Embroidery opens with Natalie Chanin narrating a series of moments from her life: speaking at The Moth, standing dumbstruck on a New York City street corner, dancing in Naples, swimming in Venezuela, screaming into Angry Cove, coming home to Alabama in the middle of the night. Over the course of the book, she connects these seemingly disparate episodes in her life, revealing the hidden connections and continuities that give our stories meaning. She flips the tapestry upside down, so to speak, in an act of defiant vulnerability.
Along the way, Embroidery reflects on the ethics of textile production, explores nature as inspiration, tells the story of founding Alabama Chanin and The School of Making, and even offers primers on reverse applique and the so-called “ Mother of all Stitches.”
In Chapter 1, “Craft as Citizenship,” she tells the story of sewing circles in Central, Alabama, the rise of the Shoals as the “T-Shirt Capital of the World,” reflecting on the interplay between local and global networks of production past and present. The next chapter, “Creative Process,” recounts Natalie’s return to Alabama, finding inspiration in unexpected places, and the beginnings of Project Alabama. “Flow,” Chapter 3, details her immersive effort stitching thrifted t-shirts while explaining the role of the Tennessee River and, eventually, NAFTA in production channels. Chapter 4, “Materials and Tools,” is a sophisticated exploration of the relationship between design and sustainability, from the internet to ancient needles. The next two chapters, “Practice,” and “Repeat” explore the science and nuance of color as well as stenciling, motif and pattern, sharing how Alabama Chanin developed beautiful and innovative new designs as it grew. It also asks that readers consider the myriad shades of green present on a spring day, and the moments of rhythmic repetition—that we “repeat the sounding joy.” Throughout Embroidery, Natalie offers nuanced reflections on community and sustainability while also sharing her personal story. It must be said, too, that the accompanying photographs are stunning, bringing scope and color and drama to the pages. The result is a compelling, complex book.
It is a call to a full, reflective life, to daring greatly, and thinking big. It is also, at its core, a call to love.
To love complicated places. To love the act of making. To, as Rosanne Cash reminds in the Foreword, love the thread. And to love ourselves and our own stories.
In the end Embroidery offers perhaps the most radical kind of love of all: a woman, beautiful and flawed, loving herself.
Pre-order a copy of Embroidery, arriving this fall to Alabama Chanin and The School of Making.
Story by Ansley Quiros
A dear friend to us, Ansley is an Associate Professor of History at the University of North Alabama, where she teaches courses on modern American history, race, and religion. You can find Ansley walking a golden retriever around Florence and also on Twitter @ansleyquiros.