When introducing guests to our office staff, I always have to stop and take a breath at Diane Hall. Over the years, she has just become so much to me and to all of our staff. Like Steven, she has held just about every imaginable job and done or touched just about every task we have in the entire studio – except for accounting. Her current title is Studio Directress, a term that I love since her heart and soul are at the very center of our studio; however, her usual introduction goes like this: “Please meet Diane, our Studio Directress, master seamstress, patternmaker, friend, mother, sister, and company ethicist.” Diane is the person that I always consult when I have a question on ethics. Her kind heart and fair spirit can always see straight through a situation and can usually find an equitable solution for everyone involved. She is the sort of person that summons kindness in all of those around her.
Born and raised in Alabama, Diane just recently celebrated her 60th birthday for the second straight year. (Most people stop at 39.) She is married to her best friend, Rex, and their favorite pastime is watching any one of their eleven grandchildren perform in community theater, play football, basketball, soccer, run cross country, march in the high school band, or dance.
Around the time of her last birthday, she took me aside one day and gave me her 5 year notice. (Yes, 5 year notice – that is just the kind of person she is.) She has decided that at 65, she wants to stop working. I cried a few tears that day, laughed with her, collected myself, and asked, “What are you going to do when you retire?” Her reply came, “Sew for you.”
While she learned to sew the basics from her mother, she says that she really learned to sew after she “left home” and is self-taught through “experimental trials.” She added, “I figured out a lot after I started sewing for other people.” In fact, she spent 35 years “sewing for the public” before she found her way to our studio in January of 2002.
Diane started out as one of our artisans, sewing in her own home. She said that she “called and called” our office, but we were short staffed and couldn’t take the time to interview new sewers. But her persistence shone through and after repeated requests, we relinquished and gave her one of our sewing kits to complete. She quickly became one of our very best artisans.
While it is all a bit of a blur to me, she reminded me that I called her out-of-the-blue in September of 2002 to ask if she would be interested in coming in to talk to me about a full-time cutting position that was opening up at the studio.
She says she answered, “Well, I would like to talk to you about it.”
“Can you come now?” I asked.
“Let me change my clothes,” she answered.
“Just come like you are,” I said.
So she got in her car and came out to our little house at Lovelace Crossroads. I gave her a tour and a test piece to cut and afterwards asked, “You want to start now?”
She says, “I stayed and worked the rest of the afternoon and came back the next day.” We have been friends and colleagues ever since.
The story progresses: she said I walked through the cutting room one day and I casually asked, “Do you know how to make patterns?”
She answered, “Well, yes.”
We never looked back and I have come to understand that she can make anything.
I have four years of Diane’s notice left before she retires. We have hired two people to try and fill her shoes. So many, many people have come through our studio over the years – from artisans, to interns to office workers, women who crochet, accountants, on and on. I asked Steven and Diane how many people we have worked with in the last decade – their answer: hundreds? thousands? Some came for a week, others moved or never liked the work, a few had sick parents to care for, several just faded away, and some have stayed forever. Luckily for us, Diane is one who stayed “forever.”
In her “spare” time, she enjoys sewing costumes for community theater, knitting scarves, and traveling the world.
An invaluable asset to Alabama Chanin and to all that know her: Diane Hall – a part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.