Tag Archives: Books

Field at Mooresville, Limestone County, Alabama, Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, Hidden Spaces project; photo by Abraham Rowe


An excerpt from Embroidery: Threads and Stories, by Natalie Chanin.

The origin of the word Alabama is still debated. Some believe it is derived from the Choctaw language, translated as “thicket clearer”—hinting at the agriculturally adept tribes that cleared the thicket for cultivation. As a child, I was certain that this was the best interpretation, as, left untouched, the mesophytic forest of our region produces a landscape so dense and thick with vegetation that it can be difficult to navigate. With an annual rainfall just four inches shy of rainforest designation, the woods and creeks are deep, dark, breathing organisms, filled with plant and animal life, that constitute one of the most biodiverse regions in North America.

Once I’d made the decision to return home to search for the quilters of my childhood, this dense vegetation, red clay earth, and the verdant smell of home began to dominate my dreams. Nights dreaming of wooded paths, long gravel roads, and meandering creeks were followed by days and weeks of writing a proposal for the creation and production of a collection of two hundred one-of-a-kind, stitched-by-hand T-shirts. This collection would be accompanied by a twenty-two-minute documentary film, entitled Stitch, about old-time quilting circles. After raising money and organizing production of the T-shirts and short film, I called my aunt and explained my big idea, asking if she knew of a house I could rent as a production studio, project headquarters, and living arrangements for a month. A few days later, she called back. She had the perfect place. The future production studio, built by my paternal grandfather in 1958 with, and for, his best friend, sits next-door to my aunt’s home—the house of my maternal grandparents—where I had spent much of my youth. I remember holding the phone, astounded at the notion that this project would come to life in my own grandparents’ backyard—the place my journey began. In a moment, I saw this work unfurling like an impossible dream, coming to life in unbelievably surprising ways.

That December, I rented a car and drove with a friend, and future business partner, from New York City to Alabama. It was an adventure that crossed eight states and included stops at thrift stores for project materials, dreaming, taking photographs, and visiting with friends and family along the way. Three days and a thousand miles later, we arrived, late in the evening of December 23. As we pulled into the drive, the redbrick house was barely visible, as the future project headquarters had been uninhabited for the previous five years and Mother Nature had begun the process of repossessing the property for her own. My aunt and mother had used a chainsaw to cut a path through the dense overgrowth to the back door. Passing through the teeming mass, we made it inside. I was home.

We unloaded the car, which smelled lived-in and was filled to the roof with bags of used T-shirts, and entered the house. It was not an olfactory improvement: the closed-up smell of mildew, ghosts of long-ago meals, an odor of unseen animal life, and abandonment. Once settled, I tucked myself, exhausted, into bed, a simple mattress placed on the 1970s vinyl floor of the open main room. Lying there in the dark, perfectly still, I was filled with utter doubt and dread. My mind racing, I dissected my life and its decisions: running away from this place, working, living, loving; experiencing accomplishments and failures, adventures, successes, and losses. I started to cry and couldn’t stop. I felt my entire life culminating in this dark night of the soul, waiting for ghosts and unknown creatures and bitter cold to seep through the cracks and crevices of floorboards, walls, and windows black with night. Throughout those hours of darkness, my senses remained highly tuned for sounds and smells, for the snakes that were most certainly coming to join me in the warmed bed as soon as I closed my eyes. Finally, in the very early morning light, I fell asleep only to awake with a start from dreams of snakes and living, moving topiaries. Despite my fear, I was greeted by a beautiful, clear day; there were no snakes or ghosts to be found.

The December light in Alabama is crisp and bright, the sky a remarkable color of winter blue. On this Christmas Eve morning, the first in the brick house at Lovelace Crossroads on County Road 200, I got up and went to the kitchen, cleaned a small place on the counter, and made my morning tea. Sitting down on one of the stools that my aunt had sweetly left for us, I looked around the room and took stock. In addition to the vinyl flooring, I noticed the walls of the room were covered with an old, broad-board paneling. I stood, wondering what the years-long coating of life and abandonment hid underneath. I cleaned one board, discovering a beautiful pine board. This paneling—historically prevalent across the region—was designed to mimic paneling originally cut from the magnificent southern longleaf pine, the Alabama State Tree, whose ancient forests across the state were called “Giants of the South.”

Reclaimed, I found the one board spectacularly beautiful. Inspired, I cleaned one more, and then another. Board by board, I worked my way around the entire room throughout the day. As the sun began to set outside the kitchen window, I sat back down on the stool, drinking in the room, the light, and the pine boards. In reclaiming them, I realized that I had also reclaimed something of myself, my history, my home, my family, and my life.

Watching the sun slip down behind the thicket, I remember thinking, yet with the presence of doubt, “I can do this.” Looking back, I’m reminded of the Rollo May quote and understand anew that commitment and creativity and life are healthiest when they are not “without doubt but in spite of doubt.”

Photo: (at top) Field at Mooresville, Limestone County, Alabama, Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, Hidden Spaces project; photo by Abraham Rowe

Piney Creek, Tennessee River backwater, Limestone County, Alabama, Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, Hidden Spaces project; photo by Abraham Rowe Spiral screen print design inspired by The Dots and the Line; photo by Robert Rausch County Road, Limestone County, Alabama, Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, Hidden Spaces project; photo by Abraham Rowe
Left to right:
Piney Creek, Tennessee River backwater, Limestone County, Alabama, Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, Hidden Spaces project; photo by Abraham Rowe
Spiral screen print design inspired by The Dot and the Line; photo by Robert Rausch
County Road, Limestone County, Alabama, Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, Hidden Spaces project; photo by Abraham Rowe

Tennessee River at Kroger Island, Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, Hidden Spaces project; photo by Abraham Rowe Lovelace Crossroads production office; photo by Robert Rausch Between the fields, Lauderdale County, Alabama; photo by Robert Rausch
Left to right:
Tennessee River at Kroger Island, Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, Hidden Spaces project; photo by Abraham Rowe
Lovelace Crossroads production office; photo by Robert Rausch
Between the fields, Lauderdale County, Alabama; photo by Robert Rausch

Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour, a book edited by Michelle Tolini Finamore


Above: Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour, edited by Michelle Tolini Finamore.

Read (or listen) along with us. #AlabamaChaninBookClub
(Updated August 21, 2023)

Some of the links below contain affiliate links. By purchasing a book or audio recording at these links, Alabama Chanin, The School of Making, and Project Threadways may receive a portion of the purchase price. Thank you.

Summer 2.0: The August Edition

Tom Lake, Ann Patchett’s new book—read by Meryl Streep. I’ve listened to favorite parts over and over again. It reminds me in equal parts of Out of Africa and Cookie’s Fortune, two movies I’ve always loved where Streep has defining roles.

Black Folk by Blair LM Kelley is a beautiful and important read about the soul of a family and the role of craft in a growing America. Kelley is the new director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. We are looking forward to visiting the Center one day soon with Project Threadways.

(Look for the Fall 2023 issue of Southern Cultures: Climate coming soon. I wrote a short piece for this work about the Tennessee River, which includes a photograph by Robert Rausch. More on this and the exhibition in the coming days.)

While this is not a book, I’ve spent some time recently on a deep dive into the work of Yayoi Kusama and love this short film from the Tate. A visit to the new museum is on my bucket list, and the Instagram account could be read like an art book. Of course, the movie, Kusama | Infinity.  

“From the point of view of one who creates, everything is a gamble, a leap into the unknown.” – Yayoi Kusama

Like everyone else in the world, I’m obsessed with Kusama the artist and Kusama the woman.

(Also, I’m waiting patiently—or not so patiently—for Simone Leigh to drop October 03, 2023.) 

I am at the very beginning of When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. The winding language is an escape from the everyday. Inspiring.

More very soon,

The Blue Sky Summer List:

Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour, edited by Michelle Tolini Finamore, a catalog for the exhibition which began at Crystal Bridges and is now, newly installed, at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The show includes more than 100 objects and amplifies the voices of Indigenous, Black, immigrant, and women designers—a garment from the Alabama Chanin collection is now on display as part of the show. Learn more and get tickets here.

Michelle made a recent visit to The Factory; it was wonderful to spend time discussing all of her works. See more here.

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese—yes, the one of Oprah fame. It is long and delicious—perfect for summer days and nights. 

Verghese’s stories reminded me so much of Isabel Allende that I proceeded with a deep dive into The Japanese Lover, The Wind Knows My Name, and, now, The House of Spirits (for the fourth, or maybe fifth, time).

Listen to her interview with Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Wiser than Me. 

Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity by Peter Attia. I’m not sure what I expected, but I’ve found this work surprisingly good and entertaining. It has certainly inspired me to work more on muscle stability, improving sleep, and practicing emotional health. I’ve dipped into Peter’s podcasts off and on for some time, and like the podcast, the book (which I listened to first) has some real gems. I did wind up purchasing the physical book as I need time to sit and study the science; however, as the subtitle says, there is also an art to the pursuit of a life well lived.

I can’t get enough of Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor by Leslie Umberger.  My friends Ann and Scott, from High Wire Distilling, piled the table with books (this one included) during an early summer dinner at their home in Charleston, South Carolina. I was hooked and ordered the book that night. 

If you’ve never been to visit their distillery, put it on your bucket list. Aside from delicious food, beverage, and gatherings, they have an incredibly beautiful collection (and giant wall) of American Folk Art—including works from Traylor and so many other important artists and makers. Their collection and Between Worlds by Umberger are part of the inspiration for my idea of Blue Sky Summer—indigo, hikes, space, time, designing, writing, and sky-gazing. Sigh. 

(Thank you, Ann and Scott—sending love and Blue Skies your way!)

Last, but certainly not least, I’ve been incredibly inspired by Glenn Adamson’s Craft: An American Historyabout the origins of the United States of America through the lens of our craftspeople. There is so much to unpack in this important book. The truth is that Adamson has so many important works; I find myself wanting to sit with him and ask a 1,000 questions. 

Wishing a Blue Sky summer to all,

Please share any books we should add to our upcoming reading lists in the comments below.

Photographs by Pete Candler from his book, The Road to Unforgetting.

Above: Pages 101-103 from The Road to Unforgetting: Detours in the American South 1997-2022, by Pete Candler, 2023 | 103, Homeless Car Wash, Sheffield, Alabama 2019

The List: Summer Reading (and Writing)

It’s been a busy year and I’m looking forward to all the upcoming stories and projects—big projects—that are launching and unfolding in the coming months. There is so very much to be grateful for these days. Thank you to everyone for patience as we have planned, explored, designed, built, and slowly worked forward. Even with all of this upcoming excitement, summer reading (and journaling) is in full force. Here are a few that are at the top of my list this week.

I’m in the process of taking a Masterclass with Ari Weinzweig and ZingTrain. Part of this wonderful class is a rereading of A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Managing Ourselves: Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 3. I find it just as inspiring the second time around—a decade after its release in 2013. You can also subscribe to Ari’s weekly newsletter and read the entire archive at no charge.  

One of my favorite of Ari’s works is the small volume, Humility: A Humble, Anarchistic Inquiry, I picked up when visiting Ann Arbor in April. I have the gift of belonging to a weekly study group of brilliant women; this lovely work is now the centerpiece of our summer studies. 

Dr. Ansely Quiros—neighbor, friend, writer for this Journal, journalist, Project Threadways board member, inspiring historian, professor, and so much more—recently wrote this very important piece for The Washington Post, “As in the 1950s, a grass-roots civil rights movement can reshape Tennessee,” At a recent dinner, she recommended On Our Best Behavior: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Price Women Pay to Be Good by Elise Loehnen for our book club. Also have a listen to Elise Loehnen’s great podcast Pulling the Thread

She also loaned me a copy of Maggie Smith’s book, You Could Make This Place Beautiful. Ann Patchett wrote, “This book is extraordinary.” Enough said. This tiny chapter, page 19, sticks in my mind:


“I don’t have to understand everything, and I don’t believe understanding is owed me. I don’t get 2001: A Space Odyssey—fine. I can live with that. But my own life? It would be nice to get it. 

And this brings me to the journal and journaling. I’ve scribbled in notebooks—mostly a Moleskine—since I was 15 years old. Earlier this year, at a board meeting for South Arts, I overheard John T. Edge and Elliot Knight—director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts (Project Threadways is a grateful grant recipient of this organization)—talking about the structure and organization of their notes, writings, and journals. I’m a fanatic about systems and love new ideas around organization, office supplies, writing implements, and journals. They were discussing the merits of the Leuchtturm1917 system and had lots to say that day about how they organize their thoughts. Inspired by their enthusiastic banter, I bought two and have started testing the process with the many pages of research and notes I’ve been taking the last months; I may be a convert. 

Last but not least, our friend Pete Candler has a new photography collection titled The Road to Unforgetting: Detours in the American South 1997-2022, which includes some photographs taken as he passed through The Shoals in 2019. 

Sally Mann, wrote, “Pete Candler and I share a deep and abiding love for the South, despite its troubled past and complicated present. The Road to Unforgetting is a nuanced and personal exploration of both, revealed by his words and his imagery to coexist poignantly, and perhaps uniquely, in the South.” Lovely.  

Happy reading. Happy writing. Happy explorations. Happy summer.


P.S.: Do you have a favorite journal system? Please share in the comments.

The Art of Embroidery by Françoise Tellier-Loumagne
The Art of Embroidery: Inspirational Stitches, Textures, and Surfaces by Françoise Tellier-Loumagne

The Italian Edition: 1973-2023:

First off, Italo Calvino. 

The Castle of Crossed Destinies was written in 1973 and the first of Calvino’s books that Natalie read (about a decade later in 1983). She spent the next few years reading through Calvino: Italian Folk Tales, The Baron in the Trees, Difficult Loves, and so many more— loving both the structure and whimsical freedom of the stories and words. Italo Calvino passed away in 1985, two short years after Natalie’s discovery of his work. 

Last year, dreaming about Italy, she decided to try listening to Calvino—in Italian: Le città invisibili (Invisible Cities) and the more recently purchased Il castello dei destini incrociati (The Castle of Crossed Destinies). Italo Calvino became her new bi-lingual, cross-disciplinary teacher. In a lovely essay from 2022, Jhumpa Lahiri describes Calvino’s crafting of language as “an expressive kingdom belonging only to him.”  The essay is a beautiful read and, at the same time, sheds insight on Lahiri’s own bi-lingual works: “Why Is Italo Calvino So Beloved Outside Italy?: On the Translatability and “Secret Essence” of Calvino’s Language” 

And now it seems that Italo Calvino is everywhere. On March 6th, 2023, The New Yorker published “The Worlds of Italo Calvino,” by Merve Emre (there is a short audio listen included at the same link). This 2014 article from The Guardian has been circulating as well. It connects Calvino to Oulipo, a Paris-based group of creators who played with the structure of mathematics in combination with the freedoms of words and creativity.

Timing is everything, and it seems to be the time to read, listen, and savor Calvino. For those who love to judge a book by its cover, the Italo Calvino collection (or much of it) has been repackaged in what Merve Emre describes as a “pure-white cover [with] a curious shape cut into it.” Today, many book outlets bundle Invisible Cities with the inspiring The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt from the 99% Invisible podcast. 

Secondly, Jhumpa Lahiri, and another favorite Italian-born book from last year.

Whereabouts is a quiet, poetic journey through a city, life, and life in relation to a city. This is Lahiri’s first book written in Italian, originally titled “Dove mi trovo,” and then translated to English—her primary language for writing. The audio book is available here and read by Susan Vinciotti Bonito. We see a beautiful connection between Lahiri’s structure of language and Calvino structure of mathematics. 

Also, for the lovers of books and fashion: The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri.P.S.: We obviously love the juxtaposition of mathematics, craft, geometry, and sewing (not to compare ourselves with the genius of Italo Calvino, rather as simple adoration). In synchronicity, we have the new Noto Collection that includes a pattern called the “Siena”; Calvino was born in the city of Siena, Italy.

A map of the Florence, Alabama, area, focused on Wildwood Park. Screenshot taken from AllTrails.

Natalie recently wrote a small piece that included, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety, by Sarah Wilson. (Read the story here.)

Listen to this great interview of Dacher Keltner with Krista Tippett, and follow this with Keltner’s book, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life

Revisit Rollo May’s books, The Courage to Create and The Meaning of Anxiety

Read Unraveling: What I Learned about Life While Shearing Sheep, Dyeing Wool, and Making the World’s Ugliest Sweater, by Peggy Orenstein, via Bookshop.org. Orenstein also wrote this interesting Opinion piece in the New York Times: “The Revolutionary Power of a Skein of Yarn.” All acts of making have the potential to change communities and the world. 
(P.S.: Read about the Project Threadways Symposium: The Collective here.)
We LOVE Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions by Temple Grandin—or listen to the audio version here.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker—the audio version is beautifully narrated by Steve West. 

After Matthew Walker’s book, listen to this deep dive into the science of sleep: “Dr. Gina Poe: Use Sleep to Enhance Learning, Memory & Emotional State” on the Huberman Lab podcast. Be prepared to take notes.

Jenny Holzer's Book "Living" shown open to a page that reads "You're home free as soon as no one knows where to find you."

The Late 2022 & Early 2023 List:

Trust by Hernan Diaz
Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami
Matrix by Lauren Groff
The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont
The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb
I’m Glad My Mother Died by Jennette McCurdy
(Reading again) The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison
And this New Yorker article about the book.

“How to Set & Hold Boundaries” with Melissa Urban. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you stream.

“The Science of Happiness” with Arthur Brooks and Peter Attia. Listen here or on your favorite streaming platform.

Living by Jenny Holzer is a publication of “Truisms” which artist Jenny Holzer wrote anonymously, shared, and continues to share publicly as sheets of paper adhered to phone booths, marquee signs, projected onto buildings, and large-format letters trailing airplanes.

“Turn soft and lovely any time you have a chance”
“All things are delicately interconnected”
“Life is not a rehearsal”
“It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender”

Purchase a limited-edition copy of Living here. Learn more about Holzer’s work and life here. Explore some of her iconic Truisms via the Museum of Modern Art and Archives of Women Artists Research & Exhibitions.

How to Tell A Story by The Moth organization and Viola Davis's book Finding Me.

Beautiful, honest, raw, and inspiring, Finding Me, written and read by Viola Davis is a treasure. Davis won a Grammy Award for her narration of the book—earning her the well deserved “EGOT” status (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony). Listen on Libro.fm and support your local bookstore.

Cassandra Speaks by Elizabeth Lesser: “When women are storytellers, the human story changes.” A book that we return to over and over again—words matter, language matter, how we speak (and listen) to one another matters. Listen to Cassandra Speaks on Librio.fm.

How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth by Meg Bowles, Catherine Burns, Jenifer Hixson, Sarah Austin Jenness, and Kate Tellers. Congratulations to our friends at The Moth for their newest book landing on The New York Times Best Sellers list. Read our interview with Catherine Burns, our Alabama sister and Artistic Director of The Moth, here

Woo Who? May Wilson from New Day Films:
When her husband informs her, after 40 years of marriage, that his future plans no longer include her, May Wilson, age 60, former “wife-mother-housekeeper-cook” and a grandmother, moves to New York City and discovers an independent life of her own for the first time in which the art, that had once been a hobby, becomes central. —New Day Films

Paired with this book: Ray Johnson c/o, an exploration of the collage and pop artist’s collection at The Chicago Institute of Art.Learn more about the life and work of Ray Johnson, “New York’s most famous unknown artist,” and friend of May Wilson.

Image Grid of Book Covers and Spreads from Alabama Chanin's "What We're Reading" List
Clockwise: Spine of Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit; Cover of Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson; Orwell’s Roses, “Roses and Revolution” featuring the iconic Tina Modotti photograph “Roses, Mexico” (1924); Origins and development of Josef Albers’ iconic Homage to the Square series from Josef Albers: Interaction; “Our Ever-Changing Shore,” 1958 by Rachel Carson from Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson; The Moth StorySLAM poster (developed by The Moth as a resource to support storytellers preparing to share on the Moth StorySLAM stage) from How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth

In Orwell’s Roses, Rebecca Solnit offers an endearing portrait of George Orwell, the radical twentieth-century dystopian novelist who displays a capacity for hope through the act of planting and tending to his roses.

A beloved favorite for all of us at Alabama Chanin and The School of Making, A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit is a series of autobiographical essays that explore navigation, an ever-present theme in the human experience. The path toward knowing oneself is most often found when we approach the unfamiliar terrains of wilderness, relationships, and life with open hearts and a sense of wonder.

One of Natalie’s favorite reads, Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, written and read by Lulu Miller, makes taxonomy and intriguing science. Miller is a Peabody Award-winning science journalist and co-host of the beloved Radiolab podcast. Listen on Libro.fm and support your local bookstore.

The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion: 250 Years of Design by Madelief Hohé and the Peabody Essex Museum. (Full disclosure: Alabama Chanin and Natalie Chanin are very honored to have been included in this book. Congratulations to our friends at the Peabody Essex Museum on receiving the Richard Martin Exhibition Award from the Costume Society of America for this exhibition. Tour Made It: The Women who Revolutionized Fashion online here.

Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson  previously uncollected writings from the ecologist, biologist, and inspiring human, Rachel Carson. Also read, “The Right Way to Remember Rachel Carson” by Jill Lepore for The New Yorker. Listen: The Kitchen Sisters Present podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, kitchensisters.org, or wherever you prefer to stream. Read: Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes, and More from NPR’s the Kitchen Sisters. Listen to select stories from the series here. Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, “The Kitchen Sisters”, are radio producers, historians, and storytellers who have been recording the lives, recipes, and journeys—in and out of the kitchen—that have shaped today’s culture. Learn more about The Kitchen Sisters and explore their vast body of work and latest projects.

Three books: A Retrospective by Lee Bontecou, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and To Fix the Image in Memory by Vija Celmins.

Always and forever, once a year: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. The audio version of Hurston’s seminal work is performed by the brilliant actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and civil rights activist Ruby Dee, and is one of the very best performances of an audio

Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory  edited by Gary Garrels. Learn more about the 2019 exhibition from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and view more of Celmins’ works. Read Natalie’s essay on creative process and Vija Celmins as inspiration.

Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective ADD BOOK DETAILS. Learn more about the 2004 retrospective exhibition from The Museum of Modern Art, and view more of Bontecou’s works. Read #ThoseWhoInspire: Lee Bontecou and Natalie’s essay on creative process and Lee Bontecou as inspiration.

Clockwise: Cover of An Atlas of Rare and Familiar Colour: The Harvard Art Museums’ Forbes Pigment Collection; Study IV-1 from Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color, chapter IV: “A color has many faces—the relativity of color”; Overview of the color Blue from The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair; Introduction to the color Red from On Color; Cover of Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours: Adapted to Zoology, Botany, Chemistry, Minerology, Anatomy, and the Arts; Cover of Pantone: The 20th Century in Color in Pantone® Dark Blue C

Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours: Adapted to Zoology, Botany, Chemistry, Minerology, Anatomy, and the Arts by Patrick Syme, is the book Charles Darwin referenced to describe the colors he saw in nature during his voyage sailing around the world from 1831–1836 aboard the H.M.S Beagle. Read more about “The Book that Colored Charles Darwin’s World” via The New Yorker.

On Color by David Scott Kastan and Stephen Farthing
Pantone: The 20th Century in Color by Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker
Josef Albers: Interaction, edited by Heinz Liesbrock and Ulrike Growe
Interaction of Color by Josef Albers
The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair
An Atlas of Rare and Familiar Colour: The Harvard Art Museums’ Forbes Pigment Collection



Mending Matters: Stitch, Patch, and Repair Your Favorite Denim & More, by Katrina Rodabaugh, includes 22 how-to projects, a number of essays on the topic of slow fashion, over 200 color photographs, and a foreword by our own Natalie Chanin. Rodabaugh dedicated herself to repair and sustainability after the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse, when she pledged not to buy new clothing for a year. After teaching several popular mending workshops, she realized that a growing number of people had an interest in clothing repair. All of this work led to the publication of Mending Matters, which is a tribute to the values of sustainability.


The book focuses on using simple mending techniques to express personal style—whether through interior or exterior patches, different stitch patterns, darning, and weaving. There are step-by-step photos and easy-to-understand instructions that give guidance while discouraging absolute perfectionism.


Rodabaugh weaves essays among her projects, explaining her own relationship with slow fashion and her personal philosophy on how the process of repair can change your outlook on the wider world. It encourages mindfulness and embrace of imperfection and promotes the idea that self-confidence can be born through making things with your hands. She uses mending as a metaphor for appreciating one another, flaws and all.


This book inspires without intimidating and will encourage the reader to rethink their own ideas and feelings about fashion, waste, and thoughtful use of products. Mending Matters offers practical and beautiful solutions to everyday problems and is a steady voice in the slow fashion movement. Voices like Rodabaugh’s are the future of the movement and we look forward to hearing more from her.



Former art director of several national magazines, including Smithsonian, House & Garden, and The Washington Post, Brian Noyes knows his way around a publishing house. He also knows his way around a kitchen. After purchasing a small farm just outside of Washington, D.C., Noyes started selling jars of jam at his farm and at local country stores, using a red truck (fashioned after his own vehicle) on the labels. The popularity of the jams encouraged him to expand his offerings to baked goods—which became an in-demand item around the community. The New York Times featured Red Truck Bakery as a favorite food purveyor two years in a row, which only increased its following.

Red Truck Bakery is situated in Marshall, Virginia, and works closely with farmers to utilize organic and naturally grown produce and dairy products. It has been featured in magazines like Saveur, Travel + Leisure,  and it was named one of “America’s 13 Sweetest Bakery Destinations” by Conde Nast Traveler. It also got a thumbs-up from President Barack Obama, who enjoyed their sweet potato bourbon pecan pie for Pi Day.


This year, Red Truck Bakery published their first cookbook, Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes From America’s Favorite Rural Bakery. It includes 85 recipes for dishes like Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits, Shenandoah Apple Cake, and Appalachian Pie with Ramps and Morels, alongside stories of the bakery’s history and anecdotes about the dishes.

If you are looking for holiday baked goods, Red Truck Bakery ships thousands of items nationwide each year. After meeting at this year’s Southern Foodways Alliance symposium, Noyes sent Natalie a copy of the cookbook (check out our Heath Ceramics collaboration plate with the Pecan Pull-Aparts above), some of their famed granola, and a gluten-free almond cake. The items ship beautifully and we highly recommend sampling their goods yourself. For more information on their offerings and shipping details, click here.


Crop Stories is a food-based magazine, with each issue focusing on a particular ingredient. Its fourth edition highlights sweet potatoes—histories and how-tos, stories of real people who work the land, and a whole mess of delicious recipes. According to editor Andre Gallant, the magazine wanted to seek out diverse narratives and writers. “What we hope most is how the stories presented in the following pages begin to complicate or discard any idyllic notions of farming in the American South. We share the same love for what draws others to the field—independence, soil that nurtures, a rustic gastronomy—but we refuse to blot out difficult topics like race, class, gender, and age, that permeate every aspect of modern life.”


Within this 144-page fourth edition, you will find a history of the sweet potato, different types of sweet potato, tips on growing the crop, including tips on handling pests, and stunning photographs—some by friend and collaborator Rinne Allen. Perhaps most moving are the stories of the people trying to make a living off the land: local independent farmers, slaughterhouses, why Black land matters, and farmers getting by in The Sweet Potato Capital of the World—Vardaman, Mississippi. Of farmer Loyd Lewis, who owns and operates a roadside vegetable stand, Keia Mastrianni writes, “In an instant, it is clear what inspires Loyd Lewis to work each day. The farm is an extension of himself; an identity so tethered to the land, it’s as deeply rooted as the trees that shade the property.”


Editor Gallant said, “So far we have not followed a formula. We are making this up as we go along, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s something I like to tell the team, who often turn to me to understand the rules of the journalism/publishing world. I say, ‘There are no rules to what we are doing.’ We aren’t Bon Appetit or Modern Farmer. We’re inventing the identity of this thing with each issue.” Crop Stories encourages readers to get to know their farmers and know there is a story behind everything they consume, but it also aims to get the average person more comfortable with ingredients and with cooking new things. Above all, it pulls no punches about farming life, all while celebrating the crops produced.





During the Great Depression, millions of people across the world faced abject poverty after the stock market crash of 1929. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was impacted by the sight of his fellow Americans living hand-to-mouth and was determined to find a way for people to live more simply and with more affordable housing, particularly middle-class families. Out of this idea was born the concept of Usonia, a style of building that combined landscape and design. Alvin Rosenbaum, resident of the original Usonian home (located in Florence, Alabama) wrote in his book Usonia: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Design For America, “Usonia was Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision for America, a place where design commingled with nature, expanding the idea of architecture to include a civilization, a utopian ideal that integrated spiritual harmony and material prosperity across a seamless, unspoiled landscape. Usonia was a state of mind, combining an evolving prescription for the elimination of high-density American cities and their replacement by pastoral communities organized around modern transportation and communications technology with a new type of home for middle-income families.”


Some say that the name “Usonia” was adapted as an abbreviation for “United States of North America,” an idea that Wright did not come up with, but eventually embraced. The concept behind Usonia was to tailor each home to the family it would house. Wright would spend time on site to get to know the ins and outs, making a point to use local materials whenever possible. He and his team evaluated their clients before beginning building. In fact, he was known to cut costs by encouraging homeowners to take part in constructing their own homes, which also created an intimate connection between the dwelling and the resident. The homes were named after the families who would inhabit them.


Wright’s style leant itself to horizontal construction, including flat roofs and overhangs; there were no attics or basements, which was an efficient use of indoor and outdoor space and allowed for in-floor radiant heating systems—pipes of hot steam running through the foundation. The homes were often L-shaped and had open floor plans. Horizontal grid lines were used throughout the homes so that parts were easier to standardize. The kitchens were small and inspired by Pullman-style train cars and light fixtures and furniture were either built into the house or customized to the design. Alvin Rosenbaum wrote, “From the outside, our Usonian is a wisp of a place, low and unobtrusive, made mostly of wood and tarpaper. Embedded into its landscape, it could also be imagined as existing on wheels, as moveable as a car on the road, ready to settle into a different site someplace else. In many ways, it is unimpressive, even insubstantial. But from the inside looking out it is solid.”


The Rosenbaum Home in Florence is considered one of the purest examples of Usonian architecture, which Wright and his well-trained team spent decades perfecting. His team continued his work after his death in 1959—though the homes he once built to help middle-class families thrive now sell for millions of dollars. Still, the impact of the Usonian movement cannot be overestimated; it paved the way for building with natural and native materials and was an obvious influence on mid-century design. As Alvin Rosenbaum wrote in Usonia, “In sum my childhood homestead was a series of delightful contradictions; urbanity comfortably set into down-home informality; an architect molded to our family and to its site, yet somehow reaching beyond, created by Wright as a model for an ideal design for living; and a southern community that accepted, indeed, celebrated, what appeared to others in the incongruity of it all.”

Find Alvin Rosenbaum’s book Usonia: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Design For America on Amazon.



“Southern history encompasses migrations from Africa to the Americas, from farms to factories, from the rural South to the urban North and back again,” writes John T. Edge in his book, The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South. In this book, John T. reports on 60-plus years of Southern food histories—from the innovative use of traditional dishes to advance the civil rights movement to today’s more modern attempts to demonstrate that Southern cuisine is more beautiful and complex than stereotypes suggest.

The book begins with acknowledgment that much of Southern cuisine is a direct product of African and African American influences. As he explained to Arts Atlanta, “For so much of the South’s history, when you hear certain segments of the population talk about the region, they’re implying somehow that word South means white South and that the word southern means white culture,” he said. “That’s just demonstrably disingenuous. [The title of my book] is a metaphor for boiling down a pot of greens to its essence. If you boil down Southern culinary culture to its essence, the most defining trait, the most defining cultural trait in Southern cookery and culture, are the contributions of African-Americans. I don’t say that with guilt as a white man. I say that with a pure-eyed vigor.”


John T. begins his examination of the civil rights movement with a section on Georgia Gilmore—cook, midwife, and mother of six—who set up a restaurant in her own kitchen, hosting leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott and serving them chicken sandwiches and pork chops. She also headed up fundraisers, selling cakes and sweet potato pies to raise money for alternate forms of transportation for the black citizens who relied upon buses as their main form of travel. Gilmore helped the black women she organized as fundraisers to see that what they provided to white households as domestics held power in the movement. He writes, “Georgia Gilmore inspired black citizens of Montgomery. And she worried whites, who clung to the idea that, through daily intimate exchange, black cooks and maids became members of their family. Domestics worked for love, whites came to understand, but that love was for their own black families.”

The book also delves into the controversy surrounding soul food, which both connected African Americans with their history and became almost fetish foods for whites looking for something exotic. Fannie Lou Hamer, founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, began to focus on health problems widespread in the African American community and started a national conversation on democratizing food access and worked to convince black Americans to reclaim their connection to the land as a way to combat poverty. She founded the Freedom Farm and Pig Bank which, in her mind, was a strategy to subvert the past. “Hamer preached the differences between the white-owned plantations where she was raised and the interracial cooperative farm she operated… To many blacks in the Delta, though, the land that Hamer farmed was tainted. And so was the labor required.”


John T. explores the 1970s and 80s through stories of The Farm, a commune founded by Stephen Gaskin in Summertown, Tennessee. He was a pioneer of the back-to-the-land movement embraced by a generation of disillusioned hippies. In contrast, he delves into the story of Colonel Harland Sanders who, in franchising his company and its secret recipe of herbs and spices, became rich and recognizable—and eventually realized he may have made a deal with the devil, serving as a conflicted “living mascot” for his democratized version of Southern fried chicken.

The Potlikker Papers reveals the clash of subcultures, of the old-school innovators and the new breed of chefs who combine provincial cooking with experimental techniques. It also attempts to tackle some of the thornier aspects of Southern cooking, including cultural appropriation and the romanticism of ingredients and dishes that were the direct result of brutal slave labor. The book is a primer on the changes in perception of Southern food and the brutal underbelly of its provenance. It should inspire the reader to dig deeper into food histories—being proud of what we have achieved despite hardship, but keeping in mind the struggles and horrors of Southern history.

John T. Edge and the Southern Foodways Alliance (of which he is the director) are fresh on our minds. John T. MC’d our Friends of the Café Dinner with John Currence in August, and we always visit his hometown of Oxford for the SFA’s Annual Symposium.

We’ve also been digging into our research for Project Threadways which has partnered with the Center for Cultural Studies at the University of Mississippi. John T.’s truthful and challenging work, as seen in The Polikker Papers, has set an extraordinary example for us as we begin our project.



For almost 20 years, the Southern Foodways Alliance has studied and shared the narratives of Southern food, its history, and those who make it. They share those stories not only to educate, but to honor and celebrate those who prepare and serve the food. Now, with The Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails, they take that same approach to cocktails. As author Sara Camp Milam writes, “What we pour in our glasses, where we do the pouring, and with whom we do the drinking: Those matters reveal truths about our values and our identity in a diverse and changing region.”


The book contains classic and contemporary recipes from more than 20 bartenders and must meet one or more of the following criteria: 1) they were conceived or popularized in the South; 2) they use Southern ingredients (like Georgia peaches or honeysuckle vodka from Mississippi); 3) they were created or recommended by some of the best bartenders in the region. According to the book’s co-editor Jerry Slater, the book was intentionally arranged with its first ten chapters structured around classic cocktails, moving in order of increasing strength. The sections following include cocktail snacks from chef Vishwesh Bhatt (so you’ll never drink on an empty stomach), lists of tools and glassware, and descriptions of techniques you may need as you expand your cocktail repertoire.


Overall, the book includes over 80 recipes, each revealing elements of the South’s drinking history – ranging from classic New Orleans traditions, to the impact of religious-based “blue laws”, to the legendary outlaw stories of moonshiners. Each chapter is accompanied by essays on topics like, “New Orleans, Bar City”, “Dance Caves”, and “Bourbon and Gender”.


Just as with our food, the South’s relationship with drinking is complicated. This book aims to explore and honor each complex element of the past and to examine the future of Southern drinking. Milam hopes that, “After reading this book, and mixing a few drinks, you will know enough spirituous lore to impress friends, family, and barmates.”


Find The Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails in our Holiday Shop and at The Factory Store. ­­­



The books have landed, and we’ve started shipping out copies of The Geometry of Hand-Sewing. The School of Making team is so excited to share this new resource—it has truly been a labor of love. The idea for this book blossomed from Natalie’s love of geometry and math. As our team started analyzing embroidery stitches, we realized that most stitches are based on a geometric grid system. This different take on embroidery makes even the most challenging stitches easy to achieve.


The Geometry of Hand-Sewing is an invaluable resource that provides detailed written instructions for over 100 embroidery stitches paired with illustrations and photographs for each stitch. The book features a spiral binding giving it a workbook feel—perfect for working through dozens of different types of embroidery stitches. Included in the back are two perforated stitch cards that you can tear out and use to practice stitches on or for marking guidelines for your stitches onto your desired surface. The first chapters of the book index the tools and notions we love to help perfect our stitches. Chapter 3 works through the basic, foundation stitches that are built upon throughout the book—starting with the simplest and working to the more complex.

Each stitch (over 100) in the book is diagrammed showing both the right-handed and left-handed points of view. We even included photos of the backsides of stitches, so that your technique will be practically perfect. Once you master the basic stitches, chapters 4-6 show you how to embellish stitches, manipulate the grids shown in the book, and how to combine stitches and embellishments into patterned stitches. Design details are listed in the back of the book, and there’s an index of all the stitches shown so you can quickly find exactly what you’re looking for.


Pre-orders have shipped, so keep an eye on the mail for your book. Look for products and programming to go along with The Geometry of Hand-Sewing in the coming weeks. Visit our Makers Supplies + Stencils section to find all the tools you’ll need to get started.

Happy stitching from Natalie and all of us @ The School of Making.



The Factory Café team is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Asha Gomez for her sold-out Friends of the Café dinner tomorrow night. It’s our last in the 2017 Friends of the Café Southern Foodways Alliance benefit series—but café chef Ray Nichols will be cooking a Fall Supper on October 19th.

The Factory Café served Golden Potato Croquettes from her James Beard-nominated cookbook, My Two Souths, from August 29th to September 1st. We loved the taste of Asha’s Indian-inspired Southern dish.


Asha’s dinner will feature a four-course meal, including dishes like Sunday Vegetable Stew, Kerala fish curry, Beef Biriyani, and Three Spice Carrot Cake, with cocktails, wine pairings and brand new beers from our friends at Blackberry Farm.

Thanks to everyone who joined us this year (and the past 3 years) to support Alabama Chanin, The Factory Café, the SFA, our team, and our community. Look for the 2018 dinner schedule in January.

Stay up to date on dinners, and all other events hosted at The Factory by visiting our Events page and joining our mailing list.



In honor of our recent Friends of the Café Dinner with chef Ashley Christensen, The Factory Café is featuring a tomato pie recipe from her cookbook, Poole’s: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner. Ashley’s Homegrown Tomato Pie will be available from June 27th – July 1st (or until we run out of tomatoes), with lunch served from 11:00am – 2:00pm each day and Saturday Brunch from 10:00am – 2:00pm.

In her cookbook, Ashley notes, “You’ll need to bravely stack the ingredients just a bit higher than the edge of the piecrust. Have faith: it won’t overflow.” We were daring and added an extra layer of sliced tomatoes to the top.

P.S.: Don’t miss our other events happening at The Factory this summer by visiting the Events page. Lucy Buffett will be at The Factory on July 27th for a book-signing of her brand new cookbook, Gumbo Love. And Asha Gomez, our featured café chef for the next (sold out) Friends of the Café Dinner on August 24th, will be signing copies of her latest cookbook, My Two Souths, following her dinner.




“Nothing is less real than realism ― details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get the real meaning of things.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe is undoubtedly considered one of America’s greatest and most influential painters. She was a key figure in the emergence and advancement of American modernism and produced an extensive body of work over the course of seventy working years. Her skill for capturing color, light, and form via her most frequently featured subjects—landscapes, cityscapes, desert skies, bones, and (of course) flowers—was nuanced and centered in her sense of place.

Her iconic flower paintings are lush with color and have been interpreted as evocations of female genitalia. Photographer Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe’s husband and promoter, encouraged Freudian comparisons, but O’Keeffe was uncomfortable with what she felt were degrading analyses of her work made by male artists; she fought to assert her own voice. She wrote to her friend Mabel Dodge Luhan, “I thought you could write something about me that men can’t – What I want written – I do not know – I have no definite idea of what it should be – but a woman who has lived many things and who sees lines and colors as an expression of living – might say something that a man can’t – I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore – Men have done all they can do about it.”

O’Keeffe’s ownership of her femininity and her image are examined in Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern. The exhibition examines what they believe to be a well-crafted persona created by a truly independent artist, through photograph portraits and the artist’s wardrobe. Her clothing is displayed alongside photographs and O’Keeffe’s paintings as a way to demonstrate how fully she claimed and curated her identity throughout her career. Living Modern suggests that the artist was modern art’s first real “celebrity” and that she used clothing in a calculated way, to solidify her persona.

The collection documents her early years, where she established a simple style of dress and a cosmetic-free face, her time in New York when she adopted a stark black-and-white palette, and her years in New Mexico where her clothing became a reflection of her more vibrant surroundings. Until her later years, O’Keeffe wore black and white suits with a headscarf or hat and loose-fitting garments like kimonos—almost always in black. She learned to sew at an early age and made her own clothing over the years, but also leaned on a core group of designers and commissioned custom items. Her style was indelible: minimal, androgynous, and carefully thought out. The exhibition’s curator Wanda Corn explains, “She’s an artist of distillation. She takes something and brings it down to a very purist and minimalist aesthetic. She didn’t do big buttons, ruffles, lace.”

“Everyone wanted to redress her to make her appear more feminine,” Corn explains. Instead, she used clothing to demand agency in a male-dominated field. In the days before social media and message-driven branding, O’Keefe (much like Frida Kahlo) used her clothing to establish a deliberate aesthetic and identity—and to reinforce a commitment to her values and to her personal philosophies.

Click here for more information and to watch a video about the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition.



It’s widely known that we believe Ashley Christensen is a total badass. We were giddy fans of her work, long before we ever really got to know her. Now that we know more about Ashley the person and are no longer admiring from afar, we find her even more impressive. Ashley may be a James Beard Award-winning chef, but she is also thoughtful and relatable—something that becomes obvious as you flip through the beautiful pages of her first cookbook, Poole’s: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner.


Poole’s offers home cooks recipes that nourish and inspire. There are several of what Ashley calls “back pocket” recipes that can easily be folded into your regular dinner repertoire, and there are others that may take more time and preparation (and maybe aspiration). She uses simple ingredients to create sometimes complex flavors. Her red wine vinaigrette (now a forever kitchen staple) has 5 ingredients, but the instruction provided goes beyond anything I’ve found in other cookbooks; Ashley perfectly details how things should look, how they should smell, and draws attention to the stages of change as the ingredients transform into the final product.

The recipes offered here are reflections of what Ashley believes to be important: fresh seasonal ingredients from local purveyors (whenever possible), used thoughtfully to create dishes that make sense—because they are tied to the land, the region, the people, and her guests.


Even as Ashley details how the food is impeccably prepared from start to finish, she also weaves her personal story into the history of Poole’s Diner—one of Raleigh’s oldest restaurants and a place her father frequented as a young man. Almost immediately it became clear to Ashley that Poole’s history would play a part in her present. She writes, “In using the original name, Poole’s Diner, I knew that I was tapping into a collective memory, a fixture that could continue to act as an anchor for a city that was changing and evolving. Without even realizing it, opening Poole’s Diner turned me into a community organizer.”


Some of the most poignant moments in the book emerge when she writes about her parents and how they passed on a fervent love of food and the comfort found in making it. Her parents danced when they cooked, they laughed and enjoyed being together, in the moment. “Dinner was never a rote exercise; it was an occasion, an experience.” Her family did not sit down to eat a regimented dinner at the same time every night. “We ate when it was ready, which meant after my parents had enjoyed winding down the day with a glass of wine and some tunes, while cooking a meal that was as much about the process as the finished product.”


That same warm feeling is present in Ashley’s recipes, as is her impeccable technique. Pimento cheese is a Southern staple, but in her hands it becomes singular and a bit elevated. She admits to being most at ease when cooking vegetables—and there are plenty of options for those who want to serve fewer meat dishes at home. You can also find recipes for some of Poole’s signature plates, including their most requested dish: Macaroni Au Gratin. When Ashley participated in our Friends of the Café Dinner series, we were treated to the watermelon salad with Vidalia onion vinaigrette shown on the book’s cover. (There are instructions in the book on how to fan your avocado slices, which you will immediately want to try. It’s fun.)


Poole’s Diner and Ashley Christensen’s six other properties in the Raleigh area have helped revitalize the downtown and the regional food scene. In the book, Ashley explains that those who visit her restaurants are not “customers”—they are “guests”. You can feel the difference when you eat at one of her establishments and you get the same sensation flipping through this book.

*Originally published on October 26, 2016



“A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it; it is in one word, effective.” – Irving Penn.

Best known for his fashion photography and portraiture, Irving Penn spent over six decades perfecting a unique style, with painstaking attention to detail and composition. He is largely remembered for his work with Vogue magazine and his fashion photography set the standard for documenting couture clothing and women’s wear for decades to come. Penn created an extraordinary 165 covers for the magazine, more than any other photographer. He also contributed singular and enduring portraits of famous figures—including iconic images of Truman Capote, Salvador Dali, Georgia O’Keefe, and Pablo Picasso. Vogue’s art director Alexander Liberman coined the term “stoppers” to describe the effect of a Penn photograph on viewers—meaning the image was so striking, it stopped you from turning the page.


After years of traveling the world on assignments, Penn developed a strong preference for photographing subjects in a controlled studio environment that allowed him to focus on a subject’s essence—without the distraction of outside elements. His portrait compositions were sparse and he generally posed his subjects against a simple backdrop, with diffused lighting. His most frequently used background was an aged theater curtain he found in Paris, and he carefully transported it to each studio he used. When traveling, Penn brought with him a tent that would serve as a similar background to his studio environment.


Decades of fashion photography led Penn to be somewhat critical of his own work, avoiding looking at his magazine images because “they hurt too much”. In search of new sources of inspiration, he immersed himself in learning early photo printing techniques. His research led him to a process for printing in platinum and palladium metals (known as platinotype), enlarging negatives for contact printing on hand-sensitized paper, which was adhered to an aluminum sheet so that it could withstand multiple coatings and printings. For the next three decades, Penn printed all of his new work and went back to recreate some of his earlier prints using this method. Supposedly, some prints could take over three days to complete.


In honor of what would have been Irving Penn’s 100th birthday, the Met Gallery has curated an extensive exhibit, Irving Penn: Centennial, that runs through July 30, 2017. The Frist Center for Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, is currently exhibiting Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty through May 29, 2017. We encourage you to visit one (or both) exhibits to witness Penn’s eye for detail and finding the humanity in his subjects.

If you can’t visit the exhibition, you can get the beautiful book here.



At The School of Making and Alabama Chanin, we’ve become known for our own style of embroidery and other stitched embellishment that involves applying thread, embroidery floss, beads, and other notions to organic cotton jersey. We know that some of these techniques can seem intimidating for even experienced sewers, and we have developed our newest book with just this in mind.

We are excited to finally announce that The Geometry of Hand-Sewing will be available in the coming months. The book shares what we’ve learned through experience and taught to hundreds of artisans and workshop guests over the years. It is our comprehensive guide for hand embellishment and breaks down even the more complicated techniques into smaller, easy to follow steps.

Our team took a look at the stitches we use daily—and some that we don’t use as often—and broke them down into basic geometry to see how everything could fit into a grid. We examine over 100 embroidery stitches in 7 different grid structures that come pre-punched on the included Stitching Cards as a way to help you understand and practice basic stitches.

Starting today, you can now pre-order your own signed copy of The Geometry of Hand-Sewing. We expect the book to be in our hands at The Factory early November, and we will start signing and shipping pre-ordered copies (plus a special gift) as soon as they arrive. Be on the lookout for more information on the book soon, and for new workshop programming focused solely on embroidery and embellishment detailed in the new book.

Purchase The Geometry of Hand-Sewing here.




“I remember Bill once telling us that the kitchen, within certain bounds, was a laboratory. Occasionally a tart would be lopsided or the mirepoix was never all exactly the same dice, and I remember him saying one time: We do everything homemade here. Everything is made by hand, so there’s nothing wrong with it looking like it.” – Bill Smith, chef, Crook’s Corner

There is a mystery and a mythology surrounding Bill Neal that never really dissipates. His was one of the first voices in the modern celebration of regional cuisine and, as the most academic, it is perhaps one of the most respected. Bill came of age and came to relative prominence in the days just before the celebrity chef and so he escaped much of the recognition and the scrutiny that comes with that fame. However, his contemporaries and those who still love and use his cookbooks know him to be both historian and innovator.

Bill Neal and his then-wife Moreton Neal opened their first restaurant, La Residence, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1975 after Bill’s love of cooking overtook his graduate studies in English. He was never formally trained as a chef, but was intensely dedicated to studying cooking techniques, flavors, and ingredients. The kitchen became his classroom and workshop. Neal’s next venture, the now-legendary Crook’s Corner, put to bed the notion that fish camps and barbecue joints were the only restaurants focusing on true Southern food. And as Bill researched and cooked, he began to do something that no one else was really doing at the time: take Southern food seriously.


John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance describes Bill as “early and important.” Bill Neal, he says, “was the first Southerner who applied an academic rigor to cooking. We were not very proud, back then, of ourselves and our cuisine. He rekindled our respect for the cooking of our own forebears. And he gave Southern cooking a strong national platform.”

It was around this same time that other chefs began to make names for themselves by focusing on fresh ingredients and regional cuisine. Alice Waters, who remains the most recognizable figure in Slow Food, was defining modern California cuisine at Chez Panisse; Paul Prudhomme became one of the most recognized faces in America and a literal advertisement for new and traditional New Orleans food; Jasper White was on his way to becoming the leading authority on New England seafood.

At this same time Bill Neal was being christened by New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne as the spokesperson for Southern foods, which Neal described as a ”confluence of three cultures — Western European, African and Native American — meeting, clashing and ultimately melding into one unique identity, one hybrid society, which was changed forever by civil war in the 1860’s.” In the magnificent Southern Foodways Alliance short film about Bill called, “They Came for Shrimp & Grits: The Life & Work of Bill Neal,” New York Times writer Kim Severson says, “Bill Neal was one of the real early adapters of southern regional awesomeness and the way that he was able to, in a very intelligent way, articulate it both on the plate and the pages of his cookbook, built a foundation for what all the southern chefs are doing right now.”


Southern Cooking was Bill Neal’s first cookbook and it offered evidence that Southern fare is not quaint, unsophisticated, or unimportant. His research and recipes acknowledged the complicated, sometimes difficult history of a food shaped by region, by agriculture, and by an ethnic mix of willing immigrants and enslaved peoples. To quote John T. Edge again, “Bill Neal was one of the first chefs who, by way of what he cooked in his restaurants and what he wrote in his books, said to eaters and readers, ‘These foods are of merit.’” His subsequent books, Good Old Grits Cookbook, Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie, and Gardener’s Latin: A Lexicon allowed him to explore his subjects further and stretch his legs as a writer. He was becoming a recognizable voice in the Southern food vernacular, just as he had become an influence and role model for his peers.

When Bill Neal passed away at the young age of 41, he left behind a rich legacy—and, quite by accident, created a new Southern classic dish from a traditional Low Country staple. “I made a dish that was taken from the traditional Charleston dish, shrimp and grits,” Neal said. “The first time I put shrimp and grits on the menu everybody thought that was the strangest thing they’d ever heard of. Now if I don’t have it on the menu, everybody complains.” Crooks Corner chef Bill Smith agrees. “Bill introduced shrimp and grits to the world here. It was a huge hit at once and now it’s inescapable; it’s everywhere.” Like many chefs, Natalie’s son Zach counts Bill Neal and his shrimp and grits as important influences.


In honor of Chef Bill Neal, Zach will be serving Neal’s version of Chicken Purloo (a dish that is akin to pilaf—made with chicken and rice—and found in Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking) in the café starting today and until Friday. We hope you will stop by to celebrate Chef Neal or, if you are unfamiliar with Bill Neal, use this as an introduction to his work and his lasting legacy.



Esteemed chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, one of six Michelin three-star restaurants in New York (there are only 14 in America) has an incredibly meditative approach to life and business—appropriate for a practicing Buddhist, but uncommon for a high-powered chef. As a young chef, his hot temper led to heavy staff turnover and what he felt was an imbalance in his daily life. Ripert’s food, his vision, his reputation—those were the things that occupied his thoughts. With time, reflection, and meditation, he has changed the way he works in the kitchen. Today he sees himself as more of a teacher, guiding staff through excellent training with a focus on teamwork.


All of this and more are on display in his gorgeous book, On the Line: Inside the World of Le Bernardin, written with Christine Muhlke. On the Line is a detailed account of a day in the life of Le Bernardin, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the precise operation created by Ripert and his business partner Maguy Le Coze. Part biography, part cookbook, it is made up of five sections: The History, In the Kitchen, The Dining Experience, The Business, and The Recipes. Each part is comprehensive, describing almost every element from the front of house to the basement offices. Readers learn a fairly typical day’s schedule, menus, the staff hierarchy and each person’s duties, the timetable of a dish—from order to service—and numbers, numbers, numbers. There are 500 pounds of black bass served each week, 1,300 glasses washed by hand each day, 14,000 bottles of wine in their cellar, and $12,000 per month spent on flowers. Plus, you can read Le Coze’s 129 Cardinal Sins for her front-of-house staff.


Each January we prepare our company-wide strategic plan for the year. As we approached this year’s agenda, we revisited On the Line for inspiration, helping us narrow our focus and be specific about each goal—whether it’s a new budget, prioritization of needs, revenue increases, cutting costs, or creating new systems.


Though a day in the life at Alabama Chanin may look slightly different from one at Le Bernardin, some of their systems and their focus on attention to detail apply to our own way of doing things. We have a hierarchy of systems that we use to help make decisions, with quality being first. We focus more each year on safety, monitoring each of our machines closely and even offering CPR courses for our staff. We also have timelines and strict standards on how each product is made. Eric Ripert’s kitchen requires all 120 of its employees to be performing as well as possible to ensure excellent service; at Alabama Chanin, we don’t yet have 120 staff members, but each performs essential tasks and must be counted on to produce high-quality products on a consistent basis.


Much like Ripert and Le Coze have done at Le Bernardin, we want our passion for excellence to be contagious in our staff and artisans. No garment or meal in our café is about only the finished product. It is also important to us that our customers feel a connection to the details of our processes from basic design to order delivery. That means a lot of training, meetings, work, and dedication from our staff, across the board. It also means making the extra effort to source the best and most sustainable materials, on a consistent basis. Just as with a precise dish, consistency is essential to our products.

If you are looking for inspiration on creating your own schedules or ways to organize your own life or business, we recommend consulting On the Line and Le Bernardin’s standards for excellence. Their leadership, their systems, their products, and their reputation inspire us. Onward, to an excellent 2017.




“Of all the pitfalls in our paths and the tremendous delays and wanderings off the track, I want to say that they are not what they seem to be. I want to say that all that seems like fantastic mistakes are not mistakes; all that seems like error is not error. And it all has to be done. That which seems like a false step is the next step.” – Agnes Martin


Agnes Martin was in her thirties when she decided to become an artist and for over four decades, she created elegant, perfectly square paintings using mostly grids and stripes. From a distance, you might say that Martin simply painted the same thing again and again, with subtle, almost endless variations. But the details—how the lines were created, the tone, depth, proportion, texture—were what brought the abstract beauty to the forefront. “I paint with my back to the world,” she said.


Her early artwork included portraits, landscapes, and still life paintings, but through her studies at the University of New Mexico and Columbia University, she was introduced to Taoist ideas and Zen philosophy, which would inform her artwork from then on, as she was drawn toward the concepts of abstraction. She began to focus on the grid format not to exclude nature, but to include it. “It’s really about the feeling of beauty and freedom that you experience in landscape.” Her grids were repetitive, but with subtle differences. Her paintings were like her observations of clouds passing above her head. “I paid close attention for a month to see if they ever repeated,” she said. “They don’t repeat.”


After a number of years working as an artist, Martin abruptly abandoned the New York art world and gave away her materials, resurfacing in New Mexico a year and a half later. When she returned to painting, about 5 years later, the grids had evolved into horizontal or vertical lines and her pale, neutral color palette was replaced by pale pinks, blues, and yellows—a reflection of the desert landscape.


In New Mexico, Martin lived a stark, near-monastic existence with an intense focus on spiritual awareness. When she was finally ready to return to New York, she found a space in a studio community located in abandoned shipping lofts in lower Manhattan known as the Coenties Slip—also home to Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, and Robert Rauschenberg. It was during this time that the mental illness she’d managed for years became more pronounced and she was hospitalized on multiple occasions. She was once found wandering Park Avenue, completely unaware of who she was, and admitted to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital; there, before she was discovered by friends, she was given shock therapy.

Martin, with her cropped silver hair and solid physical presence, worked up until a few months before her death in 2004, at age 92. As she aged, her artwork became more vibrant and full of new shapes and colors than in her younger years. She said, “My paintings are not about what is seen. They are about what is known forever in the mind.”

The Solomon Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition of Agnes Martin’s work allowed us to enjoy the qualities Martin always sought to portray: beauty, innocence, and happiness.


Images pictured above are from Agnes Martin.



When she was a teenager, Guadalupe Rivera Marin moved to her father and stepmother’s home in Coyoacan, Mexico City—a home that was well known by friends and neighbors both for its famous occupants and the opulent parties they loved to throw. Guadalupe’s father was muralist Diego Rivera and his wife was painter Frida Kahlo, both of whom she and co-author Marie-Pierre Colle celebrate in Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo.


Diego Rivera was famously food obsessed and Frida (who did not cook much—or enjoy cooking) studied how to make Mexican cuisine to please him. Rivera Marin writes, “From her wedding day on, Frida realized that good cooking would be an important part of her life.” Frida, oddly enough, learned how to cook primarily from Lupe Marin—Guadalupe’s mother and Diego’s ex-wife. Lupe was an excellent cook and her mother, Isabel Preciado de Marin, published The New Mexican Cookbook in 1888. As the two women became very good friends, Lupe would teach Frida how to make Diego’s favorite dishes.


What Frida initially lacked in technique, she made up for in presentation. Each meal was almost a still life, arranged for Diego. Guadalupe remembers her as organized and a wonderful host, who loved arranging the house and decorating everything. Frida set elaborate Mexican tables with embroidered tablecloths and vases of flowers. She embraced nearly every chance to celebrate and throw a party, which is reflected in Frida’s Fiestas. The cookbook is organized by month, beginning with August (Frida and Diego’s anniversary month) and also including the Posadas (at Christmas), the Day of the Dead, Mexican national holidays, and a gala they referred to as The Meal of the Broad Tablecloths.


Frida’s Fiestas includes more than 100 recipes for the types of traditional Mexican foods that Frida would prepare for Diego and their guests. The book also includes many illustrations, copies of pages from Frida’s cookbooks and notebooks, vintage portraits, and reproductions of her paintings. Guadalupe has also filled its pages with loving memories of her life with Frida and Diego.


Frida’s remarkably simple recipe for macaroons can be found on page 124.

You won’t be disappointed; get your very own copy here.




Yesterday, we announced the lineup for our 2017 Friends of the Café dinner series. Visiting chefs Scott Peacock and Ashley Christensen are familiar to our Journal readers, and today we want to introduce Asha Gomez—our guest chef in August.

Asha Gomez is an Atlanta-based chef who combines influences from her birthplace in Kerala, India, with those of her current home in the American South. The region of India where she was born is known for its Dutch and Portuguese influences, and the cuisine is distinctly different from what we consider traditional Indian food. As a child, Asha’s mother and aunts taught her how to cook using ingredients that arrived via the city’s trading port and traditional Kerala ingredients like asafoetida, a spice derived from a ten-foot-tall plant related to fennel.


Gomez and her mother emigrated to the United States when she was 16. As a teenager in Queens, New York, she gained experience with professional cooking, assisting her mother with her catering business. In 2000, Asha and her husband moved to Georgia, where she felt an immediate kinship with the Southern hospitality that reminded her of her birthplace in Southern India. She became known in the community for her Keralan meals and founded the Spice Route Supper Club, where she hosted small groups of diners in her own kitchen. The supper club’s popularity eventually led Asha to open her first restaurant, Cardamom Hill—a fine dining establishment that was named one of Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants, was one of Southern Living’s 100 Best Restaurants in the South, and was a James Beard semifinalist in 2013 for Best New Restaurant. Its signature dish, Kerala fried chicken (her mother’s recipe), is well known and loved among Atlantans. In July 2014, she voluntarily closed the restaurant to spend more time with her family.


In 2013, Asha opened Third Space, a warm and inviting event venue that she calls a “culinary conversation.” The project allows her to have a more ideal work-life balance. The venue offers cooking classes in a home-style kitchen with Gomez and guest chefs. The space is intimate—with a 10-seat counter and 12-seat dining room—and allows participants to build relationships with their expert collaborators. For her, the classes are a return to the more intimate cooking style Gomez prefers with patrons. Third Space also hosts corporate events and small, private dinners.

Asha’s second restaurant, Spice to Table, opened in 2014 and is a fast-casual Indian patisserie connected to Third Space. At Spice to Table, Gomez and her staff plan their daily menu based off of finds at one of Atlanta’s many farmers’ markets. It has been named one of Zagat’s 12 Hottest Brunch Places in the US and one of the 25 best new restaurants in America by GQ Magazine. Here, she combines the best of South India with the American South by taking a classic Southern dish and amplifying it using Indian spices like clove, cardamom, and fresh peppercorns in her carrot cake. While managing these two ventures, she also acts as a Chef Ambassador with CARE, a non-profit that provides emergency relief and long-term international development projects.

In October, she published her first cookbook, My Two Souths: Blending the Flavors of India into a Southern Kitchen. The cookbook tells the story of how she blended her Indian heritage with her American home, to create a new style of cooking. As with her other endeavors, My Two Souths presents a platform for Gomez to share her love and knowledge of the world’s cultures as it relates to food. Gomez thoroughly prepares readers to cook by including a glossary detailing the origins of and ways to use ingredients. Throughout the book, she provides a further glimpse into her life with images of food, family gatherings, and her trips to the farmers market.



We have been fans of Short Stack Editions since they published their first short volume in 2013. Each edition is hand bound with bakers twine and focuses on a single ingredient, offering 20 – 25 clever and approachable recipes written by a variety of chefs, food writers, and cookbook authors. To date, 24 editions have been published which, together, act as a well-rounded recipe guide that encourages experimentation, discourages food waste, and offers something for just about every palate.

With these ideas as the foundation, publisher Nick Fauchald and editor Kaitlyn Goalen invited 27 soon-to-be or current authors of Short Stack Editions to participate in their cookbook, The Short Stack Cookbook: Ingredients that Speak Volumes. The cookbook (which is not a compendium of recipes from the individual editions, but an entirely original collection) uses the same types of bold colors and smart graphics seen in the individual editions to create a volume that is truly a work of art. Unlike the individual editions, The Short Stack Cookbook includes colorful photographs of finished dishes.


The book focuses on 18 meticulously selected essential ingredients—including honey, eggs, and brussels sprouts—to create over 100 new recipes that encourage the audience to develop new skills through practice. Each ingredient has 8 to 10 different recipes unique to the cookbook that celebrate the best things about each ingredient and also challenge readers to see those same ingredients in a new way.

It’s important to note that the level of involvement varies depending on the recipe. For weeknights when you’re short on time, we recommend recipes like the Smoked Mozzarella & Sage in Sourdough Carrozza. When you have more time to experiment, try the Crispy Chicken Skin Tacos, which would work well for dinner parties.


The Short Stack team accommodates all levels of home cooks. They provide helpful information on sourcing ingredients, storing, substitutes, and food pairings. Additionally, the authors included thoughtful suggestions—like hints on kitchen equipment and event-specific menus—throughout the book. The Short Stack Cookbook encourages home cooks to have fun while exploring new ways a single ingredient can exceed expectations.


Find The Short Stack Cookbook.



America’s food culture comprises an undeniable mix of influences from around the world. African-American women have a significant impact on the foods we eat and have eaten for centuries. Unfortunately, that impact has often been overlooked or overshadowed by racial stereotypes like that of “Aunt Jemima” and other tropes—fetishized mammy stereotypes and caricatures that coopted African-American culinary traditions. In The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks, author Toni Tipton-Martin challenges us to look beyond the encoded message that “black chefs, cooks, and cookbook authors—by virtue of their race and gender—are simply born with good kitchen instincts,” because it diminishes their knowledge, skill, ability, and pure culinary artistry.


It is true that for years African-American women worked in early kitchens throughout the United States, both as slaves and then as low-paid workers. There is a false notion that those talented cooks were directed by their white masters or employers when, in fact, most managed their own kitchens capably—often with the precision of modern-day chefs. Early recipes, like many traditions, were passed down as oral histories, which make them difficult to document—particularly because many African Americans were barred from learning to read and write. Once they were able to compile the knowledge in family notebooks or cookbooks, those women (and a few men) were almost never able to make a profit from sharing their life’s work. But slowly recipe collections began to see the light of day.


Tipton-Martin has spent years collecting over 300 cookbooks written by African-American authors (one of the world’s largest private collections of cookbooks of the genre) compiling information in The Jemima Code from over 150 of those, in an effort to illustrate their impact on American food culture and traditions and to inspire African Americans to embrace and celebrate their culinary history. John Egerton (founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance) wrote in the book’s forward that Tipton-Martin delved deep and discovered the gifted cooks “who quietly broke the Jemima code and have taken their rightful place among the best of America’s culinary professionals.”


The earliest recipe collections featured in the book date back to an 1827 house servant’s manual—considered the first book published by an African American on the subject—and Tipton-Martin’s compendium extends to modern volumes by celebrated authors like Edna Lewis and Vertamae Grosvenor. The collection is arranged chronologically and chapter introductions provide important information on the cultural significance of the featured cookbooks, including histories of the authors themselves. She also includes pictures of the book covers and some individual recipe pages.


Tipton-Martin won the James Beard Foundation’s award for Reference and Scholarship, which is a reflection of its relevance and the quality of its content. The author says, “My hope for this book, as it was for my ancestors and these authors, is that when we know more about them as individuals, we can then learn to respect them, to learn from them, to be inspired by them. And to return to the kitchen at a time when we’re all being encouraged to take better control of our health by cooking for ourselves and consuming less fast and processed food.” As you read The Jemima Code, you will learn just how much you didn’t know about an entire culture’s food traditions and you will be inspired to take those recipes into your own kitchen—ensuring their relevance for years to come.

Purchase your copy of The Jemima Code here.


Clocking in at 564 pages, Vivian Howard’s new (and first) cookbook, Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South, is by far the largest cookbook I own that is not a compilation. Vivian, friend and collaborator on our Friends of the Café fundraiser dinner, has created a modern American classic book of recipes. Almost equal parts storybook and cookbook, Deep Run Roots shows us that there is not one single definition of “Southern” cooking; each region has its own unique contributions and food histories.


The cookbook has 25 chapters, each focusing on a single ingredient. Every chapter includes between 5 – 10 traditional recipes for its ingredient, followed by more modern or adventurous alternatives. There is something to be found for cooks of every skill level, and some of the dishes that appear challenging are remarkably easy to pull off. Each chapter also has a “Wisdom” page or section, where Vivian shares a little extra background on each ingredient, including her personal experiences, tips, and tricks. She also offers personal stories or memories, relating the ingredient to her own life.


Like her award-winning television series, “A Chef’s Life,” this book celebrates regional culinary traditions, family, and community. When Vivian returned to her North Carolina home over a decade ago to open her restaurant, Chef and the Farmer, she decided that rather than chase food trends, she would be much more challenged and gratified by learning how to cook using the same ingredients her neighbors used—the same ingredients that have been used by generations of families in her community. This cookbook reflects her resourcefulness, her willingness to partner with local purveyors, and her sheer creativity.


In the book’s introduction, titled, “Don’t You Dare Skip This Introduction!” Vivian explains that the book’s ingredients are characters who shape her life. “Eastern North Carolina is my Tuscany, my Szechuan, my Provence,” Vivian writes. “This is a Southern cookbook, but not one that treats the South like a homogenous region where everybody eats the same kind of fried chicken, ribs, shrimp and grits, collard greens, or gumbo. Instead, I interpret Southern cooking the way we’ve long understood French, Italian, and Chinese food: as a complex cuisine with abundant variations shaped by terrain, climate, and people.” This cookbook is massive and yet intimate. It is personal but has something for every palate.

We encourage you to pick up your copy of this cookbook in time for the holidays, as there are an incredible number of recipes that are perfectly suited to your seasonal meals.



As a female business owner, Natalie is constantly asked questions about what it is like to be a woman AND entrepreneur, what it takes to start a company from scratch, and how to “have it all.” I hope that we have been able to dispel the “having it all” myth, but even now—after a decade and a half of work—it can be difficult to find female colleagues, business owners, and mentors that can relate to the unique challenges and rewards of being both woman and businessperson.

Grace Bonney, founder of Design*Sponge, is an all-around model for uncompromising creativity and a champion for other women. Her recent book, In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs offers interviews and portraits of women from all sorts of creative backgrounds and a diverse range of races, ages, and abilities. In the book’s introduction, Bonney quotes activist Marian Wright Edelman, who said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Bonney explains, “Visibility is one of the most powerful tools we have in inspiring people to pursue their dreams and educating them about all the amazing options that exist.” This book serves as a mirror—reflecting the work of women who are walking the walk and talking the talk to others who are just getting their sea legs and finding their voices.


The book profiles artists, designers, writers, chefs, activists, musicians, and more; they talk about subjects like the meaning of success, self-doubt and fear, learning from mistakes, strengths, and their own sources of inspiration. Natalie is honored to be profiled here—alongside many talented women—including friends, collaborators, and inspirations like Rinne Allen, Eileen Fisher, Maira Kalman, Liz Lambert, and so many others.

Each profile is accompanied by a photograph of the woman in her personal workspace. Some of these women could not be more different from one another, but many share the same thoughts and fears. So many of us are learning to value our work, manage expectations, create better work/life balance, to say “no”, and we are negotiating what it means to be a business owner AND an artist. Oh—and it seems a number of us wanted to be ballerinas when we grew up. It’s immediately clear that there is no right answer to any question and no one-size-fits-all solution to our problems.


Bonney’s hope is that women will see something in themselves, somewhere in the book. We found many moments of connection with our peers that we could never list them all. Some of our favorites:

“Trust your instincts! There is nothing worse than realizing that your first instincts were right and that second-guessing led to a costly mistake. As women, we’re taught to second-guess ourselves and to look to others for direction and guidance. Most times my inner voice tells me in a flash what I want and need, and whom to trust. I’m learning to honor that inner voice.” – Lisa Hunt, designer and artist

“Create a ‘no assholes’ policy. Nobody you work with or hire can have this quality. Life is too short and we are too sensitive to suffer unkind people. Live kind; your work will show it.” – Genevieve Gorder, interior designer and television host

“Success in business is seeing how badly you can fail and still love yourself.” – Mary Going, fashion designer

“It’s been said before, but people are your biggest asset. There is no way you can be everywhere at once, and you wouldn’t want to be. Put the right people in the right place and your job becomes easier. And you have so much to learn from them, thank God. It takes a village.” – Liz Lambert, hotelier

“I think the world needs more authentic, honest, and vulnerable connections. As an individual, I think this results in richer relationships, and as a businesswoman, I find that the result is a sincere collaboration between my customer and me. Less polish, more authenticity.” – Karen Young, product designer and entrepreneur

“Gummy bears are not fruit, therapy can be interesting, don’t judge people by their shoes.” – Olimpia Zagnoli, illustrator

“The world needs more face-to-face conversation, perhaps over a meal, so we can really get to know each other without assumptions. The world needs fewer sound bites where those assumptions are formed.” – Carla Hall, chef and television host

“When I was about thirteen, my dad told me, ‘Everyone is weird,’ and that simple statement pretty much changed my life. I think of it often. It makes me feel relaxed to be myself and do things my own way and be open-minded about everyone else doing the same.” – Julia Turshen, cookbook author

“I love seeing brilliant, creative women making space and laying down tracks for other women. It’s easy to fall into the pernicious trap of thinking that just because you scrapped your way toward achieving your goal, there’s no room for anyone else.” – Carrie Brownstein, musician, writer, and actor

“The world needs your voice, so stop trying to fit someone else’s idea of who you are. Make them look you dead in the eye; make them know you.” – Danielle Henderson, writer and editor

“Say no to things you don’t want to do, kindly and politely. And give a widely known enthusiastic yes to the things you do want to do.” – Randi Brookman Harris, prop stylist

You can purchase In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs here.


As we have reported more than once, the annual Southern Foodways Alliance symposium is a pretty magical occurrence where like-minded individuals come to discuss, debate, celebrate, and (most importantly) eat the very best of what the South has to offer. It was at one of these events where we first really got to know chef John Currence. Anyone who knows much about southern food knows about John’s restaurant City Grocery or any of the other five restaurants he runs from his home base in Oxford, Mississippi. But, our love for John (and his breakfast) was cemented a few years ago on the final Sunday morning of a symposium—after a rousing evening and maybe one too many glasses of bourbon—when we were all handed Chinese to-go containers filled with crumbled biscuits and sausage and a heavy dose of John’s tomato gravy. Out of four days of some of the most amazing food in the world, this was one of the meals that stuck with us for good.


John’s newest cookbook, Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book of the Day, named for one of his successful restaurant concepts, is perhaps the most raucous recipe collection you’ll ever own. His persona comes across immediately—knowledgeable, unfiltered, and hilarious. You won’t find any other cookbooks that make you laugh this hard, that are also packed with truly delicious, unintimidating recipes. And who can resist a breakfast cookbook with an entire chapter devoted to cocktails…

In the introduction, John traces his obsession with breakfast to his New Orleans childhood and memorable meals at bakeries, breakfast joints, and lunch counters. He believes that breakfast took a turn for the disastrous when those diners slowly faded from existence, to be replaced by flavorless fast food biscuits, rubbery bacon, and (shudder) the Egg McMuffin. He, in fact, writes a letter to America’s favorite fast food chain that begins, “Dear McDonald’s, You make shit for food.” (He also admits, “My lawyer and my publisher hate me, if you haven’t guessed. Fortunately, my editor thinks I am kind of amusing.”) But John does not merely criticize; he also provides plenty of alternatives, ranging from sausage cinnamon rolls to skillet scrambles, to homemade pop tarts. There are elevated selections and international options, like crab cake benedict, chorizo migas, shakshouka, and a grits and collard soufflé. Plus, he will teach you how to cook an egg just about any way you can think of.


Some of the recipes in Big Bad Breakfast may require that you forego your calorie counting, but there is an entire chapter for “Cereals, Grains, and other Pseudo-Virtuous Things.” And, in times of absolute emergency, John offers the ultimate hangover killer: The Pylon. This Belgian waffle, topped with hot dogs, chili, sweet slaw, cheese, and multiple condiments is lauded in the book’s foreword by famed chef David Chang, who credits the dish with reviving him from the worst hangover of his life. The point is—there’s something here for everyone. Pick up Big Bad Breakfast and visit one of its brick and mortar locations today.


“Clothes are for real live women…They are made to be worn, to be lived in.” – Claire McCardell

Claire McCardell is effectively the founder of American ready-to-wear fashion. Working from the 1930s through the 50s, McCardell was innovative because she designed clothing that was fashionable but also allowed women to move, breathe, and generally live their lives comfortably—all while feeling beautiful. Focusing more on sportswear, she turned her back on girdles, corsets, and uncomfortable construction, emphasizing that “clothes should be useful”—but still attractive, comfortable, and feminine.


McCardell designed throughout World War II, coming up with innovative workarounds when faced with wartime restrictions. She utilized whatever fabrics were available (even parachute cotton) in her designs and, when shoe leather became scarce, contracted Capezio to make their iconic ballet slippers, which would become a mainstay of the modern woman’s wardrobe. After World War II, American women had limited (if any) access to French fashions—and France was basically rebuilding an entire clothing industry. This opened the door for McCardell to recreate the image of the American woman, independent of excess outside influence. Her new style was more casual than pre-war clothing and embraced fabrics like denim, calico, and stretch jersey. She created wardrobes of mix-and-match separates that could be worn in a number of combinations—meaning more outfits for less money.


According to McCardell, her main design inspiration was her own intuition—believing that most women were employing their wardrobes to generally achieve the same things and solve the same problems. “Most of my ideas,” she said, “come from trying to solve my own problems.” The functionality and comfort of her garments relied on how they were constructed. Where some dresses had built-in shoulder pads to accent the shape of the arm, McCardell’s dresses created a similar look by changing the cut of the sleeve; pre-war dresses widely relied on corsets or foundation garments to create a desired silhouette—but McCardell created fitted garments by cutting on the bias or by belting full, circle skirts to create the “wasp waist” look of the day.

Her “American Look” permanently changed the landscape of fashion. Looking at photographs of McCardell’s designs today, it is clear that many of them have a timeless quality. Because she was not constantly adjusting her style from fashion season-to-season, her looks were consistent. They didn’t look dated. Many of her garments made in the 1940s would fit comfortably in closets today. Her once-revolutionary approach to style has become the norm.


The Museum at FIT has a collection of McCardell garments. To see more of her garments, browse those photos here.


Photos from The Red List and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

P.S.:One of Natalie’s all-time favorite books on fashion is Claire Mccardell Redefining Modernism by Kohle Yohannan.



We love the idea that items can have a sort of sense memory or be associated with a specific moment in time. It is something we explored in our Heirloom series—and author Erin Byers Murphy goes deeper into that concept in her cookbook, A Colander, Cake Stand, and My Grandfather’s Iron Skillet. The concept is simple: every cook has a favorite tool, and that tool can tell you a lot about the person using it.


Most of our well-loved recipes have a good story behind them and cooks are some of the best storytellers. Food can tell a story of a person’s past, a family’s past, a region’s past, their present, their values, or the very ingredients they use. That is why cooking for others can be an intimate experience; every element—from the ingredients to the cooking preparation and method, to the utensils and tools used, to the dining experience—has the potential to reveal something essential about the person preparing the meal.

In A Colander, Cake Stand, and My Grandfather’s Iron Skillet, Murphy (a Nashville-based food writer) collects stories from 37 top chefs, including some of our favorite cooks, like Steven Satterfield, Virginia Willis, Ford Fry, Kevin Gillespie, and Tandy Wilson. Each shares a personal story of their favorite tool or utensil, how they acquired it, and why it is so essential to their kitchen. Alongside each story, each chef offers a recipe utilizing his or her tool of choice.


Natalie was honored to be included in this book, and she shares the story of her grandmother’s rolling pin. Over the past 30 years, it has rolled out hundreds of pans of biscuits and been “around the world and back again (a couple of times).” On pages 102 and 103 you will find her story and biscuit recipe. Like all the chefs in A Colander, Cake Stand, and My Grandfather’s Iron Skillet, we know you will be inspired to look in your own kitchen and find the tool that embodies your history and has helped to create some of your own signature dishes.



Emile-Allain (E.A.) Séguy was an artist and designer who worked in early 20th-century France, and one of the few to successfully combine both Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. He produced 11 albums of illustrations, most of them focusing on elements from the natural world, like flowers, foliage, animals, and insects. His patterns were intricate and colorful; he often consulted textbooks and scientific manuals to ensure that his images were both beautiful and scientifically accurate. Séguy described the illustrations in one of his best-known collections, Papillons, as “un monde somptueux de formes et de couleurs”—a world of sumptuous forms and colors.

Séguy’s prints were produced using a technique called pochoir, a labor-intensive and precise practice of layering stencils on top of one another to create depth and texture. Some of the more intricate images might require the use of 100 or more stencils for a single print. These prints were sold in pattern books so that others might use them as inspiration for textile or wallpaper designs. His portfolios exhibit flawless examples of ornamentation and composition.


Images found here.

Exotic Floral Patterns in Color by E.A. Seguy


For the uninitiated, Spoonflower is a North Carolina-based web company that allows individuals to design, print, and even sell their own fabrics, wallpaper, and giftwrap. Founded in 2008 by Gart Davis and Stephen Fraser, the Spoonflower user community now numbers over a million people who use their digital textile printers to print custom runs of fabric. This is not typical large-run, conventional textile manufacturing. Their large-format inkjet printers can create small batches at a relatively inexpensive cost. They print fabric with very little waste of materials or environmental impact. The company uses eco-friendly, water-based inks on natural and synthetic textiles, with no additional chemicals added to the production process.


Recently, Fraser has created a book that is intended to help readers and makers get the most out of the Spoonflower technology—The Spoonflower Handbook: A DIY Guide to Designing Fabric, Wallpaper, and Gift Wrap. Designing digital art is intimidating and seems complicated to the average person. But, while the book assumes that the reader is familiar with using a computer, the instructions make the design process understandable for those who aren’t that tech-savvy. The book contains about 30 projects and its chapters are structured so skills build upon one another. Even if you opt not to use the Spoonflower printing service, you can still use the information in the book to create your own patterns and designs.


The book itself is structured in two parts. The first part is designed to get the reader comfortable with digital design. It describes how the Spoonflower print-on-demand process works, and also gives important information on different types of printing surfaces and how to create digital files. Part one does an excellent job of delving into relatively complicated topics like color and repeating design patterns. In part two, they build on the basics of part one with a number of projects and invite the reader to experiment with simple ideas and more complex techniques. There are plenty of examples of projects and custom designs created by Spoonflower’s maker community.


We have been experimenting with the Spoonflower site for a while now and are excited about the possibilities it affords us in our design processes. We look forward to a few The School of Making + Spoonflower special projects available this fall. Stay tuned…


Design*Sponge founder Grace Bonney began the design blog in 2004—according to her, on her lunch breaks at the office. Grace worked at or freelanced for many of the big design magazines: Domino, House & Garden, Craft New York Home, Food & Wine, In Style, Better Homes and Gardens. And so, she took the leap and decided to put all of her time into her own business.

The ever-expanding site now covers more than just design and includes DIY projects, food and drink features, travel guides, and life and business columns.

In addition to overseeing Design*Sponge, Grace founded the D*S Biz Ladies Series which became a weekly column written by business owners (not all of them women) for other potential business owners and those interested in starting a creative business. She also hosted After the Jump, a weekly radio show that focuses on contemporary makers and the issues they face—from branding and social media to pricing and human resources practices.


As part of our series on the creative process and how different artists approach the acts of making, we sent Grace a list of questions about her own thoughts on design, creativity, making, and how she approaches her work and asked her to answer 5-10 of her choice.

I recently read a quote of Grace’s that made me especially curious to know more about her creative process: I’ve learned not to put so much weight on the idea of being satisfied by one outlet. For a long time, I expected Design*Sponge to fill every possible void in my life, whether it was relational or business-related. I enjoy my job more now that I don’t put so much pressure on it as the be-all and end-all of my fulfillment as a person. The more I get outside and do things that have nothing to do with the blog, the more fulfilled I feel. I feel most creative when I’m not doing design-related work.”  Her responses below reveal that she embraces practicality and emotion in her creative process.

Alabama Chanin: What makes you curious?

Grace Bonney: Problem-solving. I like figuring out where the weak-spots are in my community and what I can do to both improve and make others interested in improving them. I think design and creativity are at their best when they’re making the world a better place.


AC: How important is education to your creative process?

GB: I think continuing to learn (and make mistakes) is crucial for anyone, not just artists. But I don’t think formal education is required for that. I think art school and specialized classes are wonderful if they’re an option, but not everyone has access to things like that. I think life experience and continuing to stretch outside of your comfort zone (and listen to people with different stories and backgrounds than your own) is the best form of continuing education.

AC: Do you have to be in a certain mood in order to create?

GB: Yes. I have to feel clear and calm. Typically that comes after a moment of intense anger, happiness, excitement, curiosity or even sadness. Those emotional moments lead me to want to do something new, but I wait until I feel clear about my goal and mission to start on something in response to that feeling.


AC: How do you define success?

GB: Successfully communicating what you’re trying to communicate to your desired audience. Money and fame have little to do with it.

AC: What parts of your work seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

GB: I think they’re actually one in the same. The heaviest work is trying to push the site to be better and stronger and do more important, substantive writing, but when we figure out what that should look like, doing that actual writing is a breeze. Because you’re writing and communicating with a mission and purpose.


AC: What makes you nervous?

GB: Knowing that I’m about to challenge myself and might fall on my face. When I feel that way I know I’m doing the right thing.

AC: Who do you define as a visionary?

GB: Anyone that has the bravery to follow a unique idea from concept to fruition without letting others, or general societal “rules” get in the way.

AC: If you were to become a professor, what classes would you teach?

GB: Digital media and ethics in the modern world.


AC: What are your favorite things to do? What do you distinctly NOT like to do?

GB: I enjoy being outside and listening to the sounds of birds, insects and the wind. It’s a wonderful contrast to all the bleeps, clicks and rings I hear in my digital life during the day.

AC: Which ones of your products and/or services inspire you the most?

GB: Our Biz Ladies series. It grew out of a very real desire to help other women running their own creative businesses and turned into an entire movement.

(This project is made possible in-part by a fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts)

P.S.:  Design*Sponge at Home by Grace Bonney


We’ve had a fun (and colorful) month exploring natural dyes with Kristine Vejar through a series of projects from her book, The Modern Natural Dyer. Here’s a quick recap from our Journal, before we close out the month (which Kristine has tagged as #alabamachaninapril on Instagram) with a final project.

– You can learn more about The Modern Natural Dyer here and get your copy here.

– Find inspiration from Kristine’s “printed flowers” project. Kristine used our organic cotton jersey with her pressed flowers technique from The Modern Natural Dyer. We made a Maggie Tunic, one of our Build a Wardrobe patterns.

– The Iron Age Tank and Gilded Cardigan project uses our machine-sewn garments and is included in Chapter 5 of The Modern Natural Dyer, where Kristine demonstrates how to dye with extracts. (Extracts are highly-concentrated powders derived from whole dyestuffs.) Kristine takes this project a step further on her blog, where she experiments with a range of colors and techniques.


For our last project, Kristine naturally dyed our machine-sewn Crop Cardigan with Quebracho Red, following the directions for The Gilded Cardigan. This extract is derived from the Quebracho tree, which is a member of the sumac family and grows in Central and South America. We love the coral hues, reminiscent of desert sunsets, that this color produces.

We used a ¼ yard of jersey, which was also dyed with Quebracho Red, to create our Random Ruffle technique on the front of the cardigan. This technique was developed in 2001 for our second collection of T-shirts. The ruffle can easily be used to embellish existing pieces of clothing like we did here with the naturally-dyed Crop Cardigan—adding a touch of hand-sewn detail. You can find instructions on page 107 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

Because the ¼ yard of jersey weighs approximately 75g, you will need to bump up the dye to accommodate for this piece. Make iron-infused water, according to the directions on page 68 of The Modern Natural Dyer. Dip the piece of fabric slowly into the pot over the course of 10 minutes to achieve the gradient—a lovely shade of earthy purple.

The Shade Card on page 98 shows the variations that can be achieved with the colors. Look for the wheat bran bath and lower increment of dye for the instructions listed above.



Garment – Long Sleeve Crop Cardigan
Dyeing Technique – Garment dyeing with extracts (Quebracho Red) from The Modern Natural Dyer
Embroidery Technique – Random Ruffle from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design
Button Craft thread – Dogwood

Kristine has created a series of Work-Along Kits—materials that pair with the projects in The Modern Natural Dyer. The Phase 1 Kit includes our machine sewn V-Neck Tank, Crop Cardigan, and ¼ yard of organic cotton jersey (in addition to many more fabrics, yarns, and dyes).

We love the combination of our organic cotton jersey and natural dyes. They produce honest, tactile colors. And we always enjoy working with Kristine and look forward to more collaboration with the team from A Verb For Keeping Warm in the future. Thank you for all that you do for sustainable textiles and the maker movement.

Find more on Instagram: @theschoolofmaking and @avfkw


We continue our month-long exploration into natural dyeing with Kristine Vejar, author of The Modern Natural Dyer. Last week we created a Maggie Tunic project from fabric that was printed with flowers, and this week we highlight another project in The Modern Natural Dyer: the Iron Age Tank and Gilded Cardigan.

Kristine chose to over dye the Crop Cardigan and V-neck Tank, two of our machine-sewn garments made with organic cotton jersey. We offer a variety of machine-sewn tops in Natural and encourage you to choose what style suits you best when trying this project. You can find instructions on page 121 of The Modern Natural Dyer and will need to prepare a wheat bran bath, yellow dye for cellulose-based fibers (that’s cotton), and an iron bath. Novice home-dyers—don’t worry—Kristine explains each of these steps and the chemistry behind them in detail throughout her book.


Kristine also wrote a blog post about the project, showing a beautiful (and colorful) range of natural dyes applied to organic cotton jersey. She experiments with the range and takes the process a few steps further: dipping in an iron bath (iron gives these colors a green hue), then pinching and twisting to create pattern and texture. She provides a list of tips and tricks at the end. Hands down, our favorite is, “Invite imperfection”.

Look for more next Thursday and follow along on Instagram: @theschoolofmaking and @avfkw

First photo by Sara Remington, second photo by Kristine Vejar.


“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal — that is your success.” – Henry David Thoreau

Recently, longtime friend and collaborator Kristine Vejar created fabric for us using a technique from her newest book, The Modern Natural Dyer. Kristine gathered flowers and plants from her woods and garden and dyed several yards of our 100% organic cotton jersey by pressing the flowers into the fabric. She puts this process to work in her Flowers at My Fingertips Sewing Kit project found on page 79 of The Modern Natural Dyer. We were drawn to the idea of dyeing fabric with whole flowers; a step in a different direction of our previous indigo dyeing projects.

We used our custom-dyed fabric from Kristine to create this one-of-a-kind version of our Maggie Tunic – the pattern featured in the first quarter of our Build a Wardrobe program.

The fabric used here was dyed by pressing the flowers into the fabric and then rolling it tightly to transfer the color. There are many common flowers that make great dyeing materials. Kristine suggests using marigolds, cosmos, dahlias, yarrow, and coreopsis to create vivid and long-lasting imprints. Play around with the plants that you use, you just might discover a flower with beautiful, hidden dying potential. These flowers can be picked at, or just after, their peaks (freeze or dry your flowers to store them). And don’t forget to save a few seeds for your garden next year.

After you’ve gathered your flowers, it is time to dye your fabric. Kristine followed the cellulose-based fiber instructions in The Modern Natural Dyer when she went to scour and mordant the fabric (p. 57 and p. 59). She skipped the chalk/wheat bran bath all together. Below, we offer a basic synopsis of how to create this fabric, but we recommend that you consult Kristine’s book for detailed instructions before attempting the project yourself.


First, bundle and dampen the fabric that you are going to use to create your pressed flower project. Lay your fabric out flat and place a row of flowers along the middle of the fabric. Fold the top third of the fabric over, being careful to gently press each flower into the fabric with the palm of your hand. Fold the bottom third of the fabric over the top, and begin rolling your bundle. As you roll your bundle, continue adding flowers and greenery as you wish. Secure your fabric bundle tightly with string.

Place your fabric bundle in a large pot and completely submerge the bundle with water. (You can add flowers to the dyebath to add more color.) Over the course of 30 minutes, heat your dyebath to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, turning the bundle halfway through. Then, simmer for another hour.

Turn off the heat and let your fabric rest until it is cool. Once the fabric is cool, unroll your bundle and remove the flowers. Wash your fabric and allow it to dry.

You can learn more about the process here on Kristine’s blog, where she explains how she “printed” on our cotton jersey.


Garment: Maggie Tunic
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Natural
Button Craft thread – Natural
Technique – See the Flowers at My Fingertips project on page 79-83 of The Modern Natural Dyer
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan stitch

Follow along on social media and on our Journal with the hashtags:

And follow along with Kristine at A Verb for Keeping Warm and on Instagram @avfkw.


One of my favorite parts of design school back in the 1980s was the hand-dyeing class I took in the fall of my third year.  For me, it was a perfect combination of science and creativity that, to this day, I believe fostered some of my best work.  A few years later, after I graduated and was working in New York City, I was working for a designer that wasn’t particularly fond of me—or, it seems, anything about me.  During the rush of fashion week one season, the dye house that would traditionally run the designer’s garment dye program failed to deliver in time. So, I sequestered myself in the company washroom and used my dye book from design school to complete a full 28 garment program for sales meetings the coming Monday.  My job was saved, I was promoted from reporting to said designer, and, in my design career, I never looked back.  Dyeing and color, of course, became one of my favorite parts of design.

While I do most often dress in black, the interaction of color is one of the most inspiring parts of my everyday job.  In the last few years, I came to learn more and more about natural dyes, through our friends at Artisan Natural Dyeworks in Nashville and Kristine Vejar from A Verb For Keeping Warm in Oakland, California. Last fall, Kristine’s book The Modern Natural Dyer was published and we’ve fallen more deeply in love with the science and creativity of dyeing.  The subtitle says it all: A Comprehensive Guide to Dyeing Silk, Wool, Linen, and Cotton at Home.

Alabama Chanin - The Modern Natural Dyer (5) Continue reading


In 1984, author Cara Greenberg wrote a book on home and furniture design from the 1950s, coining the phrase “mid-century modern” —which she also used it as the title, Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s. I recently unearthed this long-lost beauty of a book while reorganizing our studio library.

Mid-Century Modern exemplifies the pinnacle of mid-century design, which served as a major source of inspiration behind our On Design Series last year, including lectures and Journal posts on: The Eames + Mid-Century Design, Paul Rand + Thoughts on Design, Ray + Charles Eames, and The School of Bauhaus

Explore a selection of our Studio Books on design and get inspired with a look into Mid-Century Modern:



We have used stencils to transfer designs onto fabric since the earliest days of Alabama Chanin. There is a section of The School of Making devoted to the art of stenciling, and you can read about making and using our stencils on our Journal here: #stenciling. And while we’ve developed stencils of all sorts and used them extensively, we’ve only rarely used painting, and almost never used stamping—until now. Stamp Stencil Paint by Anna Joyce offers easy-to-follow instructions for adding paint and pattern onto fabric, wood, walls, and more.

She writes about stamping:

“As a printmaker, I have a soft spot in my heart for stamps. I use my own hand-carved stamps, and I love watching the pattern grow with each impression. Stamping is very immediate—you can carve a simple one in a few minutes and then use it for years, building a library of patterns as you go. Hand stamping is also a meditation on embracing the unexpected. No matter how consistent you are, each impression is unique and that uniqueness breathes life into your patterns.”


Aside from my favorite stamping projects, you’ll find tips for transferring stencils and for the successful use of paints and brushes. I’m excited to combine some of the stamping ideas on a Maggie Dress from our 2016 Build a Wardrobe.

Get a copy of Stamp Stencil Paint, make your own garment using Anna’s techniques, and share with our community using #theschoolofmaking.



Alabama Chanin as a business was founded on the idea of a quilting stitch. And although it took me months to realize that I was actually quilting as I pieced together those first cut up t-shirts, the knowledge of those quilting stitches came from my most elemental childhood experiences. Growing up in the south, at the time of my upbringing, quilts were simply a part of everyday life. While quilting has become an integral part of my life, I’ve never become a quilter.

Even so, I have a deep love for the modern day quilts of my friends and colleagues. We’ve written about, and shared, many different kinds of quilts in our own canon: There are the Textile Story quilts that are beloved Alabama Chanin pieces, and there are the other traditional-style quilts (Flag Quilt, Indigo Star) we’ve made modern by substituting cotton jersey for the plain-weave quilting cotton.

All this to say that I don’t tend to collect quilting books, I’ve never joined a quilt along, and although I LONG for a Long Arm Quilting machine, stitching two-layers of cotton jersey together by hand is as far as I’ve gotten. This may all change because of Heather Jones’ new book Quilt Local. One-part inspiration, one-part quilting instruction, the beautiful quilts make me rethink my quilting stance. Denyse Schmidt writes in the foreword:

“I know how deceptively difficult is is to produce work that is restrained. When I began making quilts, the medium had an ingrained habit of ‘more is more.’ It can be easy to impress with virtuoso sewing skills, use of abundant, and vibrant color, and complicated visual tricks. Plenty of prints and patchwork can distract our attention, but it is much more skillful—and brave—to find the purest expression of form, to let the poetry of composition and color have the say, to not overcomplicate or muddle the message with needless flourishes. The results, as seen in Heather’s quilts, are breathtaking in their stark beauty, and they can engage our interest for a lifetime.”


My design sense is thoroughly inspired by Heather’s plan. I can imagine a hundred color combinations and a quilt for every room, every friend, every day. I’m in love with Dayton No. 2 as shown above in a single layer of our medium-weight organic cotton jersey. And although one could go ahead and add a backing layer and quilting (by hand or machine), I’m going to use mine as a throw for spring nights on my new outdoor couch.

There is so much to love about this book. From the short lesson on color theory to the modern designs, there is a lifetime of inspiration.

Thank you, Heather. You’ve converted me.


Quilt Local by Heather Jones
3.5 yards 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey for background
3/4 yard 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey for band
1/4 yard 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey for cross
Button Craft thread
Basic sewing supplies: scissors, pinsneedles, ruler, rotary cutter
Alabama Stitch BookAlabama Studio StyleAlabama Studio Sewing + Design, or Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns: All four of these books contain the basic sewing techniques we used to make our version of this quilt.


We followed Heather’s instructions for the Quilt Top on pages 82-83 of Quilt Local and substituted the woven cotton of the project for our cotton jersey. We constructed with our seams outside (on the face of the project) and floating (not felling) and left our edges raw. When using cotton jersey, remember to wrap stitch the beginning and end of each seam.


  1. For an embellished version of the throw, cut double layers of medium-weight cotton jersey and stencil the outer-layer. Before construction, add any embroidery, appliqué, and/or beading to the individual cut pieces following instructions from our Alabama Studio Book Series. After completing your desired embellishments, construct as described above. A blanket stitch around outer layer is optional.
  2. For a heavier-weight throw, cut double layers of medium-weight cotton jersey and pin together before construction. Finish this double-layer throw with a blanket stitch all the way around the outside edge.
  3. Back your finished throw with a single layer of medium-weight cotton jersey and quilt the two layers together using the quilting stitch pattern of your choice.


Fabric – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Background fabric color – Parchment
Band fabric color – Natural
Cross fabric color – Indigo
Treatment – Basic
Button Craft Thread – Dogwood #155 and Cream #256
Knots – Inside
Seam placement – Outside floating

And a few of my other favorite designs:



Heather has several great classes on Creativebug.com—from color explorations to quilting blocks, there’s lots to be inspired. Find all of her classes here.


Last week, we introduced pitmaster Rodney Scott and the care and expertise he executes in the “whole hog” process. His prowess for pork and bar-b-que balances quite nicely with Frank Stitt’s skillful translation of Southern ingredients. (I’ve witnessed it first-hand at an SFA Symposium.) Though their kitchens may look different from one another, both Rodney Scott and Frank Stitt understand the importance of local and sustainable ingredients. Both men have practiced the principle as a way of life—not as a trend.

As for Frank, we have professed our love for the man, his wife Pardis, and his work many times. Frank grew up near Florence, in Cullman, Alabama, but went away for college—eventually studying philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley and learning from Alice Waters in the kitchen of the legendary Chez Panisse. It was Waters who introduced Frank to food writer Richard Olney, who was in need of an assistant. From San Francisco, he and Olney traveled extensively, landing in the French countryside. Stitt spent time learning about regional French cuisine, harvesting grapes in the south of France, even meeting food legends like Julia Child and Simone Beck.


Eventually, Frank returned to the states with the idea to open his own restaurant in Alabama—bringing with him ideas and techniques he’d learned on his travels. His idea was to incorporate his love of French cooking techniques with southern ingredients. Though Birmingham was not yet a well-known food center, he felt that it had potential to become one. Frank first opened Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1982. He followed up with Bottega in 1988, Bottega Café in 1990, and Chez Fonfon in 2000.

It was at Bottega that Stitt met Pardis, who was managing the dining room. Pardis Stitt co-owns and manages front-of-the-house operations for all four restaurants and Frank credits her eye for detail as an essential component of their business and their philosophy of sourcing products thoughtfully and locally.

In 2004, Stitt released his first cookbook, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill. His second cookbook, Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef’s Love Affair With Italian Food was released in 2009. Both remain frequently used staples in the Alabama Chanin library. In 2013, Highlands Bar and Grill was nominated (for the 5th consecutive year) by the James Beard Foundation for the Outstanding Restaurant Award. Stitt received the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2001, and was nominated in 2008 for Outstanding Chef. Chef Stitt received the Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2006.

Since the beginning of his cooking career, Stitt has been a fervent believer in sustainability and the use of local produce. His grandparents were farmers, and he spent his childhood planting, harvesting, and eating homegrown vegetables. This personal experience, combined with the philosophies of teachers like Alice Waters, cemented his belief that it was possible, beneficial, and important to promote local and sustainable agriculture. He uses produce from area farmers at each of his restaurants, whenever possible. Today, Frank and Pardis are outspoken proponents of the Slow Food movement and Frank is a standing board member of the Jones Valley Teaching Farm. Their influence in the Slow Food community extends beyond the community and the region, to chefs nationwide.


We cannot exaggerate our excitement at seeing what these two food legends will create when they join forces. The Friends of the Café Dinner featuring Frank Stitt + Rodney Scott, and benefitting the Southern Foodways Alliance, will be held at the Factory Café on March 24, beginning at 6:30pm. This event sold out in record time, and we look forward to the special evening. If you missed out, we have a few more dinners in our 2016 line-up and suggest reserving your spot in advance: May 21st Spring Harvest Dinner and October 8th Friends of the Café Dinner with Sean Brock.


P.S.: Back in 2005, Robert Rausch photographed Frank (and his crew) as part of The Kitchen Project: People We Love with the Recipes They Love. The photo at top is one of our favorites of Frank—wearing one of our shirts.

All photos here from Robert Rausch and thanks to Angie Mosier.


I’ve been reading Pattern Recognition (2003) by William Gibson as a sort of “digital book club” with a friend of mine who lives in another state. I’ve never been a huge fan of science fiction—and had, honestly, never heard of William Gibson but managed to get lost in the book—equal parts thriller and exposé on consumer culture. Voytek Biroshak, one of the minor characters in the book, is introduced to the reader at Portobello Market in London, where he is involved in a deal to purchase a Curta from a somewhat sketchy seller. The Curta is a mechanical calculator (quite beautiful as you can see in the photos above) that was the pre-cursor to the electronic calculator and was designed by Curt Herzstark when he was imprisoned in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. You can still purchase a Curta today on eBay (if you are willing to pay). The Curta is really a symbol of a time and, as Pattern Recognition unfolds, we discover that there are a slew of underworld collectors of early computing hardware. Voytek, our minor character, is an artist collecting Sinclair ZX 81 personal home computers (produced by the Timex Corporation in 1981) for an upcoming show. Casey (pronounced “Case”), our main character, asks Voytek:

“What do you do with them?”
“Is complicated.”
“How many do you have?”
“Why do you like them?”
“Of historical importance to personal computing,” he says seriously, “and to United Kingdom. Why there are so many programmers, here.”

And with that, we have the crux of what we call Materials Culture.

Material Culture:  noun, Sociology. 1. the aggregate of physical objects or artifacts used by a society

In my design training, we never really spoke directly about the cultural impact of the things (products) we were making. In my memory, conversations tended more towards how the culture impacted us as designers. I learned to make dresses and thought about the manufacturing process that follows good design, but it took me years to understand that the process of manufacturing has its own culture, its own language, its own trajectory that was completely separate from me as designer.


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Short Stack Editions is a beautiful series of small-format, hand-bound publications that are half cookbook, half food magazine. Each 4 1/2” x 7 1/2” edition is inspired by a single ingredient and written by an array of chefs, cookbook authors, and food writers. To sum it up, Short Stack Editions are a food-lovers’ pocket-sized dream—and are as functional as they are collectible. (Our staff has been poring over the volumes since their arrival at The Factory.)

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In his last cookbook, A New Turn in the South, Hugh Acheson won us over with his focus on community, sustainability, and organic products. We so agree with his “Message About Community” in that book that we refer to it often in conversations about our own work and how to set standards for what is important in our work:

“My mantra is this: local first, sustainable second, organic third. Local has impact and impact produces change. Change is the process of making the farming sustainable, and once sustainable, the next step is certified organically grown.

The demand for immediate and complete change by some food advocates is one that just is not feasible for most farmers and one that the average consumer cannot yet afford. Small steps will win this race and those first small steps are about your local sphere. The small steps that you take as a consumer are multifold: Shop at your farmer’s market, buy local crafts and art, frequent local independent restaurants, buy locally roasted coffee, buy native plants, learn how to garden, don’t eat overly processed foods, know the person who raises your eggs. This has nothing to do with a political stance and everything to do with a community stance. I am not a fanatic, just a believer. I believe in the place we live and in finding ways to make it great every day. I am endlessly enamored of my local sphere, my community.”

A New Turn in the South was a great marriage of the practical + the anecdotal + the delicious that we were delighted to receive his most recent cookbook, The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits. This cookbook (along with A New Turn in the South) was photographed by our dear friend, Rinne Allen—who is also a frequent collaborator of Acheson’s.


The Broad Fork maintains Acheson’s relatable tone with the same goal of making good food unintimidating. The idea for this most recent cookbook was hatched at a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) produce pickup, when a neighbor stopped Hugh for advice on how to use some of the lesser-known vegetables in that month’s box. Or, as Hugh remembers it, “What the hell do I do with kohlrabi?”

If, like us, you’ve ever subscribed to a CSA you know that your box of produce can be filled with surprising, unfamiliar, or an overabundance of one or more vegetables. Some days you get a sort-of veggie anxiety, thinking: what is the best way to use celery root? Or how am I ever going to eat all of this squash? This cookbook is perfectly aligned for those committed to using fresh produce, whether from a CSA, a local farmer’s market, or the grocery store. There are (seriously) about 200 recipes included focusing on around 50 ingredients, broken down by season and by vegetable—which helps you assess your vegetable haul and make a plan for the week’s meals. This cookbook is nothing if not comprehensible and relatable.


Just as she did with A New Turn in the South, Rinne blends her style with Acheson’s, using his handwriting in the photographs and design to make the book feel more handmade and relatable. Most of the recipes are accompanied by her stunning full-color photographs that make us want to head to the farmer’s market ASAP.

Get your copy of Hugh Acheson’s The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits.



Over the years, I’ve managed to amass quite a library of design, photography, and art books alongside my treasured cookbooks, novels, and random printed matter that continues to inspire. The shelf that Sara first organized has become four packed-to-the-top rolling shelves that now inspire an entire company. We were recently discussing the best way to archive these books that we can continue to loan them out—but also keep the collection intact, when it occurred to me that libraries all over the world have already invented  pretty intricate systems for organizing books. Why reinvent the wheel – or, in this case, the card catalog…

As I began to read more on library classifications, I discovered there are two systems that seem to be most frequently employed by libraries: the Dewey Decimal Classification and the Library of Congress system. Both systems allow books to be classified in very specific, detailed ways. They just approach their systems of organization a little differently.

The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) is a library classification system created by Melvil Dewey in the late 1800s. What made the Dewey Classification unique was the introduction of the idea that books should be grouped together based on subject matter. The decimal system structure allows us to drill down deeper into a subject matter, making room for more and more specific and specialized book topics; the fractional decimals allow categorization into as much detail as necessary. Finding books – and returning them to their proper spot – became almost a science.

Before the Dewey system was widely adopted, many libraries used a fixed positioning system where books were placed on the shelf based on the book’s height and date of acquisition. Because early libraries were not always open to the public, “browsing” stacks wasn’t encouraged; only privileged patrons and employees looked at the shelves. The Dewey Decimal Classification ultimately made libraries more accessible to the public, because patrons were able to search for books on their own.


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“I am a designer and I want to design things.”  – Ettore Sottsass

When Alabama Chanin started our MAKESHIFT conversation nearly three years ago, inspiration came from several places and sources. The core idea was, and still is, that through the gathering of like-minded folks (writers, designers, thinkers, artisans, creators) we could elaborate on the simple act of making—and find the point where design, craft, art, fashion, food, and DIY intersect.

The conversation at the first MAKESHIFT event in 2012 began with the study and discussion of an essay by Ettore Sottsass, titled “When I Was a Very Small Boy.” The essay (which was brought to our attention by Andrew Wagner) is about the act of making and embraces the idea that when we are young, we don’t have preconceived notions about what or how to make; we just do. And by doing, we learn. During MAKESHIFT, in keeping with the Sottsass essay, we embraced the act of working outside out of our comfort zones to try something new. By doing so, we can evolve together—by exploring, not thinking or judging.

Our On Design series allows us to have MAKESHIFT-based discussions on a local, community-based level—translated here. March’s On Design lecture was titled “1980 + The Memphis Group” and focused heavily on the work of Sottsass and his partner and fellow Memphis member, Barbara Radice. During my own design training, I began to study and follow the work of Sottsass—including his achievements with the Memphis Group during the 1980s. Sottsass founded the design collaborative in Milan, Italy. Barbara Radice elaborates on the group’s beginnings in this interview with Phaidon.com:

You should not imagine that we would sit around and actually talk about “the future of design”. There was a necessity of updating figurative language because what was around, as Ettore used to say, after a while felt like chewing cardboard. So you need a little mustard, don’t you? We were talking about life, and design was part of it. That is why they (the designs) were so intense and bright.


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Today, we continue our series of blog posts from some of our favorite makers highlighting DIY garments, customized using the techniques and patterns of Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns. We last heard from Amy Herzog, who described the fit issues she has faced over the years—particularly garment length. This week, we are blushingly grateful to post Heather Ross’ review.

I have long been an admirer of Heather, who has an exceptional eye for design and motif. She is also a talented writer who can combine the poignant and humorous in her books and her designs. We once asked her how she translated humor into her fabric designs and she said something that still sticks with me: “Funny is just a mix of happy and ridiculous. Ridiculous is easy.”

In her review, Heather talks about the difficulty of finding ready-to-wear clothing that fits her long torso. She writes, “…in many Ready To Wear dresses and blouses I find myself hunching over to make up for their lack of length, as though I can bring a waistline down by scrunching myself up.” And she shares memories of her grandmother’s handmade clothing and how wearing those custom dresses gave her confidence. “I felt flattered, rather than awkward, and much more myself. This is the thing about wearing clothing that really fits you: It makes you feel good.”

And I agree. Though I have my own body image struggles, my clothing makes me more comfortable in my own skin. (Most of the time) I know exactly who I am in these clothes. I wrote Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns with the hope that more women can have that feeling, by taking control of their wardrobes and dressing their bodies exactly as they are.

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Cover of Never A Pal Like Mother: Vintage Songs and Photographs of the One Who's Always True


Dust-to-to-Digital is a unique recording company that serves to combine rare recordings with historical images and descriptive texts, resulting in cultural artifacts. We have previously written about several of their collections that resonate so well with our brand. We believe in preserving traditions, and Dust-to-Digital truly speaks to that with their historically rich albums. We revisit one of their books, Never A Pal Like Mother: Vintage Songs & Photographs of the One Who’s Always True, for Mother’s Day.

Photograph from Never A Pal Like Mother with the caption, "she was the first to ever love me".

Compiled by April and Lance Ledbetter, founders of the Dust-to-Digital label, the 96-page hardcover book features vintage black and white and sepia-toned images of mothers and their children interspersed with poignant lines from popular commercial recordings of the early twentieth century, each one dedicated to Mom. An essay by Sarah Bryan accompanies two CDs of 40 recordings from 1927 to 1956. The forward is written by friend, mother, Alabama Chanin ambassador, and master lyricist Rosanne Cash.

From Rosanne’s essay and the Dust-to-Digital site:

“We can feel our American past here: how we lived, how hard we worked, how we were a nation of travelers and wanderers, how we held fast to our faith, how great our losses were, how quickly death came, and how often our mothers were the rock and the lighthouse, the home inside our hearts. These songs could never be written in the age of jet travel, therapy, delayed adolescence, the internet, nor could they survive current popular ideas of human psychology. They are pristine and deeply wrought sonic images, unfiltered through modern expectations, and are all the more refreshing and thrilling for being so. Those of us who treasure American roots music are listening to the very center of its essence in this anthology: a nearly century-old collection of songs about the most important person in the entire lexicon.” — Rosanne Cash, from the introduction to Never a Pal Like Mother

The book itself, contents notwithstanding, has the beauty of a treasure chest, the CDs tucked neatly inside pockets on the front and back covers. The back cover displays the song list in a vintage inspired typeface that invokes the memory of an old record, perhaps one played on a phonograph of one the mothers depicted within the pages. Any mother would be proud to count this album among her library of cherished tomes (while ballads celebrating her heroism play in the background).

Old photographs of families from Never A Pal Like Mother.


Like the rest of the world, the fashion industry has widely utilized Instagram (the photo sharing app with over 300 million users) to share insider glimpses into brands and lives, highlight the creative process, and find simple ways to connect to followers. Brands and consumers are sharing personal, visual “moments” in their lives (of course, perfectly oriented and filtered). In celebration of this relationship between the fashion industry and social media users, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) released their newest book, titled Designers on Instagram: #Fashion.

The book includes photos from CFDA designers (including Alabama Chanin), hand selected by the council and separated into five chapters, categorized by hashtags: #BehindtheSeams, #Selfies, #Inspiration, #Fashion, and #TBT (aka “Throwback Thursday,” for the uninitiated).

The colorful hardbound release is appropriately square shaped, like all Instagram photos. We think it’s a beautiful volume; the photos make you feel like a fashion insider, even if you are on your couch eating popcorn in your pajamas (no comment) or dressing a seven-year-old for school (or at least trying to dress a seven-year-old).

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Last Thursday we started shipping our newest book, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns.  Stacks of books around the office moved quickly into boxes and off into the hands of readers.  Thank you for all your sweet notes of praise and excitement.  We find it equally exciting to move on to this next chapter.

Look for our post tomorrow on “How To Print a Pattern,” fresh DIY Kits—inspired by the new book—launch on Thursday, Friday our updated Studio Books + Patterns page arrives with a new downloadable garment pattern and improved stencil design PDFs, and look for our (first-round) blog tour over the coming weeks, featuring Heather Ross, Anna Maria HornerKristine Vejar, Amy Herzog, Joelle Hoverson, and Amy Butler (in no particular order).

Once you’ve had the chance to open your box and digest the contents, let us know what you think. Looking forward to hearing from each and every one of you…




In our week-long profile of designers Charles and Ray Eames, we studied their design aesthetic and philosophy and talked about the various media they used to forward those philosophies. They made hundreds of explorations into film, for varied purposes. Produced in 1977, Powers of Ten is perhaps their best-known film—and includes a book version. In it, the Eamses utilized the system of exponential powers to demonstrate the importance of scale.

The premise of the film is simple, though its scope is wide: a narrator—physicist Philip Morrison—guides the viewer on a journey that begins with an overhead shot of a couple in a park. The camera then pans back to see what a ten-meter distance looks like, then 100 meters, then 1,000 meters. Every 10 seconds, the viewer’s distance from the initial scene of the couple is magnified tenfold. We expand to the point of 100 million light years from Earth, a field of view of 1024 meters—the size of the observable universe.


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On May 21,2009, Matthew B. Crawford published an article in The New York Times Magazine titled, “The Case for Working With Your Hands.” Later that month, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work arrived on my desk at work.

Three paragraphs down in the New York Times piece, Crawford describes our situation:

“High-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become “knowledge workers.” The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass. To begin with, such work often feels more enervating than gliding. More fundamentally, now as ever, somebody has to actually do things: fix our cars, unclog our toilets, build our houses.”

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Vino or Moonshine? Both, please. Memphis chefs, Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman’s new cookbook, Collards and Carbonara: Southern Cooking, Italian Roots published by Olive Press, showcases their distinctly Southern-Italian dishes—or is that distinctly Italian-Southern dishes? Either way, it’s fusion cuisine with an accent.

The two chefs and best friends opened the upscale Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in Memphis back in 2008. After much acclaim, they opened a more casual sister restaurant, Hog & Hominy, right across the street in 2012. The two attended culinary school together in Charleston, South Carolina, and refined their skills in Italy. They compare their partnership to the dynamic of being in a band; they feed off one another for ideas and are always discovering inspiration together. The cookbook is a manifesto of sorts that establishes the greatness of duplicity in heritage cooking. At the root of their success is the fact that they simply love to play and work and learn and cook together. They share their stories revealing the secret to their success and the gospel of food according to these good Italian boys.

Each dish represents a new discovery and a step on their culinary pathway. The funky fusion dishes are as beautiful as they are humble. Warm pig’s ear salad with pears and Gorgonzola, fried green tomatoes with blue crab and bacon jam, gnocchi with caramelized fennel and corn; the pairings may seem unusual, but the flavors make sense together. Recipes for basic dishes like their famous boiled peanuts and pizza dough each have unlikely nuances that bring Italian and Southern American cuisines together.


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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.


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“Gravy is the SFA’s collection of original stories—fresh, unexpected, and thought-provoking. Like all of the SFA’s work, Gravy shares stories of the changing American South through the foods we eat. Gravy showcases a South that is constantly evolving, accommodating new immigrants, adopting new traditions, and lovingly maintaining old ones. It uses food as a means to explore all of that, to dig into lesser-known corners of the region, complicate stereotypes, document new dynamics, and give voice to the unsung folk who grow, cook, and serve our daily meals. Gravy the print journal lands in the mailboxes of SFA members four times per year. Gravy the podcast releases a new episode every other week.” –Southern Foodways Alliance

Gravy: The Podcast is now available every second Thursday by iTunes subscription:

“Gravy, a biweekly podcast, doesn’t profile star chefs. We don’t pander to cookbook authors. We don’t narrate recipes. Gravy tells stories of people and place through food…”

Join this important conversation (and get your own copy of Gravy mailed to your door) with your Southern Foodways Alliance membership. (Membership also makes a great holiday gift—think #givingtuesday.)

The piece below, written by Catarina Passidomo, reflects this year’s Southern Foodways Alliance theme, “Who is Welcome at the Welcome Table?” and can be found on page 13 of Gravy #53.


Lessons from A Post-Katrina New Orleans” by Catarina Passidomo

When I tell people that I study food, the response is usually one of curious interest. When I go on to explain that I study food justice—that is, the connections between food systems and race, class, gender, and other means of oppression—the look of curiosity changes slightly. Is that confusion? Agreement? Concern? People who experience one or multiple forms of oppression in their own lives generally nod with understanding. But for many of us, the connections between food and social justice are abstract. The interlocking systems that bring food from field or factory to fork, spoon, fingers, or chopsticks are mostly obscured from view. Or they are so familiar that we don’t notice them. But if we look closely and critically, we can begin to see through food to broader systems of oppression and dominance. This makes food a powerful tool for thinking and teaching about social justice. Continue reading


On a recent outing scavenging local thrift and antique stores, I stumbled upon a set of children’s encyclopedias, titled Childcraft: The How and Why Library. Although an incomplete collection, the books were in good shape and decently priced so I happily acquired the lot. (I am a known collectorhoarder, lover, gatherer—of books.)

While modern encyclopedias have existed for around three centuries, the first set aimed at children (aptly titled the Children’s Encyclopaedia) appeared in the early 1900s. The Childcraft books were first published in the 1930s, with updated versions produced throughout subsequent decades. The editions I found were copyrighted 1976, and I was particularly intrigued by the volume titled Make and Do, which is full of simple, kid-friendly crafts, including sewing projects aimed to make learning (and doing) fun.


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I’ve never met Roderick Kiracofe, but, I’ve known about his quilt collection for a long time. I believe that I heard his name shortly after I returned to Alabama over a decade ago. In those early days, I was working with quilters to create the garments that would make up my first collections. My neighbors supported my interest in quilts and quilting, happy that I was embracing a skill so highly valued in the community. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for me to open my door in the morning and find a bag of quilts left by an anonymous soul. They were often “garbage quilts”, as they are called around here—quilts that had seen better days. Many were shedding handpicked cotton through feed-sack fabric, worn so thin that the strings left couldn’t contain the internal batting. They were quilts that had been used to cover animals or as seat padding for an old car. But someone knew that I would see their value and appreciate their history.


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As I’ve mentioned before, writing a book is no easy feat. It involves months (often years) of planning, drafting, edits, new designs, reviews, rewrites, photo shoots, patternmaking…basically, equal parts labor and love. So, I honestly surprised myself when I agreed to write another one. While still a work in progress, the end is in sight, and I’m proud to officially announce Alabama Chanin’s upcoming book, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns. This is the fourth (yes, fourth) book I’ve worked on with my editor (and friend), Melanie Falick, of STC Craft and Abrams.

Around the studio, we’ve been referring to this project as the ‘addendum’, as it acts as a supplement to our Studio Book Series—Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style, and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.


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Perhaps the most common advice given to any writer: write what you know. Fabric designer, crafter, illustrator, writer, friend, and heroine Heather Ross manages to do just that in her newest publication, How to Catch a Frog: And Other Stories of Family, Love, Dysfunction, Survival, and DIY. In the book, Heather shares wisdom, heartfelt stories, lessons from her eccentric childhood spent in rural Vermont, gorgeous humor, and her deep joy for life.

Published by Stuart Tabori Chang, one of the descriptions of the book reads:

“When, as a twenty-something, Heather complained to her mother about a long list of things she had missed out on and that had compromised her chance of ever leading a ’normal’ life (immunizations, a healthy respect for authority), her mother waved a hand and replied, ’Well, you should thank me, because you have a lot of good stories instead.’”

The stories that Heather weaves, particularly the tales of a childhood surrounded by nature, remind me in-parts of my own daughter, Maggie, who spent much of her summer this year in Seale, Alabama, with her dad, Butch…swimming in a cattle watering trough, exploring the woods, riding ponies, creating art, catching frogs, lizards, turtles, and snakes, and—much to my dismay—having a pretty close encounter with a crocodile.


Heather’s anecdotes of her youthful adventures elicit emotional responses without relying on conventions or tropes. I laughed, I cried, and I found true appreciation for her life lessons.

I was (luckily) invited to read an early copy of the book and contributed this review on the book’s back cover:

I’ve long counted myself among Heather’s admirers; I am now a full-fledged devotee, grateful to her for inviting us all into her world.

How to Catch a Frog: And Other Stories of Family, Love, Dysfunction, Survival, and DIY by Heather Ross is a Melanie Falick Book published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, an imprint of Abrams (our own publisher).



James Beard award-winning chef and restaurateur Anne Quatrano is enthusiastic about food and community—passions I admire and write about often here on our Journal. Around her home-base of Atlanta, Georgia, she is referred to “Queen Anne” and is the city’s “undisputed Grande dame” of the farm-to-table movement according to The Local Palate. It makes sense; Anne owns and operates six of Atlanta’s most celebrated restaurants, including: Bacchanalia, Quinones at Bacchanalia, Star Provisions, Provisions To Go, Floataway Café, and Abbattoir.

Anne was raised in Connecticut and attended culinary school in California, where she met her husband and business partner, Clifford Harrison. After school, they relocated to the East Coast, but decided to journey to the South in the early 1990s. Anne had family from Georgia, and Atlanta seemed like the perfect Southern city to make their home-base, as it was becoming a cultural and culinary hub at the time. Although they work in Atlanta, they live on Summerland Farm near Cartersville, Georgia, a property that has been owned by Quatrano’s family for five generations. Anne makes the 80-mile roundtrip to commute to Atlanta every day, because she “can’t imagine living anywhere else.” Summerland is where she and Clifford grow and source food, host gatherings, and delve into true Southern hospitality.

Much to our delight, Anne has released a book of recipes celebrating the South, sustainable food, and life on the farm. Summerland: Recipes for Celebrating Southern Hospitality focuses on eating seasonally, and each chapter is associated with a specific month, kicking off with September—perfect timing. I’m looking forward to trying her October cocktail, the Mint Julep. Anne notes that “many people think of the mint julep as a spring or summer drink, associated in particular with the Kentucky Derby. But the brightness of the mint with the warmth of the bourbon is just as appropriate for the fall.”


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One Saturday morning in the mid-1930s, Mancey Massengill, a wife and mother of two, saw people having their pictures made in a dime store photo booth in Batesville, Arkansas. According to her son Lance, “she watched close, and got the name off the camera, then wrote to the company and ordered the lens. She got the money for that by taking about two dozen pullets in for sale.” Her husband, Jim, built a box to house the lens and outfitted a trailer to create a mobile photo studio. On weekends, they would set up in little towns across the state and make pictures, three for a dime.

Jim and Mancey Massengill started this family side-business to make ends meet. The country was in the throes of depression and on the verge of entering the Second World War. Work was scarce in rural Arkansas, but the Massengills understood that even in rough times, life continues. Babies are born, children play, couples meet, and we all grow older. Someone needed to be there to capture those moments and that person could perhaps make a living doing it.

A few years later, the Massengill’s sons, Lance and Lawrence, and their wives, Evelyn and Thelma, worked their way into the business. They outfitted their own trailers and made their own pictures, traveling across the state in search of clients. The surviving family diaries and notes from this period attest to a very strong and entrepreneurial work ethic, with little mention of aesthetics or technique. The men and women of both generations describe where they went, what they did, and how much they made with only fleeting mention of life’s details. With few exceptions, the stories are left to be told by the pictures they made.


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One of the great joys of my job is the fact that we sometimes get to review books for other authors. Sometimes we order the books from a catalog of new titles and sometimes, the books just arrive like magic in the mail. This was the case last year, when we received a book called Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. The coloring book—intended for children and adults—was published by Lawrence King and immediately found its way to my pile of books I love. On the inside cover is a quote that reads, “Tumble down the rabbit hole & find yourself in my inky wonderland…” And that is exactly how I felt after browsing just a few pages. Although we have played with permanent markers for years in writing on quilts and garments, looking at page after page of beautiful detailed illustrations, I was overwhelmed by inspiration.


Through some experimentation, we found out that black and white photocopies will transfer onto white and/or natural colored fabric with a hot iron.  This made it possible for us to transfer the pattern one-to-one from this or any coloring book, stencil, or black and white design. There are arrays of fabric coloring tools available at local craft stores and more arrive on the market each year. We found that the pastel dye sticks and fabric markers (designed for children) work very well.


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We continuously strive for a healthy work/play balance here at Alabama Chanin. And so we found ourselves charmed by The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, by Suzanne Pollak and Lee Manigault, which manages to combine elements of work, domestic pursuits, and modern living.

Pollak and Manigault created the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits (located in Charleston, North Carolina) in 2011 – after meeting at a dinner party – in hopes of teaching the value and importance of domestic home life. The Academy’s unique curriculum includes everything from cocktail-party etiquette and business entertaining, to dealing with household guests and cooking for the holidays.
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Community cookbooks – collections of recipes gathered by churches, women’s societies, rotary clubs, and other regional clubs and foundations – have been the foundation of home kitchens across America for decades. These collections often present an air of nostalgia, using old-fashioned techniques, offbeat ingredients, and occasionally include really great anecdotes. They are—in their best versions—a direct reflection of the region of their origin and an admirable labor of love. The recipes are seldom fancy, and most often highlight the kind of meal that is made in an average kitchen on an average evening by an average cook who finds an epiphany of enlightenment in a great recipe. Even more captivating is the community cookbook filled with family recipes passed down from prior generations and lovingly shared with the community at large.

Caxton Press in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania published what is believed to be the very first charity cookbook in 1864, during the time of the Civil War. This assortment, titled A Poetical Cook-Book, by Maria J. Moss, was filled with foods common to that era, like leg of mutton, mince pies, johnnycakes, and hasty pudding. The book was sold to provide funds for field hospitals and aid wounded soldiers.

Many, like the ones I was given by my mother, grandmothers, and aunts, are overflowing with sense memories of a location and an era. While similarities exist among the cookbooks, there are distinct differences between what the women of the Virginia Eastern Star were making in the 1920s and the dishes prepared by the late 1960s Junior League of Coastal Louisiana. Regardless of the when and the where, there is copious information on what the (mostly) women were like in each specific time and place. The ingredients tell a story of rural vs. urban landscape and wealthy vs. working class cooks. If a recipe called for a pinch or a handful, you might assume that the writer was a seasoned home cook who learned passed down recipes and perfected dishes by taste, not by measurement. If a recipe was “eggless” or “butterless”, you might suppose that it originated during wartime, when certain foods were rationed.

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The act of sharing a meal with others can be a uniting experience, with the potential to create memories and build relationships. Ashley English’s new book, Handmade Gatherings: Recipes and Crafts for Seasonal Celebrations & Potluck Parties, is a celebration of just that sense of community. We previously featured another of Ashley’s books, A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies on our Journal. I was excited to read this, her latest book, as it focuses on something I truly love: entertaining. I appreciate Ashley’s approach to creating an experience through communal, potluck meals. I particularly value her approach to slowing down and appreciating the process of creating, and was honored to contribute a review of Handmade Gatherings (featured on the back cover of the book).


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I have been a fan of the lovely Tift Merritt ever since I first heard her 2002 debut album, Bramble Rose. Since then, I have been lucky enough to meet and work with Tift as part of our MAKESHIFT initiative. One of my heroes, Emmylou Harris, once said that Tift “stood out like a diamond in a coal patch,” and her thoughtful lyrics and melodies prove this to be true time and again.

In 2012, finding herself without a manager or a record deal, the North Carolina native did some soul searching to find out what kind of artist she really wanted to become and came face-to-face with self doubt. I’ve shared before how my own challenges led to moments of real breakthrough and commitment to doing good work – and the admission that no matter how seamless it may seem, the journey is not effortless. Tift told Pop Matters, “Being a good artist is not for the faint of heart…I think you have to ask questions that are scary to ask and you cannot apologize for that and you cannot worry what anyone else thinks about your journey.”


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Allison Kave, a truly creative baker and expert on all things pie related, credits her mother with her passion for food. Her mom, Rhonda Kave, is owner of Roni-Sue’s Chocolate in New York’s Essex Street Market. Growing up, Rhonda had a rather unexciting childhood filled with canned and boiled vegetables and she wanted more nutrition and excitement for her own children. Research into various cuisines led to a love of chocolate, which inspired her very own confectionery shop. All of this unbridled love of food couldn’t help but inspire Allison and her brother, Corwin, a renowned executive chef in New York City.

Like some of us, Allison did not find her calling immediately. Her route to the culinary life modeled the circuitous path her mother took. Eventually, her boyfriend encouraged her to enter the First Annual Brooklyn Pie Bake-Off – and she walked away with the award for Best Overall Pie. So, she asked: Why not make pies? In fact, Allison recently partnered with fellow baker Keavy Blueher, and together they are opening Brooklyn’s first dessert and craft cocktail bar, Butter & Scotch.


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Sass Brown’s ReFashioned: Cutting Edge Clothing From Upcycled Materials, is the second in a series focusing on the eco-fashion movement. Previously, in Eco Fashion, she examined designers and labels (including Alabama Chanin) practicing sustainability in the fashion industry.  In ReFashioned, she features 46 international designers who create using recycled and upcycled textiles. The result is a stunning volume of forward-thinking design that also opens a discussion on the current state of fashion and its many wasteful practices.

Sass is one of the most knowledgeable and thoughtful voices in the eco-fashion movement. She considers herself a fashion activist, writing, “As a designer and writer, I like to tell the stories around our clothes, to help revive our material connection to our clothing.” She says, “It became equally important for me to reveal the hidden price tag of fast fashion, as a means to promote conscious consumerism.”


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At Alabama Chanin, we believe DIY projects are integral to sharing creativity and promoting sustainable heirloom-worthy pieces. Bibliocraft: A Modern Crafter’s Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects is a great guide to DIY crafts that utilize a range of library resources for inspiration. Written by rare book librarian Jessica Pigza, this book contains over 20 unique projects and crafts for your home, including the Cyanotype Throw, designed by the Alabama Chanin team.

Pigza walks readers through different types of libraries, collections, and other resources that can foster motivation and provide ideas for the curious and creative. The book shows you how to find the right library for you and also provides information on digital libraries and an array of library catalogs. To get you started on your project, there are lists of recommended library collections from general visual resources to performing arts and film. The book is an informative and inspiring guide for learning about new resources and turning to libraries for discovery. There is something different and special about holding an actual, physical book in your hand that continues to draw me toward libraries. As a designer I find escape within library walls, and as a business owner I find critical information that has helped me grow into who I am as an entrepreneur.


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For several years now, Alabama Chanin has drawn ideals from the Slow Food movement (Slow Design is rooted in the tenets of the movement)—a philosophy we share with Blackberry Farm. We are currently featuring some of their goods and recipes on our café menu and are excited to be holding a Weekend Away Workshop there this June.

A few years ago, Sam Beall, proprietor of Blackberry Farm, wrote a cookbook that he hoped would reflect what he and others involved at Blackberry Farm experience every day and that would inspire readers to not only enjoy the recipes born from the Farm but encourage them to “savor [their] own region, meal by meal.”


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This month, we are featuring Blackberry Farm and Chef Joseph Lenn as part of our ongoing Chef Series here at The Factory. As promised, we are sharing our favorite recipes with you; this week, a twist on a simple spring salad.

From The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm, page 121:

“When the garden and farmer’s markets are overflowing with zucchini, it’s time for this salad, which pairs lovely long threads of sweet raw zucchini with a creamy yet light dressing and Blackberry’s twist on Italian frico, made with our own Singing Brook cheese (Pecerino Toscano is a very appropriate substitute).”

The café is serving Blackberry Farm’s Zucchini Caesar Salad alongside our Quiche Lorraine and local greens. Stop by The Factory Café this week and explore our menu, or recreate the tasty dish yourself.


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“In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is – as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.” –Josef Albers

Color, as we see it, results from our eyes and brains working together to make sense of the light around us. Since as early as the 15th century, artists and philosophers alike have tried to understand how this works and create a unified approach to color – a color theory – to understand how colors complement or contrast with each other and why they rouse our emotions and influence our decisions.

Essentially, color theory, like the interaction between our eyes and brains, helps us make sense of what we “see.” Perhaps one of the most influential color theorists was artist and educator Josef Albers, who published Interaction of Color in 1963. A tome of a book on color theory, it was made for interaction, to be pored over and actively, even emotionally, involve students as they learned Albers’ philosophy of color.

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Illustrator and author Maira Kalman has long been a personal hero of mine. She visited The Factory a couple of years ago, along with Rosanne Cash and Gael Towey, for a two-day sewing workshop and some adventure. It was then that I learned Maira is not only a talented illustrator, but also an avid embroidery expert. I love everything she creates (but especially her drawings and unique storytelling perspective), and am happy to call her my friend.


In her book And the Pursuit of Happiness, Maira explores American democracy and its workings. Originally published as a 12-part online series for the New York Times, this complete bound volume tells the colorfully illustrated and hand-lettered history of America.


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My love of books is no secret. I still have a decades-old public library card, probably obtained when I was about 8 or 9, printed on card stock and housed in a small, paper envelope. It was one of my most prized possessions as a child. Today’s library cards can be scanned and swiped, but obtaining one is still an important rite of passage for so many.

In the past, we’ve explored the emotional responses that a love for books and for libraries can elicit from anyone who shares that same admiration. Our local library, the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, is a wonderful example of how a brick and mortar building can grow into a community of sorts, adapting to meet the needs of the public at-large, and embracing new technologies while reinforcing the importance of learning. This library, like many modern public libraries, has special initiatives geared toward younger children and teens, but also has a strong local history and genealogical research team. They are creating interactive experiences for the community through classes, meet-ups, and year-round programs. I am proud to see what an important part of our community the public library remains.

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The Momofuku restaurant group started up in 2004 as a postage stamp-sized ramen noodle bar in New York City’s East Village. It garnered a following rather quickly for the innovative ramen dishes and simple, but incredibly addictive, pork buns. At the helms of chef-owner David Chang, Momofuku steadily grew over the years to include numerous branches and locations in New York and Toronto, such as Ssäm Bar, Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ko, Ma Pêche, and Milk Bar.

Momofuku Milk Bar, which opened in 2008, was the group’s long awaited ode to classic, sugary concoctions. Headed by Christina Tosi, Milk Bar offered a menu that consisted of familiar sounding sweet treats cleverly graced with the creative edge the brand had come to be known for. Cornflakes were steeped in milk and sweetened to make cereal milk soft serve, and were mixed into cookie dough with marshmallows and chocolate chips to create a rewarding cookie with an extra crunchy, sweet and salty flavor.

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Many of you know that we at Alabama Chanin hold a strong admiration for lyricist, musician, vocal Twitter user, and writer (among other things) Rosanne Cash. I was a fan and supporter many years before we actually met and became friends. The more that I get to know this incredible woman, the more I respect her talent and her humanity. She has said that she wears Alabama Chanin pieces on stage for nearly every performance, an honor that we do not take lightly. Rosanne has become one of our favorite clients, a dear friend, and a near-constant source of inspiration.

Many of you may know of Rosanne Cash because of her renowned family lineage. She is the firstborn daughter of revered American icon Johnny Cash. As a songwriter and performer, she is doing honest work, from her own perspective. For over 30 years, she has written and released 15 albums and four books, charted 21 Top 40 singles, including 11 Number Ones and received 13 Grammy nominations and one Grammy win. Her 2010 album, The List, was named Album of the Year by the Americana Music Awards and her upcoming album, The River and the Thread, is already garnering critical praise.

Her book, Composed: A Memoir, not only tells the story of her upbringing and explores her relationships with her parents and her famous stepmother; it is also the story of a woman in the process of discovering who she is and who she wants to be. Last year, I first read Composed on a trip to Berlin and found myself sitting in an airport terminal, openly weeping; the language is so beautiful and her story is engaging and unfailingly honest.


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Exploration of the extensive Dust-to-Digital catalog continues to reveal compilations that strongly resonate. We have previously written about the moving collections: I Listen to the Wind, Never a Pal Like Mother, Keeping a Record Of It, and Goodbye, Babylon.

Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950 is a powerful collection that explores immersion baptism, an important component of many Southern religious traditions and religious culture worldwide.

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We are devout believers in Dust-to-Digital, April and Lance Ledbetter’s acclaimed record label. Their first release, Goodbye, Babylon, is a testament to the Dust-to-Digital mission of archiving, producing, and reproducing high-quality, cultural artifacts.

Lance spent several years researching and compiling the collection of 135 rare gospel songs, dating from 1902 to 1960, and 25 sermons, dating from 1926 to 1941. The stories and songs included in Goodbye, Babylon are filled with Southern and religious folklore. The collection is archived on six CDs, and features recordings from below the Mason-Dixon Line – everything from string bands and gospel quartets to sacred harp choirs and shouting preachers. You might recognize some of the artists, but most of the recordings are obscure treasures.


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Recently, the always-inspiring Southern Foodways Alliance symposium, held in Oxford, Mississippi, sponsored a rollicking debate on an intensely dividing subject: Which is better: Pie or Cake? While my love for a good cake has been well documented, some of the arguments for pie, eloquently spoken by Kat Kinsman from CNN’s Eatocracy, spurred me to take another look at the versatile dish. Devoted pie makers everywhere may relate to her statement that, if you are ‘crafting’ a pie crust:

 “…it’s most likely because, at some point in your life, someone thought well enough of you to stand beside you at a counter and gift the muscle memory from her hands to yours. Your mother, your aunt, your grandmother, or – heaven forfend – your mother-in-law decided it was time to truly assume you into the sisterhood. She guided your fingers as they worked the flour into the fat, flicked in the water, and kneaded it all to the proper mass.”


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Mary Adams studied art, not fashion, in college, but eventually chose fabric, specifically, the dress as her medium of choice. Her first storefront in New York City was in the Lower East Side, on the corner of Ludlow and Stanton in the early 1980’s, when that area of the city was cheap and dirty and home to artists, writers, musicians, actors, and designers. In her book, The Party Dress Book, Adams shares a glimpse of New York at that time and how the city and its creative inhabitants influenced her work – the brightly colored, twirling dresses she and her friends would wear to nightclubs and parties. Adams worked in an influential time and place for fashion history and her work continues to resonate. Her stories of inspiration introduce how-to instruction on specific dressmaking and embellishment techniques for designing and constructing the best looking dress at any party, anywhere.

The Party Dress Book inspired us to adapt one of our favorite, featured projects into an Alabama Chanin piece, Mary Adams-style.


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I met photographer Rinne Allen years ago, through mutual friend Angie Mosier, and have adored her ever since. Her work inspires me over and over again as it is always stunning and captures intimate aspects of life that many overlook.


Rinne’s love for gardening, travel, and all things handmade makes her the ideal Alabama Chanin collaborator. She has photographed a diverse range of events and products for us over the years; most recently, she documented our entire cotton-growing process.


Rinne also co-curates the Beauty Everyday blog, along with Kristen Bach, and Rebecca Wood. Together, they document daily inspirations of beauty from around the South.


They recently published a gorgeous photography book. Focusing on their hometown of Athens, Georgia, Beauty Everyday is a collaborative collection of favorite places and well-loved spaces.


Thumbing through the pages is a pleasure. The book, featuring 365 photographs (one for each day of the year), celebrates nature, architecture, and seasons of the South.


Beauty Everyday is available here.



I’ve known Heather Ross for almost five years now. We first met in New York, at a show celebrating our collection based on the work of famed Alabama photographer Charles Moore.  Heather arrived with my editor, Melanie, and I was bowled over by her beauty AND her spirit. When Alabama Studio Style launched back in 2010, the book went on a wonderful (digital) Blog Tour with a stop by Heather’s blog. The interview that ensued is one of my favorites to date.

Heather Ross is almost universally beloved in the sewing and craft communities. Her designs are whimsical and totally unlike any other options on the bookshelf. She excels when designing and illustrating for textiles and paper, with lines of fabric and stationery; she has also illustrated children’s books and has even worked on a line of surfboards for young girls. She has published a range of books, from the highly popular Weekend Sewing to a children’s book called Crafty Chloe.


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Kevin Gillespie grew up in Locust Grove, Georgia, outside Atlanta, with nine cousins within five years of age living five hundred feet from each other. While his parents worked, his paternal grandmother watched the kids, cooking three meals a day so the family could always sit and eat together. At age ten, Kevin became interested in cooking and decided his grandmother shouldn’t be the only one feeding the family. The family supported him one hundred percent, even when he turned down a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to attend culinary school at the Art Institute of Atlanta.

Fire in My Belly is a collection of Kevin’s memories and stories on how he came to love food with classic recipes tweaked and made simple for the home cook. Almost every tale focuses on family and the person who introduced him to a new food or way of cooking. There’s an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients, just the way his grandmother always cooked. Nothing is too fancy and every component is easy to find, no matter what part of the country you live in.


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Past & Present is a collection of essays on decorative art history and DIY projects by Design Sponge columnist, Amy Azzarito. Grace Bonney, founder of the very popular Design Sponge website, first met Amy while working on a video project at the New York Public Library. The two became instant friends, as Grace was impressed with Amy’s knowledge and passion for design and the history behind it. Thus the column, Past & Present, was born. In this book, Amy highlights some of her favorite styles in the history of decorative arts and pairs her essays with advice from various designers on creating DIY projects that reflect the eras she writes about.

We chose to create one of the projects, using our 100% organic cotton jersey, to make a Shaker-style hanging lamp.


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Yesterday, we heard from Heather Wylie about her Bohemian Bop venture, her love of printmaking, and how she got into screen printing t-shirts. Today, Heather shares with us a recipe for screen printing at home, based on her own self-taught experience and by following You Tube videos and a few books on the subject, including Printing by Hand: A Modern Guide to Printing with Handmade Stamps, Stencils and Silk Screens by Lena Corwin, which we wrote about here a few years ago.

As Heather mentioned yesterday, printmaking requires many steps and each step demands careful attention in order to get the desired outcome. Anyone can print at home, but it is a lengthy process.


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Last year at MAKESHIFT 2012, one of our gatherings revolved around “Worn Stories,” an idea based on the blog, Sentimental Value, by Emily Spivack, friend of Jessamyn Hatcher. Spivack’s blog – and book, titled Worn Stories – shares the stories of garments purchased from Ebay. Those anecdotes were written by each item’s respective seller and, “are a window into people’s lives,” Spivack told the New York Times in a recent article highlighting her “Sentimental Value” exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Alliance.

Needless to say, Spivack has become an authority on connecting stories and clothing, which she views as works of art. Anyone who has ever made or purchased an Alabama Chanin garment knows the value we place on the quality, timelessness, and story of each project. Spivack’s mission rings very true for us.


We recently shared a few thoughts and memories of the library, collected from friends and neighbors, about the role libraries have played and continue to play in our lives. The draw of the library is foremost, the books. It is a democratic place to learn, escape, and relax. For many of us, the library conjures childhood memories of our local facility, perhaps a favorite librarian, and certainly the stack of literary treasures we inevitably brought home with us. German photographer Candida Höfer’s series of color plates, Libraries, captures the architecture and physical structures that hold those treasures and the art of those sacred halls.

This impressive volume contains 137 color plates of Höfer’s work, including the British Library in London, the Escorial in Spain, the Whitney Museum and the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, the Villa Medici in Rome, and the Hamburg University Library, among many others. The images are mostly devoid of people, drawing the eye and mind not to the functionality of a space, but to the colors and aesthetic of a building with a single purpose.


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This summer’s harvest has begun to reveal its bounty. Tomatoes and cucumbers are in full-swing and soon I will have all of the squash and zucchini I can stand (and plenty for the neighbors) not to mention, beautiful Italian basil, which I love with a tomato sandwich. I recently received this book, Vintage Craft Workshop, from friend and author Cathy Callahan. The macramé planter project immediately caught my eye and got me thinking about the possibility of year-round fresh basil and mint.

In my mind, I am planning several hanging pots that will live just inside a large window, where they will get lots of sun. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of hanging pots are the macramé plant holders in my home in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. They ran along the kitchen wall in varying heights, usually filled with ferns and the random “Spider Plant” (Chlorophytum comosum). Here, we attempted our own Alabama Chanin version, to test out the sizes we could make, the height, and how they would look made with our cotton jersey pulls. No surprise – they look exactly as I remember them.


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Alabama Chanin has long looked to Patagonia, and Yvon Chouinard, as the standard for sustainable design, manufacturing, and corporate culture. The recent film “Legacy Look Book” (shown above) is a beautiful reminder of why we love this company so very much.

When Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” he wasn’t implying that an unexamined life is boring or holds less meaning. He said the unexamined life is not worth living. As difficult as this process may be for an individual to understand and undertake, deciding that a company should live an “examined life” only adds to the challenge. It demands a carefully plotted and specific corporate mission, along with employing people who are willing to work openly, honestly, and for the right reasons.


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I love having fresh flowers around the office. I dream of flower beds surrounding the building and vases of camellia blooms on each desk. Shane Powers’ book, Bring the Outdoors In: Garden Projects for Decorating and Styling Your Home, has inspired me to perhaps be more ambitious in my plans for floral décor – both at home and in the office. I first met Shane through his work with my friend, Li Edelkoort. He worked on her (amazing) magazine, Bloom, and I met him again in Finland as he was helping curate and install Li’s exhibition, A World of Folk, and the Design Seminar, Folk Futures. Shane went on to work for prestigious titles like Vogue Living Australia, Blueprint, and Martha Stewart Living, and he recently created an indoor garden collection for West Elm. He is a busy man, to say the least.

Bring the Outdoors In is not a traditional gardening book. Rather, Shane presents ideas and instructions for projects that are akin to floral art installations. The results are astonishing, especially when compared to the traditional potted plant. This type of project would be perfect alongside traditional décor and would fit right into any unconventional home design. It is also ideal for apartment dwellers who lack the outdoor space for a garden plot of their own.


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In Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory, Cathy N. Davidson writes:

“When the last worker passed through the doors of White Furniture Company in May of 1993, hardly anyone beyond the city limits of Mebane, North Carolina, noticed. In national terms, it made little difference that 203 men and women were out of work or that a venerable, family-owned firm (the ‘South’s oldest maker of fine furniture’) had been sold to a conglomerate and now was being shut down. After all, what happened to White’s is hardly unique. In the 1990s, in every walk of life and on all social levels, Americans have had to learn a new vocabulary of economic anxiety – layoff, outsourcing, buyout, off-shoring, downsizing, closing. The statistics are mind-numbing: 70,000 people laid off from General Motors in 1991; 50,000 workers from Sears and 63,000 from IBM in 1993; 40,000 from AT&T in 1996. In these times, why should we care about the closing of one furniture factory in a small southern town?”

Davidson’s text accompanies Bill Bamberger’s photographs, which document the closing of this small American factory and capture the artisans, many of whom were masters of their craft. White’s Furniture Company operated by assembly line, though many of the details were executed by hand. The company was small, almost unknown, but to people in the know, White’s was regarded as one of the highest quality furniture crafters in America. Though Closing was published in 1999, nearly fifteen years ago, the trend of downsizing and outsourcing has continued, and our American factories have all but disappeared. Production, as we well know, has mostly been shipped overseas.


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I told someone the other day, “Books saved my life when I was growing up.”  And they did. I have spent days/weeks/years with my nose in books and, consequently, in libraries. As a designer, I find inspiration, and sometimes escape, inside of a library; as a business owner, I find critical information that has helped me grow who we are as a business and who I am as an entrepreneur. As Alabama Chanin (and my skill as a designer) has grown, so has my personal library (just ask our accountant). I have stopped dating certain men because of the absence of a library in their life, and my daughter believes the library is part of her own living room.

Ask almost anyone to describe their feelings about libraries and each person you speak to has a vivid memory of their own childhood library. I’m sure part of the reason for this is that, once upon a time, there were fewer ways to occupy yourself as a young person, and you had to actually check out a book to read it. An actual book – something that had weight, and pages you could turn, and needed bookmarks to hold your place. Ask someone about their smart phone or their Kindle and they will probably tell you how much they love it, how convenient it is, or how many features it has. Ask someone about a book, about a library, and people will tell you their memories.


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Growing up in small-town Florence, Alabama, a trip into downtown meant a visit to colorful shops, recognized by equally colorful signs. Ye Ole General Store had a block letter, serif-type sign across the entranceway and inside, we could find canteens and hats and overalls for backyard battles and explorations. Next, we’d walk to Court Street and look for the black and orange storefront that meant Wilson’s Fabrics. The simple lettering, enhanced by the high contrast color choices, told my grandmother to come right in – the “Tall Man with the Low Prices” had just the cotton and muslin she needed. Finally, the best part of our trip was our visit to Trowbridge’s for hot dogs and milkshakes. The hand-painted awning, with its swirling cursive script, told us we were headed in the right direction. The front window advertises SANDWICHES, ICE CREAM, SUNDAES. We would slide into a booth and look at the hand-painted menu hanging behind the ice cream counter. That beautiful menu is still there today, challenging me to choose between the hot dog and the chicken salad sandwich. I think the town would riot if it were ever taken down.

This sentimental love I have for hand painted signs was rejuvenated when friend and fellow maker, Faythe Levine, and her co-writer Sam Macon published Sign Painters. This book chronicles the histories and modern-day stories of sign painters. In the 1980’s and 90’s, the art of painting signs became doomed to obscurity, or worse -extinction- with the invention and widespread use of vinyl lettering and digital design. In today’s world, full of Adobe software and inflatable dancing tube men, it is hard to remember that every grocery store sale sign, billboard, storefront, and banner was once carefully designed and painted by hand.


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It is a goal of mine to have as many sit-down dinners with Maggie – and our guests – as I can each week. My summer garden continues to grow and I am so anxious for those first tomatoes (my favorite part of summer). You hear talk on all fronts about managing time, finding the right balance between work and family, healthy lifestyles, and “doing it all”. Keeping Maggie, and all of those other things in mind, you can imagine that I was intrigued by a cookbook called, One Pan, Two Plates.

Carla Snyder’s recipes really do make just enough for two adults. If we’re facing one of Maggie’s pickier days, there might even be enough for a small lunch for me the next day. There is little waste if you follow the recipes as written. Plus, I have found, with prep time included, you can be sitting down at the dinner table well within an hour. That works well at our house, where homework, playtime, and bedtime all have to be considered in the evening’s plans. There are options on how to enhance each dish for the “extra-hungry” and Snyder has added wine pairings for each meal as well.

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“A Carafe, that is a blind glass. 

A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a simple hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.”

This is how Gertrude Stein begins her Cubist experiment in verse. Tender Buttons, Objects has been called a masterpiece, a failure, confusing, nonsense, and a beautiful collage. It has been supposed a practical joke, too obscure to have real meaning, or too meaningful to describe (the last presumably said by an unenthusiastic poetry student).


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The cover of Mark Twain's book "Advice to Little Girls"


Some of us fell in love with Mark Twain the first time we read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and some of us understood his genius much later on, when we were finally old enough to appreciate his humor and satiric commentary on humanity. Twain’s polished use of irony is ever-present throughout the brief book, Advice to Little Girls, re-published this year with beautiful, and equally provocative, illustrations by Vladimir Radunsky. I loved it immediately.

Whether or not Twain intended this book to fall into the hands of sweet little girls, we’ll never know. And I’m undecided about sharing it with Maggie. Of course, I want to raise a creative, independent thinking, strong daughter, but somehow I think Twain’s “advice” might give her more ideas than she is (and I am) ready for. She’s already managed to exhaust me with her picky eating habits, her refusal to brush her hair, ever, and her snail’s pace at doing just about anything I ask of her.

Mark Twain's book "Advice to Little Girls"

“If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won’t. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.”

See what I mean?

Mark Twain's book "Advice to Little Girls"

“Good little girls ought not to make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense. This retaliation should only be resorted to under peculiarly aggravated circumstances.”

Clearly Twain is exercising his sharp wit, but there are truths to be found in his “advice.” While I believe in taking the high road, there is at times, the occasion to mirror another’s behavior. Right?

Mark Twain's book "Advice to Little Girls"

“Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged. You ought never to ’sass’ old people unless they ’sass’ you first.”

As much as I’d like to brag about how smart my daughter is, her first grade vocabulary isn’t quite up to Advice to Little Girls. Maybe I’ll get a few more years of deferent behavior from my child?

Tastes From The Country: Central Community Center Cookbook. Vegetable and Casserole Recipes


I think that we all have memories of family dinner with Mom bringing one single bubbling hot dish to the table. I have a favorite casserole from childhood, something that my mother called “goulash” that I’m sure bears little resemblance to the actual Hungarian dish. I’m not sure that I’d even like it if I ate it today, but the thought of the curly noodles and the hearty aroma is enough to make me still believe it was practically gourmet cuisine.

Favorite Recipes: Alabama Vocational Home Economics Cookbook

The casserole as a meal is an American standard and for many years was a go-to for countless busy mothers. The name of the dish comes from the name of the vessel in which it is cooked. The word casserole is derived from the French word for “sauce pan” and made its way into the English lexicon in the early 1700’s. According to The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, a casserole is a “dish or pot made from material such as glass, cast iron, aluminum, and earthenware in which food is baked and often served.” The basic concept of a one-pot dish is hundreds of years old: Spanish paella, British shepherd’s pie and pot pie, Italian lasagna and macaroni and cheese. But, the casserole as we know it today is a distinctly American invention.

A traditional casserole includes some form of protein, a pasta or rice filler, vegetables, and something to bind it together, like stock or soup. They are versatile and can be made from virtually anything, which is what allowed them to become a meal time standard. The casserole as a main dish began to appear on our tables in the late 1800’s. However, their popularity grew around the time of World War I, when families were encouraged to conserve resources. A Propaganda-style poster of the day encouraged families to eat “one less ounce of meat a day” and depicted a  mother embracing her thin, emaciated children. Casseroles allowed families to ration their meat by mixing it with the other ingredients, so supposedly no one would notice that less meat was being served.

This same technique became a necessity for many during the Great Depression, when ingredients were scarce and families struggled to keep food on their tables at all. One-dish meals allowed families to stretch resources because there were often leftovers. Cooking a casserole even meant less use of the stove and less dish washing. In fact, tuna noodle casserole became so popular during this time that it appeared in The Joy of Cooking as an easy recipe to make when funds were tight.

The height of popularity for the casserole came in the 1950’s. By then, both Pyrex dishware and Campbell’s Soup were popular and easily accessible to most women. Campbell’s heavily advertised their products as essential casserole ingredients. In fact, the soups were so ever-present in American kitchens that most cookbooks included recipes with Campbell’s soups (particularly Cream of Mushroom) as ingredients. The 1955 edition of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook featured a chapter on casseroles with dozens of recipes using every readily-available protein.

In the 1960’s casseroles became a bit less fashionable and were seen as more of a working class dish. This was at least partially due to the arrival of Julia Child on the American woman’s radar. Her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was published in 1961 and became a runaway success. This book made women feel less intimidated to attempt cooking more elaborate meals by giving detailed drawings and easy-to-understand instructions. By the time that Child’s television show, The French Chef, premiered in 1963, her pragmatic approach had convinced many to experiment in the kitchen.

Favorite Recipes: Alabama Vocational Home Economics Cookbook featuring pie recipes.

But, the casserole has never disappeared completely from the American culinary radar. There are entire cookbooks dedicated to casseroles. I’m sure that most of us have memories of casseroles being placed on the dinner table by mothers or grandmothers. Perhaps your remembrances are good; possibly, the thought of those meals causes you to shudder or your stomach to drop. Even so, the ease of preparation and the availability of ingredients mean that the casserole isn’t going to vanish from the American dinner table any time soon. I know that some of you are ready to grab your can opener (and throw your calorie counters out the window) to recreate some warm dinnertime memories tonight.


I received this gorgeous package from friend and maker Kata Golda a few days ago. My daughter Maggie snatched the contents up and they have been in her school backpack every day since.

Kata makes a menagerie of amazing little creatures with hand-dyed wool felt and hand stitching. They are simple, colorful constructions that embody Kata’s warm spirit and whimsy – like Alabama Chanin, she has a zero waste philosophy, using every piece of fabric and working with recycled and non-toxic materials when possible, while upholding the same standards in day-to-day life.


(Thank you again Kata.) Kata Golda’s Hand-Stitched Felt  book is a beautiful addition to the hand-stitcher’s library.




This week, we highlight the Finnish design company, Marimekko. As a long-standing leader in the fashion and design worlds, Marimekko has created timeless and colorful prints for over 60 years. I’ve followed the company from my days at NC State University and, as a designer, I have deep admiration and respect for Armi Ratia, the founder who created an empire by seeking beauty through design.

After World War II, Armi Ratia, a one-time weaver who was trained in industrial design, took interest in fabric printing; she wanted to bring happiness and color to distraught, post-war Finland. Working with full-time designers and buying from freelance artists, she began printing designs on fabrics that we now identify with an era, a culture, and a lifestyle.

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Last  week  we wrote about Dust-to-Digital’s Drop on Down in Florida, a 2 CD release highlighting African American music traditions in Florida, paired with a 224-page hardcover book. Dust-to-Digital is a unique recording company: part archivist, part celebrator of cultural artifacts. We will be talking about several of these awesome (by the original definition) releases over the next few weeks.

…i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces: music in vernacular photographs, compiled by Steve Roden, is a 2 CD set and 184-page hardback book exploring an unusual collection of recordings and old photographs related to music.


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Writer, artist, and curator Phillip March Jones’s latest book, Points of Departure, is a collection of roadside memorial Polaroids depicting scenes of reality, often stark eulogies on road sides, highways, and Interstates, that we routinely speed by in our busy lives. The collection demonstrates an irony between our hurried motion and the absoluteness of departure the memorials commemorate, as if the two, at least at moments, exist in parallel universes.

A busy man himself, Phillip March Jones is the founder of Institute 193 – a non-profit contemporary art space, small-scale publishing house, and cultural centre in Lexington, Kentucky – and the director of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, committed to raising public awareness of African-American vernacular art of the South. We were able to catch up with Jones for a quick Q&A about his newest book.

POINTS OF DEPARTURE by Phillip March Jones

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Husband and wife team Lance and April Ledbetter are protecting the sounds of our past with their highly acclaimed label, Dust-to-Digital. Founded by Lance a little over a decade ago, Dust-to-Digital is home to a growing catalogue of important cultural works from the United States and around the globe. I’ve been vie­wing their line-up for a few years and am constantly impressed by the amount of material and depth each release includes.  The types of recordings they release are unlike most on the market. It’s really audio conservation in its finest form. I was lucky enough to meet them both last fall during our trip to Atlanta, when we both attended the Lonnie Holly show at the High Museum. Afterward, they attended our event with the Gee’s Bend Quilters at Grocery on Home.


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As most of our readers know, we have a deep love and admiration for our friend – and collaboratorAnna Maria Horner. She is an artist, fluent in more than one creative medium. She not only creates bold and unique fabrics, some of which we have adapted into Alabama Chanin garments, but she also designs kitchen and paper goods, writes, works as the spokesperson for Janome, and keeps up with her beautiful family, all while pregnant with baby #7.

As I read through my new copy of Anna Maria’s Needleworks Notebook, I was moved by her descriptions of family and creativity and how being surrounded by the beautiful handmade things they made influenced her life path. While my parents weren’t as prolifically artistic as Anna Maria’s, the stories of her grandmothers and their sewing resonate with me strongly.


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Monday, we wrote about artist Tilleke Schwarz’s New Potatoes as inspiration for the week. However, Tilleke’s textiles have been a source for inspiration for me for years. When New Potatoes landed on my desk about a year ago, we started the skirt you see above as homage to Tilleke and her work.

We have produced narrative work over the years in the form of our Story Quilts. With that series, we take vintage quilts, refurbish them, and embroider oral histories onto the fabrics. You will find a Textile Stories Quilt project in Alabama Studio Style that describes this series. However, this series is small in comparison to the beautiful narrative work of Tilleke Schwartz.


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I first saw Tilleke Schwarz’s work in an exhibition called Pricked: Extreme Embroidery at the Museum of Arts & Design in New York. The needlework was displayed proudly as contemporary art by extraordinary female artists. Boundaries were pushed as textile art was made. Friend, Maira Kalman, also had work on view.

Tilleke’s work resonated with me with its elaborate technique and profound artistic statement. At the time, her first book Mark Making (2007) had quickly sold out, so when her self-published second book, New Potatoes, came out a few years later I readily ordered 10 copies.



Leslie Williamson’s beautiful first book, Handcrafted Modern, captures several homes and interiors of some of the mid-twentieth century’s most loved architects and designers. The photos and essays blew us away and left us wanting for more. With a little more support for her Kickstarter campaign, we just might get to see her second book, Handcrafted Modern Europe, come to be.


From far away, Ghanaian artist El Anatsui’s large-scale artworks take on the appearance of textiles and tapestries with patterns resembling those a master weaver might create. But upon closer inspection, the poignant pieces are actually constructed with simple bottle tops connected by copper wire.  Flattened then stitched, their unique assembly allows the works to move, flow, and take almost any shape. They speak volumes about El Anatsui’s education and home.

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Perhaps we too often think of women in the kitchen as just that: women (moms, wives) in the home kitchen, baking cookies and making dinner for their families. Whether this is because the “Chef” title has been dominated for so many years by men, or if it’s because we – those of us in the dining room, far away from the heat and toil of the galley – simply don’t think about how many, if any, women are actually preparing our meal, is up for debate (though it’s probably a little of both). Thank you to Charlotte Druckman for bridging an important industry conversation to us laymen and laywomen. There are not enough women in professional kitchens. Druckman’s cerebral, meticulously researched work, Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen highlights some of the problems and how (some) of this is changing today.

Women are the minority in most professional kitchens, often the only female on a crew of many. Professional cooking is a difficult, physical job with long hours, weekends and holidays dedicated to work in a very hot environment. It’s more than a job. It’s a lifestyle. As in many professions, women have to make choices between work and family. Societal demands and family responsibilities sometimes curtail how a woman can CHOOSE to do her job. Additionally, women are often subject to sexual harassment, intimidation, and unfair standards—and at times these situations go unobserved and unchecked in the late night environment that surrounds this industry.


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In 2008, to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the peace symbol, National Geographic published Peace: the Biography of a Symbol, by Ken Kolsbun with Michael S. Sweeney.

The book documents the symbol, from its creation in 1958, through its usage in the folk scene of the 1960s, its very visible presence in the 1970s at Woodstock, Vietnam war protests, and in the artwork of Peter Max, until today, with its wide use in commerce and as a cultural icon.

National Geographic has a moving photo gallery of the peace symbol that you can view here, starting with the gorgeous photo of Arlo Guthrie below by Bettman/CORBIS.

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Those of you who are frequent visitors to our blog may have read about the incredible Tom Hendrix and his beautiful tribute to his great-grandmother, The Wichahpi Commemorative Wall (known around here as simply, The Wall). Tom not only built an incredible monument for his great-grandmother, but he also took the time to tell her story in his book, If the Legends Fade. All proceeds from his book benefit his great-grandmother’s people, the Yuchi Nation.

All of us here at Alabama Chanin spent some days in the last months in a cotton field, picking our organic cotton. The work is difficult, repetitive, and, at the same time beautiful in that it brings out a meditative state. Though I was hot and tired in the field, I felt a stillness much like what I’ve experienced at The Wall.  While cotton is much lighter than stone, I think I understand Tom’s mission in a way I never did before. Slowing down and being conscious of your actions can be a way to honor the past. So often we are swept up in modern convenience that it is almost impossible to appreciate the struggles our ancestors endured.

Tom, his vision, and his actions constantly inspire me. I hope that, like each stone that he places on The Wall, our work is part of something larger. I hope that our efforts create beautiful and sustainable things, while honoring those that came before us.

Many years ago, a Yuchi woman inspired Mr. Hendrix to begin this wall, saying, “One step at a time, one stone at a time. Lay a stone for every step she made…We shall pass this earth. Only the stones will remain.”

Like our ancestors, we, too, shall pass this earth. What will we leave behind?

May we each spend some time today pondering what we are thankful for and what we want to leave behind.

Giving thanks for all of you…
From all of us @ Alabama Chanin


From Extra Virginity:

“…Wine’s effects on us are vivid and swift, while oil works on the body in hidden ways, slow and lingering in the cells and in the mind, like myths. Wine is merry Dionysus; oil is Athena, solemn, wise, and unknowable.

Wine is how we would like life to be, but oil is how life is: fruity, pungent, with a hint of complex bitterness-extra virginity’s elusive triad.”

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil is, surprisingly, quite the page-turner. Tales of scandal with delicious detours into the history and ceremony of olive oil will change the way you look at this kitchen staple forever.

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Tasia Malakasis, owner of local fromagerie Belle Chevre, is a dear friend of Alabama Chanin. She, like so many Southern women, has never met a stranger and can spend an afternoon discussing recipes, bourbon, and the weather, with genuine ease and enthusiasm. Her big heart and zeal for life are not easily contained and show through in so many recipes in her new cookbook, Tasia’s Table.

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There’s a cluster of Polaroids in our production office that never fail to captivate our visitors, and even though they’ve been there for the better part of a decade we still find ourselves staring. They’re so beautiful. It’s hard to look away.

Those Polaroids are from our first fashion show— 8 years ago—a cast of women assembled by the amazing Jennifer Venditti of JV8, Inc. Jennifer, a director and pioneer of selecting models whose beauty is far from typical, introduced us to a group of ladies whose poise, confidence, and style were unmistakable.

Mimi Weddell was among this incredible ensemble, a vibrant actress and New York fashion icon. She was most known for her lifetime obsession with hats. We love that her words are the introduction to Ari Seth Cohen’s book, a celebration of personal style at any age, Advanced Style:

“I can’t imagine going without a hat. The only romantic thing left in life is a hat.”

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As John T. Edge explains in his new book, The Truck Food Cookbook, (which we mentioned here) the food truck phenomenon that has swept the country over the past several years has been exciting to watch. Citizens of many American cities are challenging the regulations placed on food truck vendors in an effort to make streetscapes more alluring and encourage the street food movement. (Note: A simple Google search reveals an ongoing–sometimes heated–dispute between cities and food truck owners.)

Food trucks are practical on several fronts when considering the state of our economy – they offer value-driven meals and are relatively inexpensive start-ups.  Plus, our current society has become accustomed to eating on the go, which has also contributed to the movement. Rather than venturing into fine-dining ambitions, young chefs have opted “to dish the culinary equivalent of the Great American Novel from retrofitted taco trucks.” Immigrants are using the mobile meals approach to showcase their native cuisine. Consumers have begun to blend a demand for “quick access food” with a desire for “honest and delicious food,” and street food has answered the call on both fronts.

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Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, to view “Creation Story: Gee’s Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial.” I spent forever moving from one quilt to the next – leaning as closely in as I could without being reprimanded. No matter how many times you see those beautiful pieces, they never fail to amaze and inspire. The quilts, while spectacular, were meant for everyday use and were made with whatever materials were available. The personal stories associated with each quilt drove that point home. Each was described by the maker in simple terms and plain language, as if what they produced was no big deal, as though anyone could do it. I was particularly taken by the quilts of Missouri Pettway, both intricate and simple in their constructions. One quilt, made from her husband’s work clothes, demonstrated the love that went into each and every one of these works of art. I felt a lump rise in my throat as I read the description, as told by the quilter’s daughter, Arlonzia:

“It was when Daddy died. I was about seventeen, eighteen. He stayed sick about eight months and passed on. Mama say, ‘I going to take his work clothes, shape them into a quilt to remember him, and cover up under it for love.’ She take his old pants legs and shirttails, take all the clothes he had, just enough to make that quilt, and I helped her tore them up. Bottom of the pants is narrow, top is wide, and she had me to cutting the top part out and shape them up in even strips.” Continue reading


I recently read a NYTimes article about the comeback of curvy body shapes among the Y- generation.  It seems that an increasing number of women in their 20s and 30s are finding the “calendar girl” silhouette appealing. Along with a curvaceous silhouette, the look includes Betty Page style bangs, swing skirts, and bright red lips.

The classic 50s and 60s pin-ups were before my time. By the time the 70’s arrived, the style of the day had evolved. Pin-ups looked different – beach blondes, tiny waistlines and overly-styled looks were on trend. These were the images that surrounded me when I first began to think about my own definition of beauty and develop my own sense of style. I was an awkward teenager. Growing up with limited resources in our small community, my sense of beauty and style was dictated by Seventeen Magazine. And I don’t remember anyone in my little world that looked like me. I remember my mother—who was a teacher at my school—telling me that none of the little kids looked like me. I had black hair, black eyes, a “foreign” look.  In fact, years later a friend of the family looked at my cousin and said “Pam, you have just grown up to be the most beautiful young woman.” Then, as her eyes descended upon me, she exclaimed, “And, Natalie, you are so, so, so EXOTIC.”  For a shy and somewhat delicate girl, that felt like the kiss of ugly.

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In 2009 and 2010, an exhibition was held at Pratt Institute to help explain the relationship between fashion and sustainability.

For this exhibit (called Ethics + Aesthetics = Sustainable Fashion), curators Francesca Granata and Sarah Scaturro (now Conservator at The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) displayed garments from our Alabama ChaninSongbirds collection, and also from artists and designers like Susan Cianciolo, Andrea Zittel, Suno, and Bodkin.

Andrea Zittel’s Smockshop pattern was included in the “Rethink” portion of the exhibition and provided as a printed pattern at the back of the catalog. From page 36 of the catalog:

A simple double wrap-around garment, the smock as designed by the artist Andrea Zittel, is a versatile and utilitarian garment. For the Smockshop project, it is reworked by a number of artists who reinterpret the original pattern based on their individual skill sets and tastes. In line with Zittel’s motto, “Liberation through Limitations,” the smocks are intended to be worn exclusively for six months, but in an understanding of the idealistic nature of such a practice, the artist is at least hoping “to inspire a more frugal approach to design.” The examples in the exhibition are by the artist Tiprin Follett, who wore her smocks continuously and documented her performance in an interview with Zittel as well as through snapshots.

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There are certain places you must see for yourself to have better understanding of a culture and people.

Through his Kodachrome images, photographer William Christenberry is somehow able to take you to places you’ve never been and give you insight on people you’ve never encountered. He tells beautiful (sometimes forlorn) tales spanning five decades in the rural South. Shot with 35mm Kodachrome slide film, the photographs feature white-clad churches, brick facades, overgrown landscapes, and rusted signage; they focus on rural locations, rather than individuals, but still manage to depict the humanness of the locales.

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With the introduction of the Foxfire Book Series on Monday, we began our two week discussion of modern homesteading.

Modern homesteading sounds like an oxymoron; I prefer to think of it as a simple lifestyle adapted to contemporary times. Technology has made leaps and bounds since the 1970s when the Firefox series was written. We do and make things differently now, but often times seek the very same outcome. We have traded in the act (art) of “making” in order to, well, “make” our lives easier. On Monday, we shared an article on Facebook that further discusses (criticizes?) the modern DIY movement.

Apple Butter, like most food, is a good example of this shift from making a product in the traditional way to producing in a more convenient manner. Apple Butter was a staple in my home growing up and my daughter has a new-found love of the spread.

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I live in a small house. By big city standards (and the Small House Movement), my 1800 square feet might be considered huge. But, by the standards of my community our home is relatively small. Regardless of the size, my home is perfect for me and my daughter, Maggie, the occasional evening babysitting for my new granddaughter, and a rotating cast of overnight guests.

However, earlier this year, where it once seemed the perfect size, my little house began to seem small. It felt that we were bursting at the seams; my life felt disorganized and it seemed I could never keep up with the constant tasks of washing clothes, feeding our (75 pound and growing) poodle, and the endless dishes to be washed. So, I started cleaning house. This process is still going on today and is executed with the ”William Morris Test”:  “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

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In 1972, I gave my father a first edition of The Foxfire Book as a Christmas present.  It came from the local bookstore on Court Street in downtown Florence, where now the Billy Reid store serves as a fashion anchor for our little town.  It was common in those days for us kids to be dropped off “downtown” and picked up hours later after we had eaten Trowbridge’s ice cream and spent our hard saved allowances on all sorts of treasures.

I remember that holiday season clearly. Perhaps it was the first year I was allowed to shop by on my own? I would have just turned 11 – laughing, whispering, and scheming with my best friend Wendy. Standing in the old Anderson’s Bookland that afternoon, The Foxfire Book leapt out at me and seemed the perfect gift for my father who loved country life, all things Native American, and working with wood.

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Crocheting was one of my first creative outlets, once I felt the distinct urge to make. When I had a crochet hook in hand, making hats, scarves, bags, whatever I might need, the process came to me like second nature.  Often, I couldn’t find patterns to fit what I needed so I ended up making them myself, using trial and error. When Natalie asked me to review the book, So Pretty! Crochet! Inspiration and Instructions for 24 Stylish Projects, I was hesitant; I felt like I had already seen every book and pattern on the market. For me, crochet books rarely used the right kind of yarn, they were at times overly wordy, the photos weren’t always helpful, the patterns were sometimes hard to read, etc. As you can tell, I’m a harsh critic when it comes to this type of book.

However, as I scanned through the pages of So Pretty! Crochet, I felt inspired. We adapted a pattern from this book to make the nesting bowls found on page 115. Instead of using the cotton yarn they suggest, we made our own yarn out of ½ inch strips of the organic cotton jersey fabric that we use to make our yarn balls. The bowls seemed a unique use for our scrap materials. The instructions in the book are easy to follow and exact, when using yarn. Our sizing is slightly different because we used cotton jersey rope rather than cotton yarn, but it doesn’t cause much of a problem. I used the size crochet hook they suggested, but you may want to experiment to see which size hook works best for you.

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Every summer in our part of the world is hot, so hot that you barely want to move. And this summer seems particularly, endlessly hot. By the end of August, we will all be looking forward to the coolness that comes with fall. Until then, Maggie and I are cooling off with afternoon dips in the pool, ice cream treats from our local shops, and recipes from People’s Pops: 55 Recipes for Ice Pops, Shave Ice, and Boozy Pops from Brooklyn’s Coolest Pop Shop – which can be compared to eating lightly sweetened, frozen fruit on a stick.

My friend Nathalie Jordi and her partners at People’s Pops started making their incredibly popular ice pops in Brooklyn, New York, during the summer of 2008. From their website, “We transform local, sustainably grown fruits and herbs into creative, delicious hand-made ice pops and shaved ice…”

Luckily for us, their book, the self titled People’s Pops, was released at the beginning of this summer season. Fitting their commitment to local, sustainable community, the recipes are organized by season, which makes it easy to select ingredients from the farmer’s market or right from the garden.

The book is a delight to the senses, filled with simple recipes using common popsicle ingredients like strawberries or cherries, and not-so-common ingredients like cucumber and violet, or honeydew and ginger. Jennifer May’s beautiful photographs capture the popsicles’ textures and colors, and some of the many people who enjoy them. Reading through, it is hard to decide on which recipe to make first.

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“Sustainability is the forerunner of greater diversity and choice, not less.”
Paul Hawken

In the book Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change, our friends Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose tackle the issue of sustainability in the fashion world. Within its pages you will discover practices that have the potential to transform the fashion system for the better. From framework to production to design practices, Kate and Lynda break down the topics that matter when it comes to the design process of the fashion industry.

Their work challenges designers and manufacturers to consider their practices and the impact they have on the environment. Reduce, re-use, and recycle are words we hear often, but this book offers real ways to integrate those words into daily practices. Not only that, it shares how to do so with little cost or interruption to the manufacturing or creative processes; you might even say it enhances these processes by challenging creators to explore new methods and materials.

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From Eye Magazine:

H: So, what are you thinking right now (aside from ‘what an idiotic question’)? Is there anything at this moment, or this day, that makes you want to go out and make art?

K: I was out walking the dear dog (who is a sweet meal ticket – two books about him, one New Yorker cover and a back page) and I saw 500 things that made me want to make art. I ran into a father taking two kids to school. The girls were wearing green skirts and orange rain boots and one of them had a ponytail and was carrying a pink book and was pigeon-toed. Then I saw a man wearing a bowler hat with a feather and he was wearing an eye mask like Zorro made out of a twenty-dollar bill and I thought, ‘There is a God. Thank you, whoever is showing me this.’


I have become slightly obsessed with the obsessive use of the exclamation mark in today’s casual correspondence. In fact, last week, I had to ask someone in the studio, “When IS it OK to use this (highly over rated) punctuation mark?”

From The Elements of Style:

Do not attempt to emphasize simple statements by using a mark of exclamation.

It was a wonderful show!                                It was a wonderful show.

The exclamation mark is to be reserved for use after true exclamations or commands.

What a wonderful show!


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As the first week at Penland progressed to week two, the piles of books on our studio meeting table (and the individual studio tables) have grown substantially. We have spoken of so many things and explored SO many ideas.  Here are a few of the volumes that have made their way into our conversations:

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I first tasted the fried chicken at Watershed restaurant in Georgia about 10 years ago, while visiting friend and colleague, Angie Mosier. This was also my first meeting with Scott Peacock, the then-head chef of Watershed who led them to a James Beard award in 2007.

Scott’s close friend and culinary mentor, Edna Lewis, is hands down the Mother of Soul food, a legendary figure and icon to the Southern culinary world—dare I say the world at-large. Together they wrote, The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks, a staple in my kitchen.

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What does D.I.Y. mean to you?

I posed this question to Cathy Davidson, one of the world’s most important thinkers on education and the workplace in the 21st century. Her new book, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, is a must-read for educators, parents, and students. “I’m not sure I believe in D.I.Y. anything,” she wrote.

Every self is connected to every other, and, even when we think we are “doing it ourselves,” we are summoning the memories, gestures, and hopes of so much and so many gone before. Instead, I like to think about peer learning and community learning, where we all work together toward some goal, filling in one another’s vacancies and blind spots as others fill in ours. This doesn’t mean there aren’t mentors, but only that the position and status of the mentor aren’t fixed.  The person who intends to learn, finds herself the teacher–and vice versa. That’s what D.I.Y. learning means to me, in school and lifelong, the surprise of never knowing where you will learn, where you will teach, or even where the boundaries between those two might lie.

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For a small company in a small town, we’ve received quite a bit of media attention. This is particularly amazing when you consider our nonexistent advertising budget. With the exception of a couple of classified listings in our local paper, I can’t recall having ever purchased an ad. Even though we have been fortunate in this particular area I can say, without a doubt, that our approach would have been different had I read this book sooner.

Amy Flurry’s Recipe for Press has been called “THE DIY guide to being your own publicist!” and I couldn’t agree more.

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I have on my desk a small, simple book: Ceremonials of Common Days, by Abbie Graham. It has been there for several months. The little antique volume was given to me as gift from one of our very sweet Weekend Workshop guests. Published by The Womans Press in the 1920s, it smells the way an old book should smell, but I can tell from the pages and cover that has been handled with care over many decades.

The sections of the book are divided into ‘Ceremonials’ for each season. The old-fashioned passages describe the passing moments that make up any ordinary day, but it is each of these exact moments and objects that make that day so very special.

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When I returned to Alabama over a decade ago to start the project that has become Alabama Chanin, I had NO IDEA that this simple project would surround me with stories of cotton, mill work, and, quite honestly, the history of the small community where I grew up. This blog is proof to the fact that I am STILL learning – each and every day.

While researching the post about Sweetwater Mills and reading William McDonald’s books a few weeks back, I came across Rick Bragg’s book, The Most They Ever Had. As an avid reader and, quite honestly, a Rick Bragg fan, I was surprised that I’d never read this book before. I have followed his work for years: from Anniston, Alabama, to The New York Times, through all the novels, the Pulitzer, to the controversy surrounding his departure from the Times. (Full disclosure, I know some of the parties attached to The New York Times scandal and have a few thoughts on that myself – we will save that for a later day or a face-to-face conversation.)

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For our weekly Studio Lunch, my son Zach prepared a savory Grilled Vegetable + White Cheddar Quiche with cherry tomatoes. In a move that delighted me, he delivered it to the studio and included a heaping salad of fresh greens- Butterhead lettuce, Red Oakleaf, and arugula- all from Jack-o-Lantern Farms, one of our local farmers’ markets. For the salad, he also made strawberry-balsamic vinaigrette, with which I (for certain) over saturated my greens.

Quiche is one of my all-time favorite dishes. It can be eaten for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner depending on your choice of ingredients. Continue reading


I’m almost certain she’s the coolest person I’ve never met.

Several pieces of evidence have led me to this conclusion; the first is this article from the NY Times and the second was probably the conference call that spurred our upcoming Visiting Artist event. Natalie and I were hunched over the speaker phone in my office exchanging ideas about “loom rooms,” home-made bitters, and interactive art exhibits with a very agreeable Levine.

She ended the call saying she had to open her art gallery/skate shop a few blocks away.

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Since the beginning of time, food has been an essential part of family life and, on a larger scale, the community. As the kitchen is often described as the heart of the house- the recipes and food made within move outward- connecting people to their neighborhood and even their region. A community cookbook exemplifies that connection with a collection of recipes from an array of contributors, all bound together by a sense of place.

Community cookbooks have graced the kitchens of every grandmother and mother in the South for decades. The Southern Foodways Alliance pays the ultimate tribute to said books in its Community Cookbook, and does a mighty fine job of compiling the prized recipes of chefs, artisans, farmers, writers, and cuisine-fiends from our beloved region. The beautiful publication is presented complete with metal binding rings.

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We all encounter bumps in the road, but with encouragement and tenacity, we persevere.

Back in 2001, I faced one in my life. I returned to New York to continue developing my life’s work into what is now Alabama Chanin. At the time, I was living in the Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street while I was developing the line, working with partners, and sorting out production issues. One Sunday morning, I woke up feeling extremely frustrated. Continue reading


Martha Hall Foose’s A Southerly Course: Recipes and Stories from Close to Home, has landed on our bookshelf in the studio- then made its way into the kitchen (and our hearts and minds). In her book, Martha’s recipes are accompanied by fascinating stories of life and times in the Mississippi Delta. It makes me want to hop on a riverboat and float down the Mississippi to find her kitchen. Continue reading


After a few months and a busy holiday season, I’ve finally begun to process the experiences of my momentous trip to Oxford, Mississippi, for the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. I left the event full of delicious food and copious amounts of knowledge. More specifically, Elizabeth Engelhardt’s talk, “Tales from the South’s Forgotten Locavores,” filled my hungry mind with questions on how I can contribute to the preservation of heirloom fruits, vegetables, and plants.

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Biscuits are a popular topic of conversation here at Alabama Chanin. We’ve enjoyed their flaky goodness in friends’ company at Blackberry Farm, pondered the great question of butter or lard (butter trumps here), and—of course—given you our favorite recipe in Alabama Stitch Book. Just when we think we know all there is to know about biscuits, Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart teach us even more in their glorious cookbook, Southern Biscuits, that pays homage to the floury, doughy concoctions. Continue reading


Our friend Rinne Allen has been photographing our work for the last few years and shot pictures for our upcoming Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Her work is beautiful. She also just completed the cookbook A New Turn in the South with her friend Hugh Acheson – and it’s a beauty. The combination of type, hand written notes, the lovely photographs, and the rich approach to making beautifully simple food took me aback the first time I opened the cover.  This book just feels different. I gave a copy to a friend for the holidays and she said to me over lunch a few weeks later, “It is so casual, beautiful and comfortable.” I agree.  Hugh has a great love for one of my favorite vegetables, the Brussels sprout. His recipe “Not Your Mama’s Brussels Sprouts” from page 207 begins like this, “Brussels sprouts are the hated vegetable of my generation and I am hell-bent on changing that.” You have to love a man who thinks like that.

Rinne took a few minutes to talk with me about her work this week and shared a few of her favorite photographs:

AC: I know that you have been shooting food for quite a while, but is this your first cookbook?

RA: Prior to working with Hugh, I had photographed one cookbook called Canning for a New Generation. It came out in August 2010. The author, Liana Krissoff, also lives in Athens, Georgia, so I was lucky to work with her on such a fun and endlessly beautiful topic. We actually just finished another project together that will be out in the fall of 2012…and hopefully there will be more projects with Hugh, too!

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In follow-up to our blog post on Sustainism this morning, Alabama Chanin (AC) held a Facebook chat today with Michiel Schwarz (MS) to explore his manifesto – created with Joost Elffers titled Sustainism Is the New Modernism: A Cultural Manifesto for the Sustainist Era. The text below recaps the questions and answers that surfaced during our hour-long chat.

Like our Facebook page and join our mailing list to take part in future conversations – and feel free to keep this conversation going in the comments section of this post:

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I had the opportunity to meet Michiel Schwarz last September when I spoke at the Hello Etsy conference in Berlin.   His purpose at the conference was to present his concept and book: Sustainism: A Cultural Manifesto for the Sustainist Era.

The New York Times did a fantastic review of the book – calling out its good points and problem areas. Alice Rawsthorn writes that the book is more an exercise in branding and that today’s “designers are already well aware of the principles outlined in the book, most of which have been analyzed in greater depth elsewhere. “ Very true, but although the book was originally created for designers, I see it more as a place for non-designers to find tangible manifesto points that they can easily process and assimilate into daily life. Truth be told, we human beings need things simplified for us sometimes and I think that the tidy graphics might just find a voice on office walls and farmers’ market pamphlets. At least I believe that it is worth a conversation.

In his talk in Berlin, Michiel admits that the book is “naively optimistic,” in that it doesn’t address the real issues that we need to overcome: climate change, “social inequalities, and the degradation of nature.”  However, he says, “We believe that it is important to shift from the negative to the positive,” and mentions a conference talk given by William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle, where McDonough decries the focus that is always placed on what we are NOT supposed to do.

“We hear over and over again that we need to reduce everything to zero, that we need to reduce emissions to zero, zero this, zero that. In this way, we are making the future on the things that we don’t want. We need a future on the things that we DO want. That’s why it was so important for us to name where that future is.”

Michiel’s point is that, “we are moving into a new cultural era,” and that hopefully the manifesto of Sustainism will give us symbols to describe the move from modernism to sustainism.

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Preppy, the latest collaboration between Jeffrey Banks and Doria La Chapelle, arrived in our studio this week.  The lovely volume documents the evolution of this iconic style with images from the early 1900′s to my favorite Slim Aarons to the current Hilfiger campaign (shown above). The book is not a manual, but rather a brief historic overview of the iconic style. Its strength relies on beautifully curated photographs to illustrate the subtle changes of the trend over  the time.

Perhaps because the style hit its heyday in my youth or simply because I love the color combinations, I find the volume completely stunning. During my teenage years in Chattanooga, Tennessee, our school uniforms were strangely similar to the picture below.

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When I think of the philosophy of wabi-sabi, Burning Man and a Mustang Convertible are not the first things that pop into my mind. However, it is this sort of dichotomy that seems to define Robyn Griggs Lawrence… environmentalist, mother, writer, maker, visionary, mover, and shaker.  Robyn has been kind enough to share a bit of herself and work as we continue to explore all that is wabi-sabi.

Below you will find some answers that Robyn graciously agreed to supply. They appear in their original unedited form, her prose was too lovely and thoughtful to alter.

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Biographies, philosophy, design, recipes, and all the subjects in-between are the stuff of my dreams. I would venture to say that I’ve found a treasure beginning with most library call numbers, and, of course, do my best not to judge any book by its cover. To say my love affair with reading is an important part of my life would be an understatement.

Our library at The Factory and the stacks of books throughout my home are growing at alarming (and satisfying) rates. I wish that time allowed me to discuss in detail all of the fabulous books that my friends, supporters, and my publisher have chosen to share with me. Robyn Griggs Lawrence’s Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House recently landed on my desk. The simple, unassuming (wabi-sabi) cover almost went unnoticed in the big stack of books I’ve been eager to conquer.

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“a rectangle of cloth
to wrap the baby, make the bed,
grace the meal and honour the guest,
to mop up a spill, encircle a waist,
screen the window and admit the breeze,
to proclaim a cause,
to tend the corpse…”

Gewn Egg, Second Skin, page 6.

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The whimsical fabric creations of Stitch Magic are simply breath-taking. Alison takes inspiration from Colette Wolff’s sewing fetish book The Art of Manipulating Fabric, giving a contemporary spin to twenty beautiful projects, ranging from home decor to fashion accessories. Machine sewn projects include fabric necklaces with dainty button closures and hand embellished egg cozies that are two of our favorites.

We combined our hand-sewing techniques with simple pin tucks from page 58 and quilting from page 82 to make these tea towels using the pattern from page 91 of Alabama Stitch Book and our 100% organic cotton jersey in medium-weight (colors Sand and Doeskin).

My daughter loves to use these tea towels for napkins, as a bib to cover her school clothes when eating breakfast (we use a wooden clothespin to hold two corners behind her neck) and she takes one to school in her lunch box to use as her own personal placemat.  She started kindergarten last Thursday and I think I will be making a lot of these tea towels in the coming year! Continue reading


Not a platter, but a bowl of figs landed at my door yesterday.

Beautiful. Delicious. Figs.

I baked some whole with chicken breasts marinated in basil, lemon juice, olive oil and black pepper for lunch.

A Platter of Figs is just as delicious.


The book Clean, by Alejandro Junger, has been sitting on my nightstand since December of last year. Over the last months, I have read parts of it and “toyed” with some of the recommended practices (eliminating aluminum pans from the kitchen, drinking clean water, etc.), but it has taken some time for me to actually embrace the full-on detox program.  I started last Wednesday.  And when I say “started,” I mean hardcore:  no coffee, no dairy, no wheat, no red meat, no sugar, no alcohol, and as much organic as possible.

Cold turkey.

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If you’d like to be a success in business, start working!

If you’d like to be a success as a housewife, start cooking!

If you’d like to be a social success, start smiling!

If you’d like to get married, start looking!

I am sitting down with Miss Head’s reissued manual after a long morning (it is only 8 am) of cooking breakfast, gardening, cleaning, conference calling, laundry and assorted cat wrangling.  It is delightful and charming to read her advice, even though I seem to be in direct violation of the bulk of it. I am in a simple jersey dress that will take me from home, to the office, to the market, and to dinner (hopefully) without a single judgmental glance (and I haven’t stocked my handbag with gloves or pearls).

Her advice for a bygone era is captivating, often relevant, and inspiring.

I love the illustration below from page 145 – and the quote to go with it from the opposite page: “No one knows better than a studio designer how important underthings are in changing a woman’s appearance.”  As a girl who likes to collect pretty “underthings,” I couldn’t agree more.

Don’t miss the “Color Aura Chart” starting on page 123 and the “Successories” from page 133.

Lipstick and perfume before breakfast? Tomorrow- just maybe.

How To Dress for Success by Edith Head with Joe Hyams – Originally published in 1967 and reissued by Abrams in 2011, including  illustrations by Edith Head.



Chicken and Egg has been lying on my kitchen work table now for weeks. I pick it up, put it down, then pick it up again and have been trying to decide just why I like so much. The beautiful photographs by Alex Farnum certainly take my breath away and the stories of backyard chickens and homesteading by Janice Cole are inspiring but it is the selection of simple recipes that keeps me coming back.

A guest at our studio recently told a story about how she has an ongoing competition with friends on who can find the most difficult recipe. She laughingly says, “When the recipe starts with ‘Visit your local Fishmonger,’ she knows that she is in trouble. “Do I have one of those?” she asks.

The recipes in Chicken and Egg seem deceptively simple but inspire me to go out to my garden to pick some basil and mint (bumper crops this year) and prepare the Baked Eggs with Basil-Mint Pesto (page 83) for dinner.

Some of my favorites include (in no particular order): Creamy Deviled Egg-Stuffed Chicken Breasts (page 65), Golden Spinach Strata (page 145), Toasted Chicken Sandwiches with Caramelized Apples and Smoked Gouda (page 228), Paprika Chicken with Hummus (page 235). (Try substituting field peas for your hummus if you live in the south.)

Desserts are deliciousness like Key Lime Cream Pie with Billowy Meringue (page 47), a Bittersweet Fudge Pound Cake (page 49), and the Blueberry Sour Cream Tart (page 99).

From the introduction:

“The chapters are arranged seasonally because chickens are seasonal in their behavior. In the fall and winter, the number of eggs that chickens produce decreases, sometimes so dramatically that they don’t lay at all for days or even weeks at a time. As a result, each egg is more precious, and we’re more careful about how many we use. In the spring and summer, the increased daylight stimulates the chickens to produce lots of eggs, which we use with abandon.”

Since we are also having a bumper year for blueberries in North Alabama, I am off to make the Blueberry Sour Cream Tart with abandon.

Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes

P.S.  Janice suggests the Eglu to get started.


Paper Cutting:  Contemporary Artists, Timeless Craft

From the introduction by our friend Rob Ryan:

“Were you that kind of child that ate your way all around the edge of the hole in the middle of a cookie bit by bit with tiny teeth in little nibbles…  I was always busy jumping over and around the cracks in the sidewalk, and I looked up at the spaces in the sky that lay between the shapes made by crisscrossing telephone lines and power cables waiting for a jet plane or a bird to pass perfectly into the center of the frame that I had created in my head.  At that instant, I shut my eyes as if they were a camera shutter and captured that moment and made it mine.”

Image above from  Hina Aoyama: Chandelier of Cherry Blossoms, 2008.

Mia Pearlman, influx, 2008, paper, India ink, tacks, and paper clips

And I love the black and white work of  Beatrice Coron, which reminded me of the beautiful  end credits from Lemony Snicket by Jamie Callari:

Cindy Ferguson, Untitled, 2008.

Elsa Mora, detail from Missing Thoughts, 2009.

Inspiration for years to come: Paper Cutting:  Contemporary Artists, Timeless Craft




Every once in a while, a book comes along that makes you smile and laugh and sigh all at the same time. My Mom, Style Icon, by Piper Weiss – published by Chronicle – is just that book.

(While I didn’t get this posted in time for Mother’s Day, every day is Mother’s Day around my house! “Mama, can you get me something to drink?  Mama, when are you going to wash this dress?  Mama, I love you…”)

The pictures of all the Mamas are lovely, funny and define their eras; but, what I love most are the stories they tell.

I hope that my 5-year-old daughter will one day look back at the bric-a-brac of my fashion life and sigh, ”My Mom, Style Icon.”

Yes that is me – circa 1979 – and yes, that is a Honda Civic AND a peace sign. The writing on the car window reads, “Chapel Hill or Bust.” I am thinking that my photo might fall under one of the  categories in Chapter 3, “Moms Gone Wild:  Rebels, Ragers, and Road Warriors.”


I own a lot of books on pattern design but British Textiles – published by V&A – is one of the loveliest I have seen for a long time.

(It was at the bottom of the pile yesterday but is on top today.)

The book highlights woven and printed fabric (embroidery is planned for an upcoming volume); however, I adore the simple painted designs that sometimes include the artist process.  In my favorites, you can see finely drawn pencil lines, loosely painted swaths of color and the underpinnings of structural grids.  The silk design above from page 29 feels incredibly modern but was designed by James Leman in 1719.

Moving through the  book, you experience an exquisite evolution of British color and design through the ages.

While expensive, this big (weighs 6 pounds), complete (494 pages), beautiful (over 1000 images), inspirational book is one of my new favorites:

British Textiles: 1700 to the Present

Looking very forward to the embroidery volume as well…


It seems that I have been lost for the last months as I finish up – our new book – Alabama Studio Design (working title). Between writing (and re-writing) texts, working on the design, and taking some of the pictures, there seems to have been little time for anything other than family, garden and my (other) job as designer and entrepreneur. As I move towards the end of the book, it feels like life is beginning.

Looking at my desk this afternoon, I see a pile of ideas, new books, maps, notes, lists and random objects that I can’t wait to uncover. Lying on top of this pile is an orange slip of paper with a poem that has been sent to me twice in the last few months. I am thinking that this is a good place to start:

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from House of Light by Mary Oliver

And I ask myself, “What is it I plan to do with this wild and precious life starting today?”

What are your plans?


I wrote about Eric Ripert back in 2008 when friend and colleague Angie Mosier was documenting the PBS television show Avec Eric and working on the companion book.  (By the way, individual episodes of Avec Eric are now available for download as podcasts at the iTunes store.)

I finally have the Avec Eric book in my hands and am totally in awe.  I can attest that it is a difficult thing to write a book.  You have to get so many, many things right: the text, the photos, the technical details (in this case the recipes), the design, the printing and all the myriad of details in between.

(Read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird should you ever want to be a published author.)

Avec Eric is a forthright, relaxed, joyous celebration of food that is neither too heady nor too difficult for the lay-chef.  Eric Ripert is a stunning story teller and the book is infused with the beautiful photos, prose and spirit of our friend Angie.  Star Chef named it one of the Top 10 cookbooks of 2010. Wiley hits a 100% as it is graced with lovely paper, printing, trim size, photos, stories and is simply a beautiful collection of recipes.

As I refuse to part with my copy of Avec Eric, I have purchased a copy of for my son who has opened his own catering company a few years ago called MAGPIE + Ruth (after my Maggie and his sweet girlfriend Ashley).  I am hoping that he will be preparing Crab-Stuffed Zucchini Flowers and Cornmeal Biscuits for us all this summer.

Get your copy of Avec Eric.

You will not be disappointed on either count.

I love what Anthony Bourdain writes about the Avec Eric television show in the introduction:  “Remarkably, the TV show, Avec Eric, for which this volume is a companion, does NOT suck!”



Back in the studio today after almost a month of working from home, the holidays, an amazing trip to Taste of the South and a few (beautiful) snow days.  It was a great luxury to have some time to read over the holidays and I have savored many a volume (both trash and treasure).

Wild Card Quilt by Janisse Ray is such a beautiful, soulful  story of coming home. It speaks to sustainability of community, of people, and of the plants, foods and stories that tie us together.  I find the stories especially moving a decade after I made the leap to come home – a move that changed my life.

This year Taste of the South featured a fantastic talk by Gary Nabhan (Coming Home to Eat – another wonderful book).  Gary spoke gushingly of Janisse Ray (and read a portion of the essay below) while my dear friend Angie leaned over and said, “I just LOVE Janisse Ray.”

I adore her too.

Some of you will remember my mention of The Ecology of a Cracker Childhood Janisse’s story of her Georgia youth and the Longleaf.

I love the line below from page 43 of Wild Card Quilt.  Anyone with a rural Southern childhood will understand:

“I heard Mr. Henry Eason say one time, with the advent of paved roads and electric lights, there ain’t near as many ghosts as there used to be…”

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One day a small and unassuming envelope arrived at the office addressed to me. Inside was a card with the words “a year of gratefulness” beautifully embossed into white card stock.

On the back, a small typewritten note was affixed:

“this is my year of gratefulness. I am writing two letters a month, one to someone I have met & the other to someone I have not met, telling them I am grateful for their talent, friendship and most simply for being who they are. And you are one of those people. thank you.”

Inside was a hand-written note outlining the reasons I was receiving this card of gratitude.

I have been carrying the note around now for awhile in my journal and have re-read it often. What a lovely idea: Spend a little time in the next year of my life letting people I know and love (and don’t know and love) understand that I am deeply grateful.

Thank you to Wendy (who I don’t know) for reaching out and to all of you who have come here to share our lives and work at Alabama Chanin this last year (and decade).

I am grateful.

(And looking forward to 2011 – Happy New Year!)

*Photo above of my journal for next year with laser-cut Thank You card from ThoughtBarn glued to the cover.  Photo below of Wendy’s note.

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I ran across this article by Erica Jong on the madness of modern motherhood through another favorite author: Elizabeth Wurtzel.

The article made me sit back in my chair and I have been thinking of it randomly for weeks.  Perhaps because I am raising two children across two very different decades, or perhaps because I am a working, single mother who is responsible (most of the time) for daily life or perhaps just because there is a small feminist (Charlotte Perkins Gilman are you listening?) ember somewhere inside of me,  I find relief in Jong’s words.

(Admittedly, I have read every book that Jong ever wrote and have always adored her humor.  Fanny, one of my favorite Jong books, was written in response to John Cleland’s Fanny Hill.)

Although I made the conscious decision this last year to take more time for family life, I am still the breadwinner AND the bread baker.  And I stand by my decision and will tell anyone who asks that it was the best decision I ever made.

When my son was young, 29 years ago, I didn’t have that option (which is a luxury).  Yet, I have shed many a tear and endured many moments of guilt and self-loathing in thinking about decisions I made. The last line of Jong’s article feels like an absolution to me:  “Do the best you can. There are no rules.”

Read the Wall Street Journal article and tell me what you think:  Mother Madness

And don’t miss the additional piece by Molly Jong-Fast:  Growing Up With Ma Jong

*Raphael. The Niccolini-Cowper Madonna. 1500. Oil on wood. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC


I am a few years late since the book was published in 2006.  In my defense, there is a pile of books that move from bedside to coffee table to the office and back again on a regular basis.  Do you know that feeling?

While I am an avid reader, there is a little problem with purchasing more books that can be read at any given moment, a four-year-old, and a business to run.  Stories for another day…

Over the (cold and snowy) holidays, I explored Daniel Pink’s book –  A Whole New Mind – and found it fascinating.  The core of the book provides really good – and clearly organized – concepts that culminate in exercises for stretching the mind – right and left-brain alike.   (Take the EQ SQ test to understand how your mind processes information.)  And while some of the information presented may seem familiar from observing the changing world this last decade, the way the information is organized feels fresh and inspiring.

In Pink’s opinion, design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning are the basis for life and work in what he calls our transformation from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age.  What comes across most clearly is that we approach a time of balance between two (seemingly disparate) sides of the brain that have been divided in our recent history.

If Pink’s vision proves true, a symphony will be heard and shared:

“It is an age animated by a different form of thinking and a new approach to life – one that prizes aptitudes that I call “high concept” and “high touch.” High concept involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new.  High touch involves the ability to empathize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning.”

My horoscope recently:  “What is your gift to the world?” Perhaps I will spend the next decade trying to figure that one out…

How do you “stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning” in your life?


Outline and (most) first drafts for book number three submitted and approved – check.

(Thank you Melanie – celebrate tonight!)

Plan workshops for 2011 – check.

(Spots are filling up fast – reserve one today and join us.)

Holiday gifts made and wrapped – check.

Sign out early, pick Maggie up from school, make gumbo, read, build a fire, watch a movie, bake cookies, nap, cocktail with friends, write a letter, holiday video, family pictures, sit still, sigh…

*Photo from Lisa “Are You Kidding Me” Eisner of the E.B White Chair & Gumbo:

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Over the holidays, I will take more time to sit and sew.

Over-the-Arm Pincushion – instructions from Alabama Stitch Book – on the back porch swing.

Did you know that sewing, cooking and all acts of hands-on making stimulate happiness and over-all well being?

From Kelly Lambert:

“Lambert shows how when you knit a sweater or plant a garden, when you prepare a meal or simply repair a lamp, you are bathing your brain in feel-good chemicals and creating a kind of mental vitamin. Our grandparents and great grandparents, who had to work hard for basic resources, developed more resilience against depression; even those who suffered great hardships had much lower rates of this mood disorder. But with today’s overly-mechanized lifestyle we have forgotten that our brains crave the well-being that comes from meaningful effort.”

Thanks to Catherine Newman for sharing Kelly’s work:

Lifting Depression:  A Neuroscientist’s Hands-On Approach to Activating Your Brain’s Healing Power


Subtraction Cutting School (published by the Center for Pattern Design) first came to my attention one afternoon in New York City when I had the chance to sit and talk with Timo Rissanen.  That afternoon, Timo had just moved to New York and began his post as Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability at Parsons The New School for Design.  Our conversation was fascinating and he followed our talk with a great email, a reading list and some links to his favorite sites.

One of my favorite parts of the conversation was Julian Roberts’ site and, consequently, I have become obsessed with Subtraction Cutting School.

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One of the most amazing books on typography that I have come across in a long, long time…

In Fraktur Mon Amour, Judith Schalansky has made a love letter to the (sometimes outcast) Blackletter or Gothic script. Judith’s collection of fonts is stunning – CD included.

All 150 fonts included in Fraktur Mon Amour are accompanied by elaborate and beautiful patterns or graphics developed with individual letters from the font. I find the black and white illustrations – mixed with magenta – inspiring for developing stencils, as a reference for implementing scale in textile pattern development, and simply to understand at how something as simple as a letter can be used to create something so extraordinary.

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I have been remiss in posting this last week. In all honesty, this heat has made me a little slow.

The interview with Roman (see post below) is coming; please be patient with me.

To this extreme heat, add the fact that my (baby) Maggie starts school tomorrow. It seems hard to believe that time passes so quickly – even when you savor every moment, it flies. Seems like just yesterday…

Well, my mind has been elsewhere this week.

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I am headed to the mountains of Chattanooga today for a weekend of stitching, cooking and playing with high school girlfriends. Maggie has her bags packed with loads of books for the trip and I have my sewing kit and a book ready for a girls (and kids) sewing weekend with wine, food, reading and relaxing. Sigh. The thick smell of trees and mountain air…

A book arrived on my desk not too long ago and, unfortunately, I don’t know who sent it. In a moment of needing a break from new collections, writing the new book, working on a website update, being a mom, and keeping the garden, I landed on my couch the other night with Consuming Passions by Michael Lee West.

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Just as I am designing the new collection, a treasure of a book arrives on my desk from Princeton Architectural Press.

I have always been a fan of You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination.

And now Katharine Harmon has compiled the most beautiful collection of images and ideas in her newest book The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography.

Quilts, installations, illustrations, photography… sitting with this book is like traveling while sitting at my studio table.

Katharine Harmon: The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography


What to say about Anna Maria Horner?

I love her. Not just because of her lovely fabrics. Not because of her books.
Not because of her calming aesthetic. I just really love her.
We have bonded (in short, stolen moments) over everything from food, family, work, studio, children (she has six to my two) and sewing, to illness in our families, gardening, and everyday life.
Before I was able to spend time with Anna Maria, I thought that she might just be – you know – a little too sweet. I mean just look at her. NOT SO, her spunk, cheerful sprit and dry humor overwhelmed me with respect – and side-splitting laughter.
I have been sitting with Handmade Beginnings – her newest book – like a good cup of coffee. What I find most beautiful about the book is how family radiates from every page. She is mother, designer, wife, writer and friend.
Congrats to Anna for a lovely story to add to your library:
I will be making Nesting Cubes for all the babies in my life…
and looking forward to our next visit.
From Handmade Beginnings:”Every family has a story. Each time we’ve welcomed a new baby, the story of our own family has a new beginning. Our children have brought more than their own chapter to our story, but they have, in fact, rewritten the rest of us. The whole family, together and individually, is remade into something it wasn’t before- something we wouldn’t have ever guessed or expected. I have always felt compelled during my pregnancies to make items for the new one. Similar to the quintessential image of an expectant mother working away with her knitting needles on a pair of baby booties, I set out to stack fabrics and ideas in high piles that I can work through as my belly grows. Perhaps its just the typical nesting that all mothers go through, or maybe its nervous energy. Whatever the explanation, answering the desire to create as I await a new baby seems to be my own way of nurturing.”
Congrats to Nicole DeCamp for being our sweepstakes winner! And thank you to everyone who commented and shared their stories… prosperous sewing to all.


We made a road trip yesterday – for Mother’s Day – into the Florida Panhandle.

Backroads all the way, the drive was like traveling through page after page of John Margolies Roadside America. If you ever get the chance to ride Route 29 – down through Alabama and into Florida; be sure to go.

READYMADES: American Roadside Artifacts by Jeff Brouws awaits you.

“Back Road Vernacular” is a beautiful way to start the week…

Also check out:

Vanishing America: The End of Main Street Diners, Drive-Ins, Donut Shops, and Other Everyday Monuments by Michael Eastman, William H. Gass, and Douglas Brinkley

Classic Cracker: Florida’s Wood-Frame Vernacular Architecture by Ronald W. Haase


My Gram Perkins loved to crochet (aside from making bread, canning, gardening, raising kids, and sewing). On those rare days growing up when I was sick and got to skip school, I would stay with my Gram Perkins. Curled up on her couch underneath one of her beautiful hand-made afghans, I would lay there with my fingers twirling her fine crochet stitches. As I would twirl and dream, she would bring a constant supply of freshly peeled oranges from Florida, cut-up peaches from Alabama or any other fruit she had on hand. To this day, those moments on her couch hold some of my fondest memories – being sick, underneath an afghan, eating oranges and in the nurture of my grandmother.

When I opened Norah Gaughan’s Comfort Knitting & Crochet: Afghans, I felt transported to my Gran Perkins’ world. Continue reading


And while we are on the subject of all things food related coming back to John T. Edge

All of the pictures – taken by dear friend Angie Mosier – for Truck Food Nation have been posted.

Our friends have elevated truck food culture to white tablecloth – amazingly beautiful and inspiring.

I can’t wait to hold (and review) the book and am looking forward to our trips to San Francisco and Portland to check out a few of their finds…

More on Portland next week… Have a great weekend.


Not that cleaning house is very exciting (or sexy as I have remarked before)… unless you choose to do it in a feather boa as my friend Whitechapel suggests.

BUT, I did have a nice childhood memory today of Saturday morning cleaning sprees.

I got ambitious (or drank too much coffee) and tried out some cleaning recipes from How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew.

Feeling very domestically refreshed, and yes, well, sexy…


Okay – before I start – I have to say – JOIN THE SOUTHERN FOODWAYS ALLIANCE… good?

I made it through the snow and ice in Arctic temperatures to Walland, Tennessee. My trip to Blackberry Farm might be one of the most extraordinary trips I have ever taken – anywhere. I know that is saying a lot BUT the warm, gracious hospitality that you experience from the time you drive in the gate is exquisite. Add to Blackberry the wit, education and pure joy of the Southern Foodways Alliance and you have – hands down – one of the best events in the world.

I could fill this entire page but have to just highlight a few morsels of the weekend:

Blackberry Farm – I had the luxury of sitting next to Sam and Mary Celeste Beall on Thursday night and was struck by their deep knowledge of this farm and understanding of the ultimate Farm-to-Table experience.

The Blackberry Farm Cookbook – on the inside flap – says it best: “In the foothills, you don’t eat to eat, you eat to talk, to remember, and to imagine what you will eat tomorrow.” The book is lush with photographs of the estate, the kitchens, the gardens and luscious Farm-to-Table recipes.

While talking about the upcoming weekend, Sam and I spoke about the biscuit making classes (see below) and he asked me, “Butter or Lard?” This was just about the best question I have ever been asked over a five-course dinner – with wine pairings. You just have to love a man who understands the true essence of good bread. I laughed and replied, “Butter.”

Friday morning, the Blackberry Farm Chef Team of Josh Feathers, Adam Cooke, and Joseph Lenn offered a Cast Iron Skillet demonstration – which I unfortunately missed – but came home with the following recipe by Chef Josh Feathers which I am going to make and then bake in my cast-iron:

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes **Courtesy of Taste of the South notepad so generously supplied for all our cooking and tasting notes!

3 pounds red bliss potatoes 6 ounces butter 10 ounces buttermilk half & half – as needed Kosher salt – to taste 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Simmer potatoes until tender. Strain and dry in the 300-degree oven for 15 minutes.

Run potatoes through a food mill with a medium die to mash. Stir in remaining, heated ingredients. Taste for seasoning.

Note: Those of you who are new to cast iron, NEVER wash your pan with soapy water. Clean your skillet first with a handful of kosher salt then rinse in warm to hot water and dry thoroughly. I learned this from Angie Mosier while working on Alabama Studio Style. Continue reading


Maggie’s favorite poem/book of the decade (well…moment).
She says to me this morning, “I like a scary movie.”

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me

By Maya Angelou with paintings by Jean Michelle Basquiat

Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hail
Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Bad dogs barking loud
Big ghosts in a cloud
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Mean old Mother Goose
Lions on the loose
They don’t frighten me at all
Dragons breathing flame
On my counterpane
That doesn’t frighten me at all.

I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won’t cry
So they fly
I just smile
They go wild
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Tough guys in a fight
All alone at night
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.
Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don’t frighten me at all.

That new classroom where
Boys pull all my hair
(Kissy little girls
With their hair in curls)
They don’t frighten me at all.

Don’t show me frogs and snakes
And listen for my scream,
If I’m afraid at all
It’s only in my dreams.

I’ve got a magic charm
That I keep up my sleeve,
I can walk the ocean floor
And never have to breathe.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.


Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.Richard P. Feynman

My life tends to run in patterns.  Sometimes I dream of patterns. My favorite subject in design school was the study of pattern & repeat. One semester I spent a week just discussing the word repeat (and an entire semester trying to define the word). I have certainly spent the greater part of the last decade working with patterns. I look for patterns everywhere I go and in everyone I meet.

Explore our selection of patterns and Studio Books here.
Find essential supplies for working with patterns and stencils (along with our collection of mylar stencils) here.

#stenciling #theschoolofmaking


I have been thinking a lot these last weeks about Maira Kalman.

First off, I am reading The Elements of Style, which is illustrated by Maira. While Maggie is now addicted to What Pete Ate – which means daily readings. You see, I have been sitting with Maira now day and night for weeks.

Secondly, I found this quote last week – which made me happy:

“Speak ill of no man, but speak all the good you know of everybody”
–Benjamin Franklin

“And the Pursuit of Happiness” has been a light in my life this last year – along with many of my friends.

And, in true Maira Kalman style, this quote from Ben Franklin took me a step further and brought to mind my Grandfather “Perk.” At the mention of his name – and long after his death – people who knew him give an audible sigh and settle in their skin. “Yes, Perk,” they say. My daughter is named after his sister – who evokes the same response.

Perk was just the kind of person that made people feel happy, and good about themselves, and happy with the world. I have many a story to share about him – and will one day soon!

He would always repeat this old wives tale: “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.” He was ready with a guitar and a song, peanut brittle and a sly little smile. He was always tinkering with something and just trying to make this world a better place in general. Perhaps just a bit like Ben Franklin…

I guess that I just want to remind myself (and those of you still reading) that there is beauty in life every day. And while all the media wants to remind us that this was The Decade from Hell and The Decade of Fake, I would like to remember that some really lovely things – like Maira Kalman – enriched our lives this last year (and the nine years before). Perhaps we could start spending a bit of time each day “speaking all the good” we know of everybody.

Happy Holidays.
From our home to yours…


Back in the studio after what seems months & happy to get back to the business of making beautiful things…

Here is my favorite shot from Spring/Summer 2010. I feel like I can breathe this blue.   We will be working on the web catalog and hope to have something to share by next week.

Read: Blue: The History of a Color

Watch one of my favorite films: Blue from Three Colors Trilogy by Krzysztof Kieslowski



While I love a good apron and The Gentle Art of Domesticity, cleaning has never been a particularly sexy task around our house. However, I loved the article below that ran in our local paper on Tuesday of this week.

It makes me happy that living clean is going mainstream.

Maggie loved mixing the ingredients with me in the kitchen last night.

BUT, I still swear by Mrs. Meyers Lemon Verbena for washing our clothes…

*Make your own apron like the one above with the Bloomers Pattern available as a pull-out from our Alabama Stitch Book.

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Many will recognize this geometric stencil from our archive of work as well as from our Spring/Summer 2009 Ceremony Collection.  People often associate this star pattern with Islamic Art (and the pattern is sometimes called the Islamic Star); however, patterns of this nature were already becoming visible in early Mesopotamian Art and Architecture.

This genre of geometric pattern is ancient and has been used over the millennia for multiple purposes: from tiling and textiles to religious meditation, ritual, pottery, art and architecture.

Here are good resources for intricate graphics patterns to further research:

376 Decorative Allover Patterns

Pictorial Archive of Geometric Designs

Floral And Decorative All over Patterns

Ornament 8,000 Years

And the Facets All-Over Stencil is now available from our online store.


Back from the wilds of southern Alabama and the Panhandle of Florida… The trip was too short – as always. Although the weather was not so great, the beaches are white as snow, the Apalachicola River soothing and the shrimp melt in your mouth. There is something about watching rain from a screened veranda that makes me sing.

BUT this trip, my memory and thought are for the longleaf. Driving through the Apalachicola National Forest you get a small inkling of how these majestic giants must have stood in beautiful splendor before the true rape of the south when approximately 140,000 square miles of virgin forests were slaughtered.

Butch believes that the young growth trees we were driving through are about 50 years old but the longleaf begins to reach its splendor at about 200 – 300 years and can live for 500+ years. There are 191 species of plants associated with the old-growth longleaf and approximately 122 of them are endangered.

Read this great story about Richard Porcher and his love for the trees.

And Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray is just about as good as it gets.

Her love and understanding for the longleaf takes my breath away: “I drink old-growth forest in like water. This is the homeland that built us. Here I walk shoulder to shoulder with history – my history. I am in the presence of something ancient and venerable, perhaps of time itself, its unhurried passing marked by immensity and stolidity, each year purged by fire, cinched by a ring. Here mortality’s roving hands grapple with air. I can see my place as human in a natural order more grand, whole, and functional than I’ve ever witnessed, and I am humbled, not frightened by it. It is as if a round table springs up in the cathedral of pines and God graciously pulls out a chair for me, and I no longer have to worry about what happens to souls.”

*Photo by Andrew Kornylak for Garden & Gun


I think that the first love of my life was a book. I am obsessed by books and once worked at Rizzoli in New York City just that I could get a discount and use my part-time paycheck to buy books.

My daughter Maggie started young. Since her birth, she has been obsessed by touching, licking and eating books. You could try to give her toys, pacifiers, food; nothing satisfied like a book. All of our board books have edges that have been rubbed raw by gums sprouting teeth. While I was distraught with thoughts of poisons in printing inks, the contents of paper, etc, etc, every time I turned my head, there she was with a book in her mouth.   As she has grown, the only thing that has changed is that she does not eat them. She will surround herself in the bed with piles of books and has memorized many of them that she can then read aloud to her babies. The ones that she has not memorized, she reads in her own language that sounds like a mixture of German, Russian, and Greek with a southern drawl. (Maggie can say “yes” in four syllables!)  I catch her rocking in the chair with one of her babies and reading in her secret language from a book that we just got at the library. She will look up at me gently and say, “Mama, go away, I am reading to my baby right now.” It is this private connection between person, word, and image that makes me passionate about books.

I am often asked for a reading list; however, here you have my top ten (well eleven) favorite story books – in no particular order – the list can go on and on and might very well be different tomorrow:

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A few years ago, my friend Sara helped me work on organizing my collection of books into a (very loose) library format. The tomes were divided by a “genre” that I determined by somewhat random method but that made sense to me.   Books on textiles got a red sticker on the spine and books on design a white sticker with little ### symbols, etc. I did this as a way to make the search for a particular book easier, re-shelving mindless and to create a system to loan books without continually losing them. What shocked me when the library was finished was that the largest category of books was not fashion design or textiles or craft but photography.

Thinking back, this should not have been a shock as I started collecting photography books as a design student. Over the years, these books are continually the ones I search out over and over and over again. Writing about Richard Avedon yesterday made me nostalgic for other heroes who have storytelling at the heart of their work. When I look at Avedon’s pictures, I dream that I have an audio file from The Kitchen Sisters telling the story with the dual voice of photographer and subject. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men comes about as close to telling the story with the imagery as you can get; however, the book does not satisfy my hunger. I want the photographs of Dorothea Lange to come to life and sit down with me on the porch. As that is not possible, I take one of my books of Dorothea’s photographs, listen to Studs Terkel and dream that I am an oral historian.

AVEDON FASHION 1944 – 2000

The Museum at The International Center for Photography will be showing the fashion work of Richard Avedon: Avedon Fashion 1944 – 2000.

One of my all time favorite books of photography was created by Richard Avedon: In the American West. This genre of photography as story teller has been an inspiration to me since the day I first started working. They are images that make me want to HEAR the stories too.

Visit The Richard Avedon Foundation for more.

P.S.: I literally ran into Avedon in a book store in Montauk, New York, some years ago. Backed right into him. As I turned around, I lost all calm and stumbled right out the door.

White cake on a homemade cake stand


My holidays – up until Monday morning – were all about cookbooks. We made birthday dinners (Fried Chicken a la Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock), holiday brunch (Turkey Pot Pie a la Screen Doors and Sweet Tea), buttermilk rolls (The Joy of Cooking) back-yard picnics (Bunyan’s Barbeque and anything from White Trash Cooking), homemade truffles (a la Nicole Spiridakis), and an array of other goodies. But the highlight of two weeks “kitchen play” was the three-layered (and sometimes two-layered) cakes.

I told Angie Mosier recently that I am terrified by the three-layer cake. Although I see myself as accomplished in the kitchen, I have never been one to do much baking. However, I have become obsessed with the three-layer cake. My grandmothers and great aunts could whip out a cake in an early morning. They made layer cakes for church bazaars, birthdays, neighbors who fell ill or just because it was time for Sunday supper.

I took the holidays as an opportunity to face my fears, channel Angie, go beyond the simple cupcake and try my hand at the stacked treasure. (I have actually been working up to this for months.) In August, I purchased a cake decorating set which has been unused in the drawer since purchase. And recently I purchased 3 – 9” round cake pans.

First step: Butch requested a Red Velvet Cake with Chocolate Icing and Pecans for his birthday on the 24th of December. I got an old-time recipe from page 277 of my favorite, A Gracious Plenty, the soulful Ellen Rolfes Book from John T. Edge. The Chocolate Buttermilk Icing is a recipe passed down from my great-aunt (in Alabama Studio Style) and this was topped off with freshly shelled pecans.

Second: It was hard to believe that my son Zach turned 27 on January 4th! And although he does not really like sweets, I asked him to name his favorite cake. He said that he once ate a yellow, chocolate chip cake with cream cheese icing that was the best cake he ever tasted. In adventure mode, Maggie and I attempted a yellow cake, scattered with chocolate chips and our three layers became two when one layer fell apart!

Not to be deterred, I attempted it again and wound up with two perfectly iced layers.

I found a great set of cake tips on page 460 of The Lee Bros. Southern Cook Book and ordered The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum – which came highly recommended by Angie.

My copy of BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher arrived yesterday morning & it is AMAZING… lovely how baking can be broken down to a science. Shirley prefers to bake one cake and then slice into three layers. The book is filled with interesting math – like the perfect measuring methods and baking stones. I now know how little I know and can’t wait to get started baking again.



Here is another new book from STC and this one very different from The Gentle Art of Domesticity. Lena Corwin has created the definitive book for the process of stamping, printing and stenciling by hand. This book is a great companion to our Alabama Studio Sewing Series as it goes in depth to simply explain the process of transferring patterns to fabric, paper, wood or any other material you might choose to work with.

A must have for your process library: Printing by Hand


When our editor Melanie described this new Abrams title, I could not fully imagine how a book about domesticity could be so interesting. And now, I am taken aback by the beauty, prose and “comforts” of Jane Brocket and The Gentle Art of Domesticity.

When opening the book, I was stuck by the very first line: “There is a world of difference between domesticity and domestication.”

Jane makes me long for more time at home studying the simple beauty of life and love.


I actually found some time over the weekend to sit down and read. Yes, it seemed rather shocking. Between digging potatoes, playing games, baking banana cake, laughing, loving, and a slew of other things, I just sat down, picked up a book that has been on the shelf for some years and started to read.

In the chaos of life (and with the help of friends), I have recently been thinking a lot about the kind of business I want to have and run. What makes a good business? What are my goals? What are my goals as a business woman? What are my goals as a woman? Where does my personal life intersect with my business life? Where do we go from here?

It was a pleasure to sink into Paul Hawkins’ book Growing a Business.

With joy and laughter, I was reminded why I love being an entrepreneur.


And in reference to actually being able to read…

The new favorite book at our house: ABC’s by Charley Harper

It is a stunningly beautiful book of alphabet and animals seen through the eyes of Charley Harper. We read it each day front to back, back to front and then front to back again.

I am inspired to make a pattern of lady bugs, clover, luck and more.


Some days I fantasize that I am prepared to forage from our local woods to sustain my family. The blatant truth is that like most folk, I would most likely not know which plant would kill us or sustain us.

For that reason, I love these Peterson field guides. These two books have helped me start learning how to eat from my own backyard:

A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Virginia Marie Peterson and Roger Tory Peterson

A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs by James A. Duke, Steven Foster, and Roger Tory Peterson


Dandelions grow rampant in our part of the south; but, Angie Mosier reminded me that when picking these greens to eat, we should be careful to pick from a yard that has not been treated with chemicals or fertilizers!

This recipe can be used to cook any type of greens, but because of the dandelion’s strong peppery taste, we like to mix it in with spinach or any other mild green.

Dandelion leaves
Spinach, kale or other mild green
Olive oil
1/2 lemon
Sauté garlic in olive oil.

Add greens to your pan, allowing them to wilt. Drizzle with juice from one-half lemon and sesame oil. Sprinkle with roasted sesame seeds.



It has been a really busy week. I had intended to post every day about the wonder and beauty of our simple garden. Now it is Thursday and here you have the second post of the week. Perhaps there will be time to elaborate as the weekend approaches.

This is the first year that I really concentrated on companion planting. What seems a complicated subject matter to me is demystified by Louise Riotte in her two books:

Roses Love Garlic & Carrots Love Tomatoes

I love how my blooming garlic mingles with an old rose bush that was a part of my house the day I moved in. Maggie and I have enjoyed watching the garlic blooms pop their little ‘hats’ as the blossoms open from their little paper shell.

I have to admit that I have not been able to wait until the fall harvest and have been sampling our garlic since the stems emerged last autumn.

I recently came across an article with recipes for young garlic in a magazine which I simply cannot recall this morning. However, a simple Google search provides scores of young garlic recipes from Shrimp Stir Fry to soup.

And be sure to watch Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers by Les Blank.