Tag Archives: Collaboration

Indigo-dyed garments hanging in trees to dry.


Original Publication Date: October 27, 2016
Updated: May 22, 2023

There is a lot you can say about Scott Peacock: James Beard Award-winning chef, engaging storyteller, collaborator and co-author to Edna Lewis, budding farmer, writer/filmmaker, experimenter with indigo, and the creator of the inspiring Alabama Biscuit Experience in Marion, Alabama. As we launch our 2023 Summer Indigo collection, I was inspired to look back at some of the indigo experiments we’ve created over the last 23 years. I came upon the post below, originally published in October of 2016, and am inspired anew in reminiscing about this weekend adventure. With a group of friends, my daughter (then ten years old) and I took a roadtrip to visit Scott Peacock at his home in Marion, Alabama. We were joined by a lovely group of makers: Rinne Allen, Kathy Hattori of Botanical Colors, Hunter Lewis and Liz Sidamon-Eristoff of BDA Farm, and Ozella Thomas—native to (and expert on) the Black Belt.

Marion, Alabama, is the seat of Perry County, on the northwesterly edge of Alabama’s Black Belt. Booker T. Washington wrote of the Black Belt in his autobiography Up from Slavery:

The term was first used to designate a part of the country which was distinguished by the color of the soil. The part of the country possessing this thick, dark, and naturally rich soil was, of course, the part of the South where the slaves were most profitable, and consequently, they were taken there in the largest numbers.

The black soil of this fertile plain was formed during the Cretaceous period, about 145 to 66 million years ago. At that time, this part of Alabama was covered by a shallow sea where the carbonate skeletons of marine plankton accumulated into massive chalk deposits. That chalk eventually became a soil suitable for growing crops, this ancient shoreline creating the arc that came to be known as the Black Belt.

Three hours south of my home in The Shoals, the Black Belt has been home to some of the deepest poverty in my home state (and our nation). At the same time, it has also nurtured some of the most flourishing and prolific creativity (from natives and visitors alike) that defines the very best of the new south: Gee’s Bend, Rural Studio, HERO, photographer William Christenberry, Walker Evans, James Agee, Lonnie Holley, Emmer Sewell, Charlie Lucas, and writer Mary Ward Brown—just to name a few.

Not knowing where to begin writing about our adventure-filled weekend in the Black Belt, I called Scott a few weeks later to reminisce, and question him, about some of the more memorable moments. I attempted to create a transcript of our conversation; those of you who know Scott (or have eaten his food) will know that his agile mind finds connections between the most disparate topics and tastes, weaving together a banquet of food and story that feels (and tastes) like poetry.

I highly recommend the Alabama Biscuit Experience Scott hosts as an inspiring and most delicious adventure. Plan your road trip.

May 15, 2023

Hands holding a bundle of dried indigo leaves.

Natalie Chanin: Friends who saw that I had visited with you sent me messages of astonishment that I’d actually “laid eyes” on you. It is rumored that you’ve become a hermit and that you’ve “turned your back on cooking.” I see this differently—to me, it feels like you’ve gone to the very root of cooking: the plants. Can you tell me just a little about that transition and how you got to Marion, Alabama?

Scott Peacock: [laughing] I’ve heard that I was opening a cooking school, opening a bed and breakfast, lost my mind. Maybe I am a bit of a recluse at the moment but this isn’t a forever thing.  I think of it as a cycle; I go in and out of this. I’m slow, it takes me time to understand things, to build my understanding. I came to Marion because, in my gut, I knew it was the right thing for me to do. And that sense was so strong—even without knowing exactly what I’d be doing once I got here—I had a feeling of certainty. We all have that internal compass. It took me a lot time to trust it, but I do now.

My oral history work led me here originally. I first came here to interview the writer Mary Ward Brown, the PEN Hemingway awarded writer. I was working on a book and film project interviewing the oldest living Alabamians I could find. I was really interested in people who were born and raised in Alabama. I wanted to record their recollections of food and the food culture of their childhood. As you know, we are running out of time. The oldest person I interviewed was 107. This is part of an evolving project.

I’d never been to the Black Belt, didn’t know anything about it. It was that process of falling in love with Alabama—this place I’d been so happy to have left. There were two places I was never ever going to live again: 1) Alabama 2) a small town.

Now I’m completely happy living in a small town in Alabama and secure in my decision to do this.

I’m as mystified, myself, and I marvel at that every day. I’ve gained this appreciation through the older people I’ve met. It’s for an Alabama I didn’t know existed. As T.S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

NC: And now you’ve got this gorgeous house and you plowed up your back yard, and you are raising rare varieties of plants. Your house even has a name; can you tell me about that?

SP: My personal name for my home is Alabama House—all the old houses around here have those historical markers out front but not mine. So Alabama House became my affectionate name for the house when I was still in Atlanta. I would say, “I’m going to the house,” They would ask, “What house?” I’d answer, “Alabama House.” But then it resonated.

It all started with Mary Ward Brown, and then this house, and then I started hearing about this man Hunter Lewis. I’d been in Marion a few months. Out of the blue, I heard about this man who had purchased Reverie—a Greek Revival mansion in Marion—and was restoring and had purchased land and that he wanted to farm organically. I was skeptical, as much as anyone is. You know, you hear all sorts of things and you take them with a grain of salt until you know it to be true. I had heard things about myself that weren’t true. But it turned out to be absolutely true about Hunter.

Hunter and I met for lunch, had lots to talk about, and I realized that he was serious about farming. He was assembling a herd of Piney Woods cattle—the oldest breed of cattle in the country and one of the rarest—with an important history in the Black Belt. I was fascinated by this all-purpose breed. In the 1800s, they were the meat cow, dairy cow, work cow. There are lots of noble things about this cow and their relationship to the Black Belt, and the ecology of the Black Belt is astonishing. There aren’t that many of them left. So Hunter and I had this idea to track and discover what attributes of the cows are best. There are so many questions: figuring out the impact of the different forages, understanding the right age to slaughter, discovering how the cow is best hung for aging. There is a talented young butcher in Atlanta named Brent Lyman working at Spotted Trotter who is working with us to develop the potential of the breed. We’re working and experimenting with age, forage methods, ways of curing—evaluating the full potential.

A friendship developed between Hunter and I—we were interested in one another’s work. It’s been the last year and a half that I became more involved in the farm. The whole farm is an exploration. We don’t have all the answers.

Sometime in this process, it occurred to me that I wanted to learn about indigo (more on this later). So I called Glenn Roberts. Glenn has been a generous friend and mentor to me; he is also changing the landscape of seeds and heirloom strains of all varieties of plants. Glenn and I began our conversation about indigo but wound up talking about the history of the Black Belt and the plants that would have been grown in this region. After one of these conversations, Glenn sent me 3 tablespoons of Purple Straw Wheat (called Alabama Blue Stem Wheat in Alabama). And yes, 3 tablespoons, which was incredibly generous given its remarkable scarcity.

I felt such a responsibility to Glenn Roberts for giving me these rare seeds, so I didn’t want to take my eyes off of them—and that’s how the decision came to plow up my back yard to see what could be gleaned from it planting wisely, harvesting wisely.

So I planted 2 teaspoons of the 3 tablespoons and those produced about 8 cups of viable seeds after the birds ate half the crop—greedy bastards. I wound up having to put up two layers of bird netting to keep them out. We’re now in the process of planting those 8 cups on a test plot at Bois c’Arc Farm.

An Osage orange hanging from a branch.

NC: Hunter has a miraculous certified organic farm in the very center of the Black Belt. Can you tell me about the farm and what you’ve been working to do?

There are 80 acres set aside as test plots at BDA, and I will keep planting some of the seeds in my back yard plot as a sort of insurance policy for the seeds. Just to make sure we don’t put all our eggs in one basket (or seeds in one plot).

BDA is the largest certified organic grain farm in the southeast. BDA or “Bois d’Arc” is the French word for Mock Orange or Osage—at present 5300+ acres of certified farmland.

Glenn [Roberts] uses the word “repatriate.” I like that. And it is Hunter who drives the experimentation, he once said to me “not to go in this direction would really be to miss an opportunity.”

NC: For me, the most beautiful part of the weekend was Sunday morning (just before we were leaving) and what Maggie and I have come to call the Plant Safari. Tell me about the purpose of that day and what you hope develops from it.

SP: Botanist Brian Keener who is from the University of West Alabama – The Center for the Study of the Black Belt joined us on this adventure. The purpose of the Plant Safari was to go with Dr. Keener who is so knowledgeable about The Black Belt and to assess the native plants for botanical pigments with Kathy Hattori from Botanical Colors. And we really just started to scratch the surface. There is perhaps the thought of growing indigo on a larger scale—for production. But also, Osage Orange (known as Mock Orange in the southeast) is very prevalent at the farm—all over the Black Belt.

The wood is so hard that it is difficult to mill after it is dry and the farmers aren’t crazy about Mock Orange because it has very large thorns and takes over the farm. But it makes a beautiful color of yellow dye. Mock Orange renders a lightfast yellow pigment when dying fabric. Depending on what mordant is used, you can develop a range of colors. So, it would be interesting if something considered to be a pest could be turned into a cash crop.

So we set off around the hedgerows of the farm to look at Mock Orange and try and discover any other dye stuffs that might be prevalent. And then we went back to Reverie and created dye baths and colors.

Hands holding fresh indigo leaves.

NC: And then there is the Indigo—which is how this whole story started. Let’s talk about that.

SP: Indigo is one of those things that happens with me where something just pops into my head. I was in Atlanta and thinking about Alabama House and how an old crumbling house needs something new. A new crisp cocktail napkin would make this all right.

But I couldn’t find the right thing one day as I was avoiding something that I should have been doing, and I started Googling organic indigo and found Kathy Hattori. I called her and she offered to walk me through it. Kathy had read an article in the NY Times about Ms. Lewis and me—it’s a moving piece and Kathy had remembered it. She asked me if I was that Scott Peacock. I remember that both of us weren’t having the very best day and it felt affirming to just speak about this plant. And I realized that I was on the right path. She was getting ready to go to Charleston to visit Donna Hardy who was harvesting and making dye baths from indigo that she was growing.

So all of this started with those cocktail napkins, and they are still not dyed even though everybody was here two weeks ago with their arms in the dye vats.

From census records, indigo was grown here in the 1700s—crop records…indigo and rice. I started researching different kinds of indigo and where I could get seeds. Glenn told me that by 1780 anything that was being grown in Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas was being attempted in Alabama because those were the crops that the settlers brought with them. We found records of people moving into Alabama and growing indigo.

Separating indigo leaves from their stems.

NC: There are several people doing great work of indigo. There is Donna Hardy of the Sea Island Indigo in Charleston, South Carolina, Sarah Bellos of Stony Creek Colors in Nashville, and Kathy Hattori of Botanical Colors in Seattle, Washington, who joined us for the weekends Plant Safari and indigo test.

SP: Sarah Bellos, Donna [Hardy], everyone was incredibly generous and gave me seeds and put me in touch with contacts. I got seeds from several different sources and all have grown and behaved a little differently from one another. There are several varieties of indigo from tropical to Japanese. The Japanese indigo is just now going to seed.

Next spring, I’ll be planting again in my back yard but also at the farm on a larger scale.  Increasing seed stock and experimenting with what grows well, what thrives, and once the plant is harvested, what kind of color does it produce that can be applied to textiles. There are so many variables. Isolating variables: environmental, mistakes, when to harvest, what sort of vat to use to maximize potential. In most circumstances, we’re just figuring out how to make it survive.

You know, Glenn inspired me and guided me towards the books and sources I need to learn about growing wheat and indigo and now sugar cane and rice. This is so much like cooking it’s always humbling. You are always learning and always evolving. Happy to discover that gardening is a lot like cooking and the closer I stick to that, the less daunting it is. At the end of the day, it is alchemy.

And that is what drew me to cooking as a young child: the miracle of transformation.

Natalie Chanin holding a tie-dyed indigo garment.

Thank you to Scott Peacock for hosting all of us in Marion and to Rinne Allen for the photographs documenting our adventures.

Friends gathered around a table to eat outdoors.



Burt’s Bees is among the most prominent brands in America with a sustainable approach to doing business. Their ingredients and packaging are simple, natural, and responsible. The company describes itself as “a bunch of hands-on, tree-hugging, greased elbow do-gooders,” and we believe that is among dozens of reasons why Burt’s Bees Baby is a natural collaborator for Alabama Chanin.


We have partnered with Burt’s Bees Baby to launch a limited-edition capsule collection of baby clothes in three sets. Alabama Chanin has always strived to be a zero-waste company and Burt’s Bees Baby has also made a commitment to sending zero waste to the landfill. As a result, we offer this zero-waste collaboration, using scraps from our Fall Collection.


Each piece in this collection is sewn in our Bldg.14 facility and the embroideries are completed by our Alabama Chanin artisans. The collection includes the “Bee in her Bonnet Set”— bloomers and ruffle dress set; “The Bees Knees Set”—a kimono wrap top and pants set; and the “Busy as a Bee Set”—a waffle-knit raglan top, pull-on pants, and a top knot hat set. The styles are all made from our soft organic cotton fabrics and are comfortable yet durable. They are available in sizes ranging from 0 to 12 months.


Find the collection on the Alabama Chanin website, at The Factory in Florence, and on BurtsBeesBaby.com. We are honored to work alongside the team at Burt’s Bees Baby doing work that celebrates sustainable life and design.




Our seven-year long collaboration with Heath Ceramics began in 2011 with hand-etched dinnerware ceramics. Founded in 1948 by Edith Heath, Heath Ceramics is run by Cathy Bailey and Robin Petravic, who both have a deep background in design.

While our collaboration has been ongoing, it’s been a few years since we worked deeply with Heath Ceramics on new developments. The Camellia design was released in 2013, Bird’s Nest and Indigo designs in 2015, and Natalie also visited California for our “Alabama on Alabama” show that summer.

If you are new to our Journal, read back for a wealth of information and history about this incredible California-based ceramics company. And Heath Ceramics celebrates 70 years this year. Wow. Congratulations Cathy, Robin, and the Heath team!


Today, we announce new product designs in the Alabama Chanin-Heath Ceramics collaborative style. These hand-etched necklaces are an Alabama Chanin and Heath Ceramics exclusive available only on AlabamaChanin.com and at The Factory Store.  Our interview with Cathy catches us up-to-speed on their recent endeavors and new projects at Heath, including our jewelry line.


AC: It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with you. How is the world of Heath Ceramics? Are you still producing as many pottery lines as you were when we began our collaboration?

CB: Yes, we make changes slowly! Especially to our dinnerware lines. Recently we updated our color palette to our Coupe Dinnerware line; it had been 15 years since we had re-worked that palette. So it was really exciting to be able to add some new glazes. The new palette consists of both classic historic glazes and some newly designed colors.

AC: You have begun to expand your offerings beyond the clay and flatware we have been accustomed to. What spurred that decision?

CB: We are led by design, and so we always have new ideas of things we would like to create. Designing beyond clay has been happening slowly for many years, but usually, the products were offshoots of something we made in clay, like wooden trays or glass parts for our candle holders. We also make bags and soft goods now, from leather and textiles. This started after our friend Sherry Stein retired from making her line of bags. We learned how to make bags from her and now reproduce some of her designs alongside our own designs. Once we had the tools and expertise to work in these materials other ideas kept coming, from cat keychains to leather coasters, and currently, we are working with a local textile weaver on a line of tabletop textiles. 

AC: You have remained committed to your belief in collaborations with lines like your Muir Flatware collection. Can you explain to us a bit about how you make it? And how did the collaboration with Sherrill Manufacturing come about?

CB: Since dinnerware goes hand in hand with flatware we’ve always had the desire to create our own flatware designs, but it was not until we found Sherrill Manufacturing (the last flatware manufacturer in the US) that we believed we could create a product with the integrity that we needed to do the project.

Sherrill is the last remaining flatware manufacturer in America. We have an affinity for companies with heritage and even more so for those remaining when all others have gone elsewhere or are no longer. When visiting Sherrill, we saw similarities in our Sausalito dinnerware factory: an honest spirit committed to craft with original machinery, generations of skill, minimal computers, and many hands instead. The Sherrill team is comprised of up to 50 people and operates today in the 125,000 square foot former Oneida flatware facility. Each team member is deeply skilled in different aspects of the manufacturing process; there are usually 15 to 20 steps to create just one piece of flatware. They also use US steel and sustainable energy to make their products.

AC: You have also expanded your traditional kitchen linens line to include fashion accessories like tote bags. Have you been able to keep this production in-house, as has been your tradition? 

CB: Yes, Heath Sews is our own sewing studio where we work with textiles and leathers. We even started hand dying our leathers. Currently, we have five craftspeople working in our sewing studio which is in our San Francisco location.

AC: We love your “Fun and Unique” line. How did you incorporate items like playing cards into your brand?

CB: Sometimes we just include things because we like them, even if they don’t fit strictly into categories that we think our customer knows us for, or that even make sense. From playing cards to Swedish gnomes we just love these products and want to share them, so we sell them! Soon we’ll have our playing cards available on our website, which was an idea that came from one of our graphic designers who is an amazing illustrator. She thought some of her illustrations that she was working on for other projects could translate to Heath playing cards, so we encouraged her to do it!

AC: Your San Francisco location has a Newsstand, which you describe as a community hub. What made you want to open up your space to the public, to a greater degree?

CB: We created the newsstand to inspire and unite the community. Exposing culture from far off lands, and different perspectives from our own, while being a neighborhood hub for all. We have a passion for the printed medium, and our friendly, knowledgeable staff helps to build the local community on a face-to-face basis. It’s something we feel is important as our world becomes more mass produced and technology pushes us away from tangible face-to-face contact with each other. The newsstand is a democratic place with a depth in design, food, and culture, though not at the expense of classic news and periodicals.

AC: Alabama Chanin and Heath Ceramics are collaborating once again, this time on a jewelry line. How long have you been producing jewelry and what was this process like for you?

CB: That’s a good question and not a simple answer. Edith Heath used to create beads that she called kiln fillers because they could fit in-between the larger pieces in a kiln firing, thus not requiring any additional energy to produce. About 10 years ago we figured out how to create beads using Heath clay that were in a similar style to Edith’s beads; we’ve been evolving the designs ever since. About 2 years ago we started producing rectangular flat pieces that we make into necklaces. These pieces allow us a flat surface to showcase the remarkable beauty and detail in the glazes that we design. What was exciting about the collaboration for the Alabama Chanin Jewelry is that we were able to incorporate the etching technique that we use on the Alabama Chanin line of dinnerware. It’s an highly skilled technique to precisely etch the designs without a template, and the result is beautiful on the scale of the new jewelry.

AC: Do you have plans to expand your offerings even further in the future?

Right now we’re just refining all things that we do, which includes additional flatware designs and some new linens, so that is keeping us busy. We love to design and create beautiful things and that will always continue.




Recently, we were honored to have longtime friend Rosanne Cash approach us to collaborate on a special project. She worked with Bldg. 14 to print and produce t-shirts dedicated to her album, “The River and the Thread.” As you know, Alabama Chanin has a special relationship with this record and its message. Rosanne has served as a source of inspiration for our design team and we are once again inspired to be working with her. The shirts feature a screen-printed design of her album artwork and will be sold both at Rosanne’s concerts and at Alabama Chanin’s online and Factory store.


Proceeds from the sale of this shirt will be donated to Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based organization led by Bryan Stevenson that focuses on racial justice, children in prison, mass incarceration, and the death penalty. They recently opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice which memorializes lynching and racial terror in America. Rosanne chose this organization because she wanted to focus on affecting change in our region.

Rosanne was recently awarded the “Spirit of Americana” Free Speech Award by the Americana Music Association, in partnership with the First Amendment Center. In her speech, she—as she always does—spoke her mind about issues she felt were of urgency at the moment. Those things included the Music Modernization Act that would secure fair compensation for musicians. She spoke to the status of women today, saying, “Women are not small, inferior versions of men. We are not objects or property. We have unique gifts to offer and if you discount us, the whole world tilts on an unnatural axis. We deserve respect and every kind of consideration given to men, including equal representation in government and equal pay.”


She also addressed a topic dear to her heart and one that she has been outspoken about: gun control. “I believe with all my heart that a single child’s life is greater, more precious, and more deserving of the protection of this nation and of the adults in this room than the right to own a personal arsenal of military-style weapons. The killing of children in schools should not be collateral damage for the 2nd amendment. There is no amendment that is absolute and not subject to revision. We must re-order our priorities and protect our children.”

Rosanne would like to remind everyone in America to VOTE in the upcoming elections, as would our team at Alabama Chanin.

We look forward to any future collaborations with Rosanne and are honored to join with her on this project.



The School of Making offers a wide range of sewing patterns—both in The School of Making Book Series and as standalone patterns—to fit many different body types and lifestyles. In the past, we’ve also adapted sewing patterns from other designers using our techniques and materials, with beautiful results. Some of our favorites from the past are the Fen Dress from Fancy Tiger Crafts, Anna Maria Horner, both The Dress Shirt and The Factory Dress from Merchant & Mills, along with a multitude of designer patterns from Vogue Patterns. Our latest installment in this series is the Nell Shirt from Kristine Vejar of A Verb for Keeping Warm in Oakland, California.

A Verb for Keeping Warm has been one of our wholesale partners for years—well since we first started wholesaling.  We’ve taught multiple workshops in and around San Francisco and have had the opportunity on multiple occasions to host events and hang out with Kristine, Adrienne, and the whole crew at A Verb for Keeping Warm.

Kristine is a cult figure in the world of making. Her book The Modern Natural Dyer is a gorgeous tome with the subtitle: A Comprehensive Guide to Dyeing Silk, Wool, Linen, and Cotton at Home. Indeed. In Chapter 5, there is a project featuring an Alabama Chanin top and our ever popular Crop Cardigan. We collaborated with Kristine on one of our beloved Maggie Tops using a cut flower printing technique on our 100% Organic Cotton Jersey fabric. Kristine created the fabric for us and the garment can be found on page 79 of The Modern Natural Dyer. You can see that we have a beautiful history, an ongoing partnership, and deep friendship.


The Nell Shirt is a modern twist on a classic button-down shirt. The top was originally designed for woven fabrics, but with a few alterations, it works just as well with our 100% Organic Medium-weight Cotton Jersey. (You may want to size down when using a knit fabric.) We made the top with a combination of our Forest and Peacock medium-weight jersey using Forest and Navy colored Button Craft Thread and a beautiful hand-dyed indigo embroidery floss from A Verb for Keeping Warm.



Nell Shirt Pattern (Printed version or Digital PDF version)
2 yards of 60”-wide 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey for garment body and sleeves
1 yard of 60”-wide 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey for contrasting inset Front Panel
1 spool of Button Craft Thread or 2 spools if making a contrasting colored garment
1 spool of Embroidery Floss or skein of hand-dyed floss
Basic sewing supplies: scissorspinsneedles, ruler, rotary cutter
The School of Making Book Series: These books contain the basic sewing and embroidery techniques we used to make our version of this shirt.

Follow all instructions using the following modifications for the knit fabric:

We reduced the 1/2” seam allowances on every pattern piece to 1/4″ by removing 1/4” from every seam. Do not adjust hemline or any pattern lines marked “Cut on Fold.”

Eliminate all interfacing for knit fabrics.

Hand-sew all seams with a straight stitch, leaving 1/4” seam allowance, using a double strand of thread on medium-weight cotton jersey.

When instructions read “press,” we felled these construction seams to the inside.

Where instructions read “Finish by Hand,” we used a Blind Stitch.

We left our shirt hem as a raw cut edge.


FRONT—Cut 1 on fold in Forest
BACK—Cut 1 on fold in Forest
FRONT PANEL—Cut 4 in Peacock
SLEEVES—Cut 2 in Forest
CUFFS—Cut 4 in Peacock
BACK LINING—Cut 1 on fold in Forest

Button Craft Thread—Forest and Navy
AVFKW Naturally Dyed Embroidery Floss
Seams—Inside Felled




We’ve long been fans of Ashley English—southern cook, homesteader, and holistic nutritionist. We have listened to her advice on how to be a gracious host as we create memorable experiences for our guests at The Factory—and even made a few of her pies. Ashley is back with a newly released cookbook, Southern from Scratch: Pantry Essentials and Down-Home Recipes. The goal of the cookbook is to help the reader build their very own southern-style pantry, completely from scratch. And it puts your new pantry to use with over 100 recipes.

We’ve picked out several must-try recipes, but our favorite is the Russet Potato + Dilly Bean Salad. Enjoy making the recipe below.


Serves 8 to 10

¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sea salt, for the cooking water
4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size cubes
1 cup Dilly Beans, chopped to ¾-inch lengths
½ cup Dilly Bean brine
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons coarse prepared mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Stir the vinegar and salt into 3 quarts of water in a large pot. Add the potatoes and turn the heat to high. As soon as the water comes to a boil, turn the temperature down to simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the potatoes are done, drain them well in a colander and let them sit for 5 minutes to let off some steam.

Spread out the potatoes on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes.

Transfer the potatoes to a medium mixing bowl. Gently fold in the dilly beans, pickling brine, mayonnaise, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste.

Cover the mixing bowl and place in the refrigerator. Cool at least 1 hour before serving.

Makes about 5 pints.

2 pounds green beans
3 cups white vinegar
3 cups water
¼ cup pickling salt
10 garlic cloves, peeled
5 teaspoons dill seeds
5 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
2 ½ teaspoons black peppercorns
10 sprigs fresh dill

Fill a canner or large stockpot with water, place five-pint jars inside, and set over medium-high heat. Bring just to the boiling point.

Bring the vinegar, water, salt to a full, rolling boil in a medium pot. Remove the pot from the heat. Transfer the brine to a pourable, spouted container, such as a heatproof measuring cup, if desired.

Using a jar lifter, remove the hot jars from the canner and place on top of a kitchen cloth on the counter. Place 2 garlic cloves, I teaspoon dill seeds, 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, ½ teaspoon peppercorns, and 2 sprigs fresh dill in each jar. With the help of a canning funnel, pack the green beans into the jars, topped off by the brine, reserving ½ inch headspace.

Use a spatula or wooden chopstick to remove any trapped air bubbles around the interior circumference of the jars. Wipe the rims clean with a damp cloth. Place the lids and screw bands, tightening only until fingertip-tight.

Again using a jar lifter, slowly place the filled jars in the canner. Be sure that the jars are covered by at least 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil, and then process for 10 minutes, starting the timer once the water is at a full, rolling boil.


P.S.: We’re hosting an Instagram giveaway with Ashley for your chance to win a copy of Southern from Scratch. To enter for a chance to win, follow @smallmeasure, @roostbooks and @alabamachaninfactorycafe on Instagram, leave a comment on @alabamachaninfactorycafe’s post and tag a friend.

The giveaway ends on June 30th at 11:59pm CST and is open to U.S. residents 18+ older. We will pick a winner next week and message you for your contact information. Good luck!

Recipe courtesy of Southern from Scratch by Ashley English, © 2018 by Ashley English.  Photographs by Johnny Autry, © 2018 by Johnny Autry. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.



The School of Making offers a wide range of beloved sewing patterns, available in our Studio Book Series and as standalone patterns. We’ve also adapted sewing patterns from other designers using our techniques and materials with beautiful results. Some of our favorites from the past are from Merchant & Mills, DKNY, and Vogue Patterns.

Our latest installment in this series is the Fen Dress from Fancy Tiger Crafts. We have a long history of friendship and collaboration with Fancy Tiger Crafts, from wholesale partnerships to our Swatch of the Month subscription. Fancy Tiger is a staple in the making community offering range of sewing and knitting patterns plus beautiful fabrics and yarns, all available through their online store.

The Fen Dress is a fun take on a relaxed T-shirt dress with its drop shoulder, gathered skirt, and pockets. Originally designed for woven fabrics, the Fen Pattern lends well to our Medium-Weight Cotton Jersey with a few adaptations, outlined below. We made View B with the scoop neckline and short sleeves using Camel 100% Organic Medium-Weight Cotton Jersey and Sage Button Craft Thread. (Consider sizing down if you’re using a different fabric with more stretch.) To make your own hand-sewn jersey Fen Dress you’ll need:

The Fen Dress Paper Pattern by Fancy Tiger and The Fen Dress in Camel Adapted for The School of Making Medium-Weight Cotton Jersey


Fen Dress Pattern from Fancy Tiger Crafts (Paper version or Digital PDF version)
2 yards of 60”-wide Medium-Weight Cotton Jersey
1 spool of Button Craft Thread
Basic sewing supplies: scissors, pins, needles, ruler, rotary cutter
The School of Making Studio Book Series: These books contain the basic sewing and embroidery techniques we used to make our version of this dress.

We reduced the 5/8” seam allowances on every pattern piece to 1/4″ by removing 3/8” from every seam. Reduce neckline and hem by 5/8”. Hand-sew all bodice seams with a straight stitch, leaving 1/4” seam allowance, using a double strand of thread on medium-weight cotton jersey.

First, we constructed the bodice—sewing together at the shoulder seams and side seams—and then felled all seams toward the back.

We followed the instructions in the pattern to sew the pockets into the skirt then the side seams, which we also felled towards the back. Next, we gathered the skirt at the top edge between the notches indicated on the pattern. After gathering the skirt, we lapped the gathered edge of the skirt on top of the bottom edge of the bodice, 5/8” up from the bottom, and attached it using a zigzag chain stitch. You can use the stretch stitch of your choice.

For the neckline, we omitted the binding pattern piece included with the pattern and instead used our standard 1 1/4″ binding cut cross-grain. We applied the binding as instructed in The School of Making Book Series.



In 2018, we will mark our fourth year of our Friends of the Café charity dinner series. A look back at our Journal reveals the incredible chefs that have generously donated their time and resources to raise money and awareness for important causes.


Our first dinner of 2018 is scheduled for April 12th and is hosted by Steven Satterfield of Atlanta’s Miller Union, author of Root To Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons, and 2017 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: Southeast. The Thursday night dinner will kick off our community picnic weekend—three days of special events and workshops celebrating our community (more details to come)…


Our May 10th Spring Harvest Supper highlights our very own café chef— Ray Nichols—and will feature the freshest ingredients from local and regional farmers and purveyors.

On June 21st, we will welcome Rebecca Wilcomb, chef de cuisine at Donald Link’s flagship restaurant, Herbsaint, since 2011. In 2017, she was also honored with a James Beard Award for Best Chef: South.


Tandy Wilson will oversee our final dinner of the year, on October 21st. Tandy opened City House restaurant in Nashville in 2007 and was named Best Chef: Southeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2016.

Find more about each of our featured chefs on the Journal. Visit our Events page to purchase tickets to our upcoming dinners. Tickets are limited and are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis.

We’re looking forward to meeting you at the table!



In our grand finale for the 2017 Friends of the Café Dinner Series, Asha Gomez and her team hosted a lively and lovely evening, sourcing from our local farmers in combination with her own collection of spices.

In My Two Souths, Asha states, “I call my style of cuisine ‘two Souths cooking.’ Its flavors and dishes are characterized and rooted in my deep affection for the resourcefulness and soulfulness of cooking in both my mother country India, in the far southern state of Kerala, and my chosen home in American’s southern, culinary-savvy city of Atlanta, Georgia.” The dinner was the perfect culmination.


Cocktail hour kicked off the evening with the “Muscadine Vine” created by our Events Coordinator, Anne Ryan, and made with muscadine syrup, prosecco, lime, and mint. Wines selected by Anne Ryan and Melissa Bain were accompanied by Blackberry Farm’s newest addition, canned craft beers.



The passed hors d’oeuvres included Black Pepper and Black Salt spiced roasted cashews, Fry Bread with mint chutney and quick pickled carrots, and curry chicken samosa pockets. The mint that was used in meals throughout the dinner was picked fresh from Natalie’s garden.


The first seated course was a brightly colored Sunday vegetable stew ­with a creamy, coconut base and chunky vegetables.


The second course of Asha’s dinner was Kerala fish curry, served on a bed of kichadi grits and tempered mustard oil. Kidachi is a rice, lentil, and butter comfort food seasoned with ginger and leek and found throughout India. Asha’s version substitutes stone-ground grits from Anson Mills. A fillet of catfish from Simmons Farm Raised Catfish in Mississippi was served atop the bed of grits.


The third course was Asha’s take on Beef Biryani. Asha described this rice dish as a “celebration dish” comparing its creation to American pit masters.


The fourth and final course—Asha’s Three Spice Carrot Cake, one of her most widely loved desserts and a tribute to her mother, was the perfect end to the evening.


A big thank you to Asha and her team (including her son, Ethan), The Factory Café team, the Southern Foodways Alliance, and to all the local farms and purveyors who helped to make this dinner so special. Be on the lookout for more events coming in 2018.

P.S.: Find some of these dishes and much more in Asha’s cookbook, My Two Souths.



As part of the creative process, inspiration comes from sources both expected and unexpected. We have found that surrounding ourselves with creative and generous artists and individuals naturally motivates us to do better work. We have been lucky to build relationships with truly like-minded people with whom collaboration is easy—just natural extensions of our relationships. Our work with Heath Ceramics, Angie Mosier, Patagonia, and Rinne Allen, among others, has helped us grow as a creative team and encouraged us to expand our boundaries.

Over the past few years, we have discovered that we have an honest creative kinship with chef Ashley Christensen. Recently, Ashley sent her all-time favorite shirt—which had been well worn and loved—and inquired if it was possible to recreate the garment in Alabama Chanin’s 100% organic cotton jersey. Once we had the shirt in hand, we realized that we were being offered yet another opportunity to collaborate. As a result, we have created a capsule collection inspired by Ashley’s sense of style and her favorite shirt.


Left: The Long Sleeve Ashley Pullover with The Wide Leg Pant Right: The Sleeveless Ashley Pullover


Right: The Ashley Cardigan Left: The Ashley Dress


The Long Sleeve Ashley Pullover


The Ashley Cardigan with the Edison Scarf

The selection of garments includes pullover tops with various sleeve lengths, a cardigan, and a dress. This special Ashley-inspired mini-collection is rounded out with some of our best Home + Table selections, including Ashley’s Cookbook, Poole’s: Recipes and Stories From a Modern Diner.




Photographer and artist, Rinne Allen lives and works in Athens, Georgia (though she also travels the world taking pictures. Follow her on Instagram for a glimpse.) She is deeply committed to her community, having co-founded a children’s school for creative arts and working with the University of Georgia on special arts programming. It’s an understatement to say that she embraces collaboration. Her local work includes a book and blog with Rebecca Wood and Kristen Bach about Athens called Beauty Everyday along with collaborations with chefs, designers, and makers from Athens and beyond.

Taking yet another step into her community, Rinne photographed the Rinne’s Dress Collection on those whom she works with closely.

While we’re getting ready for a new collaboration with chef Ashley Christensen, we wanted to share one our favorites again—before we phase out this beautiful collection in two weeks. The basic version of the Rinne’s Dress will continue to be available for purchase from the Alabama Chanin Collection.


Lucy Allen Gillis, Designer and Stylist; Field Trip


Mandy O’Shea, Sustainable Farmer and Floral Designer; Moonflower Design and 3 Porch Farm


Susan Hable, Artist and Designer; Hable Construction and Susan Hable Art


We are constantly surprised and honored by the talented and generous chefs that agree to be a part of our Friends of the Café dinner series. A look back through our Journal shows just how many brilliant individuals have traveled to our corner of Alabama and offered their time, energy, and creativity for a good cause. As part of this year’s series, we were able to accomplish something we were not sure was possible: coaxing legendary Southern chef Scott Peacock out of semi-retirement to prepare a truly special dinner that we won’t soon forget.

When planning his menu, Scott insisted on a couple of things that sound simple at first glance: the ingredients must be fresh and they must be good. Luckily, we already partner with a number of farmers and vendors that provide us with the freshest local and organic products. But we also sought out some new and trusted sources that could provide us with the freshest ingredients—because when Scott says fresh, he means FRESH. That means that the menu was not 100% finalized until he knew exactly what he’d be working with—and each dish he presented proved his philosophy to be right, again and again.

Cocktail hour featured a specialty “Plum Blossom” cocktail concocted by our Events Coordinator, Anne Ryan, and combined Prosecco with plums that Chef Zach preserved last year, and garnished with violets that Natalie foraged. We asked Scott to select beer from his favorite brewery, and he selected Orpheus Brewery in Atlanta, as it is owned by the son of a close friend. Each course was also accompanied by wine pairings that we chose by working closely with our distributor to get the right complement for each course.




The passed hors d’oeuvre course included iced oysters that Zach sourced, served with Miss Edna Lewis’ spicy dipping sauce; Blackbelt Pineywood sausage brought in by Scott; fresh buttered radishes from Bluewater Creek Farm; tomato toast with canned tomatoes and fresh goat cheese from Humble Hearts Farm; and soft boiled eggs from Cog Hill Farm, atop garlic parsley sauce.


Scott’s first seated course was a salad of morning-gathered watercress, wood sorel, and violets. And when we say “morning gathered”, that is no exaggeration. The greens were delivered that day by Heirloom Harvest and the watercress and wood sorrel was foraged early that morning by Natalie at a local aquifer and a friend’s farm. If diners did not understand the importance of truly fresh ingredients before, this dish left no doubt. The greens were flavorful and delicate and almost melted in your mouth; we have never witnessed such a reaction to a simple salad before—and we may never again.



For the second course, Scott prepared what he called “Straddle Stew”, because we were straddling two growing seasons—using fresh produce from the last harvest alongside ingredients from the first harvest of this season. The dish included chickens from Cog Hill Farm, organic kale, chard, and shallot buds from Alchemy Farms, turnips from Bluewater Creek Farm, and fresh bay from Scott’s garden. (If you’ve never eaten a just-picked carrot, I guarantee it is a game changer.) The stew was served with Dorothy Peacock’s hot water cornbread made with Pollard’s extra-fine cornmeal from Hartford, Alabama.


We were delighted to have Angie Mosier and Lisa Donovan working alongside Scott and our staff in the kitchen and they provided helping hands and fresh ingredients. The dessert course was sweet cream biscuits made with buttermilk that Lisa sourced from Cruze Farm, topped with fresh strawberries that Angie brought from Red Earth Organic Farms and Woodland Gardens.


One of the most remarkable connections we made through Scott was our introduction to Will Dodd and his non-profit organization Heirloom Harvest. With their motto, “Food from down the Road,” the organization’s goal is to improve the food economy in Alabama as a way of addressing and improving socio-economic conditions. They partner with small, independent farmers to help with planning, warehousing, sales, marketing, distribution, and communication with customers—with the goal of getting those fresh and local ingredients into restaurants and stores throughout the region.


We could not have been more grateful to have Scott Peacock co-host this dinner with us. Our guests recognized how special the evening was; it really was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share an intimate dinner with an influential but humble artist.



Since the launch of Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey, we’ve used both Anna’s Garden and New Leaves variations to create a Factory Tunic and Swing Skirt (respectively). The printed fabric allows you to make quick and easy basics with the added visual interest of a pattern. With spring in full effect here in north Alabama, we created a few staple pieces to ease us into the warmer months—a Poncho, Casual T-Shirt Top, and Armor Beaded Scarf—and experiment with Hand-Dyed Organic Indigo Fabric in Light Indigo.



Project – T-Shirt Top from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color– Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey in Daisy
Button Craft thread – Dogwood
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Sleeve length – Short
Binding stitch – Cretan stitch



Project – Poncho from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color – Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey in Daisy
Button Craft thread – Dogwood
Knots – Outside
Seams – Outside floating



Project – Scarf*
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color– Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey in Daisy
Button Craft thread – Dogwood
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Technique – Armor beading
Beads – Bugle beads, chop beads, and sequins
Bead color – White

*This scarf is a 12” x 56” strip cut across the grain. This project could easily be made from fabric leftover from another project shown here.



Project – Sample Block (10” x 16”)
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Hand-Dyed Organic Indigo Fabric in Light Indigo
Fabric color for inner layer – Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey in Daisy
Button Craft thread – Dogwood
Textile paint color – Pearl Silver
Stencil – Daisy
Technique – Negative reverse applique
Knots – Outside


As part of an ongoing exploration into indigo and other natural dyes, we are spotlighting artists we consider to be experts in the field—including Scott Peacock, Donna Hardy, and today, Kathy Hattori. Kathy is one of the founders of Botanical Colors, a well-respected source of materials, support, and educational offerings for those seeking to employ natural dyeing techniques. They offer a range of services for both the new dyer and the designer wishing to use a more sustainable supply chain—including color development, prototypes, sampling, and production. Kathy was a big help to us when we started our own natural dye house at The Factory in 2014. We sourced our indigo from her, and she patiently answered questions and helped us troubleshoot our vats.

Kathy has a background in environmental studies but spent years working in the tech industry before founding Botanical Colors. When asked why she wanted to make the change, Kathy told us, “The realization of how precious time is and how I wanted to spend it prompted the leap from telecommunications to textiles. And then I found it wasn’t a leap at all, but just a firm step forward. Working with colorants wasn’t my first career, but I had created for many years with textiles and dyes in my own work. The reason I moved toward natural dyes was that I felt strongly that my next career had to make a positive impact in the world.”


It is important to Kathy that both large- and small-scale makers see natural dyeing as a feasible alternative to synthetic dyeing, as long as you understand the benefits and limitations of each; to her, the differences between the two approaches can result in remarkably different results in quality. “Synthetic dyes are efficient, as they are engineered to bond with one fiber type and are designed to produce consistent results. Their color palette is very bright and saturated. [But] they are derived mainly from petrochemical feedstock and their manufacture can produce toxic waste if not carefully managed. Natural dyes…have a more varied color profile that must be coaxed from the plant onto the fabric. Their color palette is richly colored and less saturated.” And, as opposed to synthetics, natural dyes are cultivated, grown, and maintained on closely managed land using agricultural or food processing waste—or are responsibly wild-harvested.


“Ten years ago, natural dyers were often challenged and dismissed because the dyestuffs and methods we used were perceived as lower quality than synthetic dyes. That perception has shifted as makers and customers embrace the natural beauty of the color and learn how to create quality items using natural dyes. I see that natural dyes are overlapping and being used to create inks, paints, healing tinctures, and colorants for cosmetics, so makers are getting really creative and tapping into other aspects of the dyestuffs.”

Botanical Colors and Kathy are helping usher in a new era of artisan-driven growth in the textile industry. They use their expertise to help individual makers and small businesses find sustainable solutions that will work on their respective scales. “The new American manufacturer is often a smaller scale company who must innovate in order to survive, and they are often interested in new technology or intriguing collaborations. Most of the companies that we’ve worked with are also pioneers and innovators in sustainable production. Botanical Colors provides an interesting solution with plant-based, beautiful color and this seems to resonate deeply among designers and brands.” And like many farmers who use organic methods but cannot afford to go through the process of being certified organic, there are also textile manufacturers who produce using standards like those governed by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), but cannot afford to be officially certified. “GOTS certification certainly helps to identify suppliers who adhere to the standard,” she says. “But there are many suppliers who don’t carry certification and have built their businesses on thoughtful and sustainable practices, and these companies are equally worthy of our support.”

Kathy agrees with Donna Hardy’s assertion that natural dyeing can be utilized by large manufacturers, if they make the necessary commitment to responsible production. “Moving from artisan-based making to larger format production can be a challenge, as the equipment and volumes can change dramatically. That being said, larger scale natural dyeing is quite feasible. For companies who are concerned with toxicity and wastewater issues, natural dyes can provide a solution, so several visionary companies have made the leap and introduced natural dyes.” She and Botanical Colors work with Eileen Fisher on the Green Eileen and Vision 20/20 programs that aim to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry. “Eileen Fisher has confronted the environmental issues facing the industry head-on with their Vision 20/20 policy. Vision 20/20 is the roadmap toward a more responsible and sustainable company including emphasis on organic fibers, fair trade, safe chemistry and wise water use. It’s been a great honor to work with them on their Green Eileen recycling initiative and extend the life of clothing.”

Kathy also recommends that consumers educate themselves on the issues surrounding garment production, safety, and the environment and she supports Greenpeace in this effort. “They offer an important service by exposing the complex chemistry that industry uses for dyeing and finishing garments and publicizing the brands that continue to use toxic substances in their clothing.  These chemicals persist in the environment and in some cases break down into more toxic components with home laundering.”

More than anything else, it is obvious that Kathy Hattori is still enamored with the artistry of natural dyeing and excited by the possibilities. “I’ve worked with and learned from some very talented teachers in the natural dye world, and am constantly striving to improve processes, while celebrating the tradition of natural color. I love to see how natural colors change with different locations and water sources. There’s something about being able to drop a few flowers into a dye pot and pull out a beautifully dyed fabric. That will always be magic for me.”

P.S.: We recently received a report from our dye house, and while many of our colors are not derived from natural dyestuffs, we take great strides to understand, be aware of, and be transparent with the process that our fabrics go through. Regarding the dyeing process for most of our organic cotton, “The only dyes to be used will be natural, low-energy, non-metal, reactive dyes, bi-functional dyes, or low impact dyes.” And the exact dye formula is kept on file along with MSDS (material safety data sheet) for each ingredient in the dye bath for review or audit.



Our Core basic styles make the perfect canvas for our accessories—with recently updated colors and designs. Here are a few fresh looks for Spring.


The Rib Crew and Indigo Slim Scarf


The Rib Crew, The Rib Skirt, and Indigo Poncho


The Rib Crew, The Rib Skirt, and The Suzanne Slim Scarf


The Rib Crew, The Rib Skirt, and The Rinne Poncho


The Rib Crew, The Rib Skirt, and The Rinne Wrap Scarf

Explore our Rinne’s Dress Collection on the Journal.



Rinne Allen, collaborator and inspiration behind our most recent capsule collection, is the creator of a series of photo essays titled “Harvest”, a number of which have been published by T Magazine, of The New York Times. The Harvest Series is a first-person look at our regional agricultural systems, examining the individuals who work in concert with nature to provide the essentials we need for food, clothing, and shelter. Her topics cover a wide range of topics, both traditional and unconventional.


In 2015, we hosted Rinne for one of our periodic On Design conversations where she discussed the Harvest Series – which began with her chronicling of the Alabama Chanin + Billy Reid cotton project in 2012. Since then, Rinne has added some beautiful posts that highlight the people and processes behind America’s harvests, which include a maple syrup harvest from a family’s backyard in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina, a sea salt harvest from Bull’s Bay off the coast of South Carolina, and a flower harvest in rural Georgia to create a letterpress calendar.


She continues to expand the series, following different growing seasons and the philosophies of the growers themselves—publishing a number of them on her website.


We invite you to explore her Harvest Series as it continues to develop – at T Magazine, on Rinne’s website, and in other future publications. Rinne is actively working on this series, and usually shoots one or two stories a month, depending on the season. We will update where you can find them, as it expands to other sources.

P.S.: In addition to capturing incredible images and telling beautiful stories, Rinne also makes Light Drawings, which are available here.




We’ve seen such beautiful pieces made with our Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey collaboration with Spoonflower that we’ve decided to add another design. Now available is our 100% Organic Medium-weight Cotton Jersey in Sand printed with our newest Daisy Stencil design in teal.


Experiment with our newest design of Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey using patterns available on our Resources page or in our Alabama Studio Book Series.

Look for more project inspiration on our Journal in weeks to come.

In the meantime, check out past projects we’ve made using our printed fabric like our popular Swing Skirt and Factory Tunic, and find Daisy project inspiration here.



One of the most fantastic things about surrounding yourself with creative people is that you are constantly inspired and challenged to look at ideas through new and ingenious lenses. Rinne Allen, a frequent collaborator, is someone who has a special skill for capturing moments—details that other people may not see. This quality has made our work with her singular and special.


In addition to her obvious talents, Rinne has her own inimitable sense of style derived from her carriage and demeanor, paired with that unique spirit and artist’s eye. When inspired to do so, she occasionally customizes garments she owns to fit her lifestyle and meet her day-to-day needs. This is how Rinne created one of our favorite dresses of hers: part vintage bodice, part well-worn Billy Reid dress. She describes its origins in this way: “I bought the Billy [Reid] dress 11 or 12 years ago… and I wore it so much that I kind-of wore it out! I have a bunch of vintage dresses that I have found over the years that I love, and I decided to ask a friend to make me a new dress using the parts of the Billy [Reid] dress that I loved—the full skirt—and a vintage dress that I liked—the bodice and banded collar. And I added pockets because, well, I love pockets.”


Rinne seems to have an untapped talent as a clothing designer because she can look at the clothes in her closet and have a vision for something more. A tweak here and a tuck there—and she has a fully customized wardrobe. “I do sew a bit and it started there, but I also know people who can sew much better than me and they are patient and help me with some of my ideas. I grew up wearing vintage clothes—and still do—and I think that helped me appreciate things that are unique; understanding sewing made me want to make things myself, once I learned what fits me well. I like functional clothes because I move around a lot and I’m outside a lot for work, so my clothes need to be tough and comfortable. But I also like things that are a little bit feminine, too. And I really do need pockets on most everything.”


Today we are launching what we (naturally) call the Rinne’s Dress Collection, designed in collaboration with Rinne and modeled after her style and that very special hybrid dress. The Rinne Dress has a fitted bodice that snaps up to a mock collar and has a ¾-length sleeve option that snaps at the cuff (on select styles) and can be rolled up or down. The full, pleated skirt sits at the natural waist and opens to a generous width at the hip. And, of course, it could never truly be a Rinne-inspired dress without generous pockets tucked in the skirt’s pleats and folds.


This collaboration also includes a stencil inspired by her Light Drawings. For more information about Rinne, visit her website—or read back on our Journal.



We’ve been loving our Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey—part of our collaboration with Spoonflower—which we debuted a few months back. Since then, we have used it to create a Swing Skirt, and here we utilize it to introduce the Factory Tunic. We used a variation of the Factory Dress pattern—now available through our 2017 Build a Wardrobe programming, or for purchase online.

The Factory Tunic features princess seams and flares at the hem, giving it a feminine silhouette. It is perfect for layering or wearing on its own.



Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey
Fabric color for inner layer – Sand
Button Craft thread – Cream
Textile paint color – Slate
Stencil – Anna’s Garden
Technique – Negative reverse applique
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan stitch

Follow us on Instagram @theschoolofmaking and be sure to tag your projects using #theschoolofmaking.

Purchase the Factory Dress pattern here.



We previously introduced you to Muletown Roasted Coffee, creators of our house coffee, The Factory Blend. Co-owners Chris Weninegar and Matt Johnson, who originally met here in the Shoals, established their roasting and retail facility on the main square in downtown Columbia, Tennessee. Two years have passed since we last spoke with them, and for Gourmet Coffee Day we revisit the company to see how it has grown.

The town of Columbia warmly embraces Muletown, so much so that last January they opened a second location called Muletown West. The building originally housed their San Franciscan SF-25 roaster, which didn’t fit in their downtown shop. But with a high school, middle school, and university close by, they recognized that Muletown could repurpose the space and create another cafe to service that side of town.


Over the following year, the company remodeled the Muletown Heritage downtown location, while building out the 3,000 square foot Muletown West roasting facility. Drawing from their music backgrounds, Weninegar and Johnson formed an idea—they could use their space to feature some of their favorite regional musicians. Muletown partnered with Listerhill Credit Union to present Muletown Live, a Fall concert series. The series’ inaugural year brought musicians like Firekid and Elenowen into the community. They plan to continue the series in 2017, so keep an eye open for the line-up. In addition to the concert series, the duo founded a small, in-house record label and will soon release a compilation of songs written and performed by their employees.

The company has also recently launched a subscription coffee service. The program allows custom-ordered coffee to be delivered to members’ homes as often as they need. You can view their coffee selections and order an all-purpose or blend subscription on the Muletown website.


As one of Muletown’s earliest clients, we are proud to support our friends as they grow.

Visit Muletown’s two locations in Columbia, Tennessee, or stop by The Factory to taste a cup of The Factory Blend. If you drink your coffee at home, we also sell whole bean or ground 12 oz bags in-store and online.

Photos courtesy of Muletown



Some years fly by and others seem to drag on forever; 2016 kept us at a steady pace at Alabama Chanin. We have been able to focus on refining our methods and more deeply developing our different avenues of work—from the design team to workshops to collections and collaborations. It is possible that 2017 could be a year of major transition across our country, so before life gets more hectic, we would like to look back and appreciate what we accomplished in the past year.


We added an important member to our design team, Erin Reitz, who brings a fresh point of view and is helping us expand our way of thinking about design. In addition to her work as a designer, Erin and her business partner Kerry Speake own The Commons, a Charleston-based shop selling American-made home goods. Through The Commons, the two developed their own line of tableware called The Shelter Collection. We partnered with their team to create The Shelter Collection @ Alabama Chanin and we think it works perfectly alongside our collaborative collection with Heath Ceramics.



In May, we launched Collection #30. Our ongoing partnership with Nest helped us understand how to best integrate our machine-made garments into our larger collection, and we folded our basics, essentials, machine-made, and handmade garments together into one cohesive group. The collection featured Coral, Maize, and Pink color stories, highlighted Art Nouveau-style floral embroideries, and included an expanded selection of our popular new knitwear pieces. We also introduced new garments, including updated tunics, jackets, and pants. Our collection of home goods also expanded, with new selections in canvas and more machine-sewn kitchen textiles.


As part of The School of Making, last year we launched the Host a Party program that offered our DIY customers the opportunity to organize their own sewing parties for friends and family. The positive feedback we received allowed us to expand our offerings for the upcoming year. In 2016, we also began our Build a Wardrobe subscription service, which released four new garment patterns to participants—one each quarter. The program’s goal is to help to makers expand their handmade, sustainable wardrobes based on each individual’s personal style. This coming year, Build a Wardrobe features the Factory Dress, Car Coat, Wrap Dress, and Drawstring Pant/Skirt; subscribers can join at any point in the year.


We also launched a collaboration with Spoonflower—a North Carolina-based web company that allows individuals to design, print, and sell their own fabrics—that allowed us to create custom Alabama Chanin organic cotton jersey. The first run of our limited-edition, pre-printed fabric sold out almost immediately, but look for more printed offerings to cycle in and out.

As part of our expanded workshop offerings, Alabama Chanin hosted its first workshop abroad, at Chateau Dumas in Auty, France. In addition to our sewing curriculum, we were able to explore ornate interiors and architecture, shop at unique markets, and experience woad dyeing for the first time. The weeklong event was picturesque, and we hope to be able to offer another similar event soon.


The Friends of the Café Dinner series continued to expand with dinners co-hosted by Sean Brock, Adam Evans, Rodney Scott, and Frank Stitt. The 2017 season has already been announced.


Recognizing that our team is a top priority, we continued to invest in our staff this year through special staff development programs and updated policies that encourage everyone to have a work-life balance. We use Zingerman’s and Patagonia as examples to create a company culture that is conducive, not only to our employees but to the community and environment. From documenting our processes to ensuring that our information is open source and accessible company-wide, we work to preserve the stories, methods, and history of the company while making way for new ideas and improved ways of doing.


There is so much in store for Alabama Chanin in 2017. We hope that—if you have not already—you will sign up for our mailing list and newsletter and follow along on social media for updates. Wishing all of you a safe New Year, filled with love, care, hope, and empathy.

P.S. – The grids shown here are a gallery of the promotional postcards our team made for The Factory and images of various events and programs over the course of the year. What a great year—and so much to look forward to in 2017.




Alabama Chanin hosted our very first Friends of the Café Dinner in May of 2014, and since then we’ve experienced meals and enjoyed gatherings that were nothing short of magical. In retrospect, we almost cannot believe the lineup of talented chefs who have graciously donated their time for these special fundraisers: Sean Brock, Ashley Christensen, Lisa Donovan, Adam Evans, Chris Hastings, Vivian Howard, Rob McDaniel, Angie Mosier, Anne Quatrano, Drew Robinson, Rodney Scott, Frank Stitt—and more.


This year’s schedule is no less impressive, with appearances (and reappearances) from some of the South’s most respected chefs. We have long hoped to convince Scott Peacock to co-host a dinner, and this year his schedule will allow him to join us for 2017’s first event on April 15th. On June 24th, Ashley Christensen will return for her second dinner, and on August 24th, we will welcome Atlanta-based chef Asha Gomez to The Factory for the first time. (Learn more about Asha on the Journal tomorrow.) All proceeds from the Friends of the Café Dinners will once again benefit the Southern Foodways Alliance.


Look for more information on the featured chefs in the coming months, and purchase tickets now in our online store.


We recently introduced our readers to The Commons, a Charleston-based shop selling responsibly produced, American-made goods for the home. Founders Erin Reitz and Kerry Speake curate a careful selection of high-quality, hand-crafted products.

In 2015, Erin and Kerry launched a partnership with STARworks, a non-profit from Star, North Carolina, that focuses on supporting the local economy through art and craft. Their collaboration produces a tableware line that includes hand-blown glassware and wheel-thrown ceramic pieces.

During the summer of 2016, Erin joined our design team here at Alabama Chanin (in addition to her duties at The Commons). Her philosophies and beliefs in supporting American-made craft fit perfectly with our company’s ethos. Our alignment on design and collaborative practices has made for a great working relationship.

This relationship has inspired a special collaboration between The Commons and Alabama Chanin, featuring hand-blown glassware that is color blocked with white glass at the base. When the pieces are made, it is unknown how the colors will react together until the process is complete. Each piece is unique and one-of-a-kind.


The Shelter Collection at Alabama Chanin prides itself on American-made craftsmanship. The pieces include a glass pitcher, large 16-ounce glass, and small 8-ounce glass.

Video courtesy of The Commons.


Anyone who is familiar with our company knows that Alabama Chanin is built on the beliefs of collaboration and the open exchange of information. Our connections and relationships with fellow designers, makers, customers, and suppliers run deep, and we appreciate every opportunity to learn from, be inspired by, and to teach and work with others. Examples of design and manufacturing collaborations from Alabama Chanin include Patagonia, 6397, Heath Ceramics, Little River Sock Mill, and DPM candles.

And after months of development (and years of requests for pre-printed yardage), we’re happy to announce our newest collaboration: The School of Making @ Spoonflower. The fabric base is our 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey in Natural, printed with grey ink, in two designs: Anna’s Garden and New Leaves.


These designs are digitally printed using eco-friendly, water-based inks and dyes. Unlike our normal jersey yardage, this fabric is sold unwashed.

We are testing this first foray into pre-printed fabrics—so based on the response, look for expanded selections in the future. Be sure to wash your fabric before beginning any new project and, as always, share what you create with us using #theschoolofmaking on social media.


Purchase Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey here.

Learn more about Spoonflower here and follow along @theschoolofmaking on Instagram here.


Last December, Natalie was invited by Chef Ashley Christensen to speak at Raleigh’s Contemporary Art Museum, presenting a lecture celebrating women in art and design. Ashley, who has been a constant source of inspiration for us, is deeply involved in the organization and in her community in Raleigh. As a thank you gift, Natalie received a personalized knife clutch, which was made by Raleigh-based company, Hawks and Doves.

Hawks and Doves was created by Jessica Ullom in 2012, as her obsession with Americana textiles grew into the business. Jessica uses repurposed materials, combined with both new and dead stock American-made textiles in all of her products. She strives to source her materials as locally as possible. Hawks and Doves products include everything from bags and accessories to kitchenwares and utilitarian home goods and have been “used, abused, tested and approved” by chefs and cooks to be incredibly durable.

Alabama Chanin - Artisan Made - Hawks and Doves (1)

Jessica’s husband, Andrew, is pastry chef for Ashley Christensen Restaurants, and the couple collaborated on designing a knife roll—a necessity for every professional cook (and home cooks, alike) to transport their tools. These bags are made from water-resistant waxed canvas with oiled leather closures. They are the ideal and safe place to store knives and kitchen utensils—especially for someone on the go.


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.


For as long as we’ve known about their existence, we have been in love with Heath Ceramics. Their philosophies, their processes, their intentions—all align closely with our own. Our collaboration with Heath is our longest collaboration, dating back to 2011. When we partnered for our first collection together, they worked diligently to interpret the work we do at Alabama Chanin using their own medium. The artists at Heath Ceramics hand etched designs that mimicked and were inspired by our techniques. As we continuously explore and reveal how we make things at Alabama Chanin, we hope you will also be inspired by how Heath Ceramics creates their products.

Heath Ceramics – Who They Are

A historic pottery turned designer, maker, and seller of goods that embody creativity, craftsmanship, elevate the every day, and enhance the way people eat, live, and connect.

Founded in 1948 by husband and wife team, Edith and Brian Heath, the company was purchased in 2003 by another couple, Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey. Their plan for growth included: boosting productivity, streamlining offerings, creating new products, and collaborating with other artists and companies with complementary visions.

Heath wants to become a model for U.S. manufacturing—inspiring designers and manufacturers to think creatively about their business models, placing financial profit as the means, rather than the end.


What They Believe

The Heath Ceramics team shares much of the philosophy of its founder, Edith Heath. They are driven by design and function, are committed to handcrafted work, and determined to question the status quo.

Their goal is to work with these values in mind, by making responsible and holistic decisions for the long-term benefit of their customers, employees, and the environment. For those reasons, they prioritize these principles:

  • Local manufacturing – Like Alabama Chanin, Heath believes that the craft of manufacturing has been largely lost as a value in modern culture, and they work hard to retain it. Their dinnerware is made using a blend of mechanized processes and hand craftsmanship, to obtain the highest quality product. Customers build relationships with the things they buy when they also build relationships with the people, processes, and values behind those products. Local manufacturing also has social and cultural rewards in bringing pride to community.
  • The real cost of products – A product’s price reflects the actual cost of its production. Heath products comply with strict environmental standards, both government regulated and self-imposed. Their staff is compensated fairly, receive full health care benefits, and have retirement benefits. This means their processes can sometimes be expensive, but fair and safe standards and practices are important to the Heath philosophy. When you outsource processes, you lose control over the conditions your products are made under. A cheaper price usually reflects that difference in standards.
  • Product safety – Heath dinnerware products meet and exceed U.S. and California safety standards. Likewise, their children’s products exceed food and product safety standards.
  • Environmental responsibility – Heath is a design-led manufacturer of products meant to be extremely durable and to function for a lifetime. Many of their products have been in continuous production for over 60 years; the designers work to design new products to complement existing collections, in order to increase their longevity and decrease the need to replace them. By manufacturing in an urban environment, they must abide by environmental standards set for communities where people live – making them even more certain they are not doing harm to the environment and community.
  • Recycling – Heath uses a gray-water system, which recycles water used in production for use in their glaze and cleanup operations. They also recycle scrap unfired clay, meaning there is recycled content in every Heath product. They also ship all products using materials made from 100% post-industrial waste and that is reusable and recyclable. And, they are setting up their San Francisco factory to be a zero waste facility.
  • Energy Efficiency – Their ceramic clay requires only one firing (at a lower than normal temperature), as opposed to the typical two firings. Heath rebuilt their kilns to increase capacity, allowing them to fire more tiles per kiln and reducing gas consumption.


How They Work

Robin and Catherine say they ask “why” a lot. That is because they are designing and adapting their business as thoughtfully as they design their products. Here, they explain how they work:

  • We offer goods that last. We believe in quality over quantity, only making and selling beautiful, well-made goods that stand the test of time.
  • We design and make and Being responsible for it all means that we’re better at each aspect of what we do.
  • We build environments around our mission. From showrooms to factories to offices, Heath’s spaces bring together people and communities to learn from each other, forge lasting bonds, and create lots of good energy.
  • We believe in growing responsibly. By working smart and growing prudently, we’re building a strong business that allows us to make good things and do good work.


Their Vision for the Future

Heath continues to look for ways to reduce its environmental impact. Their goal is to become a closed-gap company, always looking for new ways to reuse and recycle their waste. Their goals of sustaining local manufacturing, creating high-quality, well-designed products, maintaining a fair and responsible workplace for our employees, and reducing our environmental impact helps us set their financial goals and business model, not the other way around.

In the spirit of both transparency and community, Heath invites you to learn more about the people who work for them and welcomes you into their clay studio. Because Heath wants to make their work tangible for the community and consumer, you can visit their Sausalito dinnerware or San Francisco tile factory to see just how they do things. You can schedule a  tour here.

You can shop our Alabama Chanin + Heath Ceramics products in The Factory store or online.


Photos by Rinne Allen


While we are known for our elaborate hand-sewn, hand-embellished garments, collaboration has long been an integral part of our philosophy. My cousin’s family owns MTM Recognition in Princeton, Illinois, where they make an array of hand-made jewelry pieces produced by skilled craftsmen. When the opportunity to create jewelry together came up, the idea of capturing the texture of cotton jersey fabric and the detail of hand embroidery into a bracelet felt like a natural addition to the Alabama Chanin line. The Cast Fabric Cuff was designed with our hand-sewn, heirloom garments in mind.


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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 spent quite a lot of time over the holiday season digging into some of my favorite cookbooks. This was sparked on by several things:

  1. My son, Zach, and I started talking about what we want to accomplish with The Factory Café in 2016 and got side tracked talking (for a very, very long time) about our very, very all-time favorite cookbooks.
  2. We finally finished organizing our company library—including the growing cookbook section. (See the P.S. below about our organization system of choice.)
  3. I read La Mere Brazierwhich made me want to get out all my favorite cookbooks and start reading them all over again. (I adored Eugénie Brazier’s story of her childhood and rise to kitchen fame in the introduction.)
  4. I looked back on all the good work Alabama Chanin has been involved with in 2015. I’m super proud that I (and all of our team) got to work with great chefs like Angie Mosier, Lisa Donovan, Rob McDaniel, and Anne Quatrano (Queen Anne) at The Factory—and also with the likes of Cheetie Kumar, Anne Quatrano (again!), and Gabrielle Hamilton organized by Ashley Christenson for the Southern Foodways Alliance Femme Fatale Dinner at the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville. (Yes, 2015 was a great year.)

With these delicious moments and meals in mind, we’re gearing up for our 2016 Friends of the Café Dinner Series. Some details are still being finalized, but there’s no doubt: it’s going to be another fantastic year.


We’re starting out of the gates on March 24th with Frank Stitt (Highlands Bar and Grill, Chez Fon Fon, Bottega, and Bottega Café in Birmingham, Alabama) and the famous (and infamous) barbecue pit master, Rodney Scott of Hemingway, South Carolina. This promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Frank has already sent along some menu ideas that include not only the gorgeously roasted meats from Rodney, but also foraged specialties like dandelion, henbit, asparagus shoots, and chickweed.

After that we’re hosting our first-ever Spring Harvest Dinner on May 21st, featuring local and regional harvests from farmers and purveyors alike—curated by our chef (and my son) Zach and our amazing team at The Factory Café.

In August (date TBD—most likely the second or third Thursday), our (now annual) Shindig Dinner—in conjunction with Billy Reid’s Shindig—features Shoals-native, Atlanta-based chef Adam Evans (formerly of The Optimist, now with Brezza Cucina in the Ponce City Market). This dinner becomes more popular every year, so be on the lookout for the event announcement.


Sean Brock (McCrady’s in Charleston, Husk in Charleston and Nashville, and Minero in Atlanta and Charleston) will be joining us for a Fall dinner on October 8th. Details will unfold as the season rolls into focus.


See you here. See you there. Happy 2016 from all of us @ The Factory and Alabama Chanin

P.S.:  To organize our growing library, we wound up using Libib—one of the apps we originally investigated. It was one of the highlights of 2015 to see our library come to life, beautifully displayed in the design studio, organized perfectly by theme, with books standing straight and tall like little soldiers, ready to go out and change the world.


Looking back on 2015, it’s clear that this was the year of collaboration for Alabama Chanin. We expanded upon work that we have been creating with others for many years, added major new initiatives with new partners, and built upon our partnerships across all parts of our business. Partnership has always meant growth for Alabama Chanin—physical, fiscal, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional. As always, we want to thank each of you who made 2015 one of profound development—with more to come.


We introduced our Collection #29 that features brand new garment styles and stencils. Our design team drew inspiration from vintage books, patterns, and textiles to create unique silhouettes and colorways. The collection saw an extension of our hand painting technique—which we experimented with as part of our indigo dyeing processes. It also allowed us to introduce new techniques—like our triple-layered technique, new styles—like the versatile Half Skirt, and a new organic textile—French Terry.


We also updated and expanded on our line of Wardrobe Essentials, which includes a selection of both hand- and machine-sewn items that can be mixed and matched in a number of colors and classic silhouettes to fit your personal style and lifestyle. Use these as the basis for building your own sustainable wardrobe that will last you for many years.


In July, Natalie and Maggie took a cross-country train trip on the California Zephyr to San Francisco as they traveled to the Alabama on Alabama exhibit hosted by Heath Ceramics at their Boiler Room venue. The month-long exhibit featured work from Alabama Chanin, Butch Anthony, John Henry Toney, and Rinne Allen. It also featured one of many pop-up shops that traveled across this country this year, including stops in Austin, New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta.


Natalie was honored with an artist fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts that is allowing her to explore the source of creativity—and how each person’s approach may impact the final outcome. She has spoken to a wide range of artists on their creative processes, including Rinne Allen, Cathy Bailey of Heath Ceramics, Rosanne Cash, and Chef Anne Quatrano—with more to come in this series.


The Factory Café has been working hard to grow its offerings with a diverse menu and a new beer and wine license. The café continues to bring the community inside Alabama Chanin to share meals or to make things at our Sip + Sew (with a new scheduling to come in 2016) and First + Third Tuesday sewing and socializing gatherings. We continued our popular Friends of the Café Dinner Series, which brought in Lisa Donovan and Angie Mosier to collaborate on a brunch to benefit Jones Valley Teaching Farm, Rob McDaniel of Springhouse Restaurant as part of a Piggy Bank fundraiser for the Southern Foodways Alliance, and Anne Quatrano as part of the Oxford American/Southern Makers dinner. This series brings nourishment to us in so many ways—sharing meals with old friends and new, and raising money for worthy causes. Look for more events in the coming year with incredible talents like Rodney Scott, Frank Stitt, Sean Brock, and more.


Regionally, we have partnered with Little River Sock Mill to make our custom line of Alabama Chanin socks and DPM Fragrance in Mississippi for our Alabama Chanin Grapefruit + Watercress candles. On a larger scale, we were also able to expand our longest collaboration—with Heath Ceramics—with our Indigo and Bird’s Nest patterns. They allowed us to take our experimentations in our indigo dye house and translate those into our expanding collection. The line includes new designs in many variations of the color indigo and introduced our newest Bird’s Nest etched pattern.


We had a unique opportunity to work with legend (and heroine) Stella Ishii and her company 6397, turning overstock from their production processes into one-of-a-kind throws, unlike anything we have ever made before. Also, Alabama Chanin was honored to continue working with Patagonia on the Truth To Materials project, reclaiming discarded Patagonia jackets into warm patchwork scarves. The Patagonia Worn Wear Repair Truck made a stop at Alabama Chanin back in September to repair well-worn and well-loved garments for free.


Perhaps our most ambitious and wide-spanning collaboration has been with Nest, a non-profit that works with artisans across the world to build sustainable businesses with a positive social impact. Our partnership with Nest, formed under Alabama Chanin’s educational arm, The School of Making, hopes to reverse the trend of outsourced manufacturing that has impacted our region for decades. With Nest’s partnership, we are expanding our Building 14 machine-manufacturing division and implementing training and education at The Factory. As we move forward, we want to create new opportunities for those in our community to learn new techniques and update their skill sets—so that we may once again be a strong force in America’s textile industry.


This year, we launched Alabama Studio Sewing + Patterns, which allows us to offer more new patterns than ever to home sewers. It provides instructions and suggestions on how to customize Alabama Chanin garments to fit your personal style or fit needs. We developed new and improved ways of delivering patterns to our DIY customers and have begun offering patterns never before sold to the public, like our Unisex T-Shirt and Natalie’s Apron.


All of this brings us back to our growing and evolving partnership through The School of Making with makers in the global community. As we have grown the educational arm of our business, we have seized as many opportunities as possible to broaden the circle of participants in the making process. This year, that includes the introduction of Host a Party. Anyone who wants to gather 6 or more friends can organize their own Alabama Chanin-style sewing party. Guests get a 20% discount off of their DIY kit and the host receives a kit for free, in exchange for providing sewing instructions and hospitality.

As we move into the New Year, join us for our upcoming Build a Wardrobe series, which will build upon the format we established with Swatch of the Month—but will help you customize one (or more) garments in each quarter of 2016. We also have a full slate of workshops planned, including one at Chateau Dumas in France, as well as new products for Cook + Dine and A. Chanin. New collaborations are in the works, and the possibility of working on a new book is on the calendar in the coming months.

Keep up with us throughout the year by following the Journal and signing up for our mailing list and monthly Newsletter—and here’s to a prosperous New Year for all.

Thank you for following along with us,

Natalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin

P.S. – The grids shown above are a gallery of all of the promotional postcards our team made for The Factory and various events and programs over the course of the year. We’re proud of the beautiful year we’ve had and are excited about what the new year holds.

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


In March of 2015, The School of Making launched a partnership with Nest—a non-profit that joins together with artisans across the world to bring about positive social impact through sustainable development. Nest works specifically with artisans because they are often community-based businesses or organizations; they collaborate with those artisans to provide tools, training, infrastructure, and other resources that champion artisans themselves as the makers of change. When artisans are empowered in this way, entire communities are better able to tackle global issues like poverty, preservation of craft and local tradition, and advancement of women (who are often both artisan and primary household caregiver).

Nest’s 2015 impact was felt strongly by artisans across the globe. Nest grew from serving just more than 1,500 artisans in 2014 to serving 5,646 artisans in 2015. Nest’s work is reaching more than 100,000 people, including not only artisans but also their families and members of their extended communities. For every artisan employed, 20 or more people are impacted through the ripple effect.


Our collaborative partnership with Nest finds voice through our educational arm, The School of Making, with a long-term goal of reversing some of the manufacturing outsourcing that has affected our local economy over the last two decades. Together, we are expanding Alabama Chanin’s Building 14 machine-manufacturing division with a plan to create educational programs and up-to-date training on modern textile manufacturing methods. This initiative provides further foundation for Florence, Alabama, and the greater Shoals community to continue growing in the global textile industry.

Alabama Chanin and our Building 14 Design + Manufacturing division are incredibly grateful for the donations we have received this year. When we consider the scope of our long-term goals, it gives us comfort and hope, knowing that Nest—and all of you—are standing alongside us as we grow. We know that during the holiday season, many of you “give” as a gift to others. We also hope that you will consider giving to Nest and to our Building 14 initiative to help us grow and create viable options for our region’s economic future.


To read more about the incredible initiatives Nest is guiding and to donate, please visit the Nest website.

Photos courtesy of Rinne Allen


Just over a year ago we launched our line of Alabama Chanin candles. Since then, they have become one of our most popular gift items. We worked diligently to find the right collaborator for this project and are lucky to have found DPM Fragrance, a regionally-owned business in Starkville, Mississippi.

The company, once named Aspen Bay Candles, was purchased by its current owner Tom Reed in 2001. Since then, Reed has added Capri Blue and Found Goods Market collections to the Aspen Bay brand and renamed the company DPM Fragrance. Each product line has a different aesthetic with distinctive scents, packaging, and branding.

DPM shares many of the same goals, like local production, as Alabama Chanin—and their success at impacting the local economy is impressive. When it began, DPM employed about 15 people; today, it employs over 150—with a plan to expand and hire over 100 more in the works. The company was listed for the past three years as one of Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America. (In order to qualify for the list, you have to sustain 100% growth rate over a three-year time period, meaning that DPM has met that criteria for at least 5 years in a row.)


Like Alabama Chanin, DPM also works to source as many of their materials as possible in the United States. They use American-made wax and fragrance oils and utilize American-made glass whenever they can. The company produces with an eye towards increased sustainability, using all-natural soy wax blends, natural wicks, and recycled materials for their glass and packaging whenever possible.

We have witnessed the effect that employee investment has in our own successes and DPM sees the same kind of impact. They collaborate on the best processes for production with their employees, who are thoughtful and detail oriented in their work. Each of the candles is wicked by hand, poured by hand, labeled by hand, and carefully packed by hand. Some of their production employees have worked at the company for over a decade (and some for almost 2 decades).


As part of their company bio, DPM notes: Though it is not always easy, our team stands behind the established principles of the handmade product, where craftsmen with years of candle making experience bring our visions to life. Every candle we produce is created to make a lasting impression – each having been thoughtfully designed, delicately poured, and proudly packaged in our home of Starkville, Mississippi.

Last year, the company produced over 1.8 million candles that were sold in stores like Urban Outfitters, Crate and Barrel, Nordstrom, West Elm, and Anthropologie—where their Volcano scent has become known as the boutique’s signature fragrance. We burn our Alabama Chanin Grapefruit + Watercress scented candles both at home and at The Factory year round, since the scent is light and fresh—and appropriate for any season. It makes a wonderful gift as, once you burn your candle, you can repurpose the glassware as a drinking vessel or for dozens of other purposes. It’s like two gifts in one.

Bottom two photos courtesy of DPM Fragrances


In October, when Martha Stewart American Made announced the winners of their 2015 American Made Awards, we were thrilled to see a familiar face among the 10 honorees—our sock making collaborator, Little River Sock Mill. The American Made awards were developed a few years ago as a way to spotlight and support creative entrepreneurs and innovative small businesses—and we can attest that Little River is just that.

We first began working with Little River Sock Mill (and their Zkano line of socks) about 2 and a half years ago and launched an official line with them in early 2014. They also knit the socks that we made from our Alabama Cotton Project yield. Little River is based out of Fort Payne, Alabama, whose story of once being the “Sock Capital of the World” until labor was outsourced, felt so similar to our own community’s struggle with the loss of manufacturing jobs. Gina Locklear’s family opened a knitting mill in the early 90s, when Gina was about 12. By 2000, over half of the country’s socks (and 1 in 8 socks globally) were being made in Fort Payne. Of the town’s 13,000 residents, approximately 8,000 worked in the sock and hosiery mills. But, by 2010, that number had dwindled to about 600 people; of the over 300 mills that once operated, only 7 are still in existence.

When Gina graduated from college and made the decision to continue her family’s path in the sock making business, she named her business after the nearby Little River Canyon—in order to emphasize that the company is local, from the ground up. She also wanted to focus on organic materials, so each line is sustainably made in small batches with certified organic cotton and low-impact dyed yarn. Little River remains a family business, with their close-knit family and staff managing every step of the production process, from design to sourcing materials, to product packaging.


When asked by Martha Steward American Made: What does American Made mean to you, Gina responded:

“If I had been asked this question in 1991, I would have thought of my parents and said that American Made means the American dream. As a kid, I remember watching Mom and Dad work in the mill and make socks themselves with only one or two other employees. In the beginning, my dad would stay at the mill making socks until midnight, and then start again around 5:30 a.m. the next day. They did this because they knew if they worked hard, it would pay off and one day become a successful business. Today, when I think about our business and how things have changed for us since manufacturing shifted overseas in the early 2000s, American Made makes me think of perseverance and the hope that, one day soon, being made in America will be as important to all Americans as it is to us.”



Longtime collaborator Rinne Allen is a skillful storyteller in that she sets the stage, creates a visual narrative, and allows you to see through her same lens – without being heavy-handed. It is her light touch that allows Rinne to present her subjects in the best, most straight-forward, and appropriate manner but allows those subjects, themselves, to finish the telling of the story.

Rinne works in black & white, in color, and in other media (like her stunning light drawings), but no matter the approach, she seeks out what makes each image and each moment special; she finds those details that perhaps no one else sees, but that make the image real and truthful. I know that when art seems effortless, it usually means that an un-measurable amount of effort has almost certainly taken place to make the finished work or scenario seem natural. With Rinne’s work, you will never know… Her point of view is always present, always guiding and drawing your eye until: you’ve discovered the essential element of the piece. She uncovered it and carefully led you there until you found it – waiting there to be discovered.


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The design world is filled with innovators making products that can impact the human experience for good or for ill. The idea of designing and making with positive, spirited intention is growing far beyond its early influencers like Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio or the now defunct Architecture for Humanity—inspired by Mockbee’s project. Today, AIGA—one of the oldest and largest professional design organizations—has an entire program dedicated to Design for Good. Design leader John Bielenberg created the innovative and influential Project M that is always generating creative solutions to real design challenges. (See Project M’s Pie Lab in Greensboro, Alabama, for an example.)

One of our earliest “social” collaborations was with an organization called Goods of Conscience, whom we worked with on some of our first indigo dyeing experiments. This was quite a few years ago, when design and social change were words that weren’t often used together. It was one of the early examples in the textile industry we encountered that proved the two ideas could exist together and elevate one another.

All design has social impact, but good design focuses on people as fundamental to the products they make. Designers have a remarkable ability to influence how we communicate and with whom, what we think about, what is relevant, and how social and economic power balances might be restructured. When designing for the good, effective ideas, methods, and products can better a society and humanity. Nest, the non-profit organization we’ve partnered with through The School of Making, has fostered successful initiatives by building deep relationships with the global makers with whom they partner—collaboratively building sustainable solutions to the greatest needs within communities where artisan craft stands to create positive, long-lasting change.


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Bon Appétit’s October issue hit the stands this past week and featured a big Alabama party—complete with a campfire, Lodge Castiron, and whiskey. Read the full story of our ‘Alabama Getaway’ and find the recipes online here.

A HUGE thank you is in order to all the chefs, makers, artists, and friends who drove (and flew) many miles to be a part of the day.

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The roster of thank yous, in no particular order: Butch Anthony; Andrew Knowlton, Alexander Grossman, Alex Pollak, Carla Music, Annabel Mehran, and the entire Bon Appétit crew; Melany Robinson and the Polished Pig Media team; Catherine Bailey and Robin Petravic of Heath Ceramics; Nick Pihakis; Nicholas Pihakis; Jim N’ Nicks Bar-B-Q; Brooks Reitz of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.; Erin Connelly of The Commons; Rinne Allen, Lee Smith, and family; Angie Mosier; Jeff Mosier; John Henry Toney; Will Harris of White Oak Pastures; chef Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse Restaurant; Jason Wilson, Brad Wilson, and David Carn of Back Forty Beer Co.; Bob Gay of Papa’s Nubbin’s; Trey and Will Sims of Wickles Pickles.


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(Behind-the-scenes) images courtesy of Rinne Allen


Last September, as we were preparing for a workshop at Anna Maria Horner’s venture, Craft South, we got our first look at her new line of knit jersey fabrics—Anna Maria Knits. We have since experimented and played with several of these patterned knits using our techniques and are loving the results. Shown here is our Swing Skirt from Alabama Stitch Book appliquéd with our Large Polka Dot Stencil, using her Tangle Knit print in Rust.

It reminds me of a harvest moon.


2 yards cotton jersey fabric for skirt
1 yard cotton interlock for appliqué
1 yard fold-over elastic ribbon
Button Craft thread
Basic sewing supplies: needles, pins, embroidery scissors
Alabama Stitch Book for Swing Skirt pattern and instructions

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Our first collaboration with Heath Ceramics, launched in 2011, has built a lasting, creatively symbiotic relationship. That joint development was a beautifully intensive design process that blended our techniques with theirs. Our Heath + Alabama Chanin line of dinnerware is made by hand, just like our Alabama Chanin handmade Collection. The artisans at Heath etch the designs into clay in much the same way that we embroider our garments. And just as our stitchers initial the garments they create, the Heath artists leave their marks on each of the finished products.

Over the last year, as we began experimenting with our indigo dye house, we became excited about the possibilities of this natural color and the richness and variations it creates. This excitement carried over into our ongoing conversations with Heath about expanding our collaboration. The new pieces build upon our previous work together and today we launch two new themes in our Alabama Chanin + Heath Ceramics collaboration: Indigo and Bird’s Nest.


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Two years ago, Cathy Bailey and her son Jasper came to visit Maggie and me in The Shoals via train. It was Jasper’s spring break and they boarded the California Zephyr to Birmingham by way of Washington D.C., and traversed the entire country to spend time in North Alabama. Needless to say, Jasper and Maggie became fast friends, our collaboration with Heath Ceramics continued to grow, Cathy and I became even better friends, and the next year, they came again. In a few short days, Maggie and I will be taking the California Zephyr to San Francisco. We’ve come to call it “Jasper’s Trip,” since Jasper has given me (and Maggie) a renewed love for trains.


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Over the last five years, our work with Cathy Bailey and Robin Petravic has been some of the most productive, exciting, and meaningful work that we’ve had the opportunity to do. Robin and Cathy are husband and wife, parents to Jasper, writers of the new book, Tile Makes the Room, and the owners and operators of Heath Ceramics. Cathy was an early member of our Makeshift initiative and has participated in almost every major Makeshift event since its inception. Our ongoing collaboration with Heath is one of our proudest (and longest lasting) joint design ventures. And throughout the process, Cathy has become a trusted friend.

Prior to her work at Heath, Cathy founded One & Co., a design consultancy with clients like Microsoft, Palm, and Apple. (Prior to THAT, she worked as a footwear designer at Nike in Portland.) In 2004, she and Robin purchased and rehabilitated Heath Ceramics, founded by Edith Heath in 1948 and run by Edith and her family until Edith was in her 80s. When they made the purchase, both were searching for more satisfying outlets for designing and making—and found that at Heath, which required hands-on work to revive and preserve, while keeping the original design aesthetic intact.


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It’s no secret that we at Alabama Chanin have long been admirers of Heath Ceramics—their work, their approach to responsible manufacturing, and their embrace of beautiful, sustainable design sets them apart from so many companies today. We have also been honored (and excited) to collaborate with them on several projects, including a line of dinnerware, the MAKESHIFT conversations, and most recently, two clocks designed to celebrate the 10 year ownership of the company by friends Cathy Bailey and Robin Petrovic.

Edith Heath originally founded Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, California, in 1948. She was an accomplished ceramist who cared deeply for the craft and believed in the importance of using quality materials. She grew up in rural Iowa during the Great Depression, which made her a natural conservator. In the late 1930s she worked with Bauhaus artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, which influenced her design aesthetic. Heath searched constantly to source the right materials and experimented for years to find the best techniques and glazes; she was once quoted as saying that she wanted to use clay that had “character” and “guts”.


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I met Stella Ishii over a decade ago, as I was just beginning to define who I was as a designer. She was simultaneously likeable and intimidating—but intimidating only because of her impressive resume and effortless cool. She began her career in fashion not because she was fluent in design technique—but because she was fluent in English. Japanese-born Ishii heard of a job opening for a translator at a design house and eventually was hired to work for Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons. By the mid-90s, she was head of Staff USA—a branch of Staff International, the Italian parent company of fashion brands like Maison Margiela and Vivienne Westwood. Ishii and Staff USA were key to introducing these (and other) brands stateside.

Stella launched The News in 2001, a sales and press agency—slash—showroom and incubator located in a Soho loft. The News has helped nurture and grow designers and brands like Alexander Wang, The Row, and 3.1 Phillip Lim. Just about 3 years ago, she and her business partner Lasse Karlson launched 6397 (N-E-W-S on a telephone keypad), a denim-oriented line of clothing designed by Stella—a true denim aficionado. Stella has long depended on denim as her most reliable (almost iconic) wardrobe staple. 6397 captures the androgynous elegance that well made denim can offer.


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Anna Maria Horner and I have been friends and collaborators now for about 6 years; but, she is the kind of friend you feel like you’ve known forever. I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside her on more than one occasion and we created two stencil designs, Little Folks and Little Flowers, together—based on her extensive collection of fabric designs. Her books have influenced my thoughts on making; they have resulted in some beautiful projects and garments. We’ve even dedicated a section of our studio library to her publications. She has accomplished all of this while beautifully mothering six children…whew—what a woman.

This October, I’ll find myself in Nashville at Craft South, Anna Maria’s newly opened brick and mortar store, for a Two-Hour Sewing Workshop. We’ll also be hosting a book signing and trunk show. Mark your calendars now. Congratulations to Anna Maria on her new and exciting chapter at Craft South. We’re proud for The School of Making to be a part of it, and we’re over-the-moon for her kind review of Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns. Continue reading


We wrote earlier this week about scale and patterns, and how we reduced and enlarged our New Leaves stencil artwork to create graphic variations of the design. One of our projects that looks at scale is a series of  DIY Unisex T-shirts. The shirts feature our New Leaves stencil in five different sizes and can be worked in a variety of techniques including quilting, reverse appliqué, backstitch reverse appliqué, and negative reverse appliqué. We used a chain stitch for the DIY Mori and DIY Novus T-shirts, the first time this technique example has been shown in our DIY Sewing Kits.


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I’ve been toying with the idea of scale and pattern recently. This thought arose because of a presentation I gave in March on Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Group. The talk was part of the monthly On Design Lecture Series that we host in our studio as staff development but is also open to our community as part of The School of Making educational programming. (It’s on hiatus for the summer, but we’ll let you know as soon as we start back.) Many of our young in-house designers are fascinated by the 1980s and wanted to know more about the design influences that fueled this era. I went to design school from 1983 to 1987, so this concept of 1980s design seemed appropriate and very exciting to revisit.

While unearthing my thoughts on the 80s, I realized that the most prominent design trend in my memory was Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis group—the Italian design collective during the 80s who challenged the “established” rules of design. Their playful use of scale and pattern remain strong influences in design today (and my personal design aesthetic as well). While putting together the talk, I realized it had been such a long time since I played with scale. So, I pulled two gorgeous books on from my library: Ettore Sottsass Metaphors and Ettore Sottsass. Ettore Sottsass Metaphors sets the stage for playing with shapes in nature and Ettore Sottsass is incredibly inspiring for its illustration of scale, pattern, and color in design—aside from being one of the most beautiful books I own.


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When we opened our Bldg. 14 manufacturing facility in the summer of 2013, we knew that we had to commit to learning about the ever-changing manufacturing industry—and that the learning curve would be steep. But as we began to educate ourselves, we found that no manual or set of rules existed for us to consult. Over the past three decades, the American textile manufacturing industry has been in decline, with an estimated drop from 2.4 million jobs in 1973 to 650,000 in 2005. Between 1994 and 2014, Alabama lost 29.8% of its all of its manufacturing jobs (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). As those jobs migrated elsewhere, so did the skills needed to create these jobs and a vicious Catch-22 emerged of reduced skill/reduced capacity. In its early days, Building 14 ran right up against this problem of rusty skills in combination with new materials and processes, with no clear roadmap on how to bridge the knowledge gap. And so, we realized that we needed a School for Making—for ourselves, for our industry, for our fellow makers, and for our community.

After much struggle, success, learning, and growing, we are proud to announce an important new partnership between Nest (www.buildanest.org) and The School of Making.


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A warm “thank you” to Debbie Elliott and everyone at National Public Radio for their story about our collaboration with Billy Reid on Alabama grown cotton.

And, thank you to K.P. and Katy McNeill, Erin Dailey, and Lisa and Jimmy Lenz—they all know how to dream big (and work hard to get there).

If you haven’t heard this piece yet, you can listen online here.

National Public Radio, October 10, 2014

You’ve probably heard of “farm to table,” but how about “field to garment”? In Alabama, acclaimed fashion houses Alabama Chanin and Billy Reid have a new line of organic cotton clothing made from their own cotton field.

It’s not just an experiment in keeping production local; it’s an attempt to revive the long tradition of apparel-making in the Deep South. North Alabama was once a hub for textile manufacturing, with readily available cotton and access to cheap labor. But the industry all but disappeared after NAFTA became law, as operations moved overseas.

Now, Sue Hanback is again working a sewing machine in a cavernous building that was once part of the biggest cut-and-sew operation in Florence, Ala.

“I’m gonna five-thread this shirt,” she explains, stitching cuffs onto an organic-cotton sweatshirt.

Hanback was last laid off in 2006 when this was a T-shirt factory. Her husband worked in the dye house. She’s been a seamstress all her life.

“Ever since I was 18 years old,” Hanback says. “So that was like, 48 years.”


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Alabama Chanin will host our final “Friends of the Café” Dinner of the 2014 season next Friday evening. The creative team from Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q, including Nicholas Pikakis and Drew Robinson, will be on hand to direct the menu. I find it amazing that Jim ‘N Nick’s currently operates over 30 restaurants across the South and manages to maintain consistency and high standards. Their commitment to sustainability at such a large scope is outstanding. They care about every detail—from the farmers and hogs, to their choice of wood, to every seasoning and side dish…it seems they do it ALL. We caught up with Nicholas and Drew and persuaded them both to answer a few questions.

AC: What role do you play in the oversight of those individual locations? How involved are you in the day-to-day operations?

Drew Robinson: I don’t oversee any one restaurant. We have a lot of talented local owners, general managers, chefs, dining room managers, and very dedicated staff that operate great restaurants every day. I’m engaged in culinary development—new recipes, products, menus—for the company. Operationally, my role beyond that isn’t to oversee a restaurant as much as it is to continually convey the standards of our food and coach what our chefs and cooks do so that we are, hopefully, always improving.

AC: I once heard that you have no freezers—whatsoever—at any of your restaurants. Truth or legend?

DR: Truth. The “no freezers” rule is one of our core values that started with Nick and his dad, Jim. They believed in bringing all the ingredients in fresh—we start fresh and prepare fresh. They were closely joined at the hip with that value of theirs, so there was no question about doing that across the board in each of the stores. Continue reading


Previously, I shared the story of my first encounter with Jill Dumain of Patagonia. Meeting Jill and hearing her speak not only opened my eyes to the good work that company was going; it opened my eyes to what is possible. Years of conversation finally resulted in a collaboration between Alabama Chanin and Patagonia, as part of their Truth to Materials initiative. By repurposing garments that have reached the end of their lives into new products—Reclaimed Down Scarves—we create a new product, with a life cycle of its own. We recently had the chance to speak with Jill Dumain about this project and about Patagonia as a company, and she generously took the time to answer some questions.

AC: Your title at Patagonia is Director of Environmental Analysis. That sounds like a pretty expansive area of oversight. How would you describe your primary responsibilities? What issues that you address are nearest to your heart?

Jill Dumain: Yes, it is certainly an expansive area, and that can be a little daunting at times. I think what also makes it especially daunting is that people look to Patagonia to see what we’ll do next. It’s a challenge and an opportunity to meet that expectation. I, personally, look at what we do from a business standpoint and examine how we can be doing better from an environmental perspective. It runs the gamut from evaluating new carpet to bioswale installations to new products to communication on our website. But for me, it’s really about how I do my job and empower people at the same time. I look for the projects that “teach people to fish” versus just giving people fish. It’s thrilling when I’m able to encourage my colleagues and get them excited about bringing environmental work into their lives. It’s good for the company. It spreads knowledge throughout the ranks and gets the greater Patagonia family involved in the process, not just my team. And they’ve really become experts in their areas. We recently switched our catalogue to be printed on 100% recycled content, and that decision came from within our creative department. It’s a huge win to see it work that way!

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Eight years ago, and three months after Maggie was born, I stood in the wings on a stage in New York City, waiting to go on and tell the story of Alabama Chanin. I was nervous and jittery, waiting my turn while a woman named Jill Dumain talked about the sustainability work of the company she had worked with for over a decade. It was an unexpected life-changing moment.  Instead of thinking and preparing for my own talk, I got carried away by the story of Patagonia and their mission. I had always been a fan, but that day I became a devotee.

My own talk on that massive stage paled in comparison to the sharp wit and factual detail that Jill Dumain offered—the same determination that she brings daily to the job she loves. Jill and I became friends over the course of that weekend, and we stayed in touch over the following years. Two years ago, she emailed me about the possibility of collaborating on a project using Patagonia down jackets that had reached their end-of-life. The “dogs” she called them: jackets that really couldn’t be recycled as usable garments. They were garments with beautiful stories, jackets that may have been down and/or up mountains, weathered many a winter with their wearer, and come to a final resting place in a warehouse. You see, Patagonia takes responsibility for every garment they make—from design to discard method, they are involved.

Any garment you purchase from Patagonia can be returned to Patagonia—at the beginning of its life or at the end of its life. Over the years, the company goal is to extend the life of a garment through good design and great materials, as detailed in their Worn Wear stories. At the same time, Patagonia has implemented buy-back programs for used garments in good condition and have offered initiatives that repair garments, extending their lives beyond one user. Their Truth to Materials initiative is the culmination of this work towards circular design and manufacturing. The ultimate goal is for every product to reflect sustainability from the beginning of life as a raw material, through design, manufacturing, active life, and end-of-life processes. Garments that have reached the end of their lives become an active part of the environment through composting or upcycling into a new form, like our reclaimed down scarves.

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Our longtime friend and collaborator Anna Maria Horner has created a new line of knit jersey fabric – Anna Maria Knits. On my recent visit to Nashville for Anna Maria’s newest venture, Craft South, we hosted a joint workshop that focused on combining machine and hand techniques with both Alabama Chanin and Anna Maria Horner knits.  Before Craft South, we got a sneak peek and explored what might come of applying our techniques to the colorful designs.

Her 100% cotton interlock fabric is available in 5 prints with 3 different colorways each, for a total of 15 different pieces. When planning these new textiles, Anna Maria opted for a knit she felt would work well with a sewing machine, in addition to hand stitching. Those who love texture and pattern can experiment with combining our Alabama Chanin stencil designs and techniques with these patterned knits.

Alabama Chanin Cotton Jersey in Peacock with Sealing Wax Knit as Reverse Applique backing using our new Large Polka Dot stencil

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Two years ago this week, we were picking organic Alabama cotton. Today, The New York Times – T Magazine shares that journey. Thank you (and a BIG hug) to Rinne Allen for taking this journey with us.

From Rinne:

“Two years ago, I found myself knee-deep in a field in rural Alabama, picking organic cotton by hand. A few hundred other pickers were there too, bent over the rows of white cotton with bags at their hip, repeating the same hand-to-plant-to-bag motion over and over again. It was a picking party hosted by Natalie Chanin, the founder and creative director of the clothing line Alabama Chanin, and the fashion designer Billy Reid to celebrate and harvest their first homegrown, organic cotton crop.”

More here: Homegrown Cotton

A GIANT thank you to our entire community, Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, and the legions of friends, family, and perfect strangers who came to help.





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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It’s no secret that we at Alabama Chanin have long been admirers of Heath Ceramics – their work, their approach to responsible manufacturing, and their embrace of beautiful, sustainable design sets them apart from so many companies today. We have also been honored (and excited) to collaborate with them on several projects, including a line of dinnerware, the MAKESHIFT conversations, and most recently, two clocks designed to celebrate the 10 year ownership of the company by friends Cathy Bailey and Robin Petrovic.

Edith Heath originally founded Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, California, in 1948. She was an accomplished ceramist who cared deeply for the craft and believed in the importance of using quality materials. She grew up in rural Iowa during the Great Depression, which made her a natural conservator. In the late 1930s she worked with Bauhaus artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, which influenced her design aesthetic. Heath searched constantly to source the right materials and experimented for years to find the best techniques and glazes; she was once quoted as saying that she wanted to use clay that had “character” and “guts”.

Edith’s attempts to adapt her hand-thrown techniques using industrial production methods were met with controversy. She was told that machine-produced items didn’t qualify as “craft,” which prompted her to respond, “The machine doesn’t decide what the shape is going to be; a human being has to decide that… Just because you make it by hand doesn’t make it good, or a work of art.”

Alabama Chanin - The Factory Store + Cafe - Photographer Rinne Allen (63)

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I am just going to say it: Ashley Christensen is a badass. (And there are many who would agree with this sentiment.) I could say plenty of nice, lovely things about her and they would all be true. But, if I’m being honest, that’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of her: badass. How else could she open and operate five successful restaurants (with more on the way) AND walk away with the 2014 James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in the Southeast award – all while still in her thirties. You have to wonder if Ashley operates at any speeds slower than an all-out sprint.

In today’s food-obsessed culture, five restaurants equates to a virtual culinary kingdom. And yet, somehow, Ashley still manages to seem real and relatable. Perhaps more importantly, the food is approachable and delicious. She is an actual presence in each of her North Carolina-based restaurants: Poole’s Diner, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Chuck’s, Fox Liquor Bar, Joule Coffee, and the soon-to-be-opened Death and Taxes. Crowds have been known to line up around the block at Poole’s, a former pie shop turned diner, where the egalitarian approach does not allow for reservations; it’s first come, first served. I once heard the story of Ashley driving her car to the front of Poole’s and serving drinks from her opened trunk on a busy night with an especially long wait time. That’s what I mean: badass.


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Maria Popova is the founder of Brain Pickings, a website designed to introduce you to a broad variety of subjects that feed one’s mind and inspire creativity.  Since founding Brain Pickings, Maria has spent countless hours researching and writing – hours that have taught her many life lessons. In honor of the website’s 7th birthday last fall, she was generous enough to share 7 things she learned from those 7 years of reading, writing, and living.

The 7 Lessons:

  1. Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.
  2. Do nothing out of guilt, or for prestige, status, money or approval alone.
  3. Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words.
  4. Build pockets of stillness into your life.
  5. Maya Angelou famously said, ‘When people tell you who they are, believe them’. But even more importantly, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.
  6. Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. As Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
  7. Debbie Millman captures our modern predicament beautifully: “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.”

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I feel a certain kinship with Vivian Howard, even though we’ve never met. We both left home at an early age, finding big lives and successful living elsewhere; we also both followed our inspirations as they directed us back to our regional homes, where we’ve found hard-won fulfillment. Vivian works with food as her medium, much in the way that Alabama Chanin works with cotton jersey. She explores regional food traditions and seeks to translate them into a modern light.

We are thrilled that Vivian Howard will be the featured chef for the month of July in our café, and also visiting us here at The Factory on July 25th for our second “Friends of the Café” Piggy Bank Dinner, benefiting the Southern Foodways Alliance.


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Friend, inspiration, and collaborator Anna Maria Horner has been featured on our Journal several times. She is a multi-talented woman fluent in more than one creative medium, from her imaginative books and fabric design to fine art. Natalie and Anna Maria’s friendship has only continued to grow as they connect over everything from food and family, to sewing and gardening.

Since we last featured Anna Maria on our Journal, she has added child number seven to her large and happy home. She, her husband Jeff, and their children (aged 1 to 22) live on two acres of land in Nashville, Tennessee. Anna Maria’s ability to balance her life as a mother and entrepreneur is truly remarkable.


Having collaborated with Anna Maria on garment design (and creation the textile patterns Little Flowers and Little Folks), we are excited to work with her once again during an upcoming weekend workshop in Nashville: “Fashion by Hand” with Anna Maria Horner and Natalie Chanin.

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“Train-Track Hopscotch”

Your hair is clay,
mine is water, and as we smile
into the camera,
cotton flowers—all gray—
Drape still behind us.
Now, there is no color—
only black and white—
so, after the flash,
we play.  You bring
the bottle Caps (Nu-Grape and Dr. Nutt),
and I pull teacher’s chalk
from my gingham pocket.
The sun sets on your side
of the track
that leads somewhere, like the tear
that will happen
across our paper faces.
Hush now,
Mother said
we couldn’t float bag-boats
down the creek.
Hush now,
hear the train whistle
warning us home.



Nothing comes between
us but the moon
painted silver
beneath a stippled bough.

Dear, that moon
is full, and when our little heads
tilt on the axis of tomorrow,
its light will open–like a pearled

locket—and spill out
our starlit lullabies,
our Luna in a canning jar,
so many shared biscuits.

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Two weeks ago, our team left New York feeling excited and energized—and with the conversation at The Standard the night before fresh on our minds. This was the third annual Makeshift, held in New York each spring during Design Week. Over the years the conversation has shifted—but our goal of learning how certain themes cross industries (and how they learn from each other and work together) stays the same.

Makeshift began as a conversation about the intersection of the disciplines of design, craft, art, fashion, and DIY—and, on a bigger level, using this intersection as an agent of change in the world. Since then, we’ve explored making as individuals, and how making as a group can open conversations, build communities, and help us co-design a future that is filled with love and promise—for planet, community, and one another.


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We all have different definitions of comfort food—the dishes that make up those meals that leave our bellies (and our hearts) full. They are the dishes you crave when you are far from home; a hankering for something familiar and soothing. For me, this includes an array of casserole dishes, fresh garden vegetables, and my Gram Perkins’ egg salad.

When Davia and Nikki of The Kitchen Sisters agreed to be our featured chefs this month as part of our ongoing Factory Café Chef Series, I started browsing through my copy of Hidden Kitchens. Soon, I found myself totally immersed in the stories I’d heard on the radio years before. I began re-telling stories to the staff at The Factory, and we were all excited about a recipe I found in the chapter about NASCAR kitchens, titled “Slap It On the Thighs Butter Bar”—aptly named, since the ingredients called for yellow cake mix, egg, margarine, powered sugar, and cream cheese. The recipe was originally from the 25th anniversary edition of the Winston Cup Racing Wives’ Auxiliary Cookbook, published in 1989. Curious to know what other comfort food recipes from the kitchens of racing existed, we tracked down a copy of the book on Ebay.


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When I was a young girl, my mother’s mother would cook green beans for what seemed like every meal. They would be fresh from the garden when in season or, during the winter, they would come from her reserves of “put up” vegetables that had been canned and stored. By the time I was about 10, I couldn’t stand the sight of a green bean. Though it took years to reawaken, my love of green beans did eventually return.

All of this cooking and storing of green beans and the bounty of summer took place in the makeshift “outdoor kitchen” that was nothing more than a concrete platform that was the roof of my grandparents’ storm cellar. The tools of this summer pop-up kitchen included a single garden hose, several dull paring knives, and a variety of galvanized buckets and tubs that had seen the better part of several decades. Beans, fruits, and vegetables of all sorts were initially washed and left to air dry on the shaded expanse of the concrete roof, which remained cool from the deep burrow below in the hot summers.  Kids and adults alike gathered there in random pairs to shuck, peel, and prod those fruits and vegetables into a cleaner, more manageable form that would then be moved from the outdoors to the “real” kitchen inside. In her small kitchen, my grandmother would boil, serve, save, can, freeze, and generally use every scrap of food that came from the garden—a tended plot large enough to serve extended family and close friends. The preserved treasures would then move from the house, back outside and into the cool depths of the storm cellar to await their consumption—just below the makeshift kitchen, and alongside a family of spiders and crickets who made that dark place home.


I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, but by offering up that summer kitchen to any willing hand (and by serving all of those green beans), my grandmother was providing love and nourishment the only way she knew how—while teaching all of us kids the usefulness and practicality of growing our own food. Stories unfolded over those buckets of produce, and because of her patience and generous time sitting on the edge of that storm cellar, I learned that food could be used to pass down a love of nature, the earth, family tradition, and culture.

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This May, Alabama Chanin is featuring two of my personal heroines (and, now, dear friends) as part of our ongoing Chef Series at the café. They might not be chefs, but Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva are The Kitchen Sisters—independent producers who create radio stories for NPR and other public broadcast outlets. Davia and Nikki are two of the most genuine and real women I know. Without their dedication to telling the real story, I would not be the person I am today. Route 66 changed my perception of storytelling in the autumn of 1994. I remember the first moment I heard their tracks; in the third story of a rented house on a square in Savannah, Georgia. Just like that my life changed.

Davia and Nikki met and began collaborating in the late 1970s, hosting a weekly radio program in Santa Cruz, California. Their name was taken from two eccentric brothers—Kenneth and Raymond Kitchen—who were stonemasons in Santa Cruz in the 1940s. One night, they were discussing the Kitchen Brothers, who were featured in a book about Santa Cruz architects, as prep for an interview with the book’s author—while also cooking dinner for a group of people on the commune where Nikki lived—and got caught up in legends of local masonry (chimneys, yogi temples, Byzantine bungalows…), and food prep fell to the wayside. Dinner that evening was a disaster, and The Kitchen Sisters were (laughingly) born.

Oral histories heavily influenced their style of radio production. Over the years, they have produced a number of series, such as Lost & Found Sound, The Sonic Memorial Project, The Hidden World of Girls, and Hidden Kitchens. Regardless of topic, Davia and Nikki find a way to build community through storytelling.

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You may have read recently about dear friend, advisor, and co-worker, Jennifer Rausch. As I recounted then, I have known Jennifer and her husband, Robert, since returning to Alabama. After moving home from New York (and after years abroad), I felt a little shy and out of place in my own hometown. It was a relief when Robert reached out to me, seeking artistic alliances. We were both looking for a relaxed camaraderie—someone to relate to in a somewhat unfamiliar world. After years of friendship and collaboration, we have Southern roots, design, sustainability, and family in common.

In those early days, Robert approached me and asked if I would speak to his university photography class about living and working as a fashion and photography stylist. Shortly thereafter, we became fast friends. It wasn’t long before Robert was helping me with projects for my first company. And since those early days, he has been a part of designing and creating images and photographs for the Alabama Chanin website, catalogs, the Studio Book series, and any number of other materials. We have co-hosted dinners, picnics, and events together over the years. We have raised kids, shared a dog, and talked design.

In 2002, Robert bought and restored a historic building in our community, which is now called GAS Design Center. He shares a deep love of sustainability and healthy living and this was evident in his approach to renovating the space and building the business. Every reusable board was repurposed and natural elements were invited in whenever possible. Natural light is perfectly harnessed in the GAS photography studio, to often-breathtaking effects. In fact, our first Alabama Chanin Workshop was held in Robert’s repurposed space—a comfortable place to launch what was then an intimidating venture for Alabama Chanin.


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Beginning today, Alabama Chanin is launching a Chef Series for The Factory Café. Each month, we will feature seasonal dishes on our menu from chefs (or restaurants) that share our values of celebrating place, artisanal craftsmanship of all kinds, and, simply said, good food.

Our focus through these collaborations will be on regional chefs and regionally-inspired cuisine—dishes that we can recreate in our café by locally sourcing ingredients. In the upcoming year, The Factory will host brunches, dinners, book signings, and even cooking and cocktail workshops with an array of chefs.

A few years ago, I made an extraordinary trip to Blackberry Farm, located in beautiful Walland, Tennessee, on the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Ever since that first journey (thanks to friends at the Southern Foodways Alliance), I’ve had a deep appreciation and respect for the artisans and chefs working at the Farm—and have loved using their cookbooks in my own kitchen.

From making biscuits to hosting an upcoming Weekend Away Workshop, my relationship with Blackberry Farm has grown over the years. So, I was thrilled when Chef Joseph Lenn and Blackberry Farm agreed to launch our Chef Series in the month of April.


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My Life in Mobile Homes by John T. Edge

Where I grew up, singlewide trailers were as common as clapboard shotguns. On the far end of my Georgia town, near where the seg academy floundered, the mothers and fathers of my grade school friends worked at the mobile home factory, bending aluminum and punching rivets, constructing metal shoeboxes with roller skates on their bottoms. No matter. In my youth, trailers were jokes waiting for punch lines. We said terrible things. We said stupid things. We said, “Tornadoes are proof that God hates trailer parks.”

With time has come perspective. And humility. And a respect for trailers as shelter and conveyance. A few years back, I wrote a book on food trucks. Once I got beyond the hype and chickpea frites, I recognized that food trucks are trailers, too. Operated by new immigrants. And downshifting chefs. And aspirational hipsters.

When I first glimpsed the Massengill family photos of Arkansas folk, shot in a Depression era trailer studio and now being reinterpreted by Maxine Payne, I thought of old prejudices and of new realizations. And I thought of the everyday beauty that earned flashbulb pops then and deserves the klieg lights of fame now.
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My mornings always start with coffee. Like many of you, the act of drinking coffee has long been a part of my daily routine. So, I was excited when approached with the idea of crafting my own blend. If you’ve visited The Factory lately, you’ve probably enjoyed a cup of our house coffee, which is roasted by Muletown Roasted Coffee, based in nearby Columbia, Tennessee. I drink it at home, in the car, at work (and I’ve noticed most of our staff does as well. If you happen to drop by when we are having a meeting, you’ll find most of us taking sips between taking notes). We have several former baristas and coffee aficionados on our team and we all agree: our Factory blend is borderline addictive. The flavor is smooth, yet dark, with a buttery feel and a slight dark chocolate finish. Delicious.


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Long-time friend and artist Jack Sanders is also an architect, filmmaker, and baseball enthusiast. He is the founder of Design Build Adventure, a full-service “design, build, and adventure company” that focuses on collaboration.

I first met Jack when he was a student of Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee of the Rural Studio.  I sent him a box of t-shirts (which he never returned) in the hopes that I could convince Rural Studio to come up to Florence and build us a production facility. (It turns out that work outside of the Black Belt wasn’t possible.) But Jack (then known as “Jay”) and I remained friends.  Years later, he co-produced a feature-length documentary on Sambo, called Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio which won many accolades.

As you may remember, our MAKESHIFT initiative asks the questions: How do we define and transform the intersection of fashion, food, design, craft + DIY through innovation and collaboration for the better good? How can varied disciplines work together as one?
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Alabama Chanin recently partnered with our friend Gina Locklear of Little River Sock Mill (and Zkano) to create a line of Made in the USA, organic cotton socks as part of our new collection.

We’ve written before about the textile and manufacturing history of the Shoals, and our current strides towards revitalizing manufacturing within our community (and beyond). Florence was once known as the T-shirt Capital of The World, and another northern Alabama town—Fort Payne (home to Little River Sock Mill)—held the title of Sock Capital of The World. We are proud to launch this line of Alabama-manufactured organic cotton socks, alongside the machine-manufactured line A. Chanin.

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Lance and Evelyn Massengill

In 2008, Maxine Payne, an Arkansas-based artist, self-published a book of photographs titled Making Pictures: Three For A Dime. She catalogued the work of the Massengill family who worked from 1937 to 1941 as itinerant photographers in rural Arkansas documenting farmers, young couples, babies, and anyone else who had a few minutes and an extra dime to spend. The Massengills’ photos provided candid snapshots of the rural South just before the Second World War. Through her efforts, Maxine Payne has given new life to these old photographs by coordinating exhibitions and projects, including a forthcoming book by the Atlanta-based publisher Dust-to-Digital and a collaboration with Alabama Chanin on our new collection. We asked Maxine to describe her connection to the Massengill family and her involvement with Three For A Dime:6UP-GRID

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Sun Young Park, a freelance illustrator living in New York, is an integral part of the Alabama Chanin team. If you own Alabama Studio Sewing + Design or have ever browsed our Studio Style DIY Custom DIY Guide, then you’ve seen the beautiful sketches of our garments, illustrated by Sun. I met Sun several years ago by accident through a mutual friend, which resulted in an impromptu breakfast at The Breslin, April Bloomfield’s restaurant at the ACE Hotel in New York City. I was immediately taken by her enthusiasm and had been looking for a new illustrator for my books. Our chance meeting was good fortune.

Sun creates illustrations for a variety of projects, including April Bloomfield’s new book, A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories, and Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing. We love Sun’s illustrations, doodles, and drawings and recently were able to chat with her about her beginnings in illustration, inspirations, artistic process, and desire to create.

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Phillip March Jones is an artist, photographer, and author of the photo essay book, Points of Departure. He runs the non-profit gallery, venue, and publishing house, Institute193 in Lexington, Kentucky, and curates shows in the U.S. and Europe for various artists, including Lina Tharsing’s recent exhibit of new paintings at Poem 88 in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s also a regular contributor to the Alabama Chanin Journal.

Phillip joined the global MAKESHIFT conversation about the intersection of fashion, food, music, design, craft, and DIY by crafting the above MAKESHIFT tote for the Image Quilt. The tote is hand-drawn in acrylic ink (and is one of our favorites).




In anticipation of tomorrow evening’s opening exhibit of our BBQ’ed Dresses Collection at Warehouse Row in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we mixed up a celebratory cocktail. Our friend Brooks Reitz of the Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. sent us a few more bottles of his Small Batch Tonic for the event, and the Chattanooga Whiskey Co. is providing the booze, so we mixed the two together, plus a touch of lemonade for sweetness, and found ourselves in a dreamy barbeque state of mind.


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Next week, as part of the Crafted by Southern Hands event and workshop, our Barbeque-inspired Collection will be on display at Warehouse Row, a historic, old stone fort turned community retail center in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. The couture dresses were originally a part of the 15th Annual Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium’s Punch, Pictures, and ‘Cue Couture, and were smoked in collaboration with Drew Robinson of Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Birmingham, Alabama.

Since the SFA Symposium last fall, the dresses have been at our home studio in Florence, waiting for the perfect place to display again. They still have as rich a hickory smell as the day they were smoked.

Expect award-winning barbeque from Jim ‘N Nick’s, cocktails and beer, and live music to celebrate the evening. Make sure to bring an appetite.



A couple months ago, we launched a line of cocktail napkins made with our 100% organic cotton jersey and printed with the Alabama Chanin logo. We also shared a new favorite cocktail: our version of a Maiden’s Blush. Friend Brooks Reitz of the Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. sent us some of his small batch grenadine, which set off a quiet frenzy of cocktail experiments and creations around the studio. We work hard, and we like our rewards.

Our latest grenadine-inspired libation is the Alabama Sour (with a Sunrise flare). It’s a twist on the classic New York Sour Bon Appetít shared in April 2013. The classic recipe calls for an ounce of red wine floated atop the whiskey sour. We opted for Brooks’ sweet, yet tart, pomegranate-based grenadine instead of wine. Grenadine is denser than whiskey, causing it to settle on the bottom of the glass, hence the vibrant red, sunrise effect. Over ice, it’s a perfect early-summer evening quaff. We love it.


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Earlier this year, we featured artist, friend, and collaborator, Anna Maria Horner. As that week came to a close, we were inspired by Anna Maria’s elaborate needlepoint projects and decided we would experiment with more involved embroidery techniques ourselves. For our first project, the  Embroidered Flowers T-shirt, we mixed traditional embroidery stitch work with retro patterns using modern silhouettes. We adapted a vintage McCall’s pattern for the floral embroidery design and used the Alabama Chanin T-shirt pattern as the base. The result was relatively simple to complete.

For this project, our Garden Geometry Skirt, inspired by Anna Maria’s pattern of the same name (and available in Anna Maria’s Needleworks Notebook), we adapted our Swing Skirt, creating intricate embroidery designs on a larger scale. In her book, Anna Maria writes, “this is by far the most straightforward approach I have made toward the traditional way of creating a crewel design.” As she also mentions, the pattern lends itself to enlargement and experimentation. The result is a colorful expression of our experimentation. Make your own Garden Geometry Skirt using fabric and thread colors that suit your personal style. There are stitch and pattern diagrams available in Anna Maria’s Needleworks Notebook that can help direct your design.


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The music industry as we once knew it has been forced to evolve rapidly in recent years, as technology has grown faster than established business models. Major record labels struggle to maintain control of the radio waves, music sales, artist development, and our ears; meanwhile, established artists like Radiohead and Beck have embraced the Internet, a one-time enemy to record sales, by offering their work at pay-what-you-want prices, or occasionally for free. Other artists, like Jack White with Third Man Records, have taken control of the entire creative process by starting their own indie record labels, effectively surpassing the gatekeepers of yesterday.

Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes and The Bear, John Paul White, and financial advisor, Shoals native, and friend Will Trapp, are bringing some of that anti-Old Guard attitude to our community with their indie label, Single Lock Records. The Shoals has a rich music history, thanks to Rick Hall, Muscle Shoals Sound, and many others who helped establish the recording industry here during the 1960’s and 70’s. Hall’s FAME Studios, with its talented roster of studio musicians, attracted diverse recording artists, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Cher, Paul Simon, and even the Osmonds. Some of these artists created their best work here. Later, Muscle Shoals Sound opened, recording the Rolling Stones, Traffic, and Bob Dylan, among many others. These days, the music flows OUT of the Shoals, not INTO it.

SINGLE LOCK RECORDS - Photograph by Abraham Rowe Photography

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On Sunday, as part of MAKESHIFT 2013, we co-hosted a Chair Workshop, modeled after the MAKESHIFT 2012 workshop, Crafting Design, sponsored by Partners and Spade. This year we teamed up with Build It Green!NYC (BIG!NYC) and Krrb and invited an array of makers to join us for an afternoon of collaboration, innovation, and chair re-design. While our event at The Standard focused on conversation (though there was plenty of making going on as well), the chair event has evolved into a make-centered occasion where a community of designers work both independently and together through skill sharing and mutual encouragement.

The event was held at BIG!NYC’s restore facility in Brooklyn – a warehouse filled with doors, fireplace mantels, sinks, mirrors, tiles and a number of other goods, much of it vintage and antique, acquired through donations and offered at low prices for those looking to save money (and the landfill) in home renovations. Or in the case of friend Kerry Diamond (of Cherry Bombe Magazine) and her chef/partner Robert Newton, the interior of their third and most recent restaurant, Nightingale 9, was designed with salvage bought from BIG!NYC.


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“Craft” might seem like it’s for the amateurs, and “fashion” for the auteurs. Yet we live in an age where creativity and innovation are increasingly found in collaborations between makers and users, crafters and designers, designers and manufacturers, and in the loosening of the boundaries between them. – MAKESHIFT 2012

The MAKESHIFT conversation began last year to discover where and how various creative industries can work together as one. The discussion continued last Thursday evening at The Standard, addressing the intersection of industries on the artisan level, where the interchanges occur, and how we can transform those intersections through innovation and collaboration for the greater good.


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We’ve loved every plate, bowl and serving dish from our collaboration with Heath Ceramics that has come through the studio. But it’s this newest addition, the Camellia pattern, that is easily my favorite, and the most elegant. Each piece is hand-etched by a Heath Ceramics artisan and comes in Opaque White. The design is offered on the Deep Serving Bowl, Dinner Plate, and a Serving Platter, and is a natural addition to the current Alabama Chanin @ Heath Ceramics collection.

The Alabama Chanin @ Heath Ceramics collection is available in Heath Ceramics stores, on the Heath Ceramics website, and our online store.


It’s been a busy past few months for Alabama Chanin. Shortly after our cotton picking party and field day came our biggest Black Friday sale, then the holidays, our Garage Sale, Craftsy launch, travels to Los Angeles, the Texas Playboys visit to Florence, and much more in between. All the while, we’ve been making headway with our Alabama cotton project.

Almost a year after we planted our cotton seed in the ground, we would like to share another update about our special crop. We are certain many of you – especially those who helped in the field – will be interested in its progress.



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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We try to share a staff lunch once a week here in the studio. It gives everyone a chance to sit down together, laugh, and share ideas. We are, after all, a family of sorts. This week we had hoped to entertain and enjoy time with our friend and collaborator Anna Maria Horner, to whom this week’s journal theme is dedicated. But sometimes life gets in the way, and we were unable to coordinate our time; however, we decided to have a Greek lunch in her honor anyway.

Anna Maria’s family comes from Greece and her grandmother passed down many Greek traditions and treasures to her, including hand-loomed wool blankets and recipes. I love tzatziki, and even though cucumbers are not technically in season yet, we fortunately have a local organic farmer with a solar powered greenhouse – Jack-O-Lantern Farms – and were able to acquire some Alabama cucumbers for the tangy, yogurt dip, as well as greenhouse-grown tomatoes and south Alabama eggplants (still beats vegetables trucked in from Mexico).


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Click on image to enlarge.

To create Little Folks: 1. Stencil fabric using Little Folks stencil and the stenciling technique of your choice. 2. Backstitch square shapes by stitching directly on stenciled edge. 3. Backstitch circle shapes inside of the flowers by stitching 1/8’ inside stenciled line and cut 1/8” outside of stenciled line. 4. Backstitch diamond shapes by stitching directly on stenciled edge and cut 1/8” inside diamond shape. 5. Backstitch flower shape then cut 1/8” inside the backstitch. 6. Whipstitch straight lines inside the flower shapes. 7. Add satin sequins using eyelet stitch. 8. Add French knots in between satin sequins.


In 2005, I was inducted into The Council of Fashion Designers of America.  Long before that time (and during my days as a stylist in Europe), I didn’t really know what the CFDA was (or did). However, the organization was founded in 1962 by Eleanor Lambert as a not-for-profit trade organization to support American womenswear, menswear, jewelry, and accessory designers. Today, the CFDA consists of over 400 members across the nation (we have 2 from Alabama). Their mission statement has grown to reflect a desire to “advance artistic and professional standards within the fashion industry, establish and maintain a code of ethics and practices of mutual benefit in professional, public, trade relations, promote and improve understanding and appreciation of the fashion arts through leadership in quality and taste, and to support the overall growth of American fashion as a global industry.”

Some of the programs growing out of this agency include the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund for which Alabama Chanin was a finalist in 2009 and which Billy Reid (the other CFDA member in the state of Alabama) won in 2010. Other programs include CFDA Fashion Awards, Made in Midtown, and the great {Fashion Incubator} program, among many others.


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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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We’re not quite in the cocktail business (yet), though we seem to be sneaking behind the bar more and more lately. Our collaboration with Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. brought about the Jack Rudy Bar Towel, which we featured early last month along with the Jack Rudy Small Batch Tonic, both available for purchase on our website.

Last week, our friend Brooks Reitz of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. sent us a beautiful, hand-written thank you note, along with a bottle of their newest creation – Small Batch Grenadine. Handcrafted in Napa Valley, the grenadine arrived just in time for our latest addition: the Alabama Chanin Cocktail Napkin.



There are a growing number of programs tailored to adults in the workforce who want to advance their careers or earn a degree. These days, it’s not unheard of for someone to earn their bachelor’s or master’s degree online. There are also entirely new platforms emerging, called MOOCs, or massive open online courses. The expectation is that these new platforms for learning are going to change online learning, opening up opportunities to those who thought they’d never have the chance to further their education. While many of these courses offer no credits, the demand for them isn’t waning. People are looking for outlets to learn – simply for the sake of personal growth.

The trend is expanding into fields outside of higher education. Google search or visit YouTube and you will find an incredible number of courses in all imaginable subjects. Some courses are free; others require a fee or subscription. Still, the possibility of learning something – a skill, a subject, a language – all in your living room has a certain appeal to those of us who can’t imagine the thought of sitting in a classroom again. These classes can be taken on your time, fit between loads of laundry or after the kids have gone to bed. This time, it’s perfectly acceptable to go to class in your pajamas.


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This post published last Wednesday in the midst of technical difficulties that lasted more than a week. We are deeply proud of this collaboration, adore all things Jack Rudy, and want to be sure that everyone gets a chance to meet Brooks up-close (or at least closer). Here we re-publish  the story, giving the Pink Gin it’s due.  Besides, it’s a good week for everything we (heart):

Since we’re celebrating Valentine’s Day, it’s only natural to throw a cocktail in the mix. And so, in keeping with the season’s color palette, I’m drinking a Pink Gin and Tonic made with Jack Rudy Classic Tonic.

Alabama Chanin loves Jack Rudy and we have used it in several cocktails, from a rosemary-infused Vodka & Jack Rudy to our Handmade Cocktail made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka. We collaborated with Brooks Reitz, one of the creators of Jack Rudy, to design a hand-stitched 100% organic cotton French Terry bar towel especially for Jack Rudy enthusiasts.

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“Craft” might seem like it’s for the amateurs, and “fashion” for the auteurs. Yet we live in an age where creativity and innovation are increasingly found in collaborations between makers and users, crafters and designers, designers and manufacturers, and in the loosening of the boundaries between them. Open sourcing and the emergence of DIY everything (from apps to dresses to education) are THE design stories of the 21st century.

If the philosophers and economists are right, such stories reflect renewed possibilities for building communities, for growing businesses, and for practicing everyday forms of enchantment, ethics, and sustainability. It is time to expand our way of thinking about the relationship between craft and fashion, between the self-made and the ready-to-wear, between fashion as intellectual property and fashion as an open source. What can we learn from the fields of music, product design, and education? Does a backward glance help us see how fashion was at the forefront of these innovations from the start? What is a Vogue pattern if not an open source? What are les petits mains other than artists?



Over the four days of New York Design Week (May 19-22, 2012), Alabama Chanin–in collaboration with its fashion and design partners–is organizing a series of talks, workshops, and gatherings with leaders in the fashion, design, and craft/DIY communities. The events bring together a dynamic combination of industry leaders to explore the ways in which the fashion, art, and design worlds are inextricably linked to the world of craft/DIY and how each of these worlds elevates the others. We look to create an intersection–a meeting point–to explore, discuss, and celebrate the role of local production, handmade, and craft/DIY in fashion and design as a way to empower individuals, businesses, and communities.

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It’s the time of year when most of us start to look back at the past year to take stock and plan for the next. As a company, Alabama Chanin is no different. With a lot of help from our friends, we’ve brought the year to a (BIG) close with our first online Garage Sale.

This online event seems indicative of what an amazing year (decade) it has been. We were, quite honestly, bowled over by the outreach of support, excitement, and, well, love for what we do at Alabama Chanin.  (We will be doing it again soon. Check our events page for updates and/or join our mailing list to stay in touch.)

Looking back on the whole year, it’s staggering to see just how many projects we’ve tackled, people we’ve met, and journeys we’ve taken – all infused with the same love that we experienced during our Garage Sale. Honestly, I can hardly believe that so many things happened all in one twelve-month span. It’s been 12 (REALLY) good ones.

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We can’t thank everyone enough for coming out to the field on Saturday to help pick (and celebrate) our organic cotton. The skies were blue; the fields were alive with eager hands; we were standing in high cotton.

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BBQ, Barbeque, Bar-B-Que, Bar-B-Q.  However you spell it, we are awash in this delicious madness here in North Alabama.  Mention barbecue and you will have an instant conversation starter: “Mustard based sauce!” “Are you kidding me? No way! Ketchup!” “What!  Please don’t tell me you are putting mayonnaise on that meat?” These are the ingredients that can bring men and women alike to heated discussion. We have spent the last few weeks preparing for an exhibition celebrating the Southern Foodways Alliance’s 15th Annual Symposium, entitled Barbecue: An Exploration of Pitmasters, Places, Smoke, and Sauce.

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In January, we began a conversation about the intersection of Fashion, Craft, and DIY. That dialogue started with our friends at Vena Cava and progressed to our Makeshift events, and continues with adapting patterns from designers like Anna Sui and Donna Karan (one of my personal favorites that I wear often). This week we extend the conversation with a collaboration and pattern from textile designer Anna Maria Horner.

Below are instructions for Alabama Chanin’s basic version of Anna Maria’s dress pattern in Light Golden and Goldenrod, the newest colors in our hand-dyed, cotton jersey fabric collection. These fabric colors, like our Indigo and Coral, are hand-dyed in Nashville, Tennessee, using the osage orange wood and myrobalan fruit in varying amounts to create variation in shades.

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It is so easy to sing the praises of Anna Maria Horner. Our frequent readers know that she has appeared on our blog before and is a friend and inspiration to Alabama Chanin. I adore her personality, a perfect mixture of sweet, sincere charm and biting wit. Her joy for life is irresistible and her prolific work is astounding.

Anna Maria is a designer of beautiful, bright fabrics, along with a host of other accessories, sewing books, and patterns. Her designs feature numerous, delicate flowers, creative shapes, and intertwining lines. In her collections, color is not a foreign concept and patterns are for mix + match. Over the years, she has partnered with more than two dozen manufacturers to design home-wares, gift items, textiles + much more. She is even the new face of Janome, a leader in sewing technology.

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I was driving through the desert of New Mexico en route to Taos talking about our cotton. I can’t remember a summer as scorchingly hot as this one–and there were some hot ones in the late 60s and early 70s. In the last weeks, temperatures have consistently been over 100. If we have a few more summers like this one, our landscape might morph into something more like the desert. While a desert can be a beautiful landscape, it is much different from our home here in Alabama.

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When I was working on our Heath Ceramics collaboration, we worked with colors rooted in the Southern vernacular and my upbringing in the 1960s and 70s in Alabama. When I look at the dishes, I see parts of my childhood in the shades of red and blue.

The chosen red is appropriately called red clay, as it was inspired by the color of Alabama soil. This miraculous color used to bring tears to my eyes as I would fly in from my time living in Europe.  As a child, our summer clothes were stained with the color. The bottoms of our feet were permanently red clay colored after the temperature reached 78 degrees. Gillian Welch’s song “Red Clay Halo” cannot say it any better:

All the girls all dance with the boys from the city,
And they don’t care to dance with me.
Now it ain’t my fault that the fields are muddy,
And the red clay stains my feet.

Being a barefoot child who played in the garden, I knew this color intimately. This is the color of hard-working farmers and farm wives; it is the story of a community.

Southern musicians have written about Alabama’s red soil for decades. EmmyLou Harris’ “Red Dirt Girl” is another iconic example.

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Crafting Fashion, a pop-up shop curated by Alabama Chanin and Billy Reid, featured designers- Alabama Chanin, Susan Cianciolo, HEATH Ceramics, George Esquivel, Hugo & Marie, Imogene + Willie, Pamela Love, Leigh MagarMaria Moyer, Billy Reid, Albertus Quartus Swanepoel, Tucker, and Kenlynn Wilson. Thanks to everyone for the great turn out. And a bigger thank you to Billy Reid and his staff for their hospitality and Tift Merritt for the beautiful performance.

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Cathy Bailey of HEATH Ceramics has frequented this blog for a number of years as a friend and a colleague. After loving her work (and her) from afar, we were fortunate to collaborate with HEATH Ceramics to produce a line of table and dinner wares that were launched last fall.

Cathy (her husband, Robin), and I share much of the same passion about design, craft, and local production. Next week, Cathy and I will share the stage at the Standard Talks. This coming Tuesday, Alabama Chanin presents MAKESHIFT: Shifting Thoughts on Design, Fashion, Craft, and DIY, our first event in a series of many as we continue a conversation on the intersection of design, fashion, craft, and DIY.

Heath Ceramics: An impressive view from within from Heath Ceramics on Vimeo.

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When Andrew Wagner was asked to moderate the MAKESHIFT panel conversation as part of New York Design Week 2012, he jokingly insisted that he be considered MC rather than moderator. That’s exactly the type of robust, experienced personality I look forward to sharing the stage with next week at the Standard Talks, as we discuss the intersection of design, fashion, craft, and DIY.

We’re happy to introduce Andrew on our blog and welcome his participation in MAKESHIFT. His long- running list of big DIY ideas and achievements makes him a veteran in that community. As “What You Make of It” columnist for the New York Times, he has recently delved instructions on how to turn an old rusty bicycle into a beautiful hanging lamp – Isamu Noguchi style- and how to repurpose egg carton trays into stunning and sturdy stools.

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Last Thursday, we wrote about Vena Cava and began a dialogue (one we plan to continue every Thursday) about the intersection of Fashion, Craft and DIY. While in New York a few weeks back, I sat down for a quick coffee with Lisa Mayock – half of the Vena Cava design team – to share our DIY Dresses and talk about fashion, life, and open sourcing.  We appreciate all the response and emails from our post last week and look forward to continuing this conversation.  Here, a little chat about the Vena Cava/Vogue Designer Patterns collaboration:

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It’s officially launched.

From the HEATH website:

“The point of intersection between stitch and clay. A collaboration between Natalie Chanin and Heath Ceramics yields an anthology of carefully crafted modern heirlooms in a new and permanent dinnerware line.

This collection celebrates texture and a range of layering possibilities in thoughtfully curated place settings, plates and serving bowls.”

Shop our tabletop collection @ HEATH Ceramics


So excited about our collaboration with HEATH Ceramics. Look for the entire collection to launch next week. Until then, a little sneak preview via the New York Times



The newest issue of KYUR8_Webzine, created and curated by my friend RUDJ, launches today.

Guest Editor: Natalie Chanin

Have a look and spread the word: KYUR8_Webzine


Partners & Spade, Manhattan

“Setting the Table,” from Maria @ Bureau of Friends:

Have you ever noticed that most of the real action at conferences takes place in the lounges and walkways outside of the Main Halls and presentation rooms? There is absolutely a place and time for sit-and-listen audiences and there’s nothing like a compelling speaker to move and enlighten us, but what might we do better to nourish real connections between people who gather around shared goals or values?

In our first few weeks together as the Bureau, we talked much about how difficult it can be to decide in which efforts we should involve ourselves, as speakers or partcipants. There are so many worthy conferences and community programs out there. We decided, that in addition to getting more strategic about how we respond to invitations, we’d proactively develop our own opportunities to engage talented and conscientious people.

Our first attempt was a collaborative event at HEATH and our next, is an up-coming conversation-in-the-round with Partners & Spade—the storefront and think tank for Andy Spade (co-founder/previous owner of Kate Spade and Jack Spade) and Anthony Sperduti (Andy’s creative partner).The evening at Partners & Spade, will build on the success of the Bureau’s experience at HEATH by continuing a forward-thinking conversation in the form of a traditional sewing circle. We are already at capacity for the Partners & Spade event, but I promise we’ll post about it later.

While these initial events revolve around a collaborative project inspired by charter members of the Bureau, Natalie Chanin (Alabama Chanin) and Cathy Bailey (HEATH Ceramics), our work at the Bureau will evolve to reflect other ideas and efforts of those who wish to deploy the hearts, minds and muscle of the Bureau.

In our media drenched, social networking maxed, Twitter-pated lives how else might we hear from and engage with others in a way that might lead to action—or at the very least, connect us to each other in more satisfying ways?