about you -I try to instill in them the ideas of the future: repurpose when possible, understand nature, see beauty, and create meaningful beauty. Shockingly the young students right here in Florence do not know about your work until I tell them-I do a lecture on fiber arts and I can always hear a gasp when I show Alabama Chanin work and it is love, love, love! Im so grateful you are in this world.

  4. Heather

    Fur sounds amazing! I hope to get to run my hands across it one of these days:)

    As for the artist friend, humm it sounds like she had some issues with insecurity and hoarding, fear of letting go of her creations. It’s too bad that it was so extreme, if only she could allow her work to bring joy to others. I’m sure in return this would have brought her joy (and it sounds like much needed money) too!

    1. joani

      I can never bring myself to sell my paintings although I do give them away, as I do my knitting and felting. I love knowing that your clothing are so “local” although I can not purchase them as they are truly works of art. I love that you are using cotton as “fur”. How wonderful. If only other designers/artists could be so creative…and humane.

    2. Susan

      Your post really touched me. I struggle everyday with my making of art. I have yet to sale a piece although I would let some of them go. . I have to admit, that there are those pieces that were such a struggle and have so much of ME in them that I cannot let them go. Luckily for me, I am not struggling to pay the bills, my husband can do that, so I carve out my little bits of time to weave tapestries in between the time that I am caring for my children and working at their school. Thanks for sharing the story.

      I love your clothes, and have made several pieces using your techniques. Some of those pieces were for my 7 year old daughter. She adores those clothes and wears them until they are almost rags. When she wears these pieces they never fail to attract comments. Your pieces allow me to use some of my art to embellish the dresses and the skirts and shirts in a way that make them mine or my daughter’s. I enjoy your blog and the lovely clothes.