Tag Archives: Design

Fabric swatch featuring the New Leaves design with couching appliqué.


Couching is a traditional embroidery technique that’s been used for hundreds of years. Historically, yarn (or some other form of rope) was laid on top of a surface and sewn into place with a satin stitch. At The School of Making, we define couching as a type of appliqué in which cotton jersey ropes are appliquéd to the base fabric using a parallel whipstitch—often following the outline of one of our stencil designs.

Couching can add weight and warmth to a coat or elevate a wedding dress to a work of art. The technique gives garments a sculptural quality, and it has become a customer favorite. It’s simple in concept but is best executed by more advanced sewers since it’s nearly impossible to pin the couching ropes into place—you must use your fingers to hold the ropes in position as you sew. Don’t be afraid to experiment with techniques—couching and armor beading mix well together as shown in the fabric detail above (more on that next week). Find the instructions for couching on pages 110 – 111 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, or continue reading below.

Cut couching ropes in black


Cotton jersey fabric for top layer
Cotton jersey fabric for backing layer
Cotton jersey fabric for ropes
18” transparent plastic ruler
Rotary cutter and cutting mat
Textile paint
Spray bottle or airbrush gun
Embroidery scissors
Hand-sewing needle
Button Craft thread

1. Stencil Fabric and Prepare Ropes
Stencil the right side of your top-layer fabric, and set it aside to dry thoroughly. Using the fabric for your ropes, cut 1/2”-wide stripe, cutting them with the grain and making them as long as you want. Pull each strip from both ends at the same time to make ropes about 3/16” in diameter.

2. Align Top and Bottom Fabric Layers
Align the top and bottom layers of fabric, both right side up and with the grain lines running in the same direction, then pin the two layers together.

3. Prepare for Couching
Thread your needle with a double length of thread, love your thread, and knot off with a double knot. Choose one shape in your stenciled design as a starting point. Place one end of a couching rope at the edge of that stenciled shape, leaving about 1/2” of rope free beyond that point; insert your needle from the back of the fabric up through the middle of the rope to secure it with a couching wrap stitch (or small whipstitch centered on the couching strip) at the edge of the stenciled shape, bringing the needle back down through both pinned layers of fabric to prepare for the next step.

4. Couch First Stenciled Shape
Using your fingers, hold the secured rope along the edge of the stenciled shape, and work one couching stitch around the rope to anchor it in place by bringing needle up on the edge of the paint line and going back down through the same hole through both layers of fabric. Realign rope with next part of stencil design’s edge, sew next couching stitch about 1/8” to 1/4″ away, and continue this process around this stenciled shape to arrive back at your starting point.

5. Finish Couching First Stenciled Shape
Trim the couching rope so it overlaps the beginning end by 1/8”, and secure the overlapped ends with a couching wrap stitch, stabbing the needle through the ends and pulling the thread through to the back of the work. Knot off your thread using a double knot.

Couching stitch example.
Detail of couching stitch

Original publish date: August 24, 2017.
Updated: June 14th, 2023.


“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.


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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


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


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


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

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


Depending on when you were born, the turtleneck may bring to mind any number of things: 1950s chic, 1960s bohemian, 1970s women’s activists, or (record scratch) 1990s Jerry Seinfeld-era goofiness.


Left: Natalie in her dress and pendent necklace with her friend Tricia; Chattanooga, Tennessee. Right: Natalie in a variation of that dress with her granddaddy and son, Zach on the family farm; Central, Alabama. Both images from 1986.

But the wonderful thing about a turtleneck is its timelessness. This particular style in our recent round of Collection updates is inspired by Natalie’s closet and a sense memory of clothing; she has incorporated it into her personal wardrobe over the years. When she worked on 7th Avenue at her first job in New York, Natalie designed a turtleneck dress as her first design, which she still holds a special fondness for.

The turtleneck is a frame for your face. Until now, a turtleneck might not have seemed your first choice for those days when you need to feel more classic and beautiful. But all you have to do is remember this: Ann-Margret, Audrey Hepburn, Eartha Kitt, Joan Didion, Brigitte Bardot all loved and routinely wore turtlenecks—the classic beauty is there for the taking.


Our new turtleneck-inspired styles in the Collection include Natalie’s Dress (derived from her original design), Natalie’s Tunic,  Rib Turtleneck Dress, The Easy Turtleneck, and The Easy Turtleneck Tunic. Lasting beauty and modern design. The turtleneck never wears you; you always wear the turtleneck.



Created in 1934 by Mary Hambidge, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts & Sciences is an artist community and sustainable farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, founded in memory of artist Jay Hambidge—Mary’s partner who introduced her to her life’s work, weaving. After retiring from work as a popular vaudeville whistler (with her pet mockingbird, Jimmy), Mary met Jay, discovered weaving, and began employing local women to create textiles that would one day be featured in exhibits in the Smithsonian and MOMA. Later, Mary began inviting artists for extended stays on her property in the mountains and those evolved into an official residency program after her death in 1973.

This summer, Natalie was invited to stay at Hambidge for a month-long artist residency and her art will be featured in conjunction with artist Rachel Garceau in an exhibition called Process in Works. Process in Works explores the purposeful setting of intentions, ways to approach the world with curiosity, the meaning of value, and it creates cumulative beauty with small, everyday actions and objects.


Stop by the Weave Shed Gallery at Hambidge on June 30th for the opening of the exhibition and a leisurely summer afternoon filled with stories, homemade ice cream and small bites, and woodland walks with Natalie and her dear friends Angie Mosier, Lisa Donovan, and Rinne Allen. The reception, from 4:00pm ­– 7:00pm, is free and open to the public.

The exhibition will run until September 8th and is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Hambidge Center is carrying out important work, and we thank them for the opportunity.

P.S.: Look for more from Natalie about Hambidge later this summer on the Journal.



As a textile artist and designer, Elaine Lipson has spent much of her life exploring creative mediums and the fine arts. Born in Canada, Elaine has found a home (many, in fact) in the United States and spent time living in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco before settling in Colorado where she currently has a studio in Boulder. Elaine has an appreciation for the work that we do here at Alabama Chanin and The School of Making, and we’ve found great synergy in each other’s interests in the textile arts. Given her comprehensive design and writing background, we are excited to welcome her as a contributing writer for the Journal, where she will examine and feature some very special books from both her and Natalie’s libraries and beyond.

From Elaine: I know I’m not alone in finding immense satisfaction and joy in discovering books, both new and old, that contain a wealth of design and textile knowledge. As an editor, artist, maker, and textile explorer (I like the term “textilian” coined by Victoria Z. Rivers, author of The Shining Cloth), I was thrilled when Natalie Chanin invited me to write for the Journal about some favorite volumes I’ve collected over the years. This is the first of what we hope will be an enjoyable series. These books remind me that we’re all connected by our instinct to decorate, design, and communicate through cloth, our search for beauty, and our imaginations.”


Though many people now have an appreciation for textile design and surface design and find it easy to learn and experiment with these arts, it wasn’t always so. Textile design was something you had to go to a city with a major textile center or art school to learn; designs were painted and put into repeat for production by hand, rather than by computer. Surface design—dyeing, block printing, batik and, other methods—required materials, tools, and skills that weren’t readily available outside of art schools and art centers.

The burgeoning textile and surface design maker culture we know today emerged from seeds planted in the 1950s and 1960s; the mid-century era was fertile ground for now-iconic organic, modern forms and a handmade aesthetic that was reflected not only in textiles but in furniture, publications, clothing, and more. Design as a sophisticated form of communication and expression, different from art and craft but integrating both, took hold.


Design on Fabrics* by Meda Parker Johnston and Glen Kaufman (Reinhold Publishing, 1967), is one of several books from the era that is still available today and provides a rich resource on theory and methods of surface design. Johnston was an assistant professor of textile design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and taught at Cranbrook Academy; Kaufman, her co-author, was a weaver and head of the textile design department at the University of Georgia in Athens. Part textbook, part how-to, their book thoroughly explores a range of surface design techniques and roots their modern design philosophy in centuries of human impulse to decorate.

The book is rich with photographs, almost all in black and white. Johnston reminds us that “It is possible to plan a design almost to finality without the introduction of color.” Looking at the included fabrics and patterns in grayscale forces us to focus on the design instead of the color, and consider what makes the fundamental elements successful—or not.

Johnston and Kaufman break down the elements of line, shape, color, texture and space as considerations for the designer. They also discuss concepts like rhythm and how an understanding of the concept can help the maker create more complex and rich designs.


The book’s concepts are illustrated via instructions for multiple design experiments made with cut paper, followed by chapters on block printing, screen printing (including stencil cutting), painting and other direct applications, batik and other resists, and tie-dye, or pleated, wrapped, tied, and stitched resist methods. These methods are followed by a chapter on dyes and pigments; it’s here that we recommend that readers explore updated information. Safety and environmental concerns of dyes, pigments, and chemicals in the studio weren’t commonly addressed at the time of this book’s publishing in the way they are today (although the instructions for creating a DIY steamer, steam cabinet, and printing table could be used as effectively today as 50 years ago).

If you are interested in surface design, mid-century design, or just love vintage textile books, this study of decorative textile history, design principles, and application methods would make an informative, interesting addition to your library. Combine the techniques introduced in this book with your modern design sensibilities to expand your viewpoint and your creative processes.

*This review refers to the original 1967 edition; a later 1977 edition is currently available.



The Panel Tank style made its first appearance in the Alabama Chanin collection in 2013. It has been one of our most requested patterns ever since due to its form-flattering fit and debuted as the first pattern in our 2018 Build a Wardrobe program. Find design details below for some of our favorite versions for your project inspiration:



Pattern variation – Panel Tank
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – White
Fabric color for inner layer – White
Button craft thread – White
Stencil – Spirals
Textile paint – Pearl Silver
Technique – Alabama Fur
Embroidery floss – White
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan


Pattern variation – Panel Tunic
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Sand
Fabric color for inner layer – Sand
Button craft thread – Cream
Stencil – Fern
Textile paint – White
Technique – Beaded Fern
Beads – Chop
Bead color – White
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan


Pattern variation – Panel Tunic
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Navy
Fabric color for inner layer – Navy
Button craft thread – Navy
Stencil – Daisy
Textile paint – Black
Technique – Negative reverse appliqué
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan


Pattern variation – Panel Tunic with 3” border
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Ochre
Button craft thread – Dogwood
Technique – Armor beaded stripe with Herringbone appliquéd border
Beads – Bugle, Chop, and Sequins
Bead color – Gold
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan and Herringbone

PS – Follow us on Instagram and find inspiration (and share your own) using #buildawardrobe2018.



Our Collections feature new garment styles, including different varieties of smocks—inspired in part by the workwear of seminal female artists like Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois, and Barbara Hepworth. Hepworth particularly kept to a distinctive style of work garments like aprons, hooded jackets, and the beloved smock.


Barbara Hepworth in the Palais studio in 1963 with unfinished wood carving Hollow Form with White Interior. Photograph by Val Wilmer, courtesy Bowness, Hepworth Estate

Hepworth was a British sculptor whose career spanned five decades, and she created over 600 sculptures over the course of her lifetime. She was what is known as a direct carver—an artist who works using the actual material, rather than making mock-ups or models before beginning work. Her sculptures focused on form and abstraction, but also represented the relationships between the shape of the human body, natural landscapes, textures, and colors. She allowed the physical characteristics of her material to guide the shape and direction of each piece.


Barbara Hepworth works on “Curved Form, Bryher II” (1961). Courtesy Bowness, Hepworth Estate

She believed that her work was meant to be handled, explored, and leaned against, rather than being displayed behind glass or in a restricted gallery setting. “I think every sculpture must be touched,” she said. “It’s part of the way you make it, and it’s really our first sensibility. It is the sense of feeling, it is first one we have when we’re born. I think every person looking at a sculpture should use his own body. You can’t look at a sculpture if you are going to stand stiff as a ramrod and stare at it, with a sculpture you must walk around it, bend toward it, touch it, and walk away from it.

During a time when sculpture (and art in general) was a male-dominated field, Hepworth became a highly recognizable and renowned figure. Rather than adapt to the masculine approach, she embraced her feminine point of view—injecting her experience as a mother and a woman into the curved silhouettes of her sculptures. A mother of four children, she examined maternity through her art over the course of her lifetime. “A woman artist is not deprived by cooking and having children, nor by nursing children with measles. One is in fact nourished by this rich life, provided one always does some work each day.”

View some of Barbara Hepworth’s work here.

First image: St Ives, Cornwall, England, May 1957, English sculptor Barbara Hepworth pictured with some of her completed works. Photograph: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images



This post has been updated from the original post on October 17, 2017.

We’re revisiting our love of Lee Bontecou as our most recent Marine update is inspired by the words and life of Zora Neale Hurstonand the artistry of Vija Celmins (more coming soon), and BontecouLee Bontecou has always been difficult to categorize, as her work reflects elements of Minimalism, Abstract Expressionism, and Feminist art. She was a true pioneer in the use of unconventional materials in her sculptures, integrating metal tubing, scrap hardware, and recycled linen during the 1950s and 1960s. She took painstaking care with her work—always leaving visible traces of her making process, like stitches, scorch marks, and twisted wire. 

One of her most significant discoveries was how a welding torch could be manipulated to create an easily controlled spray of black soot, which became one of her signature techniques. The torch used both oxygen and the chemical compound acetylene and when tinkering with the torch, Bontecou discovered that turning off the oxygen caused the acetylene to spray pure soot across her workroom floor. “I just started drawing with it, and I had to keep the torch moving. I burned up a lot of paper!” she said. “Then I got thicker paper that resisted the flame more, and it was an incredible black, it was just beautiful. I made a lot of drawings with it.” 


Left: Untitled, 1959 by Lee Bontecou via the Museum of Modern Art. Medium: welded steel, canvas, black fabric and wire; Right: Studio of Lee Bontecou”, 1964. Photographed by Ugo Mulas Heirs  

Her use of soot as a material led her to create her signature black hole motifs. One of the sculptures used as inspiration for our design (Untitled, 1959) is a relief made from scrap metal scavenged from outside of factories and a broken conveyor belt from the laundromat located below her New York apartment. Like many of her sculptures, it combines industrial and natural elements and attempts to capture, as she described, “as much of life as possible – no barriers – no boundaries – all freedom in every sense.” 


Untitled, 1980 – 1998 by Lee Bontecou via the Museum of Modern Art Medium: Welded steel, porcelain, wire mesh, canvas, grommets, and wire 

Many of her sculptures and wall reliefs were large and took years to create and were suspended from the ceiling or, if wall mounted, were ambitious in the amount of space they inhabited. Bontecou said, “I just got tired of sculpture as a big thing in the middle of the room. I wanted it to go into space.” For years, she left much of her work untitled, as she wanted the viewer to interpret the art without imposed meaning. 

View the video below from the MoMAto see some of Lee’s seminal works. 


Top image:Untitled”, 1958 by Lee Bontecou viathe Museum of Modern Art. Medium: soot on paperboard .



The School of Making was founded back in 2014 as an overseeing body that encompasses the DIY Kit collection as well as workshop programming, format, and content. It was also developed to direct and innovate learning initiatives and educational programs that will continue to teach Slow Fashion and sustainability and promote the Living Arts to our growing maker community. Today, we’re proud to announce our latest learning tool in partnership with Craftsy—a video course titled “The Swing Skirt Techniques & Construction with Natalie Chanin & The School of Making”.


The Swing Skirt is one of our all-time most popular DIY styles. It’s universally flattering on all body types, and its simple, four-panel design and easy construction make it the perfect beginner garment. In “The Swing Skirt Techniques & Construction”, Natalie gives in-depth instructions for all aspects of creating a Swing Skirt including planning, cutting, stenciling, stitching, and completing your garment.

If you like to complete every step of the process yourself, you’ll receive a downloadable Swing Skirt Pattern PDF with four lengths—21”, 24”, 26”, and 28”. There is an expanded version of the pattern available online with two additional lengths—33” and 40”—in both PDF and printed versions.


Or if you’d like to start sewing right away, there are a number of Swing Skirt DIY Kits cut and ready-to-sew in our most popular stencil designs—Magdalena, Anna’s Garden, and Bloomers—or create your own kit to your exact specifications through Custom DIY. We also suggest using “The Swing Skirt Techniques & Construction” as instruction for Host a Party. Gather at least six friends, choose the Swing Skirt as your garment, make your design choices, and gather to work through the course together.

View the trailer for “The Swing Skirt Techniques & Construction with Natalie Chanin & The School of Making” below:

And sign up for the course here.

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.



In the past, we have looked to other artists’ personal styles to inspire elements of our Collections—Frida Kahlo, Anni Albers, and Georgia O’Keeffe, to name a few. As part of our most recent Signature | Eveningwear Collection, our design team was drawn to the idea of the artist at work—how artists can combine their media, tools, work styles, and artistic vision and (perhaps unknowingly) establish an affecting style that is a direct reflection of their work.


Left: Barbara Hepworth at Trewyn Studio, 1961 Photograph by Rosemary Matthews, Courtesy Bowness, Hepworth Estate; Right: Barbara Hepworth working on Curved Form, Bryher II, 1961 Courtesy Bowness, Hepworth Estate

We looked to Barbara Hepworth, who created abstractionist, curvaceous sculptures from stone, wood, and bronze. She became a prominent figure in the Modernist movement and her clothing spoke directly to her lifestyle and work. She utilized messy materials and could not be precious about how she looked while working. Designer Margaret Howell once remarked of her work clothes, “When I had visited her studio in St Ives, the thing that stuck in my mind was the rail of aprons and shirts splattered with plaster of Paris. I liked the colors—indigo, tan, the colors of workwear.”

In order to chisel and paint and mold, she opted for overalls, hooded jackets, and smocks. She looked relaxed and natural; her clothing was a part of her. Inga Fraser, a curator of the Tate Museum once said, “Her early work was all about truth to material, allowing the material to shape the form of the sculpture itself, and her dress represents that. She dedicated herself completely to her art and had no qualms about being photographed in the clothes she wore to work in. It helped her to be taken seriously.”


Left: Louise Bourgeois with Maman by Jean-François Jaussaud, Brooklyn, New York, 1995; Right: Louise Bourgeois by Robin Holland, 1990s

Other artists like Louise Bourgeois, who, as a child, worked with textiles in her family’s textile business, felt an emotional connection to garments and that was undoubtedly present in her work. “Clothing is…an exercise of memory…,” Bourgeois is quoted by MoMA.org. “It makes me explore the past…how did I feel when I wore that…” She often worked in smocks, but had a distinct personal style outside of the workroom. Even so, her sense of self and sense of fashion were reflected in the simple work garments she chose.

Among our newest garments are the Addison, Georgia, and Iris styles—all inspired by artist smock designs. Our smock style was also inspired by one of Natalie’s personal garments, made by Dries van Noten. These pieces are proof that personal style and work are often intertwined, whether or not the wearer is a “traditional” or celebrated artist. View our Signature | Eveningwear Collection and these smock-inspired garments here.


P.S.: Explore the Journal to discover the lives and work of more incredible women artists.



Natalie lived and worked as a stylist and filmmaker at the tail end of the 1990s before landing in New York to begin the great, big adventure that ultimately became Alabama Chanin. If you don’t know about Natalie’s journey, look back at this post, this post, and this post on our Journal and listen to 200 One-of-a-Kind Shirts at The Moth.

The German saying “Mann kann von luft und liebe leben” was a phrase she learned during this time as a stylist living abroad. It roughly translates to “one can live from air and love alone” or “nothing else in life is necessary but air and love”.

Those two words—air and love—were embroidered by Natalie many years ago onto a single rectangle of cotton jersey that was unearthed from our archives. More recently, the design hung on Natalie’s wall before emerging as our Air Love Tee which features hand beading by local artisans applied onto an organic t-shirt, made by our Bldg. 14 team.

Be thankful for love (each breath of air).


P.S.: A breatharian is a person who believes that it is possible, through meditation, to reach a level of consciousness where one can obtain all sustenance from the air or sunlight. While we don’t necessarily recommend taking up this lifestyle, we do believe that love can heal many things.



Hello new Alabama Chanin Collection: new colors, new garment styles, new stencils and patterns, and—for the first time—a new organic chambray fabric. As always, we have styled our designs that these pieces work seamlessly alongside our classic silhouettes and new Core Essentials.

Black Walnut, Vetiver, and Tea Dye complement our current color scheme and can work beautifully as neutrals. The Tea Dye is created in-house using sustainable fabric dyeing practices.


The organic chambray is milled in Japan, but comes to us courtesy of organic cotton pioneer Sally Fox. New garment styles include a full skirt, double-breasted dress, Mid-Length Coat, and a new style of crop top. The Sylvia Dress and Leighton Skirt are both made with the new chambray fabric and are hybrid garments, mixing machine- and hand-sewn components with beautifully tailored details.

(Pro tip: if you find the small color swatches on a garment page to be too small, we recommend scrolling down just a bit for a closer look at the embroideries.)

This collection also introduces the Lee Stencil, inspired by artist Lee Bontecou, who was a pioneer in the use of welded steel and fabric. She often created intricate drawings and sculptures that resembled black holes or voids. We see in her designs a combination of the natural world and technological growth—something relevant to fashion and to our own philosophies. Look for more information on Bontecou on our Journal soon. We’ll also be highlighting some of our favorite new styles in the coming days. In the meantime, view the new Collection here and learn all about our new website.

As seasons change, you can always view the most current Collection here.



While our basic, unadorned garments provide a great foundation for your wardrobe (and are quick and easy to stitch up), it’s the embellishments you add that make them truly unique and turn them into statement pieces for your growing hand-sewn wardrobe. Beads, sequins, and decorative stitches can transform a simple hand-sewn garment into an heirloom.

We have developed a variety of beading styles with which to embellish garments, and one of our favorites is Armor Beading. Armor Beading combines chop beads, bugle beads, and sequins applied in a random order. It looks beautiful as an accent around a neckline—especially when applied heavily at the edge and then fading out towards the body of the garment—as well as a stripe around a hemline. Armor Beading can also be used to fill a stenciled space.

A bead mix is now available as a product and offered in six colors now—Black, Dark Grey, Gold, Red, Silver, and White—to use on a wide range of available colors of organic cotton jersey. As with any of our beading techniques, Armor Beading works best with our Beading Needles and a single strand of Button Craft Thread.


Armor Beading is used in the June’s Spring fabric treatment (shown above) as well as Beaded Stars. Find instructions and a Fabric Map for June’s Spring on pages 118 – 119 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.


Inspired by the work of French naïve artist, Henri Rousseau, and originally used in our 2015 Collection, the Large Paradise stencil is now available through The School of Making. The stencil features a tropical-inspired motif that harkens back to Rousseau’s lush, jungle setting of his 1910 painting The Dream.

The Large Paradise stencil is available cut on 10mil Mylar and as a digital artwork download. Large Paradise is also now a stencil option for Custom DIY Kits as well.

Follow @theschoolofmaking on Instagram and share all your projects with using the hashtag #theschoolofmaking.



Fashion accessories are one of the most effective ways for a wearer to add his or her personal style to an outfit. Over the years, traditional jewelry in gems and precious metals, bags, gloves, hats, stockings, even hair or tattoos have been used as some form of accessory—to define a “look” and express one’s mood or personality.

Jewelry and accessories have come to be associated with specific eras and places, and with individuals throughout history. Wealthy ancient Egyptians developed a taste for showier jewelry, using metals of all kinds and colorful stones and glass. They also created motifs that we still identify with their culture: scarabs, deities, sphinxes, and a variety of animals. Pre-revolution France was often all about bows, pearls, and later—cameos. (Josiah Wedgewood, of Wedgewood pottery, designed some of the first porcelain cameos to be used for jewelry). The Great Plague inspired jewelry referred to as memento mori, intended to remind the wearers and all who saw them of their own mortality. And much later, “love beads” and flower crowns became synonymous with the anti-war and hippie movements of the 1960s and 70s, and safety pins and spikes were adopted by early punk rockers.


Cameo Ring and Edison Scarf

Iconic accessories are forever linked with entertainment and Hollywood Stars. Marilyn Monroe famously sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” while sporting the 24-carat “Moon of Baroda” diamond; Mad Men’s Joan Holloway was rarely seen without her gold pen necklace; Elizabeth Taylor’s massive jewelry collection was so impressive that she wrote a book about them; and Breakfast At Tiffany’s Holly Golightly (famously played by Audrey Hepburn) wore strands of Tiffany pearls in one of the most iconic movie images of all time.


The Woven Necklace; Pictured with The Wrap Scarf, The Everyday Tunic, and The Wide-Leg Pant


Cameo Rings and Necklace; Pictured above with the Edison Scarf and The Everyday Tunic

Alabama Chanin’s jewelry collection has its own unique sources of inspiration—including natural elements, our own embellishment and embroidery techniques, and inspiration from Anni Albers’ weaving—and now, Marcie McGoldrick’s Victorian-inspired porcelain-cast cameos (more about Marcie next week on the Journal). You can search all current accessories online in the Collection.



If you attended or read about any of our Makeshift events, you already know how much we respect and admire designer Maria Cornejo. She has been both conscious and vocal about fashion’s impact on the environment for many years—certainly before “sustainability” became a buzz word. Much of her design approach focuses on efficiency, and so Maria has become an innovator when it comes to cutting fabric in sophisticated and unexpected ways. Many of her garments feature unique angles and circular shapes and others are draped and cut from a single piece of fabric, using as few seams as possible. Her aesthetic is accessible and the fit is flattering.

Maria founded her current company, Zero + Maria Cornejo, in the late 90s—but the Chilean-born designer has been creating and producing clothing since the early 1980s. She co-founded her first company, Richmond Cornejo, just after the “punk” fashion movement moved through London, and she earned quite a following in Europe and Japan. She then moved on to consult for major retailers before creating her own signature collection.

When she founded Zero + Maria Cornejo, Maria bought leftover fabrics from larger companies, which opened her eyes to the amount of waste created by the fashion industry. Rather than create in large batches, she cuts each piece by hand, which allows her to envision the design pattern and use only the materials that are really necessary. In her company’s earlier days, each piece was made to order (much like at Alabama Chanin) so that she could understand and control the amount of waste she was creating. She told the Council of Fashion Designers (CFDA), “Knowing that fashion is the biggest polluter is enough of an incentive to make us want to continually review our practices and check ourselves. We’re trying to make positive change little-by-little, day-by-day wherever possible. What matters most is being consistent and considerate in all aspects. As a company, being aware of the whole process of a piece of clothing, where it’s made, the amount of steps to make a garment all tells us that we have to be aware of what we are putting out there at every step.”

Zero + Maria Cornejo have committed to working toward a transparent supply chain. They make use of sustainable materials at every possible opportunity. Her company is also a fervent supporter of using local labor to manufacture their products. Approximately 70% of her collections are produced in New York City’s Garment District; the pieces that are not fabricated in the US are made by small, independently owned factories and artisans in Italy.

Maria and her business partner Marysia Woroniecka take pride in running their woman-owned business and often partner and collaborate with other female artisans. A key component to Maria’s design philosophy is the desire to make garments for real women that last beyond a single season. She says she is “trying to bridge the disparity between what is being photographed and what people actually wear.” Women all over the world, including former First Lady Michelle Obama, actors Tilda Swinton and Susan Sarandon, and musician Karen O have all embraced Cornejo as a favored designer.

In 2006, Maria was awarded the Fashion Prize by the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards. She was an original member of the CFDA Sustainability Committee. Maria was also chosen as a finalist—and awarded runner-up—for the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative (for which Natalie served on the advisory committee), identifying designers who seek to elevate sustainability and make meaningful change in the American fashion industry—including commitment to responsible sourcing, ethical manufacturing, supply chain manufacturing, scalable business strategies, and consumer literacies.

Maria is often outspoken on political issues, placing women’s rights and refugee relief at the top of her priorities. Because her parents were prosecuted and her family was forced to flee Chile during the Pinoche years, she puts great efforts toward refugee assistance efforts. “As a former refugee and immigrant, this is a cause that’s near to my heart. I always say, being charitable is the ultimate luxury.” After attending the 2017 Women’s March, she expressed, “I really believe there’s strength in community and that you are only as strong as the people around you. People forget that in this day and age, it’s about having empathy for your fellow humans.”


This year, you have seen (and will see) our models wearing Maria’s shoes in our photographs and garment highlights. If you are interested in finding out more about Maria and Zero + Maria Cornejo, visit her website. You can find her collections at her eponymous stores and other major retailers, including Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Net-a-Porter.com.



The Wrap Dress style made its first appearance in the Alabama Chanin collection back in 2008. Over the years, it has been made in many different variations—dressed down in a basic tank style for summer as well as dressed up as a fully embellished dress for a wedding. The sleeve variations and length options make this garment endlessly versatile and easy to fit into your existing wardrobe.

Below you can find design choices for some of our favorite versions throughout the years.


Pattern variation – Wrap Tunic (shown above)
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Black
Fabric color for inner layer – Black
Button Craft thread – Black
Stencil – Stars
Textile paint – Slate
Technique – Beaded Stars
Sleeve variation – Sleeveless
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Herringbone



Pattern variation – Wrap Tunic (shown at left)
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Ballet
Fabric color for inner layer – Ballet
Button Craft thread – Dogwood
Stencil – Anna’s Garden
Textile paint – Pearl Silver
Technique – Negative reverse appliqué
Sleeve variation – Sleeveless
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan



Pattern variation – Wrap Tunic
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – White
Fabric color for inner layer – White
Button Craft thread – White
Stencil – Facets
Textile paint – Pearl Silver
Technique – Negative reverse appliqué
Sleeve variation – Cap sleeve
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan



Pattern variation – Wrap Dress (with lengthening border added)
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Ballet
Button craft thread – Dogwood
Sleeve variation – Long Fluted Sleeve
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Herringbone



Sunset is the perfect balance of a bright and muted pink hue, making this color a customer favorite this summer. Introduced in our Core Essentials, Sunset is now available in our hand-embroidered Sylvan design with and without beaded details.

A selection of our Collection garments is crafted entirely by hand. Some pieces feature a combination of machine and hand sewing (as the Carly Dress and Lonnie Tunic above)—some are solely machine sewn in Bldg 14.



The Lily Tee (pictured above with The Rib Skirt) and Josef Dress debuts in Sunset with stripes.


Left: The Keyhole Tunic and The Rib Skirt; Right: Conner Skirt


Lark Tee


Left: The Coverup; Right: The Rib Crew and The Wide-Leg Pant

The Keyhole Tunic (shown above with cap sleeves) and The Coverup (shown in the sleeveless option above) were updated earlier this summer with new sleeve length options.

Explore the Collection to always find our updated designs and more.



Universally flattering and a staple of any wardrobe, the Wrap Dress is the focus of the third quarter of Build a Wardrobe 2017 and is available for the first time today as a digital pattern download. Offered with five sleeve options and five length variations, the pattern is available in sizes XS through  XX-Large. The $18 download also includes construction instructions and is formatted for both wide-format and tiled printing.


Make a basic version or use any of the techniques in our Studio Book series to take your Wrap Dress from casual to special occasion worthy. Be sure to share your project with us using the hashtags #theschoolofmaking and #buildawardrobe2017.

Check back with us in October for our fourth and final quarter release of 2017.

Purchase the Wrap Dress pattern.

Visit The School of Making’s Facebook page here.

P.S.: We ask that you respect our policies and use our patterns for your own personal projects. They are designed for individual use and are not intended for reproducing, distributing, or commercial venues.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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


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


Right: The Ashley Cardigan Left: The Ashley Dress


The Long Sleeve Ashley Pullover


The Ashley Cardigan with the Edison Scarf

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




We’ve written before about the importance of sample blocks and how we use them to design our collections and other projects. As you explore new techniques, we encourage you to create your own fabric library to document your process. The most efficient way we’ve found to do so is to attach what we call “headers” to each one of your sample blocks.


To make your own header for a 10” x 16” sample block, follow the instuctions below:

  1. Cut an 8 1/2″ x 11” piece of white cardstock in half lengthwise so it measures 4 1/4″ x 11.”
  2. Fold your 4 1/4″ x 11” piece of cardstock in half lengthwise again so it measures 2 1/8” x 11.” Your header will have one long side that is a fold and another long open side.
  3. Using a three-hole punch, punch each long side of your folded header to create a total of 12 holes.
  4. On the open side of your folded header place a 10” piece of double-stick tape just above the three holes. The double-stick tape will hold your fabric swatch in place and prevent shifting.
  5. Place one 10” edge of your fabric swatch on top of the double-stick tape, making sure that it is centered on your cardstock.
  6. Thread a needle with a double strand of Button Craft thread, love it good, and tie a double knot following the instructions from our Alabama Studio book series.
  7. Attach your fabric to your paper header by sewing through the fabric at each of the punched holes, alternating from front to back until you arrive back at the beginning.
  8. Knot off securely. Your fabric swatch is now attached to your header.

We have our headers printed locally with our logo, but in the past, we used a rubber stamp to add our logo to our headers. We also give each fabric swatch a number and a name that can be referenced in the creation of new garments.

We cover our 3 ring-binders with white organic cotton jersey using the instructions for our Book Cover given on page 115 of Alabama Stitch Book.




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

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

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


Lucy Allen Gillis, Designer and Stylist; Field Trip


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


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



The Sylvan stencil is one of Alabama Chanin’s most intricate and involved yet—mimicking the details of its namesake (the woods). The design groups leaves, flowers, petals, and stems showcasing various embroidery stitches and techniques.

The Lark Tee and Liza Dress are machine-sewn garments that feature Sylvan hand embroidery, which adds depth and texture to the simple silhouettes. Sylvan styles are available in four colorways: Silver, Baby Blue, Concrete, and Black—each with unique thread and paint colors.

Find these styles and 100% hand-sewn garments that also feature Sylvan in the Alabama Chanin Collection.


Left: Lark Tee; Right: Lark Tee and The Mid-Length Skirt


Top: The Cocoon Cardigan and Liza Dress; Bottom: Liza Dress

View our current Collection here.



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

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

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

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

Purchase The Geometry of Hand-Sewing here.




Alabama Chanin’s Core Essentials have been around since 2013, beginning with a collection of hand-sewn basic styles. We mapped the evolution of those designs a few weeks ago on the Journal, and more recently shared a fit guide for our tops and tunics.

Today, we share a guide to our Core Essential skirts, pants, and dresses which fall in a price range from under $100 to just under $600.


Know our process:

  • Each piece is made from Alabama Chanin organic cotton. We offer three different fabrics in various styles: lightweight rib (5 oz. per linear yard), medium-weight jersey (9.8 oz. per linear yard), and lightweight jersey (4.76 oz. per linear yard).
  • Every garment is designed and made in Alabama—right here in our Bldg. 14 production facility, which is housed in The Factory along with all of the Alabama Chanin Family of Businesses.
  • We practice lean manufacturing and every garment is made to order. By making each garment to order, we conserve our fabric, employee time, and do not end up with an over stock of unwanted items.

A few updates (for those of you who already have your favorites):

  • The Crop Pant and Edna Pant are now found in one place under The Wide-Leg Pant—with two length options.
  • The Sleeveless Rib Dress, The Short Sleeve Rib Dress, and The Long Sleeve Rib Dress are now found in one place under The Rib Dress—with three sleeve length options.
  • The Keyhole Dress now has a short sleeve option.

The guide below is a resource for fit, fabric notes, and features for each of the Core Essentials styles. Core Essentials evolve over the season with fresh colors and updated details—check back often.

P.S.: Our newest Collection offering, the Alabama Chanin Core Club represents a range of our Core Essentials—including The Rib Skirt, The Sleeveless Rib Dress, and The Easy Dress that are described below.




In 1971, Robert Tharsing moved to Lexington to work as a painting instructor at the University of Kentucky. Geographically, he was thousands of miles from his home state of California; culturally he was perhaps even further removed. On the West Coast, he had grown up near Los Angeles and later studied painting at UC Berkeley under talents like David Hockney and Elmer Bischoff. An unrepentant contrarian, Tharsing was uninterested in the machinations of the art world but completely obsessed by the possibilities of painting. In his new environment, there was time and space to explore.


In the early 1970s, Tharsing began pushing the limits of his own work, transforming traditional canvas paintings into objects and freeing them from the confines of stretcher bars. He pinned massive canvases directly to the wall, draped them over tent poles, and even painted on clothing items he purchased at local thrift stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. This latter series, begun in 1979, was in some ways the most ambitious.


Tharsing began these paintings by laying out collected skirts, dresses, overalls, bellbottoms, and other raw clothing items and slathering them with polymer medium. Unlike a traditional canvas, they were irregularly shaped with varied surfaces that bore buttons, seams, collars, and hems. The human form was both startlingly absent and overtly implied, something Tharsing used to great effect by “freezing” them (with polymer medium) in newly-prescribed states of motion. His action helps us imagine their former roles as participants in the quotidian realities of life, with us while we have meals, go dancing, lie in the park, or lounge around the house.

Robert Tharsing painted exactly twenty of these works before moving on to other endeavors. They were displayed only once during his lifetime in a small exhibition at the University of Kentucky in 1981. While these painted clothes are not necessarily typical of Tharsing’s style, they give tremendous insight into the mind of the artist, his willingness to explore and experiment with painting in every way possible.

Phillip March Jones


Robert Tharsing: Second-Hand Shapes was a pop-up exhibition at Institute 193 from May 4 – 20, 2017 coinciding with retrospectives honoring the artist at the Lexington Art League and Ann Tower Gallery.

Photos courtesy of Phillip March Jones


The idea for our current Core Essentials began in 2013 with a collection of hand-sewn basic styles. Last week, we mapped the evolution of those designs and you can read that history here.

Today, we share a guide to our Core Essential tops and tunics which fall in a price range from under $100 to just over $400.

Know our process:

  • Each piece is made from Alabama Chanin organic cotton. We offer three different fabrics in various styles: lightweight rib (5 oz. per linear yard), medium-weight jersey (9.8 oz. per linear yard), and lightweight jersey (4.76 oz. per linear yard).
  • Every garment is designed and made in Alabama—right here in our Bldg. 14 production facility, which is housed in The Factory along with all of the Alabama Chanin Family of Businesses.
  • We practice lean manufacturing and every garment is made to order. By making each garment to order, we conserve our fabric, employee time, and do not end up with an overstock of unwanted items.

A few updates (for those of you who already have your favorites):

  • The Rib Crew (long sleeve), Rib Tee (short sleeve), and Rib Shell (sleeveless) are now found in one place under The Rib Crew—with three sleeve length options.
  • The Sleeveless Scoop, The Elbow Scoop and The Scoop (long sleeve) are now found under The Scoop—with three sleeve length options.
  • The Coverup now has a short sleeve option.

The guide below is a resource for fit, fabric notes, and features for each of the Core Essentials styles. Core Essentials evolve over the season with fresh colors and updated details—check back often.














“A longing for excitement can be satisfied without external means within oneself: For creating is the most intense excitement one can come to know.” – Anni Albers

Anni Albers, one of the original students trained at the Bauhaus school in Germany, was a true innovator in textile design. Though she worked as a multi-disciplinary artist, the bulk of her career centered on textiles, which she used as an experimental medium; she often used non-traditional and unusual materials in her weaving, like horsehair, metallic threads, hemp, plastic, and cellophane. She also moved freely between handwoven and industrial textile production—a strategy we also employ at Alabama Chanin.


Traditional weavers have often created floral motifs or elaborate, decorative patterns, but Anni Albers focused on abstract visuals, organic shapes, and geometric forms. Her approach was revolutionary for the time and spurred a reexamination of textiles as an art form—in both their functional and decorative forms. Her use of straight lines and solid colors placed emphasis upon the importance of color usage and demonstrated that simple forms and shapes could be as expressive as an intricate design.


Anni Tee

Our design team has created several new Core Essentials that draw direct inspiration from Anni Albers’ design thinking and best-known woven textiles. The Easy Dress (available in sleeveless and cap-sleeve versions) and the Crop Tee feature an Albers-inspired stripe motif. Other new introductions include The Everyday Tunic and Dress, with a side vent. All of the garments are designed for easy summer wear and made with our signature 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey.


Left: The Easy Dress; Right: Lily Tee and The Rib Skirt

View our updated Collection for a look at the new garments, inspired by the life and work of Anni Albers.


Top: Annelise Dress and The Lightweight Leggings; Bottom left: Lily Tee; Bottom Right: The Everyday Dress

View our current Collection here.



In the earliest years of this company, Natalie Chanin was a “design team” of one—one person to dream and research and sketch and make. While she was lucky to have a talented team to consult with (people like Diane Hall and Steven Smith), the heavy lifting was done by a single person. As Alabama Chanin grew and expanded our reach, Natalie carefully assembled a talented team of people who understood the company’s mission and vision, and who had the imagination to see where and how we could grow. Our design team is now a collective of individuals who take a collaborative approach to making and who challenge one another in the best possible ways. Natalie Chanin remains our lead designer, but she now works closely with Erin Reitz and Margaret May and to create our collections and plan for the future.


Our team has developed a symbiotic relationship where each person relies upon and is driven and inspired by the others. Erin is based out of Charleston where she starts building many of our design concepts, and about once a month she travels to the Factory to work on-site; she works closely with Natalie to develop our collections, garment concepts, and to plan how to execute each idea. Margaret manages a good deal of our day-to-day processes—creating patterns, developing samples, problem solving, and offering logistical direction on the production side. She oversees our Building 14 production team that includes Luda, Victoria, Penny, and Iona—valuable team members who are creating the products on the sewing machines.


One of the most essential questions that we always seek to address—through research and when creating processes—is “why”? Why does this product fit within our value set? Why does it improve upon what we are doing? Why is it important? We are storytellers in every way, and no story is well told without logic. A truly collaborative team can effectively communicate and challenge one another and look for new and meaningful perspectives on how to tell our stories. Each member of our design team has things in common but has her own style and sensibility. Our design environment also encourages creative freedom, innovation, and exploration because our feedback process is built upon organic growth and critical thinking, rather than fear or uncertainty. By building trust, we build a better product and a better brand.


These last years have been instrumental in the company’s growth because—through our growing design team—we have seen that how we make informs what we make. Our design and production teams work so closely together because our communication processes are fluid. Though we have team members who are dedicated to design work and others who focus on production, the integration of those functions is nearly seamless. Alabama Chanin’s employees and design team are the watchdogs of our brand. Their work ensures that the things we make truly represent who we are.

Our design team—part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.



“Sail on, silver girl. Sail on by… Your time has come to shine; all your dreams are on their way.” – Simon and Garfunkel

Silver: a very malleable element that is capable of a high degree of polish. Its atomic number is 47 and its symbol on the periodic table of elements is Ag, from the Latin word argentum.

One of the seven metals of antiquity, silver was known by prehistoric man and was almost certainly used as a primitive form of money.

In Italian, silver is translated as argento; in Spanish it is plata; in Polish, srebro, and in Scottish Gaelic, airgid.

Silver and gold can form in star explosions, or supernovae; smaller stars produce silver, while large star explosions produce gold.

A powerful color, silver can supposedly bring mental, physical, and emotional harmony. It is associated with spirituality, introspection, illumination, and artistic endeavors. Silver is a link to the moon – to the ebb and flow of tides. In Islam, the Urdu word for silver is chandi, which means soft spoken and eloquent. In folklore, silver often has mystical powers and associations, offering protection from witches, werewolves, and monsters.


Our Collection’s spring color palette has until now included Black, Concrete, Baby Blue, Natural, White, and the recently launched Navy. Silver is newest to the color card—another earthy, natural hue that complements its sister colors in tone and in mood. May it inspire your imagination and your meditations.

Explore the Collection and find embroidered and Core styles in our signature organic jersey, now also available in Silver.



“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” – Mark Twain

We’ve got spring fever – and the Alabama Chanin Collection has recently debuted styles that feature clean lines for spring weather.

The Trench: the perfect candidate to stand up to April’s unpredictable weather. Constructed from our signature organic cotton jersey, The Trench will protect you from the elements while ensuring breathability and ease of movement.


The Cape: a dignified and unique silhouette. With a double-snap closure at the neck and openings at the elbow, this piece moves seamlessly through chilly mornings and sunny afternoons.

Both pieces are what we call “hybrid” garments, meaning they were constructed by machine from our studio and by hand by our artisans, all in our community of The Shoals. Both of these pieces feature classic topstitching and gunmetal snaps.

Explore more outerwear in the Alabama Chanin Collection.



Build a Wardrobe 2017 continues in the second quarter with our Car Coat Pattern. Offering a fit that is flattering to all body types, the Car Coat is a great transitional piece that can be worn throughout the year—going from basic to statement-making with the addition of stencils, embroidery, and beading.

The digital version of the Car Coat Pattern has three length options as well as pocket and sleeve variations, and it is available to download on our Studio Books + Patterns page for $18. The downloadable PDF contains the pattern graded in sizes XS through XXL as well as instructions for pattern cutting and garment construction. The file also includes two printing options—a full-scale version that can be printed on large-format printers in copy shops and a tiled version that can be printed at home.


The pattern is included in our 2017 Build a Wardrobe program, which can be purchased at any point during the year.

Check back in July and October for our third and fourth quarter releases.

Purchase the digital pattern here.

Sign up for Build a Wardrobe here.

Share all your projects with us using the hashtags #theschoolofmaking and #buildawardrobe2017.

P.S.: We ask that you respect our policies and use our patterns for your own personal projects. They are designed for individual use and are not intended for reproducing, distributing, or commercial venues.



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


The Rib Crew and Indigo Slim Scarf


The Rib Crew, The Rib Skirt, and Indigo Poncho


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


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


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

Explore our Rinne’s Dress Collection on the Journal.



We’re launching an expanded collection of core garments today and also updating our manufacturing model for these garments. Conserving natural resources is at the core of our mission statement. This means balancing our supply chain with lean method manufacturing in order to deliver the best possible product to our customers.  Every day we look for better ways to reduce and even eliminate waste in our production process. This helps us operate our business in a lean, sustainable manner as we continually search for ways to utilize every fabric scrap and only produce what is needed.

All of our hand-sewn collection garments are made after the order is confirmed. When we began machine manufacturing in 2014, we produced our machine-sewn garments in small batches. We are updating this process, and starting today, we will also make our machine-sewn garments to order. This will enable us to make the most sustainable use of our fabric. We understand that our culture is currently obsessed with immediate gratification—and that we want to wear our new garments as soon as possible—and at the same time, we also want to protect the precious resources the earth has to offer. So with this update, we’re hoping to find the balance between both. If you have any questions, give us a call at 256.760.1090 or email office (at) alabamachanin.com.

Today we’re rolling out updated rib styles under this new process. All our rib tops are fitted through the body and made of a soft and comfortable lightweight rib fabric.


We’ve updated The Scoop with a lightweight trim along a feminine neckline that is open, but not too revealing. The sleeves are long and hit past the wrist. We introduce new elbow-length and sleeveless versions as well.


We’ve streamlined our rib tops and offer three versions of The Rib Crew: The Rib Shell, The Rib Tee, and The Rib Crew. Each of these styles has feminine details with lightweight trim along the neckline, sleeve, and bottom hem. The sleeves on The Rib Crew are long and hit past the wrist.

Find each of these new styles in our Collection and mix and match with the rest of our Core Essentials.

View our current Core Essentials Collection here.



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


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

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

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



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


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


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


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


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



In an introduction to her third book, Natalie writes, “I want to dress women like me, modern women who may not have perfect bodies or stylists to help them make wardrobe choices but who want to make their way through their busy lives with beauty and grace, who want to sustain valuable traditions and live in beautiful clothing as an accessory to their big and beautiful lives.”

Last week, we added new core basic styles to our current Collection. These pieces are designed to fold seamlessly into your current wardrobe and are sustainably made with organic cotton. Some are variations of already-popular garments (like the Keyhole Tunic and Rib Dress). These pieces are intended to be year-long staples. We love layering our machine-sewn garments and hand-embroidered pieces.


The Crop Pant is ideal for chilly mornings and warm afternoons all in one day—consider wearing it with riding boots in the winter or saddle shoes in the spring.


Simple and classic, The Short Sleeve Rib Dress is made with organic cotton rib-knit. This dress has a very flattering fit and features details like side slits and accented trim.

Find these styles and other featured pieces in our Collection.



Historically, wedding gowns have not always been made in the traditional white color that we think of today. It wasn’t until 1840, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in a lace-trimmed, white silk gown that white was established as a bridal norm. Queen Victoria sourced regional textiles to use in her wedding gown. She then upcycled her wedding dress by breaking it down into pieces, which were incorporated into her wardrobe.

We also take a sustainable approach in our Signature | Bridal Collection. Our hand-crafted pieces are offered in a variety of colors and meant for many special occasions.


Lace-inspired coats
Skirts with blooming motifs
Tops and accessories intricately detailed with beads and sequins
Simple silhouettes and graceful texture
Our favorite 100% organic cotton jersey

You can schedule a private appointment and work with our experienced sales team on-site at The Factory to design a custom-made garment for your special event. Our skilled team and artisans make the highest quality, one-of-a-kind garments from our organic cotton fabric. If you are interested in placing a custom order or arranging a personal fitting at The Factory, please email shop (at) alabamachanin.com. Or give us a call at 256.760.1090 M – F from 8:00am – 4:30pm CST.



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.

Images courtesy of Rinne Allen



“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality” – Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo’s perspective on dress was unique, in that she was able to express her political and feminist views using traditional Tehuana-style Mexican garments. Many believe that she chose this style of dress at the request of her partner, Diego Rivera, as a way to reflect their populist, socialist political perspectives—but early family photos show that Frida had worn Tehuana costumes since her girlhood.

Possibly she re-embraced the style of dress as a way to conceal her physical impairments and realized that her dress was also a statement of Mexicanidad—a celebration of her indigenous culture. It is telling that she adopted the traditional dress of the Tehuantepec—a matriarchal society—as a way to exert her own personhood and opinions. It is no coincidence that her style of dress was symbolic of a powerful Mexican woman.


Frida played with color and texture, combining traditional floor-length skirts, square-cut huipil blouses, and traditional embroideries with lace and ribbon trim and bright fabrics imported from Europe—creating a true signature style.

P.S.: The inspiration board above also includes images and inspiration from British Textiles 1700 to the Present by Linda Parry, American Snapshots by Robert E. Jackson (and don’t miss the Instagram account here), Christian Dior (English Version), tear sheets from Vogue Magazine, a men’s shirt design from Comme des Garçons, an image from photographer Paul Graves, and a slew of others who inspire every day.



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


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



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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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




As part of our Artisan Home series, we are highlighting the makers of two of our newest featured products—Smithey Ironware Co. and Edward Wohl Woodworking and Design. Both makers design products with classic style, made in America.

Charleston, South Carolina-based Smithey Ironware was born from the single-minded curiosity of founder Isaac Morton. Morton had a talent for buying and restoring vintage ironware pieces and was particularly gifted in refurbishing old cookware, which he often gave to friends and family members. After years of working on cookware, Morton became something of an expert in cast iron; he saw that there was a noticeable difference in craftsmanship between old pieces and new. One particular piece, a vintage Griswold cast iron skillet, stuck out because of its smooth, glassy surface—which was nothing like the rough, grainy texture of modern cast iron. That skillet inspired years of research and, eventually, Morton’s livelihood.


As he began to study old ironware pieces and learn the hundred-year-old techniques used to make them, he was able to explain why those old skillets were different and why things changed. In the years before production was automated, iron cookware was polished for hours, by hand. Once the process became automated, it was not practical to spend man hours hand-finishing the cookware.

After spending over a year researching design and learning about the iron industry, Smithey Ironware launched operations in 2015. Morton partnered with a foundry in Indiana that was able to produce on a small scale. From Indiana, the pans are shipped to South Carolina in their porous, grainy state. Morton mills the heavy grit off the metal, then grinds and polishes them by hand and machine before tumbling each one in a tub of rocks to achieve their signature smooth finish. As a final step, each pan is seasoned with a layer of oil to create a natural non-stick finish.


Edward Wohl is an award-winning woodworker who, alongside his business partner and wife Ann, founded his workshop in southeast Wisconsin where he both designs and builds custom furniture and home goods. He began designing wood furniture in 1970, after graduating from Washington University in 1967 with a degree in architecture. His products have a sculptural feel and are designed to be utilitarian and beautiful to the touch and the eye.

According to Wohl, “I was searching for a career where work and play were indistinguishable. I make things of wood that I’d like to have myself—functional pieces that are quiet, peaceful, and a pleasure to touch and look at. My approach emphasizes select materials, structural integrity, and utility. I like to let the wood do the work—to coax nature to imitate art.”

His handmade birds-eye maple cutting boards are created by joining sections from a single piece of wood, so the tone and wood grain are seamless. Birds-eye maple is rare in nature, with perhaps one in five hundred hard maple trees exhibiting the pattern, making both the wood and Wohl’s designs immediately recognizable.

The cutting boards are hand shaped, finished, and beveled to be perfectly balanced and practical. Wohl works largely with maple because it is durable and long lasting and because it has an even wood grain pattern; hard maple resists deep knife cuts and tends to absorb little moisture from food. Once sanded, his cutting boards are dipped in mineral oil, linseed oil, and wax—a technique he also used for his custom furniture.

You can purchase a Smithey Cast Iron Skillet in the Cook + Dine section of our website and in-store at The Factory.


“The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”

— Louise Bourgeois (1911 – 2010)

Bourgeois was a French-American artist proficient in an incredible number of artistic disciplines, but perhaps best known for her large-scale sculptures and installations. Her artwork was often autobiographical, referencing childhood memories—particularly those of her beloved mother and unfaithful father.

Among her most recognizable works is Maman, a massive 30-foot sculpture of a steel spider. The towering structure, whose title translates as mom or mommy in French, pays homage to Bourgeois’ mother Josephine, who passed away when Louise was 21 years old. “I came from a family of repairers,” Louise said. “The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.”

The creature is supported on eight slender legs and has a sac containing 10 marble eggs on its underbelly. It is the largest in a series of spider-themed pieces that became central to Bourgeois’ work in the 1990s. It has been said that her spiders are contradictory representations of motherhood—representing both predator and protector; the silk builds elaborate webs and cocoons, but also binds the spider’s prey. Maman, massive in size, but balanced on thin, spindly legs, is both strength and fragility in one.

Thanks to Milton Sandy for sending along the link and quote.

Photo courtesy of Peter Bellamy



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

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

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

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


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

Video courtesy of The Commons.



Journal followers are likely familiar with one of the newer faces on our design team: Erin Reitz (née Connelly), who we have featured recently. Erin and business partner Kerry Clark Speake are co-founders of The Commons, a Charleston, South Carolina-based shop that sells high quality, local, and American-made housewares. In addition to the work at The Commons, Erin and Kerry also collaborate with talented artisans to create their own collection of glassware and hand-thrown ceramics: The Shelter Collection. (And we’re also working on a glassware collaboration, which will be out this holiday season.)

But, Erin’s design skills extend beyond the arena of home goods. She also has extensive design experience creating garments and accessories. Before opening The Commons, she attended New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and interned with designer Nanette Lepore, before going on to work with brands like Anne Klein, Ann Taylor, Levi Strauss & Co., and Eddie Bauer. Though a key member of the Alabama Chanin design team, Erin’s home base is in Charleston, where she resides with her husband (and Alabama Chanin collaborator) Brooks Reitz.


As part of our continuous exploration into the creative process, we were interested in finding out what spurs creativity in someone who has worked at all ends of the spectrum—from a large corporation, to her own independent craftwork.  We are also excited to share what we are learning about Erin and her creative point-of-view through our work together.

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


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

Erin Reitz: For me to be truly creative, yes. I have been a designer for so long in the commercial retail environment that I am able to create on demand. I can quickly design clothing to fit the need. But I almost see this as creative problem solving rather than an artistic creativity. Considering all your parameters, and coming up with the best solution.

When I am truly creative, it feels like an entirely different state of mind. I will get lost in a story in my head, with an incredible rush of energy and optimism. This usually comes in distinct waves when I am well rested (or drinking coffee) and when some piece of new inspiration has come up. Either from traveling, or discovering a new artist, or even just taking a walk and smelling something new…then I can be triggered into creating a concept. When I am in this mode, it feels similar in my mind to being lost in a book; I can feel it so deeply from many angles.

The best feeling is when you can find a creative partner to express these thoughts to without them losing their power once you have said them out loud. I feel this deeply with my partner in The Commons, Kerry Speake. And Natalie and I have an immediate comfort, where I feel like I can say the weirdest thing that has just popped into my brain, and she fully listens and responds like we are in the same place.

AC: Nature or nurture? Do you imagine creativity is part of human nature or must it be learned?

ER: I think it is probably both. But there are people who feel more comfortable operating from their right brain, where you have fewer constraints with facts and more potential to alter perceptions.

AC: Creativity for me is ______________________.

ER: Creativity for me is the juiciest part of life.

AC: How do you define success?

ER: True expression.


AC: If your creative process or project isn’t productive, at what point do you cut your losses? Or is there a point? Do you keep pressing on?

ER: I think you cut your losses if you have lost interest. But as long as you still feel like you’re walking a path that resonates with your initial intention then PRESS ON!

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

ER: The lightest parts are in the beginning, when the first flash of the idea comes. And it seems like connections are popping all over your brain. The idea and story feels like it has no boundaries. There are so many ways to interpret the shape you’re inspired by, so many materials and techniques that could achieve the texture or color, and so many meanings that you can portray through one simple idea. I love tying these ideas together, building a wall of images, and sketching into the defining principles of that idea.

The heaviest part is selling it.

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

ER: This is my favorite question.

The lightest are the visual components. Seeing something inspiring and beginning to link it to ideas. When I am in the space in my brain that feels limitless and hopeful. When I am romancing myself with the idea and creating the fantasy around it.

The heaviest is the fear of executing the idea. Where there are boundaries everywhere…What if it doesn’t work? What if I can’t find that material? What if I can’t make a reality what I see in my head? And then, even worse—if this is an idea I want to sell – what if it doesn’t? It is all tied together and weighed down by fear.

Luckily the light side usually greatly outweighs the heavy side!


AC: Does spirituality play a role in your creativity?

ER: Yes! To stay creative I need to work at creating the empty spaces in my mind, so I have space to wonder. Meditation has been a key part of this for me for a long time. Always looking for the “right path” – and I don’t think you can find that unless you have some quiet in your mind regularly. That really helps to steer my mind away from listening to the fearful voices as well.

Lately I have discovered that exercise is equally important to this as meditation. I’ve finally realized the connection to a strong body and strong mind. And how much easier it is to walk that path you’re trying to create when you can literally walk with strength and ease.

AC: If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

ER: I have always had a fantasy of being a museum curator. I LOVE collections. I find it so pleasurable to make esoteric links between things…invisible strings tying a group together. But I also know that is why I love clothing: connecting a group in ways that are obvious to people, and ways that no one may ever know.




Though the actual German Bauhaus school technically existed for a mere 14 years, its legacy undoubtedly continues to expand and flourish. The school, active during the years of the Weimar Republic, sought to unite artists of all disciplines in a utopian goal of designing a new world. Until broken up by the Nazis in 1933, Walter Gropius’ school developed a rigorous, hands-on curriculum led by some of the world’s greatest architects, designers, graphic artists, and weavers.


After fleeing Germany, prominent Bauhaus teachers and artists fanned out across the globe—many in America. Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe became director of the School of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology; Laszlo Moholy-Nagy formed the Institute of Design in Chicago, and Josef and Anni Albers developed programs at Black Mountain College in North Carolina before Josef moved on to teach at Yale. Gropius himself ended up at Harvard, chairing the Graduate School of Design.


Over the years, Gropius, other Bauhaus masters, their students, and prominent Bauhaus-inspired artists have donated works to Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum, now one of the largest Bauhaus collections in the world. The museum’s holdings—more than 32,000 paintings, textiles, photographs, and other works—are now largely accessible to the public online. Their online archive is incredibly well organized and easily searchable.


This free-to-use collection is open for public viewing in its entirety, in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus school’s founding. For those who want to start with the basics, begin with the Chronology section for a visual representation of the school’s creation and development. The massive collection also follows the legacy of the movement through works of its actual students and others associated with the discipline. Visit the guide to the archives to see just how expansive the collection is or narrow your search by individual artist, topic, medium, date, or object number. (And for those interested in specific pieces, according to the museum, “Most any object can be requested for in-person viewing the museum’s Art Study Center.”)


Start your tour here—but we recommend setting aside a few hours for browsing. You’ll need it.

All images from Harvard Art Museums.


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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



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

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


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

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


Purchase Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey here.

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


Alison Saar, contemporary sculptor and mixed-media artist, was born to acclaimed assemblage artist Betye Saar and Richard Saar, a painter and conservator. In her work, Betye (now 90-years old) often addresses the journey and identity of the African American woman—concepts that Alison has built upon as she explores her own family and racial identity through her work. She acknowledges her own racial identity serves a large purpose in her work. “I think being biracial definitely has a big play in my interest in that or my experience with that—never belonging to either world, always being considered some sort of ‘other’.” She does not shy away from discussions of race, gender, culture, and spirituality, but she also does not lead her viewer to a comfortable conclusion.


Saar works in a number of media, but many of her works are life-sized sculptures of African American figures carved from wood or shaped from tin. Her work centers largely on African diaspora and femininity—particularly the exploitation of the African American body in society and culture. A reviewer noted, “Saar is among a larger generation of artists who recognize the body as a site of identity formation, acknowledging historical injustices and presenting defiant figures that seem to transcend their pasts.” Many of her figures are in some way bound, carry heavy loads, or are juxtaposed with objects in such a way as to measure human value in economic terms—African American bodies as commodities. Her perspective is a way for the artist and the viewer to reclaim their bodies while acknowledging the historical struggle surrounding them.

View works from several of Alison Saar’s collections here.


Images from LA Louver, OMI International Art Center, ArtNC, and Massachusetts College of Art and Design.



“A longing for excitement can be satisfied without external means within oneself: For creating is the most intense excitement one can come to know.” – Anni Albers

Anni Albers was a multi-disciplinary artist best remembered for her work in textile design. She trained at the Bauhaus school in Germany, where she met her future husband and fellow artist, Josef Albers. At the Bauhaus, she experimented with traditional and innovative materials for weaving, making use of traditional yarns, horsehair, metallic threads, and cellophane. While traditional weavers may have focused on decorative motifs or floral patterns, Anni’s designs could be abstract or organic, and sometimes vividly geometric. She earned her diploma in 1929 with an auditorium wall covering made from cotton, chenille, and cellophane that both reflected light and absorbed sound—a piece that architect Philip Johnson called her “passport to America”.


When the Nazis closed the Bauhaus, the Alberses immigrated to America, teaching at the experimental Black Mountain College for over 16 years. As an assistant professor of art, she continued her experiments with textiles, but also with embossed papers and, many years later, printmaking. Albers developed a weaving curriculum based on the ideas of industrial design, placing importance on both hand-woven and industrial textiles. According to Buckminster Fuller, architect and Black Mountain College alumni, Anni “more than any other weaver, has succeeded in exciting mass realization of the complex structure of fabrics.”

In 1949, Anni Albers became the first weaver to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. At the time of her death in 1994, she was the last living instructor of the original Bauhaus school.


Images from Black Mountain Research, NY Arts, The Josef & Anni Albers Foundation, and Christopher Farr.



A few weeks back, we introduced Erin Connelly (now Reitz), the newest member of our design team. She co-owns a store dedicated to selling American-made goods for the home, called The Commons. But what we didn’t mention is that she has extensive experience and a deep passion for the design industry.

Erin’s mother taught her how to sew, and after she completed her first quilt, Erin began making her own simple bags and clothing. At twenty-three, she found herself living in New York, business degree in hand, searching for a job. One night, while wearing a bag she’d made to a bar, Erin (unknowingly) introduced herself to the head designer for the Nanette Lepore label. Erin’s bag had caught her eye and, when she found out that the bag was one of Erin’s own designs, she offered Erin an internship with Nanette Lepore. Within the first five minutes of her time there, Erin knew she wanted to become more involved in the design industry. She found the work stimulating and describes it as a perfect combination of what she had studied, and the creative environment she had been craving. After working at Nanette Lepore for a year, Erin left to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

Years later—unhappy with the rapid and wasteful nature of fashion, the movement of design production overseas, in need of a slower schedule, and more time on US soil, Erin decided to take a break from the fashion world. She loves collecting beautiful housewares, and she and her business partner, Kerry Speake, made it somewhat of a hobby to seek out new and unique pieces. Inspired by a road trip across the United States, the two women decided to open a space dedicated to selling simple, modern, and American-made goods for the home.


And all along, Erin has remained inspired by the importance of family and community in American craft. (You can see why she fits in so well here.) We are overjoyed to welcome Erin aboard.


“I fell in love with black; it contained all color. It wasn’t a negation of color. It was an acceptance. Because black encompasses all colors. Black is the most aristocratic color of all… You can be quiet, and it contains the whole thing.” – Louise Nevelson


American sculptor Louise Nevelson became known for her large, three-dimensional wooden structures, almost all painted in monochromatic white or black. In her most iconic works, she utilized found objects and scraps gathered from debris piles, and so referred to herself as “the original recycler”. Nevelson originally limited herself to black and white to “discipline” herself—but the colors eventually became part of her signature style.

During the mid-Fifties, she produced her first series of all-black wood landscape structures, describing herself as the Architect of Shadow. “Shadow and everything else on Earth actually is moving. Movement—that’s in color, that’s in form, that’s in almost everything. Shadow is fleeting… I arrest it and I give it a solid substance.” For much of her life, critics and admirers were almost fixated on her use of black, but Nevelson never shied from discussing its importance. “You see, [black] says more for me than anything else. In the academic world, they say black and white were no colors, but I’m twisting that to tell you that, for me, it is the total color. It means totality. It means: contains all.”


Images of Louise Nevelson from Jeanne Bucher Jaeger. Images of Nevelson’s work from the Guggenheim Museum.



Collection #30 was introduced—with the thought to combine machine- and hand-made pieces into the same line—as these garments are created using the same production processes, the same fabric, the same design team, and the same approach.

From a design and development point-of-view, we now see that there should have never been a separation of the collections. We are creatively drawn to combine both hand and machine sewing in one garment. By keeping A. Chanin separate from our Alabama Chanin collection, we were placing arbitrary rules for ourselves—and those rules became restrictive.


With this new freedom, we are now allowing ourselves to combine machine and hand sewing into single items—as shown here on our new Collier Tank and Davy Racerback. You will see increased versatility and design flexibility. A. Chanin will continue to exist, but with an entirely new function: as organic blanks and basics that companies can purchase for screen printing and private label collections.


Our clothing today says much about who we are and—in some cases—what we believe in. To some, what they wear is of great importance and to others, not so much. But modern women in most Western societies have the agency to decide what to wear and how much meaning they assign to what they wear. In the past, what women wore presented how societies wanted them to be seen; today women can use fashion to project how they want to be seen. Those ideas and presentations have evolved drastically over the years. It is undoubtedly impossible to document women’s fashion silhouettes through the years in a blog post; there are entire books that detail the evolution of fashion. But observing how Western and European women’s garments have changed tells us quite a bit about women—how they have changed society and how they have been changed.

Almost until the Renaissance era, before existence of the middle class, clothing was seen by the average man or woman as a way to cover their bodies. Garments were boxy and utilitarian and women probably owned about 2 or 3 outfits. But slowly, the ideas of the medieval period began to fade away in favor of an age of awareness—of art, of science, and of beauty. Toward the end of the medieval era, clothing for women of all classes became more colorful and better fitted; garments of well-off women became tighter and more form fitting. Fabrics like silk, linen, and fur set the wealthy apart from the working class. We saw the birth of tailoring and witnessed as the idea of fashion as a concept emerged. The appearance of tailor as an occupation showed how division of labor was evolving.

One of the first truly ornamental silhouettes grew out of the years preceding the French Revolution—a time of abundance and decadence. Gowns were elaborately draped in heavy silks. At events, society women wore panniers, which were side hoops that extended the width of the dress, while keeping the front and back relatively flat. These extravagant garments became symbolic of widening class differences, fanning the flames of the French Revolution.


But, after the revolution, very few wanted to be associated with the excess of those they so recently overthrew, and fashions became simpler and less ornamental. A high-waisted silhouette, known as the “empire” style, was inspired by Greco-Roman artwork and popularized by Josephine Bonaparte, wife of the French emperor. The bodice was fitted until just below the bust, when a long, gathered skirt was attached. The style represented freedom to many women who were happy to escape heavy and uncomfortable petticoats.

The high-waisted fashion lasted for years, but one of the next trends saw women combining the silhouette with more structured garments. Gauzy fabrics gave way to twills and taffeta and heavy, weighted hems replaced flowing skirts. By the 1830s, waistlines had again dropped to just above natural position. In both Europe and the United States, those with means found it desirable to embrace full, bell-shaped skirts and bodices laden with underpinnings. Boned stays put pressure on the waist and had gussets that pushed the bust upward. Massive “leg o’mutton” sleeves were supported with whalebone and skirts were corded or supported with heavy petticoats.


In the United States, women adopted the hoop-skirted style that remained popular until beyond the Civil War era. The exaggerated hip structure caused women to become walking hazards—constantly knocking over candles and gas lamps and setting their heavy dresses and wooden skirts on fire. Women could actually be swept away by heavy winds and some drowned, weighted down by the hoops and stays and heavy fabrics. This is in high contrast to the garments assigned to enslaved women of this time, who were dressed in clothing made from the most inexpensive cloth available, usually coarse, uncomfortable, and unfeminine. To strip females of their agency and identity, slave owners would often take away any feminine apparel—dressing them in the same clothing as men and cutting off their hair. (See more about this here.)


In Europe and the US, the following decades saw women’s skirts become even larger and stiffer with the addition of metal hoops and crinolines. During the Victorian era, silhouettes remained tightly fitted and skirts became even more voluminous. Bustled silhouettes with back-heavy petticoats put even more emphasis on waistlines. Boned bodices were creating the newest popular shape, emphasizing the rear. Though corsets and body braces had been around for quote some time, women were now pushing their physical limits to an extreme to create the desired shape. Some attempted to slim their waists to the ideal 16 inches—and some even smaller. Of course, this style did not come without a price. Repeated years of corset wearing resulted in broken ribs and shattered ribcages, damaged and herniated organs, or suffocation. Toward the end of the Victorian Era, women reformers began to openly oppose these body-modifying garments. The Rational Dress Society was founded to oppose fashion that “deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health.” Still, the hourglass silhouette is now an iconic visual representation of this era.

By the turn of the century, the S-Bend corset (considered a “healthy” corset, as it removed significant pressure from the abdomen) became popular. It pushed the hips backward and the chest forward. Separates became popular, as detached skirts assisted women in creating this pigeon-like silhouette. But, things were about to change drastically as World War I began—and women were forced to adopt more practical clothing, including (gasp) trousers.


By the 1920s, women’s fashion had undergone a drastic evolution. Short skirts were en vogue and androgynous looks became more popular. The flapper, with her dropped waistlines, knee-length skirts, and colorful garters, is symbolic of the “Roaring 20s” era. Rayon fabric, created as a more affordable, artificial silk, allowed more women access to the silk-stocking look. More women were entering the workplace—or simply wanted a less fussy wardrobe—and so metal hooks and eyes, buttons, and zippers were substituted in place of lacings and corsets. The runways displayed luxurious, high-end designs that were adapted or copied by department stores using more affordable materials. All of these new developments were effectively democratizing fashion.

In the 1930s, many women wanted a highly feminine, glamorous look. Parisian designers introduced the bias-cut evening gown, meant to skim along the body’s curves. The average American woman’ wardrobe was greatly affected by the Great Depression—but Hollywood promoted this glamorous trend as an escape of sorts. They would embody everything that the everyday woman wanted but could not achieve.

Rationing due to World War II also placed limits on the average woman’s clothing budget. Dresses became slimmer in order to conserve fabric and separates became popular as a way to make a greater number of looks from fewer items of clothing. The look of the military uniform influenced women’s wear and practical garments became essential as more women entered the workplace. For those who went to work in factories during the war, adornments were hazardous; practical, basic clothing would not get caught in heavy machinery. In an effort to prevent looking entirely masculine, women adopted high-waisted pants—like those popularized by Katharine Hepburn.


In the days immediately following the war, women were eager to embrace feminine fashions again. Young people’s income was higher, now that the war was over and many designers focused on youth. Fuller skirts came into fashion again, though the lengths remained shorter than in previous decades. The pencil-skirt silhouette also became popular—and girdles were wardrobe staples that helped women achieve a “wasp waist” without a corset. By the 1960s, the girdle had largely been replaced by panty hose—and “control top” pantyhose for those who wanted a more secure garment.

During the 1960s, women’s fashion trends were influenced a great deal by social movements. Many women wanted to be a fashion-forward mix of independent and traditional—like First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The Mod style—sleek, with bold colors and patterns, emboldened women to wear less with more confidence. Hippie fashion placed more importance on comfort and less importance on expensive fashions; it was fashionable to embrace non-Western cultures in fashion and ideology and do less with more.

From that moment on, many women’s fashion trends grew from the ideas of the Women’s Liberation movement and the cultural norm of women in the workplace. Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress was a staple for women who needed versatility. Women seeking equality at work sometimes embraced the “power suit”, with a masculine edge and large shoulder pads. As women’s earning potential rose, so did the rejection of Hippie styles in favor of powerful, dramatic looks inspired by the decadence of television shows like Dynasty. In the decades that followed, women continued to use fashion to exhibit confidence and power. The 1980s trend of wearing visible undergarments was a way for women to be empowered by their femininity and sexuality. The same was true in the 90s, when so-called Grunge musicians like Kathleen Hanna commanded stages, sometimes wearing only slips or nightgowns.

I’m not entirely sure if the current era has any defining style. Perhaps we are to be defined by our revolving door approach to fashion: keep producing and give us more… At the moment, two very different points of view are emerging in women’s fashion: the fast fashion ideology and the new maker movement. Since the 00s, fashion labels have designed more and more collections each year to keep up with a near-insatiable consumer appetite for relevance. But also, more and more people want to know more about what they wear and more women want to be involved with making their garments. We are perhaps at a crossroads where we decide if we are to be defined by our fashion or if our fashion is to be defined by us.

Photos by Abraham Rowe of the books Costume 1066-1966, Evening Dresses 1900-1940, Historic Costumes in Pictures, Fashion in Detail, The Concise History of Costume and Fashion


We’re always on the lookout for companies and businesses that align with our values and principles—and we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to purchase domestically produced goods made with ethical, sustainable practices. Our collaborations with Patagonia and Heath Ceramics are perfect examples. This year, in support of other small businesses, we’re celebrating Independence Day by showcasing some of our favorite artisan-made goods, as part of a specially curated section: Celebrate America. Included in this section are Hable Construction and The Commons, two companies near and dear to our hearts.

Hable Construction is a design company based in Athens, Georgia—one of our favorite towns that is home to many creatives, including friend and photographer, Rinne Allen. Sisters Susan Hable Smith and Katherine Hable Sweeney created the textile company in 1999 in honor of their great-grandfather. Together, they create beautiful designs and textiles that are constructed by skilled artisans, using traditional screen-printing techniques for their fabrics. Hable Construction’s products bring vivid and colorful organization into your home and make for better everyday living.


Another southeastern company, The Commons is a design studio and retailer of quality, American-made home goods for the home, located in Charleston, South Carolina. It was established by one of our newest team members, Erin Connelly, and her business partner Kerry Speake. Since the founding of the business in 2012, the two have also created their own line of tableware, The Shelter Collection, in collaboration with STARworks, a non-profit organization with the mission of economic growth through art and craft. Together they have created a line of hand-blown glassware and wheel thrown ceramics that reflects the intersection of design and honest manufacturing. A selection from their Shelter Collection is available through our website now. Look for their glassware in The Factory in the coming months.

Visit the Cook + Dine section in our online store for more American-made goodness.


The newest member of our design team, Erin Connelly, has plenty of experience running a business of her own. On a road trip, she and close friend Kerry Speake had a conversation about the beautiful and quality-made home goods that their peers were creating. They decided to dedicate themselves to creating a place where one could find and purchase these American-made goods for the home—and what emerged was The Commons.

Located in Charleston, South Carolina, The Commons has since become a place where customers can purchase responsibly-produced home goods made by vendors here in the USA. They can also find tableware from The Shelter Collection, designed by Erin and Kerry themselves.

The Shelter Collection, featuring hand-blown glassware and wheel thrown ceramic pieces, is a collaboration between The Commons and STARworks, a non-profit focused on supporting the local economy through art and craft. Located in Star, North Carolina, STARworks has economically supported its small community, which was devastated when the local hosiery factory closed its doors in 2001. Their Center for Creative Enterprises is housed in the factory’s former location and is home to a clay manufacturing operation, glass blowing facilities and furnaces, and 4 acres of space for makers.


The Shelter Collection draws inspiration from mud hut dwellings and their simple and functional design. Look for more about Erin and what inspires her in the coming weeks.


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

Alabama Chanin: What makes you curious?

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


AC: How important is education to your creative process?

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

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

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


AC: How do you define success?

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

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

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


AC: What makes you nervous?

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

AC: Who do you define as a visionary?

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

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

GB: Digital media and ethics in the modern world.


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

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

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

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

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

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


We previously shared The History of Tailoring and continue our series on fit with a comprehensive history of pattern making.

In order to survive, human beings had to master the arts of creating and sustaining food, clothing, and shelter. As time went on, we became better at those tasks and began to create standards for what worked best and instructions on how to replicate the best results. That is a pattern’s main function: to act as a template for recreating a design that has been created and (hopefully) perfected.

For hundreds of years, fit was not considered particularly important when it came to clothing. Clothing was largely utilitarian and the most important feature of any garment was that it covered your body. As the concept of fashion advanced, fit began to emerge as a way to create desired body shapes or to make clothing more comfortable or functional. But, initially, fit was considered a luxury – something only the wealthy had the disposable income to worry with. More affluent families could hire tailors or dressmakers to custom sew garments, but the average citizen made their own, or reworked hand-me-down clothes.

The first known clothing patterns appeared in Spain – Juaan de Alcega’s Libro de Geometric Practica y Traca in 1589, and La Rocha Burguen’s Geometrica y Traca in 1618. During these years, Spanish fashions dominated European dress – and these books gave specifics on making garments for men, women, clergy, and knights – but were perfunctory how-to books written for tailors. Later books, like L’Art du Tailleur by de Garsault and Diderot’s L’Encyclopédie Diderot et D’Alembert: arts de l’habillement, written in the 1700s, provided instruction on measurement, cutting, garment fit, and construction, but they, too, were written with the professional tailor in mind.

In the 1800s, less technical books were produced for home sewers – particularly those in charitable ladies’ groups. The charmingly titled Instructions for Cutting Out Apparel for the Poor and The Lady’s Economical Assistant printed full-size patterns for practical items of clothing. The Workman’s Guide provided not just patterns, but also detailed drawings of the final garments, and pattern drafting instructions.


Around this same time, women’s magazines were gaining in popularity and many of them printed patterns, increasing the average woman’s access to stylish garments. But these early patterns and illustrations were printed on small magazine pages and were difficult to use. By the 1850s, Sarah Josepha Hale’s magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, printed full-sized paper patterns by Mme Demorest, but in one size, with no scale measurements for enlarging; the reader still had to size the patterns to her own figure. Eventually, foldout patterns, printed in full scale, were issued as periodical supplements in the British magazine, The World of Fashions – and other magazines soon followed suit.

During the Civil War era, tailor Ebenezer Butterick developed the mass-produced, tissue paper pattern, sized according to a proportional grading system. Butterick and his family cut and folded each pattern and began mass-producing ladies dress patterns from their New York headquarters. It is estimated that Butterick sold 6 million clothing patterns by 1871. A few years later, James McCall began developing his own line of women’s clothing patterns – which gave the American woman some options for her clothing. It was now possible to create (or have someone make) a well-fitted, stylish dress using these mass-produced paper patterns. After about 125 years, Butterick and McCall are still some of the biggest names in the pattern industry.

In 1927, Joseph Shapiro established the Simplicity Pattern Company, which created and reproduced patterns that were affordable for the average household. Most patterns on the market sold from between 25 cents to $1, depending on the type of garment – but Simplicity patterns were mass-produced and generally sold for about 15 cents. In 1931, Simplicity partnered with the Woolworth Company to produce DuBarry patterns, which sold at an even more affordable 10 cents. Around the same time, Condé Nast, publisher of Vogue patterns, introduced Hollywood Patterns – which sold for 15 cents each – and capitalized on women’s desires to look like Silver Screen stars.


Today, advanced software and imaging systems have been created to help innovate pattern and garment making. But, in truth, the most revolutionary technological development in patternmaking history is actually the tape measure – which appeared around 1800. Until that time tailors developed their own non-standardized systems of measurement, which made pattern reproduction difficult. Units of measurement varied depending on location: Britain favored the inch system, while France employed the metric system; some still measured fabric using units of “hands” or “elbows”. With a tape measure (followed by the compass, ruler, and tracing paper), sewers could produce and reproduce mathematical patterns that were designed with a three-dimensional body in mind.

The availability of paper patterns increased as the home sewing machine became more affordable, the number of fashion magazines rose, and the U.S. Postal Service expanded. Women in rural areas were able to dress in current fashions without having to shop at a major department store. A woman’s ability to make her own garments provided a degree of freedom and encouraged fashion trends to emerge. Interestingly enough, the modern-day resurgence of at-home sewing and garment making seems to be encouraging growth of individual style over trend. Though home sewing with paper patterns may never again be the norm, it is heartening to hear your descriptions of customizing patterns to create one-of-a-kind garments. We hope you will continue to make, experiment, and share your stories with us.

Find out more about altering patterns in our book Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns here.
Share your pattern making details on social media using #TheSchoolOfMaking.


I met Dr. Timo Rissanen several years ago, just as he was taking on the role of Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability at Parsons School of Design. He is a pioneer in zero waste design, co-authoring Zero Waste Fashion Design with Holly McQuillan.

If you’ve not heard of Zero waste, this genre of design attempts to create clothing patterns that leave little to no waste fabric when a garment is cut. It’s a fact that the fashion industry is one of the largest polluters on the planet and that the majority of apparel companies end up throwing away their excess fabric because it is cheaper to do so than to create new patterns and cutting methods.

Zero-waste design strives to create clothing patterns that leave not so much as a scrap of fabric on the cutting room floor. This is not some wacky avant-garde exercise; it’s a way to eliminate millions of tons of garbage a year. Apparel industry professionals say that about 15 to 20 percent of the fabric used to produce clothing winds up in the nation’s landfills because it’s cheaper to dump the scraps than to recycle them. Timo is a leader in this design methodology and can design patterns that fit together on fabric yardage like puzzle pieces.


Rissanen’s work is highlighted as part of the Textile Toolbox, which is a TED web platform that allows designers and experts to interact and exchange ideas. The intention of Textile Toolbox is to create systemic change within the fashion industry through “interconnected design thinking and processes for sustainable textiles and fashion.”

Each section of the site features work and thoughts from industry experts who delve into the specifics of how sustainable design might work and work better. As an expert on waste reduction, Rissanen explores design processes, waste sources and potential solutions, among other topics. We have spent quite a bit of time talking to Timo about our lean method manufacturing and design methods. We are proud that he chose to highlight Alabama Chanin and our manufacturing processes as an example of how to design sustainably.

After the launch of Textile Toolbox, we asked Timo some questions about waste and the future of design.


How did you become interested in sustainable design and waste-reduction methods?

Like many Finns, I grew up with a strong connection to the natural environment. We would fish for food, and forage for berries and mushrooms in the woods, and we still do. I was 11 when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened in 1986. There was considerable radioactive fallout in Finland, some of which remains today, three decades later, and I remember my parents’ worry about food during the summer of 1986. That event made the fragility of the environment, as well as our complete dependence on it, very clear to me. When I was a student in the 1990s in Australia, I had one textile design teacher, Julia Raath, who often spoke to us about the environmental issues with textiles. Her teachings have stuck with me. Once I started working in fashion, I started to get a grasp of the responsibility we all share in ensuring that, through our actions today, we allow future generations of humans and all other species to flourish.

The concept of reducing waste in the fashion industry is difficult, both logistically and cost-wise. Can you help explain the reasons why designers and manufacturers might be hesitant to embrace these ideas?

There are considerable systemic challenges to reducing or eliminating fabric waste from clothing production. For example, often the patternmaker is not in the same location as the designer, and the patternmaker’s contribution might not even be considered design but rather, a service to it. In my PhD I argued that patternmaking is fashion design, however in reality it is often not perceived as such. Another challenge is that the various kinds of waste created in fashion are often completely invisible to the designer as well as the consumer. More human-scale supply chains, like Alabama Chanin’s, are an effective way to maintain a real grasp on various material flows within a company. Finally, designing without creating fabric waste can be slower than conventional fashion design. I would say that good design is never fast, and there is an opportunity for fashion design and the industry to slow down. Integrating sustainability is instrumental to good design.

What are the most creative approaches to reducing waste that you have seen?

Several small designers are creating beautiful zero waste fashion, for example Daniel Silverstein in New York, and Lela Jacobs in New Zealand. Each designer brings their own aesthetic to it. Holly and I first saw this when we curated the exhibition Yield in 2011, of which Alabama Chanin was a part, and it was even clearer once we came to write the book on zero waste fashion design during 2014.

In your opinion, what is the best way to educate shoppers about waste and the consequences of fast fashion? And what should they be looking for when building a wardrobe?

One on one conversations tend to be the most effective in my experience; people really get the impact of the predictable future on all of us, unless we act together, when you share it face to face. The challenge then is to scale that education up; as well as educating someone we should also aim to inspire them to become educators in this respect themselves. Nonetheless, brands should also tell the stories of their solutions to these problems. For shoppers, I think spending the same amount of money on less items is often better, for example instead of buying five pairs of shoes at $50, invest in one pair at $250. Learn about quality and look for it. For learning about quality, often speaking to someone from the generation before you can be fruitful, not to mention a joyful experience.

Any advice on how consumers can reduce post-consumer waste?

I think the Alabama Chanin model of operations – to be like a traditional farm where there is no waste – is actually achievable on the level of a household. Disposable, non-recyclable packaging is perhaps the biggest challenge; we need to ask our supermarkets and food producers for alternatives, and our legislators to facilitate changes. As for post-consumer clothing, we can reduce it first by simply buying less and buying better, and wearing things for longer. With every garment I buy I ask, how many years of wear will this garment give me? I know for a younger person this might not sound an exciting proposition; the culture of today is dominated by endless variation. Perhaps shared use is one solution – it already happens with friends borrowing each other’s clothes. Clothing libraries and designer handbag rentals are examples of a service design solution of this, in a business context.

How can at-home sewers begin to integrate zero-waste design and patternmaking techniques into their creation processes?

Simply by treating all fabric as precious, which home-sewers tend to do anyway, and by being endlessly curious about patternmaking and sewing. Not knowing every ‘rule’ can be an advantage in being fearlessly experimental with patternmaking and sewing. Holly McQuillan’s designs for the MakeUse project are fairly easy for even a beginner to construct. And even if a design is not zero waste, home sewers can be intelligent about reusing scrap, and many are. If you can’t find a use for it yourself, there are likely others who might. And if you get stuck, write to me or Holly and ask for advice.

*Second and third images courtesy of Timo Rissanen.


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

Heath Ceramics – Who They Are

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

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

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


What They Believe

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

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

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


How They Work

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

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


Their Vision for the Future

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

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

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


Photos by Rinne Allen


We often speak of collaboration and of creating a community of artists to share ideas. This philosophy is central to our artisan-based way of making. And when we stock our stores online and at The Factory, we offer a carefully curated selection of items that complement our own—always made by other artisans who follow a similar approach to collaboration or community.

Idyllwilde is a clothing company based in the Shoals that works with natural fibers like linen, cotton, wool, and silk. Founder and designer Nadene Mairesse named the company after the California town where she spent her summers, attending the Idyllwild Arts Academy. She praises her experiences there for introducing her to dance and music and for opening her eyes to the idea of a creative community. Idyllwilde makes clothing for women and children and a few sundry items—like the aprons and kitchen towels.

Nadene’s commitment to a collaborative way of making resulted in True North—a studio and retail space that she shares with local graphic designer and screen printer Chris James of Heavy Color. The two separate, established businesses have similar philosophies and priorities and they found sharing a space to be a good match. In this shared space, True North is growing a larger community of artists; they regularly host bands and open their space for artist exhibitions. Nadene also teaches workshops on basic sewing skills and indigo dyeing with Shibori techniques.


We also offer beautiful wooden spoons and spatulas, created by Steven Febres-Cordero, known by most as “The Spoonman”. Steven lives in Center Point, Alabama, and crafts a variety of woodcarvings by hand in the United States, all from exotic wood, sustainably harvested in South America.

Steven began working with wood when he was a young man and expanded his work into ceramics, painting, and clay. He has found the most satisfaction and success in his woodworking and, these days primarily focuses on his work with tropical hardwood. The Spoonman travels often between the United States and South America and he does not have a website, but he sells at craft fairs throughout the south. We offer three of his products: the 11” spoon, 12.5” slotted spoon, and 11” spatula—and their high quality and affordability make them popular gift items.

Look for other Alabama Chanin additions that complement the current offerings, which feature both hand- and machine-made goods.


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

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

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



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


Continue reading


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

She writes about stamping:

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


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

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



As part of her first job in the fashion industry, Natalie spent a good bit of time in sample rooms—some of them denim sample rooms where new styles of blue jeans were being made every day. She remembers that the sample sewers, who were primarily from Spanish-speaking households, always referred to the yellow/orange thread used to stitch denim as “orinda”—and has used this term for the yellow-orange thread since then. Looking back, she imagines that the term came from the Spanish word “oro”, meaning “gold”.

So, we started wondering: why exactly is most denim stitched using that specific golden thread? The most common story suggests that the practice was started by Levi Strauss & Co., and was directly related to the addition of rivets to jeans.

(But, the story can’t be confirmed because most of the Levi Strauss company records were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.)


In the late 1800s, Jacob Davis came up with the idea of adding rivets to jeans to reinforce stress points, like the back pockets and the crotch—which were often torn or frayed when they were heavily worn. The traditional orange thread was selected to match the color of Davis’ copper rivets. Davis was also behind the patterned stitches on the rear pockets of blue jeans, which also once served a practical purpose. The pockets were once lined with cotton and the stitching (in orange thread, for continuity) kept that lining from bunching up. Even after removing the lining, Levi Strauss kept the identifiable stitching and registered it as a trademark in 1942.

A few items Collection #29 include denim-inspired pieces available in Peacock with “orinda” stitching. The Archer Coat, Hattie Skirt, Jean Jacket, and Lucy Skirt all reflect the traditional denim look—and a moment in Natalie’s earliest days as a designer.



When joining our Build a Wardrobe program, participants make design choices for each of the four garments they create. When planning a design for any garment, the first decision you make is whether the garment will be made with a single- or double-layer of our organic cotton jersey. Some embroidery or embellishment choices will make this decision for you; for instance, most all-over reverse appliqué designs require two layers of fabric, by definition. But, if you opt to make basic versions or lightly-embellished garments, you can create two garments from the same yardage that would be needed to make one double-layered garment. The single- or double-layer decision should be made before cutting your fabric, to allow for the most economical use of your yardage with the least waste.

Single-layer garments are lighter in weight, and we often make these for warmer seasons. Double-layer garments add warmth without adding bulk and offer more support, especially at the bust. Personal preference on fit will come into play when you make this decision; some prefer lighter or more flowing garments, while others like the feeling of being held closely by their clothes. (Some women use double-layer pieces as comfortable versions of body slimmers or shapers, and many of our tighter tops can be worn without the support of an undergarment.) Either way, the more you wear your garment, the more it will take on the shape of your body.


As we mentioned, some techniques lend themselves more to double layering, whereas others allow flexibility in design. For instance, appliqué and beading can be worked on either single- or double-layer garments. But if you choose to embellish your design with heavy beading, we recommend a double-layer garment to provide support. (A heavy beading technique would be more likely to put strain and pull down on a single layer of fabric, causing it to sag or lay improperly on your body.)

If you need inspiration or want to explore multiple design options, look back on some of our pieces from Swatch of the Month; we also demonstrate most of our techniques in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. If you are looking for ways to potentially customize your Build a Wardrobe piece, refer to Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns for ideas and instructions.

Whether you are participating in Build a Wardrobe or forging you own way with your wardrobe, you can follow along on our Journal or on social media with the hashtags: #theschoolofmaking  #buildawardrobe2018


Last fall, our friend (and editor) Melanie Falick reached out with the desire to design her own stencil—and use that stencil for one of our of our Custom DIY Kits. She documented her process, and we’ve named her design “Circus”. (She also likes the subtitle, “If Not Now, When.”) Seen above, the finished artwork is approximately 24.3” x 30.1” and is the result of several months of work and many conversations between our studio and hers.

When I spoke with her on the phone last week, she mentioned that “creating a stencil from scratch was much harder than I expected. You’ve made it seem so easy.” I have to admit that this made me giggle a bit because I once felt the same way. When you are learning just about any skill for the first time, there is a moment when it just feels hard. To date, we have over 550 stencil designs in our archives, and there are some days where it still feels challenging.

As Melanie was starting, we tried to give her a few tips, which we’ve shared below:

Think about the size and the shape of the individual motifs you are designing and how these shapes interact with one another.

You can create a design where the primary motifs of the stencil have a similar scale (or size)—as we have done with our New Leaves and Anna’s Garden stencils.

Or you can manipulate the scale of all the individual motifs—like our Magdalena stencil—where small and large shapes are combined in a single stencil design.

Think about the embroidery techniques you want to use and how they will be applied to each of the motifs and also to the individual shapes of the motif. For example, if you know that you like to work in reverse appliqué, you will want shapes that are larger than 1/2″ so that you can trim your outer layer of fabric after sewing.

SIDENOTE: Many of our stencils have both larger and smaller motif shapes combined. We often use embellishments such as appliqué and/or a satin stitch to embellish these smaller shapes that are too small for reverse appliqué. See Bloomers and June’s Spring stencils.

If you are working in Adobe Illustrator or any other graphic design program, stop and print out your stencil to better view the scale of your design and the placement of individual motifs.

Think about both the positive (the individual motifs of the stencil) and the negative spaces (the area between the individual motifs). You can invert the color of a black and white design to white and black to better understand the relationship between positive and negative space.


Allow a minimum of 1/8” space between individual stencil motifs that your cut stencil remains sturdy over time. If your shapes are too close together, your stencil can become fragile and break.

We often to make our stencils that we intend to use all over a garment or project a minimum of 18” x 24” total size that we can more easily airbrush larger fabric areas. However, we use different size stencils for different purposes. If you are only adding stenciling to the neckline of a garment, you may choose to create a smaller stencil.

Here are some sizes of a few of our favorite stencil designs:

Anna’s Garden: 22” x 28” finished stencil size | 19” x 24” cut stencil area
Fern Stencil: 28” x 22” finished stencil size | 24” x 17” cut stencil area
June’s Spring: 23 1/2″ x 24” finished stencil size | 19” x 21 1/2″ cut stencil area
Magdalena: 42” x 27” finished stencil size | 35 1/2” x 20” cut stencil area
New Leaves:  31 1/2″ x 47” finished stencil size | 25 1/2″ x 40 1/2″ cut stencil area

Research pattern and stencil designs for inspiration, make photocopies, cut things apart, trace, try to understand what is appealing, and then start putting the pieces back together again. You may find that you migrate from the original motif as your voice and hand take over the work.

I like to work with photocopies of motifs that I scale up and down, cut up and paste, and then trace over again and, sometimes, again. This multilevel process makes me feel like I have more control over the final stencil design. Others like to work directly in graphic design computer programs, like Adobe Illustrator.

Once your motif has been finalized, the process of making a stencil is a simple process. When cutting, be sure to leave a minimum of a 2” border around the outside of your cut stencil for stability.

Look for #stenciling on our Journal to read posts about stencils and stencil transfer, find more on stenciling in our Alabama Studio Book Series, and share any tips you’ve learned in the comments below.


I’ve recently been reading Brené Brown’s new book, Rising Strong. I’ve found so much good in the book, both for me personally and also for how we run our business. In any small (or young) business, you must have the courage to fall down, over and over again, and to “rise strong.” Because we aren’t perfect and make mistakes all the time, we have opportunities to examine why we get up and keep going—and in the process, learn to be our best selves.

Brené has taken inspiration in her work from this quote in a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

I highly recommend the book to every maker and entrepreneur who reads our Journal. The book is encouragement for giving yourself permission to experiment, learn, and create, BUT also for learning to set boundaries for what you are willing to permit.

This idea of boundary setting—of standing firm in what I believe is and is not okay—came into focus recently. So much of our lives are lived online; it is incredibly easy to let critical remarks become part of your “arena.” Artists know that it isn’t particularly productive to read reviews or comments on our work, whether negative or positive. It’s easy to get caught up in what other people think and to freeze. You can have 1000 beautiful responses to a work and you start to wonder, can I do something equally as good again? You can have 1000 beautiful responses to the work you do (take our newest book as an example), and yet a few negative remarks about how one pattern prints out can slay you. It’s enough to make you feel like you are crazy. It’s enough to MAKE you crazy. (When I’m feeling this crazy-don’t-know-what-to-think-kind-of-way, I go back to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird—over and over again.)


When Collection #29 launched last year, we were so grateful for the positive responses… Thank you. I’m really proud of the work and our team. But when a response appeared on one of our social media channels implying that one of our designs would be easily copied, my immediate response was one of crazy (see above) frustration. In my mind, I thought, “We’ve worked 6 months on new designs; at least 7 people in our studio and 36 artisans have made these abstract ideas into beautiful textiles, and this person is grateful that the designs will be easy to copy.”

Crazy Me thinks, “A comment like that makes it seem silly that anyone would want to want to purchase our work because it’s, in essence, not that hard to make.” To paraphrase Brené, in that moment, my emotion was driving the car and my thoughts and behavior were in the backseat. I had to catch and reality-check myself before that emotion took me somewhere I did not need to go. And so I asked myself: What am I feeling? What’s driving it? How should I respond?

In Chapter Six, of Rising Strong, Brené writes about her friend and artist Kelly Rae Roberts, who teaches, publishes, and shares her knowledge. During a time when Kelly felt that people were taking too many liberties with her own work—instead of wavering or remaining silent—she wrote a blog post about “what is and is not okay.” After reading this, I asked myself why this single comment made me feel the way it did. Part of the answer is that I’m proud and protective of my team and of this company. The other part is that I was assigning importance to an opinion that shouldn’t matter—in the end, for me, it is the WORK itself that matters.

Our sharing philosophy has allowed our company to grow for the exact reason that some thought it would fail: we wanted to be inclusive where others were exclusive. The initial decision to open source our techniques and materials (and ultimately to create The School of Making) grew from our commitment to sustainability. Doing so allowed us to make living arts accessible to all consumers, not just those who could afford our handmade collection pieces. In general, our community works and plays well together—and for that we are extremely grateful.


We find inspiration from many different places and work to create different designs with different intentions—and we are inspired by others. In the past, certain Alabama Chanin stencil designs and garment patterns have crossed over between our hand-sewn collection and our DIY projects. For example, you can’t find a more perfect skirt than The Every Day Long Skirt—my favorite skirt. Therefore, we decided to make it available in different forms: with hand embroidery in our collection, in basic fashion in our Essentials line, and as a DIY kit that you can make for yourself.

This will continue to be true for a few designs in the future—though not every design will be available in every configuration. We want to challenge ourselves to create something special and meaningful that has been designed and made with purpose—this is what makes the work challenging, and rewarding. For this reason, we create unique designs for our hand-sewn collection that are only available as ready-made garments. We will always experiment with new techniques and, at the same time, take some of our tried-and-true methods a step further. Our design team has also spent a great deal of time developing a new DIY collection, kits, programming, and projects. Right now, our graphics and design teams are working on never-before-released DIY patterns. We believe that this way of working celebrates each of our divisions, all of our makers, and allows us to hone our craft as designers.


Alabama Chanin is a brand, but it is also a company made up of real people. We have a talented design team who work hard to create new designs for our customers. It is an honor to know that we have inspired a community of makers with similar philosophies and design aesthetics. But, I would like to take a moment to emphasize that we at Alabama Chanin are still individuals, trying to make a living and support our families—all while opening up our ideas to a global makers community. Designing the way we do requires us to be vulnerable; it requires that we place faith and trust in our community.

All of this made me sit down and think about my own vulnerability as a designer and business owner. I took inspiration from Kelly Rae Roberts’ manifesto to make my own list of what is and isn’t okay.

And so this is what I know:

It is really important for us to share our techniques. We didn’t invent embroidery stitches or reverse appliqué, and we are constantly inspired by both age-old techniques and current trends in creating our designs.

Working with our hands is a good way to have really important conversations about making, and the future of work in our nation and across the globe.

We offer the knowledge that we’ve been collecting over the years, as we believe that cultural sustainability is just as important as environmental sustainability. We want to preserve these techniques for the next generation.

Job creation in every community in America is important right now. We believe that the loss of manufacturing and maker jobs changed how we see ourselves as individuals and as a nation. The capacity to take care of ourselves and our families is one of the most vital functions of being a human being. Science is catching up with this thought. Read Mike Rose’s conversation with Krista Tippet. Listen to Ellen Langer talk about language, read Shop Class as Soulcraft, watch Gever Tulley, this list can go on and on…

We want you to use our books as inspiration and tools to learn the beautiful handwork techniques we utilize. We want you to use your work with us as a jumping-off place to spur your own creativity and bring that creativity to your own community. We are inspired by how many of you have adapted and expanded upon what we teach in our books and workshops; it inspires us daily to be more creative.


What is okay:

To learn to do the work we promote and share it freely with your friends. Host a party, teach and learn from one another, spread the love, and have fun. To help Alabama Chanin keep our doors open and lights on, please let your friends know where your inspiration comes from. Buy fabric from us and order your kits and supplies through us. All of these things help us make beautiful, inspiring things, in addition to feeding people in our community.

To be inspired from our work. Take what we’ve learned and make it your own. Develop stencils, dye fabric, love your thread. It will take you places you never imagined you might go. I know this from experience.

What isn’t okay:

To copy our designs to sell or pass off our work as your own. As part of a sharing community, it is painful when we see this done. But, as we encourage teaching and sharing, our concern here is with selling, publishing, and/or making money from ideas that take livelihood away from our design and production teams and our artisans.

To take text from our Studio Books and use that to teach your own class for profit—unless you are a store that works with us directly.

To use our name or logos to sell garments or any other products for personal or corporate financial gain.

What will always be true:

It is easy to post negative comments online. As painful as those comments may be to read, we cannot stop—nor would we want to stop—them from coming. While we believe such comments have the potential to devalue the work of our design team, our artisans, and our customers and supporters, we do not rely on Internet comments to make ourselves feel worthy. And sometimes, we might need to be called out.

You may feel, because we have chosen to open source our techniques, that copying our designs and passing them off as your own is okay. It is not okay. We promise you—no joy or pride that you feel when copying another’s work can match what you feel when you create something truly your own.

I have returned again to Brené’s thoughts from Rising Strong, that life is better when we assume that everyone is doing their best. Even when people speak or act in ways that are intentionally hurtful, I want to believe they are doing the best they can with what they have available to them. That idea keeps me from bitterness and removes me from those moments when I am too affected by what others say (online or otherwise). This doesn’t mean that I think people should get away with behaving badly. It does mean that as Brené says, we can “hold people accountable for their actions in a way that acknowledges their humanity.”

It is okay to think what you think and to express your opinion; it is your right to say what you want to us in person, via email, and on the Internet. “The moment we deny a difficult experience, it owns us,” writes Brené. It is an act of compassion to love yourself. In this case, loving myself and loving my team means setting boundaries and sometimes saying, “that’s not okay”.

And so much of the time it is absolutely wonderful, and inspiring, and brings me personally, and our entire Alabama Chanin team, such great pride to watch our growing group thrive and flourish. Thank you.


P.S.: Thank you again (and again) to Brené Brown and Kelly Rae Roberts—there is so much good in what you do. I’m a better person for having read you both.



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

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

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

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

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


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New Years’ Eve is a big (if quiet) night for me. It’s been a long time since I was that girl that danced until sunrise. These days I’m much more into getting up at sunrise, writing, scheming, drinking coffee, and, on some days, simply cleaning house. That being said, I’ve very often had big changes happen in my life around the turn of the year—is it that way for everyone? One year I moved to Europe. Another, I moved back to the U.S. In 1981, I went into labor (although Zach stubbornly wasn’t born until days later). Like I said, big nights and life-changing events.

I took advantage of this past New Year’s Eve simply for that quiet time to reflect and plan. 2015 was a BIG year and, while 2016 is moving towards being another BIG year, I’m also planning to, well, plan less. Not that I want to DO less but that I want to do more of what I love to do in between the other things that I want to do.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

I work less but work more efficiently.
I make time to write and exercise and take pictures.
I cook more dinners at home from the great cookbooks that I love so much.
I spend more time walking dogs and jumping on our (new) trampoline.

That’s it.

It’s a good thing that we’ve got such a great team at Alabama Chanin because this is what we have going on in the coming year:


The new year kicks off with our Build a Wardrobe program and the launch of the Maggie Dress pattern. Remember to share all your projects across social media using #theschoolofmaking and #buildawardrobe2016. (You can purchase Build a Wardrobe at any time throughout the year.)

The Factory has updated hours for 2016. We’re open Monday – Friday from 10am – 5pm and Saturdays from 10am – 3pm. Find what’s on the daily menu here and directions here.

In addition to new hours, we’re also moving our Sip + Sew to select Saturdays (January 30th, April 30th, July 30th, and October 29th) throughout the year. On January 30th, bring your sewing projects, have a glass of wine (or two), and work with friends.

The Alabama Chanin pop-up shop at Citizen Supply in Ponce City Market runs through January 31st. If you’re in the Atlanta area, pay us a visit and shop our exclusive collection, garments, accessories, and home goods.

On January 29th, Natalie travels to Athens, Georgia, home of the University of Georgia (and the studios of Rinne Allen, Rebecca Wood, and Susan Hable), for a lecture on “Design, Making, and Meaning”. The lecture will be held at 5pm and is open to the public.

Look for the launch of Collection #30 (if all goes as planned) with fresh styles and additions to our Home collection.

We are partnering with the University of North Alabama to launch a film screening at The Factory. Our first screening will be February 25th and will focus on Southern Foodways Alliance films made by documentary filmmaker Joe York.

In early March, we will have new A. Chanin styles to add to the list of our favorite staples. Also look for a new Bridal collection as wedding season approaches.

Our first 2016 Friends of the Café Dinner is Thursday, March 24th with acclaimed chefs Frank Stitt and Rodney Scott. The evening includes cocktails, four courses, and wine pairings. Frank and Rodney will prepare a one-of-a-kind collaborative menu, curated especially for the event.

The following day, March 25th, we host a Two-Hour Workshop at The Factory. Work with Natalie and our team to learn the basics of sewing and start on your own project.


April is the month for our next Sip + Sew Saturday on April 30th. We will also introduce new DIY kits, plus our second garment for Build a Wardrobe: the Alabama Sweater Top.

The month closes with participation in Southern Makers in Montgomery, Alabama. Details to come.

Our first Studio Weekend Workshop takes place at The Factory from May 13 – 15. You’ll spend the weekend working with Natalie and our team on the project of your choice.

The Factory Café team is organizing our first-ever Spring Harvest Dinner on Saturday, May 21st. This dinner benefits our partnership with the non-profit organization Nest. Chef Zach Chanin is already planning the four-course meal with organic and locally-raised ingredients and wine pairings.

June will bring new products and projects for our A. Chanin machine-sewn line and our DIY collection.

Our annual Classic Studio Week Workshop at The Factory, scheduled for June 6 – June 10, is already filling up. Spend the week immersed in the Alabama Chanin philosophies and learn the garment creation process from our team.


We’ve planned to launch additions to Cook + Dine, plus a few surprises throughout the month. Take a break and enjoy your summer vacation. Natalie and Maggie embark on their own European vacation for a few weeks.

The Walking Cape, the next in our Build a Wardrobe projects, releases at the beginning of July—in time to get it finished for cooler weather.

Natalie wraps up her travels in France, where she is teaching a week-long workshop at Chateau Dumas from August 6 – August 13. (We had an overwhelming response, and this workshop is already sold out.) Look for more on-the-road workshops coming soon.

Another Collection (#31) will be on the horizon soon.

Chef Adam Evans will helm our annual Shindig Kick-off Dinner at The Factory. The date for this event has not yet been announced, but we will let you know as soon as details are finalized (normally the second or third weekend in August).

As everyone returns to their regularly scheduled, post-summer programming, we will be gearing up for the holidays with more A. Chanin styles and a new DIY collection.

Natalie’s design fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts wraps up in September. Throughout the year on the Journal, she will be sharing insight and inspiration from talented creatives across many industries.

Be sure to join our mailing list to receive daily Journal updates.


On Saturday, the 8th of October, we will host our final Friends of the Café Dinner with chef Sean Brock.

October also begins the final quarter for Build a Wardrobe, with our Full Wrap Skirt as the project.

From now until the end of the year, we will be working on holiday projects, parties, promotions, and events, and already have great things in store.

A Fall Harvest Dinner (as follow-up to our Spring Harvest Dinner) is slated for November of 2016. Stay tuned for more information coming this spring.

The Factory will host a Studio Weekend Workshop (our final workshop of 2016) from November 11 – 13.

All-things Holiday…and before we know it, it’s 2017.


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

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

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


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

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



In the spirit of the upcoming holidays, we asked artist, photographer, and good friend Rinne Allen to share some of her favorite things to give (and receive). We’re all fans of her thoughtfully curated selections. Read on to learn more about each item and why Rinne chose it as one of her favorites.

  1. Metalworker Laurel Hill used to live in Athens, and I would buy her jewelry at our local artisan markets. My favorite piece is this barrette. While she does not sell this exact piece on her website, there are plenty of other great pieces to choose from.
  1. I have this potholder from Alabama Chanin in a few different colors (you can never have too many potholders!), but, my fave is this one in indigo.
  1. I have been collecting handmade wooden spoons for years, but my favorites are made by one of the nicest people you will ever meet, my friend Bob of Blue Hill Spoonworks. I spend time in Maine every summer, and I love visiting Bob at the farmer’s market to see what he has created over the long winter before. You may also find great wooden spoons at Herriott Grace and also at Chattanooga-based Sweet Gum Co.
  1. I photographed Teresa and Rustin of Bullsbay Saltworks last fall and I have been using their smoked sea salt ever since. It is so good!
  1. Long ago while traveling in India I picked up 2 or 3 blockprinted cotton scarves and wore them so often that they eventually fell to pieces. So, I was happy when I got this one recently from Blockshop Textiles to replace those old favorites.
  1. Over the last two years I have read (and re-read) this book as the years went by (it is organized by month). I am a little biased, as I went to college in Sewanee, Tennessee where the writer’s woodland observations take place, but I love being reminded of all of the intricate ways things are interconnected, in the woods and beyond.
  1. I have this very old Stetson hat that I wear all the time…it is serving me well at the moment, but if I ever need to get a new one, I would certainly eye the ones at Clyde for a replacement…
  1. One of my favorite things is this travel watercolor set from Winsor & Newton. I take it with me when I travel and let my young sons use it too, hence how messy it as at the moment…but, also this summer, when I was in San Francisco (for the Alabama on Alabama show) I visited Case for Making, a small art supply store in Outer Sunset near the beach. I was really inspired by their selections…
  1. This hammered brass bowl was made by MeSpeak design, based near Athens in North High Shoals, Georgia. This husband and wife team make beautiful, functional pieces out of wood & metal. They kindly made this bowl for me after I showed them something old that I had. It just glows…
  1. Beauty Everyday book…I made this book with two friends and it is a special book. There is a photograph for every day of the year, and the book moves through all seasons, from the first day of January on through to the end of the year.


Ochre: a natural earth pigment containing hydrated iron oxide

Vermeer used ochre extensively when painting flesh tones.

Ochre is the color of harvest, of autumn wheat, and heavenly bodies.

Gold Leaf: gold that has been hammered into thin sheets

The golden bough, sought by Aeneas to protect himself as he journeyed into Hades.

And here: the golden tree of life at London’s Whitechapel Gallery.

Today, see Chinese artist Zhou Xiaoping collaborate with Aboriginal artist Johnny Bulunbulun. Ochre and Ink and rice paper, a cross-cultural experiment in art and process.

Our Arella Top – a selection from Collection #29



With our newest collection, we are introducing garment styles new to the Alabama Chanin wardrobe. Perhaps the most notable new addition is the Half Skirt. Similar to an apron, it wraps around the body and is secured with a waist tie.

The intention of the Half Skirt is to add variety to your wardrobe with just one piece. You may choose to wear two of these pieces together in a combination of ways or layer one half on top of your favorite dress or skirt. Either way, there are many options for mixing and matching patterns, prints, and colors or creating volume. You can add a highly embellished piece to a casual garment to create a more formal look.


Or, as is the case with our Shelby Skirt, you can layer a skirt on top of another piece to add pockets for increased functionality.

Our new collection currently includes 9 Half Skirts in various colors, patterns, and styles. Here are some of our favorite ways to style them.


View our current Collection here.


I’ve been carrying this book around with me for weeks—which is no small feat. In a bag that is already oversized and overloaded, a three-pound book is quite an addition.  But every time I take it out to leave on my home studio table, I reconsider, put it back in my bag and take it back to The Factory—and so begins the dance again of hauling it back home again. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own journals recently, which have become less beautiful over the years. What was once a place to draw and scribble, I now use to make lists of the things I need to do or document meetings. But there is the occasional drawing from Maggie or my granddaughter Stella, and findings from trips that include business cards and ephemera, alongside a few thank you notes. I want my journals to become a place of inspiration (again). I want to cut apart every book and every journal I’ve ever written or compiled and re-do them. I want to write and think and draw. I want to sit in Derek Jarman’s garden and doodle.

Derek Jarman was an English filmmaker, stage designer, artist, author, diarist, and talented gardener. He created eleven feature films, most notably Sebastiane, Jubilee, The Tempest, and Caravaggio. As a director, he cultivated close working relationships with artists like Tilda Swinton and Dame Judi Dench—and even convinced Sir Lawrence Olivier to come out of retirement for what would be his last performance. In addition to his presence on the film scene, he remained relevant in pop culture as part of the 1970s London social scene—directing music videos for Marianne Faithfull, The Smiths, and the Pet Shop Boys.

Jarman was prolific as a painter and a well-known and respected set designer for stage and film—notably for director Ken Russell. He was an outspoken and early advocate for gay rights and AIDS awareness until his death in 1994 from an AIDS-related illness. Jarman was perhaps one of the most well rounded artists of his era; he wrote memoirs, poetry, and social criticism. He also cultivated beautiful highly regarded, postmodern-style gardens, including his home at Prospect Cottage, Dungeness in Kent. On all fronts, he rejected straightforward, modernist visions or design theories. Of his gardens, he said, “Paradise haunts gardens, and some gardens are paradises. Mine is one of them. Others are like bad children, spoilt by their parents, over-watered and covered with noxious chemicals.”

Friend and muse Tilda Swinton wrote hauntingly of Jarman:

This is what I miss, now that there are no more Derek Jarman films: the mess, the cant, the poetry, Simon Fisher Turner’s music, the real faces, the intellectualism, the bad-temperedness, the good-temperedness, the cheek, the standards, the anarchy, the romanticism, the classicism, the activism, the glee, the bumptiousness, the resistance, the wit, the fight, the colours, the grace, the passion, the beauty.






Early on in the life of Alabama Chanin, Natalie had the opportunity to visit the Ventura, California offices of Patagonia. That visit, along with a copy of founder Yvon Chouinard’s manifesto, Let My People Go Surfing, opened all of our eyes to the fact that it is possible to create a healthy workplace, make products responsibly, produce things that are meant to last, and still stay in business. (Or, at any rate, that is certainly our goal…) Patagonia’s The Footprint Chronicles shows the origins of Patagonia products and materials. Their supply chain is completely transparent, and directly inspired Alabama Chanin to document and publish our own supply chain.

Another Patagonia program that we’ve loved is Worn Wear, which documents stories of garments used, reused, repaired, and recycled. (You can read stories of individuals and their garments at the Worn Wear blog.) The Worn Wear program helps garment owners maintain their gear for as long as possible through product care and repair services. It also provides an easy way to recycle Patagonia garments that are beyond repair.


As the Patagonia team puts it, the biggest step we can take to reduce our impact is to do more with what we have. Repeated laundering, ironing, and drying can shorten a garment’s life, just as much as wearing them—so they offer tips for cleaning and care to extend the garment’s life cycle. But, if a garment gets excessively worn, Patagonia urges owners not to toss it, but instead repair it—or send it to them for repair. You can find easy-to-read repair guides on their website. Or, you can ship an item back to Patagonia to be repaired. The company employs 45 full-time repair technicians at their service center in Reno, Nevada. It’s the largest repair facility in North America—completing about 30,000 repairs per year.

Garments that are not salvageable can be returned to Patagonia (postage paid) to be recycled into new fiber, or repurposed. Since 2005, they have taken back over 82 tons of clothing for recycling. Our collaboration with Patagonia used just these cast-offs to create scarves from repurposed material.


Patagonia’s Worn Wear Repair Truck is currently on its fall tour (and upcoming stops can be tracked here). The truck and the Patagonia repair crew will be at The Factory for a special two-day event. On Friday, September 18 from 9:00am – 5:00pm and Saturday, September 19 from 10:00am – 4:00pm, we invite you to bring your well worn, well loved garments—of any brand—to be repaired for free by the Patagonia team. As they say, “If it’s broke, we fix it.”

We will offer regular lunch service at The Factory Café on Friday and a brunch taco stand with other sweet and savory items on Saturday. Alabama Chanin’s School of Making will sponsor a DIY mending station with thread and cotton jersey fabric scraps. Patagonia will also have DIY garments that if you can fix, you can take them home.


*All images Courtesy of Patagonia


Makeshift is a series of events, talks, workshops, and gatherings that invite a dynamic group of participants to explore the ways in which the fashion, art, and design worlds are inextricably linked to the world of craft and DIY, and how each of these worlds elevates the others.

In its fourth year, Makeshift conversations create an intersection where we can explore, discuss, and celebrate the role of local production, handmade, and craft/DIY in fashion and design as a way to empower individuals, businesses, and communities.

We continue to expand the ideas that were born from our first Makeshift event in 2012 to create a global conversation among artists, designers, and makers. Each year, panelists and participants share their stories and experiences involving collaborative projects and making within their industries. And in 2013, we introduced a method to facilitate the conversation: guests were invited to express their thoughts, literally or conceptually, using an organic cotton tote bag from Alabama Chanin as a blank canvas. A variety of materials were also provided to design, decorate, and customize each bag.


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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Our On Design series began in fall 2014 as an extension of our Makeshift conversations and events. The series explores art, design, makers, relationships, and the elevation of craft. Our conversation in January explored William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Here are some of Natalie’s thoughts from the presentation. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.

From Natalie:

When I started the company that Alabama Chanin has become today, I had a vision for what I wanted to accomplish. At the time, I wouldn’t have identified that vision as a business model—but as the company expanded, I understood that I wanted to design and grow the business in a sustainable way. In a world of fast fashion, mass production, and machines, I wanted to design slowly and thoughtfully. I also wanted to promote skills that seemed to be vanishing, particularly hand-sewing skills—like those used by quilters.


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This week, we take another look at the lives our clothes have led and the memories forever linked with them. For some reason, we associate memories with objects—or in this case, clothing. Every time I look inside, I think that my closet is, in a small way, some sort of prism through which I see the world.

Project Alabama Garment #17821
Built in September 2005
Pattern:  A-359 Long Coat
Stencil: Facets
Fabric: 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Outer layer color: Sapphire
Backing layer color: Black
Thread: Navy
Beads: Black bugle and chop
Sequins: Gun Metal
Seams: Inside felled
Knots: Inside
Size: Medium
Owner: Natalie Chanin

The Beaded Facets Coat was originally created for the Project Alabama Spring/Summer 2006 Collection, as you can see in the picture above left. It was presented in the first and only runway show we ever produced (thank you Gail Dizon, Jennifer Venditti, Lori Goldstein, Jake Xerxes Fussell, Ruby Jane, and to UPS—who sponsored the show). I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that show made the cover of Women’s Wear Daily the next morning. I had to look three times to realize that it was actually the cover and not from the interior of the magazine. There were eventually 14 of these coats produced in both the Amber and Sapphire colorways shown above for Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Jeffrey Atlanta, and a few special clients.

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Last July, we explored Alabama’s fashion design history and, in our studio conversations about that post, we started asking one another about other designers that have emerged from the South. Dana Buchman, Pat Kerr, Johnny Talbot, and Wes Gordon all hail from states neighboring our own. When searching my brain for designers from Mississippi, the first that came to mind was Patrick Kelly.

Patrick stands out so significantly in my memory because he emerged as a designer of note in the 1980s and during my time in design school. He is, in many ways, a designer with sensibilities completely different from my own; he created body conscious garments with flamboyant embellishments. In other respects, we have a certain kinship, as he found ways to repurpose and recycle clothing into new garments. He also found inspiration in his community and neighbors, once telling People Magazine, “At the black Baptist church on Sunday, the ladies are just as fierce as the ladies at the Yves Saint Laurent haute couture shows.”


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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For many of us who call ourselves “mother”, there are two types of children in our lives: those that are born to us and those that come into our lives and become “ours” for life. For me, this was the case with Agatha Whitechapel, daughter of my dear friend (who I commonly refer to as, simply, “Whitechapel.”) I think of her as a version of her collages, fully realized – a lifelike composition of images pasted together to create a portrait. Adopted daughter to me; young girl grown up; mother of Elijah; photographer; and, finally, friend. Agatha cut her teeth in Europe of the 1990s, traversing between London and Vienna. Agatha’s school was the keen eye of her mother, music video film-sets, and the world of skateboards. When I met her, she was a 12-year-old girl, fascinated with hearing and telling elaborate stories. According to Agatha, she has taken her “childhood obsessions with fantasy and storytelling and turned them into visual explosions with as much colour, pop and pomp” as she can possibly fit into one picture.

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

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

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

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

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

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




It’s a BIG week for us here at Alabama Chanin. Our newest book, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns, lands in stores and into the hands of the makers tomorrow. This fourth book in the Alabama Studio Series includes all the patterns from our first three Studio Books on a convenient CD, plus instructions and patterns for 12 new skirts, dresses, tops, and jackets, with illustrated guidelines for customizing the fit and style of each. The book teaches readers the ins and outs of refashioning garment shapes, raising and lowering necklines, taking in and letting out waistlines, and many more key forms of customization; it also offers guidelines for adapting patterns from other popular sewing companies to the Alabama Chanin style—stitched by hand in organic cotton jersey and embellished with stencils, embroidery, and beading. Check back on Wednesday for information on the best ways to print our patterns and stencils.

On Friday of this week, we introduce a newly re-organized Studio Books + Patterns section. This re-formatting will make possible our first-ever downloadable garment patterns for purchase—beginning with our popular Unisex T-Shirt. Additionally, new and improved stenciling patterns will be available to purchase in PDF form with full-scale artwork for wide-format printing and also for tiled printing on both 8 1/2″ x 11” paper, or A4 paper. Look for additional garment patterns through 2015.


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I originally wrote the post below for the Etsy Seller Handbook. It ran on September 14 of 2011—just before my lecture at Hello Etsy. I ran across these “truths” recently while writing this post on The Business of Fashion’s “How To Set Up A Fashion Business”  and still find them true today.


From the Etsy Blog:

I’ve often described my creative journey as “falling off a cliff,” yet thinking about it recently, I’ve realized — to my great surprise — that my journey has actually been quite linear. I went from design school, to working in the fashion industry, to styling, and then back to fashion with Alabama Chanin. It is unlikely that I would have appreciated how direct my path has been if I hadn’t been asked to reflect upon my journey. Thanks to a few flight delays, day-long drives, and long afternoons spent gardening, I’ve been able to spend some quality time reflecting upon the events of my past. Sometimes it takes a little time to gain perspective.

I am incredibly proud of my company, my amazing team, and everything we’ve accomplished in the past decade. When things are running smoothly in our studio (as has happened once or twice in the ten years since we opened our doors), I feel an unrivaled sense of calm and satisfaction. However, it is the creative chaos, the phones that ring (but cannot be found), the revolving cast of friends and clients, and the unwavering support of my family that are much more invigorating and make me understand that my path has been the right one — for me.

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

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


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As we wrote in last week’s post on our DIY Exploding Zero T-Shirt, inspiration comes at us from every direction. Recently, our design team has been (almost endlessly) inspired by Eames: Beautiful Details. The use of color and form shown by Ray and Charles Eames is bright and modern, even by today’s standards. The image shown above at left inspired the swatch above right, and can be recreated using the basic instructions below in any combination of colors and techniques you choose. This is a perfect project for our Fat Eighths or scraps from your own stash.


7” x 9” cotton jersey fabric for top layer
7” x 9” cotton jersey fabric for backing layer
100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey scraps in various colors
Button Craft thread
Embroidery floss
Basic sewing supplies: scissors, pins, needles, ruler, rotary cutter
Fabric Markers

Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style, or Alabama Studio Sewing + Design: All three of these books contain the basic sewing and embroidery techniques we used to appliqué the squares and add decorative stitches and beads.

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…the role of the architect, or the designer, is that of a very good, thoughtful host, all of whose energy goes into trying to anticipate the needs of his guests—those who enter the building and use the objects in it. – Charles Eames

Our favorite Eames quote above is now on our café tables, the production cutting room, and displayed front and center on our design room inspiration board. I looked at the pages above and tried to imagine what Charles and Ray would have served in their gorgeous mid-century kitchen. The kitchens of my 1960s childhood were inspired (through trickle-down design) by Charles and Ray Eames—who sought specifically to target the needs of the average American family.

And the American family was changing from the mid-1950s through the 1960s and 1970s. Where cookbooks in the 1950s advised women to have dinner ready for their husbands when they got home from work, moving into the 1960s they began to offer recipes for busy moms. You could now make dinner by opening cans and boxes of prepared foods. That meant a lot of casseroles and inventing creative ways to use canned foods like soup, tuna, and even SPAM. The food fads of the day leant a sense of the exotic and the exciting to the dining room. Fondue, Chinese woks, Julia Child’s advocacy of French cooking, and…all Jell-O everything—brought about food inventions the likes of which had never been seen.

For those who want to relive the good old days of Chicken a la King, ambrosia or gelatin salads, meatballs with grape jelly, onion soup dip, cheese balls, or Baked Alaska, we recommend visiting Mid-Century Menu or, my personal favorite, White Trash Cooking—for a treasure of Jell-O based recipes.

For everything else, we defer to the queen of the Mid-century kitchen: Miss Julia Child.



“Take your pleasure seriously.” ― Charles Eames

All of us, at one time or another, have associated the idea of work with a sense of dread. We’ve all had a job we thought was boring, repetitive, mindless, stressful; we’d zone out or procrastinate because, in our hearts, we weren’t invested. In such a situation, we were taught to create a time for work and a time for play: work/life balance.

The downside of this idea of work/life balance is that playtime is often interrupted with thoughts of work; and work time is spent dreaming of play. Mr. Rogers once said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning.” This is certainly true of how the Eames ran their studio and the basis of the important, and playful, work of Ellen Langer.

The last decades have taught us (and our children) that to achieve is the ultimate goal—often to the detriment of play. When we think of play, we think of “time wasting” or “unnecessary.” But play can also meld the possible with the magical. When we play, we aren’t necessarily bound by limits; we are free. Most of us have notions as to what defines work and play – but those categories aren’t independent of one another. Ellen Langer states it so simply, “When we are at work, we’re people; when we’re at play, we’re still people.”

The new saying at my house and at the studio: It’s not hard work, it’s GOOD work. There is a big difference between the two.

The book, Eames: Beautiful Details—pictured above, is a beautiful testament to the playful nature of Ray and Charles Eames.

Watch the PBS Film, The Architect and the Painter, to learn more about the importance of play in their work and studio. See the trailer below.


“Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality, per se.” – Charles Eames

Our first official On Design conversation and event centered on the Bauhaus—founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius. This movement’s core objective was a radical concept: to reimagine the material world to reflect the unity of all the arts. The main influences behind the Bauhaus were Modernism, the Arts and Crafts movement and, perhaps most importantly, Constructivism.

The Bauhaus school was closed in 1933 by its own leadership under pressure from the Nazi regime and many of the designers and artists who had been working within the school and those with similar philosophies, moved to the United States. Those of you who were present for our On Design: Bauhaus discussion (or who read about it) will remember that this movement came to change my life (and save my life), because the School of Design at North Carolina State University grew out of Black Mountain College—where some of the instructors from the Bauhaus settled. And, thus I essentially received a Bauhaus training.

The reach of the Bauhaus school is immeasurable. The foundations and design approach influenced designers like Frank Lloyd Wright, Edith Heath, Mies Van De Roe, Le Corbusier, Herbert Bayer, Philip Johnson, Marcel Breuer, and eventually Ray and Charles Eames.

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

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


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A little musical (and visual) interlude for this cold and snowy Friday—listen to this newly released track from one of our studio favorites, Alabama Shakes. Along with a beautiful video designed by Mario Hugo—half of our husband and wife, New York-based design and web team, Hugo + Marie.


I’ve been thinking a lot about trends recently. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about them a lot—for a very long time. Quite some time ago, I read a plaque in a National Park about ecological succession that changed the way I looked at trends forever (more on this next Tuesday).

You see, ecological (or biological) succession is the process by which a community (or a business) slowly evolves over time. The opposite of trend.

Recently, The Business of Fashion published an article titled, “Do Fashion Trends Still Exist?” and I started thinking more.

And then, on the cover of the newest T Magazine’s Spring Women’s Fashion 2015—which was issued this past Sunday—there is a title that reads, “& the Post-Trend World of Fashion.”

On page 96, Deborah Needleman’s Editor’s Letter is titled, “The End of Trend.” She writes, “We live in what appears to be a post-trend fashion world — with no clear guidelines for our sartorial choices and an endless array of options. New shows and collections seem to be springing up constantly throughout the year, consumed hungrily and instantaneously around the world on a variety of platforms before the editors have even filed out the doors. So inundated are we with images that we’d be bored to tears with any single trend by the time it hit stores.”

She continues: “The solution is to rely on our own instincts, which is something that many of the women featured in this issue — musicians, writers, artists, Bjork! — have in common: an ability to filter myriad influences to create an unmistakable personal voice.”

“…an ability to filter myriad influences to create an unmistakable personal voice.”

The choice of style over trend.
The choice of your own voice over the voice of an authority.
The voice of the individual.

And so my thoughts on succession and how a collection—a style—should grow slowly over time emerge again.

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Roman Alonso, Steven Johanknecht, Pamela Shamshiri, and Ramin Shamshiri are Commune—an inter-disciplinary collective of artists that work in the design realm. Commune is a design firm, but they are also much more than that; they invent moods and spaces for residential clients and for public space, design graphics and branding concepts, and create products that are beautiful without being wasteful.

The Commune team is also known for creating unique spaces like the ACE Hotel and Swim Club in Palm Springs, the ACE Hotel Downtown LA, the Standard, Farmshop, and showrooms for Heath Ceramics.

INSPIRATION: COMMUNE DESIGNCommune for Ace DTLA. Los Angeles, California. 2014

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Paul Rand is considered by many to be one of the most significant visual communicators and commercial artists in history. His first book, Thoughts on Design, is one that invigorated the design world and has become a seminal text for design students and professionals. Rand’s simple, straightforward approach to design eventually helped him create some of the most iconic corporate logos, many of which are still in use today (think IBM, the American Broadcasting Company, Westinghouse, and the United Parcel Service).

Rand was just 33 years-of-age, with much of this notable work still ahead of him, when he published Thoughts on Design in 1947. The book is an idealistic, passionate call to arms for designers to integrate form and function. Rand summarizes this simply, saying that design should reflect “the integration of the beautiful and the useful,” and asserts that one’s work “is not good design if it is irrelevant.” Furthermore, he urges designers to create from their singular point of view: “The system that regards aesthetics as irrelevant, which separates the artist from his product… will, in the long run, diminish not only the product but the maker as well.”


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Our On Design conversation in December focused on the practice of stenciling—including examples of designs throughout history and various techniques used over time. Stenciling is at the core of our Alabama Chanin collections; currently it is the sole means by which we transfer decorative patterns onto our fabrics. We have explored DIY stenciling in our Studio Book series, and are even offering a one-day workshop on the topic next year.

The use of stencils dates back over 37 thousand years, as evident in Neanderthal cave art found in Spain. These paintings are outlines of hand prints; it is theorized that Prehistoric man or woman would place their hand against the wall, and then blow finely crushed pigment around it. These stencils were accompanied by shapes from the natural world and daily life: animals, hunting scenes, and ritual all figure prominently.

ON DESIGN: THE HISTORY OF STENCILINGPhoto by Stephen Alvarez. Link through to see the color version and see more of his caving photos here.

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In October of 2014, and as an extension of our Makeshift initiative, we began a new series of events and conversations called On Design. This series explores art, design, makers, relationships, and how those who create can elevate craft in general. Natalie hosted our inaugural event, which was an exploration of the school of Bauhaus and the creative process. While it’s no substitute for being there in person, here are some of Natalie’s thoughts from the presentation. Feel free to share your own thoughts and join the conversation.

From Natalie:

When making plans to expand The Factory beyond a space used solely for manufacturing, I initially imagined a place for our workshops to be housed along with a kitchen for catering. We now have a beautiful space for working and making, as well as a kitchen that accidentally developed into a weekday, lunch-only café that works in-service to our store and design + manufacturing facility.

This space has further developed into a place for the community to meet over tables and food and design and conversations and (hopefully) more.

I grew up in the community of Central, which is about 10 miles west x northwest of The Factory, as the crow flies. I grew up in a time when there was very little art in the school curriculum, but there was still much making being done in the home. My grandmothers and grandfathers planted gardens, raised cows, put up tomatoes, made bread, tatted lace, and made their environments as beautiful as possible with the resources they had available. This work came to inspire my entire work history and the space known as The Factory today. I always said that I went to the art school of “Pinkie and Blue Boy.” Those were the only paintings that hung in our home as I was growing up. These, along with several other paintings, with names like Tyrolean Hof, and Jesus on the Rock, were always in the background, subtle inspiration for our daily lives.


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When we first opened our Bldg. 14 division in July of 2013, we learned quickly that there was still SO MUCH to learn. So, with the concept of The School of Making firmly in place, we began at the beginning to work on a set of finishing examples for our Bldg. 14 machine-made division. Like our Alabama Chanin Library of hand-embellished fabric swatches, this library documents the capabilities of the machines, folders, and attachments we have available in the factory and the endless variations and combinations that create everything from collars to hems and in between.

In 2015, and as we fold our MAKESHIFT programming into The School of Making, we foresee many more conversations about design, fashion, DIY, and community. And, of course, we will continue sharing the evolution of our manufacturing systems—including this new sort of maker’s library—to explore their part in the larger making process.


Photos from Abraham RoweAngie Mosier, and Rinne Allen




Black and Gold – in color symbolism they hint at the unknown, power, and formality alongside abundance, prosperity, and extravagance.

Black and Gold – Madonna on a Crescent Moon by an anonymous painter in Germany, commonly referred to as the Master of 1456.

Black and Gold – for some reason also makes me think of Madonna (the singer) in the 1980s (but also today).

Black and Gold – our newest blend of fabric and paint—a departure from the tone-on-tone colors seen in many of our previous collections.


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Join us this Monday at The Factory for the second lecture in our conversation series: On Design. Last month, Natalie spoke on the Bauhaus and the creative process. This month the conversation continues with a lecture about Charles and Ray Eames, husband and wife designers, and mid-century design. We’ve been finding inspiration from the timeless furniture, interior, and design details featured in Mid-Century Modern, by friend Bradley Quinn.

On Design is part of our ongoing Makeshift conversation about design, art, business, community, and much more. As one of our educational initiatives, the lecture series falls under the umbrella of The School of Making, a new arm of the Alabama Chanin Family of Businesses. We continue working to give The School of Making an active voice in our local community, our state, and the making community, at large. We hope you will join the conversation. Open-to-the-public with limited seating, the cost includes admission, participation, and a cup of The Factory blend coffee, a cold drink, or tea. Registration required.

On Design: The Eames + Mid-Century Design
Makeshift multimedia presentation by Natalie Chanin

November 10, 2014 10:30am – 11:30am
The Factory @ Alabama Chanin
462 Lane Drive, Florence, Alabama
Open-to-the-Public with Limited Seating
Registration Required $7.00

Look for more information on this and other upcoming Makeshift events on our Journal and/or join our mailing list. ON DESIGN: THE EAMES + MID-CENTURY DESIGN


Today we introduce our newest Alabama Chanin silhouettes like our Marie Pencil Skirt and Garter Dress which have a flattering and feminine shape, alongside our Peasant Top and Factory Dress which offer a more relaxed fit.


Classics styles, like our Corset and Long Fitted Skirt, are combined with new stencil designs like ‘Aurora,’Marie,’ and ‘New Leaves.’ Other classic designs like our ‘Daisy’ and ‘Magdalena’ remain. Choose from neutral shades, or a burst of Really Red—one of our newest colors. Look for new designs, colors, and an updated website over the coming weeks…

xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin



Where does inspiration come from? Do ideas spring from a single stimulus? Or are they generated by a creative environment fostered over time? Of course, we know the answer is both – and many more sources.

My daughter, Maggie, is obsessed with Minecraft, which (if you don’t already know) is an open-ended game that relies upon the player’s creativity to build her own world and solve problems along her journey. The game’s virtual world is made of cubes of materials – grass, dirt, sand, bricks, lava, and many others. Players survive and earn accomplishments by using these blocks to create other materials, structures, and any three-dimensional form.

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In 2005, photographer Leslie Williamson made a wish list of all the houses that she hoped to visit in her lifetime. The homes belonged mostly to her favorite architects and designers, who had offered her creative inspiration throughout her career as a photographer. She was curious to learn what inspired them in their home and studio environments, and since there was no book containing images of these spaces, she decided to take on the project herself. The result was 2010’s Handcrafted Modern: At Home with Midcentury Designers. Her book’s success surprised Williamson and showed her that she was not alone in her curiosity about environment and inspiration. She then set out to create a “library of these designers and how they lived for future generations”.

Her recent follow up, Modern Originals: At Home with Midcentury European Designers, is another beautifully photographed book featuring the private spaces of European architects and designers. The book—funded in part with a gorgeous Kickstarter film—provides an intimate look into the at-home design choices of notable creative minds, showing not only their design and architecture choices, but also illuminating some aspects of their lives. Williamson writes that she felt she was “meeting these people as human beings through being in their homes and learning about their everyday life.”


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

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

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

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Beginning  October 13th, 2014 and as part of our ongoing Makeshift conversation, Alabama Chanin will host a series of discussions and lectures about design, art, business, community, and plenty of other topics. Events will be held at the Factory on the second Monday of each month. The format will shift, depending on topic and presenter, but you can look forward to informal talks, multi-media presentations, and hands-on workshops.

Makeshift began over three years ago as a conversation about design, craft, art, fashion, and DIY—how they intersect and how each discipline elevates the others. Since its beginnings, we have expanded the conversation, discussing how making in groups can build relationships and communities, all the while examining what the design community can learn from the slow food movement.


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At Alabama Chanin, we’ve spent years working with textiles to find the perfect medium for our techniques and products: 100% organic cotton jersey. We are drawn to artists who utilize what some might call ordinary materials and tools to create extraordinary work. Dana Barnes has done just that; she has taken familiar techniques like crochet and felting and combined them with a common material, merino wool. But, her results are not ordinary. Rather, they are unexpected and exquisite.

Dana Barnes is a renowned fashion designer, having created collections for lines like Elie Tahari, Adrienne Vittadini, and Tommy Hilfiger. Her exploration into wool and textiles sprang from a practical issue – one that many mothers face: as her young daughters ran and played, they made a little too much noise for the neighbors living beneath the family’s expansive loft. At the time, Dana was experimenting with wool and felting and wondered if she could make a rug that was big enough to cover the family’s living space. What resulted was a massive rug sewn together by hand from large crocheted squares of felted, unspun wool.


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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.”

DESIGN: GAEL TOWEYGael worked on the book, In the Russian Stylewith Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

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I met Julien Archer when he was only sixteen, in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. I was leading a workshop at the Visual Arts Center there. He was a creative and enterprising sophomore in high school who had already started a screen-printing business (and had designed shirts for the venue where we were holding the event).  A few years later, I was reintroduced to Julien at our first Makeshift event in New York City. He was living there at the time and expressed that he was ready for a change. So, I laughingly replied, “Move to Alabama!”

The two of us kept in touch and, several months later, he attended a Studio Weekend workshop at The Factory with his mother (and sometimes Alabama Chanin Trunk Show hostess). During that weekend, I had dinner with the two of them and offered Julien a three-month apprenticeship here in Alabama. Surprisingly, he accepted and – two years later – he is still here. A prolific member of our design team, he also works as a pattern maker and helps manage operations at Building 14.

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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.

We’ve previously spoken about the rich history of textile production in our community and some of the local manufacturers who led the nation in textile and t-shirt production, but we were excited to discover Bubbles Ltd.

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.


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

The 7 Lessons:

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

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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.


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Based on feedback that we have received from some of our DIY customers, we are now offering supplementary instructions in each of our DIY Kits. Each kit will be shipped with an insert that includes basic instructions, including how to “love your thread,” directions on completing basic stitches, simple construction tips, and how to add rib binding to your item. We hope that this will help make completing your DIY project easy and stress-free. As always, complete instructions for projects can be found in the Alabama Studio Book series.

We have recently been highlighting natural dyes and Alabama Chanin’s new dye house, run by our head seamstress, Diane. This project highlights the beautiful new shades of indigo that are emerging from our dye vats, shown here on one of our most popular silhouettes – the Camisole Tank. The tank can be adapted to fit almost any body type and its simple design is well suited for most stencils and embroidery techniques.

The tank is form fitting and features feminine back and necklines. It measures approximately 25” from the shoulder.

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The July Swatch of the Month demonstrates one of our popular beaded embroidery techniques, the Satin Stars design. This technique is highlighted in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, where you can view an in-depth fabric map of the embroidery. Use the Satin Stars design to add embellishment using either an allover or placement technique, as it works well in both small and large quantities.

An enlargeable version of this stencil can be found on page 128 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design or you can download a version from our Maker Supplies + Stencils page. Transfer the stencil to your fabric using the stenciling method of choice.

Begin working the smaller star shapes first. You will fill the “arms” of each small star using a satin stitch, adding one seed bead or chop bead to each stitch. (See page 84 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design for more information on the satin stitch.) Next, you will work a beaded backstitch – adding one bugle bead to each stitch – around the inner circle of each small star shape. Fill the center circle of the small stars with full chop or seed beading.

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We’ve written before about the importance of color – from a cultural standpoint and a design perspective. At Alabama Chanin, we tend to embrace more muted tones for our design color palette. Muted colors have a reduced intensity, so any saturated color stands out in comparison.  We are drawn toward natural tones and some of our fabrics are colored with natural dyes to create rich, pure shades of color.

When it comes to individual style, our feelings about color can be personal; a color can make you feel happy or sad, energetic or depressed. Colors can transmit mood, thought, and feeling. When discussing the best way to exhibit the color options for our DIY projects, Olivia – a member of our design team – suggested that we approach the display as an art project. The result of her work, this wrapped canvas, is beautiful, simple, and focuses the viewer’s attention directly on color. Anything else you take from this, like your thoughts on color, is personal.


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The Alabama Chanin Gore Skirt is one of our more popular DIY items because it is a simple design that is the perfect canvas for a wide variety of colors, stencils, and embroidery techniques. Shown here in reverse appliqué in our Magdalena design, the skirt sits low on the waist and flares to the hem—creating a beautiful, flowing silhouette.


Using our Custom DIY options, you can choose every aspect of a reverse appliqué garment to fit your style and personality. For instance, you can go for a subtle, yet beautiful tone-on-tone approach, as we have shown here. Or, you may choose a high contrast option for your backing and top layers. The Gore Skirt featured here is just one example of how you might create your own garment.

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Each month, we feature a favorite Alabama Chanin embroidery technique as part of our Swatch of the Month Club. Additionally, we offer suggestions as to how you might put your completed swatches to use. Past month’s project offerings have included the DIY Clutch, DIY Book Covers, and DIY Swatch Pillows. This month – with 6 completed swatches to utilize – we offer instructions on how to construct a Tied Wrap. Our wrap uses our completed swatches from January through June; each reworked using a White/Natural colorway.


6 completed Swatch of the Month panels (or 6 – 10” x 16” cotton jersey fabric swatches of your choice)
1 – 20” x 48” rectangle of cotton jersey fabric, for optional backing layer
2 cotton jersey ropes 18” long (see page 8 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design)
Basic sewing supplies: scissors, needles, thread, pins, and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, which includes all necessary instructions for completing swatches and Tied Wrap.

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We love these every-day, stylish canvas bags from the Brooklyn, New York and Athens, Georgia-based, sister-owned textile company Hable Construction. Perfect for carrying anything and everything – take your Hable tote bag to the office, gym, airport, or even to the grocery store.



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

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


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MAKESHIFT began three years ago as a conversation about the intersection of the disciplines of design, craft, art, fashion, and DIY—and, on a bigger level, using this intersection as an agent of change in the world. Since then, we’ve explored making as individuals, and how making as a group can open conversations and build communities.

For MAKESHIFT 2014, we have once again partnered with Standard Talks in New York to host the conversation, and will cover a range of topics, including raw materials, craft, fashion, global communities, food, and the act of making. 2014 James Beard award-winning chef Ashley Christensen will also participate in the discussion, helping answer the question: What can design learn from food?


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Each month, we highlight one of our favorite embroidery techniques through our Swatch of the Month Club. As a companion to that monthly series, we have also put together a selection of projects you can create with your completed swatches. This month, we have created a beaded clutch bag, which you will need one finished swatch to complete. We created our bag using May’s beaded ruffle swatch.


Supplies for May’s Swatch of the Month (or your favorite swatch of choice)
1 – 10” x 10” 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey panel, unembellished, for pocket
1 – 10” x 1 1/4” strip cotton jersey (cut across the grain), for rib binding
Basic sewing supplies: fabric scissorsrotary cuttercutting matrulertailor’s chalkneedlesthreadpins.

Complete your Swatch of the Month according to the instructions – or create a swatch using your own personal design choice. Refer to Alabama Studio Sewing + Design as a resource, if you need additional guidance. 


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

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

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

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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.


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

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

As you may remember, our MAKESHIFT initiative asks the questions: How do we define and transform the intersection of fashion, food, design, craft + DIY through innovation and collaboration for the better good? How can varied disciplines work together as one?
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Vogue designer patterns, which are available to all at reasonable prices, are excellent examples of resources contributing to and encouraging the DIY opportunities in modern fashion. The existence and availability of such resources help us to continue our ongoing conversation on design, craft, and fashion and how they intersect.

As part of our ongoing series adapting open-source designer patterns using The School of Making techniques, we selected a dress from DKNY—Donna Karan New York—the mainline label for the Donna Karan brand. I’ve written before about the connection I have with Donna Karan as a designer and we’ve previously featured another of her Vogue patterns as part of this DIY series.

This modern shift dress pattern is flattering on all body types, simple enough for beginners, and can be easily accessorized and embellished. We made both a Basic version, as well as an embellished version, featuring the Check stencil artwork from The School of Making.


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Those of you who have followed Alabama Chanin for years know that this company was built around the concepts of expert craftsmanship, beauty, function, and utility. Focusing on using sustainable, organic, and local materials and labor, we have committed ourselves to producing quality products made in the USA.

As we grew, the company developed a life of its own that emerged as a multi-fold organization—while staying true to the original mission and business model. We encouraged organic growth, without forcing ourselves to fit into a traditional mold. We recently began referring to what has emerged as the “Alabama Chanin Family of Businesses”—a heartfelt nod to the Zingerman’s approach and their Community of Businesses. Each of our divisions has individual specialties, yet all fall under the same mission established for Alabama Chanin. Our philosophy guides each arm and we all work together toward the same goal: creating beautiful products in sustainable ways that enrich our customers, community, and co-workers.

From our mission statement:

At Alabama Chanin, we preserve traditions of community, design, producing, and living arts by examining work and life through the act of storytelling, photography, education, and making.

Thoughtful design. Responsible production. Good business. Quality that lasts.

A guide to our growing family of businesses:

Alabama Chanin_Logo_JPG


Alabama Chanin—the heart and head of our family of businesses—began early in 2000 with the creation of hand-sewn garments made from cotton jersey fabric—and retains the same intention and integrity today. Heirloom pieces are made from 100% organic cotton, sewn by hand through a group of talented artisans who each run their own business, in their own time, and in their own way. The company strives to maintain sustainable practices—across its disciplines—and create sustainable products, holding ourselves to the highest standards for quality.
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Sun Young Park, a freelance illustrator living in New York, is an integral part of the Alabama Chanin team. If you own Alabama Studio Sewing + Design or have ever browsed our Studio Style DIY Custom DIY Guide, then you’ve seen the beautiful sketches of our garments, illustrated by Sun. I met Sun several years ago by accident through a mutual friend, which resulted in an impromptu breakfast at The Breslin, April Bloomfield’s restaurant at the ACE Hotel in New York City. I was immediately taken by her enthusiasm and had been looking for a new illustrator for my books. Our chance meeting was good fortune.

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

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Heath Ceramics is celebrating 10 years of design by showcasing interpretations of time in the form of one-of-a-kind clocks designed by friends and collaborators. I was honored to design and contribute two clocks, featuring Alabama Chanin’s etched Camellia pattern. It’s really common in my family to hang plates on the wall, and I was inspired by this tradition. I remember all the plates on the walls at my grandmother’s house, and I have continued the practice by hanging Heath + Alabama Chanin plates on the wall in my own kitchen. It made perfect sense to design clocks that reflected that tradition. Heath10Clock-NatalieChanin2-WEB The Alabama Chanin clocks will be available at Heath’s Design in Time show this weekend, along with several other collaborations and interpretations. The show opens this Saturday, December 7 from 5:30pm – 8:30pm at both the San Francisco and Los Angeles showrooms. xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin

Photos courtesy of Heath Ceramics.


Our continued practice of responsible and sustainable design and production will grow even more now, thanks to the CFDA/Lexus Eco-Fashion Challenge. I am honored to be this year’s recipient of the grand prize of $75,000.

With the award, Alabama Chanin will support our company growth, which includes our machine-made garments under the label A. Chanin, creating jobs, promoting Made in the USA production, and, yes, a new Alabama Chanin collection.


Thank you again to the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Lexus for this award and opportunity to further our sustainable practices.

xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin


For nearly 25 years, Mike Goodlett has lived and worked in a house near Wilmore, Kentucky, that originally belonged his grandparents. Over the years, he has embellished the house’s interior and even its structure with artwork of his own creation in a sort of visual call and response. Paper flowers bloom from cracks in the ceiling. Doorframes and windows are adorned with carvings. Delicate ballpoint pen-webs emanate from the electric outlets. Accessible only by an overgrown and narrow road, the house and studio are mostly hidden from view.


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

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




We use stencils in many of our designs. Most often employed as a pattern to follow when adding elaborate embroidery, beading, and appliqué, we also love the simplicity of a stenciled pattern on a basic silhouette.

This DIY Stencil T-shirt focuses on the simple beauty that emerges when you combine just the right pattern, stencil, and colors. The techniques used are easy for both the beginning and the advanced sewer to master. This design is our classic T-shirt Top. Here we used the sleeveless version, but you could use any sleeve length, depending on your personal style and taste.


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

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


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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.

You can see Billy Reid’s crafted tote (above) on our MAKESHIFT Conversations Image Quilt.



Yohji Yamamoto has been a hero of mine since I graduated from design school. I once saw him walking down the streets of Milan, Italy, not long after I started working in the New York garment district, and felt that I had made the big time. “Walking on the same street as Yohji Yamamoto?” I thought.  It was a momentary highlight in my career that I remember like it was yesterday.

He is known as an avant garde Japanese designer and famous for his intricate designs and impeccable tailoring. He often experiments with different draping methods and varied fabric textures. Yamamoto is also known to integrate wabi sabi, an ever-changing state of beauty, simplicity, and asymmetry, combined with an appreciation for natural elements, into his design aesthetic.

The fashion website Showstudio launched Design Download – “a series demystifying the fashion process by offering prestigious designer garment patterns for download” –  with a Yamamoto pattern for a jacket in classic Yamamoto style. He remained mysterious about the process, revealing very little, and challenging the maker to pay close attention to detail, shape, and technique. There is no “how-to,” like you would find with a traditional pattern. Design Download calls this piece a “mystery garment,” telling the reader that the “photographs of the piece hold the visual key to stitching together your own.”

DIY YOHJI YAMAMOTO - Photograph by Abraham Rowe

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

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


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

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


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Amos Kennedy became an artist in an unusual way. At age 40, he left his corporate, white-collar job and secure middle class life to pursue a passion for printing, took to wearing overalls, and learned to live on an artist’s salary. He prints posters for The People, keeping the message clear and the price affordable. His work ranges from the inspirational to the informative, often creating and printing work for festivals and events. In 2008, filmmaker Laura Zinger directed “Proceed and Be Bold,” a documentary about Amos Kennedy and his non-traditional path into the art world.


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Kristen Wentrcek is the founder, owner, designer, and creative director of Wintercheck Factory, a Brooklyn, New York, manufacturer producing American-made, design-focused goods for living. Wintercheck Factory began designing and manufacturing furniture in 2009 and soon after, expanded into soft goods, including apparel, accessories, and home goods with a balance of aesthetic and functionality.

During MAKESHIFT 2013, Kristen Wentrcek joined us as a presenter and moderator for MAKESHIFT @ The Standard, an evening of conversation and making centered around the concepts of fashion, food, design, craft, and DIY and where they intersect. As a presenter, she helped lead the conversation, moving between three groups of makers and along with other presenters, shared her experiences with starting and running Wintercheck Factory, and how the elements of fashion, food, design, craft, and DIY have impacted her venture. She also re-crafted the above tote for the MAKESHIFT Conversations Image Quilt.

Kristen joins us today for a brief Q&A about Wintercheck Factory, making, American manufacturing, and MAKESHIFT.

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

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


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

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


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


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For those of you who sew often, you likely understand how something as simple as draping fabric can also be very complex. For those of you who don’t, or who are novice sewers, the technique of fabric draping can involve more than just hanging fabric in a lovely way. It is not likely that a Roman emperor casually tossed a bed sheet over his shoulder one day and called it a toga, just as it isn’t likely that a lovely red carpet gown accidentally folds so perfectly around the waist of a posing starlet.

Technically, draping is the ability of a fabric to fall under its own weight into wavy folds. There are different strategies based upon the weight and stiffness of the fabric, its flexibility and tendency to stretch, and the general effect of gravity upon the fabric. Some softer, more flexible fabrics will make drapes that ripple and are more form fitting; stiffer and thicker fabrics will have less flow. When designing patterns, adding draping to your design increases the pattern-making difficulty immensely.


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

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

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



Yesterday, I wrote about my appreciation of hand-painted signs, inspired by the book Sign Painters, authored by friend Faythe Levine with Sam Macon. Faythe and Sam have directed a documentary – also called Sign Painters, as a companion to the book.

In 2008, Faythe co-authored and directed a book and film, both named Handmade Nation: The Rise of Craft and DIY. We welcomed her to Alabama last April for our Visiting Artist Series, where she highlighted “craftivism” and brought her light-hearted stories to the Factory. This summer she has taken Sign Painters on the road for a series of screenings.

Faythe has an itinerant spirit. She states in the book’s preface, “Many of my earliest memories involve travel, much of which was by car. I’d stare out the window of the family station wagon and watch America transition from one place to the next.”



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

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


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This past February, Alabama Chanin partnered with the team at Craftsy, an online community of makers who offer projects, craft ideas, and courses on dozens of topics. Our online class, Hand-Embellishing Knit Fabric: Stenciling, Appliqué, Beading, and Embroidery, has provided us with a new way to interact with our fellow makers and has given us the opportunity to share just a few of the techniques that we teach in our Workshops.

We have talked before about the concept of online learning and how the Internet is making education opportunities that were once expensive and inconvenient cheaper and more accessible. Enrolling in online courses takes geography out of the equation. It is no longer essential to sit in a physical classroom with other participants. You don’t have to plan your life around when classes are scheduled. Online classes, like our Craftsy course, allow you the opportunity to learn the same stitches and techniques as someone on the other side of the country, or the world.

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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.


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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.


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This year, with MAKESHIFT 2013, we expand ideas that were born from MAKESHIFT 2012 to create a global conversation among artists, designers, and makers. The first part of the MAKESHIFT 2013 SERIES took place at the Standard, East Village where panelists and conversation guides Cathy Bailey – Heath Ceramics,