August. Whirlwind Month. (And we’re only halfway through.) A note from Natalie.
I hope this finds you all well. I’m writing from my kitchen, back doors flung open to a cool(er) morning—foreshadowing the change of seasons. I spent the morning making lists, updating my calendar, reminiscing on the last week, and looking forward what lies ahead.
First off, last Friday in Nashville we hosted our One-Day Embroidery Workshop—highlighting The Geometry of Hand-Sewing— with Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne at MDK. Teaching about this favorite of my books (if a mom can choose a favorite) also gave me a chance to brush up on my own embroidery skills and catch up with some favorite makers.
I also wound up purchasing knitting needles and yarn—which may be shocking to some who’ve heard me declare, “I’m not a knitter, thank you.” Appreciation goes out to Kay and Ann for giving me the knitting tip, “You need to loosen up.” My new motto for life.
You may see me embroidering my knitting one day soon. Explore all of our upcoming in-person and virtual workshops here and join the party.
(Thank you to Kay for Eleanor Roosevelt’s memories of Dyess. The piece can be found by searching Dyess here.)
The newest color in our 100% Organic Cotton Jersey has arrived, and we started shipping out Midnight this week. The winning color during our Color Vote, limited quantities are available of Midnight here. Look for a new Color Vote coming soon.
For the first time in a very long time, we’re offering limited-edition Solid DIY Kits. These solid color kits are also available in Midnight (while it lasts) and a range of our most beloved colors.
On Thursday of this week, I had the opportunity to travel to the Freedom Quilting Bee Legacy in Alberta, Alabama. Thank you to Kim V. Kelly, Mary McCarthy, and all the wonderful people involved in this important project. I hope you find time to immerse yourself in their work, save the date, and reserve a spot for the Airing of the Quilts Festival in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, on Saturday, October 7, 2023. I’ll see you there.
(Thank you to Scott Peacock for riding shotgun and for the delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner—no biscuits included. Think Alabama Cornbread Experience.)
And save the date for the 2024 Project Threadways Symposium at The Factory. Entitled, “The Future” we’ll be serving up lots of good—from April 18th to 21st.
As we end the week, we’re phasing out our Indigo Summer program. Snag a piece (or two) of the collection and an array of fabrics and DIY Kits. Limited production available and shipping in September. Thank you to everyone who supported this work. We’re looking forward to resting the vats to gear up for another season very soon.
I’m over-the-moon to announce that I’ll be traveling to Boston and Salem next week to gather with the team at the Peabody Essex Museum—more on this soon. I’m looking forward to exploring Gu Wenda: United Nations and Gio Swaby: Fresh Up exhibitions and so much more.
Finally, in the coming weeks we’ll be launching a new collection for Fall, and heading to Paris to present our Spring collection for press and wholesale sales. For more information on these collections, reach out to Jess: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Project Threadways and Alabama Chanin are excited to present the 2023 Friends of the Café Dinner featuring chef Nicole Mills, the Chef de Cuisine at Pêche in New Orleans, where she focuses on working with local fisherman and farmers who harvest sustainably. All proceeds will benefit Project Threadways.
Tickets are $250 per person for an all-inclusive evening with guest speakers, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, a full course dinner, and wine pairings. The menu will include local and regional vegetables, proteins, and ingredients.
Thursday, April 20, 2023 Cocktails: 6:00pm Dinner: 7:00pm
Alabama Chanin @ The Factory 462 Lane Drive Florence, AL 35630
Advance registration is required. Casual attire is suggested. Purchase tickets here.
For more information, email email@example.com or call +1 (256) 766-1986.
Pictured above: Detail of The Shoals Area; map via AllTrails
In her book, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety, Sarah Wilson explains how walking helps calm her anxiety and balances the nervous system. In the chapter titled “Slow…” her declaration, “I’m also a mad hiker,” appeals to my heart and soul. Because, while I don’t consider myself a “mad hiker,” I do consider myself someone who loves, and needs to “get out in the woods.” This past weekend, while hiking with a good friend, Wilson’s book, anxiety, why hiking is medicine, and this passage below (beginning on page 90) were lively topics of conversation.
“Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Darwin did the same. They both hiked every single day, until old age. Both had anxiety. Both credit walking with taming their heads enough to be able to sort problems and bring their inspired ideas to fruition. ‘Only thoughts reached by walking have value,’ wrote Nietzsche.
Why does hiking work?
Hiking gets us into nature…and multiple studies show that folk who live in green spaces have lower rates of mental health issues. It’s been suggested that getting away from city freneticness allows the prefrontal cortex to take a break.
Accordingly, stress hormones, heart rate and other markers back off. Japanese scientists call the phenomenon Shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bathing.’ Their recent studies suggest the benefits come from breathing in ‘aromas from the trees’ known as phytoncides, an array of natural aerosols that trees give off for pest control.
One study found that salivary cortisol levels in people who gazed on forest scenery for twenty minutes were 13.4 percent lower than those who did the same in urban settings. Hiking connects us to ourselves. A University of Michigan study found that because our senses evolved in nature, by getting back to it we connect more honestly with our sensory reactions.”
I was born and have lived with anxiety for over six decades. One of my earliest memories is of “reading the room” to assess what needed to be smoothed, managed, fixed, or ordered to prevent some unknown horror or disaster. I’ve spent the rest of my life refining this talent—sometimes a beautiful gift, sometimes an anxiety-inducing bomb to the nervous system.
As a recovering anxious person, I strive to get out in the woods as much as possible. This year, I’ve committed to creating more time for phytoncides—and constantly looking for ways to reduce adrenaline and cortisol. Hiking with my friend last weekend, in beautiful Wildwood Park, was part of the weekend commitment to self care that helps to keep me (mostly) calm and sane.
Talking with another friend about the weekend outing, she quizzed me on all the details of my self care weekend in the wood and back at home. Below is my response to her (with links and some additional commentary added). Not long ago, the same friend joked—after receiving a rather long text chain about my take on the best Negroni—that I might “need to create a spreadsheet.” I guess you can get a girl out into the woods, but she will still be reading the room (and making a list).
The List: Weekend Self Care and Hiking
Believe it or not, I headed out and hiked in the Ravenna Dress (also love her sister, the Caterina) and my Oversized Waffle Sweatshirt from our Organic Core Essentials Collection. This is a testament to the wearability and durability of our cotton garments. I wear these core essentials for all things in life. In the last week, I’ve worn these essentials out to dinner with my son and granddaughter, on the aforementioned hike, to a meeting at The Factory, the grocery store, while working in my flowerbeds and yard, on a coffee date, and everywhere in between. Ravenna: she is strong—and a bit flirty.
I had an awful toe break a few years ago that changed my entire gait, foot shape, and, honestly, my life. Gait Happens made me rethink how I walk and the shoes I wear. In a long-ago post, they recommended Altra shoes—for the wide toe box, among other great characteristics. I bought a pair of Altras during toe recovery and never looked back. I wear some version of these shoes daily to work, play, walk, travel, and hike.
I’ve come to prefer a bit of cushion for my tired feet, legs, and bones, and my favorite pair are currently the Mont Blanc in Maroon Bells. The ability to micro fit the shoe is a game changer.
As I left the house this weekend, I grabbed my Reclaimed Down Vest (see the large pockets)—perfect for a bottle of water, tissues, and the AllTrails map on my phone. Once it warmed up, I draped the vest over the belt of my Finley bag.
In the bottle: sparkling water from the Aarke Carbonator 3 made from Big Berkey filtered, local water. (I’ve got an extra Aarke bottle for on-the-go.)
I stumbled upon this book in the summer of 2018 while browsing Sundog Books in Florida. As a visual person, and lover of books as material culture, I was first taken by the cover design, illustration, and the color-coordinated Day-Glo endpapers. Following this first impression, I randomly opened the book and landed squarely in the middle of the chapter about panic attacks (see page 158)—something I’ve struggled with my entire life. I promptly walked to the front desk and purchased the book. I’ve subsequently returned to the book often—underlining passages, sharing with friends, and purchasing the audio version as well.
Wildwood Park is close to my home in downtown Florence. Thanks to a committed group of neighbors and the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, this green space is a refuge of walking, hiking, and biking trails—with canoe and kayak access to Cypress Creek. We are extremely privileged and lucky to be surrounded by numerous waterways and green spaces. In the near future, the Singing River Trail will connect greenways all across our city, county, and region.
Numerous initiatives and groups operate guided hikes in various locations across The Shoals and the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area. Wild Alabama offers many programs in Bankhead National Forest. The League of Outdoor Women — which is a program of the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area-–has monthly events for women and can often be found on the trails of Bankhead. Other hiking opportunities in the forest are hosted by Girls Who Hike Alabama.
Know that the items included in this post are my suggestions. They include things I love and use every day. Neither Alabama Chanin, The School of Making, nor I receive payments for the recommendations we’ve linked to here. Of course, if you choose to purchase one of the items we make or carry, we’re honored and thank you.
The bottom line is that a friend asked, and I made a list. If you have other suggestions for things you love, or we should check out, please post them in the comments below. If you don’t agree with our selections, we also invite you to comment below; however, as a person born into this world with anxiety, I’m asking that you please use inside voices.
The landscape of the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area (MSNHA) moves from the flat valley floor of the Tennessee River to the hills of the Highland Rim and the Cumberland Plateau, creating a variety of hiking experiences. Many of our favorite sites—such as Bankhead National Forest—have rich cultural stories to learn. Bankhead National Forest also has an astonishing degree of biodiversity in plants, animals, and trees—a reminder that Alabama is one of the most biodiverse regions of the United States.
Bankhead National Forest, known as the “land of a thousand waterfalls,” is one of four National Forests in Alabama. The forest is full of waterways, gorges, rock bluffs, and over 90 miles of hiking trails. The stories of the people who lived in the forest for thousands of years appear in the rock shelters, occupied by indigenous people, and in old homesites, cemeteries, wagon roads, and churches constructed by Euro-Americans. Unlike those in much of the state of Alabama, the Bankhead National Forest escaped heavy logging pressures in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, meaning there are still stands of old-growth forest within its boundaries. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on many projects in the forest. They built roads, dams, firebreaks, and bridges; maintained telephone lines; constructed fire towers; fought forest fires; and developed recreation areas. The forest is also home to Alabama’s only National Wild and Scenic River—the Sipsey Fork of the West Fork River. Today visitors to the forest can camp, hike, gravel ride, mountain bike, ride horses, enjoy ATVs, kayak, canoe, and more.
There are many options for hiking in Bankhead. Over 26 miles of equestrian riding and hiking paths make up the Owl Creek Trail System, which is clearly designated and convenient to access. When hiking the trails, be mindful of horses and yield to riders. The system offers three loop options, ranging in length from 6 to 12 miles.
Many trails in the Sipsey Wilderness can be accessed from the Sipsey River Picnic Area and Trailhead parking lot, or park at the Braziel Trailhead to hike trails in the northern part of the wilderness. Because the Sipsey is a Wilderness Area, the trails are not marked with blazes. Navigating this system can be more challenging than in other areas of the forest. No matter the hike or forest plan, remember to bring a map. Detailed trail maps are available at the Warrior Mountain Trading Post in nearby Moulton, Alabama.
There are also many unofficial—or social—trails in the forest. These trails are not managed by the National Forest Service and do not appear on official maps. However, they include beautiful locations, and many of these appear on All Trails. An absolute favorite is the four-mile round trip trail to Sougahoagdee Falls. Despite not being clearly designated, the trail is straightforward to follow, and the waterfall at the bottom is worth the trip. The hike itself is moderate, but the drive into the forest to the trailhead involves many miles of gravel roads. A shorter option (approx. 1.5 miles out and back) is the Turkey Foot Falls and Mize Mills Falls. The trail is easily accessed from the Sipsey and includes two waterfalls along the way.
If exploring these recreational areas on your own feels intimidating, numerous initiatives and groups operate guided hikes in various locations across The Shoals and the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area. Wild Alabama offers many programs in Bankhead National Forest. The League of Outdoor Women —which is a program of the MSNHA—has monthly events for women and can often be found on the trails of Bankhead. Other hiking opportunities in the forest are hosted by Girls Who Hike Alabama.
Explore our upcoming Events + Workshops from Alabama Chanin and The School of Making and add on more adventures. #travel
A note on safety and protocol:
Wherever you choose to hike, remember to let someone know your location and when you expect to return. Pack water, snacks, a first aid kit, and a map. Always practice “Leave No Trace” hiking, and always strive to leave the forest better than you found it.
Written by Carrie BarskeCrawford March 2022
Carrie Barske Crawford is the director of the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area and an affiliated faculty member in the history department at the University of North Alabama. She teaches courses in exhibit design, museum interpretation, and women’s history. She is also an avid hiker, backpacker, kayaker, maker, gardener, and equestrian, and a dear friend to the Alabama Chanin and Project Threadways teams.
In 2019, and after 20+ years of planning and work, Natalie and the Alabama Chanin team officially formed Project Threadways as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to record, study, and interpret history, community, and power through the lens of fashion and textiles. That year also marked the inaugural Project Threadways Symposium, now an annual event that brings together scholars, artists, activists, and thinkers to explore how the act of making textiles has shaped the lives of individuals and communities. In addition to collecting oral histories and conducting research, staging events that serve as centers for conversation is crucial to the work that we do.
Today, we announce the 2023 Symposium, held April 20-22 in The Shoals. The theme is The Collective: Textiles as Community, exploring the power of small groups to create big changes through the everyday act of making. Project Threadways will share stories of those who have gathered to weave, make, craft, sew, and tuft—creating economic opportunity, organizing resistance, and achieving self-determination from their work.
FRIENDS OF THE CAFE DINNER WITH NICOLE MILLS
The symposium kicks off Thursday, April 20, with a dinner at The Factory at Alabama Chanin, prepared by Nicole Mills, Chef de Cuisine of Pêche restaurant in New Orleans. The all-inclusive evening features guest speakers, a cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres, a full-course dinner, and wine pairings. Find more information and purchase tickets here.
Thursday, April 20, 2023 5:30pm – Registration and Cocktails 7:00pm – Project Threadways Dinner with chef Nicole Mills
Friday, April 21, 2023 9:00am – Breakfast 9:30am – Welcome 10:00am – Presentation by Aleia Brown* 10:45am – Presentation by Vallarie Pratt* 11:30pm – Presentation by Donna Mintz* 12:15pm – Lunch 1:30pm – Presentation by Viola Ratcliffe* 2:15pm – Panel discussion* 3:00pm – STITCH screening, followed by conversation with Natalie Chanin + Ansley Quiros* 4:30pm – Presentation by Katie Knowles at the Kennedy-Douglass Art Center 5:45pm – Pope’s Tavern exhibition and dinner
Saturday, April 23, 2022 9:00am – Breakfast 9:30am – Presentation by Diana Weymar 10:30am – Hands-on sewing circle with Diana Weymar 12:30pm – Lunch 1:15pm – Tour of The Factory 2:00pm – Panel discussion 3:30pm – Oral Presentation with Carrie Barske Crawford and Jimmy Shaw 4:00pm – Closing Remarks
– Please note all times are CST.
– All events take place at The Factory at Alabama Chanin unless otherwise noted.
– Events marked with an asterisk* are available for virtual streaming and participation.
This program is supported by funding provided by the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area.
This project is also supported by the Alabama Humanities Alliance, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the Alabama Humanities Alliance or the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“Organic buildings are the strength and lightness of the spiders’ spinning, buildings qualified by light, bred by native character to environment, married to the ground.” — Frank Lloyd Wright
When visiting the Shoals area, or anywhere in Alabama for that matter, you should take time to visit the Rosenbaum House in Florence, Alabama. Nestled among otherwise ordinary Southern homes, this gem of craftsmanship and architecture is a perfect example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian style of design and is the only home he built in Alabama. Constructed nearly 60 years ago, the house was inhabited by the Rosenbaums (the home’s sole occupants) until 1999, when the family donated the property to the city of Florence. The home has been completely restored to look exactly as it did when the Rosenbaums lived there. Walking through it, you can feel the life and love that seeps from it still.
In 1938, Stanley Rosenbaum, a young Harvard College graduate who lived in Florence and worked in his family’s movie theater business, married New York fashion model Mildred Bookholtz and brought her home to Alabama. As a wedding gift, Stanley’s parents gave the newlyweds two acres of land and a small sum of money with which to build a home. The couple optimistically turned to world famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, known for his innovative design approach and affordability. The Rosenbaums asked Wright to build them a home with three bedrooms, two baths, a large kitchen, a study, a living room large enough to accommodate Mildred’s piano, and all for the sum of $7,500. To their surprise, Wright agreed.
Music has always been an integral part of The Shoals. We are placed along the banks of what the native people have long called, “the river that sings.” W.C. Handy, The Father of the Blues, was born here; legendary producer and founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, is also from The Shoals. So, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the influential style of music known as the Muscle Shoals Sound emerged from this same musically rich place.
Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, we had an abstract idea of the big sounds being produced all around us—but no one ever made a fuss about it. Sure, our neighbors made music for a living, but those neighbors certainly weren’t famous, were they? (Were they?) And so it wasn’t until years later that many in our community began to understand exactly what was happening around us while we were growing up.
I’d wager that every native, and recent guest, to The Shoals would urge future visitors to set aside time for lunch at Trowbridge’s Ice Cream Parlor and Sandwich Shop. The universally beloved local eatery is a backdrop for so many of our memories, and it has managed to serve up simple, delicious food for decades, while keeping its unpretentious charm. The green awning and the window advertising “Sandwiches, Ice Cream, Sundaes” are as iconic to residents as any official logo or state seal.
The little shop was opened in 1918 by Paul Trowbridge and is still run by his grandson. The story (as it was told to me) says that in 1917, Mr. Trowbridge was traveling to North Carolina for a dairy convention and stopped in Florence on the way. He loved the lush area and the town enough to move his family from Texas to Florence and opened Trowbridge’s shortly thereafter.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” —John F. Kennedy
The Oxford Dictionary defines grateful as “feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness.” Being thankful is a feeling; being grateful is an action. And while they are often used interchangeably, gratefulness is seen by many as a deeper state of being that carries a heavier weight to its meaning.
Today, we have asked our team to take a moment and reflect on gratitude—nothing is too small to be grateful for. We extend that request to you. After introspection, turn that thought into an action. Let’s use our voices and live by example.
Many of the events that have occurred around the world this year—some in our own communities—remind us to be grateful for our rights, our voices, our freedoms, opportunities, relationships, and our lives.
May we all live gratefully today and every day.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us @ Alabama Chanin
(Picture courtesy of Rinne Allen—who we are grateful for sharing her talents and capturing beauty in the world.)
Those traveling to The Shoals often ask for the best routes into and out of the area. I’m not sure what your definition of “best” may be, but I personally love to travel visually interesting routes, when time allows. For those that have the time and inclination for a scenic drive, I always recommend taking part of the journey on the Natchez Trace Parkway.
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile historical path that travels from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, and connects the Cumberland and Mississippi rivers. It follows a geologic ridgeline that prehistoric animals followed in search of new grazing land and water sources. The Trace connected tribal homelands of the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations. Native travelers used the same pathways repeatedly, creating natural sunken sections in the ground.
Welcome to 1972. The Rolling Stones just landed at Muscle Shoals Regional Airport to record three of their classic songs: “Wild Horses,” “You Got To Move On,” and “Brown Sugar.” Aretha Franklin recorded what was considered the first big hit of her career, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).” Across the Tennessee River, a short 6 miles away, t-shirts were being made in three shifts a day, destined for band tours, protests, and every wardrobe in America. The Shoals community was bustling with work and sending small parts of itself into the larger world, in the form of a simple cotton garment.
We return with more exciting news from the field. We mentioned in earlier Journal posts that we’re planning an inaugural Project Threadways Symposium for this spring, and we’re happy to announce that a limited amount of tickets are now open to the public.
Pack your bags, come and spend three days in the Muscle Shoals community to learn, be inspired, gather, and commune at The Factory with a group of creative thinkers, makers, and doers. We will spend time together to explore the material culture that originated from this community, exchange ideas, cross-pollinate, and create a plan to dissect and document the material culture of textiles back to its earliest days in America.
We will explore the landscape and community of Muscle Shoals and its history of manufacturing and music, the tenacity of the art and the creative residents that made this revolution possible. Tours of Muscle Shoals Sound and Fame Recording Studio will be available – along with great food, conversation, music, and (of course) shopping.
Thursday, April 25
5:30pm – Registration and Cocktails @ The Factory
7:00pm – Friends of the Café Dinner with chef Bill Smith
Friday, April 26
9:00am – Rivertown Breakfast @ The Factory
9:30am – Welcome and Introduction with Natalie Chanin and John T. Edge
9:45am – The Factory Tour
10:00am – The State of Threadways with Natalie Chanin and Thuy Linh Tu
11:00am – The River Valley and The Rise of the Tee: A Brief History of Material Culture with Ted Ownby and Carrie Crawford
Noon – Tee Jays and The Factory: A Presentation of the Oral Histories with and Brian Murphy
1:00pm – Southland Meat + Three Lunch
2:30pm – Material Culture: The Band Tee with Bill Smith and Brett Anderson
4:00pm – Muscle Shoals Sound with David Hood
Saturday, April 27
9:00am – The Factory Café Breakfast @ The Factory
10:00am – T-shirt Capital of the World: Women in the Workforce with Thuy Linh Tu
11:00am – The Smell of Cotton: From Field to Culture with Alysia Burton Steele
1:00pm – Box Lunch and Brainstorming @ The Factory
2-4:00pm – T-shirts + Making: A Workshop
6:30pm – Cocktails @ The Factory: Blackberry Farm and Eric Solomon
Appetizers: Angie Mosier
Dinner: Cheetie Kumar
Dessert: Lisa Donovan
The work of Project Threadways continues. We’ve been busy planning for the inaugural symposium in the spring and collecting oral history interviews from textile workers in our community. With the expert help of our friends at Nest and support and funding provided The Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, we’ve developed a survey to help us reach a wider audience and gather more information about the demographics of the workforce within the textile industry.
If you worked in the textile industry in our region, or know someone who did, follow this link to fill out our survey. All information will be kept strictly confidential and will only be used in combination with information collected from other respondents. Your name, or any other personally identifiable data, will not be used. Any and all feedback is helpful, so feel free to share the survey with friends, family, and neighbors. If you’re interested in participating in an oral history interview, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our oral historian will be in touch; we can’t wait to hear your stories.
We’ve created a Facebook page for Project Threadways, so you can follow along with all updates there. And as always, check back on The Journal for more notes from the field.
Our inaugural year of The Factory Supper Club is drawing to a close (with two more left), and it has allowed us to showcase talented, local chefs and provide a unique experience for our guests.
In November, The Factory Café is bringing in chef Fatin Russel of Odette, a beautiful dining establishment in downtown Florence that focuses on creating unique dishes with new flavors and traditional techniques.
Fatin is from the southern tip of Malaysia and her diverse heritage has roots steeped in Malay, China, Java, and India. Food has always played an integral part in Fatin’s life. She graduated from culinary school in 2013 and came to the United States for a cultural student program. While working at the kitchens at the locally esteemed Marriott Shoals Hotel in Florence, she met her future husband.
After completing the cultural student program, Fatin moved home to Malay to work and help her mother with a baking business. Two years later she returned to Florence to marry Christopher and now works at Odette. Fatin is passionate and proud of her culture, and we can’t wait to taste her menu. She’ll be joined in the kitchen by chefs Josh Quick and Ramon Jacobsen of Odette and our café team.
During the Great Depression, millions of people across the world faced abject poverty after the stock market crash of 1929. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was impacted by the sight of his fellow Americans living hand-to-mouth and was determined to find a way for people to live more simply and with more affordable housing, particularly middle-class families. Out of this idea was born the concept of Usonia, a style of building that combined landscape and design. Alvin Rosenbaum, resident of the original Usonian home (located in Florence, Alabama) wrote in his book Usonia: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Design For America, “Usonia was Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision for America, a place where design commingled with nature, expanding the idea of architecture to include a civilization, a utopian ideal that integrated spiritual harmony and material prosperity across a seamless, unspoiled landscape. Usonia was a state of mind, combining an evolving prescription for the elimination of high-density American cities and their replacement by pastoral communities organized around modern transportation and communications technology with a new type of home for middle-income families.”
Some say that the name “Usonia” was adapted as an abbreviation for “United States of North America,” an idea that Wright did not come up with, but eventually embraced. The concept behind Usonia was to tailor each home to the family it would house. Wright would spend time on site to get to know the ins and outs, making a point to use local materials whenever possible. He and his team evaluated their clients before beginning building. In fact, he was known to cut costs by encouraging homeowners to take part in constructing their own homes, which also created an intimate connection between the dwelling and the resident. The homes were named after the families who would inhabit them.
Wright’s style leant itself to horizontal construction, including flat roofs and overhangs; there were no attics or basements, which was an efficient use of indoor and outdoor space and allowed for in-floor radiant heating systems—pipes of hot steam running through the foundation. The homes were often L-shaped and had open floor plans. Horizontal grid lines were used throughout the homes so that parts were easier to standardize. The kitchens were small and inspired by Pullman-style train cars and light fixtures and furniture were either built into the house or customized to the design. Alvin Rosenbaum wrote, “From the outside, our Usonian is a wisp of a place, low and unobtrusive, made mostly of wood and tarpaper. Embedded into its landscape, it could also be imagined as existing on wheels, as moveable as a car on the road, ready to settle into a different site someplace else. In many ways, it is unimpressive, even insubstantial. But from the inside looking out it is solid.”
The Rosenbaum Home in Florence is considered one of the purest examples of Usonian architecture, which Wright and his well-trained team spent decades perfecting. His team continued his work after his death in 1959—though the homes he once built to help middle-class families thrive now sell for millions of dollars. Still, the impact of the Usonian movement cannot be overestimated; it paved the way for building with natural and native materials and was an obvious influence on mid-century design. As Alvin Rosenbaum wrote in Usonia, “In sum my childhood homestead was a series of delightful contradictions; urbanity comfortably set into down-home informality; an architect molded to our family and to its site, yet somehow reaching beyond, created by Wright as a model for an ideal design for living; and a southern community that accepted, indeed, celebrated, what appeared to others in the incongruity of it all.”
Some have God’s words; others have songs of comfort
for the bereaved. If I can pluck courage here, I would
like to speak directly to the dead–the September dead.
Those children of ancestors born in every continent
on the planet: Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas…;
born of ancestors who wore kilts, obis, saris, geles,
wide straw hats, yarmulkes, goatskin, wooden shoes,
feathers and cloths to cover their hair. But I would not say
a word until I could set aside all I know or believe about
nations, wars, leaders, the governed and ungovernable;
all I suspect about armor and entrails. First I would freshen
my tongue, abandon sentences crafted to know evil—wanton
or studied; explosive or quietly sinister; whether born of
a sated appetite or hunger; of vengeance or the simple
compulsion to stand up before falling down. I would purge
my language of hyperbole; of its eagerness to analyze
the levels of wickedness; ranking them; calculating their
higher or lower status among others of its kind.
Speaking to the broken and the dead is too difficult for
a mouth full of blood. Too holy an act for impure thoughts.
Because the dead are free, absolute; they cannot be
seduced by blitz.
To speak to you, the dead of September 11, I must not claim
false intimacy or summon an overheated heart glazed
just in time for a camera. I must be steady and I must be clear,
knowing all the time that I have nothing to say–no words
stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself; no scripture
older or more elegant than the ancient atoms you
And I have nothing to give either–except this gesture,
this thread thrown between your humanity and mine:
I want to hold you in my arms and as your soul got shot of its box of flesh to understand, as you
have done, the wit
of eternity: its gift of unhinged release tearing through
the darkness of its knell.
What words can be said that have not already been uttered? How does one comprehend the incompressible; the tragic, sudden loss of life, the sense of security forever marred?
Today we remember the mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, daughters, sons, friends…fellow human beings…lost to us that day.
Despite the countless tragedies that day, and the many in the days since, we must all never stop striving to live by the sentiment uttered so prophetically by Martin Luther King Jr.: “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“It is scientifically impossible to leave here unsatisfied.”
-Staggs’s Customer Taylor Smith
Less than five short miles from The Factory is a diner so well known in the Shoals community, locals simply call is “Staggs”—no elaboration is necessary. It is a place where social and economic barriers are ignored or discarded; everyone eats at Staggs, from mayor to millworker.
Staggs Grocery is located in East Florence, Alabama, an area that was once proud home to a booming textile district. The same family has run the market for generations. Taylor Wylie established the business as a meat market over a century ago, but the building was destroyed by fire. It was taken over by Wylie’s son in law, Lester D. Staggs, Sr., and his brother Webb Staggs and revamped into a meat market and grocery catering to families and workers in the textile district. Lynn Staggs, who currently owns and operates Staggs with his wife Pat, took over management after the passing of his father, L.D. Staggs, Sr.
Over the years, we’ve shared some of our favorite spots to explore here in The Shoals. We intend to keep expanding on that series, letting you in on local hidden treasures, like the truly unique Rattlesnake Saloon. Located on the outskirts of neighboring Colbert County, the Old West-style bar and restaurant is situated under a purportedly 6-million-year-old rock slab and truly must be seen to be believed.
The land has been owned by the same family, The Fosters, since 1935—and over the years they’ve transformed its use from farming to entertainment. In 1990, owner Danny Foster got out of the farming business and opened the Seven Springs Lodge on several thousand of his family’s acres. A few years ago, Danny and his son, William Gordon Foster expanded the hunting lodge’s campground and horse trails into a one-of-a-kind lodge and saloon. Rattlesnake Saloon opened for business in 2009, and the novelty of dining in a cave—surrounded by vines and waterfalls—continues to attract many guests.
When you arrive on the property, take some time to visit the lodge area. There are stables, a garden, and the gift shop—Sidewinder’s Trading Post, where you can purchase camping supplies or souvenirs. From there, guests have the option of walking to the saloon, but we highly recommend waiting on the Ford F-250 Saloon Taxi for the full experience. One-by-one, visitors climb into the bed of the taxi until every space is filled. Then hold on. Although the ride is less than a minute, it is thrilling as it bounces down the steep wooded path.
Once you arrive at the saloon, seating options include the saloon, patio, cave or overlook—but we recommend finding a spot in the cave, if possible. Keeping with the western-style saloon theme, all menu items have kitschy names like Skunk Rings and Snake Eyes and Tails. Those seeking a challenge can order the Most Wanted two-pound burger. If you finish by yourself in less than 45 minutes it’s free. At all times, children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. At 5:00pm, the saloon starts serving beer to those 21 and up.
There is a large dance floor situated in the middle of the cave for those who want to dance. The saloon offers Karaoke on Thursdays, and live music on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s likely you’ll have plenty of opportunities to join at least one line dance.
On a final note: when deciding on footwear for the evening, remember to wear shoes suitable for walking in dirt and on gravel. And remember—you’re outside, so dress appropriately.
1292 Mount Mills Road
Tuscumbia, Alabama 35674
Fashion Revolution Week is part of the year-round Fashion Revolution movement that encourages consumers to look more deeply into the fashion industry, with the ultimate intention of making clothing in a safe, clean, and fair way, the norm – across the world. This year, Fashion Revolution Week runs from April 23 – 29th and it is always scheduled in a way that honors the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed 1,138 people and injured many more.
Because of Alabama Chanin’s commitment to transparency, we make it possible for you to know how your clothing is made and by whom. The initials on the label of your Alabama Chanin garments help tell the story of how each piece has been passed from hand-to-hand, with no unknown stops along the way. But, worldwide, approximately 75 million people work to make our clothes, with 80% of them women between the ages of 18 and 35. The majority of these makers in the global market live in poverty and are often exploited, abused, underpaid, and work in unsafe conditions.
This is why Fashion Revolution encourages consumers to flood social media with posts, asking your favorite designers and brands #whomademyclothes? This encourages brands to be more transparent, hopefully resulting in better and safer working conditions and better pay for textile workers. As a consumer, you have the power to make a positive change in the industry. Please use this week to ask #whomademyclothes on social media.
We will proudly be posting Alabama Chanin makers as part of the #imadeyourclothes movement. Look for spotlights on them throughout the week on Instagram stories—by following @alabamachanin and #alabamachanin and #imadeyourclothes.
We encourage you to post your Alabama Chanin garments—letting others know you know who made your clothes. Using the hashtags #whomademyclothes, #alabamachanin, and #alabamachaninmademyclothes.
We are all world citizens, so let’s push for change.
Barbecue is a territorial dish. Every region, every state, every city thinks that they have the best restaurant with the best recipes. We have never been much for arguing about barbecue because, at the end of the day, most of it is delicious. But, all who have ever eaten at Bunyan’s Bar-B-Q will attest to the deliciousness of their pulled pork and hot slaw – which absolutely cannot be replicated, though many have tried.
Bunyan’s has been a local staple since 1972, when it was founded by John Bunyan Cole. Its tiny outpost on West College Street is a frequent stop for my family. They keep a “wall of fame” posting photos of some of their favorite regular customers – and you can find my granddaughter Stella’s photo hanging there. Like all locals, she was weaned on Bunyan’s slaw.
Cathead Distillery has been on our radar for many years. They sponsored one our very first Friends of the Café dinners with Vivian Howard in 2014, and we made a hand-sewn banner for them to use at special events. This spring, we’re partnering with them and Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. for a special Cocktail Workshop on April 13th, as part of The Gathering—our annual community picnic.
We spoke with the team at Cathead to get an idea of why and how the company began, and the importance of Southern arts and humanities in their approach to doing business. Cheers.
The state of Mississippi was the last state in America to repeal prohibition, waiting until 1966 to make alcohol officially legal. Just over 100 years after alcohol was outlawed, longtime college friends Austin Evans and Richard Patrick founded Cathead Vodka in Jackson, Mississippi. While they are recognized for their passion for distilling, they are also known for their love of live music and Southern culture. When Evans and Patrick created Cathead Distillery, they did not just build a brand of liquor—they built a lifestyle brand.
The Cathead as a form of art supposedly originated with Blues musicians—specifically musician and folk artist James “Son” Thomas, who sculpted cat heads from clay.
AC: Can you explain the name of your company? How does it reflect what you do and who you are? What is a cathead?
CV: The term “Cathead” is a compliment in Mississippi, first coined back in the day by blues musicians as a nod to artists they respected. Mississippi artists and musicians went on to use “Catheads” in many forms of folk art, as a way to pay the rent and share their legacies.
Mississippi is the proud state where blues music began, a genre that has deeply influenced all forms of American music. We work hard to bring honor to the meaning of Cathead through our philanthropic support of live music and artisans alike. Cathead means friendship and respect.
AC:Craft cocktail culture has become the norm in many bars and restaurants across America. How important is that development to Cathead Vodka? And do you see or anticipate cocktail culture becoming too elaborate—more about performance or complexity and less about quality?
CV: The craft cocktail norm, as you say, has been very influential in building our brand. As mixologists, bar and restaurant owners take more pride in what they serve their guests—where it comes from, how it’s made, etc.
I think, or at least would like to think, that a quality-made cocktail will always win in the long haul vs. a trend someone made and thinks is cool but does nothing for the drink itself.
AC: Your product has extended beyond the classic vodka and into some flavored vodkas and other liquors. How do you select what products to develop next?
Our master distiller Philip Ladner is always coming up with new things, but hopefully, we’re done with flavored vodkas. We have two successful flavors in Honeysuckle and Pecan vodka, but we are actively working on aged juice that’s pretty exciting.
AC: Location is a huge part of who we are at Alabama Chanin. How do your location and your community play into your product and your business model?
CV: Being a southern brand is everything to us. We have no immediate plans to extend our footprint out of the South. More specifically, we are proud to be from Mississippi. There’s a certain stigma being from Mississippi, and we try and change that one pour at a time.
AC: You encourage consumers to “support live music” right on your bottle. Why is that? Is there a connection between music and your brand or your product?
CV: Blues music started in Mississippi—an important piece of our American DNA and simply the roots of modern day music that has influenced pop, jazz, rock & roll, hip-hop and basically everything. By all means possible, we align ourselves with foundations who support live music, genuine arts, and southern culture.
AC: You founded the Cathead Jam, a music festival in Jackson, Mississippi. When and how did you come up with this idea? And how is it a reflection of your brand?
CV: Again, it goes back to our love of music and the support we try and give to live music. That, and we just want to throw a fun party and have a good time. We always knew we wanted to have different music-type events at our distillery and—moving into a bigger location two years ago—we were able to create the Cathead Jam.
AC: What is the most important thing (if any) that being based in the South or, even more specifically, in Jackson, Mississippi, brings to your products and to your way of doing business?
CV: We are proud of our Southern roots and strive to change the way people may view the South or, more specifically, Mississippi in a negative light. Southern culture and influence mean the world to us and we hope we are changing some views one libation at a time.
“We presented Southern white racists with a new option: kill us or desegregate.”
“Who the hell is Diane Nash?” Robert Kennedy Jr. asked his then-special assistant John Seigenthaler in 1961. At the time, Nash was helping to coordinate the legendary Freedom Rides, filling buses with black and white activists protesting the lack of desegregation enforcement. The initiative, originally organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), faced a major setback after a bus was firebombed in Anniston, Alabama, and riders were severely beaten by a mob in Birmingham. CORE was hesitant to continue the Freedom Rides but Nash gathered supporters and persisted. Seigenthaler pleaded with Nash to discontinue the rides, saying “You’re going to get somebody killed,” to which she replied, “You don’t understand—we signed our wills last night.” Nash explained years later in the documentary Freedom Riders, “It was clear to me that if we allowed the Freedom Ride to stop at that point, just after so much violence had been inflicted, the message would have been sent that all you have to do to stop a nonviolent campaign is inflict massive violence.”
“Remember, this is your day and your world.” —Amelia Boynton
One of the most famous photographs taken of “Bloody Sunday”, when state troopers brutally assaulted civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama, shows an unconscious woman—dressed in heels, gloves, and a formal hat—being cradled and protected by a fellow marcher. That woman was Amelia Boynton, an important figure in the Alabama civil rights crusade. The photo of Boynton’s bloodied body appeared on the front page of newspapers across the country, drawing attention to the cause of voter discrimination and the violence perpetrated against African-American citizens.
Each year Alabama Chanin hosts a community picnic—a time for employees, artisans, collaborators, supporters, and members of the community to gather and celebrate. It gives us the opportunity to say hello to each of you, spend time together, and give thanks for the beautiful work and support we receive throughout the year. What started at Lovelace Crossroads (Natalie’s home and original production office) transitioned into an annual spring open house at The Factory.
This year we’re switching it up a bit with an expanded series of events at multiple locations across the community. The four-day event kicks off with our first Friends of the Café Dinner of 2018 featuring chef Steven Satterfield, benefiting the Southern Foodways Alliance on Thursday, April 12th. We’re eager to welcome the James Beard-award winning chef from Atlanta to set up shop in our kitchen.
Events continue Friday with a Custom Design Workshop at The Factory and an evening cocktail workshop hosted at 116 E. Mobile, a local venue and event space run by our friends at Single Lock Records. The cocktail workshop is in collaboration with friends Brooks Reitz of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. and Cathead Distillery. Participants (must be 21 or older) will learn to expertly craft their own cocktails while enjoying libations and small bites.
Saturday will include a series mini workshops on embroidery, stenciling and design customization, a BBQ lunch celebrating our talented artisans, a booth with our friends from Bluewater Creek Farm, the history of the company with Natalie, a stenciling booth, tours of The Factory, and a special Swampette tour of Shoals music venues. The weekend will wrap up on Sunday with a family-style brunch (two seatings) featuring Nashville’s famous Biscuit Love.
The Gathering 2018 will take place Thursday, April 12th through Sunday, April 15th. Mark your calendars and plan a long weekend with us in the Shoals.
We’ll highlight our collaborators Jack Rudy, Cathead, and Biscuit Love on the Journal in the coming months…stay tuned.
Thursday, April 12th
6:00pm Friends of the Café | Steven Satterfield
Friday, April 13th
10:00am Custom DIY Workshop
11:00 – 2:00pm Lunch @ The Factory
2:00pm The Factory Tour
6:00pm Jack Rudy + Cathead Cocktail Workshop @ 116 E. Mobile
Saturday, April 14th 9:00am – 10:00am One-Hour Embroidery Stitches Workshop
10:00am Doors Open
10:30am The Factory Tour
10:00 – 2:00pm Stenciling Booth
11:00am – 12:00pm One-Hour T-Shirt Workshop
11:00am Lunch + Artisan Recognition
1:00pm History of the Company with Natalie
2:30pm Swampette Tour (Pre-registration required.)
Sunday, April 15th
10:30am Biscuit Love Brunch: First seating
12:30am Biscuit Love Brunch: Second seating
We’re bringing a piece of New Orleans to Florence this January, as we collaborate with photographer/food and travel writer Pableaux Johnson for a special supper hosted at The Factory Café.
Appropriately called Red Beans Road Show, Pableaux’s pop-up dinner series shows guests Louisiana hospitality and is held in a casual family-style format, creating a unique and interactive dining experience. The dinner encourages conversation between guests and for phones to be left in bags and pockets—the perfect post-holiday pick-me-up.
The Red Beans Road Show series was inspired by Johnson’s grandmother’s dining kitchen table. He found himself in possession of it—remembering the days of his childhood. The table was resurrected and became a gathering place for Johnson and his friends. Why red beans and rice? It’s historically a meal of convenience and traditionally made on Mondays (laundry day). It’s a simple dish that’s satisfying, warm, and inviting.
Pableaux spends his time traveling the country cooking up these suppers, entertaining, and photographing his native New Orleans (look for more on that later on the Journal). Pableaux’s photographs will also be on display at The Factory for a limited time.
Several months ago, we introduced you to Asha Gomez—chef, innovator, author, and charity ambassador. After beginning her career as a professional chef in Atlanta, she realized the inherent similarities between Southern cuisine and the dishes she prepared in her birthplace of Kerala, India. This presented her with the unique opportunity to explore both food histories and the communities that can be built when we recognize our cross-cultural similarities. Her cookbook, My Two Souths: Blending the Flavors of India into a Southern Kitchen, does not take a food fusion approach; instead, it offers a new style of cooking that embraces food traditions from both cultures and finds common ground in sometimes surprising ways.
We recently spoke to Asha about her history, her thoughts about modern cuisine, and what she has in the works for the future.
AC: What is your first food memory? Do you remember the first dish you cooked by yourself?
AG: The very earliest memories I have of food revolve around mangoes and mango season. My great aunt Rita Netto stored straw-lined baskets full of mangoes in a darkened room off her kitchen behind cobalt blue doors. Even as a small child, I adored the mangoes’ spectrum of colors: bright red, radiant yellow, pinkish orange, deep purple, and delicate soft green. Eating fresh mango, I imagined the succulent flesh must taste just like sweet sunshine. It is that same sense of delight and discovery of simple yet potent ingredients that inspire me today.
Typically, in Kerala households a daughter’s role in the kitchen is largely supportive, guided by her mother. As a teenager, when my skills had advanced enough for my mother to trust me with preparing a whole meal, I was both nervous and excited. For my first solo meal, I chose to prepare a rabbit dish, and even after all these years, I still select rabbit for family meals. For my inaugural dish, I decided to venture away from my mother’s standard and frequent rabbit curry and chose a fried rabbit rendition. Her heartfelt after-dinner praise of my efforts remains my earliest and perhaps, my greatest culinary triumph.
AC: What inspired you to become a chef?
AG: I guess you might say that childhood memory may have lit a spark in me, though I didn’t heed the call until many years and a whole other career later.
AC: What motivated your move from Kerala to the United States?
AG: My parents migrated when I was really young.
AC: What are the most important things about cultural identity, food, and simple childhood memories of your life in Southern India that shape you today? In a sense, you have two homes—one in India and one in the United States. What most connects you to Southern India?
AG: I found a kinship between this concept of hospitality in the South and the way I was raised to treat guests that is just part of my cultural DNA.
AC: You have spent a great deal of time and energy working toward ending hunger worldwide. What inspired you to become involved in this cause?
AG: I feed people for a living, and people come to me to satisfy their hunger. I felt that it’s a travesty that only those who have the means and access can do so, and when there is so much abundance in our world there are too many who go to bed unable to satisfy such a basic human need.
AC: We have noticed that chefs often donate time and energy to charitable causes and organizations. Do you think there is something specific about those who work with food or local farmers and suppliers that inspires community involvement?
AG: More and more today, chefs have a voice that people listen to and respect. We have an opportunity to change the way people interact with and make choices about the food they buy. As chefs, we can use our time in the limelight to be the voice for those whose needs aren’t always heard, and we can find ways to help locally in our own communities and reach out to others doing good work. My fellow chefs are truly a passionate community of human beings.
AC: Your James Beard nominated cookbook, My Two Souths, illustrates that classic Southern food and dishes from Southern India share many of the same qualities. When did you first come to this realization? What key elements are most prominent in their similarities?
AG: It was after many years of an abiding appreciation for the culture and cuisine of both of these places that I have called home that the thoughts and ideas to marry the two evolved. Although they seem like separate universes, surprisingly, I found their shared aspects—a warm, humid climate, abundant produce varieties, expanses of rice acreage, and busy coastal communities, along with a spirit of sharing, a gift for entertaining and storytelling, a talent for creating bounty out of an often-modest pantry, and a sincere embrace of simplicity—blend easily in my South-by-South cuisine.
AC: How can we best encourage home cooks to explore ingredients that might initially be unfamiliar to them?
AG: [That is] essentially what I explored in my book: this idea of taking familiar, classic staples and infusing them with unexpected spices to unlock flavors and enliven the palate. By using accessible dishes like biscuits, pies, and beignets to show home cooks new and fresh takes on classics will hopefully motivate them to reach across to the under-explored side of the grocery aisle.
AC: It seems that Indian food is occasionally simplified in American restaurants. Are there things that frustrate you about how Indian food is viewed and prepared in the United States? What would you most like for people to know about authentic Indian cooking?
AG: Every cuisine in the world has what I call high-low cooking. Indian cuisine is 5,000 years old and is the culmination of many diverse influences and layers of sophistication in what presents. And yet in America, we are only accustomed for the most part to view Indian food in terms of a buffet line or in the cheap eats section.
The way Indians cook at home is vastly different from what is represented in mainstream restaurants. I take exception and considerable umbrage to the notion in some circles that culinary innovation happens primarily in a Euro-centric milieu.
AC: What ingredients most inspire you?
AG: Local produce that is best in each season and the introduction of spice to make the ordinary extraordinary.
AC: What was your last true great dining experience?
AG: I recently experienced a meal at Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia. It was a mind-blowing experience. So much heart and so much soul in the culinary story that revealed itself before my eyes and taste buds.
AC: What do you do when you are not in the kitchen?
AG: l love traveling. I’m often planning food experiences around the places that I travel to.
AC: At Alabama Chanin, you can often find music influencing the mood and the workflow in the studio. What is your favorite music to cook by?
AG: Music, like food, adds so much sweetness and texture to our everyday lives. My musical tastes are pretty eclectic and vary depending on my mood. The soundtrack of my life includes Leonard Cohen, k.d. Lang, Bollywood/Sufi, Prince, Ceasaria Evoria, to Willie Nelson and so many more.
AC: You seem to juggle so many diverse projects. What is on the horizon for you?
AG: I have a new web-based series of cooking classes called “Curry and Cornbread”. It is a subscription-based service that offers one new recipe per week. Curious home cooks can also purchase videos individually. It is an easy way to learn more about new cuisine and cooking techniques that is not intimidating.
Join us on the first and third Tuesday of every month for our sewing group meetup. The spirit of making that this group brings to The Factory each month is contagious—as is the joy of visiting with friends and sharing projects.
First and Third Tuesday of each month
8:30am – 11:30am
Alabama Chanin @ The Factory
462 Lane Drive
Florence, AL 35630
Contact email@example.com or call 256-760-1090 for more information.
And while The School of Making is a core part of Alabama Chanin, it continues to grow and stand on its own apart from our Collection of made-to-order items. As we continue to further distinguish The School of Making as the educational arm of our company, you can expect to see more of the following:
New patterns launched quarterly through Build a Wardrobe
As our programming expands, we have updated our social media channels to more directly get news to our followers. Last year, we introduced separate Instagram accounts for The School of Making (@theschoolofmaking), The Factory Café (@alabamachaninfactorycafe), and Natalie’s own personal account (@alabamachaninlife).
Today, we announce a new Facebook page for The School of Making. Like and follow our page for new pattern and product launches, workshop dates, project inspiration, and more.
Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) is the anniversary of Mexican President Benito Juarez’s victory against the French at the attack on Puebla da Los Angeles in 1862. After the Mexican-American War, the country was nearly bankrupt—so President Juarez was forced to default on debts with France, ruled by Napoleon III. Juarez rounded up a force of 2000 men who defended Puebla from 6000 French troops. After an all-day battle, the French finally retreated. Juarez lost less than 100 of his men; France lost 500. This symbolic victory bolstered support for the Mexican government and resistance against French imperialism. Six years later, France finally withdrew from Mexico.
Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Mexico occur mainly in the state of Puebla and include parades, battle recreations, and street festivals. However, the day isn’t a federal holiday—so for many Mexicans, Cinco de Mayo is just like any other day of the year.
As Mexico’s neighbor, the United States celebrates Cinco de Mayo as a way to recognize Mexican heritage and culture. In the 1960s, Mexican-American activists began promoting the day as a way to increase community pride. The United States adopted the holiday and now celebrates it more vigorously than most Mexican natives. In fact, Americans consume more alcohol on Cinco de Mayo than on almost any other day of the year. Los Angeles hosts what is believed to be the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the world, with parades and events more elaborate than those in Puebla, Mexico. Taco stands, parties, margaritas are all included.
While we were host to Patagonia’s Worn Wear Truck in 2015, chef Zach made tacos for a brunch taco stand at The Factory. He’s recreating those dishes at The Factory Café by serving up tacos next Friday for Cinco de Mayo. Look for three versions: shrimp, carnitas, and pollo rojo, with house-made tortillas and all the trimmings. The shrimp are Royal Red, sourced from the Gulf, the pork comes from our friends at Bluewater Creek Farms, and the chicken is from Joyce Farms.
Drop in for lunch and enjoy them with one of our regional craft beers (Straight To Ale’s Monkeynaut IPA pictured here) from 11am – 2pm from Tuesday, May 2nd – Friday, May 5th.
P.S.: Select embroideries in the Alabama Chanin Collection are inspired by Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, who has been written about extensively on the Journal.
Scott Peacock, native of Hartford, Alabama, was in his late twenties when he met the legendary, late Edna L ewis, considered to be the “Grand Dame” of Southern cuisine. At the time, Scott was chef for the governor of Georgia, and he and Miss Lewis were assigned to cook together for a fundraiser—though neither of them realized that they were also beginning an extraordinary relationship that would last until the last days of her life. After years of working together—with Miss Lewis acting as both muse and endless source of knowledge, and Peacock serving as faithful collaborator and eventual caretaker—the two partnered to write what is now considered a modern classic Southern cookbook, The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great Southern Cooks.
But in the years leading up to that partnership, Scott was finding his place in the culinary world. He began his career as a pastry chef at Tallahassee, Florida’s The Golden Pheasant before transitioning into his position in the governor’s mansion for two terms—cooking primarily French-inspired dishes. After some time, with the encouragement of his father and Miss Lewis, Scott embarked upon a new path and earned acclaim at Atlanta’s Horseradish Grill before moving to Watershed restaurant in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur. She encouraged him to embrace his Southern roots and to cook food that was true to their Southern experiences, rather than focus solely on what might be considered caricatures of traditional dishes. While Scott eventually became quite well-known for his fried chicken recipe, he also knows how to coax the best flavors from collard greens, okra, seasonal vegetables, and fish. Scott makes no secret of the impact that Miss Lewis had upon his life and his approach to cooking—and to living. The two became family and their bond lasted until the end of her life; she spent her final years at his Decatur, Georgia, home. As he told the St. Petersburg Times, “She’s my best friend. The least of what I’ve learned from her has to do with cooking.”
Alongside Miss Lewis, Scott co-founded The Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food, a precursor to the Southern Foodways Alliance. Scott has been nominated for six James Beard awards, and in 2007 was awarded the prize for Best Chef: Southeast for his work at Watershed. His recipes have appeared in a number of publications, including Southern Living, The New York Times, BonAppetit, Food and Wine, and Gourmet, among many others. He has also made frequent appearances on the Today Show, Good Morning America, Martha Stewart’s talk show, “Martha” and is a contributor to Better Homes and Gardens. Additionally, Scott has dedicated years to documenting the stories and food memories of Alabama’s oldest residents.
His longstanding mission has been to celebrate the true nature of Southern food and the community-related approach that surrounds the Southern table. He once told us, “Pure, wholesome food—should be democratic and available to everyone. At my mother’s and grandmothers’ tables, there was a strong awareness of where our food came from that made it distinct. Co mparisons were made between vegetables we grew, those grown by friends and neighbors, and those that came from Mr. Spear’s Market or the Piggly Wiggly. Within the community, individuals were distinguished by who grew the best corn or made the best pound cake… People in Hartford had certain ways of cooking peas that were different from the way peas were cooked in Slocomb, 6 miles away, or where my father’s mother lived, way in the country. There was a uniqueness that set us apart and also bound us together.”
“But even then, I realized that it’s a very different experience to cook or eat food grown by someone or from somewhere you know.” He explained, “To me, food is all about relationships. To have a relationship with your farmer, with your community, with the people who prepare your food, with yourself, and even with the ingredients themselves is so important. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m there because I’ve been inspired—by people, by stories, by my surroundings. The dinner is being served family-style, so that people will interact with one another, serve food to one another, and hopefully, build relationships—with each other and the food.”
These days the renowned chef, oral historian, and storyteller has taken a sabbatical from the kitchen and is dedicating his time to living in and growing in The Black Belt of Alabama—specifically focusing on natural dyestuffs, indigo, and rare antique wheats. His commitment to thorough research and practical experimentation is as comprehensive as his work exploring Southern food histories and traditions. Even so, we have somehow managed to coax Scott out of his temporary retirement to host our upcoming Friends of the Café Dinner, benefiting the Southern Foodways Alliance. This is an extraordinary opportunity to share food, fellowship, and stories with one of our most celebrated and knowledgeable food historians in America.
We start each week on the Journal with The Factory | This Week, which begins with an inspirational quote from an artist, visionary, or change maker.
This week’s quote is, fittingly, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
And while these words stir powerful feelings inside us, we recognize that it is up to each of us to act peacefully, to be heard, to spread love, and to teach the truth. We must choose to not sit in silence, to be compassionate to one another, and to teach our children about love, acceptance, and tolerance.
As we move into 2017, we want to do so cloaked in a strong sense of community. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is approaching and my mind is drawn again and again to his idea of a Beloved Community, and how each of us, in our own way, can bring people together for a common cause or a common interest. Collectively we comprise a global community, and each of us has smaller geographic and cultural communities to which we belong; we have communities of choice and communities of circumstance. In the coming year, I hope to see us all celebrate the things that make us unique, but in thoughtful ways; I want to embrace community in an inclusive way, whenever we can.
In the past, Alabama Chanin and The School of Making have celebrated the power of making together, of creating in public spaces as a way of creating a community. We have seen, time and again, that the act of making can open hearts and minds and join together people who might have otherwise never connected with one another. This idea overwhelmed us last year when I visited the University of Georgia in Athens for a weekend to attend the Willson Center’s Global Georgia Initiative—a series that attempts to examine global issues in local context, with a focus on community.
The weekend’s events were to begin with a small, two-hour sewing workshop held in the atrium of the Lamar Dodd School of Art. We prepared a limited number of materials for participants and expected to have an intimate discussion with a small group of art students. We were unprepared for the 125+ people (both students and community members) who showed up to talk, listen, and be a part of the community discussion. What this told us then—and what it reminds us now—is that when you put out a call to the community, they often listen more than you realize. We were looking for an audience interested in looking at global issues as they affected a specific community, and that community was primed to respond; they showed up in droves, in earnest, and ready to talk and listen and sew.
There will be calls for discussion and change in the days to come. We have learned not to underestimate the power of a people who want to learn and are invested in outcomes. Those people will show up to tackle difficult discussions and help problem solve larger issues. Community organizers do not necessarily have special skills, other than a heartfelt connection to their community and a belief in drawing people together. There will be many opportunities for you to organize, unite with, and grow your communities in the future. We hope that you will embrace the opportunities as they arise, even surprising ones, as they may offer unexpected chances to bring about change.
Special thanks to Rinne Allen, Dave Marr, Eileen Wallace, Jennifer Crenshaw and Winnie Smith for putting together our memorable weekend in Georgia last January—one that reminded us what a united community could be.
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.
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.
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.
The days following the Thanksgiving holiday have become inextricably associated with commerce: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday – these are all days to bargain hunt and search for gifts. But over the past five years, a movement has been growing to change the conversation on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, now known as #GivingTuesday.
Created by the Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact and the 92nd Street Y, #GivingTuesday invites people, businesses, families, and communities to be of service and give back. Since its creation, it has become the unofficial kickoff date for the charitable season. Like Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday focuses on the flexibility and global reach of the internet and social media to spread a message and receive feedback. Organizations are inviting people to give money, donate time, encourage acts of kindness, and celebrate generosity in all forms. Last year, over 700,000 people participated to raise approximately $117 million online, with more offline in local communities.
Alabama Chanin has continued our partnership with Nest, the non-profit organization that assists artisans across the world in establishing and growing businesses that have social and economic impact. Nest has helped us develop practices in our machine facility, which continues to expand upon its goal of employing more women in our community. For this #GivingTuesday, QVC has chosen Nest as one of their featured charities, offering special merchandise and opportunities to contribute to Nest. You can also donate to Nest directly through the Nest website.
We also hope you will consider giving to the Southern Foodways Alliance, with whom we have worked extensively to raise funds for their various charitable efforts via our Friends of the Café Dinner Series. Proceeds from our most recent event, featuring Chef Sean Brock, went toward hurricane recovery efforts for those affected by Hurricane Matthew. We strongly support their values and mission to set a welcome table for all to join, in the spirit of respect and reconciliation.
We encourage you to reach out to local organizations to find out how you can get involved in community events or make online donations to charities that mean the most to you. If you are interested in finding ways to get involved or organizations in need of assistance, visit the #GivingTuesday website. And don’t forget to post, tweet, photograph, or share videos of giving efforts that inspire you, and tag your posts with #GivingTuesday to share with people across the globe.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been revisiting thoughts from the late Civil Rights activist Vincent Harding, who was recently featured on one of our favorite podcasts, On Being with Krista Tippett. Their conversation, “Is America Possible?” touched on so many feelings we’ve been struggling to corral recently. It reintroduced us to the idea of the Beloved Community, one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most moving and evocative goals. The Beloved Community is his vision of a society where people of all backgrounds recognize that one life is inextricably connected to all others and asks us to move beyond mere tolerance, toward understanding. Dr. King urged all to “fight passionately and unrelentingly for the goals of justice and peace” but to do so with the goal of reconciliation.
Harding said, “When I think about Martin, I think about Martin with the three C’s: courage, compassion, and creativity.” At this moment in time, we must have the courage to look at one another with open eyes, listen with open ears, and approach with open hearts; if we view one another with compassion and see the potential for community amidst the anger, then there is hope for reconciliation. “I think that the stoking of our creative capacities is one of the jobs that is still necessary for us,” Harding acknowledged. In the darkest of times, creativity and art have challenged our norms and also provided balm for our wounds. To travel through difficult terrain, “we have got to get new words, new songs, new possibilities for ourselves.”
To create the Beloved Community, we have to meet at a place that celebrates our diversity and our inclusiveness—and your Thanksgiving table offers you that opportunity. We are family, friends, and neighbors whose bonds may have been challenged in these divisive times. Dr. King advised not to make enemies of those who oppose you—to challenge the ideology but not the individual, for then the aftermath can be redemption. Though we may differ, we must question rather than challenge, ask rather than accuse. Be persistent with one another, be realistic—but be patient. Do not lose hope. Be compassionate face-to-face and not via internet.
Courage, compassion, and creativity—we offer these things to you and invite you to pass them on to others this Thanksgiving.
Last October, we launched our Host A Party program to expand the sense of fellowship we create here at The Factory through our workshops, dinners, and events by inviting friends and colleagues to host their own workshop and event (surrounded by friends, family, and good food).
When you decide to host a sewing party for The School of Making, you organize a group of 6 or more friends, gathering the group’s project selection and payment, and provide a location and refreshments to your liking. You and your group choose one project—with difficulty levels ranging from beginner to advanced. While everyone makes the same project, each group member can choose their own size, fabric color, and stencil design. As organizer and host, your kit is free. All your guests will receive a 20% discount off the cost of their kits. We encourage you to get creative as you provide hospitality, instruction, and refreshments for your guests.
Host A Party has been bringing friends and family together under our mission of sewing education for just over a year, and we are excited to announce updates to the program. We have reveled in the stories, listened to feedback, and are now expanding the DIY Kit offerings to include the Tank Dress, Fitted Top, Bucket Hat, and Journal Cover—catering to all skill levels. We also have a selection of our favorite stencils available to customize each kit, and we’ve added a new set of colorways in addition to updating our 25 tonal colorway options.
Host your own sewing party by contacting us at workshops (at) alabamachanin.com
Read our tips for hosting your own party on our Journal.
As a female business owner, Natalie is constantly asked questions about what it is like to be a woman AND entrepreneur, what it takes to start a company from scratch, and how to “have it all.” I hope that we have been able to dispel the “having it all” myth, but even now—after a decade and a half of work—it can be difficult to find female colleagues, business owners, and mentors that can relate to the unique challenges and rewards of being both woman and businessperson.
Grace Bonney, founder of Design*Sponge, is an all-around model for uncompromising creativity and a champion for other women. Her recent book, In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneursoffers interviews and portraits of women from all sorts of creative backgrounds and a diverse range of races, ages, and abilities. In the book’s introduction, Bonney quotes activist Marian Wright Edelman, who said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Bonney explains, “Visibility is one of the most powerful tools we have in inspiring people to pursue their dreams and educating them about all the amazing options that exist.” This book serves as a mirror—reflecting the work of women who are walking the walk and talking the talk to others who are just getting their sea legs and finding their voices.
The book profiles artists, designers, writers, chefs, activists, musicians, and more; they talk about subjects like the meaning of success, self-doubt and fear, learning from mistakes, strengths, and their own sources of inspiration. Natalie is honored to be profiled here—alongside many talented women—including friends, collaborators, and inspirations like Rinne Allen, Eileen Fisher, Maira Kalman, Liz Lambert, and so many others.
Each profile is accompanied by a photograph of the woman in her personal workspace. Some of these women could not be more different from one another, but many share the same thoughts and fears. So many of us are learning to value our work, manage expectations, create better work/life balance, to say “no”, and we are negotiating what it means to be a business owner AND an artist. Oh—and it seems a number of us wanted to be ballerinas when we grew up. It’s immediately clear that there is no right answer to any question and no one-size-fits-all solution to our problems.
Bonney’s hope is that women will see something in themselves, somewhere in the book. We found many moments of connection with our peers that we could never list them all. Some of our favorites:
“Trust your instincts! There is nothing worse than realizing that your first instincts were right and that second-guessing led to a costly mistake. As women, we’re taught to second-guess ourselves and to look to others for direction and guidance. Most times my inner voice tells me in a flash what I want and need, and whom to trust. I’m learning to honor that inner voice.” – Lisa Hunt, designer and artist
“Create a ‘no assholes’ policy. Nobody you work with or hire can have this quality. Life is too short and we are too sensitive to suffer unkind people. Live kind; your work will show it.” – Genevieve Gorder, interior designer and television host
“Success in business is seeing how badly you can fail and still love yourself.” – Mary Going, fashion designer
“It’s been said before, but people are your biggest asset. There is no way you can be everywhere at once, and you wouldn’t want to be. Put the right people in the right place and your job becomes easier. And you have so much to learn from them, thank God. It takes a village.” – Liz Lambert, hotelier
“I think the world needs more authentic, honest, and vulnerable connections. As an individual, I think this results in richer relationships, and as a businesswoman, I find that the result is a sincere collaboration between my customer and me. Less polish, more authenticity.” – Karen Young, product designer and entrepreneur
“Gummy bears are not fruit, therapy can be interesting, don’t judge people by their shoes.” – Olimpia Zagnoli, illustrator
“The world needs more face-to-face conversation, perhaps over a meal, so we can really get to know each other without assumptions. The world needs fewer sound bites where those assumptions are formed.” – Carla Hall, chef and television host
“When I was about thirteen, my dad told me, ‘Everyone is weird,’ and that simple statement pretty much changed my life. I think of it often. It makes me feel relaxed to be myself and do things my own way and be open-minded about everyone else doing the same.” – Julia Turshen, cookbook author
“I love seeing brilliant, creative women making space and laying down tracks for other women. It’s easy to fall into the pernicious trap of thinking that just because you scrapped your way toward achieving your goal, there’s no room for anyone else.” – Carrie Brownstein, musician, writer, and actor
“The world needs your voice, so stop trying to fit someone else’s idea of who you are. Make them look you dead in the eye; make them know you.” – Danielle Henderson, writer and editor
“Say no to things you don’t want to do, kindly and politely. And give a widely known enthusiastic yes to the things you do want to do.” – Randi Brookman Harris, prop stylist
As we have reported more than once, the annual Southern Foodways Alliance symposium is a pretty magical occurrence where like-minded individuals come to discuss, debate, celebrate, and (most importantly) eat the very best of what the South has to offer. It was at one of these events where we first really got to know chef John Currence. Anyone who knows much about southern food knows about John’s restaurant City Grocery or any of the other five restaurants he runs from his home base in Oxford, Mississippi. But, our love for John (and his breakfast) was cemented a few years ago on the final Sunday morning of a symposium—after a rousing evening and maybe one too many glasses of bourbon—when we were all handed Chinese to-go containers filled with crumbled biscuits and sausage and a heavy dose of John’s tomato gravy. Out of four days of some of the most amazing food in the world, this was one of the meals that stuck with us for good.
John’s newest cookbook, Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book of the Day, named for one of his successful restaurant concepts, is perhaps the most raucous recipe collection you’ll ever own. His persona comes across immediately—knowledgeable, unfiltered, and hilarious. You won’t find any other cookbooks that make you laugh this hard, that are also packed with truly delicious, unintimidating recipes. And who can resist a breakfast cookbook with an entire chapter devoted to cocktails…
In the introduction, John traces his obsession with breakfast to his New Orleans childhood and memorable meals at bakeries, breakfast joints, and lunch counters. He believes that breakfast took a turn for the disastrous when those diners slowly faded from existence, to be replaced by flavorless fast food biscuits, rubbery bacon, and (shudder) the Egg McMuffin. He, in fact, writes a letter to America’s favorite fast food chain that begins, “Dear McDonald’s, You make shit for food.” (He also admits, “My lawyer and my publisher hate me, if you haven’t guessed. Fortunately, my editor thinks I am kind of amusing.”) But John does not merely criticize; he also provides plenty of alternatives, ranging from sausage cinnamon rolls to skillet scrambles, to homemade pop tarts. There are elevated selections and international options, like crab cake benedict, chorizo migas, shakshouka, and a grits and collard soufflé. Plus, he will teach you how to cook an egg just about any way you can think of.
Some of the recipes in Big Bad Breakfast may require that you forego your calorie counting, but there is an entire chapter for “Cereals, Grains, and other Pseudo-Virtuous Things.” And, in times of absolute emergency, John offers the ultimate hangover killer: The Pylon. This Belgian waffle, topped with hot dogs, chili, sweet slaw, cheese, and multiple condiments is lauded in the book’s foreword by famed chef David Chang, who credits the dish with reviving him from the worst hangover of his life. The point is—there’s something here for everyone. Pick up Big Bad Breakfast and visit one of its brick and mortar locations today.
As part of our zero waste mission, we upcycle menus from The Factory Café into notepads that we use around the office for meetings, or to write thank you notes on. We stencil and cut the paper into quarter sheets and place them on our café tables with pencils for our guests’ convenience, as well.
Since we’ve begun this practice we have received dozens of notes from our guests; some people write lovely comments, but others leave us sketches or doodles, poems, kind words—and some of our littlest guests leave us handprints traced in pencil. These are small gifts, but we find them remarkably personal and delightful.
What these notes (and other gifts) say to us is that our community feels comfortable in our space—and even if we don’t know you personally, you still feel connected enough to share a little piece of yourself. We did not initially realize how great an opportunity the café would provide us to invite people into our creative space, but we are so grateful for what it has become.
Since opening in 2013, The Factory Café has proudly offered a menu of organic, locally grown and produced vegetables, meats, and cheeses. Whether it is through the atmosphere we encourage or the food we provide, the café has been and continues to be a place of community and kinship. We hope locals and out-of-towners alike will gather here to share food, stories, and laughter. And when you stop by, we hope you will leave us your own unique message to let us know you were there.
Follow The Factory Café on Instagram @alabamachaninfactorycafe for lunch and brunch updates. And leave us some love with #leftonthecafetable.
John Paul White spent years of his life on the road. Formerly one-half of the prolific duo The Civil Wars, it was not unusual for him to spend 300-plus days a year on tour. Once that project came to an end, White returned home to Florence and began a period of centering himself, settling in as a father and a husband—and eventually as a producer and owner of a record label. He told Paste Magazine, “I made a conscious decision to focus every bit of my energy on being a good dad, a good husband, and that segued into becoming a label partner and a studio owner. So everything has kind of been me, following my nose, but me paying close attention to what was within 20 yards of me, me pulling in the reins and staying connected to what’s within arm’s length.”
John Paul and his partners Ben Tanner and Will Trapp of Single Lock Records have spent the last few years focusing on helping less established artists find a foothold in the music industry. He and Tanner built a recording studio in White’s back yard, and John Paul has been one of the most prominent voices speaking out for and supporting artists in our community. But, he has done all of this with the understanding that being present for his family is his priority. It’s been quite a while since John Paul White has considered re-entering the world of writing and recording his own music… And yet, here we are.
John Paul says that he initially resisted the urge to go back to songwriting, even as songs began to come to him—uninvited. He did not want to be pulled away from his family and this time and this place, but the songs kept finding him. “Songs that a lot of me tried not to write,” he said. “Songs that wouldn’t leave me alone. Songs that moved me enough to want to share them.”
“Honestly, I tried to avoid them, but then I realized the only way I was going to get rid of them was if I wrote them down. I got my phone out and I’d sing these little bits of melody, then put it away and move on. But eventually I got to a place where it was a roar in my head, and that pissed me off.” Due to his experiences as a gun-for-hire in Nashville, White was reluctant to romanticize the creative process, to turn it into a spiritual pursuit. “Then one day I told my wife I think I’m going to go write a song. She was as surprised as I was. I went and wrote probably eight songs in three days. It was like turning on a faucet.”
The songs on Beulah range from folk to country, to 90s-influenced rock. You can hear The Secret Sisters’ beautiful harmonies on songs like “I’ve Been Over This Before”, and White’s familiar acoustic sound emerges in songs like “Hate the Way You Love Me.” But it’s hard not to immediately gravitate toward “What’s So”, a hard-driving song that reveals both his Southern background and his love for swampy rock and roll.
White says that “Beulah” is a term of endearment in his family, comparable to calling someone “Honey”. It’s what his father called White’s little sister, and it’s what John Paul calls his own daughter. But it’s hard not to also see connections to the Beulah of poet William Blake—a place in the subconscious—not quite heaven, but the source of inspiration and dreams. John Paul White seems to agree. “[Blake’s] Beulah was a place you could go in your dreams. You could go there in meditation, to relax and heal and center yourself. It wasn’t a place you could stay, but you came back to the world a better place.”
Listening to Beulah, you are transported to another place—sometimes familiar, other times unkind and uncomfortable, but you always return home changed, and for the better.
Grab a copy of Beulah for yourself here. And listen to “What’s So” from Beulah, by John Paul White below:
We love the idea that items can have a sort of sense memory or be associated with a specific moment in time. It is something we explored in our Heirloom series—and author Erin Byers Murphy goes deeper into that concept in her cookbook, A Colander, Cake Stand, and My Grandfather’s Iron Skillet. The concept is simple: every cook has a favorite tool, and that tool can tell you a lot about the person using it.
Most of our well-loved recipes have a good story behind them and cooks are some of the best storytellers. Food can tell a story of a person’s past, a family’s past, a region’s past, their present, their values, or the very ingredients they use. That is why cooking for others can be an intimate experience; every element—from the ingredients to the cooking preparation and method, to the utensils and tools used, to the dining experience—has the potential to reveal something essential about the person preparing the meal.
In A Colander, Cake Stand, and My Grandfather’s Iron Skillet, Murphy (a Nashville-based food writer) collects stories from 37 top chefs, including some of our favorite cooks, like Steven Satterfield, Virginia Willis, Ford Fry, Kevin Gillespie, and Tandy Wilson. Each shares a personal story of their favorite tool or utensil, how they acquired it, and why it is so essential to their kitchen. Alongside each story, each chef offers a recipe utilizing his or her tool of choice.
Natalie was honored to be included in this book, and she shares the story of her grandmother’s rolling pin. Over the past 30 years, it has rolled out hundreds of pans of biscuits and been “around the world and back again (a couple of times).” On pages 102 and 103 you will find her story and biscuit recipe. Like all the chefs in A Colander, Cake Stand, and My Grandfather’s Iron Skillet, we know you will be inspired to look in your own kitchen and find the tool that embodies your history and has helped to create some of your own signature dishes.
Over the years, through connections with our DIY community and The School of Making programming, we have seen how passionate and virtually inexhaustible our fellow makers can be. We have also witnessed them making connections through craft that extend outward into their lives, creating lifelong friendships and bonds.
Author Christine Chitnis and her mother attended one of our workshops at Blackberry Farm, and Christine shared the experience on her blog, which has its own strong community of fellow crafters, cooks, travel aficionados, and mothers. Christine went home and completed her DIY garment but, due to personal stressors and time constraints, her mother was unable to finish her own garment. As a gift to her mother, Christine wanted to complete the piece—a 6-panel Camisole Dress—as a Christmas gift. With a rapidly approaching deadline and two young children, she recognized that she would need help to complete such a large project.
Three women from her maker community came forward and, together, they stitched and constructed the project on time. On Christmas morning, Christine’s mother received a beautifully finished dress, with notes from each of the women who helped make it. We have witnessed time and again that making for others can be as much a gift to the maker as it is to the recipient. Christine wrote, “There is something so powerful about wearing a garment that other hands made for you with love and intention.”
The experience inspired Christine to organize more “community stitching” experiences and create pieces for others who might be facing difficult days. She put out a call on her blog and Instagram account, looking for makers who would be interested in joining her efforts. She was able to organize 20 women from across the country (plus one in Australia) to hand craft garments for four recipients who, in one way or another, were dealing with a personal struggle. And, like her mother, none of the four women had any knowledge of the project until they received their gifts. Christine said, “We are hoping that these garments make them feel wrapped in love.”
Christine and her community sewed thousands of stitches into those garments, with love and intention. They are examples of how making can enrich the lives of everyone a garment touches. We hope that Christine’s story inspires others to take up the task of creating for those who need to feel loved and cared for. Thank you to everyone in our maker community who continues to reach out and build bridges across lives—strengthening connections and changing the world with your own two hands.
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.
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.
Earlier this year, we caught up with Single Lock records and observed how they have grown in the short time since the label was founded. Since our very first meeting, the label has more than doubled its roster and continues to be a resource, helping artists grow in a way that best suits the artist’s vision.
Each quarter, we are featuring different Single Lock artists in our online store; this quarter we are highlighting veteran musician Donnie Fritts and the newest addition to the Single Lock artist roster, Penny & Sparrow.
Donnie Fritts is a Florence, Alabama, native and a well-respected songwriter who has penned hits like “We Had It All” (recorded by such artists as Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles, the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, and Willie Nelson) and “Breakfast in Bed”, which he co-wrote with Eddie Hinton for Dusty Springfield. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, his songs were recorded by artists like Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Box Tops, and Ronnie Milsap. Donnie also became an actor and spent 20 years as keyboardist for Kris Kristofferson, where he became known as “Funky” Donnie Fritts.
He recorded the critically praised Oh My Goodness on the Single Lock label, produced by John Paul White. The record features a host of Alabama stars, all on board to pay tribute to Fritts: Alabama Shakes members Brittany Howard and Ben Tanner (co-owner of Single Lock Records), Jason Isbell, The Secret Sisters, Dylan LeBlanc, St. Paul and the Broken Bones horn players Ben Griner and Allen Bransetter and longtime friends and music legends David Hood, Spooner Oldham, and John Prine.
On Oh My Goodness, Fritts’ voice is a weathered instrument, but one that conveys emotion with unexpected tenderness. The music is more polished and spare than in previous records and showcases the songwriting that he is so well known for. “This album means so much to me,” Donnie says. “I thought I wouldn’t get another shot. It’s the most personal and important album to me. It’s one of the most special things I ever got to do in my life.”
Singer-songwriter duo Penny & Sparrow, out of Austin, Texas, began making music together in 2010, when they were roommates at the University of Texas in Austin. Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke built their reputation for honest, unadorned acoustic music over years of touring. Let a Lover Drown You is their third full-length album, produced by John Paul White and Ben Tanner. The record is hauntingly beautiful and melancholic and marries their characteristic minimalist sound with White and Tanner’s richer arrangements.
Their music is clearly influenced by artists like Simon and Garfunkel, Swell Season, Bon Iver, and even some Broadway composers. (Baxter is so inspired by the musical Les Miserables that each record contains an homage; in Let a Lover Drown You, the closing song is titled “Eponine”, after the iconic character.) Their well-paired harmonies and thoughtful lyrics make it clear why the duo has a fervent touring fan base. This record features both White and Tanner—and bass player David Hood (of the legendary “Swampers”) makes several appearances.
Penny & Sparrow are currently featured on NPR Music’s annual “Austin 100” list, spotlighting their favorite artists for each year’s SXSW Music Conference. Let a Lover Drown You was just released on March 11. Look for Penny & Sparrow, currently on tour (hopefully) in a city near you.
On March 24th, we will be hosting our first Friends of the Café dinner for 2016 featuring Rodney Scott and Frank Stitt (see more about that below). At first glance, Frank and Rodney may seem like they exist on opposite ends of the spectrum:
Rodney is an absolute master of barbecue—what the uninitiated might consider “working man’s food.”
Frank is known for his French, Italian, and Mediterranean-inspired dishes and his lovely cookbooks.
However, they are of the same mind when it comes to making locally-sourced Slow Food and preserving southern food traditions.
Rodney Scott and his family have been serving pit-cooked barbecue from their Hemingway, South Carolina, restaurant for over 30 years. Scott’s Bar-B-Que was founded in 1972 by Ella and Roosevelt Scott, who still run the restaurant with their son Rodney serving as Pitmaster. Rodney, who cooked his first whole hog at age 11, is a perfectionist of his craft—but, by most descriptions, a laid back perfectionist.
Like any good artist, Rodney places great importance on materials—not just methods. Barbecuing a whole hog, pit-style, takes an incredible amount of wood, which Rodney and his family cut themselves. They use oak, hickory, and pecan and keep a large reserve on their property. But keeping the Scotts cooking is a community effort; if a neighbor’s tree falls down, they always call the Scotts to cut it and cart it away.
The community is part of the entire Scott enterprise. The idea of “locally sourced” may be relatively new to many restaurants, but the Scotts have always sourced local pigs—and they rely on local labor and materials throughout their process. A local meat market butchers and delivers the hogs; Rodney works alongside local builders who weld together his custom burn barrels, fashioned from scrap metal piping, truck axles, and other repurposed materials.
These barrels are used to burn the wood down to coals, which are shoveled and spread evenly across his barbecue pit—over and over, throughout the entire evening it takes to roast a whole pig. The whole pigs are butterflied and laid out across a grate covering the pit. Rodney insists the smoke this pit creates is the key to the product. And though he humbly says that cooking a pig isn’t hard to do, those who have tasted Rodney Scott’s pulled pork know it takes a special talent to create such unique flavors.
In 2013, the Scotts’ wooden cookhouse burned to ashes two days before Thanksgiving. Rodney did not waste a moment, putting together burn barrels as soon as the fire was extinguished. He told our friend Billy Reid, “Yeah, the same day the pits burned, the fire department told me I could set them up in the back. I had four hogs left that didn’t get affected at all (by the fire) and I just went with that and I sold those until I ran out. You can’t stop. It’s like tripping and falling down. When you’re walking and you trip and fall, the first thing you do is you get back up. I felt like we fell and I just jumped right back into it and got started.”
Rodney’s brothers and sisters in southern cooking—The Fatback Collective—rallied, creating the Rodney Scott Bar-B-Que in Exile Tour to raise money for a rebuild. And so, he drove portable versions of his burn barrels from state to state, creating a loyal fan base along the way. With the funds raised, Rodney and the Collective built a new pit room—and the important work continues. (Joe York and the Southern Foodways Alliance made one of our all-time favorite documentaries, CUT/CHOP/COOK, about Rodney. Watch it here.)
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.
Lindsay Whiteaker and Pete Halupka – Harvest, Alabama natives and who met in the 5th grade – launched Harvest Roots Farm and Ferment in 2011 with less than $1,000. What was then a small, organic vegetable farm has grown into a full-scale “fermentory” – focusing on producing wild, fermented food and beverages. Lindsay and Pete found that their produce customers were increasingly interested in their small line of fermented goods and ultimately switched their focus from farming to full-time fermentation. They forage and glean – and also process vegetables from local farms, then mix everything together in their Mentone, Alabama, kitchen.
In this context, fermentation refers to the low energy chemical conversion of carbohydrates into alcohol and carbon dioxide or organic acid—using yeast, bacteria, or both. Beers, ciders, kombucha, and other naturally effervescent drinks are the result of fermentation. The process of fermentation also leavens bread, as carbon dioxide is produced by active yeast. It can also be a method of preserving goods—resulting in delicious foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt. Harvest Roots uses wild yeast in its fermentation and preservation techniques to create distinct flavors in foods that may also have medicinal benefits.
In his last cookbook, A New Turn in the South, Hugh Acheson won us over with his focus on community, sustainability, and organic products. We so agree with his “Message About Community” in that book that we refer to it often in conversations about our own work and how to set standards for what is important in our work:
“My mantra is this: local first, sustainable second, organic third. Local has impact and impact produces change. Change is the process of making the farming sustainable, and once sustainable, the next step is certified organically grown.
The demand for immediate and complete change by some food advocates is one that just is not feasible for most farmers and one that the average consumer cannot yet afford. Small steps will win this race and those first small steps are about your local sphere. The small steps that you take as a consumer are multifold: Shop at your farmer’s market, buy local crafts and art, frequent local independent restaurants, buy locally roasted coffee, buy native plants, learn how to garden, don’t eat overly processed foods, know the person who raises your eggs. This has nothing to do with a political stance and everything to do with a community stance. I am not a fanatic, just a believer. I believe in the place we live and in finding ways to make it great every day. I am endlessly enamored of my local sphere, my community.”
The Broad Fork maintains Acheson’s relatable tone with the same goal of making good food unintimidating. The idea for this most recent cookbook was hatched at a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) produce pickup, when a neighbor stopped Hugh for advice on how to use some of the lesser-known vegetables in that month’s box. Or, as Hugh remembers it, “What the hell do I do with kohlrabi?”
If, like us, you’ve ever subscribed to a CSA you know that your box of produce can be filled with surprising, unfamiliar, or an overabundance of one or more vegetables. Some days you get a sort-of veggie anxiety, thinking: what is the best way to use celery root? Or how am I ever going to eat all of this squash? This cookbook is perfectly aligned for those committed to using fresh produce, whether from a CSA, a local farmer’s market, or the grocery store. There are (seriously) about 200 recipes included focusing on around 50 ingredients, broken down by season and by vegetable—which helps you assess your vegetable haul and make a plan for the week’s meals. This cookbook is nothing if not comprehensible and relatable.
Just as she did with A New Turn in the South, Rinne blends her style with Acheson’s, using his handwriting in the photographs and design to make the book feel more handmade and relatable. Most of the recipes are accompanied by her stunning full-color photographs that make us want to head to the farmer’s market ASAP.
The Shoals is an area rich in folklore, dating back to the 1800s. And this time of year, that folklore comes alive in tales of souls haunting historic homes and spaces. Fifteen years ago, local historian and author Debra Glass was inspired to create a ghost tour that would tell some of the forgotten stories of the Shoals’ haunted residents: the Haunted History of the Shoals Ghost Walk.
Those interested are asked to meet just before 7:30pm—8:00pm for the late tour—beside the eerily disproportionate statue of W.C. Handy at Wilson Park. We recommend grabbing a cup of Rivertown coffee to stay warm throughout the 90-minute walk. Glass begins the tour by recounting personal experiences at her office with the ghost of Jeddy Ryan, a benevolent spirit, and then walks the tour to the corner of Tombigbee and Court Streets to tell the tale of “Mountain” Tom Clark.
Clark was an outlaw during the Civil War, whose gang robbed, murdered, and menaced area residents—murdering at least 19 people, including a child. He was eventually caught by authorities and jailed. On September 4, 1872, an angry mob took Clark from jail and hung him. Glass says that while alive, Clark’s most famous proclamation was: “No one would ever run over Tom Clark!”, which is why the citizens of Florence buried him underneath Tennessee Street, one of the most heavily trafficked roads in the city.
A few paces down from the location of “Mountain” Tom Clark’s hanging is Trowbridge’s, an ice cream bar famous for orange pineapple ice cream and for being haunted by Charles Daniel Stewart. Before the restaurant was built, the land belonged to the Stewart family, who situated their antebellum home in the same spot. Like many men of the time, Stewart was called away from home due to the Civil War and was chosen to carry the Confederate banner into battle. Stewart vowed to protect the honor of the banner, which was made by his mother and other local women. However, Stewart was severely wounded at the Battle of Manassas and was brought home to die on August 16, 1861. Over the years, Trowbridge’s employees have seen the phantasm of a young boy and experienced other strange events.
The tour continues down a section of Court Street Glass refers to as “Ghost Row.”
We don’t want to give away some of the tour’s spookiest tales, but on this stretch, you will hear stories involving some of the area’s most famous residents, a scorned wife, and a mysterious girl and her phantom dog.
At the end of Ghost Row the tour heads towards one of its more gruesome sites, Pope’s Tavern. During the Civil War, the tavern was converted to an infirmary for Confederate and Union soldiers. Many soldiers—including the 32 who died at the tavern—underwent surgery or amputations in the building’s back right room. In 1988, the first archeological dig at the site was underway when bones and bullets were discovered in the courtyard just outside the amputation room’s door. Claims of unnerving experiences increased in the years following the discoveries.
Miss Glass shares several other stories, which also serve as a partial history of the area and its residents. After the tour wraps up, Glass stays for a more intimate meet and greet where you can also buy her books, which expand upon the many ghosts believed to haunt the Shoals area.
As many of you know, artist and photographer Rinne Allen has been a friend and collaborator for years. In our recent profile of Rinne, we told a little of her personal story and highlighted her incredible light drawings. In addition to her work with chef Hugh Acheson, magazines like Selvedge, and her own site Beauty Everyday (shared with Kristen Bach and Rebecca Wood), she has also worked with Alabama Chanin as a photographer for our Alabama Studio Book Series, our collections, our website, and our Journal.
If there is one thing we’ve learned, it’s that there is joy and power in making in a group setting. We’ve witnessed this in a multitude of workshops, Makeshift events, and also in our informal First and Third Mondays and Thursday night Sip + Sew events here at The Factory. Many of us have outside sewing circles or knitting groups we belong to, and it’s the opportunity for growing conversations that make those experiences most meaningful.
One of our educational goals at Alabama Chanin has always been to increase opportunities for these conversations to flourish.
So, with that in mind we introduce our new Host a Party programming through The School of Making.
Organize a group of 6 or more friends, colleagues, or acquaintances and provide a location and refreshments. You and your group will choose one garment style—with difficulty levels ranging from beginner to advanced. You will all be working on the same garment style, but each group member can choose their own size, fabric color, and stencil design.
As host, you will receive your kit for free, in exchange for providing sewing instructions and hospitality. Each of your guests will receive the selected kit at 20% off the original price.
Meet once a week, once a month, or as often as you and your group would like, provide good light, beverages, good conversation, and start sewing. You will be the leader and teacher to the Alabama Chanin sewing techniques. Our Studio Style book series can be your guide, and we’ll provide some handouts on basic techniques that will help you along the way.
Provide tools, needles, scissors, or show your sewing group which tools you love the most.
Some tips we’ve found for the best sewing parties:
Consider seating carefully. If you have a large table that can accommodate your entire party, this is the ideal setup. You can also set up smaller groups or tables around a single room—but you should ideally have a surface to spread out your sewing pieces and hold your sewing tools and notions. And, of course the best conversations are had around one big table.
Good lighting makes all the difference in the world.
If you plan to spend an entire afternoon or evening stitching together, keep snacks on hand—but not messy ones. Think grapes or cheese and crackers rather than chips and salsa…
Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes, take everything apart, and start again. No one is grading your efforts and one imperfection won’t ruin your garment.
Atlanta-based chef Anne Quatrano is perhaps the most visible figure in the area’s farm-to-table movement. She and her husband and fellow chef Clifford Harrison are longtime proponents of sustainability and make concerted efforts to use locally grown seasonal and organic products—much of which comes from their own family farm. They own and operate three established restaurants—Bacchanalia, Little Bacch, and Floataway Café, run Star Provisions deli and market, and have very recently opened W.H. Stiles Fish Camp, a casual seafood spot in the Ponce City Market’s food hall.
Star Provisions is a carefully curated, visually inspiring shop and pantry where patrons can have access to the same tools and ingredients as professional chefs. They accomplish what we attempt to do in our own Studio Style DIY shop—provide high quality materials to those who might otherwise not have access to those items. Anne and Clifford have effectively opened their restaurant’s pantry and walk-in cooler for patrons to shop. It has a bakery, a wine cellar, a butcher and seafood counter, a cheesemonger, and a section for cookbooks, specialty goods, tableware, penny candy—and even dog treats.
As part of our continued inquiry into the creative process, I was interested in how someone could manage so many undertakings and manage a family farm and come up with fresh ideas for new restaurants. Fellow Atlanta chef Steven Satterfield said of Anne, “Ann was a pioneer in Atlanta. Her focus has always been on sourcing the best ingredients first, and local, seasonal ingredients have always been important to her.” I want to know what inspires such a pioneer—and what continues to keep that sort of passion stoked. We forwarded Anne a list of 34 questions about her thoughts on how she creates, stays motivated, and encourages her own creativity—and asked her to answer 5-10 of her choice. Her responses follow and reveal what sparks her curiosity and what she might have done instead of becoming a chef (though we’re so glad she stuck with her original plan).
Alabama Chanin: Do you have any creative rituals?
Anne Quatrano: Not really – I love an iced tea and a stack of magazines on Sundays.
AC: What makes you curious?
AQ: Mostly nature and its elements…wild vegetation, bird’s nests, the paths of bees, my dogs’ habits, anatomy of a hog…
AC: What do you daydream about?
AQ: The beach
AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?
AC: Do you have to be in a certain mood in order to create?
AQ: No, but I am more creative when calm.
AC: Nature or nurture? Do you imagine creativity is part of human nature or must it be learned?
AQ: Human nature – the discipline to achieve is learned.
AC: What parts of your work seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?
AQ: Heaviest is always economically motivated. Lightest is typically the relationship of flavors, textures and form.
AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?
AQ: Sometimes with hired graphic designers or individuals helping with projects—but most of the time the collaboration is just as rewarding and often better.
AC: If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?
AQ: I would draw homes and public spaces…architecture.
AC: Do you critique your own work?
AQ: Yes – more than anyone else.
AC: Has rejection ever affected your creative process?
AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”?
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.
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.
Patagonia’s Worn Wear truck and team arrived in Alabama and to The Factory yesterday morning. They’ve set up in the parking lot and brought fabrics and machines to repair your existing gear. As a bonus, they’ve also brought a slew of jackets that they’re giving away so we can learn to make our own repairs.
I scored this black down jacket which is shown below before repairs and after.
Of course, we added some Alabama Chanin touches. Lucky bonus: I found this tidily rolled dollar bill in the right pocket of my jacket.
The Worn Wear team will be at The Factory today from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm (get there early to get your jacket). Zach and our team are cooking up tacos and more to celebrate.
Grab a jacket, a taco and a beer, and join come us…
We are constantly inspired and impressed by our DIY community and what you make and share. We loved sharing your projects as a part of #MeMadeMay and wanted to highlight more of our recent #theschoolofmaking favorites from Instagram.
With the weather (finally) cooling, now is the perfect time to settle in and sew something new. So, choose a pattern, alter it (if needed) with help from Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns, cut, stencil, and sew along with our entire DIY community on Instagram. Or, if you’d rather get straight to sewing, choose from one of our DIY kits (or get really creative and design your own).
My initial introduction to up-and-coming Alabama chef Rob McDaniel came through my son, Zach. Years ago, Zach was traveling home from a Doo-Nanny celebration and stopped for brunch at a restaurant along Lake Martin in south Alabama. The unimposing atmosphere and spectacular meal he found at the SpringHouse restaurant had him hooked. He raved for weeks about his meal—and said that he wanted to return there someday to work and study with the executive chef, Rob. (And about a year later, he did.) Since that time, Chef Rob has become a friend to both our immediate family and to the Alabama Chanin family. In fact, we hosted a One-Day Workshop at Springhouse a few years ago.
Rob is a graduate of Auburn University, and honed his culinary skills at the New England Culinary Institute. He has worked alongside Chris Hastings at Hot and Hot Fish Club, and with the folks at Jim ‘N Nicks BBQ. As a sous chef, Rob learned to apply his culinary know-how to southern food and its methodology. In 2009, he became executive chef at SpringHouse and began to create his own southern food story. Rob has been named a James Beard award semifinalist twice, and in 2014 SpringHouse was named one of the Best 100 Restaurants in the South by Southern Living magazine.
Be it food or fashion, we share similar views on sustainability, supporting local economies, and the art of taking things slow. We also share a love for the good things happening at the Southern Foodways Alliance. Rob will be creating the menu for our next “Friends of the Café” Piggy Bank Dinner at The Factory on August 27, benefitting the SFA. The dinner is also serving as the kick-off for Billy Reid’s annual Shindig here in the Shoals.
The menu for the evening includes field pea fritters, tomato gazpacho, grilled okra and eggplant, and Chilton county peaches. Needless to say, we are excited to kick off our dinner series once again.
Barbeque lovers are often staunch proponents and defenders of their favorite preparation, favorite meat, and favorite sauce—or lack thereof. Just as there is an entire range of styles of barbeque (everything from pulled pork with slaw to smoked chicken to a plate of burnt ends), there is a whole spectrum of barbeque sauces. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of sugary red sauces; but as an Alabama native, I must wholeheartedly profess my love of our native white barbeque sauce.
Many of you may be unfamiliar with this particular variety of sauce, as it is a North Alabama specialty. But, it is a staple of almost every barbeque restaurant in the area and has found its way to our tables and local grocery store shelves. White sauce is a tangy condiment made of mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, and pepper. While that might sound a little odd to the uninitiated, those in the know are evangelists for the stuff.
While white barbeque sauce has been served in the area for years, local lore suggests that Bob Gibson of the legendary Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama, invented it in 1925. Bob worked for the L & N Railroad Company, but would host barbeques on the weekends, smoking meat over a hickory pit in his backyard. Eventually, his food became so popular that he quit his job at the railroad and opened a proper restaurant.
Two weeks ago we introduced Jones Valley Teaching Farm and the work they are doing with schools and in classrooms across Birmingham. With programs like Good School Food, Farm Lab, and Seed to Plate, they are providing food-based, hands-on, experimental education and design-thinking strategies for students in Pre-K to 12th grades. Their practices are sustainable (in more than one way), thoughtful, and all-around good.
While the organization began in 2001, many of its programs, like Farm Lab, are new and have seen (planned) growth in the past few years. To cover expenses that come with the design, building, and staffing of such programs, Jones Valley is working to diversify their fundraising efforts.
One of their most successful fundraisers is the annual Twilight Supper, held each fall at the farm. The weekend of May 16th, they are introducing Gather Dinners – a series of events held across the city of Birmingham and the state of Alabama – as a spring counterpart to the fall event.
I first heard of Jones Valley Teaching Farm around 2003. The farm was still a small plot of land located close to The Garage, in Birmingham, Alabama. I drove down one cold winter day to have lunch with (then director) Edwin Marty. There was one hoop house, and running water, and not much else—yet. It was ambitious, and it felt like the beginning of something special.
Later, I heard much more from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q co-founder Nick Pihakis and chef Drew Robinson. Those two so fully believe in the farm’s mission and methods that they back up their beliefs with fundraisers and hands-on support. I am also convinced that the organization can make real difference in the community.
Since my first visit in 2003, Jones Valley Teaching Farm has grown and moved to downtown Birmingham. Since 2007, the organization has expanded their farm and their scope with a focus on educating students, visitors, and community gardeners on how to grow real, healthy food. Today, the farm is a hub of downtown green. The farmers on site use both established sustainable and experimental practices, with the goal of developing a flourishing ecosystem in the heart of a bustling city. They currently grow over 200 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers and offer their produce for sale on-site and at local farmers’ markets—generating over $45,000 in sales in 2014 alone.
As part of our On Design and Makeshift conversation and event series, we have led discussions on various design movements and schools of thought (like Bauhaus, Arts and Crafts, and Memphis), the business of artisan craftwork, and designers like Charles and Ray Eames. This week’s discussion takes a turn toward a new design arena—Biophilic Design and Terrariums.
The speaker today was Birmingham-based artisan Jonathan Woolley, whose collective—known as Little Forest Design—has given The Factory entrance a facelift by installing a beautiful tableau of terrariums. The effect is transformative; bringing natural elements into our workspace influences not only our work environment, but also our mood and productivity.
Response to the installation reflects the basic philosophy behind Biophilic Design—that incorporating nature into living and working environments can affect mental and physical health, and allow for healthier connections within communities. The design theory presents the idea that humans fundamentally need a connection to nature, but our urban environments have separated us from those elements that might nourish our spirits and physical bodies. Biophilic Design is a way of reconnecting people to nature in a way that incorporates natural elements into current living and working systems.
In preparation for his presentation, we asked Jonathan to give us some background on the theory of Biophilic Design and his design collective, Little Forest Design.
Last year, we launched our Friends of the Café Dinner and Factory Chef Series, which was quickly established as part of our Makeshift initiative. As with most things here at Alabama Chanin, the idea evolved over time from an interesting idea into something bigger. In 2015, we are continuing to host Friends of the Café dinners, combined with a corresponding workshop series—a branch of The School of Making. The series will combine our celebration of slow, sustainable, and inventive food with our ongoing conversations on craft, design, food, making, and community.
The initial idea for this series was simple—each month, The Factory Café would feature seasonal dishes inspired by regional chefs (or restaurants) that shared our values of celebrating place, artisanal craftsmanship, and good food.
“From a scientific point of view, it can be said he [Thoreau] documented for the first time how ecological succession works … The mechanism was animals and weather. Squirrels carry acorns so oak trees replace pine when the pines are cut down. And pine seeds blow over to replace the oak.” – Richard T. Forman
I started writing this piece about two weeks ago. I was talking about succession over trend with a colleague and she asked me to put down my thoughts about how that worked. And so I started…and as I was writing, the question of trend began to appear in the press and this story seems on one hand less important and on the other hand more important. I’ll let you be the judge. In any case, thank you for coming here. Thank you for reading:
There is a small stop at milepost 330.2 on the Natchez Trace Parkway called Rock Spring Nature Trail. I’ve been going to this spot on the Natchez Trace since I was a little girl. Perk, my maternal grandfather, used to take me (and all of the cousins) there en route to Colbert Ferry park on the “other side” of the Tennessee River from our home. From there, we would launch his small fishing boat and run the trotline of baited hooks for catfish (more on this boat and Perk’s trotline coming soon).
Rock Spring is a natural aquifer that merges with Colbert Creek where this nature trail now stands. The creek is a small, meandering stream of rare beauty (see the photo above)—named after George Colbert—who ran the Ferry that crossed the Tennessee River along the Trace before the days of a bridge.
At almost any workplace, you can hear employees talk about their co-workers with a closeness and familiarity; after years of working alongside one another, your officemates can (in some cases) begin to feel like family. In the past, that has actually been the case here at Alabama Chanin. Studio and dye house directress Diane Hall has worked alongside her daughter—who has also been one of our artisan stitchers. Some of our other artisans have been sisters, mothers and daughters, aunts and nieces, cousins, and almost any other combination of relations. And all these years, it never occurred to me that I would have the opportunity to work with my son, Zachariah, known by everyone here as “Zach.”
The company that has become Alabama Chanin started in New York City, first in Brooklyn Heights and then at the Hotel Chelsea on 23rd street, in a borrowed apartment that was my first hand-sewing studio. The apartment was three rooms and a tiny kitchen. The front room, looking out over 23rd street, housed my bed, ironing board, and sewing center; the middle room was Zach’s. In those early days, he was enlisted to carry wet fabrics to the laundromat around the corner, keep me company on jaunts to the 26th Street Flea Market, and generally assist where needed.
I guess I should have known that he would eventually come to assist me in my design efforts. In fact, at my graduation from the School of Design at North Carolina State University, they asked Zach to stand, as he had completed most of my college education with me. He stood to a round of applause as the youngest “designer” to graduate from the program. (He is blushing as I write this…)
In 2011, and just before my 50th birthday, I publicly—on this Journal—declared a detox. I don’t really like to write much about my private life, as Alabama Chanin has grown into something so much bigger than me. And, truth-be-told, I am a rather shy and private person. However, I forged ahead and wrote in the second post:
“I felt reluctant to continue writing about my detox after the first post as I thought that it could be, frankly, a bit boring. Each of us has visited a site where the writer has a fondness to overshare about their eating habits and diet: each morsel eaten, photos of unmentionable detox attributes, things that we really don’t want to know—way too much information. I don’t want to be that person.”
But, the fact of the matter is that I completed the detox, lost 25 pounds, and felt better than I had in years. At the time, I vowed to stay “on the path.” I swore to be committed, stay focused, and to forge ahead. The best laid plans of mice and me…
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and we are honoring his legacy and observing the holiday through service to our community. In the past few weeks, the Civil Rights Movement along with the work of Dr. King has received much media attention, due in part to the film Selma. The film, directed by Ava DuVernay, tells the story of how the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came to be and chronicles the events leading up to its monumental passing.
There were three marches that took place in March of 1965—the first is referred to as “Bloody Sunday” due to brutal attacks on the marchers, and the second march was cut short, as Dr. King felt the marchers needed protection by a federal court to prevent further violence. On March 21, 1965 the third march began—this time with the protection of the Army, Alabama National Guard, FBI Agents, and Federal Marshalls. The marchers arrived in Montgomery, at the State Capitol building, on March 25. The route taken from Selma to Montgomery is now a U.S. National Historic Trail.
In anticipation of upcoming holiday celebrations, we asked Jesse Goldstein, our cocktail contributor, to come up with a couple of new twists on classic sparkling cocktails. Celebrate responsibly and come back for more great cocktail recipes in the new year.
I’ve often said that it’s a shame sparkling wine seems to be reserved for special occasions. Gone are the days that the only options at your local wine shop are cheap, sweet bubbles or expensive French Champagne. These days you can find many amazing (and affordable) varieties of Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava and California sparklings. Even better, you can also find outstanding rosé varieties, which often have more depth and flavor than their white counterparts.
But just because you’ve got a good bottle of bubbly does not mean there’s no room for improvement. Adding a splash of cordial or a special garnish turns up the flavor of your bubbles and makes it more memorable and delicious for your guests.
Here are a few of my personal favorites.
PROSECCO PUNCH 1 bottle chilled rosé Prosecco
6 cherries (pitted and frozen)
6 ounces pineapple juice
2 ounces brandy
1 ounces Cointreau or Grand Marnier
If using fresh cherries, freeze them first. This helps break down the cellular structure of the fruit and makes for better flavor absorption. Place the frozen cherries in a small jar with the pineapple juice, brandy, and Cointreau. Seal and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, mix with the bottle of chilled rosé Prosecco, reserving the cherries to drop into each glass as a garnish.
With 2014 coming to a close and a brand new year upon us, it is time to reflect on all we’ve accomplished—slow in design, but rapid in growth—during the past year. But first and foremost, we want to thank each and every single one of our supporters, friends, collaborators, partners, and everyone who has made 2014 the success that it has been. Without you, none of this would be possible.
No feat was as challenging—or as rewarding—as our organic Alabama cotton adventure. From a seedling of an idea to the harvest of pillowcases full of beautiful, white cotton, the success of this project is one of our proudest achievements. Not only were we able to physically see the fruits of our labor, we were also able to see the rewards of sticking to our ideals: sustainability, community, education, open-source sharing, and transparency in method.
Based in Charleston, South Carolina, The Local Palate is a food culture publication that celebrates the region’s best culinary figures, recipes, and processes. The magazine has recently launched their digital presence, resulting in a beautiful, easy-to-navigate, and delicious website.
From The Local Palate website:
Food in the south is intrinsically connected to life in the south. It is through eating, sharing, and creating food that pleasure is evoked, connections are forged, context is offered, and history is created. Across southern states, individual interpretations of food are as varied and compelling as the people who live in our unique cities and towns. Yet the importance of food in enriching our lives, our culture, and ourselves is a concept that is universally understood.
This description of food (and life) in the South has been my experience since childhood. And since opening The Factory Café last year, I’ve witnessed firsthand how food brings people together in an entirely new context. This concept is especially true this time of the year, as family and friends begin to gather together around the table in celebration of the holidays.
I’ve bookmarked several recipes and cocktails on the website as I begin to plan my holiday gatherings, parties, and meals. Citrus Sweet Potatoes, Sugared Pecans, and the Love Holiday are sure to find their way into my kitchen (and belly) this season.
We recently caught up with the editor in chief, Maggie White, of The Local Palate, and she was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about food culture, community, recipes, and launching a new site:
About two hours south of The Shoals is Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city. It is a city built on railroad industries and iron and steel production. Birmingham has been called “The Iron City” and “The Magic City,” and it has a contentious past as a central player in our nation’s civil rights struggle. But today’s Birmingham has much to offer in the way of history, art, food, culture, and nightlife.
One of our favorite spots is The Garage, run by our long-time friend Kay Woehle. Kay’s father, architect Fritz Woehle, bought the building that houses The Garage in the 1970s. Back then, the former garage (pictured in the old, bent black and white photos shown here) was being repurposed as storage space.
Fritz converted part of the building into a design space and leased the remaining space to other artists and small business owners. The Garage—known for years as The Garage Café—was opened in one of these spaces by Jimmy Watson in the mid-1990s. After Jimmy passed away earlier this year, the Woehle family took over management of the bar.
“It’s a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company, or your organization to come together to give something more. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. Join us and be a part of a global celebration of a new tradition of generosity.”
Remember SOLA and so many others that could use a little help. Gratitude is everywhere to be found.
In March of this year, we unexpectedly received an email with the subject line, “Asante Sana (Thank You) from Kenya!” It was sent by a woman named Nirvana, who is part of a team working to empower rural Kenyans with life and entrepreneurial skills. It seems that their goal is to inspire people to challenge the current social and cultural systems that tend to keep rural Kenyans impoverished. Read part of Nirvana’s first email to us:
Dear Alabama Chanin,
You inspired 39 rural Kenyan women and men to start a tailoring class to learn hand sewing! They thought they had to have a sewing machine to learn tailoring. They also thought only poor people sewed by hand!
My American team and I are living in rural Kenya to teach Kenyans how to move beyond survival entrepreneurship. When so many community members said they wanted a tailoring class, I had to get creative. I knew there had to be a way to empower these youth without having to buy or find at least 20 sewing machines. So I Googled “hand sewing.” Of course, that led me to Natalie and Alabama Chanin!
Thanksgiving is a holiday rich with memories, traditions, and foods we only eat this time of year. For about two days leading up to Thanksgiving dinner, I can guarantee that there is nearly always something either going into or coming out of my oven, and aromas both sweet and savory waft throughout the house.
Our friends at Local Palate share a love of food and storytelling through their magazine, recipes, and blog (look for more on their revamped website and a Q&A in the coming weeks). You can find quite a few delicious seasonal recipes in their catalogue (conveniently sorted by holiday), including this offering from North Carolina-based chef Vivian Howard.
“This combination of turkey, cranberry, pecan, and sorghum, will make you hide your gravy boat for a year or two. All joking aside, these components, when paired with a green bean dish and side of sweet potatoes, would compose a perfectly balanced Thanksgiving plate all by themselves. And if turkey’s not your thing, this profile works beautifully with chicken, ham, or duck.” – Chef Vivian Howard
BUTTERY TURKEY WITH WARM SORGHUM VINAIGRETTE and CITRUS SWEET POTATOES WITH PECAN CRANBERRY RELISH
–From Chef Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, North Carolina, star of the PBS show A Chef’s Life, and featured on the November 2014 cover of The Local Palate magazine
“Gravy is the SFA’s collection of original stories—fresh, unexpected, and thought-provoking. Like all of the SFA’s work, Gravy shares stories of the changing American South through the foods we eat. Gravy showcases a South that is constantly evolving, accommodating new immigrants, adopting new traditions, and lovingly maintaining old ones. It uses food as a means to explore all of that, to dig into lesser-known corners of the region, complicate stereotypes, document new dynamics, and give voice to the unsung folk who grow, cook, and serve our daily meals. Gravy the print journal lands in the mailboxes of SFA members four times per year. Gravy the podcast releases a new episode every other week.” –Southern Foodways Alliance
“Gravy, a biweekly podcast, doesn’t profile star chefs. We don’t pander to cookbook authors. We don’t narrate recipes. Gravy tells stories of people and place through food…”
Join this important conversation (and get your own copy of Gravy mailed to your door) with your Southern Foodways Alliance membership. (Membership also makes a great holiday gift—think #givingtuesday.)
The piece below, written by Catarina Passidomo, reflects this year’s Southern Foodways Alliance theme, “Who is Welcome at the Welcome Table?” and can be found on page 13 of Gravy #53.
“WHY STUDY FOOD JUSTICE?? Lessons from A Post-Katrina New Orleans” by Catarina Passidomo
When I tell people that I study food, the response is usually one of curious interest. When I go on to explain that I study food justice—that is, the connections between food systems and race, class, gender, and other means of oppression—the look of curiosity changes slightly. Is that confusion? Agreement? Concern? People who experience one or multiple forms of oppression in their own lives generally nod with understanding. But for many of us, the connections between food and social justice are abstract. The interlocking systems that bring food from field or factory to fork, spoon, fingers, or chopsticks are mostly obscured from view. Or they are so familiar that we don’t notice them. But if we look closely and critically, we can begin to see through food to broader systems of oppression and dominance. This makes food a powerful tool for thinking and teaching about social justice.Continue reading →
Do you remember your first day of school? I don’t remember the actual day, but I do have photos of myself, standing outside my first grade classroom, smiling, wearing a plaid dress and knee socks. I do remember my children’s first school days—the nervous excitement they showed and the bittersweet pride I felt at witnessing this important milestone. While I don’t take those moments for granted, there was never a doubt that those moments would come. It’s common now to see Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram light up with school photos that document every moment of our children’s educational lives. A few months ago, I received an email from an old friend that provided some much-needed perspective.
The email offered a link to a Ted Talk by a woman named Shabana Basij-Rasikh, co-founder of SOLA—Afghanistan’s first all-girl boarding school. The word “sola” means “peace” in the Pashto language, but it is also an acronym for School of Leadership, Afghanistan. Shabana was 6 years old when the Taliban took over Afghanistan and made it illegal for girls to go to school. So, for five years, her family dressed her as a boy and sent her to a secret school to learn. Even at this young age, she understood the risks that she—and her parents—were undertaking. She would walk for 30 minutes, even an hour, to schools. The locations would move, and she would walk different paths each day; sometimes class would take place in the morning and other times in the afternoon.
Alabama Chanin as a concept and a company began as a DIY enterprise. I made the first garments by hand, to fit my own body. Our entire business model was created because I couldn’t find manufacturing for the sort of garment I wanted to make—and so, we created our own manufacturing system, one stitch at a time.
Because those first garments were made from recycled t-shirts, many of our customers took the concept and re-imagined it for themselves, making their own patterns and clothing. Others felt that—with just a little help—they could create something similar, something that was their own. Almost accidentally, our garments were stirring in others the desire to make. Slowly, and as the internet became more robust, sewers formed groups on the internet to share their Alabama Chanin-style garments and swap ideas. This was the beginning of a more formal DIY presence in our company.
These things were happening at the same time as I began writing our first Studio Book, Alabama Stitch Book. Writing that book helped me crystallize my thoughts on making, open sourcing, and education. It was, in essence, me putting voice to what was important about sharing ideas and creating a community of makers. Throughout the writing process—and as the company grew and evolved over the years—I returned again and again to the idea of keeping the living arts alive. It’s the belief that survival skills for food, clothing, and shelter, are important arts that we live with every single day. And these arts—often considered secondary arts—are equally (and perhaps more) important as the “primary” arts of painting and sculpture.
The t-shirts for Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q read, “You can smell our butts for miles”. This was certainly the case on Friday, October 10, as their giant meat smoker nestled up to Alabama Chanin’s front entry and sent out the signal for our final “Friends of the Cafe” dinner of 2014, featuring chef Drew Robinson and Nicholas Pihakis. The two were in town—along with members of the Fatback Collective—to provide lucky diners with an exclusive, elevated barbecue experience.
Good People Brewing Company provided craft beers for each course. The Birmingham, Alabama, based brewery showcased a few of their “Ales from the Heart of Dixie.” There may not be a dinner more currently in demand across the United States than beer and barbecue; on this night, we had the best of best.
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.”
Situated at the intersection of necessity and creativity, southern fashion lets us ask questions about place and historical context, power, and identity. Every garment has a designer, maker, wearer, and viewer, and we can study all of them.
We can tell local stories about designers and seamstresses, farmers and factory workers. At the same time, we can see the South’s centuries-long engagement with a global economy through one garment, with cotton harvested by enslaved laborers in Mississippi, milled in Massachusetts or Manchester, designed with influence from Parisian tastemakers, and sold in the South by Jewish immigrant merchants.
It isn’t clear where to start, and that’s exciting. The term “southern fashion” doesn’t seem to be clearly defined by terms or limits, so we may not need to spend energy overturning conventional wisdoms. Do we start with creative reuse, with Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” or with Scarlett O’Hara’s curtain dress? Do we start with osnaburg, the so-called “negro cloth” of the 19th century, or with farm families wearing garments cut from the same cloth, or with women who did sewing every day but Sunday?
The music that flows through our community is nothing short of amazing. I’ve written many times about the rich musical history of The Shoals area—and I’m proud of all the up and coming artists, producers, and managers that strive to create great music in our hometown (including members of the Alabama Chanin staff).
Our graphic designer, Maggie, and her husband, Daniel, are gaining attention with their new rock ‘n roll band Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers. Below, they share how they got involved with music, along with some of their favorite songs.
Name(s): Daniel and Maggie Crisler
Band: Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers
Instrument(s) you play: Daniel – guitar, harmonica, vocals; Maggie – electric organ and percussion
Hometown: Daniel – Florence, AL; Maggie – Sheffield, AL
Presently residing: Florence, AL
AC: When did you start playing music?
DC: I remember my pop first teaching me a couple of chords on the guitar around age eight. I learned the piano, as well. The Blues was and is my first musical love, so that’s what I learned, forming the foundation for everything I play—no matter what the style is. I played (and still do) in the church band for many years before writing my first song or playing my first rock ‘n roll show.
MC: I’ve always loved music. When I was growing up, I heard a lot of Motown and classic rock because that’s what my parents listened to. I started playing piano when I was six and took lessons for about ten years. In that ten years, I also learned to play violin, clarinet, and bass guitar. I picked up the keys again when Daniel bought me a vintage Farfisa organ and asked me to play with him in a new project (which developed into this band).
Just two hours north of The Shoals lies Nashville, Tennessee—also known as “Music City”. Travelers visiting The Factory often fly into larger nearby airports (like Nashville or Birmingham) and make the drive to Florence. Lately, perhaps in part due to the eponymous television show, Nashville has blossomed as a tourist friendly city—one that we recommend for all of our visitors with a little extra time to explore.
The city of Nashville was founded as Fort Nashborough around 1780 and is actually older than the state of Tennessee. During the Civil War, Nashville was captured early on by the Union army —who used it as a depot; this ultimately helped solidify the city’s infrastructure and ensured it would survive the war largely intact, unlike most other large Southern cities.
In 1925, a local insurance company founded a radio station in Nashville—calling it WSM, for “We Shield Millions”. Disc jockey George Hay produced a barn dance style show called “The Grand Ole Opry”, which was listened to by those in Nashville and in surrounding towns and communities. Musicians began traveling to the city in hopes of being heard on this treasured radio show. The Opry, still staged live every week, is America’s longest-running radio show.
For those with a love for music history, Nashville has no shortage of must-see stops. Visit the newly opened Johnny Cash Museum or Hatch Show Print, a historic letterpress shop that produced—and still produces—some of the most famous concert posters of all time. (Look for more information on Hatch soon.) Nearby is The Country Music Hall of Fame, which takes up an entire city block and presents artifacts like rhinestone costumes, guitars, and memorabilia from musicians of all generations. Also part of the Hall of Fame is RCA Studio B, where thousands of famous country and rock and roll songs have been recorded. Elvis alone recorded over 250 songs at Studio B.
We highly recommend touring the beautiful Ryman Auditorium, known as the “Mother Church of Country Music.” Originally built as a house of worship, it was home to the Grand Ole Opry until 1974 and now hosts shows for musicians of all genres.
Opry performers were known to sneak out the Ryman’s back doors between sets to have a drink in one of Nashville’s famous honky tonks, located on lower Broadway. Visitors now frequent establishments like Legends Corner and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, which offer modern country alongside throwback country and western. For those interested in the songwriting side of Nashville (and fans of the ABC television show), you might consider a visit to The Bluebird Café, where many songwriting legends were discovered—and continue to visit. But visitors should know that venues like the Bluebird are classic Nashville “listening rooms” —and you will be shushed if you make too much noise.
Nashville is also an important stop for many vinyl enthusiasts, as well. United Record Pressing, operating since 1949, is located downtown and is one of only four remaining vinyl manufacturers in America. Musician Jack White also moved his record label, Third Man Records, from Detroit to Nashville—and they release hundreds of albums and special releases on vinyl. The Blue Room, a venue located inside, is capable of producing a vinyl master recording in real time, direct-to-acetate.
The city is also becoming (rightfully) known as a food destination. One of Nashville’s best-known culinary innovations is “hot chicken”—supposedly created by a scorned woman seeking revenge on a cheating boyfriend. Prince’s Hot Chicken is our preferred stop. There are too many “best” restaurants in town, but among our favorites are: Sean Brock’s Audrey, Tandy Wilson’s City House, and Arnold’s Country Kitchen, for a classic meat and three. (Barbeque in and around Nashville can’t be contained in one post—more on that coming soon.)
As you can see, a flight to Nashville with a two day stop before heading to The Shoals is highly recommended. Look for more upcoming posts from our Travel series, highlighting some of our favorite cities and attractions—from here to there (and most everywhere in between).
My love for barbeque is no secret. Though I might be partial to our local fixings, I can honestly say most of the barbeque I’ve experienced throughout Alabama and the South is both distinctive and delicious. Each region and territory has its own unique recipes and tastes. One of the most well-known barbeque establishments from our state is Jim ‘N Nick’s, founded in Birmingham in 1985 by father and son team, Jim and Nick Pihakis. The company is rooted in community (with claims that it is “the key ingredient in any good bar-b-q”) and their belief that good food brings people together. Each Jim ‘N Nick’s location is locally owned and operated, which encourages every restaurant to develop relationships within their respective communities and advance the company principles of education, health and wellness, and local farming.
I’ve known Nick Pihakis for several years now. He is one of the most generous folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting—always in good spirits (and never one to turn down a good bourbon libation). In fact, Nick and several other renowned Southern chefs, writers, and farmers formed the Fatback Collective while discussing barbeque competitions over glasses of bourbon. The Fatback Collective has participated in competition barbecue events, while keeping the focus on quality flavor and sustainable techniques; members include John T. Edge, Ashley Christensen, Angie Mosier, and John Currence. The collective, as well as Jim ‘N Nick’s establishments, all source their pork from the farms that are part of the Fatback Pig Project—a collaboration that supports pasture-raised, heritage breeds.
Nashville-based duo Great Peacock, formed by Alabama native Blount Floyd and Mississippi-born Andrew Nelson, combine rock and roll guitars with country influences and a heavy dose of harmony. The result is what Nelson calls “pop, with folk tendencies.” In the past year, they have tackled a heavy touring schedule, making appearances on Paste’s South by Southwest stage, PBS’ Bluegrass Underground, and Music City Roots. Blount put together this playlist, inspired by the hours spent in their touring van and it includes some of their most listened-to songs. He laughed, “These are some of the songs we jam out to while chasing the rock-and-roll dragon.”
Name(s): Blount Floyd and Andrew Nelson
Band: Great Peacock
Instrument(s) you play: BF – vocals, acoustic git-fiddle, keyboard, drums and percussion; AN – vocals and guitar
Place of Birth/Hometowns: BF – Dothan, Alabama; AN – Floewood, Mississippi
Presently residing: Nashville, Tennessee
AC: When did you start playing music?
AN: I started playing when I was about 15.
BF: I started playing fiddle around age 10 and my parents have some horrible home videos of me wearing a Garth Brooks-style western shirt, squeaking away something awful. I started playing guitar around the 8th grade.
AC: What are some of your proudest moments as a musician (or in your life)?
BF: Playing Bluegrass Underground was a pretty surreal experience.
AN: Every time I write a new song that won’t get out of my head. There’s the same excitement and pride that follows every time. It’s the ultimate drug.
Over the last several years, The Factory has expanded in leaps and bounds and the Alabama Chanin team has grown to keep in-step. Working in a creative industry, it takes a while to find the perfect mix; some people must be true creatives, while other jobs require a tactical mind. It is special when you find someone with both a free-spirited artistic mind and a love of logic, puzzles, and problem solving. Luckily, we found just that someone in Maggie Crisler.
Maggie works as a graphic designer, but also has a hand in managing inventory and works in the dye house. (See: a Jill-of-all-trades.) She came to us, as do many of our team members, through word of mouth. Back in 2012, our Director of Design, Olivia Sherif, mentioned to friends that we were looking for someone with a flexible schedule and some fabric cutting and sewing experience to work part time in our production department. Maggie volunteered herself and began working for us just before Christmas of that year. Her talents for illustrations and graphic design became quickly evident, so she was promoted to a full-time member of our media team.
“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.”
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.
I have known many storytellers in my life. Some have a natural and unrehearsed style that feels captivating and immediate; some present new or unfamiliar points of view; others are quite deliberate and thoughtful in approach; all of them are enthralling to me. As a storyteller born into a family of storytellers, I find master storyteller Gael Towey both compelling and inspiring. She has a distinct perspective and is skilled at many things: crafting a storyline, discovering and highlighting the unique qualities of her subjects, eliciting a response from the audience, and designing beautiful visual elements. Her work has informed contemporary visual language in a way we can barely imagine.
I was lucky to be among Gael’s subjects as part of her series of short films about artists called “Portraits in Creativity” www.portraitsincreativity.com (and I especially love her piece on friend and heroine Maira Kalman). Each of her portraits uncover the unique qualities of her subjects and reveal Towey’s fascination with the creative process. For over two years, we have been speaking with Gael about her past, her present, and the creative processes, media, and methods she uses to propel her ideas forward.
Gael was raised in New Jersey and was the oldest of six children. She revealed that, as a child, she was mildly dyslexic and almost flunked the second and third grade because she couldn’t spell; she reversed all her consonants and vowel combinations. She was drawn to art and studied it enthusiastically through college. “I loved printmaking and accidentally signed up for a class in typography, and I fell in love with it from the first lecture,” Towey says. “I’d never looked at the design of a letter and had not noticed how beautiful they are.” She switched her major to graphic design and graduated from Boston University, College of Fine Arts. Gael said, “I was extraordinarily lucky. I have met so many young people who don’t know what they want to do, but I always knew. I struggled academically and art was the only thing I was good at… And it’s funny that I wound up working in the publishing business since I had no confidence in my ability to write properly.”
Gael worked on the book, In the Russian Style, with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Alabama Chanin’s Friends of the Café Piggy Bank Dinner for Southern Foodways Alliance, featuring Ashley Christensen, was a singing success last Thursday. Not only did the ingredients sing on the plate, but our diners have adopted the habit of singing to our featured chefs. This time, Ashley Christensen was serenaded with a round of Happy Birthday after an enthusiastic round of applause for her inventive take on Southern cuisine.
Last week, we introduced you to Ashley Christensen: chef, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and badass. She is August’s featured chef in our café (and collaborator for our upcoming Piggy Bank Dinner). Ashley recently spoke to us about good food, sustainability, community, and what she has planned next.
AC: Congratulations on your recent James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast. How did you celebrate? (We hope you took time to celebrate…)
We had a total of 22 folks sitting with us at the ceremony, so we kind of brought the party with us, which was really fun. After the awards, we decided to make the party about simply having a good time with our crew. We called in a pile of to-go Shake Shack burgers, ordered a bunch of champagne and crowded about 40 friends into our little room at the Ace Hotel. We followed this celebration by attending Jamie Bissonnette’s victory party at Toro, and then the Nomad’s epic party at the Highline Ballroom. It was more perfect than I could ever find the words to describe.
AC: You currently operate five restaurants in the Raleigh, North Carolina area – with more on the way. Do you have a different role at each establishment? How do you balance your roles at each? And how have those roles changed as you continue to grow?
In addition to being the proprietor, I’m the Executive Chef for the company, but I consider my most important role at this point to be “lead catalyst”. I have lots of ideas for new projects, and for refining existing projects. My job is to make sure that we ask of ourselves to improve each day, and to see the opportunity in studying the details that guide us to do so. We have an amazing crew of folks who make it happen every day, on every level. It is also my job to provide the tools and support that make them feel competent, empowered, and appreciated.
I grew up in the country. On fourteen acres of red Georgia clay, cut by gullies and skirted by cedars. I grew up fishtailing down gravel roads in pick-up trucks. And running barefoot through honeysuckle patches. Out in those boonies, I developed an urban crush. After a fitful college run through Athens, I hightailed it for Atlanta and made a life in a neighborhood near the city core.
I could walk to two Indian restaurants, a bookstore, and a co-op grocery. I pinch-hit on the softball team of my neighborhood bar. I became the worst sort of city snob: an arriviste. I was quick to dismiss my country birth and even quicker to declaim life in the white-flight suburbs, which I considered a homogenous wasteland, absent of sentient folk and sidewalks.
Last year, I was introduced to Inez Holden over a glass of dry white wine at a fundraising event in our community. Mrs. Holden’s story, told with humor and passion, reminded me that the fashion industry runs deep here in our community. Before Alabama Chanin and Billy Reid, there was Bubbles Ltd.
As Alabama Chanin continues to explore the world of machine-made fashion with our new line and manufacturing division, A. Chanin and Building 14, respectively, Mrs. Holden reminded me that we humbly follow in a line of companies that completely designed and manufactured a fashion line in The Shoals and the surrounding area.
Around 1983, Mrs. Holden got her start as a designer quite by accident. She bought an oversized top and banded bottom pant that she loved the style and fit of, but the material was very rough and scratchy. So, she asked a friend of hers to help her make more sets in a similar style, but out of jersey fabric. She had about five sets of these pantsuits made in different colors, but kept giving them away because so many of her friends and family wanted them.
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.
Last Friday night, we hosted our second “Friends of the Café” dinner, which also served as our first Piggy Bank Dinner fundraiser for theSouthern Foodways Alliance(SFA). Chef Vivian Howard ofChef & the Farmerrestaurant and the Peabody-award winning television seriesA Chef’s Lifetraveled to The Factory from North Carolina for an evening of delicious food, cocktails, much laughter and lively conversation, and music, performed by friend andsongbird,Shonna Tucker.
Vivian’s show,A Chef’s Life, focuses on regional food traditions and explores classic Southern ingredients. Friday’s dinner highlighted the story of our own local farmers and their fresh ingredients, with Vivian’s Eastern Carolina twist. Each course was accompanied by a wine pairing, chosen by Harry Root (Bacchus Incarnate)of Grassroots Wine.
I love what Christi Britten—one of our dinner guests and the author of Dirt Plate— writes in her review of the evening:
Pretty much, Vivian Howard gives a damn. She gives a damn how the food she serves is raised, prepared, cooked, presented, eaten, enjoyed, and thought about. She gives a damn about her community’s food culture and wants to suck up as much knowledge as she can about where their food comes from and how to make it. She gives a damn about the farmers that work hard every single day to feed a community as well as their families.
She has, with her own hands, butchered whole animals to use from snout to tail in her restaurant. She speaks with a tone of reverence and authority over the food she creates. And basically she is a food medium. She is confident, yet humble and puts us all into a place where we can visualize the care taken to prepare what we put in our mouths.
This farm to table dinner celebrated local farms and Southern food culture by bringing together the summer bounty into one meal among a diverse community of eaters.
We often speak about our home, our state, and our community that provides an incredible amount of inspiration for our work. We are not alone: friend and occasional collaborator, Billy Reid, also headquarters in the same community. It has been mentioned (and is remarkable) that Alabama has the third largest membership in the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), numbering at two; we rank just behind New York and California. And just as there is a rich history of textile production in our community, there is a somewhat unknown or unrecognized group of designers that have emerged from our home state.
Community cookbooks – collections of recipes gathered by churches, women’s societies, rotary clubs, and other regional clubs and foundations – have been the foundation of home kitchens across America for decades. These collections often present an air of nostalgia, using old-fashioned techniques, offbeat ingredients, and occasionally include really great anecdotes. They are—in their best versions—a direct reflection of the region of their origin and an admirable labor of love. The recipes are seldom fancy, and most often highlight the kind of meal that is made in an average kitchen on an average evening by an average cook who finds an epiphany of enlightenment in a great recipe. Even more captivating is the community cookbook filled with family recipes passed down from prior generations and lovingly shared with the community at large.
Caxton Press in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania published what is believed to be the very first charity cookbook in 1864, during the time of the Civil War. This assortment, titled A Poetical Cook-Book, by Maria J. Moss, was filled with foods common to that era, like leg of mutton, mince pies, johnnycakes, and hasty pudding. The book was sold to provide funds for field hospitals and aid wounded soldiers.
Many, like the ones I was given by my mother, grandmothers, and aunts, are overflowing with sense memories of a location and an era. While similarities exist among the cookbooks, there are distinct differences between what the women of the Virginia Eastern Star were making in the 1920s and the dishes prepared by the late 1960s Junior League of Coastal Louisiana. Regardless of the when and the where, there is copious information on what the (mostly) women were like in each specific time and place. The ingredients tell a story of rural vs. urban landscape and wealthy vs. working class cooks. If a recipe called for a pinch or a handful, you might assume that the writer was a seasoned home cook who learned passed down recipes and perfected dishes by taste, not by measurement. If a recipe was “eggless” or “butterless”, you might suppose that it originated during wartime, when certain foods were rationed.
“Where the Tennessee River, like a silver snake, winds her way through the red clay hills of Alabama, sits high on these hills my hometown, Florence.”–W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues
We have written many times of our community’s rich musical legacy. The Shoals has a very notable place in modern music history; but, that history reaches much further back than many realize. William Christopher “W.C.” Handy was born and raised here in Florence in the late 19th century. Discovering a love of music at a young age, he took up the cornet and participated in a cappella vocal lessons while attending grammar school. Later, after receiving his degree from the Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College in Huntsville, Alabama, he became a teacher and briefly worked in a piping company before ultimately pursuing music as his true passion. His contributions in shaping the blues were influenced by the African-American musical folk traditions he experienced during his travels across the South, with “Memphis Blues” marking the beginning of his musical career.
For over 30 years, The Shoals community has hosted the W.C. Handy Music Festival. “Handy Fest,” as the locals call it, provides a few moments of unrivaled fun – in the middle of what can be a long, hot summer. Many of us anticipate the event all year and even the most confirmed homebodies spend multiple evenings out and about, listening to live music, visiting with friends, and exploring the community during festival week.
Doc Dailey is a longtime friend of Alabama Chanin and a talented musician making music right here in our community. He and his band mates weave together music that has a universal appeal, with the distinct flavor of Muscle Shoals. Below, he shares some of his favorite summertime pastimes and songs.
AC: When did you start playing music?
DD: Some of my earliest memories are of singing along to the radio and old 8-tracks; so, in a way, I’ve been playing around with music since I was a toddler. I started playing the saxophone in 5th grade and picked up the guitar and started writing songs in my teens.
This month, we launched our “Friends of the Café” Dinner Series with James Beard award-winning chef Chris Hastings. When searching for like-minded chefs and restaurants to collaborate with for our ongoing chef series in the café, Chris was one of the first people who came to mind. His dedication to locally-sourced ingredients is something we value highly here at Alabama Chanin, and it was wonderful to see (and sample) his work at The Factory.
A big hit of the evening was the Hot and Hot Tomato Salad, a fresh and colorful take on an old Southern favorite: succotash. Guests watched in awe as Chris and members of the Alabama Chanin team put together mouthwatering layers of the tomato salad. The special version of the salad presented at our dinner was topped with fresh Alabama Gulf shrimp (and bacon), and served with fried okra on the side.
Last week, we hosted our inaugural “Friends of the Café” Dinner, featuring chef Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club. Chris and his team came to The Factory for an evening of superb food, lively conversation, and support for the Alabama Gulf Seafood organization.
Alabama Chanin’s slow design ideals are deeply rooted in and inspired by the Slow Food Movement, whose tenets call for good, clean, and fair food for all. Local, organically sourced food echoes through the pages of the Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook by husband-and-wife team (and friends) Chris and Idie Hastings. In continuation of our Factory Café Chef Series, the café will feature recipes inspired by Chef Chris Hastings during the month of June. Additionally, we are proud to host Chris for our inaugural “Friends of the Café” Dinner Series on Thursday, June 12. He will also hold a brief discussion and sign copies of his book after the farm-to-table meal. A portion of ticket and book sales from the evening will benefit the Alabama Gulf Seafood organization.
Chris graduated from the Johnson & Wales Culinary School in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1984. After graduating, he began working for Frank Stitt, as Chef D’Cuisine of the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama. In the introduction to his cookbook, Chris describes how he and his wife later moved to California “with a trailer in tow, in 1989 journeyed three thousand miles from Birmingham, Alabama, to San Francisco—a hotbed of great food in America—in just two days.” In California, he helped Bradley Ogden launch the Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, California, and witnessed the rise of the farm-to-table movement first hand.
From Gravy #51: “Canning Memories” By Frank X Walker
Indian Summer meant Saturday morning courtyards and door screens opened and waiting for urban signs of harvest. No new moons or first frosts, just the welcome staccato and horn of an old flatbed truck, overalls and mud-caked boots. Grandmothers who still clicked their tongues and called up the sound of a tractor in the daybreak, the aroma of fresh turned earth and the secret location of the best blackberry patch like they were remembering old lovers, planted themselves a half squint away from the palming and weighing of potatoes stringbeans, kale, turnips, sweetcorn onions and cabbage. Continue reading →
Two hours south x southeast of The Shoals lies the metropolis of Birmingham—that’s how I have it in my childhood memory. It was the 1960s and 70s and we rarely made the trip. At that time, it was a place of strife, and violence, and steel, and, for a small child, the great unknown. It wasn’t until I returned to Alabama in the year 2000 to settle back into my home state that I came to know—and began to understand—this city that lies in the heart of Alabama.
One of the three closest airports to The Shoals is here, in what is called the “Magic City”; many guests who visit our studio choose to fly or take the train to Birmingham and make the two-hour drive through the Southwestern Appalachians to Northwest Alabama.
Officially founded in 1871, Birmingham built itself around railroad transportation and the railroading industry—which is still in operation today, but the major industry that spurred economy and growth was iron and steel production—hard work for strong people. While the manufacturing industry is still recognized as a large presence, other businesses and industries, like medical technology and banking, have strengthened and added growth to the area in the past 50 years.
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.
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.
“Don’t throw anything away. Away is not far from you.”
The quote above hangs in our studio as a reminder that each action we take (no matter how big or small) impacts our environment. Designed by our friend Robert Rausch a few years ago, the simple quote was stamped on an event invite as a means to provoke thought about what people use and, consequently, throw away each day. At Alabama Chanin, we are taking strides to become a zero waste company—where the results of one production process become the fuel for another. It is our continuing goal to maintain a well-rounded, (w)holistic company that revolves around a central theme: sustainability of culture, environment, and community.
Not only do we reuse and recycle each scrap of fabric, but we also participate in other sustainable and environmental practices on a daily basis. We recycle paper and cardboard, collect and save glass in the café, compost all food waste, repurpose scrap paper, plant trees, and are even starting a garden at The Factory. Waste not, want not.
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.
My love for cake, from traditional layer cakes to simple pound cakes, has been well documented over the years. While I delight in the homemade sweets of the South, one of my favorite cakes comes from a local bakery here in the Shoals called Sugarbakers.
The family owned-and-operated bakery opened over twenty years ago in nearby St. Florian. A few years ago, the main location, which focused on baked goods, closed and the bakery operation moved to a restaurant called “The Drink Box,” which serves up delicious milkshakes (Maggie’s drink of choice) and chicken salad, as well as old Sugarbakers favorites and layer cakes.
I have a deep respect and admiration for the work happening at Rural Studio, located in Hale County, Alabama. Founded in 1993 by the late Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee and D.K. Ruth, the studio is now celebrating its 20th anniversary.
After having the chance to visit the stunning Yancey Chapel in 2008, I noted on the Journal that “the work and life of Samuel Mockbee is a yardstick for us to hold up to our lives each and every day to take measure of the road that we walk on this planet.”
I will be heading to Hale County this weekend, for a special dinner and pig roast as part of their yearlong 20th anniversary celebration. My friend (and acclaimed chef) Scott Peacock is preparing the menu and family-style meal. The evening will be a celebration of Rural Studio and an acknowledgement of their ongoing community project at Rural Studio Farm—where students are working to construct a greenhouse, irrigation system, planter beds, and more. In fact, a few of the vegetables that will be served over the weekend were grown by students at the farm. The Hale County community is contributing to the dinner, providing fresh hen eggs for deviled eggs and the local pig that was raised to be roasted just for this occasion. Friends of Rural Studio are also making contributions—Alabama Chanin donated 170 organic cotton jersey napkins for the event, which students of the studio will manipulate and design for the dinner. It will be an evening filled with laughter, community, delicious food, and storytelling.
If you have purchased an Alabama Chanin garment or DIY kit in the last year or so, there is a chance that the fabric in your hands was also touched by Carra-ellen Russell. Carra-ellen is our Production Manager and is present at the beginning of most of the things that we make; she starts each garment and kit on its journey by cutting them and passing them along to the next phase. Pieces come back to her once they have been painted, where she helps package them with the proper notions and supplies to be given to one of our stitchers or to be shipped as a DIY kit.
Carra-ellen came to us about a year-and-a-half ago, through the suggestion of our Director of Design and Special Services, Olivia. As we were growing and looking for well-organized team members, Olivia reached out to her friend, asking her to apply to be part of our production staff. Her transition into our staff happened quite naturally after that; she says that working at The Factory was meant to be.
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.
Each morning, when the rising sun (or my daughter) wakes me and I open my eyes, I begin to go over my plan for the day. This is a treasured time. Some days, I can’t wait to get going and the day’s tasks are joyous and fruitful; other days, work just feels like…work. Last summer, as I was writing a vision plan for Alabama Chanin, it became evident that having a solid team in place – a team that had the talent and the desire to carry out that vision – would be essential. Now, when I look around, I see that our team members are creating strong relationships that are enhancing our work environment and also enriching their personal lives.
History shows that workplace teams spark one another’s creativity and create long-lasting work. Colleagues Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind the fashion label Rodarte, create some of the most original pieces each season. The New Yorker wrote that, though they have their differences, the sisters “act like a single organism,” which speaks to their specific communication skills. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, known by music lovers as “The Swampers”, created such a successful working relationship that they became business partners and founded a storied recording studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Charles and Ray Eames are among the most important American designers of the last century. He studied architecture; she studied painting and sculpting; together they not only influenced the rise of modernism, but developed innovative ways of using materials and were champions of computer technology in design.
As a Southerner and a cook, I often find myself included in lively debates about regional cuisine, long-winded discussions of the dozens of types of barbecue preparations, cornbread recipe swaps, or conversations on the perfect biscuit dough. Those of us who love food treasure the dishes we were raised eating and love to swap recipes and tips.
In my travels, I have done my fair share of boasting about my hometown’s specialties. One dish that I speak of frequently, that is such a big component of The Shoals’ local food culture, is chicken stew. And almost every time I mention it (outside of my home region), no one else in the room seems to know quite what I’m describing.
“Is it like a vegetable soup?” Not exactly. “A Brunswick stew?” Hmm. Not really.
So, I gradually came to understand that this dish—that was as ubiquitous to every neighborhood kitchen as cornbread or tea—wasn’t a staple meal for the rest of the world. In fact, it really doesn’t exist much outside of our small region of the Tennessee Valley.
Truthfully, the origins of chicken stew cannot be traced. And, no one can explain exactly why it is so specific to this region. I remember being told by an aunt that, once upon a time, chickens were kept for the eggs they produced. By the time a family killed a chicken for its meat, it was a “tough old bird,” only suitable for stews and other slow-cooked dishes. As with many rural households, you made the most of what you had and, logically, a stew fed more mouths than one fried chicken. Most likely, as with most regional foods, the recipe was created when poverty crossed paths with farmers, native people, and West African-style dishes. The result, in this case, is a dish that’s similar to existing recipes but that remains explicitly exclusive to one place. Continue reading →
Shortly after my move from New York to Alabama, I was sitting alone at our local Italian restaurant, reading magazines. After a while, a couple who’d been sitting across the room approached and introduced themselves to me. That couple, Jennifer and Robert Rausch, quickly became fixtures in my life; they’ve remained integral members of my Alabama family since that day.
These days, you can find Jennifer overseeing the day-to-day operations of the new flagship store and café at The Factory. She agreed to work with us at just the right time. The company was growing and I needed someone I could trust to help me make decisions that were thoughtful and confident. Growing a company can make one feel vulnerable; having an old friend there for support (especially one with an incredible work ethic) put me a bit more at ease.
She moves effortlessly between tasks and has a real desire to connect with everyone who walks through our door. This genuine approach, coupled with her wicked, infectious laugh, drew me to her initially and continues to make me smile, calm me, and draw me out of my shell when I become too introspective. She is practical and doesn’t hesitate to offer her opinion, even to play devil’s advocate in tough situations.
Thank you to the Southern Foodways Alliance for allowing us to share “She Spoke, and I Listened” as told to oral historian Sara Wood by Haylene Green.
From Gravy Issue #50:
The evening I met Haylene Green, an urban farmer in Atlanta, Georgia, rain mercilessly poured on midtown Atlanta—and on me. I squeaked across the lobby of Ms. Green’s apartment building and followed her to a small room in the basement. There, she opened a thick photo album with pages of fruits and vegetables from her West End community garden. And she started talking. I put the recording equipment together as fast as I’ve ever assembled it. My job was simple: She spoke, and I listened. All of her answers were stories.
Speaking of his book The Storied South on a radio program, folklorist Bill Ferris recently said something that stopped me in my kitchen: “When you ask a Southerner to answer a question, they will tell a story. And embedded in that story is the information that they feel is the answer to the question.”
Oral history, like the most satisfying literature, relies on listening and observation. The way people speak, how they tell stories, where they choose to pause and scratch their nose, to me, is the greatest part of listening. Being an oral historian or a writer requires you to listen as though your life depends on it. What seems like a simple act is actually the heart of the work. To that end, I share an excerpt from my interview with a farmer who also happens to be a storyteller. Continue reading →
In case you aren’t familiar, St. Paul and The Broken Bones is a band packed full of make-you-feel-good soul. Their recent single, “Call Me”, is on constant rotation here at the studio. Although based in Birmingham, Alabama, the group has ties to the Shoals – lead guitarist Browan Lollar is a Shoals native, and the band’s upcoming debut album, Half the City, was produced by Ben Tanner and is being released by Single Lock Records on February 18. The playlist below, curated by “St. Paul” himself, displays a playful knowledge and enjoyment of soul-rooted music.
Name: Paul Janeway
Band: St. Paul and The Broken Bones
Instrument(s) you play: Holler in a microphone
Hometown: Chelsea, AL
Presently residing: Birmingham, AL
AC: When did you start playing music?
PJ: When I was 4 years old, I started singing in church. I think my first song was “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”. I started playing guitar as a freshman in high school. I am a pretty lousy guitar player though.
AC: What are some of your proudest moments as a musician (or in your life)?
PJ: The first time we sold out a show at Bottletree Café here in Birmingham was a great moment. Also, the time I sang at the Muscle Shoals documentary premiere up in Muscle Shoals. I got to sing “When A Man Loves a Woman” and Spooner Oldham was playing keys to my right. It doesn’t get much bigger than that in my book.
My love of books is no secret. I still have a decades-old public library card, probably obtained when I was about 8 or 9, printed on card stock and housed in a small, paper envelope. It was one of my most prized possessions as a child. Today’s library cards can be scanned and swiped, but obtaining one is still an important rite of passage for so many.
In the past, we’ve explored the emotional responses that a love for books and for libraries can elicit from anyone who shares that same admiration. Our local library, the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, is a wonderful example of how a brick and mortar building can grow into a community of sorts, adapting to meet the needs of the public at-large, and embracing new technologies while reinforcing the importance of learning. This library, like many modern public libraries, has special initiatives geared toward younger children and teens, but also has a strong local history and genealogical research team. They are creating interactive experiences for the community through classes, meet-ups, and year-round programs. I am proud to see what an important part of our community the public library remains.
It was over 50 years ago when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the march on Washington D.C. It was a moment that changed America, and the world. But, the line was almost excluded from the speech. One of King’s aides encouraged him not to use the line, stating it was cliché and that he had used it too many times already. After receiving several conflicting suggestions the night before the march, King put the final touches on the speech in solitude in his hotel room.
There was an array of speakers at the march that day, and he was sixteenth in line. The podium was crowded with microphones and speakers, and when he approached the platform he heard a voice from behind shout “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.” It was gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who had heard King refer to his dream on a previous occasion. She prompted him again. King then launched into his speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking over the National Mall. He delivered his message more like a sermon, laying his prepared notes to the side, letting spontaneity and emotion preside. The utopian-like speech was not just about what was going on in the world that day in time, it was about what was going on in the world every day. We have come a long way as a nation, but we still have a long way to go. In fact, there were decades of struggle and complications involved to get the observance Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday passed into federal law.
This week on the Journal we are dedicating a series of posts to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his philosophy, and legacy. Today, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, is the only federal holiday also recognized as a national day of service – a “day on, not a day off.” So, throughout your day, in the spirit of King’s Beloved Community, take time to recognize the needs of those around you. Even the smallest gesture can make a big impact. We are encouraging our staff to leave a little early this afternoon to complete a service project of their choice that gives back to our community.
As Dr. King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Photo of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama courtesy of The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
Looking back at what we have accomplished this year at Alabama Chanin, I feel nothing short of overwhelmed. With the help of many friends, Alabama Chanin has grown in ways I only imagined. Our company is the best it has ever been, and will only get better. Over the summer, and on the heels of Camp Bacon at Zingerman’s, I wrote a 10 year vision for the company—a peek into what I wanted for the future of our family of businesses. Many of the things I envisioned happening years from now were accomplished by this year’s end, with much hard work, dedication, occasional pains of labor, trial and error, and the true grit and determination of our team. All this growth and success doesn’t come from nowhere, after all.
It is hard to believe that so much has happened in the past year. While we are busy wrapping up our year-end Inventory Sale here at The Factory, it is nice to take the time to reflect on all the projects, people, and places we have experienced in just twelve incredible months.
It has been over three years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill devastated the Gulf Coast and, in turn, the livelihoods of many. The Alabama seafood industry was practically devastated, but is rebounding with determination and the support of restaurateurs and loyal customers.
Alabama has 50+ miles of coastline bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Add that to our tidal coastline of bays, creeks, bayous, and rivers that touch the tidewater and the coastline grows to 600+ miles. Because of the salty gulf water, Alabama seafood means fish, shrimp, crab, and oysters. The Alabama Gulf Seafood organization has done a great job connecting Alabama fisherman and oysterman with our state’s chefs and seafood consumers. The beautiful images here are of postcards Alabama Gulf Seafood published (and consequently inspired this post).
I recently came across this documentary about the disappearing North Carolina textile industry. I studied design and textiles at North Carolina State University (shown in the video), when the state was still known as the capital of textile production in the United States, and so this especially hit home. But what this documentary accomplishes is to dispel a myth that the industry has completely disappeared. It hasn’t. And there are existing companies that have been in business for decades, as well as new, small production entities run by entrepreneurs who are just opening their doors. It’s a full documentary-length video, about ninety minutes long, but well worth the watch.
Fellow designer and neighbor, William “Billy” Reid (“Nobody calls me William,” he says), and his business partners, Katy and K.P. McNeill, have been friends to Alabama Chanin for over a decade. We’ve watched each other grow our businesses and our community. We’ve worked together on countless projects and events over the years, including our favorite and most accomplished to date – growing Alabama cotton last summer.
Billy worked in the design industry for many years, launching his label, Billy Reid, in 2004. In February 2010, Billy was deemed GQ’s “Best New Menswear Designer in America.” In November of that same year, he won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize, the first designer to ever receive both prizes in one year. In 2012, Billy received the CFDA’s “Menswear Designer of the Year” award. It is unprecedented for two designers in the same small Alabama town to both be prominent members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and we love that it’s Billy with whom we get to share this privilege.
Billy Reid has grown from their initial flagship store here in Florence, Alabama, and showroom in Manhattan, to ten storefronts across the southeast and Texas. His approach to classic American style with a touch of Southern charm extends beyond the clothing. Each Billy Reid space reflects this cultured style, from velvet upholstered antique chairs to the artwork and animal trophies on the walls, to the Persian rugs covering dark hardwood floors. It’s as if you are stepping into Billy’s home.
It is this Southern flair with a classic, modern aesthetic, excellent tailoring, and timeless design that sets Billy Reid apart from other designers. A bon vivant, Billy’s love of good music, good food, and conversation has made him an integral part in supporting and promoting local talent here in The Shoals, from bands to chefs to artists and photographers. Where MAKESHIFT represents shifting ideas on what it means to make and collaborate, Billy represents the core of the movement, intersecting fashion, food, design, craft, and music.
We are honored to have Billy participate in this year’s MAKESHIFT events. His tote for the Image Quilt represents the elements of design, manufacturing, fashion, and craft, each of which are present in his collections, from designing and manufacturing items that can be made responsibly, to using dead stock and non-traditional materials (like nutria fur), to sustaining traditional crafts like leatherworking, both in the United States and in Italy. He demonstrates that a successful business can grow out of an authentic voice and a desire for quality.
“When the last worker passed through the doors of White Furniture Company in May of 1993, hardly anyone beyond the city limits of Mebane, North Carolina, noticed. In national terms, it made little difference that 203 men and women were out of work or that a venerable, family-owned firm (the ‘South’s oldest maker of fine furniture’) had been sold to a conglomerate and now was being shut down. After all, what happened to White’s is hardly unique. In the 1990s, in every walk of life and on all social levels, Americans have had to learn a new vocabulary of economic anxiety – layoff, outsourcing, buyout, off-shoring, downsizing, closing. The statistics are mind-numbing: 70,000 people laid off from General Motors in 1991; 50,000 workers from Sears and 63,000 from IBM in 1993; 40,000 from AT&T in 1996. In these times, why should we care about the closing of one furniture factory in a small southern town?”
Davidson’s text accompanies Bill Bamberger’s photographs, which document the closing of this small American factory and capture the artisans, many of whom were masters of their craft. White’s Furniture Company operated by assembly line, though many of the details were executed by hand. The company was small, almost unknown, but to people in the know, White’s was regarded as one of the highest quality furniture crafters in America. Though Closing was published in 1999, nearly fifteen years ago, the trend of downsizing and outsourcing has continued, and our American factories have all but disappeared. Production, as we well know, has mostly been shipped overseas.
I told someone the other day, “Books saved my life when I was growing up.” And they did. I have spent days/weeks/years with my nose in books and, consequently, in libraries. As a designer, I find inspiration, and sometimes escape, inside of a library; as a business owner, I find critical information that has helped me grow who we are as a business and who I am as an entrepreneur. As Alabama Chanin (and my skill as a designer) has grown, so has my personal library (just ask our accountant). I have stopped dating certain men because of the absence of a library in their life, and my daughter believes the library is part of her own living room.
Ask almost anyone to describe their feelings about libraries and each person you speak to has a vivid memory of their own childhood library. I’m sure part of the reason for this is that, once upon a time, there were fewer ways to occupy yourself as a young person, and you had to actually check out a book to read it. An actual book – something that had weight, and pages you could turn, and needed bookmarks to hold your place. Ask someone about their smart phone or their Kindle and they will probably tell you how much they love it, how convenient it is, or how many features it has. Ask someone about a book, about a library, and people will tell you their memories.
At Alabama Chanin, we practice Slow Design, which focuses on producing goods in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. The intent is to design clothing and home goods that are made from sustainable raw materials using environmentally sound methods, resulting in beautiful, healthy, and long-lasting products. We want to create connections with our customers and for Alabama Chanin pieces to be used and worn for many years, to be incorporated into the life of a customer.
Our business model and method of production is based on sustainable practices. Rather than purchase low cost materials and manufacture products quickly and cheaply, we opt for a Made-in-the-USA approach, using local, artisanal labor sources. To-date, Alabama Chanin items have been made entirely by hand, without any machine work.
We’ve written about our friend Phillip March Jones. Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky, is his gallery, a music venue, and multi-faceted publisher, which recently released a compilation of recordings from artists who have performed in the space. Phillip joins us as a contributor to the journal, with an introduction to 193 SOUND.
Sound is a mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies within the range of hearing. 193 SOUND is a collection of musical sounds: continuous, regular, and in this case, site-specific vibrations that tell the story of our small space, Institute 193, in Lexington, Kentucky. This compilation records the artists, performers, musicians, and general sound-makers who have emitted, transmitted, and radiated their own SOUNDS from within our walls and that now travel into your range of hearing.
Institute 193, a project I began in October 2009, is a non-profit contemporary art space and publisher that collaborates with artists, musicians, and writers to document the cultural production of the modern South. We produce exhibitions, books, and records with the goal of unearthing significant ideas from the region and sharing them with the world. Institute 193 engages and directs, steering and shaping projects into reality without sanitizing the vision of the artist.
Outside of Lexington, Institute 193 is mostly known, of course, as a gallery – a place where exhibitions of visual art are installed and observed. But our foray into the music world began just a few weeks after the gallery opened when Ben Sollee, a cellist and pop musician, offered to play a benefit concert at the Red Mile’s Round Barn. Three months later he invited a group of friends to play a post album-release party at the gallery, and Institute 193 unofficially assumed its role as performance space. At roughly 300 square feet, it is perhaps the smallest venue in the United States.
To date, Institute 193 has hosted over forty musical performances by artists and musicians who play before crowds of twenty to forty people for donations (we pass around a white mop bucket). During these performances, the gallery has the feel of a dedicated listening room. There is no loud talking or bar chatter to compete with the performers. Hardwood floors and high ceilings offer great acoustics and most acts perform with little or no amplification.
The concerts have ultimately inspired collaborations among artists and musicians. In 2011, Coleman Guyon (Trailblazer) directed a music video for Ben Sollee, and Robert Beatty will be directing several upcoming music videos for Lonnie Holley, who performed with Anna and Elizabeth and Ben Sollee at the Lexington Opera House in December 2012. These new projects, which grew directly from experiences and events at the gallery, were part of the impetus to produce the album. We wanted to bring these artists together onto a single record – a document of things past and a catalyst for things to come.
The vast majority of musicians featured on 193 SOUND are from Kentucky: Ben Sollee, Idiot Glee, Matt Duncan, Street Gnar, The Smacks!, Cross, Ellie Herring, Trailblazer, Goldenrod, Three Legged Race, Resonant Hole, and Warren Byrom and the Canelands. Robert Beatty and Ben Durham, both from Kentucky, have contributed an experimental sound piece that pairs an electronic noise improvisation with the recitation of text from one of Durham’s graphite drawings. The artists performed this piece at Institute 193 in December 2012. The writer Silas House delivers an introduction to the album, and also reads from a new work to the accompaniment of cellist Ben Sollee.
The record also includes songs by artists from across the Southeast: the Atlanta band Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics , North Carolina fiddler Rayna Gellert, the Virginia duo Anna and Elizabeth, and the quilters Georgiana Pettway and Creola Pettway of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Lonnie Holley, a renowned visual artist, whose work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian and the American Folk Art Museum, has contributed a track, thanks to his label and occasional 193-collaborator, Dust-to-Digital.
193 SOUND also highlights music by ex-pat Southerners Morgan O’Kane, Zeke Healy, and Archer Prewitt. Prewitt, a native Kentuckian living in Chicago, plays with the band, The Sea and Cake, and is creator of the comic book series Sof’ Boy. The celebrated videographer, musician, and musicologist John Cohen has lent a rare recording of a traditional Appalachian song performed by the Shepherd Family circa 1960.
193 SOUND is designed to give the listener a taste of what is happening within our four walls, hopefully encouraging them to learn about our space and the artists we have been fortunate to work with over the past few years. It is the first of many projects that allows us to share the sounds of our region with the world and ideally will create opportunities for the musicians, artists, and performers involved.
Addendum: Throughout the preceding post, I have often used the pronoun we to describe the forces behind Institute 193. During the first two and a half years of the gallery’s existence, I often used we in the royal sense. It was just me. Since June 2011, however, I have had the opportunity to work with the ever-talented Chase Martin, currently director of Institute 193, who comprises the other half of we. He has been instrumental in every part of the gallery’s operational shenanigans since that time, and we are ever so grateful.
We have written before about the rich manufacturing and textile history present in our community. The Shoals area and surrounding communities were working fabric and textile materials beginning in the late 1800’s. Those earlier years were often unkind to the mill workers and their families who worked long hours, lived in factory-owned apartments, and shopped in factory-owned stores. But, as the Industrial Revolution gave way to reform, textile manufacturing stayed in our community and flourished. Eventually, it was something that we in The Shoals were known for, as we were often called the “T-Shirt Capital of the World.”
Terry Wylie’s family founded Tee Jay’s Manufacturing Co. here in Florence in 1976, and in doing so became the foundation for a local industry. Whole families were known to work together, producing t-shirts and cotton products. Typical of our community, the company and the employees were loyal to one another. It was common for an employee to stay at Tee Jays for decades. Our Production Manager, Steven, worked for the Wylie family for years – for a time, working in the same building where Alabama Chanin is currently housed. It was this way until the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Tee Jays and other local manufacturers eventually shuttered all domestic manufacturing. It was an undeniably tough hit for a community that had “worked” cotton for most of its existence. Some of those who hand stitch for us once worked in mills and lost their jobs when plants here in Alabama closed and moved to cheaper locations. This move left our building, once a thriving manufacturing center, an empty shell, as you can see from the picture above. Machines like the ones below were moved elsewhere, and the resounding hum of our once busy manufacturing community was silenced.
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.
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.
“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.
Last night we kicked off our Makeshift 2013 conversations with an intimate dinner hosted by friends Lisa Fox and Rosanne Cash.
It was wonderful to hear all of the conversations running through the night, from the study of 50 pages of Proust, to the intellectual property rights on patterns.
Come back tomorrow for more New York Design Week, our conversation at The Standard, East Village, and make your plans for Sunday at Build It Green!NYC in Brooklyn.
Use #makeshift2013 to join the conversation.
To cause to exist or happen; bring about; create. To bring into existence by shaping, modifying, or putting together material; construct. To compel. To form in the mind. To compose. To prepare; fix. To engage in. To carry out; perform. To achieve, produce, or attain. To institute or establish; enact. To draw up and execute in a suitable form. To assure the success of. To develop into. To draw a conclusion as to the significance or nature of. To cause to be especially enjoyable or rewarding. To appear to begin (an action). (Among others…)
Shift v. Tr.
To alter (position or place). To change (gears), as in an automobile. To exchange (one thing) for another.
Cows were born to roam and graze. Hogs were born to root and wallow. Chickens were born to scratch and peck. According to Will Harris and White Oak Pastures, these are the natural behaviors of animals, making them commonsense tenets of how to raise healthy livestock. “Nature abhors a monoculture,” is one of Will’s favorite sayings.
Five generations of Harrises have farmed a tract of land in Georgia that now raises livestock using traditional, multi-species grazing rotation, no hormones and no antibiotics. But, business was not always done this way. Post WWII, the Harris family farm moved away from the traditional ways of doing things and began raising livestock using more chemicals and fertilizers and blending into the industrialized complex of food production. In the mid-90’s, Will Harris, the current head of White Oak Pastures, made what some called a foolish decision to bring the family farm full circle: moving back to the traditional ways of natural grazing, healthy animals, and respectful butchering.
As MAKESHIFT 2013 takes shape, we continue the conversation that began last year about the intersection of art, craft, making, producing, designing, and manufacturing. One of last year’s most popular events, Crafting Design: Chair Workshop with Partners and Spade, found resonance with a league of artists, designers, crafters, and makers. And due its popularity, we are excited to be curating the workshop again, this year hosted by Build It Green!NYC, on the 19th of May, in their Gowanus, Brooklyn location, and in collaboration with Krrb. This year’s event includes a Chair Exhibition, followed by a party—both open to the public. Expect some local brew, a food truck (or two), and some surprises along the way.
Build It Green!NYC (BIG!NYC) is New York City’s only non-profit retail outlet for salvaged and surplus building supplies and materials. Co-sponsored by Community Environmental Center (CEC), which assists New York buildings with energy efficiency, BIG!NYC works to keep building materials out of landfills, using all materials where possible (much like Alabama Chanin). You can find most anything at BIG!NYC, whether it’s shutters, panel doors or refrigerators. Construction and demolition waste is a massive portion of landfill content (over 19,000 tons of building material are thrown out each day in NYC) and that waste contains pollutants, GHG emissions, and contributes to climate change and global warming. All proceeds from sales through BIG!NYC go back into supporting CEC’s environmental programs throughout the city: BIG!Compost, BIG!Blooms, BIG!NYC Gives Back, along with a variety of other projects that continue to emerge.
Our friends (and Southern Foodways Alliance cohorts) Kerry Diamond (of Cherry Bombe Magazine) and her chef/partner Robert Newton (of Smith Canteen) built their newest endeavor, Nightingale 9, from materials found at Build It Green!NYC.
Last October, Hurricane Sandy nearly destroyed one of BIG!NYC’s reuse centers, flooding their 21,000 square foot warehouse with five feet of water. Two days later, volunteers from across the state amassed on the site to help remove the unsalvageable and clean what could be saved. With the help of those volunteers, Build It Green!NYC was back in business within days, aiding those hit hard by the storm and providing needed building materials. BIG!NYC suffered major losses as a result of Hurricane Sandy, which only reinforced their mission to extend the usability of construction materials by keeping them out of landfills.
Like last year’s chair workshop, participants in this year’s event will repurpose cast-off, found chairs into objects of beauty. And like last year, friends, makers, and designers, like Natalie, A.J. Mason, Andrew Wagner, Tanya Aguiniga, Amy Devers, and more, will be on-hand to help and participate. While space for this workshop is limited, a Chair Exhibit and party will take place directly after the workshop and are open to all. Build It Green!NYC will also be open for business during the workshop with a portion of all sales benefiting Build It Green!NYC Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Come join us…
P.S.: The workshop is currently wait listed, but spots may open so go ahead and send us an email. We want to hear from you: rsvp (at) alabamachanin.com
Southern children who grow up with a healthy respect for their elders, particularly their mothers, are said to have been “raised right.” Across the south, most children (and their fathers) must have been “raised right,” because there is almost always a big to-do made about Mother’s Day. Even though new Easter clothes have just been bought, a slew of children will go shopping again for new Mother’s Day outfits; it is expected to make a good impression at church on that big day. Mom gets to sleep in (just a little) and breakfasts will be prepared and served by the children. We present our mothers and grandmothers with beautiful corsages. Often in my community, the tradition is to give carnations. It’s common to give Mother a red or pink one and to set a vase of white carnations upon the kitchen table for grandmothers or great-grandmothers who have passed away. In my family,we presented corsages to Mother and Grandmother on Mother’s Day morning.
Makers and doers Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu, two friends and former Harper’s Bazaar colleagues, have teamed up to produce the first indie food magazine to celebrate women in the food world. Beautifully designed and expertly curated, Issue #1 – The Tastemaker Issue – will be released in May. I’ve just contributed to their Kickstarter Campaign, which ends this Friday, May 3rd.
Kerry Diamond, working on the editorial side at Harper’s, went on to open two wonderful Brooklyn restaurants (Seersucker and Nightingale 9) and a coffee shop (Smith Canteen) with her chef boyfriend. Claudia worked on the creative team at Harper’s, later starting her own design firm, Orphan, and the cult indie publication, Me Magazine.
I think it is pretty safe to say that midwifery is one of the first DIY skills in human existence. Certainly, the human body knows instinctively what to do when the time comes to birth a child. Still, I can’t imagine that we would have gotten very far as a species without someone learning how to assist in childbirth, give guidance to a mother, provide assistance to a newborn, and generally know how to take care of business.
It appears that learning the art of midwifery is flourishing both in the US and abroad. A recent story on public radio discussed how clinically trained midwives in rural Mexico might be a real healthcare solution for mothers living in rural areas, far from hospital care. Officials are hoping that by training professional midwives in basic nursing, gynecology, and obstetrics, they can not only help mothers without access to healthcare, but ease the burden placed upon the country’s overwhelmed hospitals. Worldwide health organizations have the same hope for other countries where physicians are scarce or far from rural communities.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 350,000 women die every year due to pregnancy and childbirth related complications. Most of these preventable deaths occur in poor, rural, low income regions. They maintain that trained midwives could reduce the risk of both mother and child death during birth. About 1000 women and almost 10,000 newborns die every day due to largely preventable complications that could have been attended to by a skilled midwife. However, more than one-third of all births in the world take place without a midwife or trained health staff member.
For many expectant mothers in the United States, choosing a midwife can mean an embrace of a more natural way of life and a separation from the clinical aspects of childbirth. Some choose midwives to assist in their delivery in order to allow a more personal birth experience. Most hospitals allow midwife assistance as long as a doctor is available if intervention is needed. However, here in the U.S., more and more women are seeking home birth experiences. Often, this experience, when attended only by a midwife, is illegal in the United States – though this varies from state-to-state. Doctors and midwives continue to debate the safety of births assisted only by midwives, especially home births.
Still, stereotypes about midwives are fading. A study done by the US Centers for Disease Control found that one in every eight births in the U.S. was assisted by a midwife. Today, there are more than 5,000 certified nurse midwives in the United States who attend approximately 150,000 births annually, primarily in hospitals. Just about an hour north of our office here in Florence is a midwifery center known as The Farm that was founded by one of the most renowned midwives in the world, Ina May Gaskin. (Gaskin wrote the imperative tome Spiritual Midwifery.)This center has been open for over 40 years and the trained midwives there provide pre-natal care, assistance with delivery, and post-natal care. The center also holds training workshops to educate the next generation of midwives.
In a sense, having a child has – for a woman – always been a DIY experience. But, as trained midwives continue to find a place and fill a need for women, particularly in developing nations, we may be slowly taking more responsibility for our own health. There will always be instances when intervention via physician or hospital is absolutely necessary. But, midwives are an important option for women across the globe. Some women have the luxury of choosing to deliver using a midwife. For others, having a midwife can be the difference between life and death. The women who are studying to be clinical midwives in Mexico and some developing nations are solutions to a critical health problem. Women choosing to care for other women all over the world – re-learning and reinforcing “living arts”, educating, and empowering themselves: real women, indeed.
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.
For Marimekko Week, we wanted to make (and eat) one of the delicious Finnish dishes on the Marimekko Feeling Festive blog. Armi Ratia has been an inspiration to so many, myself included, for decades. The clean lines and graphic look of Marimekko patterns are both simple and exciting to the eye and the bold, bright colors exude confidence and happiness. I feel a distant kinship with Armi and the Marimekko process. There exists a shared desire to create beauty in things that will last a very long time.
That colorful simplicity of Marimekko design finds its way into the Festive blog recipes. This Carrot Butter was well loved by our staff on a very cold, grey day.
It’s been nearly three years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and the repercussions still linger. Tar balls continue to wash up on shore as we wait patiently to learn how much BP will pay in restitution. But the fishing, shrimping, and oyster industries have rebounded in strides, as restaurants on the coast and inland support our ocean’s harvest.
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.
We have been working with indigo-dyed cotton jersey for years now. Between Father Andrew and Goods of Conscience in New York City and Artisan Natural Dyeworks in Nashville, Tennessee, there has never been a need for us to start our own indigo vat. And in the quantities we dye, it’s better to leave it to the experts. However, there has always been this little part of me that covets an indigo bath and I dream of one in our studio for “play.”
Since we set about exploring indigo this week, it seemed a perfect time to also explore recipes for a vat (which Father Andrew says is “very much like making beer”). While investigating recipes, I remembered a text message I received last fall from friends A.J. Mason and Jeff Moerchen about an indigo vat they created in the woods of upstate New York. Here they share the story of their vat:
Rivertown Coffee Co. has been a staple in our community for almost 10 years. In this video series called MadeInTheShoals, owner John Cartwright talks about how he experiences coffee, the importance of community, and what it’s like to own a business.
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.
As a small business with an artisan-based production system, we are aware that Alabama Chanin is unique in the way that we create our products. We would not exist without the skill and hard work of our artisans. Our cottage industry-style method of production is a subject of interest at many trunk shows, workshops, and forums. We are proud of what we have accomplished as a company and proud that we have been able to keep our manufacturing local. We are also excited to see a trend emerging among other small companies: DIY Manufacturing.
We recently learned about the work of Amor Muñoz in a New York Times article. Muñoz creates a specialized form of electronic textile and seeks her workforce by pedaling down the streets of Mexico City shouting through a megaphone. She has created a “maquiladora,” or factory that pays workers roughly the same as American minimum wage – well over the average rate of pay in Mexico. “It’s about community,” Ms. Muñoz said. “I’m interested in sharing the experience of art.” She wants to create art, but she wants to improve the rate of compensation for workers. This strategy runs counteractive to government agents’ strategy of keeping wages low to make Mexico competitive with China when manufacturing contracts are being signed.
I don’t want to overstate the obvious, but most of you would know that I am neither a New Yorker nor a fashion expert. While I enjoy style and design and I’m somewhat awed by the city, it’s clear to any observer that I’m native to neither. But, there’s something about Bill Cunningham that makes me feel comfortable with both. He lives and roams in the intimidating worlds of fashion and Manhattan, but manages to do so in an unpretentious way.
This weekend I re-watched the feature-length documentary Bill Cunningham New York, which profiles this prolific photographer and wise fashion observer and, once again, this eighty-something gentleman captured all my heart. Sometimes, as a fashion outsider, I imagine that NY style begins and ends on the runway. Bill Cunningham is a firm believer that this notion is not true. “The best fashion show is definitely on the street – always has been, always will be,” he assures us. His “On the Street,” column in the New York Times is a collage of on-trend people, items, movements, and real-time style progressions. In the film, Harold Koda, Curator of the Costume Institute/Metropolitan Museum of Art, explains that Bill attempts to “tease out trends in terms of the reality of how people dress.” Cunningham himself demurs, “I don’t decide anything. I let the street speak to ME.”
Update: The class is no longer available on Craftsy due to the discontinued pattern; however, Natalie does teach additional online courses that you can find on Craftsy and Creativebug.
Heirlooms aren’t created overnight, and it’s the time that goes into embellishing and constructing an artisanal garment that gives life to its one-of-a-kind beauty. Join me, Natalie Chanin, for my new online Craftsy class, Hand-Embellishing Knit Fabric: Stenciling, Appliqué, Beading, and Embroidery, and enjoy the process of creating a timeless piece of clothing.
In our first lesson, we’ll look at an assortment of our beautiful hand-embroidered swatches and discuss a vast array of embellishment options for the included Vogue coat pattern. Then, together, we’ll practice a variety of hand sewing techniques to make your coat come together seamlessly. Working with cotton jersey, we’ll cut out, mark, and prepare the pattern pieces for embellishment, using techniques to minimize fabric distortion. Now we are ready to embellish. We’ll create a stencil using the included PDF stencil pattern, and paint designs onto your fabric. After that, I’ll walk you through a multitude of techniques for appliqué and reverse appliqué. We’ll also explore how to sew bugle, chop, seed beads, and sequins onto your garment, and combine beads with embroidery stitches. In our final lessons, we’ll talk through constructing the coat, plus learn finishing details such as adding topstitching, ribbing, and more. Enroll in Hand-Embellishing Knit Fabric: Stenciling, Appliqué, Beading, and Embroidery, and mix and match hand sewing and embellishment techniques, creating a stylish garment that will be treasured forever.
Though my mother once gave me a gorgeous Elna sewing machine, my initial forays into sewing were consistently shaky. Yet, the memories of my grandmothers sewing and creating had long ago taken root deep within my consciousness; these memories eventually bore fruit when I set out , at eighteen years old, for a life away from home to study fashion and design, live abroad, and gain valuable experience as a stylist and designer. When I eventually returned to the ranch-style house my grandfather built in rural Alabama, it was to start Alabama Chanin, my lifestyle clothing and design brand. Alabama Chanin maintains and celebrates the traditions and materials of my grandparents, creating garments by hand, using sustainable practices, and exclusively featuring hand and small lot-dyed organic cotton and recycled materials from local artisans. I look forward to sharing the unique Alabama Chanin process with you in my new Craftsy class.
My class was filmed at the Alabama Chanin studio in Florence, Alabama, but you can join me for these lessons from anywhere in the world. Just like the skills you’ll learn, my class is yours to keep—you can watch it whenever and however many times you like. Plus, the Craftsy classroom lets you pose questions so that your classmates and I can get back to you with answers. You can also use Craftsy’s video notes to mark and return to important techniques easily, plus you can utilize the thirty-second repeat feature to loop a technique without taking your hands off your sewing. My class has a wealth of information that I know you will enjoy, but if for any reason you aren’t satisfied, you can receive your money back with no questions asked.
Sign up for Hand-Embellishing Knit Fabric: Stenciling, Appliqué, Beading, and Embroidery, and learn a collection of enduring sewing techniques for unique garments with invaluable appeal. All supply bundles are discounted on our website.
P.S.: Photo of Maggie, Stella, and Natalie by Joe Baran.
P.S.: If you purchase your class from the links on our website, we will earn a small commission from the product purchased through that link. This commission supports our business and helps us stock our 100% organic fabrics, pay our employees a living wage, and allows our teams to continue to design and create the products that you love. What might seem like a small gesture can go a long way for our business, so thank you.
Schools, government offices, and many businesses are closed today to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We are closing our studio a few hours early and to take part in MLK’s Day of Service. In the spirit of King’s Beloved Community, we will take some time today to serve others, while reflecting on our theme for the year: peace.
From The King Center’s website:
As early as 1956, Dr. King spoke of The Beloved Community as the end goal of nonviolent boycotts. As he said in a speech at a victory rally following the announcement of a favorable U.S. Supreme Court Decision desegregating the seats on Montgomery’s busses, “the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
Read more about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teachings and achievements here.
P.S.: Please share your reflections with us.
*Photo above from The Kodak Gallery. Photographer: Charles Moore, Alabama, 1958.
In our family (as many families in my community), today will be celebrated with Hog Jowl, Collards, and Black-eyed Peas (although you might want to try the Three Sisters with some root vegetables). It’s one of the few days of the year my father (who is gratefully still with us and in remission) actually cooks (well, at least the Hog Jowl).
This holy trinity of the South supposedly brings us health, prosperity, and love (along with our famously thick waistlines). Tomorrow is (gratefully) another day and we will take care of our waistlines then…
In the last few months, I have been given two wreaths made from living materials. The one above comes from my friend Erica Rosenberg of St. Florian Fiber Farm—just outside of Florence, Alabama. The wreath below was lovingly made by Sybil Brooke Sylvester of Wildflower Design in Birmingham, Alabama.
There are so many ways that you can use elements from your yard, your community, and your environment to make your own wreaths and decorations. Follow our new Landscape + Architecture board on Pinterest and share with us what natural materials you are using for building decorations.
Weave the name of one of the Newtown, Connecticut victims into your handmade wreaths in memorial.
I have to note that we started writing holiday posts about wreath making before the tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday morning. It is incomprehensible for all of us to understand how that community will make it through the upcoming holiday season and beyond. For me, senseless tragedy can rarely be fully processed.
How strange that one of the traditional emblems of our holiday season—the wreath—is also a universal symbol of mourning. Both are traditions that seem to have grown out of ancient times and are simply variations of the never-ending ring that, on a deeper level, symbolizes the circle of life. You can find wreaths made as crowns of precious metals and gemstones, of bay leaves for athletes, of straw or stones, as daisy chains made by children, and as the rings of light that we associate with the halo.
We continue our holiday posts today, keeping the families of Newtown, Connecticut in our hearts. Over the coming days, you will find a series of wreaths that we dedicate to them.
While there is no explaining such a tragedy, sometimes the act of making (or doing) can help us overcome the despair we suffer for the senseless heartbreaking acts of this world.
Those of you who are frequent visitors to our blog may have read about the incredible Tom Hendrix and his beautiful tribute to his great-grandmother, The Wichahpi Commemorative Wall (known around here as simply, The Wall). Tom not only built an incredible monument for his great-grandmother, but he also took the time to tell her story in his book, If the Legends Fade. All proceeds from his book benefit his great-grandmother’s people, the Yuchi Nation.
All of us here at Alabama Chanin spent some days in the last months in a cotton field, picking our organic cotton. The work is difficult, repetitive, and, at the same time beautiful in that it brings out a meditative state. Though I was hot and tired in the field, I felt a stillness much like what I’ve experienced at The Wall. While cotton is much lighter than stone, I think I understand Tom’s mission in a way I never did before. Slowing down and being conscious of your actions can be a way to honor the past. So often we are swept up in modern convenience that it is almost impossible to appreciate the struggles our ancestors endured.
Tom, his vision, and his actions constantly inspire me. I hope that, like each stone that he places on The Wall, our work is part of something larger. I hope that our efforts create beautiful and sustainable things, while honoring those that came before us.
Many years ago, a Yuchi woman inspired Mr. Hendrix to begin this wall, saying, “One step at a time, one stone at a time. Lay a stone for every step she made…We shall pass this earth. Only the stones will remain.”
Like our ancestors, we, too, shall pass this earth. What will we leave behind?
May we each spend some time today pondering what we are thankful for and what we want to leave behind.
Giving thanks for all of you…
From all of us @ Alabama Chanin
I’ve heard Lubbock called the cotton capital of the United States, if not the world, by a handful of people in the industry. Flying into Lubbock, I saw farmland that continued as far as the eye could see. Once I landed, those fields became stretches of white that reached out to the horizon.
Today, thanks to Kelly Pepper and the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, I visit these fields first-hand, along with a cotton breeding facility and test nurseries. For the first time, I will meet some of the farmers who grow our organic cotton face-to-face.
I’ll have a glimpse of the hard work that (as we have learned first-hand) goes into cotton’s growth and development. I will walk through the entire process, from the field to the gins and the warehouses where it is cleaned and stored, before it travels east to the Carolinas to be spun, knit, dyed, and finally sent to our factory in Florence.
I will listen and watch and then take this information back to Alabama so we can improve our field for next year’s crop. (Yes. Next year.)
All of us at Alabama Chanin are so grateful to Kelly Pepper and the entire Texas cooperative for paving the way for the future of Alabama organic cotton.
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.
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.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, to view “Creation Story: Gee’s Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial.” I spent forever moving from one quilt to the next – leaning as closely in as I could without being reprimanded. No matter how many times you see those beautiful pieces, they never fail to amaze and inspire. The quilts, while spectacular, were meant for everyday use and were made with whatever materials were available. The personal stories associated with each quilt drove that point home. Each was described by the maker in simple terms and plain language, as if what they produced was no big deal, as though anyone could do it. I was particularly taken by the quilts of Missouri Pettway, both intricate and simple in their constructions. One quilt, made from her husband’s work clothes, demonstrated the love that went into each and every one of these works of art. I felt a lump rise in my throat as I read the description, as told by the quilter’s daughter, Arlonzia:
“It was when Daddy died. I was about seventeen, eighteen. He stayed sick about eight months and passed on. Mama say, ‘I going to take his work clothes, shape them into a quilt to remember him, and cover up under it for love.’ She take his old pants legs and shirttails, take all the clothes he had, just enough to make that quilt, and I helped her tore them up. Bottom of the pants is narrow, top is wide, and she had me to cutting the top part out and shape them up in even strips.” Continue reading →
Last week, a group of friends in our community gathered together at one friend’s home to fill the living room with piles of their unwanted clothing that they then “shopped”. Part of the “Swap, Don’t Shop” movement, these women, friends and family, got together for their bi-annual clothing exchange party called ‘The Big Swap’. Interested in this growing alternative to shopping, we joined the party and brought along some of our lovingly worn Alabama Chanin garments to exchange.
More and more volunteers continue to visit the field. Bolls are opening by the day. In addition to weeding, we’ve begun harvesting the cotton. In the studio, we are preparing for the quickly approaching Picking Party (and field work day). Look for details soon.
I took a trip out last weekend with my daughter Maggie, my friends the Champagnes and their four kids. In just a couple of hours of laughing, talking, and picking we had a pile that amounted to almost 70 pounds and the funny thing was… it was FUN. As I wrote in an earlier post, it is fun for those of us who know we can leave in a few hours, sit down for breaks as we feel like it, and laugh with our kids while working. There have been times in this county when “cotton work” was very different and we wanted our children to know and understand that. So, the few hours were filled with looking for bugs, talk of seeds and pods, and the life of farming. The kids were amazed to see how much cotton comes from each little boll. Our eight year old friend Joe kept saying, “Look how much was on this one!” and holding up his harvest proudly.
There are certain places you must see for yourself to have better understanding of a culture and people.
Through his Kodachrome images, photographer William Christenberry is somehow able to take you to places you’ve never been and give you insight on people you’ve never encountered. He tells beautiful (sometimes forlorn) tales spanning five decades in the rural South. Shot with 35mm Kodachrome slide film, the photographs feature white-clad churches, brick facades, overgrown landscapes, and rusted signage; they focus on rural locations, rather than individuals, but still manage to depict the humanness of the locales.
When you are raised in a community with a large farming population, the seasons take on a deeper meaning than a simple change in temperature. It is true that for agriculture, to everything there is a season –every vegetable has a growing season, every time of the year has beautiful moments and challenges to overcome. For most families tied to the land – much like the earliest humans – the sky is a clock and a calendar; the sun’s path across the sky, the length of each day, the location of sunrise and sunset – these things are actual signs of things to come and preparations that must be made. So, the upcoming Autumn Equinox will be a time of reflection upon the year’s successes and failures and a moment of celebration of the harvest cycle.
There are two equinoxes each year – one in March and the second in September. Technically, these are the days when the sun shines directly upon the Earth’s equator and the length of the day and the night is roughly equal. The Autumn equinox symbolically marks the beginning of autumn and the end of summer. From this moment, temperatures typically drop and the days begin to get shorter than the evenings. The sun begins its shift toward the south and the birds and butterflies follow it in their migrations. For us, September and October mean that it’s time for broccoli, greens, root vegetables, and apples. It also means that summer crops should have been stored and put up for the coming winter.
I live in a small house. By big city standards (and the Small House Movement), my 1800 square feet might be considered huge. But, by the standards of my community our home is relatively small. Regardless of the size, my home is perfect for me and my daughter, Maggie, the occasional evening babysitting for my new granddaughter, and a rotating cast of overnight guests.
However, earlier this year, where it once seemed the perfect size, my little house began to seem small. It felt that we were bursting at the seams; my life felt disorganized and it seemed I could never keep up with the constant tasks of washing clothes, feeding our (75 pound and growing) poodle, and the endless dishes to be washed. So, I started cleaning house. This process is still going on today and is executed with the ”William Morris Test”: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
In 1972, I gave my father a first edition of The Foxfire Book as a Christmas present. It came from the local bookstore on Court Street in downtown Florence, where now the Billy Reid store serves as a fashion anchor for our little town. It was common in those days for us kids to be dropped off “downtown” and picked up hours later after we had eaten Trowbridge’s ice cream and spent our hard saved allowances on all sorts of treasures.
I remember that holiday season clearly. Perhaps it was the first year I was allowed to shop by on my own? I would have just turned 11 – laughing, whispering, and scheming with my best friend Wendy. Standing in the old Anderson’s Bookland that afternoon, The Foxfire Book leapt out at me and seemed the perfect gift for my father who loved country life, all things Native American, and working with wood.
Sent: Friday, August 31, 2012 8:58 AM
Subject: Re: cotton field photos
I was thinking of you this morning and took a few pictures at the cotton field so you can feel like you are here this morning. My photos are nothing to these that you have sent, but perhaps you will like to see your cotton babies. I am so happy you found Kacie. She gave Jimmy a business card before he left the field yesterday and gave him the most beautiful garden stakes that she had made!
I had already left the field because I was exhausted. She was a dynamo and pulled weeds on her knees in that hot humid sticky field. She didn’t seem to want any credit for what she was doing. She farms herself in Tennessee.
I just had to take her photo with my phone because I can’t believe she was there and working so hard. I really think she is an angel. I will make a point to go to Huntsville and see her business someday. She will always be a very important part of this little cotton field. She left her mark on the field and in my heart.
I am the cotton scout assigned to north Alabama and middle Tennessee for the Boll Weevil Eradication Program (SEBWEF). I noticed the article in Saturdays edition of Times Daily. My interest in your cotton field is to simply place a boll weevil trap nearby, and monitor it until mid-November.
Cotton growers in the state of Alabama and the Southeast have spent millions of dollars over the past 20 years to eradicate the boll weevil from our fields. The eradication has also reduced pesticide use dramatically, and actually saved several million in costs and increased yield.
The only way to guarantee that we do not get a re-infestation is to monitor ALL cotton that is in the eradicated zones. We receive information from USDA each season to locate each cotton field so that we can accomplish a successful monitoring program. I do imagine that your cotton was not reported to the local USDA Service center because of its nature, but there is a state (AL) and federal law that the cotton must be monitored. I can take care of this easily, but there will likely be a small fee assessed by SEBWEF.
For those of you who have read about (or visited) our cotton field, we’d like to share with you its beginnings and its progress over the last months. These small bolls are more than just crops in a field; rather, they hold a fiber that has shaped the history of our community and, as we have seen in our growing process, binds our community together.
We began our search for organic (non-GMO, non-treated) cottonseed back in March. We worked with Lynda Grose and the Textile Exchange to educate ourselves about the growing process and the many details surrounding the growing of organic cotton. As we pushed forward, we were told by some farmers that March was too late into the growing season to prepare and plant crops. These “magic beans.” as we like to call the cottonseed, were proving very difficult to find. Numerous internet searches and phone calls left us wondering if this endeavor would be possible. But with the help of Kelly from the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, we successfully found a supplier in Texas.
Sent: Tuesday, September 04, 2012 6:58 AM
Subject: It will be alright
Soggy, sopping wet Cocker Spaniels. That is what the cotton looks like right now. It is droopy and matted and dirty with rainwater and splashed mud from the storms we had. When I was a little girl my dearest friend was a Cocker Spaniel, and he and I spent many hours wading in the creek. The creek was over knee deep for me and up to his chin and his beautiful long ears would float out beside him as we walked along in the creek. We would both be covered with sand and mud and creek water, but those times were heavenly to us. The cotton bolls that were white fluffy clouds on Sunday afternoon are a memory now.
Sent: Monday, September 03, 2012 6:47 AM
Subject: Dayum (Georgia word for Damn) Rain
The rain and storms yesterday evening continued to send rain until this morning. About 5:00 am the rain was coming in waves and it sounded like the ocean. It is odd to me that Mother Nature that gives us so much beauty, can wave her hand and destroy so much. Anyway, I’ll be taking a row boat to check our little cotton field as soon as I get some coffee. Yesterday I was picking the beautiful first bolls that have opened on each plant. It was so light and fluffy and gorgeous.
This morning the words “as soon as it rains on the open bolls they start to deteriorate” are causing my head and my heart to ache. In review, lets us all remember that the little cotton field was planted May 10 and got one light rain 3 days later and then the 6 week record breaking drought in Alabama began. The cotton struggled to grow and survive without a drop of water for 6 weeks. In the final days suddenly one night it rained 6 inches and flooded creeks in the area and roadways. The rain brought forth giant weeds but it brought the cotton from knee high and shriveled to waist high and loaded with bolls! Now we are faced with the fact that cotton doesn’t open out all at once.
The first blooms on the lowest branch are the first bolls to open, and then the next level (node) of branches will have their bolls open and then the next and so on. The first bolls are the ones that receive the most nutrients and are the best. The top of the plants have blooms that will probably be killed by frost before they ever open into cotton. People who picked cotton always picked a field twice. The large machinery that harvests cotton picks once and leaves a tremendous amount on the ground.
Coffee is ready; I’ll shut up now. I’ll keep you posted,
Sent: Thursday, August 30, 2012 11:04 AM
Subject: Our first cotton angel
I was at the cotton field this morning when a car pulled up and a tiny young lady got out and put on her work gloves and went to work!! She is still there working!!! I sent a photo from my phone to your phone with her name. Can you believe she drove from Giles County Tennessee to Lawrence County Alabama to work in the hot steamy cotton field!
She is a wonderful person. I hope she will be in touch with you so that you can know her. Jimmy and I were so touched that she came such a long way and is such a hard worker. She is devoted and she is one in a million.
P.S. when I left the cotton field this morning with my pillowcase pick sack, I drove straight to the Trinity Post Office to get them to weigh my pick sack! I walked in covered with sweat from head to toe and carrying a pillow sack with a lump of cotton in it. I’m sure they thought I was on Meth or Crack or something. I picked 2 pounds and 9 ounces of cotton this morning.
Don’t laugh. Imagine bending and stooping and sweating and gnats up your nose and ants biting your legs and stinging weeds with thorns.. It ain’t pretty work, that is for sure. Jimmy informs me that he was paid $3.00 for picking 100 pounds of cotton. Oh my god it makes my back hurt to think about it…..
If you’ve been following our blog, you’ve read about the rollercoaster that has been our first exposure to cotton farming. Having survived the terrible drought, the cotton has been carried through the summer by equal parts rainfall and sunshine. Right now, the bolls are looking healthy, but so are the weeds. Following the organic guidelines, we did not use any chemicals to eradicate the weeds. Lisa and “friend” Jimmy have done the leg, and arm, and back work.
Last Wednesday, the Alabama Chanin staff, along with Lisa and Jimmy, made a trip to weed the field. We arrived to a daunting 6 1/2 acres of beautifully forming cotton alongside big, ugly weeds. The next few weeks are crucial to a successful harvest of the first ever organic cotton crop in North Alabama (that is, since the invention of pesticides and genetically modified seeds). Our plants need ample light, air circulation, and nutrients from the soil to continue to develop and open. We were overjoyed when Lisa sent images on Saturday morning of the first bolls that have opened. But some of the weeds have still got to go. If this crop is to see a successful harvest, it’s going to need more help to survive and thrive.
Wednesday morning, Alabama Chanin closed its doors for half the day and made a trip out to the cotton field to visit (and weed with) Lisa and her husband, “friend” Jimmy (as he jokingly refers to himself). Jimmy and Lisa have been the determined and loving caretakers of our cotton these last months. Living near what we understand to be the FIRST privately owned organic cotton field in North Alabama (if not the entire state), they stop by each day to keep a watchful eye on our crop and monitor its progress.
Jimmy grew up less than a mile from the site of the field. His strong determination and easygoing personality, paired with a true farmer’s work ethic, have made him invaluable to the establishment of our field. Recently retired, and a friend of K.P. and Katy McNeill of Billy Reid, Jimmy was interested in finding a way to occupy his newly acquired free time. He offered to plow, plant, and cultivate the cotton field. He and K.P. have spent many weekends in Trinity this summer, discussing and working the land. Having chopped and picked cotton growing up, Jimmy expressed (with some disdain) he did not want a role in those later processes. He knew better.
Just when I think that it can’t get any better, it does. A weekend in the mountains was what I needed and it’s the first time in ages that I meet Monday morning feeling rested, relaxed (beyond measure), and balanced. The highlight of my weekend was certainly a swim in the North Toe River: icy cold waters, a gentle rain, friends, a series of rapids, warmer pools of water carved into the rocks. I often forget how MUCH I NEED to be outside.
While I swam, my studio continued their adventures in stenciling and sewing.
It’s been raining every day here at Penland—such a change from the dry, dying fields of North Alabama over the last weeks. Like a miracle, it rained on our cotton field, too (more to come on that next week). My father reports that we did get 3 inches of rain at my house and I love how he called it a “good rain.” “Long and slow,” he drawls. I know what he means. It has been the same here at Penland, but I have a pair of rubber boots and, thanks to a Spruce Pine store, a camping poncho. And the mountains here just feel like they are particularly beautiful in the rain… I believe that they call them the “Smoky Mountains” for a reason. Continue reading →
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.
While searching for historic parade images in our local library, we came across these beautiful photographs of fireworks. Taken in 1976, they capture a quality of ephemeral beauty and celebration that sweeps our nation (and backyard celebrations) each year.
As a child, I was fascinated with fireworks for their patterns and colors. I watched in awe each July 4th as the displays brilliantly lit up the sky before fading away. Back at home, I reimagined their shapes and recreated them with paper and crayons. Maggie has been decorating our house for weeks now and will, I am sure, come home to paper and crayons the same as I did so many years ago.
As the holiday approaches, we all look forward to days filled with cooking, laughing, and celebrating with friends and family. My neighborhood’s 4th of July parade is followed by the annual Kids vs. Adults Baseball game, a cookout, and a grand fireworks spectacle to conclude the day’s events.
I’ve always been a little obsessed with parades. I scoured the internet trying to find out where parades originated, or why. What I’ve found is this: nobody knows. There are cave drawings from over ten thousand years ago that depict prehistoric men marching wild game home to cook in a wild and celebratory manner. Perhaps it is human nature – a group of people with a common cause just tend to rally around one another and rejoice.
When you think about the concept of people, musicians, floats, horses, waving pageant queens – it seems as though one would be overwhelmed at having every sense stimulated all at once. But, I’m not.
Last Friday, before we left for New York for an inspiring week of MAKESHIFT, we received wonderful news: the cotton seed had been planted. The week before, Jimmy, K.P., and I met early in the morning at the site of the cotton field, prepared to spend the day planting. However, the soil needed to be broken up more finely in order to allow the planter to properly cover the seed. This set us back a few days, but after another day of plowing to break the soil, Jimmy was finally ready to plant.
A few weeks ago, we took to the streets of Florence to spread wildflower seeds guerrilla-style. We tossed our homemade seed “bombs”, seed encapsulated clay balls, into alleys and onto vacant areas – hoping to add more color and beauty to our community.
With the amount of rain that we have been receiving lately, every growing thing has been sprouting up and up toward the sky. Yesterday, retraced our steps to see if our dispersed wildflowers were making progress. There were no full blooms yet; however, we are starting to see small dots of the color purple in Olivia’s yard.
John Bielenberg and his work with PieLab aren’t new to Alabama Chanin, or our blog. We were curious what John has been up to, so we caught up with him between his travels to learn more about Project M, PieLab, and recent goings on in Greensboro, Alabama.
We also got our hands on a delicious recipe from the pop-up café, PieLab, for our Wednesday Recipes.
Their Tart Apple Pie with White Cheddar Crust has a beautiful lattice top that looks like the pies I ate growing up. Combining the tartness of the apples with the savory of the white cheddar makes for a fabulous slice of pie. If only it weren’t a three hour drive down to Greensboro to get a slice. Recipe then Q&A with John to follow:
Yesterday, a well awaited package was delivered to the Factory: organic, or “black” cottonseed, as I’ve learned it is called. In our effort to grow organic cotton, we’ve taken a step-by-step approach. We started with the seed, and now we move on to the land. We are learning as we go, and taking every experience to heart.
The search for seed began and taught us some of the important facts of organic cotton and cottonseed. Organizations like Textile Exchange and Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative lent their support and gave us direction in our search for non-GMO, non-treated cottonseed. In our conversation with Lynda Grose at Sustainable Cotton Project, Lynda shared her thoughts on organic, sustainable textiles, and the importance of knowing and working with your local farmers.
I posed this question to Cathy Davidson, one of the world’s most important thinkers on education and the workplace in the 21st century. Her new book, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, is a must-read for educators, parents, and students. “I’m not sure I believe in D.I.Y. anything,” she wrote.
Every self is connected to every other, and, even when we think we are “doing it ourselves,” we are summoning the memories, gestures, and hopes of so much and so many gone before. Instead, I like to think about peer learning and community learning, where we all work together toward some goal, filling in one another’s vacancies and blind spots as others fill in ours. This doesn’t mean there aren’t mentors, but only that the position and status of the mentor aren’t fixed. The person who intends to learn, finds herself the teacher–and vice versa. That’s what D.I.Y. learning means to me, in school and lifelong, the surprise of never knowing where you will learn, where you will teach, or even where the boundaries between those two might lie.
Thanks to Ari Weinzweig at Zingerman’s, I have been working on a “Vision of Greatness” for Alabama Chanin over the last few months (well, closer to a year to be more exact). However, over the last few weeks, I feel that I made real progress and worked out a growth chart and mission statement that is a good fit for both me and for our staff (more on that soon). Part of our Alabama Chanin growth mission includes committing ourselves to education on all levels and to finding even more ways to give back to our community.
Last month, we found a company – just around the corner from our own factory – who is doing just that.
Living in a community that has an abundance of farmland and agriculture, one might not think that ‘guerrilla gardening’ is exactly required. However, like any community, The Shoals is dotted with the occasional abandoned lot and neglected space in our downtown area. And we are of the opinion that most any space can benefit from the addition of colorful flowers.
During my visit to Berlin for the Hello Etsy conference, I noticed an abundance of green spaces and gardens that were situated on vacant lots throughout the city.
When I returned to Alabama over a decade ago to start the project that has become Alabama Chanin, I had NO IDEA that this simple project would surround me with stories of cotton, mill work, and, quite honestly, the history of the small community where I grew up. This blog is proof to the fact that I am STILL learning – each and every day.
While researching the post about Sweetwater Mills and reading William McDonald’s books a few weeks back, I came across Rick Bragg’s book, The Most They Ever Had. As an avid reader and, quite honestly, a Rick Bragg fan, I was surprised that I’d never read this book before. I have followed his work for years: from Anniston, Alabama, to The New York Times, through all the novels, the Pulitzer, to the controversy surrounding his departure from the Times. (Full disclosure, I know some of the parties attached to The New York Times scandal and have a few thoughts on that myself – we will save that for a later day or a face-to-face conversation.)
At the Factory, we play music to help set an inspiring tone for our work environment, and sometimes to just get us through the day. At any given time, you will hear a range of genres including folk, classical, rock, country, and independent artists. We don’t usually pick favorites, but The Civil Wars’ sounds are often heard floating through the shelves of organic fabric in the studio.
Joy Williams and John Paul White’s soothing and harmonic melodies have provided the soundtrack to many FULL workdays. The songs are sometimes bluesy, sometimes haunting, and always powerful. Their voices simply sound natural and right together. Perhaps we’re partial to them—not only because of their poetic music—but also because they are rooted in the Shoals; The Civil Wars are a vital part of our artistic community. But, we also feel connected to the band because of their approach to making, or “crafting” music.
Organic cotton is the heart of Alabama Chanin. It binds all aspects of the company: sustainability, fashion, DIY, and craft. All of our garments- couture or DIY- are made with these naturally grown fibers. We have examined the influence cotton has had on our community. We have thought about its global impact. We have voiced our concerns.
I have spent countless hours contemplating major business decisions because I feel it is vital to my own ethical truths and the philosophy of our company to buy and sell only organic cotton. But, we have our own supply chain issues that affect commitment to organic cotton (more to come on this very soon). Continue reading →
It is no secret that I feel a commitment to my community; it is equally evident the role that growing up in Florence, Alabama, had on my development as a designer. Textiles – the growing, picking, spinning, knitting, cutting, and sewing – were a part of the vernacular of small southern towns from the late 1800s until the signing of NAFTA. My community has been no different.
This textile history is present in our studio today and we are surrounded by friends, colleagues, and families who have worked textiles, their parents worked textiles, and their grandparents worked textiles. My great grandmother “worked socks” at the Sweetwater Mill in East Florence. Continue reading →
Sometimes, the hectic nature of running Alabama Chanin makes me feel that we are all running at a frantic pace. I’ll be answering a ringing phone, hurriedly returning emails, picking up Maggie from school – then, I’ll glance up and notice that our Production Department is completely calm. They are moving fluidly along, peacefully and happily making, sewing, cutting, doing. This serene productivity comes to us through our Studio Directress, Diane Hall, and now, Olivia Sherif, who is following in Diane’s footsteps.
Olivia came to Alabama Chanin at just the right time and set about making herself indispensable almost immediately. You see, when Diane turned in her five-year notice, I experienced a not-so-slight panic (along with a few tears). Continue reading →
After a few months and a busy holiday season, I’ve finally begun to process the experiences of my momentous trip to Oxford, Mississippi, for the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. I left the event full of delicious food and copious amounts of knowledge. More specifically, Elizabeth Engelhardt’s talk, “Tales from the South’s Forgotten Locavores,” filled my hungry mind with questions on how I can contribute to the preservation of heirloom fruits, vegetables, and plants.
There was a time – not so long ago on humanity’s calendar – that sewing was not considered “women’s work,” but rather a tool for survival.
Hunter/gatherers looking for food on a cold winter’s day, some miles from their camp, might have a shoe wear through and break – and their ability to sew that shoe back together in a simple repair stitch might have meant the difference between safe return to the camp, the loss of a foot to frostbite – or an even worse fate, death.
It is thought that healers began to sew human wounds back together in ancient Egypt – formed as a unified state around 3150 BC – and most likely before. Over 5000 years ago, sewing was taught, not as craft, but as a survival skill necessary to human life. In fact, a heavy-duty needle and thread for repairing clothing and equipment (and sewing one’s own flesh) is still included in first aid and survival kits today.
Sewing was an invention that greatly aided our advancement as a people and it is believed that needle and thread existed as early as 15,000 years ago.
Our friend Rinne Allen has been photographing our work for the last few years and shot pictures for our upcoming Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Her work is beautiful. She also just completed the cookbook A New Turn in the South with her friend Hugh Acheson – and it’s a beauty. The combination of type, hand written notes, the lovely photographs, and the rich approach to making beautifully simple food took me aback the first time I opened the cover. This book just feels different. I gave a copy to a friend for the holidays and she said to me over lunch a few weeks later, “It is so casual, beautiful and comfortable.” I agree. Hugh has a great love for one of my favorite vegetables, the Brussels sprout. His recipe “Not Your Mama’s Brussels Sprouts” from page 207 begins like this, “Brussels sprouts are the hated vegetable of my generation and I am hell-bent on changing that.” You have to love a man who thinks like that.
Rinne took a few minutes to talk with me about her work this week and shared a few of her favorite photographs:
AC: I know that you have been shooting food for quite a while, but is this your first cookbook?
RA: Prior to working with Hugh, I had photographed one cookbook called Canning for a New Generation. It came out in August 2010. The author, Liana Krissoff, also lives in Athens, Georgia, so I was lucky to work with her on such a fun and endlessly beautiful topic. We actually just finished another project together that will be out in the fall of 2012…and hopefully there will be more projects with Hugh, too!
In follow-up to our EcoSalon post last Friday on Punks + Pirates, Alabama Chanin (AC) held a Facebook chat with Richard McCarthy (RM) of Market Umbrella to explore his interesting perspective on cultural assets, punks, pirates and the Spanish Armada. I was first made aware of Richard’s work at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium last October.
Most of you who follow this blog (or our 21 years retrospective) know that when I returned to Alabama in 2000, I didn’t have a grand plan to build the company that is now Alabama Chanin. Any plans I may have had seemed to fall away into something far larger than I ever anticipated. It is easy to feel overwhelmed in such a position and I readily admit that, at times, I was incredibly overwhelmed. However, as the initial “project” morphed into a business, I learned how to run it on the fly—one day at a time. I have often said that I am not a quick learner, but I finally realized that my community has such a wealth of knowledge as to the workings of cotton AND manufacturing. These two things had been part of the vernacular of this community for a century. So while it took time for me to understand, I finally realized I just needed to “go to the well” to draw upon that information. Here in Florence, Alabama, that “well” was Terry Wylie.
The New York Times did a fantastic review of the book – calling out its good points and problem areas. Alice Rawsthorn writes that the book is more an exercise in branding and that today’s “designers are already well aware of the principles outlined in the book, most of which have been analyzed in greater depth elsewhere. “ Very true, but although the book was originally created for designers, I see it more as a place for non-designers to find tangible manifesto points that they can easily process and assimilate into daily life. Truth be told, we human beings need things simplified for us sometimes and I think that the tidy graphics might just find a voice on office walls and farmers’ market pamphlets. At least I believe that it is worth a conversation.
In his talk in Berlin, Michiel admits that the book is “naively optimistic,” in that it doesn’t address the real issues that we need to overcome: climate change, “social inequalities, and the degradation of nature.” However, he says, “We believe that it is important to shift from the negative to the positive,” and mentions a conference talk given by William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle, where McDonough decries the focus that is always placed on what we are NOT supposed to do.
“We hear over and over again that we need to reduce everything to zero, that we need to reduce emissions to zero, zero this, zero that. In this way, we are making the future on the things that we don’t want. We need a future on the things that we DO want. That’s why it was so important for us to name where that future is.”
Michiel’s point is that, “we are moving into a new cultural era,” and that hopefully the manifesto of Sustainism will give us symbols to describe the move from modernism to sustainism.
Check out my post this week on EcoSalon.
Board By Board:
This is a conversation that played out in my head countless times this last week:
“I need to sit down and write the EcoSalon post.”
“The laundry really needs to get done.”
“I NEED to sit down and write the EcoSalon post.”
“Maybe, I should go weed the garden.”
“I NEED to SIT DOWN NOW and write the EcoSalon post.”
“There is that bird pecking around in the yard, I could go stare at it for a while.”
It seems unbelievable to me that 2011 is coming to a close. The Alabama Chanin journal has covered so many topics over the 2011 year and we have been so grateful for the opportunity to share our thoughts, travels, milestones and inspirations with you. As the year’s end approaches, we thought we would recap some of the favorite topics of the year.
If you have been able to read this blog without finding a comma splice and with only an occasional misspelled word, this is because of Sara Martin. Sara came to work with our company when she was a baby – not that she really was, it just felt that way back in 2003 when she started. She brought computer skills, writing skills, a sense of humor and a willingness to do anything; she also brought her own tools to cut plywood to grace my newly purchased shelves, inventoried and organized my reference library, made systems, and generally kept us straight.
I arrived in Alabama from New York on December 23rd, 2000, to start the project that has become Alabama Chanin.
When I was writing the proposal for the project, I called my aunt Elaine to ask if she might help me find a house to rent near her, in the community where my grandparents had been raised. She had just moved back herself, after years of living and working abroad and I thought – who better to help?
My aunt was living in my maternal grandparents’ home. As a newborn baby, I was brought home to this house. It has been the only constant in my life since my birth. Growing up, I spend a LOT of time with my grandparents and knew their land like the back of my hand.
When introducing guests to our office staff, I always have to stop and take a breath at Diane Hall. Over the years, she has just become so much to me and to all of our staff. Like Steven, she has held just about every imaginable job and done or touched just about every task we have in the entire studio – except for accounting. Her current title is Studio Directress, a term that I love since her heart and soul are at the very center of our studio; however, her usual introduction goes like this: “Please meet Diane, our Studio Directress, master seamstress, patternmaker, friend, mother, sister, and company ethicist.” Diane is the person that I always consult when I have a question on ethics. Her kind heart and fair spirit can always see straight through a situation and can usually find an equitable solution for everyone involved. She is the sort of person that summons kindness in all of those around her.
Krista Tippett’s podcast, On Being, has spurred many conversations and thoughtful moments in my life. I listened to the episode, Civility, History & Hope – Vincent Harding in conversation with Krista Tippett – in August and I just can’t seem to get it out of my mind. On my recent trips, I listened to it at least four more times and each time it resonated with more clarity.
In 2006, Leslie Hoffman asked me to write a short paper for inclusion in their Future Fashion White Papers. I recently came across the volume while browsing my library and the essay stirred up so many memories from that time. As the last of my tomatoes drop to the ground, I wanted to (re)share my thoughts on tomatoes and fashion.
About a year after beginning my work with what is now Alabama Chanin, I was managing the company operations in Alabama with one employee, Abbie (after whom our “Abbie’s Flower” stencil is named).
We were still working in the little three bedroom brick ranch house at Lovelace Crossroads. I was actually living in one side of the house and running the design and production out of the other side of the house. And when I say running, I really mean undertaking the whole production. I spent my days sorting and washing t-shirts, cutting garments for orders, stenciling them, packing them for sewing and sending them out to our sewers – all of this with a head-set permanently in place for the constantly ringing phone. At that moment, I could barely keep up with all of the artisans that wanted to sew, communicate with customers and still manage the production deliveries.
April, one of our very first sewers (and soon to be highlighted here), kept saying to me that she knew this man named Steven who would be perfect to help me. For whatever reason, it seems that I never found time to get him into the office. He finally arrived one gray December day wearing a suit and his University of North Alabama football ring. I was in my Alabama t-shirt, skirt and a work belt made from a pair of old jeans. He seemed like a gift from heaven and I asked him if he wanted to “go home, change clothes and come back to work.” I remember him smiling and answering that maybe he could “start tomorrow?” He reminded me recently that he was our “1st Male Employee.”
(The photos above are from an older catalog where Steven was also our model.)
Almost a decade later, Steven has attended to just about every task necessary to the running of Alabama Chanin, save for designing the collection and creating patterns (but who knows what the future holds). Approximately 97% of all in-house calls will end up transferred to his office or placed on hold while someone asks him a question. Today, Steven works primarily as our production manager, artisan coordinator, and in-house accountant – although he is still seen in the painting room, packing boxes, and occasionally sweeping the floor. He got his accounting degree (with almost perfect grades) from the local university during our transition from Project Alabama to Alabama Chanin and has never looked back.
A family man with a wife and two sons aged 15 and 4, Steven began working in the textile industry in 1995, just a year before marrying his college sweetheart. Although he’s usually one of the first to arrive at our studio, he occasionally slips out a little early to attend his son’s high school golf tournaments or sporting events with his family (we’re certain his oldest is headed for stardom and that his younger son will follow suit). Steven was a high-school football player, worked with his college team, and is still enamored with the game. He is rarely spotted without a University of Alabama baseball cap. In fact, we wouldn’t find a single photo of Steven that didn’t picture him sporting one of these hats. We know that he has at least two versions: one for every day and one for special occasions. I recommend a little football-themed small talk for those seeking his good side.
Our artisans love him, the people who come to our weekend workshops adore him, and our customers value his problem-solving skills. Steven might be the hardest working person I know: production manager, accountant, family man, and father. In fact, for a short time each summer, Steven and his son run a lawn maintenance business so that his son can also learn the value of a good day’s work. An invaluable asset to Alabama Chanin and to all that know him: Steven Smith – a part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.