Tag Archives: Inspiration

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


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

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

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Summer 2.0: The August Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More very soon,

The Blue Sky Summer List:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing a Blue Sky summer to all,

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

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

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

The List: Summer Reading (and Writing)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Italian Edition: 1973-2023:

First off, Italo Calvino. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Late 2022 & Early 2023 List:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fabric swatch featuring the hand-painted figures design on Navy.

THE WEEK IN REVIEW | 08/20/2023

August. Whirlwind Month. 
(And we’re only halfway through.)
A note from Natalie.

I hope this finds you all well. I’m writing from my kitchen, back doors flung open to a cool(er) morning—foreshadowing the change of seasons. I spent the morning making lists, updating my calendar, reminiscing on the last week, and looking forward what lies ahead. 

First off, last Friday in Nashville we hosted our One-Day Embroidery Workshop—highlighting The Geometry of Hand-Sewing— with Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne at MDK. Teaching about this favorite of my books (if a mom can choose a favorite) also gave me a chance to brush up on my own embroidery skills and catch up with some favorite makers. 

I also wound up purchasing knitting needles and yarn—which may be shocking to some who’ve heard me declare, “I’m not a knitter, thank you.” Appreciation goes out to Kay and Ann for giving me the knitting tip, “You need to loosen up.” My new motto for life.

You may see me embroidering my knitting one day soon. Explore all of our upcoming in-person and virtual workshops here and join the party. 

Following Nashville, Arkansas. 

It was an inspiring weekend getaway to the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home, the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum, and the Sunken Lands Songwriters Circle with Rosanne CashJohn LeventhalSarah Jarosz, and Rodney Crowell. Save the date for April 6-8, 2024, for the Great North American Eclipse, and the Arkansas Roots Music Festival in Dyess. Learn more about the Historic Dyess Colony here.

(Thank you to Kay for Eleanor Roosevelt’s memories of Dyess. The piece can be found by searching Dyess here.)

The newest color in our 100% Organic Cotton Jersey has arrived, and we started shipping out Midnight this week. The winning color during our Color Vote, limited quantities are available of Midnight here. Look for a new Color Vote coming soon.

For the first time in a very long time, we’re offering limited-edition Solid DIY Kits. These solid color kits are also available in Midnight (while it lasts) and a range of our most beloved colors.

On Thursday of this week, I had the opportunity to travel to the Freedom Quilting Bee Legacy in Alberta, Alabama. Thank you to Kim V. Kelly, Mary McCarthy, and all the wonderful people involved in this important project. I hope you find time to immerse yourself in their work, save the date, and reserve a spot for the Airing of the Quilts Festival in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, on Saturday, October 7, 2023. I’ll see you there. 

(Thank you to Scott Peacock for riding shotgun and for the delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner—no biscuits included. Think Alabama Cornbread Experience.)

And save the date for the 2024 Project Threadways Symposium at The Factory. Entitled, “The Future” we’ll be serving up lots of good—from April 18th to 21st. 

As we end the week, we’re phasing out our Indigo Summer program. Snag a piece (or two) of the collection and an array of fabrics and DIY Kits. Limited production available and shipping in September. Thank you to everyone who supported this work. We’re looking forward to resting the vats to gear up for another season very soon.

I’m over-the-moon to announce that I’ll be traveling to Boston and Salem next week to gather with the team at the Peabody Essex Museum—more on this soon. I’m looking forward to exploring Gu Wenda: United Nations and Gio Swaby: Fresh Up exhibitions and so much more.

Finally, in the coming weeks we’ll be launching a new collection for Fall, and heading to Paris to present our Spring collection for press and wholesale sales. For more information on these collections, reach out to Jess:  studio@alabamachanin.com

Looking forward to all the next adventures,


The Betsey Blazer in Natural and a vial of hand-sewing needles.


As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” —John F. Kennedy

The Oxford Dictionary defines grateful as “feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness.” Being thankful is a feeling; being grateful is an action. And while they are often used interchangeably, gratefulness is seen by many as a deeper state of being that carries a heavier weight to its meaning.

Today, we have asked our team to take a moment and reflect on gratitude—nothing is too small to be grateful for. We extend that request to you. After introspection, turn that thought into an action. Let’s use our voices and live by example.

Many of the events that have occurred around the world this year—some in our own communities—remind us to be grateful for our rights, our voices, our freedoms, opportunities, relationships, and our lives.

May we all live gratefully today and every day.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us @ Alabama Chanin

(Picture courtesy of Rinne Allen—who we are grateful for sharing her talents and capturing beauty in the world.)



Judith Winfrey is an Atlanta native with a deep connection to the land and an extensive knowledge of farming. Her work with various organizations in Georgia has created a great impact on the state’s slow food culture. Judith was co-founder of Community Farmers Markets—developed to create a local food infrastructure to impact the community in a meaningful way— along with Wholesome Wave Georgia, a group that works to increase a greater circle of access to reasonably priced local foods. She and her husband, Joe Reynolds, founded Love is Love Farm in 2008. Love is Love is located at Gaia Gardens in Decatur, Georgia, where it serves to mentor young farmers through providing community supported agriculture with a focus on servant leadership. Joe currently runs the farm as Judith is the founder and creative mind behind the Atlanta-based meal kit delivery service, PeachDish.


Photo credit (left): Kate Blohm for PeachDish

PeachDish has a “farm-to-table” approach and sends out over 2,000 meal kits per week, each one based upon the seasonal harvest availability; they currently work with about 200 farmers and focus on organic offerings, whenever possible. Overall, PeachDish ships to kitchens in each of the 48 continental states. You can purchase PeachDish gift cards in varying amounts, which would make a wonderful holiday gift.

We had the opportunity to ask Judith some questions recently. Keep reading to learn more about Judith, her creative process, and her inspirations

AC: Do you have any creative rituals?

JW: Yes!  It’s important to me to stay both grounded and in communion with my higher self.  I have a daily morning ritual that consists of study, journaling, meditation, and a good long walk with my two dogs.  It gives me perspective and helps me set intention for the day.

AC: What makes you curious?

JW: The natural world.  Currently, I’m very curious about the sentience of trees and epigenetics. Free will and whether or not we actually have it. I’m also perpetually curious about communication — when it does and doesn’t work and how and why. Extrasensory perception. Telepathy.

AC: What do you daydream about?

JW: World Peace. Throwing big, extravagant parties for my friends. Gardening again. Travel. Having tea with Alice Walker.

AC: How important is education to your creative process?

JW: Very important. Education stimulates new ideas. New ideas are the beginning of creativity. Education doesn’t have to be formal. Podcasts are education. Art Museums, concerts, conversations, documentaries, films, basking in someone else’s wisdom — all of these are education. The best education nourishes the soul as well as the mind.

AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?

JW: You can’t force flow. If I’m really struggling, the best thing I can do is walk away, and do something else for a while. Creativity is like a spring. All the right conditions must be in alignment for the vent to boil. My job is to get out of the way; make sure that there’s not too much clutter; take care of my body and my mind so that energy and ideas can stream to me and through me.

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

JW: I need quiet. Solitude is good, too. I don’t think I have to be in a certain mood, but my mood will impact the quality of what I create.

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

JW: Nature. For sure. I think creativity is innate. However, I think we can and should nurture creativity in ourselves and, especially, in children. It’s tragic when people are conditioned not to be creative. Creativity for me is essential. It’s freedom. It’s an expression of joy.

AC: What is the difference between an idea or a product being interesting and being creative?

JW: Well, history is interesting, but it’s never creative. I guess action is the difference. Action and newness or innovation.

AC: What have been some of the most successful campaigns you have launched? Why did you feel successful?

JW: We launched an organic farm, Love is Love Farm. It’s ten years old. That’s been successful. It has fed thousands over the years. It gives us an opportunity to care for and commune with a piece of land. It has given us an incredible community of employees and partners.

I helped launch an organization called Wholesome Wave Georgia that makes healthy food more accessible by doubling the value of SNAP benefits at Farmers Markets and supporting Fruit and Vegetable prescription programs in Georgia. Over the years, we’ve raised millions of dollars and made millions of dollars worth of fresh healthy food accessible to all Georgians. Of course, launching PeachDish has been my greatest endeavor and my greatest success.  I am so proud of the incredible product delivered every week. I’m proud of (and grateful for) our thousands of loyal customers. I am most proud of and grateful for the incredible team that keeps the whole thing going every week.


Photo credit: Kate Blohm for PeachDish

AC: How do you define success?

JW: Staying alive and thriving.

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?

JW: That’s difficult to determine. An important indicator is one’s own joy. If the project still brings joy, it’s worth continuing. If it’s not really productive and it’s draining your life force, then it’s time to put it aside — at least for a moment or two. When it’s time for something to die. I think you just know. You have a peace about it.  You can still grieve, but the grief is release not resistance.

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

JW: Managing cash flow is the heaviest. Managing people is the lightest.

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

JW: The fearful, worrisome side of my imagination is the heaviest. I try not to spend time there. The lightest aspect of my imagination is connected directly to spirit. I am often working on recognizing the guidance that is direct from the source versus my own ego-based ideas. It’s a subtle difference, sometimes, but it’s important. Our egos can really create havoc if we let them lead.

AC: Does spirituality play a role in your creativity?

JW: Yes. Spirit is the mothership.

AC: What makes you nervous?

JW: Seeing people get injured. I can’t watch violent movies because of it.

AC: In what ways would you want to change your imaginative spirit?

JW: I’d like it to be more outlandish. Dream bigger and bolder.

AC: Is there something that can halt your creativity? Distractions, fears, etc.? Have you found a way to avoid those pitfalls?

JW: Social media is not only a big-time manipulator; it’s also virtually useless.  It will quickly rob me of creativity. I try to limit my screen time.

AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?

JW: I don’t think I’ve censored my imagination. Just because you think or create something, doesn’t mean you have to share it.

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

JW: I would have trusted myself more and sooner. I had this idea that most people knew more and better than me.  I was wrong in most cases.

AC: If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?

JW: I would like to have a huge ornamental garden.

AC: Do you critique your own work?

JW: Yes. Nothing is ever perfect and there is always something to learn.

AC: Has rejection ever affected your creative process?

JW: Rejection has hindered both my creativity and my productivity.

AC: Who do you define as a visionary?

JW: Visionaries come in so many different forms. Clarence Jordan was a visionary. Marina Abramović is a visionary. So is every immigrant everywhere and everyone who escapes a dysfunctional relationship (with themselves or someone else).  My mom, Dixie Eloise Alvarez Winfrey, is a visionary. She would never identify that way, but she is.

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”

JW: Patagonia’s official response to the 2016 election was pretty brilliant.

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

JW: The Power of Positive Thinking.

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

JW: I love walking. I love cooking with my husband. I love music. I don’t like picking up my dogs’ poop. I don’t like waiting in line.

AC: Is there one single act that can open your imaginary mind?

JW: Meditation.

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

JW: Our meal kits change every week. I’m always inspired to see how our customers integrate them into our lives. We have some customers who cook with us every week and they often post pictures of their meals. It makes me so happy.

AC: Are there parts of your life that you always make a priority? That you struggle to make a priority?

JW: My morning ritual is always a priority. When you’re the boss, a lot of people get your time. Making time for myself first thing ensures that I get in self care.

AC: Where does inspiration come from? Where does inspiration live?

JW: Inspiration can come from anywhere. Colors are inspiring to me. Music is inspiring. Inspiration lives at the feet of the master.

AC: Where does imagination come from? Where does imagine live?

JW: Imagination comes from the ether. Imagination lives in the galaxy and beyond.

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

Lead photo credit: Kate Blohm for PeachDish



In the late 1830s, English Botanist Anna Atkins likely was not too interested in the specifics of photography. Atkins was formally trained as a botanist and, at the time, was studying algae. Through her practice, she was looking for a way to document the delicate elements of each specimen. She learned of the process of cyanotype printing (today used for blueprints) from its inventor, Sir John Herschel, a family friend. She further explored information about photography via correspondence with its actual inventor, William Henry Fox Talbot.


Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Working in the early 1840s, she documented her work using a photogenic drawing, gently placing each delicate specimen onto a sheet of paper that had been made light sensitive by a chemical mixture, and a piece of glass to hold it all together. Once all components were secured, they were placed in the sun; after enough exposure to light, the paper was washed in water, and the image would appear. The resulting print was known as a cyanotype because of the blue color produced by the chemicals on the paper. The twenty-something-year-old woman was actually developing a process that would be pioneering in scientific imagery.

Over the years, Atkins collected hundreds of specimens and photographed them. They were arranged into volumes and published over the course of ten years. The volumes contain more than 400 types of algae and Atkins made multiple photographs of each specimen. She reproduced copies of her book over the years, though it is estimated that only a dozen or so remain. Her work is seen as an important contribution to the development of photography, as it was shown that cyanotype could reveal the intricate details of algae, but also botanical specimens like ferns, and even feathers and lace.


Sketch of our Victoria stencil featured in the Collection.

Anna Atkins is believed to be the first person to publish a book using photographic images but is also believed to be the first woman ever to take a photograph. On March 16, 2015, Google commemorated Atkins on her 216th birthday by displaying a Google Doodle of bluish leaf shapes, meant to represent her cyanotype work. Atkins’ work, as we briefly mentioned here, served as inspiration for part of our newest Collection.

View the New York Public Library’s Digital Collection of Anna’s book, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.

P.S.: Visit back on our Journal to learn more about Rinne Allen, who produces her own light drawings.



In celebration of the 10-year anniversary edition release of Alabama Stitch Book, we celebrate our journey and growth over the years by re-releasing special-edition kits of our Swing Skirts, which were featured in Alabama Stitch Book and remain our most popular garment pattern of all time. It is likely that, because of the number of Swing Skirts created in homes, at workshops, and in our first Crafsty class, there are more of these skirts walking around in the world than any other Alabama Chanin or The School of Making garment.


The Bloomers Swing Skirt showcases one of the earliest classic Alabama Chanin stencils. This garment was previously available only in tonal color options, but now has updated colorways to choose from.


The Faded Bloomers Swing Skirt highlights the Bloomers stencil. With this option (previously available only in tonal color options), your backing fabric will always be Faded, but you now have the option to select your outer layer of choice.


Our Appliqué Rose Swing Skirt is another classic version of the Swing Skirt. Like the Bloomers stencil, the Rose is one of our oldest and most popular stencils and one that celebrates the history of Alabama Chanin and The School of Making.

As always, once you have placed your order we will match your thread and elastic colors to match your colorways of choice.

Take advantage of this limited-time re-release and add a Swing Skirt (or another) to your collection.


P.S.: Make your next swing skirt from the newest design of our Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey which is now available in Sand with the Anna’s Garden stencil.

P.P.S.: Find the design choices below from a sampling of Swing Skirt designs that have been created over the years. Skirts with an asterisk* are available through Custom DIY. Please note some of the fabrics are no longer available.

Share your Swing Skirt project with us on Instagram using #tsomswingskirt. We’d love to see how yours turned out.


From top left to right:

1 – Magdalena Swing Skirt
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Limited-edition Printed Jersey in Sunset (discontinued)
Fabric color for inner layer – Natural
Button Craft thread – Dogwood
Stencil – Magdalena
Technique – Reverse appliqué
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Light Blush

2 – Anna’s Garden Swing Skirt*
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Grape
Fabric color for inner layer – Burgundy
Button Craft thread – Burgundy
Textile paint color – Pearl Brownie
Stencil – Anna’s Garden
Technique – Outside reverse appliqué
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Pewter (discontinued)

3 – Anna’s Garden Swing Skirt* (28″)
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Navy
Fabric color for inner layer – Navy
Button Craft thread – Navy
Stencil – Anna’s Garden
Technique – Negative reverse appliqué
Textile paint color – Slate
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Navy

4 – New Leaves Swing Skirt
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color – Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey in New Leaves Natural (discontinued)
Button Craft thread – Dogwood
Stencil – Small New Leaves
Technique – None
Knots – Inside
Seams – Outside felled Rosebud Stitch
Elastic – Natural (Cream)

5 – Bloomers Swing Skirt*
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Black
Fabric color for inner layer – Faded Angie’s Fall
Button Craft thread – Black
Textile paint color – Slate
Stencil – Bloomers
Technique – Reverse appliqué
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Black

6 – Bloomers Swing Skirt*
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Apple
Fabric color for inner layer – Earth
Button Craft thread – Brown
Textile paint color – Brownie
Stencil – Bloomers
Technique – Reverse appliqué
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Red

7 – Anna’s Garden Swing Skirt* (21”)
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Pewter
Fabric color for inner layer – Pewter
Button Craft thread – Slate
Textile paint color – Pearl Brownie
Stencil – Anna’s Garden
Technique – Negative reverse appliqué
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Slate

8 – Appliqué Rose Swing Skirt*
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Blue Slate
Fabric color for inner layer – Blue Slate
Appliqué Fabric color– Black
Button Craft thread – Black and Slate
Stencil – Rose Placement
Technique – Appliqué
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Black

9  – Magdalena Swing Skirt*
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Parchment
Fabric color for inner layer – Natural
Button Craft thread – Cream
Textile paint color – Wood
Stencil – Magdalena
Technique – Reverse appliqué
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Sand

10 – Facets Swing Skirt* (28”)
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Baby Blue
Fabric color for inner layer – Baby Blue
Button Craft thread – Dogwood
Textile paint color – Pearl Grey
Stencil – Facets
Technique – Reverse appliqué
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Baby Blue

11 – Magdalena Swing Skirt*
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Baby Blue
Fabric color for inner layer – Dove
Button Craft thread – Slate
Textile paint color – Fog
Stencil – Magdalena
Technique – Negative reverse appliqué
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Dark Grey (discontinued)

12 – Magdalena Swing Skirt*
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Light Indigo (discontinued)
Fabric color for inner layer – Natural
Button Craft thread – Slate
Textile paint color – Nickel
Stencil – Magdalena
Technique – Reverse appliqué
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Dark Grey (discontinued)

13 – Anna’s Garden Swing Skirt*
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Black
Fabric color for inner layer – Black
Button Craft thread – Black
Textile paint color – Pearl Brownie
Stencil – Anna’s Garden
Technique – Negative reverse appliqué
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Black

14 – Bloomers Swing Skirt*
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Black
Fabric color for inner layer – Black
Button Craft thread – Black
Textile paint color – Slate
Stencil – Bloomers
Technique – Reverse appliqué
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Black

15 – New Leaves Swing Skirt*
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Pewter
Fabric color for inner layer – Black
Button Craft thread – Slate (Black thread on Elastic)
Embroidery Floss – Charcoal
Textile paint color – Black Gold
Stencil – Small New Leaves
Technique – Backstitch reverse appliqué
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Black

16 – Anna’s Garden Swing Skirt*
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Natural
Fabric color for inner layer – Sand
Button Craft thread – Cream
Textile paint color – Pearl Silver
Stencil – Anna’s Garden
Technique – Reverse appliqué
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Natural (Cream)

17 – Embroidered Eyelet Swing Skirt
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Navy
Fabric color for inner layer –Navy
Button Craft thread – Slate/Navy
Technique – Eyelets and Embroidery
Embroidery Floss – Dark Grey and Light Grey
Bugle Beads ­– Satin Grey Bugle
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Navy

18 – Paisley Swing Skirt
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Indigo (discontinued)
Fabric color for inner layer – Indigo (discontinued)
Button Craft thread – Slate
Textile paint color – Pearl Grey
Stencil – Paisley
Technique – Negative reverse appliqué
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Baby Blue

19 – Variegated Stripe Swing Skirt
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Blue Slate
Fabric color for inner layer – White
Button Craft thread – Slate
Textile paint color – Pearl Grey
Stencil – Variegated Stripe
Techniques – Beaded embroidery
Beads – Natalie’s Mix and Satin Grey Bugle
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Dark Grey (discontinued)

20 – Anna’s Garden Swing Skirt*
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Ochre
Fabric color for inner layer – Ochre
Button Craft thread – Slate
Textile paint color – Pearl Brownie
Stencil – Anna’s Garden
Technique – Reverse appliqué
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Elastic – Moss

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.


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.



It’s been a while since we’ve heard from contributing Journal writer, artist, and founder of Institute 193, Phillip March Jones. He’s taking a hiatus from the New York heat this summer to spend time on his family farm in Kentucky. He’s used the summer to grow vegetables, make photographs, and organize exhibitions. Follow his Instagram to be inspired. In the fall, he will open a small Institute 193 project space in NYC’s East Village. In the meantime, Institute 193 has organized an exhibition in the Elaine de Kooning House in East Hampton and will be featuring a large installation of “quilts” by Jessie Dunahoo. If you are in the New York City area this summer, we encourage you to make a trip to see the exhibition in person. If you are new to the Journal, read back to learn about Institute 193 and the incredible artists’ work they share. From Phillip:

Jessie Dunahoo was born August 6, 1936 in St. Helen’s, Kentucky – roughly eighty miles southeast of Lexington. Deaf since birth, Dunahoo additionally lost his vision at a young age but that didn’t prevent him from the normal preoccupations of boyhood: exploring, fort-building, and other creative pursuits.


Jessie Dunahoo at Latitude Artist Community, 2006. Photo: PMJ

The support structures for people considered to have a disability in the 1940s (particularly in the rural South) were even more limited than they are today. As a result, Dunahoo was mostly left to his own devices but afforded the artistic freedom to explore and create within the boundaries of the family’s home and land. Using various fences and trees, he would hang intersecting lines, ropes, and wires that could be grasped and threaded, creating a 3-D map he used to navigate outdoor space. Some of these paths led him through the woods and into a space his nephew refers to as “Jessie’s place,” an area once covered with his sewn awnings and decorated with handmade furniture built using things scavenged around the farm.


Jessie Dunahoo at Latitude Artist Community, 2008. Photo: PMJ

Dunahoo eventually moved into a state-operated group home in Lexington. As before, the artist continued to construct his environmental sculptures which evolved into complex sewn structures made of found materials, including grocery bags, fabric samples, pieces of old clothing, and twine. Through an interpreter, Jessie described his works as shelters, and they were strung about his home and yard, covering the walls, floor, and ceiling. Dunahoo was keenly aware that others viewed and evaluated his constructions and was always delighted to play the docent, escorting interested viewers in and around his creations. Until his death in May 2017, Dunahoo worked five days a week at studio space called the Latitude Artist Community in Lexington, Kentucky.


Jessie Dunahoo installation at the Elaine de Kooning House (East Hampton, NY). Photo: Katherine McMahon.

Jessie Dunahoo’s works are currently on view at the Elaine de Kooning House in East Hampton, New York as part of Summer Studio, an exhibition organized by Maïa Ferrari of Institute 193. The exhibition explores both local and universal notions of community and demonstrates the profound effects that a modest space dedicated to the exchange of ideas can instill upon a group of individual talents. While living, Dunahoo was an integral part of the Institute 193 extended family who combined his artistic efforts with musicians, dancers, and other visual artists to great effect. Most notably, he created a spectacular stage set for Jim James, Daniel Martin Moore, and Ben Sollee’s concert at the Lexington Opera House in 2010.


Ben Sollee, Daniel Martin Moore, and Jim James with Dunahoo stage installation, 2010. Photo: PMJ

Summer Studio: Institute 193 at the Elaine de Kooning House is on view through the end of August.

Lead image: Jessie Dunahoo installation at the Elaine de Kooning House (East Hampton, NY). Photo: Katherine McMahon.



Graffiti has probably been around since the earliest days of man. Seriously. Paintings inside the Lascaux Caves in France date to prehistoric times—and graffiti was actually found in the Italian archaeological site of Pompeii, where some man proudly scribbled, “Gaius Pumidius Diphilus was here.”

While those might have been the original graffiti artists, graffiti as street art largely began in the 1960s and is generally traced to high school student Darryl McCray, better known as Cornbread. Cornbread lived in North Philadelphia and took to painting tributes to his crush, in the form of “Cornbread Loves Cynthia,” all over North Philly. Eventually, he took to just painting his name (aka his “tag”) across the city. Philadelphia birthed several other well-known graffiti and tag artists like Cool Earl and Top Cat 126.


Image credit: Dazed

Toward the end of the 1960s, graffiti was emerging in New York and tags were usually just an alias and a number, like JULIO204, CAY161, and the infamous TAKI183. The New York Times printed an article on TAKI183, resulting in a street game, of sorts. Artists were constantly trying to get their tags noticed the most. Subway trains were perfect backdrops for graffiti and spray-painted trains became part of the city’s underground landscape. The artwork became more complex and the artists became more notorious. Toward the end of the 1970s, graffiti was gradually being viewed as a legitimate form of artwork and, most notably, artists Fab 5 Freddy and Lee Quinones (both from Brooklyn graffiti collective The Fabulous Five) had an art dealer and were given a prominent exhibition in Rome, Italy.


In the 1980s, street art and hip-hop culture were becoming inextricably linked. News stories often linked graffiti and crime, but it was also being associated with music of all sorts. Fab 5 Freddy’s friendship with Blondie singer Debbie Harry got him name-checked in their 1981 hit “Rapture” – and Freddy appeared in the song’s music video alongside up-and-coming artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Richard Hambleton were key in moving graffiti into a conceptual, rather than literal approach. Punk culture was also adopting graffiti into their ethos. Stencil use became more prevalent and soon you could see feminist and anarchist messages alongside punk rock band names.


Image credit: The Daily Edge


Image credit: My Modern Met

As time passed, the 1990s brought graffiti art a newfound legitimacy with artists like Shepard Fairey and Banksy. Fairey’s art emerged from skateboard culture was more known for sticker campaigns (most notably, OBEY: Andre the Giant Has a Posse), and he would eventually become known for creating a series of posters supporting Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run, particularly the iconic “HOPE” image. Banksy is perhaps the most famous street artist of today and was influenced by 80s French stencil artist Blek le Rat. Banksy produced a documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop”, which was nominated for an Oscar.


By definition, graffiti is public art and there has always been a hierarchy and culture of earned respect among artists. It also has an element of subversion and pure creativity. Our Graffiti Capsule collection is meant to capture a bit of that subversive feeling and challenge the norm.

Lead image credit: New York Amsterdam News



Graffiti is a form of expression, a way to state things (i.e. funny, political, or otherwise), and can be found in any place. We’re using our graffiti in defense of clean cotton, safe fashion, and a healthy environment.


Wear it alone. Mix it with other graffiti. Layer it.



Tie your hair back with it. Belt it. Rest in it. Work in it. However you decide to wear your Alabama Chanin graffiti, make it your own.

Find more of our Graffiti: Red, White, and Blue collection.
Find the #alabamachanincollection on Instagram @alabamachanin.



During June 2018, Natalie took month-long respite and creative journey during her residency at The Hambidge Center in the woods of north Georgia. She reflects on her time there and shares her experience for which she is eternally grateful:

In the summer of 2017, I was going through what will always be known to me as “The Summer of Onslaught.” It was, in other words, a brutal period of my life. Diverse and disparate events and actions, all outside of my control, barreled down on me like a fireball; I had no moment of respite. As soon as one event—personal and/or professional—seemed even mildly resolved, more turmoil arrived. My life felt like a beautiful birthday cake with trick candles: you blow and hope for your heart’s deepest wish but, to your horror, the flame reappears. You blow and blow until you realize that no amount of breath or effort can stop the onslaught.

I think of myself as a wildly positive person—the eternal optimist. How else could Alabama Chanin, The Factory, Building 14, and The School of Making even exist? But even the most optimistic human can burn out, burn up, fold in on herself, and shut down. Last summer—in the midst of chaos, I was sitting on my back porch with a friend and said, “I don’t see an end. I don’t see a break from the little fires erupting around me on all sides. I wish that I could have one moment to clear my mind; I need time to understand this. I want something like a residency.” And although I didn’t really even know what that meant and had never done a residency, I knew that it was something that might save me.

In a matter of days, I received a call from my dear friend Angie Mosier telling me that The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences was trying to get in touch with me about… a residency. She put us in touch and, indeed, I was awarded a monthlong residency program thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Sometimes it is important to speak something out loud, if only to one other person, and the universe will go about making it happen.

The view through the dogtrot of Mary’s Cabin, looking out to her porch. –Photo: Rinne Allen

The Hambidge Center, the legacy of famed weaver Mary Hambidge, is a creative residency program nestled on 600 acres of forested mountain terrain in the North Georgia mountains, near Rabun Gap. The sanctuary belonged to Mary and her partner Jay Hambidge—who both worked to develop and promote the theory of Dynamic Symmetry. The residency program is open to any creative person in the fields of visual arts, writing, music, dance, culinary, textiles, and/or the sciences. The Center believes in a classic, self-directed residency where they provide a simple place for creative development and production, based on an individual’s wants and needs. Included in the residency are living quarters and a studio space, along with a support system for artists and scientists to provide room for creative encounter. There is no internet access in the studio, no cell service, four evening meals a week are provided—and lots of leftovers for lunch the next day. That’s it. In essence, they protect and nurture your time so that the little fires from the outside world are removed from the resident’s life and there is space for exploration.

It’s now almost exactly a year since I received that call from Angie. I’m sitting in the Brena Studio—my studio—at The Hambidge Center as I write this. I’ve been here for three weeks. I look out my window and see only trees and sky. The lush, temperate rainforest beckons morning and afternoon walks, waterfall swims, and deep breathing. I hear water running in the distance, leaves blowing in the trees, and the occasional call of a bird. My workspace is clean and orderly and perfectly arranged in a manner most conducive to my personal creativity. And I’m working.

In my residency, I follow an impressive array of writers, photographers, chefs, and creative thinkers from all genres. My beloved friend Scott Peacock worked on The Gift of Southern Cooking with his friend and mentor Edna Lewis in Mary Hambidge’s original cabin. My heroine Natasha Trethewey, former U.S. Poet Laureate (when such things were appreciated), worked here before me. My friend Angie Mosier was here in residency in 2016. She started a project which attempts to connect individuals in today’s changing social climate in the mountain south through food. Angie’s family is from the Smoky Mountains and she is exploring the relationship that links together that history and culture with those recipes and materials. It is a fascinating story that is unfolding and today, as I write this, she is at the nearby Walnut Hill Studio—on her second residency—continuing this important piece of work. In the same studio, Lisa Donovan, acclaimed pastry chef, author, and recent recipient of the James Beard Award for Journalism is working on her memoir, to be published by Penguin Press. Two days ago, these two brilliant women taught a workshop called Elemental Pie that connected flour and butter with the trajectory of making, women, and humanity. It was thrilling. These are the types of unexpected, yet artistically stimulating projects happening around me and inspiring me to continue my own work.

From the class description:

Lisa will speak to the emotional elements that take over when she is baking and how that makes its way into her writing. Angie will talk about how she uses her photography to capture the techniques but also the beauty of working hands, ingredients and the joy of cooking.

“All art is a mixture of science and emotion, no matter what the medium.” —from The Hambidge Center description of Elemental Pie

Boiled peanut, gruyere, and onion hand-pies from Lisa Donovan and Angie Mosier at The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences.

Lisa Donovan teaches pie crust. “Work the flour into the cold butter by smearing,” she tells us. “You want these flakes to create this beautiful marbled effect.” Photo: Rinne Allen

Lisa Donovan pushes the completed pie shell into the “corners” of the pan. “This is how you make sure that your walls don’t collapse.” Photo: Rinne Allen

Angie Mosier teaches us about light and camera interaction. “See this beautiful light?” she says. “It creates shape and texture for your photo. You don’t need fancy equipment, just look for the light.” Photo: Rinne Allen

Angie Mosier shows us how to vary height and angle to interact with light. “See this beautiful stack of pies?” she asks. “I’m going get down on the same level and make this stack my hero.” Photo: Rinne Allen

Carley, from Literature of Food, in Charleston, and a guest at the Pie workshop doubles as our model with the beautiful pie shells. Photo: Rinne Allen

Although I also taught two lovely workshops during my residency, it was such a treat to sit and listen to this group who had gathered for this workshop and talk about creative inspiration for making pie, for making dough, even how creative impulse lead Angie and Lisa to substitute boiled peanuts they bought on the side of the road for the originally planned, but unsalvageable, mushrooms for the hand-pies. (They were delicious.) Conversations wandered to how women and men have had to physically and metaphorically untie apron strings and put tools away and choose between making, work, and family because there are just too many of those fires to put out—and it all takes time.

I don’t know if your experience is the same, but my truth is that creative endeavor needs space and time to breathe. It requires this moment of silence for what ancient Greeks called eudaimonia (inspiration or creative flow) to arrive, be heard, and find its way out into the world. Whether it is designing fabric, developing silhouettes, writing a story, or planning a space, inspiration isn’t dropped from the big, blue sky; it needs to be tended and listened to and coaxed into reality. It needs to be tested and evolved and shared in a safe space. It is something that is ephemeral and solid at the same time. Last summer, living in chaos and constantly putting out fires dulled my senses; residency cleared a space for ideas to form and shapes to emerge.

I believe that to be human means to be creative. Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her lovely book Big Magic, “We are all makers by design.” It is in our very DNA to make, because when you look back in time and the trajectory of your own family, you most often find, as Gilbert puts it, “…people who were not consumers, people who were not sitting around passively waiting for stuff to happen to them. You will find people who spent their lives making things. This is where you come from. This is where we all come from.” And I understand deeply that this is where I come from and that to be a full and well-rounded human, for our society to be well-rounded, we have to make and we have to create space for creative thought and endeavor to emerge. And that takes time—and courage.

View of Rachel K. Garceau’s work and exhibition at the Antinori Ruins on The Hambidge Center property. Photo: Rinne Allen

Rachel K. Garceau, ceramicist and sculptor who is also in residency this month, pointed me towards Rollo May’s book titled The Courage to Create. On page 21 May writes, “Whereas moral courage is the righting of wrongs, creative courage, in contrast, is the discovering of new forms, new symbols, new patterns on which a new society can be built.” This is what residency is for me: the opportunity to discover new forms, new symbols, and new patterns in my own work.

Joan Didion once said, “I don’t know what I think until I write about it.” I feel the same way. Until I was able to sit and write about the last year of my life—solely for myself—I wasn’t able to know what I thought about it. And until I understood that year, I was unable to think of creative undertakings or have true creative courage.

My work table is orderly, I feel filled with courage and I‘m ready for creative endeavor.

I’m eternally grateful to The Hambidge Center and the National Endowment for the Arts for a Community Engagement Grant. As part of my residency, I was lucky to curate a show in collaboration with Rachel K. Garceau. Titled Process in Works, the show is open to the community through September 8th, 2018. Rachel’s work is site-specific to Hambidge and will be on display for approximately a two-year period. It is well worth the trip to visit Hambidge, the North Georgia Mountains, and, of course, our collaboration.

View of the gallery in Mary’s Weave Shed highlighting “Process in Work” by Alabama Chanin and Rachel K. Garceau. Photo: Rinne Allen

From The Hambidge Center:

Process in Works is a growing, evolving show of work by Natalie Chanin and Rachel K. Garceau about the purposeful setting of intentions, approaching the world with curiosity, exploring the meaning of value, and creating cumulative beauty with small, everyday acts and objects. This exhibit is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Painted stencil as an artifact of process as part of the show “Process in Work” at The Hambidge Center. Photo: Rinne Allen

The gallery show offers imaginative and interactive experiences inside and out through textiles, ceramics, making stations, an inspiration library and so much more. We are so proud to bring these two truly amazing women together for a show like no other.

Address: The Hambidge Center, 105 Hambidge Court, Rabun Gap, Georgia

Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 9am-4pm; Saturday, 10am-5pm

Gallery Phone: 706-746-5718

Detail of Rachel K. Garceau’s installation in the homestead ruin at The Hambidge Center. Photo: Rinne Allen

There are different types of creative residencies and you can gather more information here.

Apply for a creative residency here.

Support The Hambidge Center here.

And even if you can’t make a visit to this magical place, make space in your life for your own personal residency—ten minutes at a time.

Rachel K. Garceau’s installation in the homestead ruin at The Hambidge Center. Photo: Rinne Allen

P.S.: I’d like to thank The Hambidge Center and the Rabun County Public Library for hosting workshops during my residency. Inspiring one and all.



Gloria Steinem was born in 1934, the daughter of a traveling salesman and the granddaughter of activist Pauline Steinem. Pauline was chairwoman to the educational committee of the National Woman Suffrage Association, a delegate to the 1908 International Council of Women, and the first woman to be elected to the Toledo Board of Education. She was also known to have rescued several German family members from the Holocaust. Now herself recognized as a prominent American feminist, activist, and journalist, Gloria was inspired by stories of her grandmother, but also by the experiences of her mother, who was mentally ill, and who suffered from a “nervous breakdown.” As an adult, Gloria described caring for her mother and experiences with dismissive doctors as having been key to her understanding of injustice toward women.

Because of her father’s itinerant vocation, she traveled often and did not attend school regularly until she was eleven years old. Steinem eventually attended Smith College and, afterward, received a fellowship to study in India, where she was influenced by Gandhi’s approach to activism. Upon returning to the United States, Gloria worked as a freelance writer for publications like Esquire, Cosmopolitan, and The New York Times magazine. For one of her most famous early articles, Steinem went undercover as a scantily clad waitress (or a “bunny”, as they were called) at New York City’s Playboy Club. Published in Show magazine, the piece exposed the sexism rampant in Playboy and male-dominated social circles. In 1968, she helped create New York magazine and wrote a recurring political column for the publication. Her articles, including those on abortion, a radical feminist group called the Redstockings, and essays like “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation,” reflected her growing feminist views. She campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In 1971, she joined 300 other women, including prominent female leaders like Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, and Myrlie Evers-Williams to form the still-active National Women’s Political Caucus, which works to advance pro-equality candidates in elected and appointed offices at the state and national level.


Image credit: Makers

In 1972, Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine, where she worked as an editor for fifteen years. The magazine began as an insert in New York magazine and it shortly grew into its own publication. She pushed for the magazine to join and be published by the Feminist Majority Foundation and still serves as a consulting editor. There were times when Steinem’s position in the feminist movement was challenged because she portrayed a glamorous image, though she was undeterred by the criticisms. In 1972, Gloria also became the first woman to speak at the National Press Club.

In 1986 and at 50 years old, she publicly battled breast cancer but saw it as a sign that she should focus her activism where it was sincerely needed—in order to prevent burnout. You would hardly know, as that same year she published a book about Marilyn Monroe called Marilyn: Norma Jean. This is one of many books that Steinem has written, with others including My Life on the Road, Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-EsteemOutrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, and Moving Beyond Words: Age, Rage, Sex, Power, Money, Muscles: Breaking the Boundaries of Gender. Her writing also appears in anthologies and textbooks, and she was an editor of Houghton Mifflin’s The Reader’s Companion to U.S. Women’s History.


Image credit: School of Visual Arts

Steinem worked with Robin Morgan and Jane Fonda to found the Women’s Media Center in 2004, which works “to make women visible and powerful in the media.” She also co-founded Voters for Choice, a pro-choice political action committee, and serves on the board of URGE, a national organization that fosters young pro-choice leadership and promotes responsible sex education in schools. Steinem also began the Ms. Foundation for Women, which works on grassroots programs that empower women and girls and she founded “Take Our Daughters to Work Day”, a tradition that has spread across the world.

Throughout her often controversial career, Gloria has remained steadfast in the idea of equal rights for women. As she told the New York Daily News, “We’ve demonstrated that women can do what men do, but not yet that men can do what women do. That’s why most women have two jobs—one inside the home and one outside it—which is impossible. The truth is that women can’t be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.”

Gloria Steinem has been the subject of both books and documentaries, including HBO’s “Gloria: In Her Own Words”, the PBS documentary series, “MAKERS”, and the biography, The Education of a Woman. In the book, Particular Passions: Talks With Women Who Have Shaped Our Times, she said, ”I think the fact that I’ve become a symbol for the women’s movement is somewhat accidental. A woman member of Congress, for example, might be identified as a member of Congress; it doesn’t mean she’s any less of a feminist but she’s identified by her nearest male analog. Well, I don’t have a male analog so the press has to identify me with the movement. I suppose I could be referred to as a journalist, but because Ms. is part of a movement and not just a typical magazine, I’m more likely to be identified with the movement. There’s no other slot to put me in.”


Image credit: Time

Throughout the years, Steinem has been the recipient of an impressive number of awards, including the Clarion Award, Equality Now’s International Human Rights Award, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund’s Liberty Award, the National Gay Rights Advocate Award, the Penney-Missouri Journalism Award, the United Nations’ Ceres Medal and Society of Writers Award. In 2013, President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2014, Rutgers University created the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair, which funds teaching and research for an individual –man or woman—who exemplifies Steinem’s values of equal representation in media.

Gloria was an honorary co-chair and speaker for the Women’s March on Washington in 2017 and is a current advisor to TIME’S UP, a movement against sexual harassment. For all of these reasons, we consider Gloria Steinem one of #thosewhoinspire.

Lead image credit: Encylopedia Britannica 



African-American journalist Ethel Payne was born in 1911, the granddaughter of slaves and the fifth daughter in a large family. Her father, who worked in a stockyard and was a Pullman porter, died when Ethel was 46 and Ethel’s mother became a domestic worker to support the family. There was little money for education so after high school, Payne began putting herself through junior college and then Garrett Biblical Institute.

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Even in today’s relatively progressive world, female journalists often face discrimination or are corralled into writing or producing material that is meant to appeal to the so-called feminine point-of-view. As we recently highlighted, there are those like Christiane Amanpour who have worked hard to challenge the status quo. But for every Amanpour, there is another young woman likely being pushed toward producing pieces about beauty, the home, or entertainment news—subjects supposedly geared toward a feminine audience. Amid persistent sexism in media, we can look to nineteenth-century journalist Nellie Bly, who became both a popular and respected voice of her time and a strong role model in investigative news.

Nellie was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in Pennsylvania in 1864. She got her unofficial start as a writer by responding to a column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch column titled, “What Girls Are Good For,” which suggested that women were suited only for housekeeping and having children. She answered the article under the pseudonym “Lonely Orphan Girl”, openly challenging its misogynistic message. Cochran eventually revealed her identity to the newspaper’s editor, who offered “Lonely Orphan Girl” the chance to write more about female-centric issues like divorce and working women. She was eventually offered a permanent position and, as was the custom at the time, she was assigned a pen name: Nellie Bly.

Like most women writers of the time, she was primarily assigned columns focusing on the home, children, fashion, and society—but she quickly became restless in this role. Nellie pushed her editor for freedom and began writing on more pressing societal issues like challenges facing the poor, women’s status in society, conditions in local factories, and other similar topics. Though Bly’s articles were popular, the newspaper began to receive pushback from local businesses who threatened to pull advertisements from the paper unless the stories stopped. Discouraged, Nellie traveled to Mexico as a foreign news correspondent for the paper, reporting on the lives of everyday Mexicans and the Mexican government. She once again found herself mired in controversy, this time over her criticism of the government. Bly had to flee the country, but her writings on the subject were published as a book called Six Months in Mexico.


Once back in the states, Nellie moved to New York City and struggled to make her way as a professional journalist. Nearly destitute after four months, she talked her way into a column at Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, The New York World. The paper’s editor was intrigued by her proposed story—an undercover exposé on the poor living conditions at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. Bly managed to get herself committed to the asylum and was immediately subject to the horrific conditions therein. Bly apparently was so convincing in her feigned insanity that other patients refused to room with her. The facility held a staggering 1,600 patients, most of whom were subjected to “treatments” like ice baths, wore threadbare garments, lived in vermin-infested quarters, and ate rancid food. She wrote, “What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment?”

Bly’s writings centered not only on the cruelty of the facility and its doctors but also on the humanity of its patients. She witnessed that a number of them were not mentally ill at all; they just lacked the ability to speak for themselves in court or spoke little to no English. After a few days, Nellie revealed that her “crazy” persona was a ruse, but The New York World ultimately had to send an attorney to have her released from the facility. Days later, the newspaper began running Nellie’s writings on the asylum in installments called “Behind Asylum Bars” and they became a sensation. Her stories were syndicated in newspapers across the country. Her investigative journalism spurred examinations into the treatment (and mistreatment) of the mentally ill and prompted a grand jury investigation that resulted in overhauls to the asylum’s practices. Bly’s installments were compiled into a book, titled Ten Days in a Mad-House.

Nellie Bly continued to go undercover, writing about unwanted babies by pretending to be an unwed mother trying to sell her child, exposing corrupt government officials by attempting to bribe a crooked lobbyist, and secretly posing as a poverty-stricken factory worker to uncover poor working conditions.


In 1889, she began a more lighthearted assignment, attempting to make a trip around the world, inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. At the time, women were considered too much trouble to take on long journeys, as it was assumed they would require constant chaperoning and lots of luggage. To combat this stereotype, Nellie set off on her journey with no escort and only the most essential items. Heading east from New York, she journeyed to England, Egypt, Ceylon, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. The New York World held a popular contest, challenging readers to guess her arrival date. Early telegraph cables allowed Bly to send short travel updates to her editors. Nellie traveled by steamship and rail and faced setbacks, like rough ocean weather, that delayed her travel time. After landing in San Francisco, she boarded a train that brought her home to New York. Seventy-two days, six hours, and eleven minutes after her departure, Bly arrived at her original starting point—handily beating Verne’s fictional eighty days. After her journey, Nellie toured the world giving lectures and wrote Nellie Bly’s Book: Around the World in Seventy-Two Days. Not long after, she was back on the beat writing articles about police corruption, labor strikes, and women’s suffrage.

At age 31, Bly retired from journalism when she married 73-year-old millionaire Robert Seaman. She helped manage his company, Iron Clad Manufacturing, which made milk cans, barrels, and garbage cans. Nellie even patented a milk can and stacking garbage can during her time there. When Robert died in 1904 and the company eventually went bankrupt, Nellie returned to journalism. She traveled to Austria during World War I and acted as a war correspondent for five years. Eventually returning to New York, she wrote an advice column, worked for women’s suffrage, and aided widows and poor families. She wrote until her death in 1922 at age 57, from pneumonia.

Nellie Bly did not let her gender define the course of her career. Through her actions, she proved that women were capable of great and captivating journalism. She broke barriers by showing that women should not be relegated to lifestyle and society columns and put her life on the line for a good story. Though women still fight not to be pigeonholed in the media and in all professions, Nellie Bly stands as a model of someone who challenged gender roles and succeeded. This is why she is one of our #womenwhoinspire.



Margaret Bourke-White, born in the Bronx in 1904, was one of the earliest prominent female photographers – working for a number of notable publications, primarily LIFE magazine. Though she studied photography in college, she was uninterested in pursuing it as a profession until long out of school. Eventually, she formed her own company, with Otis Steel Company among her first clients. Through this work, she proved both her worth as a female photographer and her skill at capturing detail through the lens. Accordingly, she began to attract national attention.

Bourke-White was hired in 1929 as a staff photographer for Fortune magazine, allowing her up-close access to the financial collapse that ultimately became The Great Depression. In 1936 she was hired by publishing magnate Henry Luce as LIFE Magazine’s first female photographer. One of her earliest assignments was covering the construction of the Fort Peck Dam, a Public Works Administration project in Montana. Her photo negatives, arriving at the LIFE office just 24 hours before the first issue’s publication, made the cover—published on November 23, 1936. The issue sold out immediately and within months the magazine’s circulation more than tripled. The cover photo was selected by the United States Postal Service to represent the 1930s in its series, “Celebrate the Century.”


Image Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

During the mid-thirties, Bourke-White also traveled the American Dust Bowl, photographing those living through the national disaster. The photos became a book, You Have Seen Their Faces, that explored the humanity of those suffering in the Dust Bowl and during the depression.

In 1941, Margaret toured Europe and the Soviet Union as what we believe to be the first female war correspondent. She is alleged to be the only Western photographer in Moscow during the German raids on the Kremlin, where she captured Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s portrait. She and her fellow journalists are said to have ushered Russian citizens to safety—all while taking the only photographs of the attack, including a shot of the Kremlin, lit by bombs exploding around it. Over the course of the war, Bourke-White was embedded with the U.S. Army and Air Force in North Africa, Italy, and Germany, coming under heavy fire in each location.


While in Europe, Bourke-White traveled throughout Germany with American General George S. Patton and, through her lens, documented untold atrocities. She captured images of brutal work camps, Nazi officials and their families, dead from suicides, and the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, including survivors and the furnaces where so many Jews were burned. She kept secret the fact that her father was Jewish and later admitted that she used her camera lens to create a barrier between herself and what she was witnessing.

Margaret also requested permission to cover the North African campaign, where she traveled by ship. The boat was struck by a torpedo and sunk. Bourke-White salvaged only one of her cameras and captured images of other survivors on lifeboats. Between this and her experiences in Europe, she became known at LIFE as “Maggie the Indestructible.” She was also the subject of an Army “pin-up” poster, the photo for which was captured after she flew on a B-17 bombing raid. Her photos of the raid would run in LIFE magazine, and pictures of Margaret dressed in flying gear made her perhaps the most clothed military pin-up of all time.


Image Credit: Time Magazine

After an entire career as a conflict photographer, Bourke-White traveled into Pakistan in the late 1940s to cover the battles between India and Pakistan and the Indian freedom movement. She recorded horrors that were unlike any she had seen since photographing concentration camps. After the war, she spent a great deal of time documenting the life of Mohandas Gandhi. One of her most famous images was that of Gandhi at his spinning wheel, taken in 1946. According to documents from the International Photography Hall of Fame, there were two conditions for photographing him: do not speak to him, as it was his day of silence, and do not use artificial light. Due to the dim light in his hut, she convinced them to allow her three flashbulbs. According to Bourke-White, “I was grateful that he would not speak to me, for I could see it would take all the attention I had to overcome the halation from the wretched window just over his head. He started to spin, beautifully, rhythmically and with a fine nimble hand…When Gandhi made a most beautiful movement as he drew the thread, I pushed the trigger and was reassured by the sound that everything had worked properly.” She also interviewed and photographed Gandhi a few hours before his 1948 assassination.


Image Credit: Time Magazine

After India, Margaret’s next assignment was to cover the Korean War. It was there, in 1953, where she began to notice symptoms of what she would learn was Parkinson’s disease. Within four years, she found herself unable to continue working and eventually retired from LIFE in 1969. Bourke-White endured multiple treatments and two brain surgeries in an attempt to combat her illness; she was able to successfully end her tremors but her speech was permanently affected. During this time, she wrote her autobiography, Portrait of Myself and continued to lecture. Over the course of her lifetime, Bourke-White would write eleven books.

Bourke-White died in 1971 at age 67, from Parkinson’s disease. She is quoted as saying, “Photography is a very subtle thing. You must let the camera take you by the hand, as it were, and lead you into your subject.” For her immeasurable skill and ability to find the humanity in the most difficult circumstances, Margaret White-Bourke is one of our #womenwhoinspire.

Lead image credit: Time Magazine



The newsroom has traditionally been a “boys’ club”—and we are just beginning to see a shift in this mindset, both on cable and network news. For decades, Christiane Amanpour has been challenging that norm as a prominent news correspondent and a leader and role model for women (and all journalists) all over the world.

Growing up in both Tehran and England as the daughter of a Muslim from Iran and a Christian from the United Kingdom, she is fluent in both English and Farsi. Her family left Iran due to tensions between Iran and Iraq, which heavily impacted her father’s business. The dual perspective provided by these circumstances of her adolescence has likely been a foundation of the open point-of-view Amanpour brings to her news work and the empathy she offers in her programming.


Image Credit: Financial Tribune

Amanpour made her debut on the national news scene in 1983 at CNN and three years later was working as a producer-correspondent in their New York offices. By the late 1980s, she was sent to Europe, covering the fall of communism and the rise of democracy. She became more prominent as a television reporter during the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s, covering the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the later United States involvement. From there Christiane moved to Iraq, reporting on the Kurdish revolt and then to Bosnia and Herzegovina – a move that put her in American living rooms on a regular basis. It is widely believed that her reporting on the conflict made our citizens more actively informed and aware of the atrocities occurring. Amanpour was sometimes criticized for her passionate editorials on and bias surrounding the conflict. But, as she told the Guardian, “There are some situations one simply cannot be neutral about, because when you are neutral you are an accomplice. Objectivity doesn’t mean treating all sides equally. It means giving each side a hearing.”

Christiane’s experience in conflict reporting has found her covering crises in Haiti, Afghanistan, Palestinian territories, Somalia, Rwanda, the Balkans, and she reported from Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. Amanpour has also obtained interviews with world leaders that other reporters could not. She famously interviewed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat live via telephone during the siege on his Ramallah compound in 2002, and the leader angrily hung up on her. She was the sole journalist reporting from the courtroom during Saddam Hussein’s 2004 trial and the last reporter to officially interview Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi before he was overthrown and killed in 2011. She also secured the only interview with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring.


Image Credit: Time

Currently, Amanpour works for two networks – an incredibly unique arrangement. She serves as global affairs anchor for ABC News and provides international commentary and analysis for their other news programs. She is also the chief international correspondent for CNN International and her show “Amanpour” permanently filled the spot vacated by Charlie Rose, who faces sexual harassment allegations.

Recently, Amanpour created a CNN documentary series called “Sex and Love Around the World,” seeking to examine cultural approaches to sex, love, relationships, and marriage. The series of composed of six episodes, each helmed by a female director. “I wanted to know how many women and girls understand that they have a right to their own happiness,” Amanpour told Variety. “It doesn’t happen in so many parts of the world for so many reasons — culturally, legally, religiously. Now I’m finding that this is changing and young women are becoming the agents of their own happiness. They’re investigating the full extent of what it means to be a human being.”


Image Credit: Politico

Amanpour has received virtually every journalistic award possible, including nine Emmy Awards, two George Polk Awards, the Courage in Journalism Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award, and multiple George Foster Peabody Awards. She is a commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and an honorary citizen of Sarajevo. Christiane is also on the board of directors for the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Women’s Media Foundation, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and has served as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for freedom of expression and journalist safety. Amanpour continues to delve into new and difficult subjects and is a world leader in international journalism. For this and many reasons, Christiane Amanpour is one of our #womenwhoinspire.

Lead image credit: The New York Times



Tanzila Khan was born in Sialkot, Pakistan, and a physical disability has confined her to a wheelchair since birth. Her activism began early in her life, as she was on the receiving end of discriminatory practices. In Pakistan, those with disabilities are often relegated to a lower status and their needs and desires are rarely taken into account. When she was sixteen, Tanzila wrote her first book, A Story of Mexico, and has since published her second book, a novel titled The Perfect Situation. The profits from both books have funded disaster relief for victims of the Pakistani earthquake, for disability awareness, and female empowerment.

She faced discrimination in school, as she was not allowed to participate in theater, social activities, and philanthropic clubs. “I think earlier when I was in my school, it was the identity that I was given and that was the girl on a wheelchair. And during that part [of my life] I realized that this doesn’t sound right to me, it sounds too hopeless, it sounds too upsetting and sad—not just for me but for the person who is addressing me either. This whole circle of sadness didn’t appeal to me that much. So, I thought that I have to change this identity. So at that time, I considered myself, I looked at myself and said to myself that what do you have, what can you do? And the only things that I had were my hands, so I had to use my hands. So, deliberately I pushed myself towards reading and writing.”

According to Tanzila, her primary motivation is the simple joy of being alive. She feels that she has a great responsibility to impact the youth of Pakistan, focusing not only on disability rights but also access to education and resources. She has partnered with the British Council, Global Changemakers, and Oxfam to further the reach of her causes. Tanzila has also used her platform to press the Pakistani government for wheelchair accessibility in all government buildings. She describes herself as a “soft-skills trainer” for development and the corporate sector and is an international motivational speaker.


Photo Credit: Pak101.com

Tanzila believes that her college experiences helped her crystallize her focus on disability rights. In her TEDx talk, she explains, “I wasn’t allowed to take part in any activity because the faculty feared that I might face some physical obstacle. They had their fears, while I had my own: someone was killing the spirit inside of me… And then again, again, again, I was not allowed to be part of many activities. Again there came a point where I decided to break the line. I declared, ‘Fine—you can have your own events, you can have your own theater, you can do whatever you like; I’ll have my own… It took me quite a while to realize that my cause, my passion, my subject was inside me, was with me all this time, and it took me so long to get there. This is the reason I was created.”

At that moment she began to formulate the idea of her own production company called Creative Alley, which now trains and empowers the community through events and projects. It provides the youth of Pakistan and across the world a platform to share artistic works. The group’s primary initiative is a “youth capacity-building workshop” taught by Tanzila called Let’s Get M.A.D. (Make a Difference). “Creative Alley is a platform for everyone and anyone out there who has the talent, who has the skills, but who didn’t get the chance.” It acts as a springboard, encouraging and assisting individuals with disabilities to exhibit and distribute their work across the world.


Photo Credit: Tanzilakhan.com

In her work as a speaker, she advises, “Leadership involves initiatives. So in whatever walk of life you are currently in, take an initiative. Because in later years, initiative will define your identity.

Lead image courtesy of Be Bold People.



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.



In August 2016, Wagatwe Wanjuki live streamed herself burning her once-loved Tufts University sweatshirt on Facebook Live. She held up the shirt bearing the name of her former college, one she bought in high school when she was accepted to Tufts. “I was very proud to claim Tufts as my school and my alma mater,” Wanjuki said before setting the sweatshirt ablaze. But Tufts failed Wanjuki, who reported that a fellow student she was in a relationship with raped her multiple times in 2008. The school opted not to investigate the crime; Wagatwe was expelled in 2009 due to poor grades, which she attributes to the trauma she was experiencing as a survivor. She was less than a year from her scheduled graduation. “My confidence was shot,” Wanjuki told The Huffington Post. “Tufts was saying I was too stupid to stay there. A big part of my identity was that I was always a good student.”

It is reported that one out of five women will be sexually assaulted while attending college in America, but universities often fail to act or mishandle cases, when they are even reported. According to the US Bureau of Justice, only 7% of campus rapes are reported to school officials and 4% are reported to law enforcement; students say they opt not to report because they fear ridicule, not being believed, lack of confidentiality, or that no action will be taken on their behalf.

Wanjuki made waves in 2014 when she felt compelled to respond to a Washington Post column written by George Will that suggested the campus rape epidemic was being exaggerated and that women may be lying about their assaults, as survivors receive “coveted status that confers privilege.” Enraged, she sent out tweets saying “Where’s my survivor privilege? Was expelled & have $10,000s of private student loans used to attend a school that didn’t care I was raped,” and “The #survivorprivilege of being too scared to leave my dorm room for fear of running into my perp.” The #survivorprivilege hashtag took off and Will’s column came under heavy criticism. “There is nothing to gain by being raped, and there is no privilege to coming forward,” Wanjuki told Mic. “In fact, many survivors lose more after they report due to backlash thanks to our victim-blaming culture.”


Image Source: Vice.com; photo by Phoenix Tso

After her assault, Wagatwe began to act on behalf of other survivors, calling for reform alongside the national group Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER) and helped organize campus demonstrations demanding reform. She and fellow rape survivor/activist Kamilah Willingham, who was assaulted as a student at Harvard Law School, started the Just Say Sorry campaign in an attempt to get colleges and universities to offer formal apologies when they fail students and mishandle on-campus sexual assault cases.

The campaign is part of a larger organization the women have since founded, called Survivors Eradicating Rape Culture (SERC) with the goal of stopping sexual violence before it happens. Their website proclaims, “We believe that we can only stop gendered violence by focusing on changing the institutions and beliefs that enable and perpetuate sexual violence. Through the use of strategic education and advocacy, SERC aims to create a world in which organizations like ours are obsolete.” Willingham says, “We want institutional accountability to be the norm, not the exception.”

Since she began to speak out, Wanjuki has appeared in The Hunting Ground, a documentary film about sexual assault on college campuses, and has joined the board of directors for Know Your IX. Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity that receives federal funding. It addresses sexual harassment, sexual violence, or gender-based discrimination that may deny anyone access to educational opportunities or benefits. Know Your IX is a youth- and survivor-led project that aims to empower students to end sexual and dating violence in their schools. Title IX was bolstered under the Obama administration, which formed a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The current administration has announced plans to roll back federal guidance on Title IX—though no action has yet been taken.


Image Source: The Establishment

In an incident unrelated to Wanjuki’s, Tufts University was found in violation of Title IX in 2014 for a failure to address student complaints of sexual assault in a “prompt and equitable” way. Shortly thereafter, the university released an updated sexual misconduct policy aimed at addressing these findings. Wagatwe told Mic that she saw this as a victory because “the school that wronged me was finally told that it wasn’t doing enough to help survivors.”

She remains active in her Just Say Sorry campaign and hopes increased focus on campus sexual violence will make campuses safer and help others to come forward. She also wants to increase awareness of violence toward marginalized survivors, like trans, queer, gender non-conforming individuals, and people of color. Manjuki believes that apologies validate the experiences of victims of violence. She told Salon, “Apologizing is a meaningful statement. It is a public declaration saying that we acknowledge that this thing that happened to you is wrong and we’re sorry. It’s a really valuable tool for survivors because at the end of the day what survivors want is to be recognized. And they want to have the community say that what happened to them is wrong so they’re no longer carrying the shame on themselves, which is completely unfair.

Wanjuki told MSNBC, “I hope that women of the next generation will be able to attend school under the leadership of administrators who won’t see sexual assault as a public relations issue, but rather a safety issue they can address. And I really hope that survivors of all identities of color, queer, low-income, with disabilities, trans, gender nonconforming, from community college, in relationships, etc.—will find it easier have their stories heard.”

For more information on Wagatwe Wanjuki, SERC, and their goals and strategies, visit eradicaterape.org.

Image Source: Wagatwe.com



Did you know that (per the Indian Law Resource Center) more than 4 out of 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than 50% have experienced sexual violence? Were you aware that, according to the Center for Disease Control, the third-leading cause of death for Native American and Alaska Native women aged 10-24, is murder? Twenty-five-year-old Calina Lawrence knows and her mission is to speak the truth of Native women until the world understands the scope of this problem – one that goes largely unaddressed in the justice system.

For 40 years, United States law has made it nearly impossible for Indian nations to prosecute non-Natives, who reportedly commit about 88% of violent crimes against Native women on tribal lands. In the 1978 Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, the court determined that tribal courts do not have criminal jurisdiction over non-indigenous people, and so they may not punish them without authorization from Congress. Non-Native individuals compose over 75% of the population on tribal lands and federal and state authorities decline to prosecute nearly 70% of matters occurring on tribal lands that are referred to them. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 updated some of these issues, giving tribes jurisdiction over “domestic violence, dating violence and violations of protective orders that occur on their lands,” but violence has not decreased.


Photo credit: The University of San Francisco

As an enrolled member of the Suquamish Tribe, Lawrence was raised in the Pacific Northwest within her indigenous culture. She graduated from the University of San Francisco with degrees in performing arts and social justice and, since graduating, has become a leader in pushing for awareness in violence against native women, advocating for Native Treaty Rights, and has been an active participant in the “Mni Wiconi” (Water is Life) movement led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Lawrence strongly believes that there is a strong connection between the violence against Native people and the violence against Native lands. She said, “The violence against women is synonymous with the environmental injustice that we have been facing… And until we can really sit down and continue conversations that address that reality for the most marginalized, the most vulnerable, which, in my experience, [are] Native American women and LGBTQ and children…we have a real shot at redefining our humanity and redefining how we exist and coexist with Mother Earth.”

Awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women was first brought to light in Canada when the true nature of government-mandated boarding schools was made public. These school systems and their near-identical counterparts in the United States were created for the sole purpose of assimilating Native children into “white” culture. Students were forced to move long distances from their families, prohibited from speaking their native languages, were exposed to diseases like tuberculosis and flu, as well as physical and sexual abuse. In Canada, at least 6,000 students are estimated to have died while at these boarding schools; there is no true number of those who perished in America. The larger legacy of these institutions has been a created culture of violence, post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide within indigenous communities in the Americas.

According to Calina, “This [has] been ongoing since colonial invasion. It’s been ongoing since the boarding school eras, where they stripped our children from families and abused them in religious boarding schools. Those things have been inherited. The patriarchal violence that we’ve been on the receiving end still very much exists today. And so, there’s a lot of work that’s happening, not only around collecting these stories and this information but really working in the community to shift our psychological approach, to start to ask the comfortable questions and to hold more folks accountable as to what contributes to our dehumanization.”

Referring to water, land, and animals as “non-human relatives”, she works to aid all at-risk elements of violence against Native peoples. She considers herself an “art-ivist”; a talented singer, Calina has released a number of singles since her college graduation, most relating to Native issues and featuring other indigenous artists. She is scheduled to release her first full album this year.


Photo credit: The San Francisco Foghorn

When it was announced that the “Times Up” campaign, which was created to fight sexual harassment, assault, and inequality for women in all industries, would participate in the 2018 Golden Globes, many advocate attendees opted to bring notable activists as their companions. Lawrence attended with actress Shailene Woodley – whom she met when both were protesting at Standing Rock. The indigenous activist said, “As an indigenous woman from Washington state, and on behalf of missing and murdered indigenous women and those who commit their lifetime and effort to finding justice for us, we stand in solidarity with the Time’s Up movement and this initiative to create healing and empowerment across the world. It’s an honor to be a part and to celebrate and to speak truth.”

Lead image credit: The University of San Francisco



In the late 1950s, Jane Goodall visited Kenya at the urging of a friend, not knowing that her life’s work lay just ahead. She fostered a love for all animals since early childhood and, while there, summoned the courage to reach out to famous anthropologist Louis Leakey, whose fossil discoveries documented that modern man’s origins lay in Africa. Then-curator of the Coryndon Museum in Nairobi, Leakey initially hired Goodall as a secretary—but was looking for someone to dedicate time to the study of chimpanzees in the wild, for the purposes of the study of evolution. Chimpanzees, the world’s second-most intelligent primate, had not yet been successfully observed in the wild, nor their behaviors cataloged. Though Goodall had no college degree, Leakey determined that she was the woman for the job and sent her to study with famed primatologists in London; she then moved to the Gombe National Park in Tanzania, a move that directly determined the remainder of her life’s work.

When Jane walked into the forests of Gombe, neither she nor the rest of the world had a strong understanding of chimpanzees or their close genetic ties to modern man. Because she was not formally trained in traditional research methods, Goodall approached her study in an unorthodox way, working to immerse herself in the chimpanzee habitat and studying their day-to-day behaviors up close, rather than as a distant observer. Instead of numbering her chimp subjects, she named them and observed their individual personality traits. This practice has continually called into question her objectivity in studying her subjects.


Image Credit: G Adventures

Goodall’s studies uncovered information that was unknown to that point: that chimpanzees have a complex social system, their own form of language, they go to war, use touch and comfort to bond, and are not vegetarian. She has been credited as the first person to observe chimpanzees making and using tools, a trait previously attributed only to humans. Supposedly, Goodall witnessed a male chimpanzee strip the leaves from a twig, insert it into a termite nest, and use it as a spoon to collect his meal. She said, “It was hard for me to believe. At that time, it was thought that humans, and only humans, used and made tools. I had been told from school onwards that the best definition of a human being was man the tool-maker—yet I had just watched a chimp tool-maker in action. I remember that day as vividly as if it was yesterday.” Her findings were the first to suggest that there was a closer relationship between humans and chimps than ever seen before.

In order to bolster her scientific credentials, Leakey sent Goodall to Cambridge University, where she earned a Ph.D. in ethology. This provided her a level of credibility in a community of scientists who were highly critical of the practice of anthropomorphizing animal subjects. “These people were trying to make ethology a hard science,” Goodall told The Guardian. “So they objected—quite unpleasantly—to me naming my subjects and for suggesting that they had personalities, minds, and feelings. I didn’t care.” She did concede one important point: “The brain of a chimp and the brain of a human are not that different anatomically. But we [humans] started to talk to each other and that drove the brain—because there were more and more things that we could do with it. Chimps can do all sorts of things we thought that only we could do—like tool-making and abstraction and generalization. They can learn a language—sign language and they can use the signs. But when you think of our intellects, even the brightest chimp looks like a very small child.”


Image Credit: Variety

In 1977, Goodall founded the Jane Goodall Institute, which houses most of Jane’s research and continues the work she began in Gombe; it has dozens of offices around the world. She is the face and driving force behind efforts to protect chimpanzees and their natural habitat. She has also written a number of books, including In the Shadow of Man, a study of chimpanzees, Through a Window, which discusses problems associated with keeping chimps in captivity, and The Chimpanzee Family Book, which is geared toward children. Goodall was also the subject of “Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees”, a television program that demonstrated Jane’s work with primates and conservation. The film “Jane” combined footage from the television series with modern-day interviews to give a full view of Goodall’s work with chimps.


Image Credit: National Geographic

Jane has accomplished something remarkable: attracting more women to the field of research, particularly primate studies—an area that was almost completely filled with men when Goodall began her work. She has also directed attention to the impact of deforestation and the destruction of the habitats of wild animals and works actively to educate local communities and to improve their quality of life. According to the Jane Goodall Institute, more than one million chimpanzees lived in Africa a hundred years ago, while today that number could be as low as 200,000.


Image Credit: Stuff.co

Though in her eighties, Jane Goodall still travels widely as an advocate of chimpanzees and their environment. She is a board member for “Save the Chimps”, the largest chimpanzee sanctuary outside of Africa, serves on the board of the Nonhuman Rights Project, and is a United Nations Messenger of Peace. Goodall has received many honors, including the Gold Medal of Conservation from the San Diego Zoological Society, the J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize, the Schweitzer Medal of the Animal Welfare Institute, the National Geographic Society Centennial Award, and the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences. She has also been named a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.


Lead image credit of The Jane Goodall Institute.

Rachel Carson Portrait by Irving Penn from 1951 courtesy of Condé Nast


Photograph © Condé Nast: “Rachel Carson, Washington, D.C., 1951” by Irving Penn

Rachel Carson’s childhood was spent in a smoky suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, far from the seas and oceans that would one day capture her heart. Her home was near the local glue factory, where she would watch slaughtered horses fed by conveyor belt into an oven; the smell was so rancid that families rarely went outside in the evenings. Without realizing it, she was learning about the impact that companies and chemicals had on animals—even the human animal.

Once she was old enough, Rachel attended the Pennsylvania College for Women, then studied at the oceanographic institute and Woods Hole Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, before receiving her master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University. A gifted writer and scientist, she was made editor-in-chief for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s publications. Her first book, Under the Sea Wind, written in 1941, told the story of fish and seabirds written in a clear, narrative style. In 1951, she published The Sea Around Us, which was essentially the biographical story of the sea. The book became a best seller and won a U.S. National Book Award. The Edge of the Sea, another bestseller, described the ecosystems of the entire American east coast. She was beginning to address issues that, while at the time were uncommon discussion points, are now critical worldwide issues: climate change, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and dwindling animal populations.

These books prepared her for the arduous research and writing of what would become her seminal work, Silent Spring, published in 1962. It was serialized in The New Yorker, making its way into the homes of average Americans—not just to the desks of scientists and academics. Carson also made an appearance on “CBS Reports” that brought her message into our living rooms. The book primarily focuses on the effect of chemicals on Earth’s ecosystems, but also speaks to their effects on humans, in the form of cancer. The book warns of the dangers resulting from misuse of pesticides, particularly DDT. Through this work, she questioned whether man had a right to manipulate and control nature. She accused chemical companies of intentionally spreading misinformation and public officials of believing those claims without questioning them.

Using tactics that are now commonplace, chemical companies attacked Carson personally—launching publicity campaigns to discredit her science, calling her a Communist sympathizer, accusing her of colluding with the Soviet Union to cause massive crop shortages, and deriding her as a crazy cat lady. Biographer Linda Lear described their characterizations: “She was an alarmist, they claimed… Even a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture was known to wonder in public ‘why a spinster with no children was so interested in genetics.’ Her unpardonable offense was that she had overstepped her place as a woman.” Even today there are those who believe that banning DDT caused massive outbreaks of malaria in Africa due to a rise in the mosquito population. This conflict marked the beginning of environmental issues as a partisan issue.

Less than a year after Silent Spring was published, Rachel Carson—secretly dying of breast cancer—testified before the Senate about the effects of pesticides on the environment. “Our heedless and destructive acts enter into the vast cycles of the earth and, in time, return to bring hazard to ourselves.” She lived long enough to see her book become a success, selling over a million copies before her death in April 1964. President John F. Kennedy instructed a science advisory committee to investigate Carson’s claims. Their report eventually vindicated her, finding that overuse of pesticides was causing a buildup of poison in our food chain. However, it took a decade and two subsequent presidents to officially ban the production of DDT in America.

Rachel Carson at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, 1950

“Rachel Carson at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, 1950.” Photo credit: Linda Lear Center for Special Collections & Archives, Connecticut College

Since the publication of Silent Spring, the environment has become a more divisive issue than ever. As a society, we have chosen not to heed many of Carson’s still-relevant warnings. “Chemical war is never won and all life is caught in its violent crossfire,” she wrote. Today, we see honeybees dying by the hundreds of thousands, and more and more fish and wild game being wiped out by chemicals and lack of stewardship. Leading environmentalist Jonathon Porritt said, “I think she would have been horrified about the state of the planet today. Silent Spring outlined a clear and important message: that everything in nature is related to everything else. Yet we have not taken that idea on board or fully appreciated its significance. In that sense, we have let her down.”

Cover of Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson

Lost Wood: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson

Still, Rachel Carson’s work remains relevant, is cited as an influence on conservational organizations across the world, and was influential in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Carson is considered by many to be the mother of the modern environmental movement. Silent Spring has now sold over two million copies and Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980, by President Jimmy Carter. It remains up to us to heed her message and work toward a cleaner Earth, led by an educated population.

P.S.: Read “The Ocean and the Meaning of Life” from The Marginalian here.


“Rachel Carson examining a specimen” by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Photo credit: The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images



“All black art is political. I think our very presence is political. Anyone that is able to establish a voice and a consistent presence and put their voice forth is doing something radical and political with their very presence.” – Ava DuVernay

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay was born in 1972 in Long Beach, California, and raised in Lynwood—just outside of Compton. She grew up surrounded by the violence that permeated that time and place, but also in a space where art and activism lived. Her mother Darlene was an educator and activist and her Aunt Denise, who she constantly references as a major influence in her life, reinforced the idea that art was important. DuVernay explains that her aunt worked at night so she could “pursue her passion during the day, which was art and literature and theater…. She worked to live. But what she loved in life was the arts. She was fed by it. That was a huge influence on me.” Both her mother and her aunt made sure Ava knew that you could make an impact through the arts.

DuVernay majored in English and African-America Studies at UCLA and, remarkably, did not pick up a movie camera to produce her own work until she was 32 years old. Prior to that time, she spent years working in film publicity and marketing. After years of watching other directors work, she began releasing short films before writing and directing I Will Follow in 2010. Middle of Nowhere followed shortly thereafter in 2012. At that year’s Sundance Film Festival, she won the U.S. Directing Award: Dramatic – the first African-American woman to do so.


Photo Credit: Digital Trends

Her next major film was Selma, a biopic on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—the first ever presented on the big screen. Selma was an important historical drama, but it was also a personal project for DuVernay; her beloved step-father was an Alabama native and she would visit his childhood home on summer vacations. As a child, he watched the Selma-to-Montgomery marchers pass and his memories informed her experience making the film. The movie was both controversial and acclaimed, but it was undeniably powerful. DuVernay became the first African-American female director nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Director and was the first black female director to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The film’s lack of nominations in other categories—and the absence of diversity in the moviemaking industry—contributed to the #OscarsSoWhite movement.

As the movement picked up steam, DuVernay became a strong voice, challenging the entire industry to evaluate its representation (or lack of representation) of people of color. She told Time Magazine, “If the person who gets to tell the story is always one kind of person, if the dominant images that we see throughout our lifetimes, our mothers’ lifetimes, our grandmothers’ lifetimes, have been dominated by one kind of person, and we take that? We internalize it. We drink it in, as true, as fact. The images in our minds that make up our memories are all told by one kind of person, one kind of background. It shouldn’t be this way. That is a deficit to us. A deficit to the culture… For anyone who is working in a house that was not built for them, at times it is not particularly welcoming… So, it’s about making sure we push against tokenism and vain attempts at diversity and push for different points of view to be centered, valued, and seen.”


Photo Credit: The New York Times

In 2016, DuVernay directed and co-wrote 13th, a documentary about the Thirteenth Amendment and how race, the American justice system, and mass incarceration have devastated the African-American community. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Outstanding Documentary. Currently, she is wrapping up Disney’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time and is the first black woman to direct a movie with a $100 million budget. Her movies inspired a race equivalent to the Bechdel Test (for women in film) called the DuVernay Test, which asks if films feature minorities with fully realized lives, who are not simply scenery in white stories.

In 2010, Ava founded AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement), her own distribution company meant to focus on films made by and/or focusing on black people. In 2015, she rebranded the company under the name ARRAY to focus on bringing attention to films by both women and people of color, worldwide. She also owns Forward Movement, a film and television production company. Recently, she partnered with Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, to launch a diversity program to fund internships in the entertainment industry for young people in underserved communities.


Photo Credit: The Huffington Post

DuVernay has earned the right to be selective in what films she makes and how. She is known for her care in creating inclusive environments on her film sets—recognizing every member of her cast and crew, from the marquee star to the key grip. But she acknowledges her privilege at this point in her career and the pathway that other, less renowned, black female filmmakers helped pave for her. DuVernay is and will remain dedicated to showcasing varied voices and images in cinema, further clearing the pathway for new voices in global media.


Lead Photo Credit: Super Soul


“What does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” – Sophie Scholl

These were the words of Sophie Scholl, a 21-year old leader of an Anti-Nazi rebellion movement in the 1940s. Sophie, her brother Hans, and their friend Christoph Probst, were executed by Nazi party officials in 1943, as a result of their distribution of a revolutionary leaflet called The White Rose. Their actions helped spur an undercurrent of revolt across Germany, throughout World War II.


Photo Credit: Speigel Online

Like many of the changemakers we have written about, the Scholl children were the products of politically aware parents. Their father, Robert Scholl, warned his children that Hitler was a dangerous man whose actions could lead to the destruction of Germany. But like most teenagers of the time, Hans and Sophie followed their peers and joined the Hitler Youth—beginning their indoctrination of the superiority of the German nation. In 1942, their father was arrested and spent time in a Nazi prison for speaking out against Hitler himself. He was quoted as saying, “This Hitler is God’s scourge on mankind, and if the war doesn’t end soon the Russians will be sitting in Berlin.” And so the Scholl children began to understand that the things they’d been taught in Nazi youth organizations might not be morally correct.

Because of their father’s arrest, Sophie and Hans knew that open dissent against the Nazi party was a dangerous enterprise. The government moved from more quiet deportation of Jews to concentration camps, to violent and overt conflict across the nation. In 1942, Sophie was attending the University of Munich and found an anti-Nazi pamphlet in class, which after some detective work she discovered was the work of her brother and some friends who’d formed an anonymous resistance campaign. Despite pleas from her brother, she decided immediately to join the group.

Inspired by the non-violent resistance tactics of American civil rights activists, the students began publishing anonymous pamphlets they distributed across central Germany. The first leaflet of The White Rose group (so named for the symbol of purity in the face of evil) appeared at the University of Munich and included an essay explaining how the Nazi regime was imprisoning and murdering entire groups of German citizens. At the bottom of the flyer were the words, “Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.” Its appearance caused an immediate stir on campus since dissent against the government was almost unheard of. “We will not be silent,” wrote The White Rose. “We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”


Photo Credit: Sportsocratic

The second pamphlet described the murder of 300,000 Polish Jews; the third leaflet called for destruction of arms plants, government-supported media, and public political meetings. Rumors, dissent, and more leaflets spread rapidly among students, and Nazi agents frantically began a search for the authors. Citizens began receiving, duplicating, and distributing the flyers in communities across Germany. The White Rose group also took to the streets, painting graffiti across the city of Munich, saying “Down with Hitler!” and “Freiheit!”—Freedom. They wanted to create the impression that The White Rose was a major revolutionary group. Before being caught, the group published six pamphlets in less than a year.

In February of 1943, the group was apprehended when leaving pamphlets in suitcases all across the University of Munich. Sophie took to a balcony that overlooked a courtyard and scattered reams of flyers as students exited classes. Her action was witnessed by the school’s janitor, who reported Sophie and Hans to the Gestapo. After being interrogated for nearly 24 hours, Sophie emerged from questioning with a broken leg but a steely spirit. She was quoted as saying, “I’ll make no bargain with the Nazis.”

The students’ hearing began a mere four days after their arrest and, because all pled guilty, they were not allowed to testify. Still, Sophie did not sit quietly throughout the proceedings. She interrupted the judge throughout, with statements like: “Somebody had to make a start! What we said and wrote are what many people are thinking. They just don’t dare say it out loud!” and “You know the war is lost. Why don’t you have the courage to face it?”

She was allowed one official statement: “Time and time again one hears it said that since we have been put into a conflicting world, we have to adapt to it. Oddly, this completely un-Christian idea is most often espoused by so-called Christians, of all people. How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone who will give himself up to a righteous cause? I did the best that I could do for my nation. I therefore do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences.” She and her fellow defendants were sentenced to death by execution, which was carried out within hours of the decision. On the back of Sophie’s indictment, she wrote the word “Freedom”. Her reported last words were, “Die Sonne scheint noch”—”The sun still shines.”


Photo Credit: Spartacus Online

At least 14 members of The White Rose organization (reportedly numbered around 30) were executed. More than 5,000 people were beheaded or sent to concentration camps during the height of the Nazi regime. Today, the story of The White Rose is known throughout Germany—which, as a country, has made a commitment to reconciliation and remembrance. There is a square at the University of Munich named for Hans and Sophie Scholl and there are streets, schools, and buildings across the country named for the Scholls and other members of The White Rose.

There have been moments in the last decades, even in the last couple of years, when the question has been asked: “Will you be on the right side of history?” Sophie Scholl knew that she had the opportunity to use her voice in a dangerous time, and she knew which side of history she wanted to be on.



Champion of women’s suffrage, Emmeline Pankhurst was born in 1858 in Manchester, England, to radical politically active parents. When she was 14 years old, they opened her eyes to women who were fighting for the right to vote – a cause she immediately took up and advocated for the rest of her life.

When Emmeline was 21, she married Dr. Richard Pankhurst, a liberal barrister 24 years her senior. He was also a prominent supporter of women’s rights and a friend and colleague of John Stuart Mill, who authored the first women’s suffrage bill in Great Britain in the late 1860s. Emmeline’s husband encouraged her to continue with her efforts in challenging what they both considered to be the oppressive status quo. He was her partner in founding the Women’s Franchise League which in 1894 secured the right for married women to vote in local elections, though not for members of the House of Commons.

Photo Credit: Manchester Evening News

After Richard’s death, Emmeline founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (ESPU), who were the first activists to be labeled “suffragettes”. The members were known for their militant and sometimes violent approach to activism. “Deeds not words” was Pankhurst’s approach to change, a distinct departure from the peaceful protests that women had previously used. These policies led the ESPU to sometimes act with violence and extremism, including bombings, arson, window smashings, and violence against police. Women would chain themselves to buildings and railings to protest inequality. The group’s tactics were not without fatalities. In 1913, union member Emily Davison threw herself under the king’s horse at the Derby in protest of the government’s failure to give women the vote.


Photo Credit: The Daily Mirror

Early on, members of the ESPU were expelled from a Liberal Party meeting for loudly demanding the members make a statement on votes for women. The women were arrested for assaulting police and, as the group would continue to do in the future, refused to pay bail and opted to go to prison instead. Emmeline was arrested over a dozen times, often staging hunger strikes which the government attempted to thwart by violently force feeing her. Police began using a “cat and mouse” tactic wherein they would release a hunger-striking prisoner, then re-arrest them once they were healthy. Objecting to the group’s violence and militancy, some members began to drift away from the union, including some members of Pankhurst’s family.

In 1914, Pankhurst temporarily set aside her suffrage efforts, devoting time and energy to Britain’s participation in World War I. She encouraged women to take industrial jobs to aid in wartime efforts – jobs usually given to men. An estimated 2 million women entered the workforce during the war. Proving they could do the work as efficiently as men, these women’s efforts did a great deal to change the perception of women in Britain’s society.


Photo Credit: Washington State University

The Representation of the People Act of 1918 granted voting rights to women over the age of 30, though men 21 and over had the right to vote. The WSPU reinvented itself into what became known as the Women’s Party, which worked toward women’s equity in society. In 1926, Pankhurst was nominated as the Conservative candidate for an East London region, but was unsuccessful in her attempt, as her health began to fail before the election. Emmeline passed away just two weeks before women were awarded the same rights to vote as men. Though considered by many to be a revolutionary to the end, The New York Herald Tribune described Pankhurst as “the most remarkable political and social agitator of the 20th century and the supreme protagonist of the campaign for the electoral enfranchisement of women.” In 1996 Time named Pankhurst one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, stating that “she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back.” There are plans for an 8-foot bronze statue in Britain’s Manchester city center, the first statue of a woman to be erected in the city in more than a century.

Pankhurst was quoted as saying, “We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half,” a motto she promoted until the end of her life.


Born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1862, Ida Wells was the child of politically active parents, and her life was an example of that influence. Her father James, after being freed from a lifetime of slavery, was involved in the Freedman’s Aid Society, and he helped found and served on the first board of trustees for Shaw University (now Rust University), a school for freed slaves.

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In Norwich Castle Museum in England, you can find several textiles made by a woman named Lorina Bulwer—embroideries that might be seen as messages of protest or anger. Of the three wool and cotton-scrap pieces, two are square images of arguing men, and the others are scrolls made of scraps, heavily embroidered with stream-of-consciousness-like text. Lorina sewed these messages from inside the Great Yarmouth Workhouse—an asylum.

Lorina Bulwer was born in the mid 1800s to parents who owned a chain of grocery stores. She appears to have been middle class, educated, and never married, living with her parents until their deaths. In the early 1900s, she was committed to the Great Yarmouth Workhouse by her brother, who decided that Lorina was “incapable of running her own affairs.” At that time, the workhouse was home to about 500 inmates, 60 of them (like Lorina) determined to be mentally ill and classified as “lunatics.” It was there that she created the embroidered scrolls and textiles expressing rage and frustration at her circumstances.

Her stitched messages were long tirades, all in upper case and without punctuation. Some of the things she writes appear to be fantasy, like her hopes of being related to the Royal Family. Other parts of the text refer to fellow inmates, their predicaments, and their deaths. She also suggests that she may have been sexually assaulted by a physician. Some of these events are verifiable or at least likely, as dates and names can be backed up by ledgers or legal records. Over 70 people are identified in the three tapestries, all apparently real, with her sister Anna Maria a frequent focus of Lorina’s ire.

It is unknown as to why Lorina was confined at Great Yarmouth. It is possible that she was indeed mentally ill and there was no one to care for her after her parents’ deaths; it is also possible that her siblings saw her as challenging or did not have the money or desire to take her into their homes. Asylums were also places that the destitute could go for health care if they had no financial support. Lorina had no problem expressing her disgust and sense of abandonment and held a specific belief that she had been cheated out of money.


No one has a clear understanding as to how or why these tapestries survived. Museum staff have theorized that a nurse may have kept them, but no one knows for sure. Two embroidered panels were found in an attic by incoming tenants, and they are now also housed at Great Yarmouth. Lorina Bulwer remained in the asylum until her death of influenza at age 79. Her body was not collected by family and she was interred at the Great Yarmouth Workhouse grounds. Details of her life and the asylum conditions are emerging over time and historians will undoubtedly continue to be fascinated by her story—told through needle and thread.



Images from Made in Slant



“We presented Southern white racists with a new option: kill us or desegregate.”

“Who the hell is Diane Nash?” Robert Kennedy Jr. asked his then-special assistant John Seigenthaler in 1961. At the time, Nash was helping to coordinate the legendary Freedom Rides, filling buses with black and white activists protesting the lack of desegregation enforcement. The initiative, originally organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), faced a major setback after a bus was firebombed in Anniston, Alabama, and riders were severely beaten by a mob in Birmingham. CORE was hesitant to continue the Freedom Rides but Nash gathered supporters and persisted. Seigenthaler pleaded with Nash to discontinue the rides, saying “You’re going to get somebody killed,” to which she replied, “You don’t understand—we signed our wills last night.” Nash explained years later in the documentary Freedom Riders, “It was clear to me that if we allowed the Freedom Ride to stop at that point, just after so much violence had been inflicted, the message would have been sent that all you have to do to stop a nonviolent campaign is inflict massive violence.”

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American artist Louise Nevelson has been an inspiration for several elements of our style aesthetic for some time now. The textural and stylistic elements of her sculpture have found their way into our collection a few times, particularly with the Tweed fabric design in our Bridal + Eveningwear Collection. Its sculptural qualities can find parentage in her layering techniques.

Central among Nevelson’s large installation sculptures (known as assemblage sculpture) was “Dawn’s Wedding Feast” a full room-sized work that became one of her signature pieces. The sculpture was created in 1959 for the Museum of Modern Art as an all-white wood assemblage including four chapels, a bride and groom, a wedding cake, furniture, and columns that were meant to represent guests. White, to Nevelson, represented “emotional promise” and “summoned the early morning”, making it ideal to exemplify the traditional aspect of the wedding and the promise of newness that surrounds it. Each element of the work was made from discarded wood pieces reassembled to create symmetrical figures—like two tall columns with disk-like bases: “Bride and Disk” and “Groom and Disk.”


Dawn’s Wedding Chapel II, 1959. Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

The installation was eventually broken down into 16 individual sculptures all centered around the theme of matrimony. The Bride and Groom became iconic, with the disks attached interpreted to represent the sun and moon and dawn’s role in the allegory of the wedding feast.



Lead image: Dawn’s Wedding Feast (1959-1960). Photo courtesy of ritalovestowrite.com.


Paradise Under Reconstruction in the Aesthetic of Funk—that is the name of fiber artist Xenobia Bailey’s ongoing cultural art project. It’s colorful, challenging, multi-disciplinary, and incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to categorize. Bailey’s primary media are yarn and fabric and most of her pieces are crochet or knitted. She often uses concentric circles or repeating pattern motifs and her work takes many forms: hats, costumes, quilts, giant mandalas, and even freestanding tents. Her art is partly informed by the love and care that her mother and other working-class women put into making their homes inviting and special. “She [her mother] created a beautiful ambiance with nothing,” Bailey said in an interview with The Root. “She’d get these afghans and quilts from the Salvation Army to adorn the house in a way that was like an art installation.”

Born Sherilyn Bailey in Seattle, Washington, she changed her name to Xenobia in honor of an ancient warrior queen. She studied ethnomusicology—the global exploration of music in its anthropological context—at the University of Washington. This was her introduction to the sounds and cultures of world music and Asian philosophies. Bailey worked as a costume designer for Black Arts West, an acclaimed African American community theater until she was accepted at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute in 1974. While earning her BA in industrial design, she learned to crochet under Italian Swiss artist Bernadette Sonona, whom Bailey described to The Root as “a brilliant needle artist” who taught her how nearly every skill she uses today in one lesson. Her signature stitch is referred to as “liquid stitch” – a flowy line that almost appears to be dripping. She has noted that the practice of crochet is meditative for her, like counting prayer beads.


Image courtesy of Burnaway.com.

As Bailey’s work and education advanced, she found increasing influence in African and Asian cultures, Eastern and Native American spiritual ideologies, African American rural and urban life, all underscored by a 1970s funk aesthetic. “Funk is the unending cycle of life,” she says. “It’s the ultimate concept—wherever your imagination will take it.” She has been quoted as saying that African American trauma resulted in funk. “But we can make a joyful noise in that funk, too. From that garbage comes fertilizer, and that’s where fresh seeds sprout.”

Her explorations with yarn led her to a career designing culturally explorative hats and sculptural headpieces inspired by African American patterns and traditional motifs and African American braided hairstyles. Her work appeared in Elle, Essence, and Interview magazines, in print advertisements for United Colors of Benetton, and on media like The Cosby Show and Spike Lee’s film, Do the Right Thing. Bailey ultimately moved to different areas of exploration because she didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a milliner. She wanted to promote cultural awareness on many levels and became, in effect, an activist.


Photo courtesy of the McColl Center.

Ms. Bailey admires the Bauhaus philosophy and wants everyday people to find ways to be revolutionary in everyday life. “Art has to be medicine,” she has said many times and wants her work to show everyday people that they can inspire themselves. “People don’t make up their own recipes anymore; people don’t experiment.” Her work is accessible but futuristic and spiritual, and undeniably DIY.

The next time you are in New York, visit the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority’s 34th Street-Hudson Yards station. There you will find her first public art commission, Funktional Vibrations—a glass mosaic that reflects her textile art and is a tribute to the African American experience. Bailey has no intention of retiring anytime soon and continues to expand her reach and express her point of view in new and innovative ways.

Lead image courtesy of SMS Commons.


“Remember, this is your day and your world.”
—Amelia Boynton

One of the most famous photographs taken of “Bloody Sunday”, when state troopers brutally assaulted civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama, shows an unconscious woman—dressed in heels, gloves, and a formal hat—being cradled and protected by a fellow marcher. That woman was Amelia Boynton, an important figure in the Alabama civil rights crusade. The photo of Boynton’s bloodied body appeared on the front page of newspapers across the country, drawing attention to the cause of voter discrimination and the violence perpetrated against African-American citizens.

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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 .



This month, we began expanding our jewelry options with unique porcelain cameo rings and pendants designed and created by Marcie McGoldrick. The New York-based artist spent 16 years working at Martha Stewart Omnimedia—starting as a product developer for the “Martha by Mail” catalog, before transitioning to craft editor for Martha Stewart publications, and eventually to consultant and independent artisan.

While studying Industrial Design at Pratt Institute, Marcie began experimenting with ceramics and the process of slip casting—making a mold from a model in order to cast in larger quantities—actually inspired her to veer toward variation rather than uniformity. “I was really drawn to the process because, even with a mold, there is still the opportunity for each piece to feel a bit different. I tend to exploit that idea in the ceramics that I make.”

Marcie’s innate curiosity was encouraged by her mother, a teacher, who reinforced her instincts to make and to take things apart and put them back together again. “I was always taking apart broken things, like watches, VCRs, and music boxes. I wanted to see how they worked and if I could fix them.” This approach ties directly into her design philosophy of remaining curious and creating things that have the potential for emotional connection. When she embarks upon a new project, Marcie is often spurred by the desire to learn an entire new skill set or technique. “When I started the cameo jewelry I had never worked with metal before, so I was able to learn about castings and bezel setting. There was a steep learning curve, but it was worth it.”

Those cameos have delicate details and a unique tactile quality that results from their source inspiration and Marcie’s materials and methods. “A friend of mine began collecting Grand Tour Cameos, which were souvenirs from Pompeii and Herculaneum during Victorian times. I was really drawn to them and decided to cast them in the porcelain colors that I was developing for my other ceramics. Because many of them were fairly small and ceramics shrink after firing, they were a great size for jewelry.”


Her process for creating each piece includes casting the cameo in colored porcelain—which means the cameos are not glazed a color, but rather the clay itself determines the color. Once the piece is cast, it is hand finished and fired before being set in silver or gold. Because each piece is hand finished and set, all are completely unique.

In addition to her work as a ceramist and jewelry maker, Marcie works as a freelance creative consultant in both Brooklyn, New York, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Look for her cameo rings and necklaces at The Factory and in our online store.


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.



Putting together an outfit can be a seamless task—or take a couple of tries to get the right combination. Today, we show you simple examples of how to pair and wear our latest Core Essentials.


The Halter
Keep it simple by pairing The Halter (our newest style) with pants or a skirt in the same color.

From Top Left:
The Halter + The Crop Pant in Navy
Marcie Halter + The Crop Pant in Concrete
The Halter + The Crop Pant in White
Beck Halter + Alicia Skirt in Black Sylvan


The Coverup
Our favorite pull-on style was updated earlier this summer with a short sleeve length option. This top is the perfect travel companion, lightweight and luxurious.

From Top Left:
The Coverup (Long Sleeve) in Concrete + The Rib Skirt in Concrete
The Coverup (Long Sleeve) in White + The Crop Pant in Concrete
The Coverup (Short Sleeve) in White + The Crop Pant in Navy
The Coverup (Short Sleeve) in Sunset + The Crop Pant in White

Find these and other Core Essentials in the Alabama Chanin Collection, alongside our hand-embroidered garments.



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



“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.




Alabama artist Mose Tolliver was known primarily for his paintings of birds, frogs, flowers, and erotic figures. An exhibition at Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky, earlier this spring shed much deserved light on an often overlooked segment of his output—his self portraits.

Tolliver was born one of twelve children to tenant farmers in the Pike road community near Montgomery in the early 1920s. His family like many others at the time, moved from the country to Montgomery in the 1930’s in search of financial opportunity. Mose began work at a young age to support his family, performing general maintenance and repairs and working as a gardener, for which he was known to be especially proficient. After marrying a lifelong friend, Willie Mae Thomas, and serving a short stint in the army, Tolliver began work for the family of Carlton McLendon, first in their home, and later in the McLendon furniture company. In the late 60’s, while working in the furniture company’s warehouse, a crate holding a ton of marble fell off a forklift and crushed both of Tolliver’s legs, leaving him unable to walk without the assistance of crutches for the rest of his life.


Right: Moses Tolliver. Self Portrait. House paint on plywood. 30 x 15 in. Left: Moses Tolliver. Self Portrait. House paint on plywood. 17 x 10 in.

Although he had made art prior to the accident, mostly painting and carving tree roots and found materials, he became extraordinarily prolific afterward. Sitting at the foot of his bed, he would paint from morning to night on found surfaces—plywood, wood paneling, furniture, metal, and cardboard—finishing up to ten works daily. The works were hung all over the house and porch, often using soda pop tabs as a mounting apparatus. This mirrors Tolliver’s description of his mother’s house. “One thing I remember about our farmhouse—it was just a shack, but my Mama had pictures all over the walls.” His home began to attract attention from people in the area, and soon he was selling works to passersby, collectors, and eventually museums and galleries.


Moses Tolliver. Self Portrait. House paint on plywood. 25 x 24 in.

He quickly developed a unique visual style that remained consistent for nearly forty years. His forms and figures are direct and fantastical, merging graphic immediacy with forms that are alternately whimsical, spiritual, dark, or comedic. Tolliver’s works convey emotion immediately and economically while maintaining extraordinary depth. It’s not entirely clear where Tolliver sourced the inspiration for his various subjects but there are some clues. It has been suggested that his fascination with birds, turtles, and frogs may relate to Yoruba folklore passed on orally by generations of African-Americans, but they are also common animals in the areas surrounding Montgomery. Inspiration for ‘Moose Woman,’ an erotic female figure that Tolliver frequently depicted, was based on an image of Ka, an ancient Egyptian symbol for a soul leaving the body, found in a book in Tolliver’s possession. His method for creating self-portraits, however, seems to be fairly unique, excepting their adherence to a few portraiture tropes, namely, utilizing three-quarters profile and vertical formatting. Facial features are present but strange. Eyes, nostrils, and mouths are usually perfectly round or ovoid. The mouths are consistently open, showing teeth and often exposing a brightly colored tongue, sitting on an oblong, amorphous, almost gelatinous face. The teeth are bared and widely spaced. He paints himself in various colors, rarely in any that resemble flesh, on backgrounds that employ complex color harmonies. Only a few clues exist to indicate that these figures are, in fact, the artist—an ever-present button up shirt, a decorative headpiece that the artist called a head bob, and in early portraits, the presence of a pipe.


Right: Moses Tolliver. Self Portrait. Acrylic on wood. 32 x 24 in. Left: Moses Tolliver. Me smoking my pipe on pike road with cigar butts in it. House paint on plywood. 28 x 20.5 in.

The result of Tolliver’s unique conception of self results in a collection of lush and far-reaching psychological self-portraits. He is an expert at conveying mood and emotional states and moves deftly between joy, rage, uneasiness, and tranquility while eschewing any interest in any faithful depiction of concrete visual reality. The images, when presented in tandem, begin to illustrate the fluctuating mental state of one person across time. Tolliver once stated that he painted as a means to “keep his head together.” His self-portraits seem to be especially relevant to this notion.

Tolliver’s work, unlike several black artists recognized for their contributions to portraiture, is seemingly unconcerned with relating to traditional western modes of figural representation. For example, Kerry James Marshall, who was born in nearby Birmingham, focuses a considerable portion of his artistic production to amending Western art history to include the black bodies and identities it so frequently sought (and still seeks) to erase and destroy by appropriating Classic tropes and subjects. The work of Kehinde Wiley and Mickalene Thomas often work with similar source material, drawing reference from Matisse, Manet and numerous other artists from the Western canon, and juxtaposing them with Black figures, techniques, and visual language drawn from African and African American art traditions. These works are explicitly anti-colonial and work in the critical role of undoing Western cultural imperialism by questioning and challenging it. Tolliver’s self-portraits work through different means to the same end, establishing and asserting selfhood and humanity outside the bounds set by whiteness. Where Marshall, Wiley, Thomas and others seek to subvert, reinterpret, or challenge, Tolliver chooses to exist beside. It’s important to note that these strategies are complementary rather than fragmented, and work collectively to address issues of representation, identity, and power.

Tolliver was widely shown through the 80’s and early 90’s, garnering solo exhibitions at the Corcoran Gallery and the Montgomery Museum of Art, and has had major institutions purchase his works. Notably, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Folk Art Museum have both acquired self-portraits for their permanent collection despite there being little scholarship or representation of this portion of his production. His work, unfortunately, has not been adequately discussed, analyzed, or exhibited since. The exhibition ‘Self-Portraits of Me’ at Institute 193 made up considerable ground on this front, creating much-needed dialogue surrounding an artist and a segment of his production that is often overlooked.

Written by Paul Michael Brown with additional thanks to Phillip March Jones, Maia Ferrari, and Institute 193.

Institute 193, a project Phillip March Jones began in October 2009, is a non-profit contemporary art space and publisher that collaborates with artists, musicians, and writers to document the cultural production of the modern South. They produce exhibitions, books, and records with the goal of unearthing significant ideas from the region and sharing them with the world. Institute 193 engages and directs, steering and shaping projects into reality without sanitizing the vision of the artist.



Since our Indigo Dye Kit launched, we’ve loved seeing dye projects pop up on social media. The kit comes with enough materials to dye 6 yards of our 100% Organic Medium-weight Cotton Jersey, but you can also use it to give rarely worn garments a new life or to overdye a DIY project. Dyeing yards of fabric can be physically strenuous, and overdyeing an existing garment can be easier if you’re working alone.

The V-Neck Tank shown above is an example of what you can achieve when experimenting with indigo dye and paint. The Tank was first painted by hand using our New Leaves Stencil in two different colors of latex paint and then overdyed to a dark shade of indigo.


Shown here is an overdyed, one-of-a-kind piece created for the Alabama on Alabama exhibit at Heath Ceramics from the summer of 2015. We overdyed a now-archived Natalie’s Jacket from our machine-sewn line to a shade of medium indigo. After the jacket was dyed, appliqué in various shades of indigo made with Medium and X-Large New Leaves Stencil artwork were added to the front and back panels.

We encourage you to sort through your closet and upcycle any rarely worn items to bring them back into your regular wardrobe rotation. Use these garments as inspiration to get creative with your existing wardrobe, and share your dye projects with us using #theschoolofmaking on Instagram.



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



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

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


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


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


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

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



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



Anni Albers challenged artists to reject “recipes” and repetition and the safety of what they know will work. She encouraged artists to step away from formulaic making strategies, replacing them “with the adventure of new exploring.” Her life and work are a mirror for finding rich complexity and diversity within simplicity. The photograph of Anni above in her white pant suit exudes this elevated simplicity. Taken by her husband Josef Albers during a visit to Florida, it inspires me to get dressed for summer.

P.S.: Inspired by Anni’s outfit, we have created a wide-leg pant for the Collection in both full-length and cropped versions—made with Alabama Chanin’s 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey.

Image Credit: Anni Albers in Florida, circa 1938, photograph by Josef Albers © the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / ARS, NY




“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.


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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


The Rib Crew and Indigo Slim Scarf


The Rib Crew, The Rib Skirt, and Indigo Poncho


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


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


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

Explore our Rinne’s Dress Collection on the Journal.



“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” — Audre Lorde

March 8th is International Women’s Day, and the global community is embracing this day more enthusiastically every year. Groups of women and men are coming together around the world to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

At Alabama Chanin, we want to be a part of creating a society where women of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, religions, socio-economic statuses, sexual identities, gender expressions, ages, abilities, and political points of view have the freedom and ability to care for themselves and their families in safe, happy, and healthy environments.

As a company that comprises 75% female employees, Alabama Chanin supports and celebrates International Women’s Day for many reasons—including this year’s challenge to #BeBoldForChange. We have always looked to the ideal of the Beloved Community as a guiding vision for our work and for the society we want to create. This means being a positive force in a world that is often unjust; it means building relationships when many seek to create fractures; it means helping other women attain their fullest potential.

Alabama Chanin is a woman-owned business that has always focused on empowering other women. We recognize that women are often the primary caregivers in the home and we have created a business structure that can offer our female artisans (each founders and operators of their own 100% woman-owned small businesses) an element of agency and control over their own lives and destinies. We continue this mission through our partnership with Nest—the non-profit organization that has helped women all over the world establish and grow businesses that help women, their families, and their communities to prosper.

Meet our team here who have helped build and shape this company—because we recognize that it takes a village. We hope you will join us.

The women in the grid are employees, collaborators, friends, historical figures, artists, and chefs who have been featured on the Alabama Chanin Journal. 



Photographer and artist Rinne Allen’s Light Drawings were introduced at Alabama Chanin during the summer of 2015. At that time, the Alabama Chanin Collection featured Indigo textiles, and the blue cyanotypes resonated perfectly with our designs.

In addition to her blue light drawings, Rinne also creates sepia-colored works of art, which are presented alongside our Rinne’s Dress Collection.


Developed in the 19th century, light drawings are created by exposing light sensitive paper to the sun, leaving behind only a shadow of the specimen. The process used to create the sepia prints is called Van Dyke Brown and requires an extra step in the darkroom—making them rarer than well-known blue cyanotypes.


For the process, Rinne combines elements from her garden with alternative photo processing methods she learned in some of her early college photography classes. She and her mother gather clippings from the garden and place them on specially treated light sensitive photo paper and lay them in the sun. After a certain amount of exposure to sunlight, a cyanotype emerges.

Find the one-of-a-kind Light Drawings online here.



The Alabama Sweater has been a long-standing pattern at Alabama Chanin, and the silhouette remains one of our customer favorites (a reason we included the pattern in our 2016 Build a Wardrobe). The Alabama Sweater shown above was created using the Daisy stencil for one of our archived collections using a classic whipstitch appliqué technique.

At Alabama Chanin we use appliqué to add color, texture, and dimension to our work. Here are the appliqué instructions found on page 101 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design:

  1. Stencil Pattern on Base Fabric
    Stencil a pattern on the right side of your base fabric where you want to stitch the appliqué pieces, remove the stencil, and let the fabric and stencil dry thoroughly.
  2. Cut Out Appliqué Pieces
    To make your appliqué pieces, flip the dried stencil used in Step 1 to the wrong side, and transfer the stencil pattern to the wrong (backside) of the appliqué fabric. After letting the stenciled fabric dry, begin by cutting out one stenciled shape, 1/16” around the outside of the stenciled edge. Once you cut out the shape, flip it over, right side up, and pin it to the corresponding shape in the stenciled pattern on the base fabric. Repeat for your entire stenciled design by cutting one piece at a time and pinning it into place.
  3. Stitch Appliqué Pieces to Project
    Position each cut appliqué shape, right side up, on top of the corresponding shape in the stenciled design on the base fabric. It’s important to match up each shape as you cut it—unless you’re fond of jigsaw puzzles! Align the edges of the appliqué and stenciled shape, pin the appliqué securely in place, and attach the appliqué’s raw cut edges using the parallel whipstitch. The straight stitch is the easiest to use, while the parallel whipstitch, which secures the fabric extremely well, is the stitch we use most often at Alabama Chanin.

For instructions on the Satin Stitch used to embroider the dots in the center of each Daisy, see page 84 in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

You can order this Alabama Sweater Tunic as a DIY kit using our Custom DIY Form, or create it yourself using the Alabama Sweater Pattern from our Resources page and our new Daisy Stencil.



Fabric weight – 100% Organic Medium-weight Cotton Jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Natural
Fabric color for inner layer – Natural
Fabric color for appliqué layer – Black
Button craft thread color – Cream #256
Variegated embroidery floss color – Black variegated
Textile paint color – White
Stencil – Daisy
Technique – Appliqué
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan stitch

If you’re having trouble deciding what colors and techniques you want to use for your Alabama Sweater, start with the Design Bundle which includes pre-selected fabric and notions to help you test out our techniques and develop textiles before committing to a bigger project.



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


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


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


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


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



We have, over the years, done quite a bit of experimenting with natural dyes, and we try to integrate naturally dyed fabrics into our collections of low-impact dyed yardage whenever possible. We have also been lucky enough to benefit from the wisdom of many natural dye experts. Picking up from a conversation we had last fall, we continue to talk with and highlight the work of experts in the indigo industry in a series on our Journal. Today we feature someone with astonishing knowledge of the history of indigo in America, and years of experience in using indigo and other natural materials—Donna Hardy of Sea Island Indigo.

Years ago, before there was much conversation about “green” or organic products or processes, Donna purchased a book about herb gardening that included a chapter on creating a “dye garden”. Her interest piqued, she researched further and eventually began working with a group of women in the mountains of northeast Georgia who were foraging and growing dye plants. Her network of makers eventually led to an encounter with Michele Whipplinger—a well-known and respected natural dye expert who trained in France and Switzerland to become a master in her field. Donna began traveling to Michele’s home base of Seattle each summer to study and perfect her own techniques. Donna said, “One day, in her studio, we were having a conversation about indigo [and] the subject of the history of indigo growing in Charleston and Lowcountry came up. I had the thought, ‘If they could do it then, why can’t we do it now?’”

Donna continued to explore that idea when she could, doing research on the Indigofera genus—the kind of indigo historically grown in the Lowcountry. She experimented with various kinds of indigo at her home in the north Georgia mountains—but the growing season was too short for the species she wanted to focus on. Donna began to travel to Charleston, South Carolina, once a month to do more research on the historically relevant varieties of indigo, because there simply was not much contemporary information available; she found herself researching historic texts and combing through very old documents for information on how to advance her contemporary goal. If she was going to dedicate the time necessary, Donna felt she had to move to Charleston.


In the 1700s, indigo was South Carolina’s second largest cash crop and Charleston was the center of indigo production in the American colonies, exporting nearly a million pounds of indigo per year at its height. Donna’s research had uncovered the species that flourished in the Lowcountry all those years ago and was working hard to reintroduce the plant and expand its numbers. “The type of indigo used at Sea Island Indigo is Indigofera suffruticosa, from Central and South America. This is the indigo used by the ancient Mayans, Aztecs, and Incans for thousands and thousands of years. The specific strain is from Ossabaw Island, an island off the coast of Savannah, Georgia. Before the American Revolution, Ossabaw was an indigo plantation. This indigo has been growing on Ossabaw for over 270 years. It produces particularly rich and vibrant blue that is different from most indigo on the market today.”

There is quite a bit of talk about the idea of preserving heirloom varieties of cotton and vegetables and the differences between those plants and their genetically modified cousins. We asked Donna about the importance of preserving heirloom or rare varieties of indigo. “As far as I know, indigo (and this includes all varieties) has not been manipulated and modified as most modern vegetables and grains have. There was probably some selective breeding, which is different, but most indigo is fairly pure. We need to be preserving these strains because the world is changing day to day, and many areas where these plants grow are being cleared or developed and the plants are being lost. And as you know, when it’s gone, it’s gone.”


She is also working hard to increase the amount of research available on indigo and natural dyeing techniques. “Working with Michele and Michel [Garcia, esteemed botanist] made me realize that there will never be enough time to learn about all the various natural dye materials from around the world. I have studied and experimented and amassed quite a library of books, but I will never know all there is to know. We need to be documenting all of this information because this knowledge—knowledge that has been around for thousands and thousands of years—is being lost on a daily basis.”

Working with indigo is part art, part science. Those with a great deal of experience and understanding of the chemical reactions can tailor and tweak the smallest element or technique to obtain unique results. Donna is one of those people. “On one level, creating an indigo vat is just chemistry. But on another level, creating a vat is art. It involves all of your senses, especially a fermentation vat. Of all the dyes, indigo has the most myth and mystery surrounding it. Vats are sometimes considered living beings with their own quirks. You can be working with a vat and know you have the chemistry correct and the vat just won’t work. It won’t cooperate with you—so you let it ‘rest’, and after it’s rested you ‘wake it up.’ Knowing how to effectively read the mood of a living, but silent thing takes a specially trained eye and a sixth sense, of sorts.” Donna has just that sense.

Just as we at Alabama Chanin have witnessed the effects of fast fashion on the world economy and environment, Donna has seen what careless use of synthetic dyes—combined with the disposable fashion mindset—has done to entire regions and groups of people. “I believe we need to move away from fast fashion,” she says. “Our pursuit of cheap textiles has polluted rivers around the world. The people that depend on these rivers for food and drink can no longer use them. Slavery does exist in today’s world, and it’s in the garment industry.”

“Synthetic dyes have been around since 1854, for 160 years. When they were created, within 100 years they had replaced the colors used for thousands of years that were obtained from plants, insects, and minerals. Most synthetic dyes are created from coal tar or petroleum and are pretty toxic to, well, everything. Historically, natural dyes were not always safe either because a lot of heavy metal and toxic mordants were used.” But, as with other aspects of sustainable fashion, there is realistic room for improvement in this area—if companies are willing to commit. “Today we can create beautiful, lasting colors with natural dyes, without the use of these toxic mordants and chemicals. As far as indigo, the chemical formula for synthetic indigo and natural indigo are exactly the same, but synthetic indigo is flat and has no depth. On the other hand, natural indigo has other chemical components in it that create rich color depth. It seems to glow sometimes; it has life.”


Having faced our own unique challenges regarding supply chain and sustainable production methods, we wanted to know Donna’s thoughts on the feasibility of large-scale natural dyeing, as opposed to small-batch making. “Yes, it can be done on a larger scale, and there are folks doing that. There are many ways to do things and there is room for everyone. I’m working on smaller, artisan-produced indigo that creates a very beautifully crafted product that is a joy to work with, use, and wear. This will be applicable to independent dyers for small industries who want to grow, process, and dye with the indigo they’ve grown. It will be a ‘closed system’, so to speak.” But as with slow fashion in general, there is a challenge in educating both makers and consumers to the benefits of slow and natural dyeing processes. Donna admits that “some people just don’t care. They want cheap clothes, whatever the cost.”

Currently, Donna is working with Dr. Brian Ward at Clemson’s Coastal Research and Education center in Charleston. His program is doing practical research on the most effective ways to grow indigo. She is also working with a group of engineering students at the University of Georgia to create a new and more efficient way to process indigo. “I’ve been thinking about the importance of preserving this knowledge and have been contemplating that maybe we need a center to bring all of the blue-producing plants from around the world together and record and document the many ways they are used. Create a center for indigo culture, so to speak.” We consider Donna Hardy to be one of the premier experts on indigo in America and think she could be just the person to create such an endeavor.

All images are courtesy of Donna Hardy. Feature image photo credit: Heather K. Powers



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.



We are continually intrigued by artists who conceive new ways to create old-fashioned arts. Cross stitch, which is one of the oldest forms of embroidery, was originally used to embroider textiles in ancient Egypt and China. Today, it is often used as a way to decorate clothing and fabric with flowers or patterns. Recently, Spanish artist Raquel Rodrigo has employed the technique to make walls of flowers.


Rodrigo’s education and background are in set design and interior design, but since 2014, she has been producing large-scale cross-stitched street art in Valencia and Madrid. Through a series of X’s, Rodrigo creates hibiscus flowers, roses, cherry blossoms, and other flowers, all best viewed from a distance.

The designs are made with thick string cross-stitched onto wire mesh. Rodrigo creates depth in her designs by combining different shades of string. She assembles her work in her studio, then rolls them up for transport. Her designs range in size and are situated in a number of places including buildings, window grates, bike racks, and chain-link fences—each piece highlighting the unique architectural qualities of its location.


Rodrigo uses enlarged cross-stitching as a form of guerrilla marketing for Arquicostura, a street-art marketing agency. Through Arquicostura—a word that combines the Spanish words for architecture and sewing—Rodrigo has created art for Alhambra, a luxury Italian brand, and Endora Productions.

Rodrigo’s work is a beautiful marriage of an age-old pastime with modern sensibility. The beauty in her flower creations and her innovative spirit inspire us to keep finding ways to make what is old new again.


Images from Arquicostura and This is Colossal.



Among many recurring subjects in Frida Kahlo’s artwork are flowers, foliage, and fruits. She used this imagery to celebrate Mexican history and culture. The garden at her home, Casa Azul, was first started by her parents and was filled with ivy, roses, and apricot and orange trees. As an adult, Frida and her husband Diego Rivera were ardent and active participants in the Mexican Revolution and sought to celebrate Mexican culture in a number of ways—through dress, through food, and through their home and garden.

Frida and Diego transformed Casa Azul from its original colonial style into a structural embodiment of their cultural values. They painted the house in its signature blue called azul anil (believed to ward off evil spirits) and expanded the courtyard and gardens. They also incorporated native Mexican plants like agave, yucca, dahlias, cacti, and bougainvillea into their garden. Over time, elements from the garden would make their way into her portraits and still life paintings. “I paint flowers so they will not die,” she once said. Frida also created elaborate arrangements of flowers throughout their home and almost always wore flowers, woven through her hair.

At Casa Azul, Frida’s bedroom and studio were connected via a hallway that opens onto the garden. Toward the end of her life, Frida asked to have her bed moved into the hallway so that she could look out over her garden. Take a virtual tour of Frida’s Casa Azul gardens here. They are stunning.

P.S.: The Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, planted a green space in tribute to Kahlo’s as part of the exhibition, Frida Kahlo at the Dalí.

And if you haven’t had a chance, visit our Journal for a series of posts about Frida, including:

Frida Kahlo’s Dress
Inspiration: Frida’s Dress
Frida’s Fiestas

Image of Frida in her garden from NBC News.




We start each week on the Journal with The Factory | This Week, which begins with an inspirational quote from an artist, visionary, or change maker.

This week’s quote is, fittingly, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

And while these words stir powerful feelings inside us, we recognize that it is up to each of us to act peacefully, to be heard, to spread love, and to teach the truth. We must choose to not sit in silence, to be compassionate to one another, and to teach our children about love, acceptance, and tolerance.

We shared Natalie’s experience at the University of Georgia last year during a community-wide gathering for sewing and discussion—which further illustrates what you can do to create Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision a Beloved Community.

Read through the posts from our Journal archives to be inspired to act. We hope you find a community to embrace you—or that you create one yourself.

The History of Martin Luther King Jr Day
MLK Day, Selma, and Songs of Freedom
Songs of the Civil Rights Movement: A Playlist
A Cake for Georgia Gilmore
Beloved Community: Part 1
Beloved Community: Part 2
Civility, History, and Song



“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.



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


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


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


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


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

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

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


Images pictured above are from Agnes Martin.




This year was a busy and productive year for all of our divisions at Alabama Chanin. The School of Making and The Factory teams worked hard to introduce new and expanded programming for our customers. Our design team launched new home items and Collection #30, which produced some of our most intricate and beautiful garments yet.

It was a year of change with new team members, office rearranging, organizing, goal setting (and exceeding), and a lot of personal and professional growth along the way. We’re proud of our team, and we’re grateful to do what we do every day. We look forward to the fresh start a new year brings, and we hope you’ll continue to follow along on our journey.


Follow us on Instagram to see our design and production studio, Building 14 manufacturing facility, new garments and products, what inspires us, and more. And check back on the Journal tomorrow for a full recap of our year.

Happy New Year to all,
xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin


Today, we’re introducing two new designs for our Stripe Tall and Stripe Shortie Socks. We’ve been working with Little River Sock Mill—who manufactures in Alabama—since 2014 to produce designs exclusively for Alabama Chanin. All of their socks are quality made from a blend of organic cotton, nylon, and elastic—providing amazing comfort and great fit.


Our new designs mix bold color blocks and detailed stripes. Whichever you choose, they are guaranteed to be the most comfortable socks you’ve ever worn. We promise.

Use accessories like these socks and our organic cotton scarves to build on to classic style. Below are a few of our favorite current looks, combining our series of Rib and Placket garments.


Pictured here: Flora Wrap Scarf, Edison Wrap Scarf, Nadene Jacket, The Rib Turtleneck, The Lightweight Leggings, and a Cotton Jersey Pull


Pictured here: Flora Wrap Scarf, Meaghan Dress, The Lightweight Leggings, and Stripe Shortie Socks


Pictured here: The Rib Tee, The Keyhole Dress, Beaded Lace Scarf, The Slim Scarf, and a Cotton Jersey Pull


The days following the Thanksgiving holiday have become inextricably associated with commerce: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday – these are all days to bargain hunt and search for gifts. But over the past five years, a movement has been growing to change the conversation on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, now known as #GivingTuesday.

Created by the Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact and the 92nd Street Y, #GivingTuesday invites people, businesses, families, and communities to be of service and give back. Since its creation, it has become the unofficial kickoff date for the charitable season. Like Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday focuses on the flexibility and global reach of the internet and social media to spread a message and receive feedback. Organizations are inviting people to give money, donate time, encourage acts of kindness, and celebrate generosity in all forms. Last year, over 700,000 people participated to raise approximately $117 million online, with more offline in local communities.


Alabama Chanin has continued our partnership with Nest, the non-profit organization that assists artisans across the world in establishing and growing businesses that have social and economic impact. Nest has helped us develop practices in our machine facility, which continues to expand upon its goal of employing more women in our community. For this #GivingTuesday, QVC has chosen Nest as one of their featured charities, offering special merchandise and opportunities to contribute to Nest. You can also donate to Nest directly through the Nest website.


We also hope you will consider giving to the Southern Foodways Alliance, with whom we have worked extensively to raise funds for their various charitable efforts via our Friends of the Café Dinner Series. Proceeds from our most recent event, featuring Chef Sean Brock, went toward hurricane recovery efforts for those affected by Hurricane Matthew. We strongly support their values and mission to set a welcome table for all to join, in the spirit of respect and reconciliation.

We encourage you to reach out to local organizations to find out how you can get involved in community events or make online donations to charities that mean the most to you. If you are interested in finding ways to get involved or organizations in need of assistance, visit the #GivingTuesday website. And don’t forget to post, tweet, photograph, or share videos of giving efforts that inspire you, and tag your posts with #GivingTuesday to share with people across the globe.


Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been revisiting thoughts from the late Civil Rights activist Vincent Harding, who was recently featured on one of our favorite podcasts, On Being with Krista Tippett. Their conversation, “Is America Possible?” touched on so many feelings we’ve been struggling to corral recently. It reintroduced us to the idea of the Beloved Community, one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most moving and evocative goals. The Beloved Community is his vision of a society where people of all backgrounds recognize that one life is inextricably connected to all others and asks us to move beyond mere tolerance, toward understanding. Dr. King urged all to “fight passionately and unrelentingly for the goals of justice and peace” but to do so with the goal of reconciliation.

Harding said, “When I think about Martin, I think about Martin with the three C’s: courage, compassion, and creativity.” At this moment in time, we must have the courage to look at one another with open eyes, listen with open ears, and approach with open hearts; if we view one another with compassion and see the potential for community amidst the anger, then there is hope for reconciliation. “I think that the stoking of our creative capacities is one of the jobs that is still necessary for us,” Harding acknowledged. In the darkest of times, creativity and art have challenged our norms and also provided balm for our wounds. To travel through difficult terrain, “we have got to get new words, new songs, new possibilities for ourselves.”

To create the Beloved Community, we have to meet at a place that celebrates our diversity and our inclusiveness—and your Thanksgiving table offers you that opportunity. We are family, friends, and neighbors whose bonds may have been challenged in these divisive times. Dr. King advised not to make enemies of those who oppose you—to challenge the ideology but not the individual, for then the aftermath can be redemption. Though we may differ, we must question rather than challenge, ask rather than accuse. Be persistent with one another, be realistic—but be patient. Do not lose hope. Be compassionate face-to-face and not via internet.

Courage, compassion, and creativity—we offer these things to you and invite you to pass them on to others this Thanksgiving.




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



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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Today, we launch updates to our DIY Collection with new kits, colorways, patterns, and designs. We’re introducing new silhouettes while offering some of our customer favorites with new stencils and treatments. New projects include the Anna’s Garden Maggie Tunic and Polka Dot Walking Cape.

Our expanded selection includes a range of projects for the home, like the Magdalena Table Runner and Magdalena Tea Towels. Favorite styles, like our T-Shirt Top, are now available in the Magdalena stencil. A selection of all-time favorite kits—like the Anna’s Garden Long Skirt and Facets Classic Coat—remain but have been given a fresh look with new colorway options.

If you don’t find exactly what you want, you always have the option to create your own Custom DIY Kit. Our custom kit process allows you to mix and match garment styles, color choices, stencil design, and embroidery techniques to design your perfect garment. For more information on how to design your kit, visit our Custom DIY form. We also have a growing range of patterns and stencils available alongside our Maker Supplies—such as 100% organic cotton jersey, sewing notions, and stenciling supplies—if you enjoy every step of the making experience and prefer creating your garments start-to-finish at home.


As always, our DIY Kits come ready-to-sew with pre-cut and stenciled fabric and all the thread and notions you need to complete your project. Each kit is meant to be completed with help from our Studio Book Series, where you can find construction and embroidery instructions. Or you can learn Alabama Chanin techniques first-hand, as well as gain special instruction and insights, at one of our workshops hosted at The Factory. Learn more about our selection of workshops here.

Explore our current DIY Sewing Kit Collection here.


P.S.: Follow us @theschoolofmaking and share your projects on Instagram using #theschoolofmaking.

If you have any questions about our new DIY Collection, custom DIY kits, or workshops, contact us at +1.256.760.1090 or workshops (at) alabamachanin.com



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.



“He who knows how to appreciate color relationships, the influence of one color on another, their contrasts and dissonances, is promised an infinitely diverse imagery.” – Sonia Delaunay

Sonia Delaunay (1885 – 1979), alongside her husband and fellow artist Robert Delaunay, co-founded the Orphism art movement, an offshoot of the Cubist style that focused on abstraction, light, and color—in contrast to the monochromatic style of traditional Cubism.


Sonia was a painter but began experimenting with textiles as “exercises in color”; her fabrics combined the traditional Russian folk-art of her childhood with the avant-garde style of early 20th-century Paris. She took abstraction of style and color from canvas to fabric, and her daring and oft-photographed garments represented female agency, style, and independence. Delaunay is often remembered for her bold, woolen (and almost certainly uncomfortable) swimsuits—which were really more symbols of color and design than actual functional garments.


She found it essential to take into account the human form when designing fabrics—not just designing fabrics and then shaping them to fit the body afterward. In a 1968 letter, Delaunay lamented a trend of creating garments from Mondrian and Pop Art fabrics: “All [my] works were made for women, and all were constructed in relation to the body. They were not copies of paintings transposed onto women’s bodies…I find all that completely ridiculous.” Her work was so revolutionary and respected that she was the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre.


Images from Sotheby’s, Azure Magazine, and Modernarium.



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.



Frida Kahlo was both surrealist painter and unwitting fashion icon. Her image is immediately recognizable and her clothing was carefully chosen to reflect her feelings about femininity, politics, and her own physical limitations. Frida’s vibrantly colored and richly embroidered garments were tweaked versions of traditional Mexican clothing, with corset-style bodices and long flowing skirts. But the roots of her style are much deeper than they appear on the surface. Like most women, Frida dressed to look and feel beautiful but, unbeknownst to some, also to mask her ailments and near-constant physical pain.


Her full skirts hid legs damaged by childhood polio and a horrific bus accident at 17. That accident left her with a heavily scarred body and lifelong health problems that over 40 surgeries could not correct. During a three-month stay in a hospital, Frida began painting the full-body casts she had to wear for long stretches of time. Eventually, she created her own structured corsets that allowed her to walk upright, though in constant pain. She covered these leather structures with fabric corset tops or bright, feminine blouses.


As Frida became more incapacitated, her garments became more elaborate and colorful. When her right leg was amputated, about a year before her death, she fitted her prosthetic with a bright red embroidered boot—and she added a Chinese bell to the laces for greater effect. Her approach to fashion was almost one of defiance; she wanted to make herself feel beautiful in spite of her physical limitations, but she also wanted to portray an air of confidence to the world at large. Last year, for the first time since her death, some of Frida Kahlo’s personal garments were displayed and photographed.


Images from Collectors Weekly, Vulture, and NYMag.com



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

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


Images found here.

Exotic Floral Patterns in Color by E.A. Seguy


“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.


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.


“The artist is the confidant of nature, flowers carry on dialogues with him through the graceful bending of their stems and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms. Every flower has a cordial word which nature directs towards him.” – Auguste Rodin

Inspired by both the organic and geometric, artists of the Art Nouveau movement celebrated the graceful forms of nature by using flowing, curving lines in their creations.

They believed that all types of art were equally important, and focused on crafting beautiful and expertly made objects, from the decorative to the utilitarian.


Art Nouveau was often finely detailed, yet used flat perspectives inspired by Japanese wood block prints—a combination that created a very recognizable style.

Part of Collection #30, these hand-sewn and hand-embroidered pieces feature a floral pattern that resembles Art Nouveau. A double layer of 100% organic, medium-weight cotton jersey is embellished with glass bugle beads and sequins that lend the surface texture and intricacy.


Stenciling has a deep history that reaches across millennia, but also within Alabama Chanin. It is the basis for our lean-method manufacturing and also within part of The School of Making. We’ve got a library of 600+ stencil designs and the Stars stencil is #340. Stars was originally inspired by the costumes in found in vintage circus photos and also the Indian circus photos by Mary Ellen Mark. (Look for more on Mary Ellen in the coming months.)


The stencil made an appearance in our Fall/Winter 2009 collection in hues of Forest Green and Black, and also in our Songbirds Collection, where it was featured in blues, naturally-dyed indigo, naturals, and reds.


The design was first made available for DIY in our 2012 book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design with embroidery instructions for Satin Stars (shown above) included on page 129. Satin Stars Alabama Sweater—in all-white—was created as part of our Build a Wardrobe program.

Get the downloadable stencil artwork and work with your choice of bugle beads, chop beads, and sequins to prepare for Independence Day celebrations. Pair the worked stencil with a garment from our Studio Book Series or a pattern from our growing collection.


Some time ago, I started following Daily Overview on Instagram and have loved watching the patterns of our planet unfold. Daily Overview isn’t our first opportunity to view Earth from above, but it does make me stop (if only for a second) every day to think about a bigger picture.

There is a phenomenon called the Overview Effect, that is reported by astronauts after viewing earth from space for the first time.  It was first reported in 1969 during the Apollo 9 mission by Russell “Rusty” Schweikart as a feeling that the whole universe was profoundly connected.


I first heard about this experience from an episode of On Being with Krista Tippett featuring Nikki Giovani, called “Soul Food, Sex, and Space.”  Krista explained, “it [the Overview Effect] refers to ‘the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth and space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life hanging in a void, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. From space, national boundaries vanish. The conflicts that divide people become less important and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this pale blue dot becomes both obvious and imperative.’”

Today you can follow NASA on Instagram and some of its astronauts on Twitter (more here.)

Nothing like some daily Overview Effect to keep perspective.

P.S.: The term “Overview Effect” was coined by Frank White in his book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution

Photos in the top grid are from the Daily Overview Instagram. Photos in the second grid are from the NASA Instagram.


Over the years, through connections with our DIY community and The School of Making programming, we have seen how passionate and virtually inexhaustible our fellow makers can be. We have also witnessed them making connections through craft that extend outward into their lives, creating lifelong friendships and bonds.

Author Christine Chitnis and her mother attended one of our workshops at Blackberry Farm, and Christine shared the experience on her blog, which has its own strong community of fellow crafters, cooks, travel aficionados, and mothers. Christine went home and completed her DIY garment but, due to personal stressors and time constraints, her mother was unable to finish her own garment. As a gift to her mother, Christine wanted to complete the piece—a 6-panel Camisole Dress—as a Christmas gift. With a rapidly approaching deadline and two young children, she recognized that she would need help to complete such a large project.


Three women from her maker community came forward and, together, they stitched and constructed the project on time. On Christmas morning, Christine’s mother received a beautifully finished dress, with notes from each of the women who helped make it. We have witnessed time and again that making for others can be as much a gift to the maker as it is to the recipient. Christine wrote, “There is something so powerful about wearing a garment that other hands made for you with love and intention.”


The experience inspired Christine to organize more “community stitching” experiences and create pieces for others who might be facing difficult days. She put out a call on her blog and Instagram account, looking for makers who would be interested in joining her efforts. She was able to organize 20 women from across the country (plus one in Australia) to hand craft garments for four recipients who, in one way or another, were dealing with a personal struggle. And, like her mother, none of the four women had any knowledge of the project until they received their gifts. Christine said, “We are hoping that these garments make them feel wrapped in love.”

Christine and her community sewed thousands of stitches into those garments, with love and intention. They are examples of how making can enrich the lives of everyone a garment touches. We hope that Christine’s story inspires others to take up the task of creating for those who need to feel loved and cared for. Thank you to everyone in our maker community who continues to reach out and build bridges across lives—strengthening connections and changing the world with your own two hands.

Top two photos by Forrest Elliott. Grid of photos from Christine’s Instagram.


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

Mother's Day Alabama Chanin Team with their Mothers


It has been said that holidays like Mother’s Day are manufactured celebrations, created to sell cards and gifts. It is not really true that Mother’s Day was created to boost commerce, but that’s not to say that the evolution didn’t cause a commotion, especially by its own creator.

Holidays like our American Mother’s Day have been celebrated globally for centuries. There were festivals in Egypt and Rome honoring the goddesses like Isis, Cybele, and Rhea. European celebrations of the Virgin Mary expanded in the 1600s to include all mothers with a celebration called Mothering Day. The Mother’s Day as we know it today in America was established by a woman named Anna Jarvis. Her mother, named Ann Jarvis, had attempted to establish Mothers Work Clubs in the late 1860s, meant to help clean cities and tend wounded Civil War soldiers. After the war, she established a Mother’s Friendship Day to unite families from both sides, North and South.

Ann’s death devastated Anna, who began what has become our modern Mother’s Day. She wanted it to be “Mother’s Day” (singular), rather than the plural “Mothers’ Day,” so that each family could focus on their own mothers and not all mothers everywhere. It was meant to be a day to spend time with your mother, to thank her for all that she had done for you. Jarvis campaigned heavily for Mother’s Day to become a national holiday, finally succeeding when Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it so in 1914. The carnation became the symbol for the holiday, simply because it was Ann Jarvis’ favorite flower.

In Anna Jarvis’ eyes, what was meant to be an intimate family celebration, the day soon became too commercialized. Almost immediately, stores and florists began to capitalize on Mother’s Day, which infuriated Jarvis. Nine years after it was declared a national holiday, she began crusading against the day she, herself, created. She held boycotts, threatened lawsuits, and was even arrested in her efforts to stop what she saw as profiteering. She was very vocal about the purchasing of greeting cards, saying it was a sign that someone was too lazy to write a proper letter. Anna Jarvis spent the rest of her life and her entire fortune protesting the commercialization of an event that she meant to be pure and sincere.

The idea of “mother” and “mothering” has evolved to include siblings, grandparents, friends, and other loved ones who raise and nurture us to adulthood and beyond.  Mother’s Day is a moment to tell our own mothers and mother figures, “thank you,” for all they have given.

THANK YOU to all the people out there who have nurtured us over the years—it takes a village. 

P.S. Thank you to our team members, friends, and colleagues (past and present) who shared the beautiful photos above with us. 


Alabama Chanin followers and Journal readers are likely familiar with Phillip March Jones—artist, photographer, author, curator, Makeshift participant, and a frequent collaborator of ours. He grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, attended Emory University, the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and Auburn University. Phillip founded and runs the non-profit gallery space, venue, and small-scale publishing house, Institute193 in Lexington, Kentucky. He has also been director of the Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York.

We believe that as an artist he sees beauty and relevance in things that most of us either overlook or choose to avoid, like roadside memorials. His book, Points of Departure, is a collection of roadside memorial Polaroids—glimpses of personal grief and reminders to all passers-by that someone’s life was irreparably changed at that specific place. Phillip merely documents each unofficial marker without imposing his own point of view and allows the viewer to bring his or her own meaning to each photo.

Phillip also served as Director of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, a non-profit organization that documents, researches, preserves, and exhibits the work of self-taught African American artists. The organization’s goal is to bring this quintessentially American art form to a wide audience and have it rightly recognized for its essential, influential contribution to the history of American art.

While he has never stated this as his goal, I wonder if Phillip is inwardly driven to change the way the world thinks about and sees things that may be overlooked. With the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, he works to ensure long-term survival of art and artistry of those labeled “outsider” artists; with Points of Departure, he is also giving permanence to what might otherwise be temporary. He is attempting to help each subject transcend labels—or to simply be seen and recognized.

He clearly believes in the same sharing philosophy as Alabama Chanin, once telling us: “I believe that information, influences, and sources exist to be shared. I think a lot of artists, publishers, and musicians feel a need to protect their creative material to ensure their ability to effectively commodify their work. In my experience, sharing images on a website does not prevent people from buying a book, visiting an exhibition, or buying into a project. That notion carries over into my work with Institute 193 and Souls Grown Deep. Both organizations have an open content approach, and function on the principle that education and awareness should always be the motivating interest. All of the work I do is focused on providing access and points of entry to new ideas and material.”

It is with all of this in mind that we asked Phillip to participate in our research project on the creative process. Our questions and his answers are below.

Homecoming Party

Alabama Chanin: Do you have any creative rituals?

Phillip March Jones: Everything I do starts in a small black book. I always have one in my pocket or bag. I make lists. I draw. I take down notes, memorable quotes, or random thoughts. Things seem to expand out of those pages.

AC: What makes you curious?

PMJ: Anything I don’t understand. I’m especially drawn to people driven by a seemingly other-worldly impulse. Artists, writers, musicians, and individuals who are slightly off or out or left or right.


AC: What do you daydream about?

PMJ: Walking out of my door and never stopping. Just walking.

AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?

PMJ: De-connecting. I also take long walks, especially in cities. 6 hour walks. That kind of thing.

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

PMJ: No—it just sort of seeps out, I think.

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?

PMJ: Keep moving. Throw lots of things at the wall. Something will stick?


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

PMJ: My daily photographs are the lightest. My heavier works tend to be my books and works on death, memorials, and memory. And the curated exhibitions. I need to learn to be less formal with those projects—loosen up a bit and find bits of humor in the severity of those ideas.

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

PMJ: My imagination is active and unfocused. In that sense, it feels light, ideas dashing in and out, but the ideas themselves can be a bit heavy.

AC: In what ways would you want to change your imaginative spirit?

PMJ: I would try to make it more focused and productive, even though I think that might diminish the power or force of the ideas.

AC: Is there something that can halt your creativity? Distractions, fears, etc.? Have you found a way to avoid those pitfalls?

PMJ: Distractions and fears have always proven to be good fodder for creativity.

AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?

PMJ: Not really. But there are things I have specifically not shared, because of their personal nature. They do exist, however.

Pink + Green

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

PMJ: Yes, I would be a gardener.

AC: If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?

PMJ: There is always a way to translate ideas into some other format. I would write more I suppose.

AC: Who do you define as a visionary?

PMJ: Unfortunately, most of the visionaries I admire have passed away. I’m looking for some new light. In the meantime: Hudson from Feature Inc, Samuel Mockbee from Rural Studio, and some of my favorite artists like Mike Goodlett and Robert Beatty.

Kid Dreams

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”?

PMJ: Oh—that happens all the time. I was recently given an umbrella shaped like a cactus. It’s a truly brilliant object.

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

PMJ: Institute 193—and what the artists create there—is always inspiring. I only created the structure. The inspiring part is what the artists have done in the meantime.

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

Photo of Phillip by Melvin Way.

All other photographs courtesy of Phillip’s daily photo blog Pictures Take You Places.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Some subjects are so polarizing that almost any discussion of them is fraught with tension or awkwardness. And so it is with the topic of gun violence. No matter what your stance is, whenever we are faced with a tragic mass-shooting incident, many of us feel powerless; we respond with anger or by shutting the world out. Artist Natalie Baxter began working through her complex feelings by sewing – making pillows in the shapes of guns, for a project she calls Warm Gun. An exhibition of her work, called “OK-47” – is currently on display at Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky.

Natalie, a Lexington native, currently resides in Brooklyn and is also an accomplished filmmaker and photographer. With Warm Gun, she takes two things she learned from her Kentucky childhood – sewing skills and a knowledge of guns – and combines them to create a discussion around violence, gun culture, and gender norms. She is taking hand sewing, something traditionally considered feminine, and combining it with objects considered by many to be masculine, hoping to challenge cultural perspectives on both violence and femininity/masculinity.

While she knows that her work might be viewed as controversial, her intent is not to project an anti-gun stance. Because the debate surrounding gun violence is personal to so many, she wants viewers to feel free to bring their emotions into their interpretations of her work. Natalie has created guns that are technically harmless; they can either be taken as a starting point for a conversation about gender and violence – or they can be seen as a stuffed, humorous replica of someone’s favorite gun. Our friends at Institute 193 took some time to talk to Natalie about her ideas behind her work and the process. For more about Natalie Baxter or to view her work, visit her website at nataliebaxter.com.


What’s the process of sewing a gun pillow like? You sew these by hand, correct?

I model all of the warm guns from photos of real guns I find on the Internet and they usually take about a day or two to complete.  When I hear about shootings in the news, I do a Google search to find out what kind of gun was used and then hand draw a pattern onto fabric that I’ve sourced from the garment district or my roommate’s Goodwill pile.  I sewed the first 100 guns completely by hand and have since become more familiar with my sewing machine and now do a mix of hand and machine sewing.  I love how portable hand sewing is — I have a long commute to work, so I am able to use that time sewing guns on the subway.  I don’t pay much attention to scale or worry about exact proportions, so the guns tend to look cartoonish.


Was the choice to use some secondhand fabrics deliberate or simply one born out of frugality? Are you particular about fabric quality, color, texture, etc.?

When I first started this project, I was using a lot of fabrics I already had – clothes my roommates were getting rid of, fabric someone didn’t want anymore, or cheap material I found at fabric stores.  As the project continued, I became more selective with my fabric choices.  I discovered the high-end fabric stores throughout the city, the garment district, and a few online stores and started making more deliberate color and pattern choices.  I also learned a lot more about fabric types and textures from regularly visiting places like Mood Fabrics and New York Elegant Fabrics and talking to designers sourcing materials for clothing lines — there is so much to know about fabric! I also frequent the City Quilter and this great discount fabric store in Chelsea called Trumart Discount Fabric.  Right now, I’m attracted to bright floral prints, texture and metallic material.


When we began talking about exhibiting them at Institute 193, I thought how odd it is for these objects just to exist. They are so cleverly conceived; yet conceived out of violent tragedy. And treating them as plush toys seems a bit vulgar, but I know that wasn’t the intention. Are they meant simply to be tools for discussion? Where do you see these sculptures fitting in outside of the context of a gallery?

(This all makes me think of the recent debate over memorials to confederate generals or to times of slavery. What do we do with these objects? Do we destroy or hide them, lest we glorify the things they depict? Or do we keep them around to tell cautionary tales of our own history?)

I have been careful to keep this work existing as art objects and in an art context.  I do hope that I am stirring up thoughts about gun control, gun violence and gender issues, but I realize that to some people, I am making a cute stuffed replica of their favorite weapon.  I appreciate work that does not have just one take away or gives me that feeling of, “Oh, I get it.”  The gun debate has proven to be emotional for a lot of Americans; everyone has their own opinion as to what should or should not be done.  Everyone comes to view art with different thoughts and opinions and is able to interpret it differently.

But these objects are also very fun to interact with.  I went down to New Orleans to visit a friend and brought some of the first guns with me.  I whipped them out in a room full of grown men who immediately started shooting at each other, making machine gun noises — turning into little boys with colorful, droopy, soft toys.  These were guns I made using the historically feminine craft of sewing. That’s when I realized I was playing with gender in this work, so, I started experimenting with the concept and ended up photographing the guns with men in their underwear.


I do cringe a little bit when I hear “These are so cute, I want to get one for my niece/nephew/son/daughter,” but in the same way that I cringe when I hear someone say they won’t visit New York City because they can’t carry their gun.  I don’t know if this work is going to change anyone’s stance on the gun debate, but at the very least, I hope it gets people thinking and talking about the issues.

Being an organization that represents Southern artists, Institute 193 is always very geographically conscious. So I have to ask: how has growing up in Lexington, KY affected this series and your work in general?

I came up with the idea for this project while at home in Kentucky for the holidays and at a friend’s house who has a collection of handguns hanging on his wall.  Remember, this was in the wake of Ferguson, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, black lives matter marches were happening all across the country. Police brutality and gun violence were hot media topics and fresh on everyone’s minds, so looking at this entire wall covered in guns felt uncomfortable and strange and like something I would never see anywhere in my new home in New York City.

All of my work explores questions of identity and place.  While pursuing my MFA at the University of Kentucky, I created work that explored my family heritage in eastern Kentucky through a series of video portrait vignettes of women from age 8 to 80.  Kentucky is where I was introduced to gun culture and Kentucky is also where I learned the craft of sewing and quilting, from one tough, Appalachian, gun-owning Granny.

As far as Lexington specifically, my parents did a really good job of fostering my interest in the arts as a child, and luckily there were places in Lexington such as the Living Arts and Science Center where I could take art classes after school, I’d go shopping at Third Street Stuff to see the colorful work from Pat Gerhard, go to gallery openings of Robert Morgan’s work, and I interned at the Heritage Art Center. All these things helped show me that being an artist is possible and valued in a community.


Kentuckians seem to be very divided on the issue of gun control. Even just this week I’ve overheard widely contrasting opinions in cities across the state. I can see how this is so. For example, I have an uncle who is quite liberal and firmly supports stricter gun control policies. But he lives in a rural area of Kentucky and keeps outdoor farm animals, so he himself owns a couple of firearms to deal with emergency situations that may threaten his property. Brooklyn is quite a different cultural landscape. Do you find the conversation differs in NYC versus KY? If so, how?

The gun debate has proven to be an emotional and complicated one for a lot of people.  It’s hard to pin down, but one study that attempts to track the “most armed state” based on the number of NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) background checks divided by population has Kentucky at the top of the list. We are one gun loving state, that’s for sure.  And while we usually go red, growing up in Lexington has led me to believe that we are a fairly politically diverse state as well.

It has been interesting to see how people from different parts of the country receive this work.  While I do see more pro-gun rights commentary from my Facebook friends in the southeast, I have friends in Kentucky from both sides of the political spectrum who seem to be supporting what I’m doing. I hear a variety of comments from “These are so cute, I want to get one for my husband, he loves guns!” to “Are you making penis guns?” Soft sculpture work, in general, is really approachable, especially when it is a recognizable form and made from colorful fabric.  At first, people’s childlike instincts make them want to interact with these objects, but hopefully, that will open the door to them thinking about greater issues.


I know that not all of the sculptures are modeled after weapons used in recent mass shootings, though many are. Will you continue to sew gun pillows for as long as shootings continue to occur in the US?

Unless this country makes some big changes to its gun laws, I sadly think there will always be mass shootings during my lifetime.  I started this project partly because I needed to constantly be creating.  I don’t know if this need is an obsession, an addiction, a blessing or a curse – I haven’t figured that out yet.  Maybe I will still be sewing gun pillows as an old lady, who knows.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I just want to talk a little more about the role gender plays in this work:

Gender is morphing in this very public way in the media right now.  In the past year, we met Caitlyn Jenner, legalized gay marriage and we’ve also seen a lot of terrible acts of gun violence­­—not directly related.  At the same time, I think something really interesting is happening with gun ownership and masculinity. Elizabeth Winkler explains it really well in an article she wrote for Quartz, “America’s gun problem has everything to do with America’s masculinity problem”.  She quotes sociologist Jennifer Carlson in the article, “As men doubt their ability to provide, their desire to protect becomes all the more important.  They see carrying a gun as a masculine duty.”  So I’ve been playing with these ideas of gender and masculinity in gun culture through the use of the traditionally feminine craft of sewing to create turn these hard, masculine, phallic symbols into soft, droopy colorful pieces.

*Images courtesy of Institute 193.



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


Earlier this year, we caught up with Single Lock records and observed how they have grown in the short time since the label was founded. Since our very first meeting, the label has more than doubled its roster and continues to be a resource, helping artists grow in a way that best suits the artist’s vision.

Each quarter, we are featuring different Single Lock artists in our online store; this quarter we are highlighting veteran musician Donnie Fritts and the newest addition to the Single Lock artist roster, Penny & Sparrow.


Donnie Fritts is a Florence, Alabama, native and a well-respected songwriter who has penned hits like “We Had It All” (recorded by such artists as Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles, the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, and Willie Nelson) and “Breakfast in Bed”, which he co-wrote with Eddie Hinton for Dusty Springfield. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, his songs were recorded by artists like Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Box Tops, and Ronnie Milsap. Donnie also became an actor and spent 20 years as keyboardist for Kris Kristofferson, where he became known as “Funky” Donnie Fritts.

He recorded the critically praised Oh My Goodness on the Single Lock label, produced by John Paul White. The record features a host of Alabama stars, all on board to pay tribute to Fritts: Alabama Shakes members Brittany Howard and Ben Tanner (co-owner of Single Lock Records), Jason Isbell, The Secret Sisters, Dylan LeBlanc, St. Paul and the Broken Bones horn players Ben Griner and Allen Bransetter and longtime friends and music legends David Hood, Spooner Oldham, and John Prine.

On Oh My Goodness, Fritts’ voice is a weathered instrument, but one that conveys emotion with unexpected tenderness. The music is more polished and spare than in previous records and showcases the songwriting that he is so well known for. “This album means so much to me,” Donnie says. “I thought I wouldn’t get another shot. It’s the most personal and important album to me. It’s one of the most special things I ever got to do in my life.”


Singer-songwriter duo Penny & Sparrow, out of Austin, Texas, began making music together in 2010, when they were roommates at the University of Texas in Austin. Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke built their reputation for honest, unadorned acoustic music over years of touring. Let a Lover Drown You is their third full-length album, produced by John Paul White and Ben Tanner. The record is hauntingly beautiful and melancholic and marries their characteristic minimalist sound with White and Tanner’s richer arrangements.

Their music is clearly influenced by artists like Simon and Garfunkel, Swell Season, Bon Iver, and even some Broadway composers. (Baxter is so inspired by the musical Les Miserables that each record contains an homage; in Let a Lover Drown You, the closing song is titled “Eponine”, after the iconic character.) Their well-paired harmonies and thoughtful lyrics make it clear why the duo has a fervent touring fan base. This record features both White and Tanner—and bass player David Hood (of the legendary “Swampers”) makes several appearances.

Penny & Sparrow are currently featured on NPR Music’s annual “Austin 100” list, spotlighting their favorite artists for each year’s SXSW Music Conference. Let a Lover Drown You was just released on March 11. Look for Penny & Sparrow, currently on tour (hopefully) in a city near you.

Photos courtesy of Single Lock Records


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:



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

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

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

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


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

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

Thank you, Heather. You’ve converted me.


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


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


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


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

And a few of my other favorite designs:



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


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.



There are really only three ways to approach Valentine’s Day: embrace it and fall in love with all things love, scorn it and attribute it to false sentiment, or ignore it completely—which is a tactic that I tend to employ most often.

But, as I have been known to do when I have been sitting at my computer for too long, I recently found myself wandering over to the TED website where they have conveniently compiled a whole set of videos on the subject of “love”. I was charmed by this story of photographer Alec Soth and photo editor Stacey Baker and their exploration of how couples meet—and what love really looks like. Their documentation of both the world’s largest speed-dating event (held in Las Vegas on Valentine’s Day) and the residents of the largest retirement community in Nevada was a lovely mirror on how relationships begin and why they last.

And, since we have been talking about storytelling more and more lately, I thought I would compile a list of some of my favorite podcasts and stories about love—heartfelt, educational, and humorous:

Each year, This American Life puts together a Valentine’s Day show and it never disappoints. Here is one of my favorites.

My favorite storytelling podcast, The Moth, offers a couple of lovely stories—a tale of love, loss, and LBJ from Sarah Bird, and another of falling in love against your family’s wishes from Mary Lou Piland.

On Mortified, a podcast where adults share embarrassing childhood letters, journals, poems, or other artifacts, a storyteller reads a love letter to his high school crush that is equal parts hilarious and cringe-inducing.

And finally, with The Living Room, Love + Radio offers one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful podcasts I’ve ever heard and allows us to see the beauty of a relationship from the outside.

As much as I’ve tried to fight it, all of this love has taken a bit of the cynicism out of my Valentine’s Day outlook this year. Who would have thought?


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.


Continue reading


I’m going to ask for forgiveness in advance as this post is going to ramble. There is a lot to say and, at face value, parts of the story don’t seem to have any relevance to one another. Bear with me—I need to let the story unfold.

I’ve numbered the facts to help you follow along:


I’ve been listening to The Moth since I stumbled on the podcast back in 2009. I fell in love with George Dawes Green’s story of Southern Gothic and never stopped listening. I’ve traveled many miles, folded laundry, walked dogs, and worked in the garden with my earphones on, laughing out loud, and/or crying—sometimes both at the same time. If you’ve ever sat next to me on a plane or seen me walking through our little town in this state, I was most likely deeply involved in a story from The Moth.

(To diverge: There are others like This American Life, On Being, and The Kitchen Sisters that have been long-time favorites that continue to inspire. Newer flavors like Gravy, 99% Invisible, TED Radio Hour, Hidden Brain, and Serial have also become regular stops on my ever-evolving podcast playlist.)



Around 1994, I came across a short documentary film inspired by Route 66; that film and the consequent audio recording would change my life. I had been working at a job that didn’t suit me, in a place where inter-community politics ruled, and was living in a house that was embroiled in chaos—sunrise to sunset. At that moment, my life had absolutely nothing to do with my vision for myself. I came home to the “house of chaos” one afternoon—when the house was empty—to find some quiet and was transported, through a story, down a road: Route 66. It was heaven. At the end of this story, I knew that I was going to leave the job, the inter-community politics, and that I was going to tell stories. Exactly how I was going to tell stories was yet unclear but I knew without a doubt that my life was about to change.


Many years later, I came to know that the story of Route 66 I had listened to in 1994 had been created in 1985, when I was still a young girl in design school, by two friends who call themselves The Kitchen Sisters. I became fanatical followers of Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva. I listened to everything I could find from The Kitchen Sisters. I listened to every kind of documentary audio I could find (more on this in the coming year). I began my version of homeschool studies in storytelling. I watched as many films as I could; I became a fanatic. I made short films (if somewhat poorly). I attended film festivals. I tried (even more poorly) to write stories. I listened—over and over again, and then over again. I applied to film school and was rejected. I bought a camera. I filmed and recorded and watched and listened, but instead of becoming a director of documentary films, in 2000 I came home to Alabama and started the project that has become Alabama Chanin. I made a short film; I made clothes; I learned to tell different kinds of stories.


In 2009, after I had been making clothes for almost eight years (and had put filmmaking aside), I was asked to do a lecture at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Davia Nelson walked into the lecture, took my arm, and became my friend that night. She wrapped me up in her spirit; she turned her recorder on me; she took me on my first tour of the Edible Schoolyard; she introduced me to Alice Waters; she put on my clothes; she loved on me and brought love around me; and she introduced me to Nikki Silva, the other Kitchen Sister.

“Pinch me,” I said.


Once on a cold and snowy New York City night, I made a bet with a friend that we would each submit a story to The Moth. The night (and bet) in question was accompanied by several glasses of wine and in the midst of the banter and laughing, the thought of reaching out to The Moth terrified me. T E R R I F I E D. It took me about a year, but I did send in a story, and the story wasn’t accepted. Bet completed. Check.

“Whew, dodged that bullet,” I said.


In early 2014, Davia Nelson calls me one sunny afternoon to ask if I would be willing to come to New York City, to tell a story at The Moth for an evening they are curating around their award-winning series The Hidden World of Girls. I agree.

“Knock me over with a feather,” I think.



Within this list of facts, we’ve traveled from 1985 to 2014, and through the larger part of my working life as a designer and an adult.

Davia and I talked many times and for hours over the course of that spring about the trajectory of my story for The Moth, all of the facts above, about the story I should tell, about life, and love, and God, the beauty of everything, and about traveling to New York City for the actual telling of the story. In the course of these talks, I was introduced to Catherine Burns, the Artistic Director of The Moth, and we talked about more of the same. She gently prodded me, and poked, and teased a story from my jumble of experiences. And she made my story bigger, and better, more fluid, and solid. I became a better storyteller for having worked with Catherine in those months leading up to the story night.

I was proud. I was terrified. I’m not a natural speaker. It doesn’t feel natural for me to stand on a stage. Each time I’ve been asked to speak in the last years, I think about this quote from Susan Cain’s book Quiet:

“In fact, public speaking anxiety may be primal and quintessentially human, not limited to those of us born with a high-reactive nervous system. One theory, based on the writings of the sociobiologist E. O. Wilson, holds that when our ancestors lived on the savannah, being watched intently meant only one thing: a wild animal was stalking us. And when we think we’re about to be eaten, do we stand tall and hold forth confidently? No. We run. In other words, hundreds of thousands of years of evolution urge us to get the hell off the stage, where we can mistake the gaze of the spectators for the glint in a predator’s eye.”

And though I wanted to run (and run as though demons were after me), I did, in fact, manage to tell a story on The Moth Mainstage on the night of April 17th, 2014. That story is now part of The Moth Radio Hour and included with stories from George Dawes Green (yes) and Tim Gunn, and a beautiful story that made me laugh and cry from Warren Holleman.

During that spring and many times since, I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking with Catherine (an Alabama-raised soul sister) about stories and what makes them strong, why they are important, about our favorites, and about how stories inspire me as a designer. We also talked a lot about the terror of standing before a seated crowd at The Moth Mainstage without notes, without a podium, just you and a microphone and your life. When I first walked onto that stage, I felt like my head might separate from my body and that I might be the first-ever storyteller at The Moth to faint or die.

Catherine laughs at my morbid memory and sent me a list of a few of her all-time favorite stories this week. They are tales of redemption, and struggle, and light, and joy, and, well, just life. I learned from Catherine that Michael J. Massimino said that telling a story at The Moth was scarier than going into space. I’m in good company.

Below are a few of Catherine’s favorite stories, including “A View of the Earth” from Michael J. Massimino (one of my Maggie’s favorites too). Get The Moth’s free podcast to listen weekly:

Alan Rabinowitz: “Man and Beast”
A boy with a severe stutter finds solace in his connection to animals.

Janna Levin: “Life on a Mobius Strip”
An astrophysicist in crisis finds astonishing parallels between her personal life and her research.

A.E. Hotchner: “The Day I Became a Matador”
A young writer is talked into a bull ring by Ernest Hemingway.

George Dawes Green: “The House that Sherman Didn’t Burn”
The Moth’s Founder rebels against his aging Southern belle of a mother.

Kimberly Reed: “Life Flight”
A young woman must confront her past and future when forced to go home for her father’s funeral.

Darryl “DMC” McDaniels: “Angel”
The lead singer of RUN-DMC is brought back from the brink by an unexpected angel.

Andrew Solomon: “Notes on an Exorcism”
A man who has struggled with depression gets help from an African Shaman.

Stephanie Summerville: “Life Support”
A young healthcare attendant is sent to care for an extremely challenging patient.

Cynthia Riggs: “The Case of the Curious Codes”
A woman receives an unexpected note from an admirer she hasn’t seen in more than fifty years.

Michael Massimino: “A View of the Earth”
An astronaut runs into trouble on a mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope.

Carl Pilliterri: “The Fog of Disbelief”
A man is working at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima when disaster strikes.

Wanda Bullard: “A Small Town Prisoner”
The woman on whose porch the Moth began talks about her elderly father “helping out” at his local Mississippi police precinct.


If you’ve spent any amount of time listening to public radio, you become acquainted with or even attached to the sound of a host’s voice. The introduction to a show or podcast becomes familiar, like memorized lyrics to a song, and the host’s voice becomes as recognizable and comforting as a friend’s. For instance, so many times I’ve heard: “From WBUR Boston and NPR, I’m Tom Ashbrook and this is On Point”, or “This is Fresh Air. I’m Terry Gross”. Some listeners immediately recognize the jumbled mixture of voices patched together to say, “You’re listening to RadioLab, from WNYC and NPR”, or the profane voice of Marc Maron preceding the WTF Podcast; even the sound of a girl’s voice mispronouncing “MailChimp” in the advertisement before the Serial podcast became a pop culture reference. For me—one of the most welcoming is, “PRX. This is The Moth Radio Hour. I’m Catherine Burns…The Moth is about true personal stories, told in front of a live audience.” Catherine’s is a voice I trust and one that promises I am about to be enchanted, engaged, and moved in some way.

Catherine is The Moth’s longtime Artistic Director and frequent (though not only) host. The Moth—for the uninitiated—is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling, a subject near and dear to our hearts at Alabama Chanin. It celebrates both the seasoned raconteur and the first-time storyteller, equally. Since its founding in 1997 by author George Dawes Green, The Moth has presented thousands of stories, all told live and without notes. Many of these stories are compiled into podcasts—each one unique and moving in its own way.

Prior to her work at The Moth, Catherine directed and produced independent films and television and directed the highly praised Off-Broadway solo show, Helen & Edgar. She is also editor of the New York Times Best Seller, The Moth: 50 True Stories. Burns, an Alexander City, Alabama native (whose parents still live there), has also won a Peabody Award through her work at The Moth Radio Hour. She is also an accomplished fire dancer who, for the last several years, has coordinated a 70-person fire dancing show at the Burning Man Festival.

I remember an interview Catherine did several years ago for the National Endowment for the Arts that still resonates today:

“We live in a world that’s becoming increasingly digital. We sit in our little boxes, staring at other boxes, communicating through our fingers on a keyboard. I don’t think human beings were meant to live this way, and The Moth is the antithesis of all of that. It’s ironic because all our little devices and programs are meant to connect us, but I don’t think they really do. They kind of connect us, but there’s always a boundary there—the electronic wall that keeps us from really experiencing each other in a human way…We can bring people out of their cubicles and get them to interact with their neighbors. Through storytelling, you can hear from a neighbor who you might assume you have nothing in common with, and discover that you share a great deal. When you see the person on the street the next day, your perspective on them will have changed because you know something important about them and other people like them.”

Her perspective on creativity and connection—and her Alabama roots—make her an intriguing participant in our exploration of the creative process.

You can also listen to the weekly Peabody Award-winning show online: The Moth Radio Hour. Warning, you may want to buckle down the kids, and put out the dogs before you start—you’re going to want good time to get lost down this rabbit hole.

Alabama Chanin: Do you have any creative rituals?

Catherine Burns: This may sound silly, but I need a clean, orderly space in which to create. Both my office and home are pretty tidy. People are sometimes surprised by that—it’s the opposite of the cliché of the blustering artist. (Natalie, didn’t you comment on that the first time you saw my office?) But my job involves juggling a lot of balls at once, and it’s easy to get distracted. Having an organized space allows me to focus on the creating. I also like to surround myself with meaningful things that make me smile (many of which remind me of my beloved Alabama). On the shelves of my office I have piled among hundreds of books, my collection of Jonathan Adler mugs; an Alabama license plate; a quilt made for me by my cousin Sunny; various quartz rocks picked up at my Daddy’s farm near Eclectic; and a portrait of my friend, the poet and raconteur Edgar Oliver, which was painted by his mother Louise in Savannah in the early 1960’s.

AC: What have been some of the most successful campaigns you have launched? Why did you feel successful?

CB: The Moth released its first book two years ago—The Moth: 50 True Stories (Hachette). We were nervous about how the stories would work in print. We transcribed the oral stories, and lightly edited them for the page. The goal was for the reader to feel like they were actually hearing the storyteller speak. After the book was published, we heard about people reading the stories out loud to each other at dinner, which we loved, because it was a brand new way for our audience to interact with the stories. And the book allowed us to feature great stories that would have otherwise been lost. For instance, one of my favorite stories in the book is “Tajik Sonata” by Anoid Latipovna Rakhmatyllaeva. We met Anoid at a show we produced for the U.S. State Department in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Her story—about finding the courage to stand down a group of child soldiers and prevent them from destroying a room full of musical instruments at the height of their civil war—is one of my favorite stories I’ve ever directed. But Anoid told her story in Russian, and the only recording we had was of our English translator during the final show rehearsal. It sounds like it was recorded underwater. But we were able to transcribe it, and now the story has been read by tens of thousands of people all over the world.

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

CB: My only regret is that I didn’t move to New York City sooner. When I got out of college, I spent a number of years bouncing between Los Angeles and Boston. I find New York so inspiring. The city keeps me on my toes. It can be overwhelming at times (especially for someone who grew up in a small town in Alabama!), but New York is one of the few places in the world where when I’m here, I don’t feel like there’s anywhere else I’m supposed to be. And I love living surrounded by so many creative people.

AC: Do you critique your own work?

CB: I do critique my own work, but I get a lot of help from The Moth’s artistic team. Storytelling is very subjective. We always know it’s been a great Moth night when, the next day, no one can agree on the best story—everyone has his or her favorite. But for that reason, I rely heavily on our artistic team to weigh in on how we shape the stories, and which ones will be broadcast. A storyteller works one-on-one with a Moth director for weeks (and sometimes months) leading up to a show. But then two days out there’s a big group rehearsal where all the storytellers in a particular show will tell their stories to their fellow storytellers and our artistic team. As a director, it’s so helpful getting feedback from a smart group of people who don’t know the story as well as I do. Our rule is that if someone on our team is confused about something in a story, then someone in the audience probably will be too. After the stories are recorded, a group of about twelve of us listen to the audio to decide what will go on our podcast and The Moth Radio Hour. If we can’t decide amongst ourselves, we send it to our brilliant radio producer, the legendary Jay Allison, who will then weigh in.

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”?

CB: I’m a big fan of the not-for-profit Narrative 4. They try to foster empathy, often among people who might have reasons to dislike each other. As I understand it, they get a group together (for instance teenagers from a war-torn area), pair people off into twos, and have them listen to each other’s stories. The person listening has to then re-tell the story they just heard in the first person (as if it happened to them). Or as the folks at Narrative 4 put it, “Our core methodology centers around a story exchange, which works on a simple idea: If I can hear your story deeply enough to retell it in my own words, as if it happened to me—and you can do the same for my story—then we will have seen the world through each other’s eyes.” It’s brilliant.


AC: Is there one single act that can open your imaginary mind?

CB: Dance of any kind, whether I’m watching or participating. I love watching dancers. I spend my days with words and language. Everything is about narrative. And while a great dancer always tells a story of some kind, it’s less direct—no words are spoken. Dancing gets me out of my head and into my body, which is always a good thing. I’m not the most graceful person, but about ten years ago I became a fire dancer, performing poi, which is where you dance with balls of fire connected to your hands by chains. Learning this technique was a huge struggle for me, and my teacher later admitted that I initially showed almost no aptitude for it. But I kept with it, and eventually became the New York City lead for the big 1000 person fire spinning show at the Burning Man Festival that happens every year in Black Rock City, Nevada. Dancing with fire scratches some kind of itch in my soul. When I come back to my Moth work afterward, I always feel ready to jump into storytelling in a fresh way again.

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

CB: I am constantly inspired by the work being done in The Moth’s community program. This is the leg of The Moth that provides storytelling, free of charge, to underserved communities. The participants could be people living with HIV, holocaust survivors, or teenagers who have a sibling with a disability. I recently returned from a trip to Uganda where I had the pleasure of working with African feminist writers from across the continent. Working with these women was pure magic and a genuine inspiration for me. In the last year, our team led a series of storytelling workshops at a prison in Manhattan. The stories told by these incarcerated men will break your heart. Prisoners can feel very disconnected from the outside world, which can inhibit their rehabilitation and eventual re-entry into the world. Storytelling can help remind them of their humanity. We recently found out that the prisoners have been getting together and coaching each other’s stories in the days between The Moth’s weekly workshops. They call it “Mothing”. We love it.

P.S.: Look for Natalie’s story, told live at The Moth Mainstage in New York City on your public radio station as part of The Moth Radio Hour, “1602: Sewing, Singing, Suits, and Cemeteries.” Natalie’s story about kudzu, snakes, and sewing includes a conversation between Catherine and Natalie—recorded on Natalie’s back porch. You will also be able to download this story (and so many more) for free on The Moth Podcast beginning next week. Check back on Friday for more on Natalie’s journey from story to Mainstage.

Photos courtesy of Catherine Burns.

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


If you don’t yet know The Bitter Southerner, you should. They’ve been telling good stories since 2013, strong stories; stories that make you laugh, and stories that make you cry. There is so much that I love about what they are doing, but I especially love the description below from their “About” page by editor Chuck Reese:

“But there is another South, the one that we know: a South that is full of people who do things that honor genuinely honorable traditions. Drinking. Cooking. Reading. Writing. Singing. Playing. Making things. It’s also full of people who face our region’s contradictions and are determined to throw our dishonorable traditions out the window. The Bitter Southerner is here for Southern people who do cool things, smart things, things that change the whole world, or just a few minds at a time.”

Last Tuesday, they posted a piece about Alabama Chanin , and we are proud. It tells the story we live every day, it cracks open the work, and honestly explains how sometimes we know what we are doing, and how sometimes we do not exactly know what we are doing or the “complexion” of what we want to do, but that we are curious, and we want to do what we do well—with integrity.

But more than all of that, it connects us to our past, to our community, and to friends, and to heroes and heroines, like John Paul White and Rosanne Cash—and to the stories they are telling through the songs they are singing. It’s a piece that makes you want to get back to work. It might make you want to make a road trip.

We are (super) grateful to Kristi York Wooten, Chuck Reese, and all the team from The Bitter Southerner. Please go have a read here and join The Bitter Southerner to help them keep telling stories. (It’s worth the membership fee just for the “BS” bumper sticker.) They launch a new story every Tuesday; sign up for their newsletter to know the score.


Read more on William Faulkner from The New York Times Magazine
Photo from Rinne Allen via The Bitter Southerner


2015 was a year full of making, partnerships, learning, and growth. We truly appreciate each and every one of you and the love and support you show for us every day. We are excited to see what 2016 holds for us and hope that you’ll follow along.

Happy New Year to you and yours.


P.S. – Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter for (almost) daily updates.


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.


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

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


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I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things I had no words for. —Georgia O’Keeffe

In geometry, a square is a regular quadrilateral; it has four equal sides and four equal 90-degree angles.

A square is also technically a rhombus, a kite, a parallelogram, a quadrilateral, and a rectangle.

Squares signify stability. They are sturdy shapes that suggest familiarity, safety, and honesty. Their straight lines and sharp corners represent order and rationality. The uniformity of a square signifies equality.

Squares can also suggest rigidity or hardness.

In people, a square is understood as someone uncool or boring. Not so in design. We like both kinds of squares.

They are the most common shapes among man-made objects – from architecture to book pages.

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In the years since we met Rosanne Cash, we have grown from giddy fans, to dedicated admirers, to proud and honored friends. It is no secret how much we are inspired by Rosanne—as a supporter, an artist, and a beautiful person. We’ve done our best to express our admiration whenever the opportunity arises. We are still awestruck that we know someone so talented, so prolific, and so wise.

It has been a joy to see Rosanne and her singular creativity be acknowledged by so many, lately. Her album, The River and the Thread, which will always hold a special place in our hearts, won 3 Grammy Awards in February 2015, sweeping all categories for which it was nominated: Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song, and Best American Roots Performance, for “A Feather’s Not a Bird”.

She has recently held a three-night residency at the Library of Congress, received the 2014 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts, and curated a “Perspectives” series for Carnegie Hall that highlighted the best in Americana and roots music. (Among the artists included were Alabama Chanin favorites and Alabama natives, St. Paul and the Broken Bones.) Earlier this year, Rose was named the Country Music Hall of Fame’s 2015 Artist in Residence, which culminated in three concerts, including one instantly legendary evening of music by Rosanne, Lucinda Williams, and Emmylou Harris.


In October, Rosanne was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, an honor she was thrilled to receive. “This is the award I wanted. I started as a songwriter. I still consider myself, first and foremost, a songwriter, and dreamed that one day I would get this honor.” She and her father Johnny Cash are the only father/daughter members.

Rosanne seems to be always searching her own depths and looking for new sources of inspiration. She has recorded 15 albums and writes prolifically—everything from essays and fiction (in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and the Oxford American—among others) to her moving memoir, Composed. On top of all that, she also wrote three songs for season two of HBO’s True Detective and collaborated with Elvis Costello and Kris Kristofferson on a song released alongside Costello’s brand new memoir.

It is only natural that we would look to someone like Rosanne as part of our exploration of the creative process. We know that her method and her products are substantive, and we trusted that she would be completely, brutally honest with us. I recently read a quote of hers that I could relate to completely: “It’s only amateurs who only work when inspired. Music is a more trustworthy way to God than religion.” It is with this in mind that we consider Rosanne’s responses to our questions on creativity.

Alabama Chanin: Do you have any creative rituals?

Rosanne Cash: Before performances I have several things I do—stretching, breathing, feeling my feet on the ground, mentally clearing the space around me, a few words I always say to myself. In writing—no rituals, although I do have devices to break the constraints. Sometimes just a cup of tea will set things right.

AC: What makes you curious?

RC: Singularity makes me very curious. If someone is the foremost expert on wooden boats in the world, or knows everything about a certain brain tumor or a rare butterfly or deeply understands something that I only vaguely comprehend, like quantum physics or Mormonism, then I am riveted. I want to inhale everything they can tell me. And I’m curious about the personality that lives for one thing.

Dilettantes bore me.

My curiosity is also aroused by artists I love, but I don’t want to know about their artistic process. If I am moved by someone’s work, I want to know what they like to eat for breakfast, how much sleep they get, what their rituals are, if they watch television, their beverage of choice… I would KILL to know what Shakespeare did for amusement, who he slept with, and what his favorite food was.

AC: What do you daydream about?

RC: I daydream about color, water, silence, and nature.

Sometimes I daydream about how I would re-upholster my furniture.

AC: How important is education to your creative process?

RC: It’s important. I would use ‘discipline’ and ‘education’ together. It drives me crazy when people think what I do comes ‘naturally’ and that I don’t have to put effort into writing or performing or recording, or that songs happen because you get hit by a thunderbolt of inspiration and that’s all there is to it.

There are a lot of musicians and songwriters more talented than me. 85% of my success is because I’m tenacious and I show up for work.

AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?

RC: Listening to music and looking at art inspires me. If I’m really stuck, I put on certain records to jiggle the door open, or go to a museum. If I hear a really good song, my competitive side might get triggered and I want to write something better.

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

RC: That’s what amateurs do. If I only worked when I was in the mood, this would be a hobby, not my profession.

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

RC: Creativity is part of human nature. Mastery of creative work must be learned by doing.

AC: Creativity for me is_____.

RC: the reason I’m on the planet.

AC: How do you define success?

RC: Doing what you love and making a living at it.

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

RC: The travel for performance is the ‘heaviest’. I get really, really tired of it. I love travel, in theory, but touring is brutal.

The ‘lightest’ is when I finish writing a song that I know is good.

AC: Does spirituality play a role in your creativity?

RC: Creativity IS spirituality.

AC: What makes you nervous?

RC: Doing things outside my wheelhouse. I’m about to perform with Wynton Marsalis for the first time. That makes me a little nervous. Those kinds of things.

AC: In what ways would you want to change your imaginative spirit?

RC: I’d want to make it bigger.

AC: Is there something that can halt your creativity? Distractions, fears, etc.? Have you found a way to avoid those pitfalls?

RC: Anxiety over my kids stops the whole circus.

AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?

RC: No. There were things I didn’t put in my memoir because I didn’t want to hurt someone, but that’s different.

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

RC: Nope.

AC: If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?

RC: I’d love to paint.

AC: Do you critique your own work?

RC: Excessively.

AC: Has rejection ever affected your creative process?

RC: It made me try harder. I’ve been depressed and felt insecure about certain failures and rejections, but it never made me give up.

AC: Who do you define as a visionary?

RC: Someone who marries two very disparate ideas to create something entirely new, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the musical ‘Hamilton’.

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”

RC: The musical ‘Hamilton’.

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

RC: Songwriting.

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

RC: I don’t like to unload the dishwasher.
I don’t like taking makeup off.
I don’t like to spend the day doing email.
I love reading.
I love putting the kettle on and anticipating tea time.
I love to sew with my girlfriends.

AC: Is there one single act that can open your imaginary mind?

RC: I wish I knew.

AC: Are there parts of your life that you always make a priority? That you struggle to make a priority?

RC: I always make my kids a priority.

I struggle to make doing nothing a priority.

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

Photos courtesy of Clay Patrick McBride, Abraham Rowe, and Robert Rausch.


Atlanta-based chef Anne Quatrano is perhaps the most visible figure in the area’s farm-to-table movement. She and her husband and fellow chef Clifford Harrison are longtime proponents of sustainability and make concerted efforts to use locally grown seasonal and organic products—much of which comes from their own family farm. They own and operate three established restaurants—Bacchanalia, Little Bacch, and Floataway Café, run Star Provisions deli and market, and have very recently opened W.H. Stiles Fish Camp, a casual seafood spot in the Ponce City Market’s food hall.

Star Provisions is a carefully curated, visually inspiring shop and pantry where patrons can have access to the same tools and ingredients as professional chefs. They accomplish what we attempt to do in our own Studio Style DIY shop—provide high quality materials to those who might otherwise not have access to those items. Anne and Clifford have effectively opened their restaurant’s pantry and walk-in cooler for patrons to shop. It has a bakery, a wine cellar, a butcher and seafood counter, a cheesemonger, and a section for cookbooks, specialty goods, tableware, penny candy—and even dog treats.


As part of our continued inquiry into the creative process, I was interested in how someone could manage so many undertakings and manage a family farm and come up with fresh ideas for new restaurants. Fellow Atlanta chef Steven Satterfield said of Anne, “Ann was a pioneer in Atlanta. Her focus has always been on sourcing the best ingredients first, and local, seasonal ingredients have always been important to her.” I want to know what inspires such a pioneer—and what continues to keep that sort of passion stoked. We forwarded Anne a list of 34 questions about her thoughts on how she creates, stays motivated, and encourages her own creativity—and asked her to answer 5-10 of her choice. Her responses follow and reveal what sparks her curiosity and what she might have done instead of becoming a chef (though we’re so glad she stuck with her original plan).

Alabama Chanin: Do you have any creative rituals?

Anne Quatrano: Not really – I love an iced tea and a stack of magazines on Sundays.

AC: What makes you curious?

AQ: Mostly nature and its elements…wild vegetation, bird’s nests, the paths of bees, my dogs’ habits, anatomy of a hog…

AC: What do you daydream about?

AQ: The beach


AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?

AQ: Driving

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

AQ: No, but I am more creative when calm.

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

AQ: Human nature – the discipline to achieve is learned.

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

AQ: Heaviest is always economically motivated. Lightest is typically the relationship of flavors, textures and form.

AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?

AQ: Sometimes with hired graphic designers or individuals helping with projects—but most of the time the collaboration is just as rewarding and often better.

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

AQ: I would draw homes and public spaces…architecture.

AC: Do you critique your own work?

AQ: Yes – more than anyone else.

AC: Has rejection ever affected your creative process?

AQ: No

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”?

AQ: Everything…


Photos courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee Photography


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



In the northwest corner of Alabama it sometimes feels like we are in our own little world (or, perhaps, just in our own little state of mind); we have our own way of doing things. This area boasts a beautiful terrain, unpredictable weather, its own unique musical sound, white barbecue sauce, and, of course, chicken stew. But, even as we boast about our unique quirks, claims to fame, and attributes, it must be said that other areas of Alabama certainly have special qualities and points of view, different from our own. Though each region or county or city has its own distinct flavor, we share in a creative spirit that can be found anywhere in the state. (Visit the Southern Makers gathering for verifiable proof of what Alabama has to offer artistically.)

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

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

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

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


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I’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.






Rinne’s Light Drawings remind me of leaves floating on the surface of still water, in shades of blue and indigo. And we’ve just added more of her ethereal drawings to our online selection.  Stop by The Factory Store in Florence, where they are on display and available for purchase. Call us with any questions: +1.256.760.1090


the bright nights just at summer’s end, when you wanted to make each day and each night last forever
secretly swimming and laughing and trying to will the autumn never to return
innocence remembered and clung to, as not to lose it completely

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.
The photograph on the dashboard taken years ago,
turned around backwards so the windshield shows.
Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse.
Still, it’s so much clearer.

I forgot my shirt at the water’s edge;
the moon is low tonight.

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.
I’m not sure all these people understand.
It’s not like years ago—
the fear of getting caught,
of recklessness and water.
They cannot see me naked.
These things, they go away,
replaced by everyday.

Nightswimming, remembering that night.
September’s coming soon.
I’m pining for the moon.
And what if there were two,
side by side in orbit
around the fairest sun?

That bright, tight forever drum
could not describe nightswimming.
You, I thought I knew you.
You I cannot judge.
You, I thought you knew me,
this one laughing quietly underneath my breath.

The photograph reflects,
every streetlight a reminder.
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.

R.E.M., Nightswimming


If you had only seen his most recent paintings, currently on view at Workshop (Christian Berst), you might assume that Robert Tharsing’s idea of paradise resembles a lush and colorful landscape full of palms, ferns, and the occasional volcano. In reality, the artist has contented himself with simpler pleasures: a decent sized room with access to woodworking tools and enough space to lay a large piece of canvas on the floor. Since 1971, Robert Tharsing has occupied a total of six studio spaces, most within walking distance of one another in downtown Lexington. These studios became the backdrop to his practice but also provided a retreat from the daily challenges and responsibilities of teaching at the University of Kentucky.

Robert Tharsing in studio, circa 1992

For this piece, Tharsing’s friends and family submited photographs of the artist in his studio. They span over forty years and show works in various stages of completion. From this small set of images, one can view the evolution of his work, but also identify the consistent forms, shapes, and colors that have dominated his practice. Hard-edged geometric forms clash against or lie over top of organic shapes, plants, and animals, often glowing in vibrant, nearly florescent hues.

Robert Tharsing with mobiles, 2002 by Suzanna Scott

ALABAMA CHANIN – ROBERT THARSING: PARADISERobert Tharsing in studio, 2007 by Lina Tharsing

Robert Tharsing starts a new painting, 2015 by Lina Tharsing

Rainforest Stream, oil on canvas, 40″x54″, Robert Tharsing

Paradise Interrupted, Tharsing’s current exhibition, presents a culmination of his techniques and aesthetics in a newly personal manner. The studio is present in these works—in references to lotus flowers and other plants from his courtyard garden—but so is the artist, grappling with years of exploration and engagement with his medium. These paintings, somewhat uncharacteristically, bear Tharsing’s reflections on personal circumstances: health, mortality, and the interference both have wrought upon body and mind. They combine places both real and imagined, the view from the studio window and from the mind’s eye.

Transitional Plant Pond Elements, oil on panel, 16″x23″, Robert Tharsing


–Phillip March Jones

All images Courtesy of Christian Berst Art Brut (New York/Paris) and Ann Tower Gallery.


Rinne Allen and Alabama Chanin first crossed paths almost a decade ago, when Rinne attended one of Natalie’s early “Alabama Adventure” weekends—which included picnics, short workshops, music and storytelling. (Those early weekends became what is now our annual company picnic + workshop weekend.) After that, it seemed that we began to cross paths more frequently—at Southern Foodways Alliance events, through friends, logically, working together became the most natural next step. Rinne has produced photography for the Alabama Studio Book Series, our collections, the website and Journal—and she perfectly captured the process of our Alabama Cotton collaboration with Billy Reid—including a beautiful piece for the New York Times online magazine.

Rinne currently lives and works in Athens, Georgia. One glance at her website shows her distinctive eye and diverse skill set. She can find and photograph a special moment in any environment and she seems to have an innate understanding of light. She also has a keenly developed understanding of natural elements.


For the last two decades, Rinne has worked as both a commercial and fine art photographer. In addition to Alabama Chanin, she also collaborates with Hable Construction, R. Wood Studio, and Selvedge Magazine. Her long-running series Harvest, documenting harvests across the south, is published regularly in T Magazine, The New York Times Style Magazine. She works regularly with artists and authors, notably with Hugh Acheson on his James Beard Award winning cookbook, A New Turn In the South. Her book, Citizen Farmers, made with farmer Daron Joffe, won the 2015 IACP award for Food Matters. Currently, Rinne—along with Kristen Back and Rebecca Wood—curates a beautiful website, Beauty Everyday. The accompanying book, Beauty Everyday, which highlights 365 beautiful photographs of the South, can be purchased here.

She has created a unique, natural light drawing process that combines elements from her garden with alternative photo processing methods she learned in some of her early college photography classes. She and her mother gather clippings from the garden and place them on specially treated light sensitive photo paper and lay them in the sun. After a certain amount of exposure to sunlight, a cyanotype emerges. Each of these beautiful pieces is completely one of a kind.

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Visit her website for just a glimpse of her talent.


The months of June and July were wonderful and hectic in lots of beautiful and fun ways. There was plenty of travel, including our trip to Blackberry Farm and the cross-country train trip that Maggie and I took to San Francisco. With August comes a welcome bit of calm, just before our house gets back into the more regimented groove of the school year. (I hear the collective sigh of, “Where did the summer go?”)

Even though they weren’t as fastidiously tended to as I would have liked, my tomato plants are still producing a few beauties. I’m savoring these all while questioning if I put up enough for the coming year and knowing that I didn’t.

But, if there’s some solace to be had it’s that peach season has arrived—and August is in fact National Peach Month. I’m going to dust off my favorite peach ginger smoothie recipe, throw some peaches on the grill, and hope that maybe Lisa Donovan will send over some of her famous peach hand pies. (A girl can hope.) For those in search of a perfect peach-related cocktail, The Peach Truck offers this recipe for Party Peach Mojitos.

Our Alabama on Alabama exhibit @ Heath Ceramics will continue through August 23rd, so you still have time to visit if you have not already.

August 3 – National Watermelon Day. I think we will slice one up on the back deck, pin on some napkin bibs, and get messy.

August 8 – I laughed out loud when I read that this day is known as “Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day”. Anyone who has ever been overly blessed with their zucchini and squash harvests knows exactly what this means…

August 9 – Wrapping up our Studio Style DIY Trunk Show at A Verb for Keeping Warm in Oakland, California.

August 26 – Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote. If you are not registered to vote, there is no better day than today.

August 27 – We’re happy to announce our upcoming Friends of the Café Dinner @ The Factory with chef Rob McDaniel. A fundraiser for the Southern Foodways Alliance and in celebration of the Billy Reid Shindig.

Hopefully, you can find some downtime this month to work on the August Swatch of the Month—embroidery, appliqué, and reverse appliqué in our Small Polka Dot stencil.

For detailed instructions and photographs please consult Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. It has information on each technique and its variations.

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