Sharing good food and good company with friends and family have brought some of our best memories over the years, at both The Factory Café and at home.
Holidays, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve (which will all be here before you know it) allow you to open your own home to family and friends to share fellowship and some of your favorite recipes.
At the heart of those holiday meals is a welcoming table. The School of Making created a simple and eco-friendly decorating option for our café tables: a DIY stenciled table runner.
This table runner works up quickly; simply cut a piece of 18” wide kraft paper the length of your table (or use the width and lengths of your choice). Using our Textile Paint, an airbrush gun, and your favorite School of Making stencil, paint the design all over the paper, at each end, or however your creativity guides you. Let the paint dry completely and the runner is ready to use.
You could also utilize your own stencil or paint a design free-hand. To reduce waste, for your next gathering flip the paper over and stencil a new design on the blank side.
Share how you plan to stencil your table runner and some of your family’s favorite recipes in the comments below.
This Valentine’s Day, plan a night in—our Leisure Collection makes lounging comfortable, stylish, and sustainable. Dare we say you might even wear some of the garments out into the world.
We’ve designed undergarments and layering styles like our tank, boyshorts, and a long sleep dress in soft organic cotton rib-knit and a cozy cardigan, turtleneck, robe, and “thermals” in a plush waffle fabric. The fabric weights complement themselves to keep you warm.
And set the scene at home with glassware from The Shelter Collection and our organic cotton jersey napkins.
We have often expressed our preference for cooking with cast iron. Cast iron pans are workhorse tools that, when properly cared for, can last for decades. It is a sustainable choice and a well-seasoned skillet forms a non-stick surface. Plus, once it’s hot, it really stays hot. While we have not abandoned our heirloom skillets or sturdy Lodge cookware, cooking with the Smithey Cast Iron Skillet has upped our searing skills tremendously.
It is with all of this in mind that we created cast-iron specific pieces for our current Canvas Cook + Dine Collection. The Canvas Handle Cover, Canvas Double Oven Mitt, Canvas Oven Mitt, and Canvas Potholder are designed to stand up to the heat of cast iron cookware and are quilted from cotton canvas with organic cotton jersey trim.
Because cast iron cookware is solid and does not have a separately attached handle, it follows that when the pan gets hot, the handle gets just as scorching. Our handle covers are designed to fit various sizes of pan handles, which helps when you have an assortment (or an enthusiastic collection) of pans from different decades and different makers.
The Double Oven Mitt is especially useful when removing large or heavy pots and pans from the oven because it provides equal protection for both hands. It also protects your arms when moving dishes from the kitchen to the table. The Canvas Oven Mitt has a classic design and will become a regular part of your daily cooking routine. The Canvas Potholder can be used in the kitchen or on your table, protecting surfaces from hot pans and cookware. The folded oven mitt style features an opening on one side for hands and pot handles.
We use these items with all of our pots and pans—not just cast iron. But we find that the heavy, quilted canvas stands up to the heat of cast iron better than most items in the kitchen. View these pieces and the rest of our Cook + Dine Collection here.
Our Leisure Collection offers everything you’ll need to get cozy at home—organic knit loungewear, soft throws, soulful music, and sweet treats. Wrap up, make a Brandy Milk Punch (pg. 9 of the Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails) or bake up a batch of cookies (The Cherry Bombe Cookbook shares a recipe for Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip), daydream, rest, relish.
Made using cozy 100% organic cotton waffle knit fabric in modern silhouettes, our loungewear styles include a robe, undergarments, sleepwear, and comfortable separates that are versatile and easy—tops, leggings, and pullovers. Our favorite is the Hooded Waffle Turtleneck—a combination turtleneck and hooded pullover.
The waffle fabric is plush and in a true thermal-style (but better). If you are familiar with our medium- and lightweight jersey and rib knit fabrics, you’ll find this fabric thicker and snugger to fit—and very warm.
Our undergarments—Boyshorts, Bloomers, Crop Tank, and a Slip Dress—are made of our super soft rib-knit fabric. The styles have feminine details like lightweight trims and satin-smooth elastic to make you feel comfortable and sexy.
With versatility in mind, we designed many of our loungewear garments to easily incorporate into the everyday wardrobe. If your loungewear looks and feels good, why leave it at home?
Explore our new Leisure Collection with organic knit loungewear—seed-to-shelf Made in the USA.
Some years fly by and others seem to drag on forever; 2016 kept us at a steady pace at Alabama Chanin. We have been able to focus on refining our methods and more deeply developing our different avenues of work—from the design team to workshops to collections and collaborations. It is possible that 2017 could be a year of major transition across our country, so before life gets more hectic, we would like to look back and appreciate what we accomplished in the past year.
We added an important member to our design team, Erin Reitz, who brings a fresh point of view and is helping us expand our way of thinking about design. In addition to her work as a designer, Erin and her business partner Kerry Speake own The Commons, a Charleston-based shop selling American-made home goods. Through The Commons, the two developed their own line of tableware called The Shelter Collection. We partnered with their team to create The Shelter Collection @ Alabama Chanin and we think it works perfectly alongside our collaborative collection with Heath Ceramics.
In May, we launched Collection #30. Our ongoing partnership with Nest helped us understand how to best integrate our machine-made garments into our larger collection, and we folded our basics, essentials, machine-made, and handmade garments together into one cohesive group. The collection featured Coral, Maize, and Pink color stories, highlighted Art Nouveau-style floral embroideries, and included an expanded selection of our popular new knitwear pieces. We also introduced new garments, including updated tunics, jackets, and pants. Our collection of home goods also expanded, with new selections in canvas and more machine-sewn kitchen textiles.
As part of The School of Making, last year we launched the Host a Party program that offered our DIY customers the opportunity to organize their own sewing parties for friends and family. The positive feedback we received allowed us to expand our offerings for the upcoming year. In 2016, we also began our Build a Wardrobe subscription service, which released four new garment patterns to participants—one each quarter. The program’s goal is to help to makers expand their handmade, sustainable wardrobes based on each individual’s personal style. This coming year, Build a Wardrobe features the Factory Dress, Car Coat, Wrap Dress, and Drawstring Pant/Skirt; subscribers can join at any point in the year.
We also launched a collaboration with Spoonflower—a North Carolina-based web company that allows individuals to design, print, and sell their own fabrics—that allowed us to create custom Alabama Chanin organic cotton jersey. The first run of our limited-edition, pre-printed fabric sold out almost immediately, but look for more printed offerings to cycle in and out.
As part of our expanded workshop offerings, Alabama Chanin hosted its first workshop abroad, at Chateau Dumas in Auty, France. In addition to our sewing curriculum, we were able to explore ornate interiors and architecture, shop at unique markets, and experience woad dyeing for the first time. The weeklong event was picturesque, and we hope to be able to offer another similar event soon.
Recognizing that our team is a top priority, we continued to invest in our staff this year through special staff development programs and updated policies that encourage everyone to have a work-life balance. We use Zingerman’s and Patagonia as examples to create a company culture that is conducive, not only to our employees but to the community and environment. From documenting our processes to ensuring that our information is open source and accessible company-wide, we work to preserve the stories, methods, and history of the company while making way for new ideas and improved ways of doing.
There is so much in store for Alabama Chanin in 2017. We hope that—if you have not already—you will sign up for our mailing list and newsletter and follow along on social media for updates. Wishing all of you a safe New Year, filled with love, care, hope, and empathy.
P.S. – The grids shown here are a gallery of the promotional postcards our team made for The Factory and images of various events and programs over the course of the year. What a great year—and so much to look forward to in 2017.
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.
Our Cook + Dine textiles help you set a beautiful table year-round. Mix and match our solid, colorblock, and hand-painted designs with varied materials and textures in your kitchen, like our Heath Ceramics dinnerware, Etched Glasses, and Shelter Collection glassware—or your own pieces that have been gathered, passed down, and collected over the years.
Made from organic cotton, our kitchen textiles are machine sewn in our Building 14 facility. They’re designed and made right here in our headquarters in Florence and include Top-Stitch Placemats and Coasters, Colorblock Napkins, and our Aria Tea Towels and Apron.
We celebrate more artisan made with the introduction of new kitchen goods from Edward Wohl Woodworking and Design and Smithey Ironware Co—both Made-in-America companies. You can find Wohl’s Maple Cutting Boards and Smithey’s Cast Iron Skillet in the Cook + Dine section of our website. And look for more about each of these companies on the Journal next week.
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.
There is sometimes no greater pleasure than planning for holiday get-togethers and the excitement that goes along with them. Many of us have traditions we look forward to all year, and family or friends that we only see on special occasions. There is meaning to be found in the —smallest things, from preparing a dish or setting the table—or doing the dishes together. You wash, and I’ll dry.
In an effort to get things just right, it is possible to let preparations overshadow the occasion, shifting the attention from the people to the scenery. The easiest way to avoid this is to involve more people in the process—to allow the event to become more of a collaboration. It really is okay to let someone else choose the napkins, and even really young children can set the table with just a little help.
The table will never be the most important part of a holiday, but it is our gathering place. Mismatched plates can make as beautiful a place setting as your grandmother’s wedding china, as long as there is a seat for everyone. Our newest home goods collection is designed for almost anyone’s table (holiday or not). These new machine-sewn items are meant to be practical, but beautiful and are available in an array of colors and designs. Our new offerings include: Top-Stitch Coasters, Top-Stitch Placemats, and Colorblock Napkins. Shop our updated home collection, alongside other carefully curated kitchen and dining items here.
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
The apron is a versatile garment—equally functioning to protect clothes from the dirtiest of labor, or to signify gentility and hospitality. It can be associated with cooking, cleaning, and hard work and, for many, is a symbol of home and humility, worn in the daily rituals of pulling a pan from the oven or wiping sawdust from hands.
Tying on an apron is a statement of readiness for the possibilities of a new project, and the perseverance to finish. Whether baking, gardening, or exploring an art project, an apron is the sign of a maker.
Part of our newest home collection, the Tony Apron is sewn from 100% organic cotton canvas and hand stenciled with a geometric pattern in pale, neutral shades. It features crossed back ties, a center pocket, and two waist pockets.
Shop the Tony Apron here.
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
Alabama Chanin as a business was founded on the idea of a quilting stitch. And although it took me months to realize that I was actually quilting as I pieced together those first cut up t-shirts, the knowledge of those quilting stitches came from my most elemental childhood experiences. Growing up in the south, at the time of my upbringing, quilts were simply a part of everyday life. While quilting has become an integral part of my life, I’ve never become a quilter.
Even so, I have a deep love for the modern day quilts of my friends and colleagues. We’ve written about, and shared, many different kinds of quilts in our own canon: There are the Textile Story quilts that are beloved Alabama Chanin pieces, and there are the other traditional-style quilts (Flag Quilt, Indigo Star) we’ve made modern by substituting cotton jersey for the plain-weave quilting cotton.
All this to say that I don’t tend to collect quilting books, I’ve never joined a quilt along, and although I LONG for a Long Arm Quilting machine, stitching two-layers of cotton jersey together by hand is as far as I’ve gotten. This may all change because of Heather Jones’ new book Quilt Local. One-part inspiration, one-part quilting instruction, the beautiful quilts make me rethink my quilting stance. Denyse Schmidt writes in the foreword:
“I know how deceptively difficult is is to produce work that is restrained. When I began making quilts, the medium had an ingrained habit of ‘more is more.’ It can be easy to impress with virtuoso sewing skills, use of abundant, and vibrant color, and complicated visual tricks. Plenty of prints and patchwork can distract our attention, but it is much more skillful—and brave—to find the purest expression of form, to let the poetry of composition and color have the say, to not overcomplicate or muddle the message with needless flourishes. The results, as seen in Heather’s quilts, are breathtaking in their stark beauty, and they can engage our interest for a lifetime.”
My design sense is thoroughly inspired by Heather’s plan. I can imagine a hundred color combinations and a quilt for every room, every friend, every day. I’m in love with Dayton No. 2 as shown above in a single layer of our medium-weight organic cotton jersey. And although one could go ahead and add a backing layer and quilting (by hand or machine), I’m going to use mine as a throw for spring nights on my new outdoor couch.
There is so much to love about this book. From the short lesson on color theory to the modern designs, there is a lifetime of inspiration.
Thank you, Heather. You’ve converted me.
Quilt Local by Heather Jones
3.5 yards 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey for background
3/4 yard 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey for band
1/4 yard 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey for cross
Button Craft thread
Basic sewing supplies: scissors, pins, needles, ruler, rotary cutter
Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, or Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns: All four of these books contain the basic sewing techniques we used to make our version of this quilt.
We followed Heather’s instructions for the Quilt Top on pages 82-83 of Quilt Local and substituted the woven cotton of the project for our cotton jersey. We constructed with our seams outside (on the face of the project) and floating (not felling) and left our edges raw. When using cotton jersey, remember to wrap stitch the beginning and end of each seam.
- For an embellished version of the throw, cut double layers of medium-weight cotton jersey and stencil the outer-layer. Before construction, add any embroidery, appliqué, and/or beading to the individual cut pieces following instructions from our Alabama Studio Book Series. After completing your desired embellishments, construct as described above. A blanket stitch around outer layer is optional.
- For a heavier-weight throw, cut double layers of medium-weight cotton jersey and pin together before construction. Finish this double-layer throw with a blanket stitch all the way around the outside edge.
- Back your finished throw with a single layer of medium-weight cotton jersey and quilt the two layers together using the quilting stitch pattern of your choice.
OUR DESIGN CHOICES
Fabric – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Background fabric color – Parchment
Band fabric color – Natural
Cross fabric color – Indigo
Treatment – Basic
Button Craft Thread – Dogwood #155 and Cream #256
Knots – Inside
Seam placement – Outside floating
And a few of my other favorite designs:
Just over a year ago we launched our line of Alabama Chanin candles. Since then, they have become one of our most popular gift items. We worked diligently to find the right collaborator for this project and are lucky to have found DPM Fragrance, a regionally-owned business in Starkville, Mississippi.
The company, once named Aspen Bay Candles, was purchased by its current owner Tom Reed in 2001. Since then, Reed has added Capri Blue and Found Goods Market collections to the Aspen Bay brand and renamed the company DPM Fragrance. Each product line has a different aesthetic with distinctive scents, packaging, and branding.
DPM shares many of the same goals, like local production, as Alabama Chanin—and their success at impacting the local economy is impressive. When it began, DPM employed about 15 people; today, it employs over 150—with a plan to expand and hire over 100 more in the works. The company was listed for the past three years as one of Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America. (In order to qualify for the list, you have to sustain 100% growth rate over a three-year time period, meaning that DPM has met that criteria for at least 5 years in a row.)
Like Alabama Chanin, DPM also works to source as many of their materials as possible in the United States. They use American-made wax and fragrance oils and utilize American-made glass whenever they can. The company produces with an eye towards increased sustainability, using all-natural soy wax blends, natural wicks, and recycled materials for their glass and packaging whenever possible.
We have witnessed the effect that employee investment has in our own successes and DPM sees the same kind of impact. They collaborate on the best processes for production with their employees, who are thoughtful and detail oriented in their work. Each of the candles is wicked by hand, poured by hand, labeled by hand, and carefully packed by hand. Some of their production employees have worked at the company for over a decade (and some for almost 2 decades).
As part of their company bio, DPM notes: Though it is not always easy, our team stands behind the established principles of the handmade product, where craftsmen with years of candle making experience bring our visions to life. Every candle we produce is created to make a lasting impression – each having been thoughtfully designed, delicately poured, and proudly packaged in our home of Starkville, Mississippi.
Last year, the company produced over 1.8 million candles that were sold in stores like Urban Outfitters, Crate and Barrel, Nordstrom, West Elm, and Anthropologie—where their Volcano scent has become known as the boutique’s signature fragrance. We burn our Alabama Chanin Grapefruit + Watercress scented candles both at home and at The Factory year round, since the scent is light and fresh—and appropriate for any season. It makes a wonderful gift as, once you burn your candle, you can repurpose the glassware as a drinking vessel or for dozens of other purposes. It’s like two gifts in one.
Bottom two photos courtesy of DPM Fragrances
In 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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…
- 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…
- 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.
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”.
“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.
At Alabama Chanin, we frequently speak about the concepts of Slow Design and sustainability. We attempt to create a healthy environment so that we can create healthy products. Part of being sustainable means we take great care in the materials that we source to create our products; it also means that the processes we use to create use the most non-destructive methods possible. We keep this goal of sustainability in mind at every stage of production—from concept to final product. In our attempts to be a well-rounded, holistic company, we take inspiration from farmers and the Slow Food movement—where the results of one production process become fuel for another.
Our Alabama Chanin Candles, with a seasonal Grapefruit + Watercress scent, are the newest addition to Home + Table. Hand-poured in Mississippi, the soy candles feature our floral Magdalena pattern and a graphic Diamond design, inspired by vintage glassware that I’ve collected over the years.
Once you burn your candle, clean the 6 oz. votive with boiling water, and reuse it to hold odds-and-ends, as a salt canister—or my favorite—a tumbler for juice, wine, or cocktails.
Without fail, the arrival of autumn marks the season of all things pumpkin. From pumpkin bread, to pumpkin scented candles, to my daughter Maggie’s annual visit to The Pumpkin Patch, the pumpkin is an essential part of the seasonal change. Just ask any coffee shop employee who hears the cry for Pumpkin Spice Latte dozens (or hundreds) of times each day. In celebration of Halloween and in the spirit of the autumn season, we thought we would re-share our tribute to all things pumpkin. We have also added links to pumpkin carving tutorials and seasonal recipes.
Pumpkins are a form of squash, native to North America. Over 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced in America each year. This fruit (and, because it develops from a flower, it is technically a fruit and not a vegetable) is the most common symbol of the fall season and Halloween. Pumpkins are present in our literary and popular culture, making appearances in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, and Cinderella.
The act of carving pumpkins dates back thousands of years to the Celtic festival of Samuin, or Samhain. This festival marked the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of harvest and it was used as a time to honor the dead. Some believed that this was the night when the separation between the worlds of the living and the dead was the thinnest, making it easier to communicate with those on the “other side.” Celts who sought to ward off evil spirits would often light great bonfires to dissuade unfriendly visitors. As Christianity spread, the fires became more contained and were placed inside large gourds or turnips. Families would carve the fruits and vegetables, placing them in their windows and hoping to deter the otherworldly from entering their homes.
We continuously strive for a healthy work/play balance here at Alabama Chanin. And so we found ourselves charmed by The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, by Suzanne Pollak and Lee Manigault, which manages to combine elements of work, domestic pursuits, and modern living.
Pollak and Manigault created the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits (located in Charleston, North Carolina) in 2011 – after meeting at a dinner party – in hopes of teaching the value and importance of domestic home life. The Academy’s unique curriculum includes everything from cocktail-party etiquette and business entertaining, to dealing with household guests and cooking for the holidays.
Each month, as part of our Swatch of the Month Club, we are demonstrating some of our most popular techniques so that you might try your hand at creating new designs and embroideries. If you join the Swatch of the Month Club, you will receive a ready-to-sew package each month with the supplies needed to make that month’s unique piece. Just provide your own needles, pins, and scissors (or purchase an Essential Sewing Kit from our online store). Techniques and instruction can be found in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.
With the launch of the new collection and several new fabric colors, we have also updated our selection of cocktail napkins and organic cotton jersey dinner napkins to include fresh, new, seasonal colors.
The neutrals and greens (shown above) are a nice reminder that spring is on the way. Lime—a color exclusive to collection pieces (until now)—is being offered as both a cocktail and organic cotton dinner napkin color and will give your bar or kitchen area a nice pop of color.
Previously, our line of cocktail napkins was limited to five colors: Sand, Baby Blue, Forest, Carmine, and Burgundy. The selection now includes 15 colors: Denim, Storm Blue, Navy, Baby Blue, White, Plum, Ochre, Butter, Nude, Natural, Tea, Emerald, Lime, Burgundy, and Dark Grey.
Holidays often mean family visits, friends and neighbors stopping by unannounced, parties, and dinners. But, all of this merriment can come with a bit of chaos, rushing around, and readying for all of these events. Avoiding clutter may be impossible, but there are easy ways to help make your home look holiday ready at a moment’s notice. Our DIY Round Facets Pillow kit is part of our limited-time Handmade Holiday collection and is a small enough project to complete before the holiday season begins in earnest.
The 12” round pillow is based on a pattern from Alabama Studio Style and features our 2013 Holiday Facets stencil with reverse appliqué, eyelet embroidery, and beading.
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.
Pumpkin carving has a deep-rooted history in American culture. As a child, my family always used the butcher knife/three-triangles-and-a-mouth method. Today, there are specialized carving tools available from a range of sources. Martha Stewart, a lover of all things Halloween, has brought pumpkin carving to a new level, offering creative designs and techniques. Meanwhile, Maggie’s dad, Butch, looks for the strangest pumpkins available and stacks them in towering sculptures before Halloween, and then plants rows and rows of the leftover seeds in his garden after the holiday.
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.
I’ve been thinking about painting my back porch and deck white since it was built last summer. After all, we spend about fifty percent of our time out there. I’ve long disliked the toxicity of commercial paints on the market. Most common indoor and outdoor household paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs contain a variety of chemicals, some of which give off noxious fumes and may have short term or long term adverse health effects. According to the EPA, levels of some VOCs are 2 to 5 times higher inside a home than outside; when you are painting or stripping paint in your home, particularly in older homes where lead paint may have been used in the past, indoor levels of VOCs may be 1000 times that of outdoor levels. I’ve used VOC-free paints for all of my indoor and outdoor painting since they came on the market some years back.
In thinking about my outdoor living area, I wanted to investigate additional ways to paint more safely, and came across two options that I could possibly make myself: whitewash and milk paint. Whitewashing, which many of us remember from Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, was commonly used for years because it is inexpensive, can be homemade, and homeowners could use ingredients they had on-hand, improvising their own recipes. It is still used in rural areas to protect wooden surfaces like fences and barns, or by designers who want to give furniture a rustic look. The mixture’s base is always lime and water, which makes a chalky type of plaster. Then, ingredients might be added to thicken or strengthen the mixture, like flour, glue, sugar, soap, soil, or milk.
Popular culture, social media, and our peers are all embracing a trend in home gardening across the country (though few of these gardens are as radical as Ron Finley’s median-turned-vegetable-garden project in Los Angeles). A guest for dinner last night mentioned that “even Oprah is on trend now,” having planted her own garden. Here in North Alabama, the home garden is hardly a trend. Most people grow at least a couple of tomato and pepper plants every summer. And if you take a drive down one of our many county roads, you’re likely to see large swaths of lawn devoted to food, with neat rows of summer vegetables stretching over red blankets of Alabama clay.
I’ve had a garden since I moved into my house in 2006. Putting it in might take only a weekend, but the cultivation takes years. However, it’s the week-to-week management that becomes difficult. When temperatures reach 98 degrees in the shade (and stays there for days on end) keeping up with the insects, weeds, the harvest, and watering becomes quite the challenge. Making time becomes stealing time. This is why my generous fall garden was still in the ground in late May, every kale or broccoli plant flowered and well on its way to seed.
The practice of numbering houses supposedly began in Paris in the 1500’s. Having a house number is something we don’t give a second thought to these days, but they have not always been used and they certainly have not always been popular.
Some countries have numbered zones, requirements for the number of digits, double sets of numbers, and different color street numbers for different purposes, like upstairs and downstairs. Every country, state, city, or county seems to have their own numbering system. Early numbering systems were developed for the controversial purposes of census taking, drafting men into the military, taxation, creating borders, and other government functions. They were not created for their current purpose: ease of navigation. No matter the country, modern day houses are often required to be numbered for purposes of delivering mail or in case emergency services are needed.
Early identification methods didn’t involve numbers at all. If you wanted to identify or contact the residents of a home, you used the house’s name. But house names were not always displayed, there was no central directory, and sometimes there was more than one house with the same name. This meant that locals could find other locals, but outsiders had a difficult time finding their way around. When the idea of numbering houses was introduced, the idea was not incredibly popular, as it was seen by many as a form of government control.
Today, in modern day America, there is no set standard for how streets get numbered, but there are some practices that are used often. For instance, odd numbered houses are almost always on one side of the street, and even numbered houses are on the opposite side. Some cities are designed as grids with a center point; each block that moves farther from the center increases by 100 (2nd, 3rd, 4th Avenue, etc.) and directional modifiers are determined based upon this point (2nd Avenue North, for example).
My father has been hounding me for years about numbering my house. I’ve never been sure why it was important, since I get my mail and people seem to find the place pretty easily. But, when I saw these numbered tiles, part of a collaboration between House Industries and Heath Ceramics, I coveted house numbers. House Industries creates beautiful fonts and designs, often from unusual or inspired origins. Their typography can take inspiration from a number of sources, blending musical, cultural, and graphic elements. Their design aesthetic works perfectly with the Heath brand. Both companies focus on craftsmanship and forming partnerships and each of them use a hands-on approach when creating products. I purchased the Neutra numbers, but there is also an Eames-inspired collection that is just as beautiful.
I guess my house will not remain incognito anymore. I like that the house numbers add warmth to the entrance and my father is happy to know my house is now properly attired.
June’s Desktop of the Month celebrates the idea of collaboration. Alabama Chanin @ Heath Ceramics have worked together to create some beautiful pieces that we have loved and put to good use. But, this pattern, The Camellia, highlights the intersection of design and craftsmanship perfectly; the white glaze shows off the intricate hand-etched floral pattern and the pattern, itself, compliments the curves and shapes of the place settings. You can purchase the available pieces from Heath Ceramics or our online store. Or, download this desktop image to brighten your workspace.
Lately, we’ve dedicated several journal posts to Mom in anticipation of her holiday this Sunday. Mother’s Day often feels like a holiday remembered at the last minute – a rush to find a card, a brunch reservation in lieu of a gift. But when we started brainstorming for posts about mom a few months ago, we began looking at women, and mothers, through a different lens and gained a deeper appreciation for the women who birthed us, nurture us, care for us, and stand by us through everything.
The Dust-to-Digital book and CD compilation Never a Pal Like Mother is a collection of vintage photographs of and commercial recordings about mother. It’s an unusual and unique gift for any book lover. Just one of several Dust-to-Digital publications we sell in our online store, it may be our favorite.
Our post on Mom and the Casserole explored the history of the American casserole, a memory most of us share and strongly associate with Mom.
We dug deeper into The Craft of Midwifery, possibly the oldest DIY pursuit known to (wo)mankind, and the growing interest in home births.
Mark Twain’s Advice to Little Girls added some much needed humor to our routine.
We look forward to Sunday and sharing a few moments (not just a card) with our mothers (and those who have mothered us) and perhaps a few moments mothering ourselves.
We wish you all a HAPPY MOTHERS’ DAY—whatever that means for you…
xo from all of us @ Alabama Chanin
We’ve loved every plate, bowl and serving dish from our collaboration with Heath Ceramics that has come through the studio. But it’s this newest addition, the Camellia pattern, that is easily my favorite, and the most elegant. Each piece is hand-etched by a Heath Ceramics artisan and comes in Opaque White. The design is offered on the Deep Serving Bowl, Dinner Plate, and a Serving Platter, and is a natural addition to the current Alabama Chanin @ Heath Ceramics collection.
We spend a good bit of time in the kitchen, planning meals and testing out new recipes to share, while I spend evenings trying to please the taste buds of my picky eater. I’ve found that kitchen twine has a number of uses, including trussing or tying meat when cooking or when you want to keep a stuffing firmly placed inside of something. Use it to tie fresh herbs in a bouquet garni or bouquet garnish (see recipe below) or wrap bacon on the outside of your roast or bird. I also use my twine for tying up birthday presents and pony tails—and stuffed animals at my house are often doctored with bits of twine. You might also try making our Knotted Necklace with this twine. It is thinner than our Cotton Jersey Pulls but made in the same way.
Twine, especially for use in the kitchen, shouldn’t be made from synthetic materials (they can melt or chemicals can seep into your food), and we’ve found this organic, non-toxic option works perfectly.
It’s been unseasonably cool these last weeks. Most days, it’s been too chilly to fling the windows wide open and really enjoy the weather. Though we’re only just beginning to see the signs of an Alabama spring season, we’re preparing our supplies to begin the task of spring cleaning. We’ve previously shared some wabi-sabi cleaning tips, but thought we would share another post of our favorite cleaning tips and recipes for those of you who are also in the spring cleaning spirit.
We’re not quite in the cocktail business (yet), though we seem to be sneaking behind the bar more and more lately. Our collaboration with Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. brought about the Jack Rudy Bar Towel, which we featured early last month along with the Jack Rudy Small Batch Tonic, both available for purchase on our website.
Last week, our friend Brooks Reitz of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. sent us a beautiful, hand-written thank you note, along with a bottle of their newest creation – Small Batch Grenadine. Handcrafted in Napa Valley, the grenadine arrived just in time for our latest addition: the Alabama Chanin Cocktail Napkin.
I’ve mentioned this a few times here on the Journal: I am a grandmother. And in the photo above, you see our sweet Stella Ruth. Her hands, clearly visible, are surrounded by my son Zach’s, my dad’s, my grandmother’s, and mine. That’s right—five generations. You may have seen pictures of five generations in newspapers and on blogs but when it happens to you, it does feel somewhat monumental.
This is my second five generation photo. The photo at the bottom is 20-year-old Natalie with four-month-old Zach, my father at 40, my grandmother at 60, and my great grandmother, who we called Granny Lou, at 80. (While I am definitely not promoting teenage pregnancy, it makes it easier to get to five generations into a photo when you each have a baby at 20!)
Mending is not something we – as a culture – spend a lot of time doing these days. Fast fashion and mass consumerism has taught us to simply throw older or imperfect items away and replace them with newer versions. I am all for the “Sewing Schoolyard” – let’s teach ourselves and our kids to mend – a satisfying task.
My favorite, 10-year old tea towels have seen better days; but, I just can’t find the perfect replacement. I use our Alabama Chanin Tea Towels for most kitchen tasks but these have just given me so much kitchen love that I can’t bear to part with them.
In perfect wabi-sabi style, Olivia – our Studio Assistant (and budding pattern maker) – mended my old tea towels using scraps of our organic cotton jersey and Button Craft thread. Using applique in combination with seed, whip and eyelet stitches, she repaired the holes and covered the stains. Perfect.
Biographies, philosophy, design, recipes, and all the subjects in-between are the stuff of my dreams. I would venture to say that I’ve found a treasure beginning with most library call numbers, and, of course, do my best not to judge any book by its cover. To say my love affair with reading is an important part of my life would be an understatement.
Our library at The Factory and the stacks of books throughout my home are growing at alarming (and satisfying) rates. I wish that time allowed me to discuss in detail all of the fabulous books that my friends, supporters, and my publisher have chosen to share with me. Robyn Griggs Lawrence’s Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House recently landed on my desk. The simple, unassuming (wabi-sabi) cover almost went unnoticed in the big stack of books I’ve been eager to conquer.
The Alabama Chanin office we will be closed for business today.
Everyone is now very busy in preparation for important snowball fights, snow men and snow cream.
Enjoy the moment.
MAGGIE’S SNOW CREAM
Mix together, tasting often:
1 cup fresh whipped cream
1 cup fresh snow
Sugar and vanilla to taste
Thank you to Jamie, David and Luke for coming to Alabama to shoot this short film featuring a story from Alabama Chanin.
And to everyone at Starbucks who felt that our story deserved to be shared…
Happy holidays from our family to yours,
Natalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin
For a decade, my work at Alabama Chanin has been made possible by our artisans. Without them and our amazing staff, there would be no Alabama Chanin.
Many of the artisans working with us today are the very same women who sewed those first deconstructed t-shirts. I want to express my deep gratitude. Wielding needle and thread for a decade, they have brought beauty, laughter, amazement and joy to my life and company (not to mention all the garments, home-furnishings and projects along the way).
Over the decade, they have ranged in age from 20 to 80; among them have been secretaries, students, former textile mill employees, retired school teachers, and single mothers. They are mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters, husbands, wives and friends but above all, they have proven talented, committed and proud to do the work they do.
Thanks to each and every one of you who has passed through our door- it has been a wonderful (and still growing) adventure…
*Photos from Elizabeth DeRamus
My daughter Maggie was digging around in a drawer the other day and found a deck of cards from New Orleans that my son, Zach, bought over fifteen years ago. They were purchased at the gift shop of a paddle boat on the Mississippi River. It was New Year’s Day and I remember that we thought the ride was a little boring and turned to playing Gin Rummy for distraction.
Since that time, the deck disappeared, has been buried in drawers, carted around the world and surfaced this week only because Maggie is ALL about playing cards these days. She pulled out the cards – called Louisiana Cajun: Deck O’ Meals and we started playing using rules from UNO.
You might remember seeing these “Deck O’ Meals” cards at one time or another; each card has a Cajun recipe on the face-side and the front of each card is an illustration of recipe ingredients like shrimp, lobster, okra, bell peppers, etc. Because of these illustrations, Maggie deemed our new game “Shrimp, Lobster, Okra.” The other day as we were playing, she was in the lead, got down to one card and when the excitement overcame her she screamed out “SHRIMP!”
Zach and I have had such a laugh and, of course, the rules of the game now require the winner to yell “SHRIMP.” I actually caught Zach yesterday morning reading the recipes and day dreaming of New Orleans. One of the best cards – the 8 of Diamonds – includes a recipe for “Smothered Alligator.”
I got on the web this morning and found out that the cards are actually quite well-known and the recipes have circulated through all sorts of sites. According to my (brief) research, it seems that the recipes themselves are highly rated. I suggest that every family order a few decks for holiday gifts and spend some time playing (and perhaps eating) “Shrimp, Lobster, Okra.”
I wrote to our long-ago traveling companion to remind him of our “Deck O’ Meals” on the Mississippi River: “Funny how things from the past will jump up and grab you when least expected.”
“Shrimp, Lobster, Okra” or the Louisiana Cajun: Deck O’ Meals
Thanks to all the folks @ CasaSugar for including my home in their House Tours. I feel very grateful for our little home It has been a great house, an even better neighborhood, and a lovely place to raise little Maggie.
I pulled our holiday decorations out of the attic today and will work on adding holiday pictures and projects over the next weeks:
Thank you for coming for a visit.
Thank you to everyone who showed patience today as our new website launched.
Thank you for all the kind emails.
Thank you to everyone who has made the launch of this new site a reality.
Thank you to all the staff and artisans at Alabama Chanin.
Thank you to friends and family.
Thank you to Lisa Eisner and Roman Alonso.
Thank you to everyone at Commune, NoFavorite and GAS Studio.
Everybody needs a little red, white and blue…
I have missed having a camera handy in my pocket these last months since my point-and-shoot was hijacked in the studio.
Last week I broke down and bought this Canon PowerShot. Little did I know that I was going to have to fight Maggie to keep it in my pocket.
Here is her document of our morning walk. You can tell that she is already obsessed with nail polish, shoes, things on the side of the road and flowers – a girl after my own heart.
Butch and Maggie built me a beautiful bird atrium for Mother’s Day this year and my surprise came complete with a Finch pair. Maggie named them Whitey and Blacky (although I loved the name Atticus Finch from my favorite book – and movie: To Kill A Mockingbird).
The two got busy building a nest as soon as they moved into their new home. Maggie has been collecting grass and twigs for their building adventures over the last month and Whitey has already begun to lay eggs.
I love to drink our morning coffee on the back porch in these first few days of summer and watch the two lovers frolic around their atrium.
I woke up this morning in my own bed and to the sound of birds singing.
It is lovely to be home, drinking coffee, and dreaming…
Bird Watching by Paula McCartney – Sunday morning obsession.
Thank you to the amazing Penelope Greene and all the folks at the New York Times for the lovely piece about Butch, the Woods of Wonder and the Doo Nanny.
I love this picture of Maggie jumping on the bed:
And thank you to Robert Rausch for the lovely images of my family.
Don’t miss Robert’s pictures here.
Thank you to Haskell Harris and all the folks at Garden & Gun for this piece about my favorite room (and table) in the house.
Ten years ago, Natalie Chanin surprised the New York fashion world with a T-shirt that she ripped to pieces and sewed back together using quilt-inspired stitches. Then Chanin promptly left for her hometown of Florence, Alabama, where she hired local seamstresses to create her first label, Project Alabama. Now she runs Alabama Chanin, a company that produces couture clothing, fabric, jewelry, and home goods from new, recycled, and organic materials by hand, a process that gives each design its one-of-a-kind charm.
Chanin, whose career is famously influenced by her Southern upbringing, often works out of her house, the dining room in particular. “It’s really the soul of the house,” she says. “And it has great light, so it doubles as my office and photo studio. I do everything from folding clothes to hosting Christmas parties in that room.”
The dining room is full of Chanin’s handmade artistry, including the table, made from scrap wood that’s painted her favorite color, white. “It doesn’t compete with all of the things you have in your life,” she says. There’s also a chandelier she rehabbed with paint and a couple of reworked vintage chests.
Chanin’s designs have recently inspired a second craft book, Alabama Studio Style, due out this month, which details how to make some of her favorite furniture creations at home. “People want more value for their dollar these days,” she says. “They’re interested in things with a good story and things with a purpose.”
Not that cleaning house is very exciting (or sexy as I have remarked before)… unless you choose to do it in a feather boa as my friend Whitechapel suggests.
BUT, I did have a nice childhood memory today of Saturday morning cleaning sprees.
I got ambitious (or drank too much coffee) and tried out some cleaning recipes from How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew.
Feeling very domestically refreshed, and yes, well, sexy…
A blanket of snow gave a surprise visit in Alabama today and, in typical Southern fashion, we celebrated by closing the city and cooking. I made a pot of my famous secret-recipe chili – one of my favorite dishes.
So… here you have my secret chili recipe.The secret is really in the homemade chili powder:
Homemade Chili Powder
I make a supply of this by doubling or tripling the recipe then storing in an air-tight jar.
3 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon cumin (I love cumin so always add an extra shake or two)
3 teaspoons cayenne (best picked and dried from the garden and ground just before using)
3 teaspoons dried oregano
Optional: 1 tablespoon garlic powder – I prefer to use fresh cloves and eliminate the garlic powder. I add the fresh cloves during cooking (see below).
I always find the best way to test a chili powder is to just smell it. If it smells like chili you would like to eat then it is perfect.
1 lb. ground beef (preferably locally raised and grass-fed)
Worcestershire sauce in desired amount
3 cloves garlic, pressed
Olive oil, a turn around the pan
1 onion – chopped (I prefer the chop a bit on the larger size for a hearty chili)
Homemade chili powder – as much as you can take or about 6 tablespoons
6 cups stewed tomatoes (from your garden if possible)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Generously douse your ground beef with Worcestershire sauce before you start your cooking and set aside.
Press 3 cloves of garlic and set aside separately (garlic reaches its full potential and is ready to use after sitting for approximately 10 minutes!).
Chop your onion. In a large pot, coat bottom of pan with olive oil and saute chopped onion over low heat until it just begins to caramelize. Raise heat to medium, add meat and excess Worcestershire sauce and cook until almost brown.
Add pressed garlic and chili powder, stirring and turning constantly for a few minutes. Turn heat to high only to raise the temperature and quickly add stewed tomatoes – a quick steam to release all the flavors.
Turn heat immediately back to low and simmer for as long as you can stand. I have boiled chili up to five hours. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Continue to simmer and add additional water or beer as necessary to keep chili from getting too thick and sticking to the bottom of the pan.
If you have time, cool and let chili sit in the refrigerator overnight. If you don’t have time, just go ahead and add the beans, following the instructions below and eat.
We sometimes cannot wait until the next day and have to have this for supper before adding the beans… At my house, this stage is called 1/2 Chili. Serve 1/2 Chili with hoop cheese, sour cream, hot sauce and nacho chips – our family favorite.
If you are using dried beans, wash and soak your beans overnight in salt water.
Cook dried kidney beans in 6 cups water and keep adding water (or beer) as needed until beans are soft.
Alternately, if you are using canned beans, simply add beans to warmed chili and stir constantly over low heat for about 30 minutes. Cooked beans & chili will stick to the bottom and burn if not watched, loved and stirred constantly.
If this happens, don’t tell anyone and skim the unstuck chili from the top – being careful not to scrape the bottom – and serve with hoop cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, and cornbread.
While I love a good apron and The Gentle Art of Domesticity, cleaning has never been a particularly sexy task around our house. However, I loved the article below that ran in our local paper on Tuesday of this week.
It makes me happy that living clean is going mainstream.
Maggie loved mixing the ingredients with me in the kitchen last night.
BUT, I still swear by Mrs. Meyers Lemon Verbena for washing our clothes…
*Make your own apron like the one above with the Bloomers Pattern available as a pull-out from our Alabama Stitch Book.
Although the travels of the last months have been truly wonderful, there is nothing quite like coming home. My garden survived the neglect and the tomato plants are now at shoulder height with green pearls of delight starting to form. And while I have been a bit lax in keeping up with reading and writing, I have saved a few articles over the last months that I look forward to sharing.
I was surprised and delighted to find Preserving Time in a Bottle in the New York Times and see it truly as a sign of changing times. I am looking forward to savoring my time at home, eating in my own kitchen, keeping my suitcase packed away, devouring fresh tomatoes with Maggie, trying out new recipes, “putting up” our garden and letting the summer arrive slowly, slowly…
Photo: Evan Sung for The New York Times
When our editor Melanie described this new Abrams title, I could not fully imagine how a book about domesticity could be so interesting. And now, I am taken aback by the beauty, prose and “comforts” of Jane Brocket and The Gentle Art of Domesticity.
When opening the book, I was stuck by the very first line: “There is a world of difference between domesticity and domestication.”
This poem is from Kay Ryan, the new US poet laureate.
I kept on thinking about it this weekend while we were stitching our beautiful Alabama Chanin clothing. I kept thinking that our strong stitches were going to hold tight as we made our deep tracks.
Thank you for including me in such a special experience.
The poem reminds me of my great-grandmother – Granny Lou – moving around her house at Burcham Creek:
THINGS SHOULDN’T BE SO HARD
A life should leave
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;
beneath her hand
the china knobs
rubbed down to
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
Her things should
keep her marks.
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space—
however small —
should be left scarred
by the grand and
be so hard.
This lovely story from Blair Hobbs makes me smile:
I grew up in Auburn, AL, and Opelika, AL is just a few miles away. It’s the Norma Rae town and has a large textile mill (I’m sure you know this). Anyway, I remember how sparse my elementary school music room was, but there were huge boxes of old thread spools that were discarded by the mill. I remember sitting in a large circle, with my music class, as our teacher, Mrs. Shell, instructed us to keep time with the music by tapping the metal tips of the spools together. It was a sweet clicking sound. For a deeper tap, we’d switch ends and tap the spool “heads” together. Your book helped me recall this memory, so I thought I’d share.
— Photo Courtesy of Blair
I asked Blair if I could share her story & a photograph of her about the time of the musical spools. Here is what she writes about the shot: It’s a picture of the neighbor’s mean cat visiting my grandmother and me on my parents’ patio. With the photo blown up, I can see how the backyard used to be an Alabama pine forest (and then a tornado came). This grandmother used to crochet sweaters for her clothes hangers. Her closet was a rainbow; each hanger was a different yarn color, and she’d decorate their necks with ribbons, silk flowers, and frosted wax berries.
My mother taught me that it’s important to use the beautiful things in your life every day. She gave me her first set of china with the one direction that I should use it and enjoy it, not store it in a closet. I have taken her advice to heart with all of the things in my home. However, when you use textiles to enrich your everyday life (especially with a two year old), you’ll also need some of the old-wives’-tale wisdom my grandmother shared with me:
OLD WIVES’ TALE + WHAT IT MEANS
Don’t rub it in; dab it off — Blot; don’t rub it in more
A stitch in time saves nine — Get to it as quickly as possible to avoid more work
Out, then in — Start on the outside of a stain and work your way in
Bleach: Use 1 part lemon juice or white vinegar to 1 part water
Dissolve: Use all-purpose household cleaner as solvent for grease
Soak: Use 1/2 cup salt water per quart of soapy water
Wash: Use all-purpose cleaner like dish or liquid laundry detergent
Coffee and Tea Stains: Flush with Bleach, Soak & Wash
Tomato and Sauces: Dissolve, Soak & Wash
Oils Stains: Absorb, Dissolve & Wash
My new motivation for everyday cleaning are these great products from Mrs. Myers Clean Day. Aromathrapuetic Household Cleaners – how good is that? I love all the Lemon Verbena products.
Visit their website for their entire selection.