Tag Archives: Travel + The Journey

ALABAMA CHANIN - THE HAMBIDGE CENTER - 1

RESIDENCY: THE HAMBIDGE CENTER

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.

HAUNTS TOUR: THE SHOALS

The Shoals is an area rich in folklore, dating back to the 1800s. And this time of year, that folklore comes alive in tales of souls haunting historic homes and spaces. Fifteen years ago, local historian and author Debra Glass was inspired to create a ghost tour that would tell some of the forgotten stories of the Shoals’ haunted residents: the Haunted History of the Shoals Ghost Walk.

Those interested are asked to meet just before 7:30pm—8:00pm for the late tour—beside the eerily disproportionate statue of W.C. Handy at Wilson Park. We recommend grabbing a cup of Rivertown coffee to stay warm throughout the 90-minute walk. Glass begins the tour by recounting personal experiences at her office with the ghost of Jeddy Ryan, a benevolent spirit, and then walks the tour to the corner of Tombigbee and Court Streets to tell the tale of “Mountain” Tom Clark.

ALABAMA CHANIN – HAUNTS TOUR: THE SHOALS

Clark was an outlaw during the Civil War, whose gang robbed, murdered, and menaced area residents—murdering at least 19 people, including a child. He was eventually caught by authorities and jailed. On September 4, 1872, an angry mob took Clark from jail and hung him. Glass says that while alive, Clark’s most famous proclamation was: “No one would ever run over Tom Clark!”, which is why the citizens of Florence buried him underneath Tennessee Street, one of the most heavily trafficked roads in the city.

ALABAMA CHANIN – HAUNTS TOUR: THE SHOALS

A few paces down from the location of “Mountain” Tom Clark’s hanging is Trowbridge’s, an ice cream bar famous for orange pineapple ice cream and for being haunted by Charles Daniel Stewart. Before the restaurant was built, the land belonged to the Stewart family, who situated their antebellum home in the same spot. Like many men of the time, Stewart was called away from home due to the Civil War and was chosen to carry the Confederate banner into battle. Stewart vowed to protect the honor of the banner, which was made by his mother and other local women. However, Stewart was severely wounded at the Battle of Manassas and was brought home to die on August 16, 1861. Over the years, Trowbridge’s employees have seen the phantasm of a young boy and experienced other strange events.

The tour continues down a section of Court Street Glass refers to as “Ghost Row.”

We don’t want to give away some of the tour’s spookiest tales, but on this stretch, you will hear stories involving some of the area’s most famous residents, a scorned wife, and a mysterious girl and her phantom dog.

ALABAMA CHANIN – HAUNTS TOUR: THE SHOALS

At the end of Ghost Row the tour heads towards one of its more gruesome sites, Pope’s Tavern. During the Civil War, the tavern was converted to an infirmary for Confederate and Union soldiers. Many soldiers—including the 32 who died at the tavern—underwent surgery or amputations in the building’s back right room. In 1988, the first archeological dig at the site was underway when bones and bullets were discovered in the courtyard just outside the amputation room’s door. Claims of unnerving experiences increased in the years following the discoveries.

Miss Glass shares several other stories, which also serve as a partial history of the area and its residents. After the tour wraps up, Glass stays for a more intimate meet and greet where you can also buy her books, which expand upon the many ghosts believed to haunt the Shoals area.

All tours meet at Wilson Park.

Tours:
7:30pm with Debra Glass – October 21–31
8:00pm with Keith Sims – October 21, 22, 27, 28, 29, and 31

Adults: $10
Ages 12 and under: $8

Visit their website for more information.

ALABAMA CHANIN – HAUNTS TOUR: THE SHOALS

TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

As our home in The Shoals area continues to grow and expand, so does our list of things to do and see. Downtown Florence has been flourishing in the past few years, and new shops are popping up alongside tried-and-true mainstays. Ye Ole General Store, one of those longtime favorite spots, sits at the corner of Tombigbee and Seminary Streets, between a cycling shop and business offices.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

The shop, which opened in 1947, has known two other names: Darby’s and Killen’s. When current owner Gordon Glasscock’s grandfather bought the business in 1973, it was rechristened Ye Ole General Store. Originally Glasscock never intended to take over the family’s business. But in 2006, after years of working as a chef, he was given the opportunity to take over the store; the idea of changing pace and working in a store of his own design was too tempting to pass up. Ten years in and Glasscock continues to curate a unique shopping experience for his guests.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

Outside, a mannequin that Glasscock calls Rosie, welcomes you to the store. Over the years, her wardrobe has varied (though she almost always models one of the store’s many available hats), but these days she sports a t-shirt boasting Muscle Shoals’ music history. Once you take a step inside we recommend allowing at least an hour—if not more—to browse with intention.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

The Civil War-era hats and modern-day Auburn University beanies highlight the juxtaposition of old and new seen throughout the store. If you’re looking for overalls, Glasscock will gladly find your perfect size, as he has done for generations of loyal customers. And while the store stocks a variety of hats and American-made work wear, it is an actual “general store”, selling cast iron skillets, albums from local musicians, old-fashioned men’s shaving tools, and an array of varied, useful items.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

One of Glasscock’s favorite things about the store is that it allows him to meet interesting people from all walks of life—so take time to strike up a conversation with him. He’ll tell you about how he came to possess some of the biggest Levi’s jeans ever made (they measure 76 x 45) and about his most prized item in the store—an original print by Tommy Wright of Linda Ronstadt singing. That image is one of many Glasscock has collected over the years to create a visual tour of the area’s music history. Framed images of Donnie Fritts, David Hood, Donna Jean Godchaux-McKay, and other musicians tied to the Shoals are hung throughout the store.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

Ye Ole General Store allows Glasscock a platform to show off what this community means to him. When you eventually find your way back to the front of the store don’t forget to say farewell to Rosie as you leave.

Regular store hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays (though they keep seasonal hours, during certain times of the year).

Ye Ole General Store
219 North Seminary Street
Florence, Alabama
256.764.0601

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: YE OLE GENERAL STORE

TRAVEL: SLOSS FURNACE

There is an abundance of things to see and do right here in The Shoals, but as our travel series expands, so does our list of nearby attractions—nearby meaning within driving distance from The Factory. We’ve previously highlighted Birmingham, the city about 2 hours south of here that was built around the iron and steel industry. One of the metropolitan’s most iconic (and historical) landmarks is Sloss Furnaces.

The site, most commonly referred to as just ‘Sloss’, can be found on the outskirts of downtown Birmingham. It is hard to miss—the looming blast furnaces, boilers, factory buildings, and water tank will surely catch your eye.

The industrial boom that took place in Birmingham and the surrounding areas occurred in the years following the Civil War. Colonel James Withers Sloss was one of the entrepreneurs who helped found the city of Birmingham in 1871. At that time, our country was rebuilding itself and continuing to make connections across the land with railroads. Iron ore and coal deposits were plentiful in this area of central Alabama. As a railroad man, Colonel Sloss also played an important role in securing that the completed South and North rail line (built by L&N Railroad) pass through the burgeoning town. A decade later he established the Sloss Furnace Company, and in the spring of 1882, the furnaces went into blast, producing thousands of tons of pig iron.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: SLOSS FURNACE

Colonel Sloss retired and sold the company to a group of financiers in 1886, and over the next few decades the company (now known as Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron) experienced rapid growth and expansion. By the First World War, it was the one of the largest producers of pig iron in the world. The onset of World War II broadened the market for iron and steel, and in turn, created jobs for the Birmingham area labor force.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: SLOSS FURNACE

The furnaces went through many updates over the years—and though nothing remains of the original furnace site, the oldest building on the site was constructed in 1902. Sloss shuttered production in 1971 and remained a sort of industrial graveyard until it reopened its doors in 1983 as a museum and historical landmark.

Most folks know other stories about Sloss Furnaces—a darker sort of history. It could be a dangerous place to work, and many laborers died on site. Even more were gravely injured. It is believed by some that these lost souls haunt the factory grounds—earning Sloss the reputation as one of the most haunted places in America. The tales have proved so eerie and compelling that the furnaces have been featured on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures as well as the SyFy network’s Ghost Hunters. Sloss Furnaces even hosts a haunted adventure experience each Halloween.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: SLOSS FURNACE

Sloss Furnaces also offers a wide range of events throughout the year, including tours, concerts, festivals, and workshops. You can learn a new skill (or perfect your craft) at one of the many on-site public workshops. Subjects range from blacksmithing and welding, to cast iron sculpture and casting. So, the next time you find yourself traveling through Birmingham, sign up for a class and/or tour the historic facilities.

Visit Sloss Furnaces:

20 32nd Street North
Birmingham, AL 35222

Workshops (offered year-round):

Cast Iron Sculptures for Beginners
Fridays, 6:00pm – 9:00 pm
Saturdays and Sundays, 9:00am – 5:00pm
Cost: $325

Iron & Bronze Casting: Artists Open Studio (experience casting iron is preferred)
Fridays, 6:00pm – 9:00pm
Saturdays and Sundays, 9:00am – 5:00pm
Cost: $150

Introduction to Ceramics
Tuesday and Thursday evenings (times vary)
Saturday afternoons (times vary)
Cost: $40+

Creative Welding (no experience necessary)
Saturdays and Sundays, 10:00am – 4:00pm
Cost: $250

Basic & Intermediate Blacksmithing
Saturdays and Sundays, 10:00am – 5:00pm
Cost: $250

Bowl-o-Rama & Platter-Rama (a personal favorite—cast your own bowl or platter)
Mondays, 6:00pm – 9:00pm
Cost: $45

Find more information on workshops here.

Public Guided Tour Hours:
Saturday – Sunday, 1:00pm; 2:00pm; 3:00pm
Call ahead to ensure availability: +1.205.324.1911

Self-Guided Tour Hours:
Tuesday – Saturday, 10:00am – 4:00pm
Sunday, 12:00pm – 4:00pm

Admission is free for both tours.

P.S. If you can’t make the trip, or just want to learn more, we recommend the Alabama Public Television documentary Sloss: Industry to Art. View it here.

THE MOTH, FACTS, FEAR, AND ASTRONAUTS

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:

FACT #1

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.)

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE MOTH, FACTS, FEAR, AND ASTRONAUTS

FACT #2

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.

FACT #3

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.

FACT #4

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.

FACT #5

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.

FACT #6

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.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE MOTH, FACTS, FEAR, AND ASTRONAUTS

FACT #7

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.

TRAVEL: NASHVILLE

Just two hours north of The Shoals lies Nashville, Tennessee—also known as “Music City”. Travelers visiting The Factory often fly into larger nearby airports (like Nashville or Birmingham) and make the drive to Florence. Lately, perhaps in part due to the eponymous television show, Nashville has blossomed as a tourist friendly city—one that we recommend for all of our visitors with a little extra time to explore.

The city of Nashville was founded as Fort Nashborough around 1780 and is actually older than the state of Tennessee. During the Civil War, Nashville was captured early on by the Union army —who used it as a depot; this ultimately helped solidify the city’s infrastructure and ensured it would survive the war largely intact, unlike most other large Southern cities.

In 1925, a local insurance company founded a radio station in Nashville—calling it WSM, for “We Shield Millions”. Disc jockey George Hay produced a barn dance style show called “The Grand Ole Opry”, which was listened to by those in Nashville and in surrounding towns and communities. Musicians began traveling to the city in hopes of being heard on this treasured radio show. The Opry, still staged live every week, is America’s longest-running radio show.

For those with a love for music history, Nashville has no shortage of must-see stops. Visit the newly opened Johnny Cash Museum or Hatch Show Print, a historic letterpress shop that produced—and still produces—some of the most famous concert posters of all time. (Look for more information on Hatch soon.) Nearby is The Country Music Hall of Fame, which takes up an entire city block and presents artifacts like rhinestone costumes, guitars, and memorabilia from musicians of all generations. Also part of the Hall of Fame is RCA Studio B, where thousands of famous country and rock and roll songs have been recorded. Elvis alone recorded over 250 songs at Studio B.

We highly recommend touring the beautiful Ryman Auditorium, known as the “Mother Church of Country Music.” Originally built as a house of worship, it was home to the Grand Ole Opry until 1974 and now hosts shows for musicians of all genres.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: NASHVILLE

Opry performers were known to sneak out the Ryman’s back doors between sets to have a drink in one of Nashville’s famous honky tonks, located on lower Broadway. Visitors now frequent establishments like Legends Corner and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, which offer modern country alongside throwback country and western. For those interested in the songwriting side of Nashville (and fans of the ABC television show), you might consider a visit to The Bluebird Café, where many songwriting legends were discovered—and continue to visit. But visitors should know that venues like the Bluebird are classic Nashville “listening rooms” —and you will be shushed if you make too much noise.

Nashville is also an important stop for many vinyl enthusiasts, as well. United Record Pressing, operating since 1949, is located downtown and is one of only four remaining vinyl manufacturers in America. Musician Jack White also moved his record label, Third Man Records, from Detroit to Nashville—and they release hundreds of albums and special releases on vinyl. The Blue Room, a venue located inside, is capable of producing a vinyl master recording in real time, direct-to-acetate.

The city is also becoming (rightfully) known as a food destination. One of Nashville’s best-known culinary innovations is “hot chicken”—supposedly created by a scorned woman seeking revenge on a cheating boyfriend. Prince’s Hot Chicken is our preferred stop. There are too many “best” restaurants in town, but among our favorites are: Sean Brock’s Husk, Tandy Wilson’s City House, Tyler Brown’s Capitol Grille (and the adjacent Oak Bar), and Arnold’s Country Kitchen, for a classic meat and three. (Barbeque in and around Nashville can’t be contained in one post—more on that coming soon.)

Travelers who want to explore outside the music attractions, or anyone traveling with the whole family, can visit The Parthenon (originally built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition), pick up a book (or four) at Ann Patchett’s independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, take in an exhibit at The Frist Center for Visual Arts, explore the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, see a movie at the historic Belcourt Theatre, or watch a Nashville Predators or Tennessee Titans game.

Shop the 12th Avenue South district with our friends at Imogene + WillieCraft South, and, while you are out-and-about, check out all the great designers that are part of the newly formed Nashville Fashion Alliance (NFA).

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: NASHVILLE

As you can see, a flight to Nashville with a two day stop before heading to The Shoals is highly recommended. Look for more upcoming posts from our Travel series, highlighting some of our favorite cities and attractions—from here to there (and most everywhere in between).

Photos courtesy of: The Grand Ole Opry, Johnny Cash Museum, Hatch Show Print, The Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville Sun Times, Jón Alan Salon, Bon Appétit, Husk, City House, Capitol Grille, Nashville.gov, Parnassus Books, The Frist Center for Visual Arts, Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, Nashville.com, The Nashville Predators, and The Tennessee Titans

POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA

Dear Sissi,

You might not know this, but Maggie and I recently took a transcontinental (well, almost) train trip to my “Alabama on Alabama” show at Heath Ceramics in San Francisco. We stopped for a night in Chicago (which was wonderful) and when we boarded the California Zephyr, took our seats and started to move from the city, I felt my breath release and I said to Maggie, “I don’t think that I’ve ever been happier than this moment.”  There is something about sitting and watching the world go by that is good for the soul. On the trip, I thought a lot about the women and men who settled this country and how they must have felt watching this immense landscape roll by.

I wish that you were with us. I know that you would enjoy our lively conversation (and regular naps).

xoNatalie

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Dear Birgit,

I thought so much of you as we were traversing Nevada on our railway adventure. There is a spot where the rocks are red—and in some places pink. It’s a land that makes you think of John Wayne and the plethora of movie westerns that so defined film in America. I think that this might have been my favorite part of the trip. It’s a brief glimpse that makes you want to saddle a horse and find out what is at the end of each small cavern. It feels wild and I remember the time that we laid in a garden of roses staring at each star in the sky. I miss you.

xoNatalie

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Dear GramPerkins and Granddaddy,

You’re not alive anymore to read this but I’m going to write it anyway and mail it to our house. Maggie and I are on day two of our adventure across America and I can’t help but think of you and the postcard you once sent from the Painted Desert. I take out my phone to find out how far we are from that spot and see that we are about six hours as the crow flies. My imagination takes wing and goes there—or at least to the postcard that you sent. I miss you every day. I’ve taken lots of pictures—in homage to the slide shows you used to “present” to us after each one of your explorations. I wish that I had those slides now. If I did, I’d look for each crevice and corner of America that you saw.

Lots of love from this adventure (from Maggie too),

xoNatalie

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Dear Steven,

I’m sending this from somewhere in the middle of the “heartland.” It goes on and on and on… It’s the first time I really realized how BIG this beautiful country of ours becomes when you transverse it field by field, rock by rock, and tree by tree. Maggie and I have taught ourselves all the words to “America the Beautiful”—which we sing off-key and a little too loudly. I’m sure our neighbors are annoyed but we sing anyway. I would say that I miss the studio but I don’t really. But I do miss all of you… give my love to everyone.

xoNatalie

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Dear Olivia and Hope,

Thank you. Thank you for taking care of our new puppy, Rowdy. I hope that he is being a good boy. I’d say that we wish he was with us—but we don’t really. It’s been so lovely to sit with Maggie—just the two of us—and dream, and sing, and make origami, and just stare out the window. Train travel is just that, lots of staring, and all that gazing out the window does the soul good. We’ve settled into a schedule and I think that we might be sad to see this leg of our journey come to an end.

Thinking of you all—squeeze Rowdy,

xoNatalie and Maggie

P.S.: Maggie’s taught herself to knit!

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ALABAMA CHANIN – POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA

Dear Cathy, Robin, and Jasper,

We can’t begin to thank you enough for inspiring us to take the train to California. Your trips to Alabama each year seemed like a dream and now Maggie and I KNOW why you love them so.  It’s been such a beautiful journey—to you and back again. We can’t wait for the next time and the next adventure with you. Let’s plan that meeting in Texas—the Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle await! Thank you again for good food, good stories, and good company.

Until we meet again,

xoNatalie and Maggie

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If you’re thinking of train travel, here are a few tips we learned (and Cathy shared with us):

Join the Amtrak Guest Rewards program before you purchase your ticket (they have lots of promotions that you can take advantage of).

Make sure you pack only one suitcase and that it is small enough to fit under the Amtrak seat.

If you need more than one bag at your final destination, check it through and take only what you need on the train.

If you can afford it, get a bedroom. (You can get deals on day-of travel.)

Bring your own coffee (if you are partial to the stuff in the morning). I packed my vintage Krups espresso machine, a good thermos, and had fresh cappuccino every morning. I ordered milk each night for dinner and used it for my morning coffee.

Bring a good bottle of wine (if you are partial to the stuff in the evening). I like my white wine over ice, so it wasn’t an issue to keep it cool. Red wine works too.

A pillow from home and a good duvet go a long way on a long night.

Make friends with your attendant straight off—they know all the best stuff about every train and are incredibly helpful.

Healthy snacks aren’t really an option—stock up ahead of time.

A deck of cards is a great conversation starter.

Bring origami cranes to each meal. Everyone loves an origami crane.

Plan to get some fresh air at each stop, where it’s possible. A little skipping helps get the blood flowing.

If you do choose to get a bedroom, the showers are very small. There is a larger (shared) shower on the lower level. You may prefer this.

If you do shower in room, remove the toilet paper from the room. No matter how careful you are, it always gets wet.

Take a million pictures and share freely. Everyone loves the train and will love you for sharing.

Watch the sunrise from the back of the train at least once—set your alarm if necessary.

Don’t be in a hurry. Trains are often late and that’s just the way it is. Embrace the moment, relax, breathe, and enjoy.

Look for heart rocks and double rainbows. They seem to be common occurrences.

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P.S.: Plan an overnight stay in Chicago and (if your schedule allows) every stop along the way… you won’t regret it.

ALABAMA CHANIN – POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA

P.S.S: When you see a train track, listen for the whistle, heed the warnings, and don’t try to race the train across, or play on the tracks, or attempt anything silly or heroic. A train is a giant object, moving through space at a terrific speed, and an engine, as strong as it is, can’t stop the train quickly.

Be respectful. Be safe.

Side note to teenagers: You cannot camp inside a train tunnel in the Rocky Mountains.

(Yes, that happened. You’ll be glad to know that there were no injuries but the train was stopped for 1 1/2 hours while the local authorities removed them to a more appropriate campsite—causing us to miss our connecting train two days later.)

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Thanks for following along. Join us on Instagram for more pictures and adventures every day (or almost every day).

AMTRAK: ALABAMA TO SAN FRANCISCO

A few notes from the road:

We packed way too much. One suitcase and a favorite pillow would have done.

We haven’t taken nearly enough pictures to describe the magnificent journey this has been.

Snacks are good.

Rain from a train is very beautiful.

Tunnels can be a little dark and scary.

Origami makes people happy.

The absence of cell phone service and Wi-Fi can be a blessing.

There is a beautiful juxtaposition of rugged industrial and breathtaking scenery to be found along railroad tracks (and sometimes side-by-side).

Great satisfaction can be found in just sitting still.
xoNatalie and Maggie

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TRAINS: ALABAMA TO SAN FRANCISCO

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

TRAINS: ALABAMA TO CALIFORNIA

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ALABAMA TO CALIFORNIA

THE STORY
Alabama on Alabama is a month-long journey to the soul of the Modern South, held in the Boiler Room and showroom at Heath in San Francisco. Refined, raw and radical, the Modern South connects place, people, process, and tradition in a way that cuts across geography and time. From July 24, 2015, the Boiler Room will exhibit the work of the widely acclaimed and celebrated textile artist, designer, and slow design pioneer Natalie Chanin. It will also include work by Butch Anthony, best known for his “intertwangled” paintings and creations using found objects and materials, and works on paper by outsider artist Mr. John Henry Toney. Alabama on Alabama will also feature the work of frequent Natalie Chanin collaborator and photographer Rinne Allen. Visit boilerroomsf.com to learn more.

Home---Blue-Plates---One-of-a-Kind-Indigo---Robert-Rausch-(16)
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POSTCARDS FROM AFAR

When I was a little girl, I started a postcard collection. Postcards were then—and are now—a low cost memento of a trip (and a low stakes investment for a parent to make on a souvenir). I don’t remember how old I was when I started accumulating these paper treasures, nor can I identify the first postcard that found its way into the old shoebox that housed the collection. As any collector knows, there is often no clear rhyme or reason behind why something appeals to us. It sometimes requires years of study for a true collector able to identify trends and collecting tendencies. After a half of a century of amassing them, I have begun to understand that the postcards were my first connections to travel and to experiencing the world.

I can look through the shoebox and clearly see that early postcards reflected my grandparents’ trips to Florida—to visit a rogue branch of our family that left north Alabama for parts unknown. The photos were of places and attractions that felt exotic to a child. Finally, I made my first trip to the Florida panhandle and Panama City—what today we call the “Redneck Rivera”—when I was 5 years old. After an overnight drive with my mother and a group of her friends, I awoke as we neared our destination and declared, “It snowed!” because the beaches were so white. A collection of 1960s style post cards document that trip: Goofy Golf and images of white sand and turquoise blue waters.

A few years later, my cousins moved to Texas and my grandparents’ adventures expanded. I received postcards from Hot Springs, Arkansas, the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial in Dallas, Texas, and all the stops in between. My Aunt Elaine took a job as a teacher with the Armed Forces and set off for the Azores, and my collection grew further. I remember clearly sitting down across from her with a spinning globe between us, searching for the tiny archipelago of islands off the coast of Portugal. From there Elaine began to send a series of postcards that documented every stop of her travels. As my collection continued to multiply, friends and family members would purchase postcards for me from every place they went. Sent and delivered from around the world, these small rectangles of paper most likely created in me a need to travel and see as much as I could in my life.

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TRAVEL: THE NATCHEZ TRACE

Those traveling to The Shoals often ask for the best routes into and out of the area. I’m not sure what your definition of “best” may be, but I personally love to travel visually interesting routes, when time allows. For those that have the time and inclination for a scenic drive, I always recommend taking part of the journey on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile historical path that travels from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, and connects the Cumberland and Mississippi rivers.  It follows a geologic ridgeline that prehistoric animals followed in search of new grazing land and water sources. The Trace connected tribal homelands of the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations. Native travelers used the same pathways repeatedly, creating natural sunken sections in the ground.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: THE NATCHEZ TRACE

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TRAVEL: BIRMINGHAM

Two hours south x southeast of The Shoals lies the metropolis of Birmingham—that’s how I have it in my childhood memory. It was the 1960s and 70s and we rarely made the trip. At that time, it was a place of strife, and violence, and steel, and, for a small child, the great unknown.  It wasn’t until I returned to Alabama in the year 2000 to settle back into my home state that I came to know—and began to understand—this city that lies in the heart of Alabama.

One of the three closest airports to The Shoals is here, in what is called the “Magic City”; many guests who visit our studio choose to fly or take the train to Birmingham and make the two-hour drive through the Southwestern Appalachians to Northwest Alabama.

Officially founded in 1871, Birmingham built itself around railroad transportation and the railroading industry—which is still in operation today, but the major industry that spurred economy and growth was iron and steel production—hard work for strong people. While the manufacturing industry is still recognized as a large presence, other businesses and industries, like medical technology and banking, have strengthened and added growth to the area in the past 50 years.

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TRAVEL: HOWARD FINSTER’S GARDEN

I took the pieces you threw away, and put them together night and day, washed by rain, dried by sun, a million pieces all in one.

-Howard Finster, “Poem for the Garden”

Howard Finster, a Southern Baptist minister and self-proclaimed “man of visions” moved to Pennville, Georgia in 1961, having purchased four acres of land that was mostly swamp. After draining the land with a series of homemade canals and channels, he began building the Plant Farm Museum, a biblical roadside attraction that would house “all the wonders of God’s creation.” Finster’s modern-day Garden of Eden was covered in biblical verses, paintings, and sculptures of the artist’s own design and punctuated by a series of structures including the Bible House, Mirror House, Hubcap Tower, Bicycle Tower, and a Folk Art Chapel which was five stories tall and built without plans or the aid of an architect.

In 1965, Howard Finster retired from preaching and increasingly dedicated himself to the Plant Farm Museum and his burgeoning career as a visual artist.

Ten years later, Finster’s elaborate environment was featured in Esquire magazine and renamed Paradise Garden. The garden has changed greatly over the years, and many of its original works have been acquired by collectors and museums. Few images of the garden in its original state exist.

Fortunately, one anonymous visitor to the garden in the mid-1970s held onto his or her pictures, and we are able to experience the garden at the height of its beauty – intact and un-plundered.

–Phillip March Jones

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TRAVEL: MUSCLE SHOALS

Music has always been an integral part of The Shoals. We are placed along the banks of what the native people have long called, “the river that sings.” W.C. Handy, The Father of the Blues, was born here; legendary producer and founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, is also from The Shoals. So, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the influential style of music known as the Muscle Shoals Sound emerged from this same musically rich place.

Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, we had an abstract idea of the big sounds being produced all around us—but no one ever made a fuss about it. Sure, our neighbors made music for a living, but those neighbors certainly weren’t famous, were they? (Were they?) And so it wasn’t until years later that many in our community began to understand exactly what was happening around us while we were growing up.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: MUSCLE SHOALS

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TRAVEL: THE ROSENBAUM HOUSE

“Organic buildings are the strength and lightness of the spiders’ spinning, buildings qualified by light, bred by native character to environment, married to the ground.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

When visiting the Shoals area, or anywhere in Alabama for that matter, you should take time to visit the Rosenbaum House in Florence, Alabama. Nestled among otherwise ordinary Southern homes, this gem of craftsmanship and architecture is a perfect example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian style of design and is the only home he built in Alabama. Constructed nearly 60 years ago, the house was inhabited by the Rosenbaums (the home’s sole occupants) until 1999, when the family donated the property to the city of Florence. The home has been completely restored to look exactly as it did when the Rosenbaums lived there. Walking through it, you can feel the life and love that seeps from it still.

In 1938, Stanley Rosenbaum, a young Harvard College graduate who lived in Florence and worked in his family’s movie theater business, married New York fashion model Mildred Bookholtz and brought her home to Alabama. As a wedding gift, Stanley’s parents gave the newlyweds two acres of land and a small sum of money with which to build a home. The couple optimistically turned to world famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, known for his innovative design approach and affordability. The Rosenbaums asked Wright to build them a home with three bedrooms, two baths, a large kitchen, a study, a living room large enough to accommodate Mildred’s piano, and all for the sum of $7,500. To their surprise, Wright agreed.

TRAVEL: THE ROSENBAUM HOUSE

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TRAVEL: TROWBRIDGE’S

I’d wager that every native, and recent guest, to The Shoals would urge future visitors to set aside time for lunch at Trowbridge’s Ice Cream Parlor and Sandwich Shop. The universally beloved local eatery is a backdrop for so many of our memories, and it has managed to serve up simple, delicious food for decades, while keeping its unpretentious charm. The green awning and the window advertising “Sandwiches, Ice Cream, Sundaes” are as iconic to residents as any official logo or state seal.

The little shop was opened in 1918 by Paul Trowbridge and is still run by his grandson. The story (as it was told to me) says that in 1917, Mr. Trowbridge was traveling to North Carolina for a dairy convention and stopped in Florence on the way. He loved the lush area and the town enough to move his family from Texas to Florence and opened Trowbridge’s shortly thereafter.

TRAVEL: TROWBRIDGE'S

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TRAVEL: THE SHOALS

As our new travel series expands, we realized that we have never laid the groundwork by adequately defining and describing the community that we call “The Shoals.” Since Alabama Chanin’s inception, love of community has been the cornerstone of our inspiration, design philosophies, and production practices. Shared stories of our region’s history, our neighbors, and our food, have inspired our work and brought visitors from afar. Reflecting on how much we talk about our home—The Shoals—I thought we should (finally) explain exactly what that term means.

“The Shoals” is a reference to the low-lying shoals of the Tennessee River in Northwest Alabama, at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, along which the cities of Florence (where The Factory is located), Sheffield, Muscle Shoals, and Tuscumbia are situated. The name “The Shoals” is also a shorter way of saying the Florence-Muscle Shoals Metropolitan Area—also known as the “Quad Cities”—which spans two counties and is home to somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 people. Before each city was named, the region was called the “Muscle Shoals District”; it was supposedly named such by Native Americans who found that navigating the strong current of the Tennessee River in this area almost impossible—and paddling upstream required a great deal of “muscle.”

It is believed that prehistoric Native American tribes crossed into North America during the Ice Age and followed herds of buffalo into the Northern Alabama region. This area was settled by what became the Woodland Indians (1000 BC – 900 AD) who built several ceremonial and burial mounds in the area. The largest in the area—tucked away between the local farmers co-op and the scrap metal yard—holds artifacts dating back over 10,000 years. I’ve been told that this holy site is believed by many to be part of a chain of important spiritual points in North America and has been visited by holy people of many different tribes across North and South America. Our friend Tom Hendrix’ wall is a living testament to the spiritual nature of our ancient Indian community.

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TRAVEL: THE GARAGE

About two hours south of The Shoals is Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city. It is a city built on railroad industries and iron and steel production. Birmingham has been called “The Iron City” and “The Magic City,” and it has a contentious past as a central player in our nation’s civil rights struggle. But today’s Birmingham has much to offer in the way of history, art, food, culture, and nightlife.

One of our favorite spots is The Garage, run by our long-time friend Kay Woehle. Kay’s father, architect Fritz Woehle, bought the building that houses The Garage in the 1970s. Back then, the former garage (pictured in the old, bent black and white photos shown here) was being repurposed as storage space.

Fritz converted part of the building into a design space and leased the remaining space to other artists and small business owners. The Garage—known for years as The Garage Café—was opened in one of these spaces by Jimmy Watson in the mid-1990s. After Jimmy passed away earlier this year, the Woehle family took over management of the bar.

TRAVEL: THE GARAGE

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PICTURES TAKE YOU PLACES @ THE SHOALS

Flags or Fences

Shreveport, Louisiana; Lexington, Kentucky; Atlanta, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; Austin, Texas; Jackson, Mississippi; Birmingham, Alabama; Corbin, Kentucky; Knoxville, Tennessee; Oxford, Mississippi; or The Shoals, Alabama.

No matter where Phillip March Jones finds himself, he takes photographs of the extraordinary ordinary, the peculiar still life: unusual signs, unfinished fence projects, garden rails, giant farm animals, and confusing natural anomalies.

The photos here—part of his Pictures Take You Places series—were captured last month in and around The Shoals.

Check out his recently released book: Pictures Take You Places

PICTURES TAKE YOU PLACES @ THE SHOALSGarden Rails

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TRAVEL: IVY GREEN + HELEN KELLER

This post is the first of our new travel series; look for side trips (and side bars) on your way to and from The Factory—and from here to there. With this series, you’ll find some history, a bit of folk art, good diners, great bars and splendid adventures. Pack your bag, plan your road trip, and come for a visit.

xoNatalie

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller

The South loves to claim people as our own. Just as many northern and coastal cities proudly label every barn and bedroom where George Washington supposedly slept, we are equally proud of our musicians’, artists’, and politicians’ southern roots. In fact, Mississippi-born Elvis Presley has no fewer than 5 “homes” across the region. Many visitors are surprised to learn that The Shoals houses the birthplace and childhood home of blind and deaf activist, thinker, writer, lecturer, and philanthropist, Helen Keller.

The Keller home, known as Ivy Green, sits on a quiet lot on North Commons street in West Tuscumbia. Initially, the 1820 Virginia-cottage style house sat on a 640-acre parcel next to a small bridal cottage, also known as the birthplace cottage and school house. The property, now only 10 acres, enshrines the life of the extraordinary woman who broke through the restraints of her physical limitations to become one of the most astonishing women of the early twentieth century.

The entire estate has such presence. The moment you step foot on the property, you immediately want to sense the place the way Helen Keller did. You close your eyes; you hear the wind through the giant trees, the sticky dew evaporating in the morning sun, the smell of early autumn and a tingle in the nose give hints at the way she may have known Ivy Green. It’s hard not to touch everything knowing it was all touched by Helen Keller.

TRAVEL: IVY GREEN + HELEN KELLER

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THE HISTORY OF WORKSHOPS (+ NEW GROUP RATES)

Quite a few years ago, I loaded up the car with scissors, needles, and an array of other sewing supplies and took a trip with a group of friends and fellow stitchers to a women’s prison facility (at their invitation, of course). My friend Kyes had organized this meeting in the hopes of developing a program within our Alabama Prison system for training life and job skills. The scissors wound up staying in the car for security reasons, but the experience was life changing. The intent of the day was to show these women—on their way out of prison and back into the “real” world—how to hand stitch and work together. We wanted to help them see that they could make something beautiful with their own two hands and, at the same time, perhaps challenge all of our preconceived notions about our neighbors and the world at large. It’s fair to say that I walked away from that day and the experience a different person. At that point, I’d begun to realize that education was going to be an important element in the life of my company. I wanted to help others understand how essential “living arts” are—and what it would mean if we lost connection to those skills and our shared history.

Slowly, Alabama Chanin added stitching workshops to our traveling trunk shows. We scheduled intimate one-off events that were as much about storytelling as they were stitching (as Blair Hobbs famously exemplified with her “granny panties” story years ago). We were creating a community through making. It was happening. And so we committed to this enterprise of creating communities for makers, of building workshops both here at The Factory and across the globe. Alabama Chanin and our customers have become part of one another’s lives in ways I never imagined; we’ve made lifelong friends, helped create wedding gowns, hosted classrooms of college students, and traveled across the country. I’ve met some of my personal heroes through sharing ideas on making and sustainability.

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PICTURES TAKE YOU PLACES | THE FACTORY

Him and Her

Phillip March Jones says, “Seeing is everything. But it takes practice.” Expanding our collaboration with Phillip, we asked him to take a look around our studio as part of a new and ongoing travel series—and an extension of his daily photo blog Pictures Take You Places.

PICTURES TAKE YOU PLACES | THE FACTORYShop Show

“During my last trip to Florence, Natalie asked me to take some pictures of the re-imagined Factory with its new shop, café, and production facility. I spent an afternoon wandering around the building, amazed at what they had accomplished but also bewildered by this seemingly impossible marriage between a literal factory and the sophisticated, comfortable aesthetic that is Alabama Chanin. Chandeliers hang below fluorescent tubes, soft pieces of dyed cloth are hung to dry against corrugated metal walls, and plant shadows grow over the cracks in the asphalt. I love the idea of this great big metal building in Alabama, all dressed up and ready to go.”

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GRAVY #52 – LEARNING TO LOVE THE STRIP-MALL SOUTH

Thank you to the Southern Foodways Alliance for allowing us to share “I Fell Hard for Buford Highway” by John T. Edge.

From Gravy #52:

I grew up in the country. On fourteen acres of red Georgia clay, cut by gullies and skirted by cedars. I grew up fishtailing down gravel roads in pick-up trucks. And running barefoot through honeysuckle patches. Out in those boonies, I developed an urban crush. After a fitful college run through Athens, I hightailed it for Atlanta and made a life in a neighborhood near the city core.

I could walk to two Indian restaurants, a bookstore, and a co-op grocery. I pinch-hit on the softball team of my neighborhood bar. I became the worst sort of city snob: an arriviste. I was quick to dismiss my country birth and even quicker to declaim life in the white-flight suburbs, which I considered a homogenous wasteland, absent of sentient folk and sidewalks.

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ALABAMA FASHION

We often speak about our home, our state, and our community that provides an incredible amount of inspiration for our work. We are not alone: friend and occasional collaborator, Billy Reid, also headquarters in the same community. It has been mentioned (and is remarkable) that Alabama has the third largest membership in the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), numbering at two; we rank just behind New York and California. And just as there is a rich history of textile production in our community, there is a somewhat unknown or unrecognized group of designers that have emerged from our home state.

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PHILLIP MARCH JONES | ROAD TO DALLAS

For the past few years, I have essentially worked as a roving curator seeking out new artists and projects for Institute 193 and occasionally finding time for my personal work. I am on the road constantly: crisscrossing the Southern United States, meeting people, visiting artists, and making pictures. Things happen along the way.

This past fall, I was driving from Atlanta to Dallas, a short twelve-hour jaunt, to deliver some paintings. Around sunset, I pulled over to photograph a roadside memorial near Cuba, Alabama. I had been talking to my mother at the time (I know, distracted driving) and our heated, but lovely, conversation had made it slightly more difficult to slow the car down while crossing multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic. As a result, I was much farther away from my subject than usual. I hung up the phone, jumped out of the car, and zig-zagged through one hundred yards of un-mowed wet grass and weeds to the wooden cross. I typically run along the highway shoulder, but it was narrow; the sun was setting; and one of my obvious but unstated artistic goals of my project is to NOT become the subject of a roadside memorial. The irony would be too much for me to posthumously suffer.

After a long slough through the mud and weeds, I bent down and took the picture. I ran back to the car, tossed my camera onto the passenger seat, put my foot on the brake, and watched a small light on my dash flash the words: NO KEY FOUND. And that is precisely the moment when things got interesting.

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FASHION BY HAND + ANNA MARIA HORNER

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

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

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

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MAKESHIFT 2014: A RECAP

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

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

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MAKESHIFT 2014

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

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

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MAKESHIFT POP-UP SHOP + ALLISON MOORER

We are in New York City this week for our third year of the MAKESHIFT initiative. MAKESHIFT is, at its core, a conversation about the intersections of fashion, design, craft, and food, and how each discipline can better work together to elevate those principles. Alabama Chanin has set up shop at our friend Lisa Fox’s beautiful East Village store, lf8, for the month of May. lf8 (elevate) is also featuring the work of photographer Mary Ellen Mark, as well as a special performance piece by musician and friend Allison Moorer. Event details are as follows: Store Hours Tuesday – Sunday 12:00pm – 6:00pm Closed Mondays lf8 80 East 7th Street New York, NY 10003 The pop-up features works by Mary Ellen Mark, the Alabama Chanin collection, and one-of-a kind, indigo-dyed Alabama Chanin garments and accessories, alongside the lf8 collection. Visit in the afternoons from 2:00pm until 4:00pm through Friday, May 16 to sit with Allison Moorer and sew, talk, sing, and conspire. ALLISON-LF8-01W Continue reading

SOUTHERN MAKERS 2014

Last weekend, some of our team traveled down to Montgomery, Alabama for the second annual Southern Makers event. Southern Makers is a one-day experience that celebrates innovation and creativity of all types of makers in Alabama. The day is filled with everything from panel discussions and live music, to cooking demonstrations and workshops. Some of the top talents working in design, architecture, fashion, and food throughout the state are celebrated each year.

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Maker booths are organized by region; North, Central, and South Alabama were all represented at this year’s event. Alabama Chanin set up shop next to our several of our neighbors and friends, including artist Audwin McGee, Scout By Two, Billy Reid, Zkano, and Butch Anthony.

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WEEKEND WORKSHOP @ BLACKBERRY FARM

It’s been too long since I visited Blackberry Farm AND since Alabama Chanin has held a Weekend Away Workshop (the last Weekend Away was in Taos, New Mexico in 2012). My last trip to the farm was a few years ago for Taste of the South (an auction benefitting the Southern Foodways Alliance) and I am looking forward to returning this June. It’s the ideal summertime trip: a refreshing, rejuvenating weekend retreat to the foothills of the Appalachians.

To get in the spirit, we kicked off our Chef Series at The Factory Café this month, featuring Blackberry Farm and Chef Joseph Lenn. The special menu at The Factory Café runs through the end of the month and includes recipes from The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm cookbook. Nothing beats Chef Joseph’s cuisine, which can be experienced firsthand at The Barn.

Join us this summer for Alabama Chanin’s Weekend Away Workshop, which includes incredible meals prepared onsite amid beautiful settings.

We provide all of the materials necessary to complete a custom do-it-yourself garment, chosen by the participant ahead of time. Work with me and the Alabama Chanin team, and immerse yourself in the Alabama Chanin philosophy.  The workshop is a place to learn and practice stitching techniques, tips, and tricks while enjoying craft and community, Blackberry Farm cuisine, laughter, and fellowship.

See you there,

xo Natalie

DIY CHAIR WORKSHOP @ SOUTHERN MAKERS, MONTGOMERY, AL

In early May, we will be traveling to Montgomery, Alabama, to participate in the second annual Southern Makers event. Southern Makers is a one-day affair that celebrates innovation and creativity of all types in Alabama. From panel discussions and artist talks, to cooking demonstrations and workshops, Southern Makers highlights some of the top talent working throughout the Southeast.

This year, Alabama Chanin will be hosting a DIY Chair Workshop. This workshop offers guests the opportunity to work with Natalie and her team to repurpose a selection of gently used chairs using fabric, paint, stencils, and an assortment of tools. Guests will choose a chair to repurpose on a first come, first served basis. An assortment of tools and materials will be available for use; however, you are welcome to bring your own chair and materials.

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This workshop models itself after Alabama Chanin’s Makeshift workshop series: Crafting Design, featured in the New York Times. Also, the Woven Farm Chairs project found in our first book, Alabama Studio Style, repairs old chairs using cotton-jersey pulls made from fabric scraps. The workshop will cover a range of topics including craft, design, and DIY.

Saturday, May 3, 2014 from 1:00pm – 3:00pm

The Union Station Train Shed (Downtown)
300 Water Street
Montgomery, AL 36104

For more information, contact: workshops(at)alabamachanin.com, or call: +1.256.760.1090.

There will also be a Market Place Bazaar at this year’s event, featuring wares and goods from talented southern artisans and chefs (including an Alabama Chanin Pop-Up Shop). Stay tuned…

 

20 YEARS @ RURAL STUDIO + SCOTT PEACOCK

I have a deep respect and admiration for the work happening at Rural Studio, located in Hale County, Alabama. Founded in 1993 by the late Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee and D.K. Ruth, the studio is now celebrating its 20th anniversary.

After having the chance to visit the stunning Yancey Chapel in 2008, I noted on the Journal that “the work and life of Samuel Mockbee is a yardstick for us to hold up to our lives each and every day to take measure of the road that we walk on this planet.”

I will be heading to Hale County this weekend, for a special dinner and pig roast as part of their yearlong 20th anniversary celebration. My friend (and acclaimed chef) Scott Peacock is preparing the menu and family-style meal. The evening will be a celebration of Rural Studio and an acknowledgement of their ongoing community project at Rural Studio Farm—where students are working to construct a greenhouse, irrigation system, planter beds, and more. In fact, a few of the vegetables that will be served over the weekend were grown by students at the farm. The Hale County community is contributing to the dinner, providing fresh hen eggs for deviled eggs and the local pig that was raised to be roasted just for this occasion. Friends of Rural Studio are also making contributions—Alabama Chanin donated 170 organic cotton jersey napkins for the event, which students of the studio will manipulate and design for the dinner. It will be an evening filled with laughter, community, delicious food, and storytelling.

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GRAVY #50 – GARDEN QUEEN

Thank you to the Southern Foodways Alliance for allowing us to share “She Spoke, and I Listened” as told to oral historian Sara Wood by Haylene Green.

From Gravy Issue #50:

The evening I met Haylene Green, an urban farmer in Atlanta, Georgia, rain mercilessly poured on midtown Atlanta—and on me. I squeaked across the lobby of Ms. Green’s apartment building and followed her to a small room in the basement. There, she opened a thick photo album with pages of fruits and vegetables from her West End community garden. And she started talking. I put the recording equipment together as fast as I’ve ever assembled it. My job was simple: She spoke, and I listened. All of her answers were stories.

Speaking of his book The Storied South on a radio program, folklorist Bill Ferris recently said something that stopped me in my kitchen: “When you ask a Southerner to answer a question, they will tell a story. And embedded in that story is the information that they feel is the answer to the question.”

Oral history, like the most satisfying literature, relies on listening and observation. The way people speak, how they tell stories, where they choose to pause and scratch their nose, to me, is the greatest part of listening. Being an oral historian or a writer requires you to listen as though your life depends on it. What seems like a simple act is actually the heart of the work. To that end, I share an excerpt from my interview with a farmer who also happens to be a storyteller.
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A MONTH IN INSTAGRAM: JANUARY 2014

It’s hard to believe January is almost over. It has been an incredible month here at The Factory (and beyond), and I am looking forward to what the rest of 2014 brings…
xoNatalie

THE YEAR AHEAD

As 2013 was a great year for Alabama Chanin—one full of new projects, studio expansions, awards, good times with friends, travel, workshops, and bringing ideas and visions to full fruition—we are equally excited about the upcoming events for 2014 (stay up-to-date by subscribing to our mailing list).

Our newest Collection will launch online at the end of this month, along with our line of machine-sewn garments under the label A. Chanin.

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2013: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

Looking back at what we have accomplished this year at Alabama Chanin, I feel nothing short of overwhelmed. With the help of many friends, Alabama Chanin has grown in ways I only imagined. Our company is the best it has ever been, and will only get better. Over the summer, and on the heels of Camp Bacon at Zingerman’s, I wrote a 10 year vision for the company—a peek into what I wanted for the future of our family of businesses. Many of the things I envisioned happening years from now were accomplished by this year’s end, with much hard work, dedication, occasional pains of labor, trial and error, and the true grit and determination of our team. All this growth and success doesn’t come from nowhere, after all.

It is hard to believe that so much has happened in the past year. While we are busy wrapping up our year-end Inventory Sale here at The Factory, it is nice to take the time to reflect on all the projects, people, and places we have experienced in just twelve incredible months.

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IT’S TIME: HEATH CERAMICS + ALABAMA CHANIN

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

Photos courtesy of Heath Ceramics.

9/11

As the Alabama Chanin team rushes around Manhattan with our new collection during New York Fashion Week, it is impossible not to remember this day twelve years ago. Twelve years of healing is not long enough. For most of us, this day will remain very personal for the rest of our lives. And yet, a dozen years is time enough for a new generation to grow up largely uninformed or dispassionate, if only because our reality has become a story to them, a tale, the way Pearl Harbor has become, to many, a history lesson and a bank holiday.

However, we will always remember those who perished that day, those who lost friends and loved ones, and all of the heroes who saved lives and found the humanity in recovery efforts. We recall the pain, but also the national pride as we joined together in silence and exercised resilience. We take the PeaceBuilders Pledge (again) with the continued hope that there will be an end to war and hate-driven tragedies in America and across the world.

Many of us on the Alabama Chanin team have lived in Manhattan. Some of us watched the towers burn from a few blocks away. Others arrived years later to a changed city skyline. But, no matter where each of us lived on that day, and since, we have watched America change. For so many, New York represents an opportunity for growth and transcendence. This day is a moment to remember compassion, love, and gratitude.

 

WHOLESOME WAVE GEORGIA + TWO SKIRTS

Last October, we held a One-Day Workshop in Atlanta, Georgia. DIY Kits for the workshop had been cut, packaged, and shipped days before the event, but they never arrived in Atlanta, lost in transit. This was a workshop crisis. However, this particular workshop turned out to be one of our best to date. In a beautiful expression of communal crafting, twelve people collaborated to create two Alabama Chanin Swing Skirts from the only kits I happened to carry with me. While we were initially disappointed over the lost box, we soon learned of the people in the Northeast who lost lives and homes as Hurricane Sandy beat down on the New Jersey and New York shores. We didn’t know how lucky we were.

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LOVING THE THREAD

This post grew out of a conversation about love that began around the sewing table at our Warehouse Row workshop in Chattanooga, Tennessee last month. While we have written about well-loved thread many times, it seems important to keep the conversation alive and growing.

Love…We all live for it, because of it, in search of it. Poets try to evoke it from paper and ink. Chefs strive to make you smell and taste it in their meals. And every Alabama Chanin workshop begins with the story of how love is sewn into each stitch of our clothing. Just one of our skirts may need hundreds of yards of thread and thousands of stitches to be completed. If you could watch the process of making that thread, you would see it comes from creating tension in two separate cotton strands and twisting them together. If that tension isn’t tamed before the sewing process, a seamstress will be facing knot after knot, each time the needle is pushed through the fabric. Just imagine what kind of frustration that could cause in the weeks it takes to make a single, hand-stitched garment.

LOVING THE THREAD - photo by Rinne Allen

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A RECIPE FOR BARBEQUED DRESSES (CHATTANOOGA)

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

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

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

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CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading up to Chattanooga, Tennessee for an Alabama Chanin One-Day Workshop, a trunk show, and an exhibit of BBQ’ed Dresses. Yes, we put a few of our handmade garments into the smoker.

Last fall, for the Southern Foodways Alliance 15th Annual Symposium, we BBQ’ed a few Alabama Chanin dresses, with the help of Nick Pihakis from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q in Birmingham, Alabama. John T. Edge was the impetus for the project, asking us to design some BBQ inspired garments that eventually hung proudly alongside Landon Nordeman’s stunning photographs of pit masters and their tools. It is going to be great to see the BBQ inspired collection hang again later this month at Warehouse Row in Chattanooga as part of Crafted by Southern Hands.

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CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA

Charleston, South Carolina has its own style of “Southern-ness” that almost can’t be defined. And although it has been years (almost two decades) since I have been there, I definitely recognize Charleston when I see, hear, or smell it. Charlestonians sound like no other group of Southerners: “Chawlstun,” they say with their long middle vowels – a round, musical sound I love.

As a traveler at heart, no matter where I go, my list of things to do and see is always longer than my stay. The Tom Waits song, “Take The Long Way Home, comes to mind when I visit a new (or “old” new) place. And from afar, Charleston feels like a place where you can (should) get sidetracked, get lost, and then slowly find your way back home. The city is leading the game when it comes to delicious food (think Sean Brock, whose last meal on earth would be a sous vide roast chicken, Mike Latta, or Craig Diehl) and cocktails, like our favorite, Brooks Reitz of Jack Rudy. Our friends (and partners in cotton), Billy Reid, have a store there. All in all, it seems a deliciously sinful place to settle into for a week. I know I will never check off my entire to-do list, but perhaps Maggie and I will make it out to Bowen’s Island and spend an afternoon at the Halsey Museum.

CHARLESTON, SC - photo by Olivia Rae James

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WHITE OAK PASTURES

Cows were born to roam and graze. Hogs were born to root and wallow. Chickens were born to scratch and peck. According to Will Harris and White Oak Pastures, these are the natural behaviors of animals, making them commonsense tenets of how to raise healthy livestock. “Nature abhors a monoculture,” is one of Will’s favorite sayings.

Five generations of Harrises have farmed a tract of land in Georgia that now raises livestock using traditional, multi-species grazing rotation, no hormones and no antibiotics. But, business was not always done this way. Post WWII, the Harris family farm moved away from the traditional ways of doing things and began raising livestock using more chemicals and fertilizers and blending into the industrialized complex of food production. In the mid-90’s, Will Harris, the current head of White Oak Pastures, made what some called a foolish decision to bring the family farm full circle: moving back to the traditional ways of natural grazing, healthy animals, and respectful butchering.

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SOUTHERN MAKERS

Two weekends ago, we participated in the inaugural Southern Makers event in Montgomery, Alabama. The one-day affair, curated and created over the last year by Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, Matter, and E.A.T. South, celebrated Alabama-based makers and designers who focus on producing and transforming modern sustainable products derived from local traditions in architecture, food, fashion, and design. The afternoon included workshops, panel discussions, a maker bazaar, chef tasting booths, live bands, and a wealth of conversations that grew over coffee, delicious food, and locally brewed beer.

The Union Station Train Shed on the Alabama River offered the perfect venue for the 90+ artisans, artists, chefs, musicians, designers, and makers who convened for the day. The set, designed by Bell + Bragg and Southern Accents Architectural Antiques, had a distinctly Southern aesthetic, and was organized by region: Points North; Points Central; Points South. We shared a section of the train shed with friends Butch Anthony, Billy Reid, and artist Audwin McGee. Live bands, including Florence natives, The Pollies, occupied the stage that anchored the north end of the depot, set before the backdrop of windows, a wall of doors, and a constantly occupied swing that hung from the enormous roof.

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DROP ON DOWN IN FLORIDA

Husband and wife team Lance and April Ledbetter are protecting the sounds of our past with their highly acclaimed label, Dust-to-Digital. Founded by Lance a little over a decade ago, Dust-to-Digital is home to a growing catalogue of important cultural works from the United States and around the globe. I’ve been vie­wing their line-up for a few years and am constantly impressed by the amount of material and depth each release includes.  The types of recordings they release are unlike most on the market. It’s really audio conservation in its finest form. I was lucky enough to meet them both last fall during our trip to Atlanta, when we both attended the Lonnie Holly show at the High Museum. Afterward, they attended our event with the Gee’s Bend Quilters at Grocery on Home.

Within the first few minutes of their arrival at the event, I barraged them with questions: “Can we carry your work? Can we do a blog post? Would you want to trade?”

The answer came back, “Yes.”

All of us at Alabama Chanin are so proud and honored to be able to introduce and begin to explore the work of Dust-to-Digital and to sell these treasured collectors’ items on our website.

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LOS ANGELES BOUND

It’s no secret that we (heart) Heath Ceramics. And we are fortunate enough to have one HEATH collaboration under our belt (with a new design coming in May).

Our collaboration plates and dishes are a daily treasure in my home. My daughter sighs, “I want to eat on the star plate this morning.”  “Star plate for a star student,” I reply.

HEATH was founded in 1948 by Edith Heath. “She was a talented ceramicist with a great respect for craft and material, and a strong point of view on the product that her company would make — simple, good things for good people.” Over 65 years later, the company is still dedicated to that same simple, functional (and beautiful) line of products.

My friends Cathy and Robin took over in 2003 and will soon be celebrating a decade at the helm of this company with an amazing history.

Dinnerware and tile are staple products under the Heath Ceramics name, but visit their website or store front and you will find an array of merchandise and collaborations in textiles, home accessories, glassware, and more.

ONE-DAY RETREAT @  HEATH CERAMICS - LOST ANGELES. PHOTOGRAPHER: COREY MILLER

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LUBBOCK, TEXAS

I’ve heard Lubbock called the cotton capital of the United States, if not the world, by a handful of people in the industry. Flying into Lubbock, I saw farmland that continued as far as the eye could see.  Once I landed, those fields became stretches of white that reached out to the horizon.

Today, thanks to Kelly Pepper and the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, I visit these fields first-hand, along with a cotton breeding facility and test nurseries. For the first time, I will meet some of the farmers who grow our organic cotton face-to-face.

I’ll have a glimpse of the hard work that (as we have learned first-hand) goes into cotton’s growth and development. I will walk through the entire process, from the field to the gins and the warehouses where it is cleaned and stored, before it travels east to the Carolinas to be spun, knit, dyed, and finally sent to our factory in Florence.

I will listen and watch and then take this information back to Alabama so we can improve our field for next year’s crop. (Yes. Next year.)

All of us at Alabama Chanin are so grateful to Kelly Pepper and the entire Texas cooperative for paving the way for the future of Alabama organic cotton.

-Erin

#ACorganic

NOTHING HAPPENS (OR HOOKED ON HANDWORK)

My first sewing project was a “picture” of a flower that I made when I was about seven. I chose green and purple ribbon for the stem and petals, respectively, and a white button for the bloom’s center, which I attached to a square of quilted light blue Swiss dot fabric – aka the sky – with long, sloppy stitches.

It’s not a masterpiece by any means, with its loose stitches, unfinished edges. But precision is supposed to be beside the point when you’re a kid learning a new skill; the fun lies in the creative process, not necessarily the finished product.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had a rather hard time remembering this. I’m more than a little neurotic, and a bit obsessed with perfection, whatever that means. My natural inclination to create with abandon is at permanent odds with my OCD-driven desire for unsullied excellence, and it’s not always pleasant.

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ALABAMA CHANIN @ SFA SYMPOSIUM

SFA moments in Oxford: Smoked dresses, BBQ, the talented John Currence, more BBQ, and our trunk show at Amelia’s at The Lyric Oxford. More to come…

ALABAMA CHANIN @ SFA SYMPOSIUM

 

 

JOHN T. EDGE’S THE TRUCK FOOD COOKBOOK + A Q&A

As John T. Edge explains in his new book, The Truck Food Cookbook, (which we mentioned here) the food truck phenomenon that has swept the country over the past several years has been exciting to watch. Citizens of many American cities are challenging the regulations placed on food truck vendors in an effort to make streetscapes more alluring and encourage the street food movement. (Note: A simple Google search reveals an ongoing–sometimes heated–dispute between cities and food truck owners.)

Food trucks are practical on several fronts when considering the state of our economy – they offer value-driven meals and are relatively inexpensive start-ups.  Plus, our current society has become accustomed to eating on the go, which has also contributed to the movement. Rather than venturing into fine-dining ambitions, young chefs have opted “to dish the culinary equivalent of the Great American Novel from retrofitted taco trucks.” Immigrants are using the mobile meals approach to showcase their native cuisine. Consumers have begun to blend a demand for “quick access food” with a desire for “honest and delicious food,” and street food has answered the call on both fronts.

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BISCUIT FESTIVAL + BLACKBERRY FARM

If you’ve spent any amount of time at The Factory you know a thing or two about biscuits. There’s at least a dozen different recipes in the Alabama Chanin library, and Natalie can make some of the most flakey mouthwatering creations you’ve ever tasted with no measuring cup in sight, all while wrangling a six year old.

My grandmother had similar powers, but they must skip two generations as I haven’t quite mastered the technique. However, what I lack in skill, I make up for in appreciation. So when the opportunity to attend the International Biscuit Festival and Southern Food Writing Conference presented itself, my heart nearly leapt out of my chest. Storytelling, biscuits, Blackberry Farm = “Yes, Please”.

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NYC TO NASHVILLE

During the peak of New York Fashion Week, we played host to numerous events, presenting the pieces of our newest collection at meetings and trunk shows all across Manhattan. We had the joy of meeting with customers to showcase our latest pieces and help them design one-of-a-kind garments of their own.

Thanks to the generosity of a few dear friends, new and old, we could not have asked for a better show.

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BASILICA HUDSON WORKSHOP

We will host our first One-Day Retreat of the fall season in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley on Sunday, September 16th. Our day will be spent in a restored nineteenth century factory and will feature local food from Barbara Goldstein of Blima’s.

We were able to talk to friend Melissa Auf der Maur from Basilica to find out a little more about the history of the space, future plans for the center, and where to spend the rest of our weekend in the Hudson Valley.

Below we share what learned – which includes lessons on historic preservation and roof gardens.

xoNatalie

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PENLAND MOMENTS (AND HEADED HOME)

It has been a wonderful two weeks at Penland: learning, exploring, resting, dreaming. I dread leaving this magical place and at the same time I look forward to going home and using the tools I learned here to become a better designer. As I pack the car, we leave you with a few shots of the tools of Penland.

Happy trails and a great weekend to all…
xoNatalie

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PATTERN: NOUN

1. A decorative design, as for fabrics, wallpaper, china, or rugs.
2. Decoration or ornament having a design.
3. A natural or chance marking, or design: patterns of flowers on a fabric.

Moving through the Penland studios, you see patterns emerge everywhere.

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REPORT FROM PENLAND: WEDNESDAY 7/18/2012

The food might just be the best thing about Penland… other than the yoga every morning (and afternoon), the view, the beautiful studio, the great people. Let’s just say that the food is one of the things that make Penland great.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner served on schedule. No preparation or clean up – thanks to the amazing staff, core students, and work study students. This allows you to settle into life and to think about nothing but creativity, development, and growth. It is a beautiful and nurturing place to grow.

I have been eating salads every day but my commitment to my detox wavers when I see something like these Mexican Hot Chocolate Short Bread cookies calling to me.

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REPORT FROM PENLAND: TUESDAY 7/17/12

As the first week at Penland progressed to week two, the piles of books on our studio meeting table (and the individual studio tables) have grown substantially. We have spoken of so many things and explored SO many ideas.  Here are a few of the volumes that have made their way into our conversations:

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(PROGRESS) REPORT FROM PENLAND – 7/16/12, MONDAY

Just when I think that it can’t get any better, it does. A weekend in the mountains was what I needed and it’s the first time in ages that I meet Monday morning feeling rested, relaxed (beyond measure), and balanced. The highlight of my weekend was certainly a swim in the North Toe River: icy cold waters, a gentle rain, friends, a series of rapids, warmer pools of water carved into the rocks. I often forget how MUCH I NEED to be outside.

While I swam, my studio continued their adventures in stenciling and sewing.

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REPORT FROM PENLAND: FRIDAY 7/13/12

It’s been raining every day here at Penland—such a change from the dry, dying fields of North Alabama over the last weeks. Like a miracle, it rained on our cotton field, too (more to come on that next week). My father reports that we did get 3 inches of rain at my house and I love how he called it a “good rain.” “Long and slow,” he drawls. I know what he means. It has been the same here at Penland, but I have a pair of rubber boots and, thanks to a Spruce Pine store, a camping poncho. And the mountains here just feel like they are particularly beautiful in the rain… I believe that they call them the “Smoky Mountains” for a reason. Continue reading

REPORT FROM PENLAND: THURSDAY 7/12/12 (PORTRAITS)

I was about 22 years old when I entered my first design studio. I felt like a baby. I had rarely taken an art class in school.  When I say rarely, I mean there had been a few special days of art in grade school – nothing particularly formal, and certainly nothing recent. At that time, I didn’t think that I KNEW how to make. In that moment, those grade school classes and the lessons of my grandmothers in living arts didn’t seem to matter; I was scared of the entire process and frozen. The freedom that seemed to stretch before me was too much for my young mind to handle.  As a young adult, my best friend was a budding artist. I remember her beautiful drawings so clearly and I began to think that that art was fascinating, but something that OTHER people did. Prints of Pinkie and The Blue Boy in gold foil frames, purchased at the local furniture store, were the only “art” that hung in our home.

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REPORT FROM PENLAND: TUESDAY 7/10/12

Even when I land in one of the most beautiful (peaceful) places on Earth, it takes me time to settle in, to relax, and to feel like I belong. Regardless, there is already a sort of “hum” in the studio, as my friend Cathy Bailey might say.  You can “hear” thoughts coming together, the whisper of thread through fabric, and hands moving, all mingled with an underlying buzz that permeates the Penland campus.

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HOME.

Home from Makeshift 2012 and there are SO MANY ideas still stitching themselves together in my mind.  Tomorrow we are back to our regularly scheduled programing; today we rest (and think and plan).

Makeshift 2013 anyone?

PAINT + A QUOTE

Our stay at the Ace Hotel in Portland was outstanding – made better by the owl mural and Thoreau quote that graced our room. (Not to mention our One-Day Workshop at The Cleaners, catered by Clyde Common.)

My daughter Maggie has an affinity for owls. As a tiny baby, she was heard murmuring to an owl outside her bedroom window as she slept.  Inspired by our time in Room 206, I have decided to embrace a different type of DIY this week and paint the wall of Maggie’s bedroom with a quote.

I just have to settle on the perfect paint and quote.  Any ideas?

“I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men. It is a sound admirably suited to swamps and twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and underdeveloped nature which men have not recognized. They represent the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all have.”
-Henry David Thoreau

 

PORTLAND TO ALABAMA (AND CALIFORNIA, TOO)

We had such an amazing west coast journey.

The words above, found in the bathroom at PNCA + OCAC, say it all.

I especially love the short paragraph at the bottom:

“Helvetica, one of the world’s most ubiquitous typefaces was released in the same year as the publication of this essay. It was chosen to juxtapose the modern and the pastoral.”

I think that E.B. White would agree.

Thank you to William Rueck for allowing me to share his work.

And thank you to everyone who came out to see us in California and Oregon.  It was unforgettable.
xoNatalie

2012 NASHVILLE FASHION WEEK INDUSTRY PANELS

Next Thursday, as part of Nashville Fashion Week, I will participate in an educational panel discussing production issues in fashion. The panels and events for the day have been thoughtfully curated by Nashville Fashion Week and Imogene + Willie.

Visit Imogene + Willie’s blog to learn more about the origin of the educational panels.

Event Details:
Nashville Fashion Week Industry Panels Presented by Imogene + Willie
Frist Center for the Visual Arts
Thursday, March 22, 2012 @ 10:00 am

PRODUCING THE GOODS
10:00am-11:30am
The production process and what it takes to source, sew and manufacture fashion in the United States. An emphasis will be placed on the importance of and challenges to keeping production in this country.

WHAT MAKES A BRAND?
1:00pm-2:30pm
The focus, hard work, and thought required to define, build and market a fashion brand. Special emphasis will be placed on the importance of social media and issues concerning propriety.

SOUTHERN FASHION NOW
3:00pm-4:30pm
An exploration of trends, characteristics, and the national and international affect of modern Southern design and designers.

 

SHAKERAG WORKSHOPS

Shakerag Workshops have been taking place on the campus of St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School for some eight years now. Among the rolling hills of the Cumberland Plateau, Shakerag operates as a community where artists + those eager to learn a craft come together in a creative learning environment. Similar to our sewing workshops, the instructors work closely with students in a full-immersion studio course. This summer, I am eager to travel here with our studio Directress, Diane, to teach sewing, to learn, and explore the Sewanee Hollow.

We will be teaching Open Design: Sewing and Construction during the week of June 17-23, 2012, as part of the second session. This is how I intend to spend my days at Shakerag: coffee + breakfast, sewing, delicious lunch, more sewing, and a relaxing yoga session or a hike on the St. Andrew’s-Sewanee Perimeter Trail. To end the day, a locally-sourced dinner- featuring adapted recipes from A New Turn in the South– followed by enrichment + faculty artist’s lectures. And of course, Hugh Acheson’s lecture, Wednesday evening, June 20, 2012, is a welcome interruption in the schedule. Continue reading

WEEKEND AWAY: MABEL DODGE LUHAN HOUSE

From what I’ve gathered, Taos is a Magical Place. Natalie made a trip there not so long ago and came home breathless with tales of beauty and enlightenment. She was especially enthralled with the story of Mabel Dodge Luhan and the Mabel Dodge Luhan House.

Her experience inspired a new series of workshops called Weekend Away.

Natalie wrote in the introduction to this series:

I had the opportunity to visit Taos not so very long ago and, as much as I was looking forward to the trip, nothing could have prepared me for the experience. In a word: incredible. My stay at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, my time in Taos, the breath-taking mountain backdrop, all left me feeling rested, energized, inspired.

I have always felt that our workshops have a sort of healing property and, while we love hosting weekend workshops in our home @The Factory, we also feel that it is beneficial to visit the “homes” of others for an extended stay. We are beginning to seek destinations that nourish the soul and calm the mind. Taos seems the perfect place to begin.”

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ECO SALON FRIDAY: A TRIP OF ONE’S OWN

Those of you who follow us on Twitter, Facebook and/or Tumblr, know that I was in New Mexico over the holidays. What resulted from this adventure was a love for the west and an understanding of why so many artists and creative types have settled to work there.  I was deeply impacted by the beauty, spirit, and (perhaps mostly by) the clear, crisp air. The day my friend Jennifer and I landed we spotted four rainbows.  Our friend Jeff wrote that such an unlikely experience is “possibly an indicator of good fortune to come.”

My blog post at EcoSalon this Friday is about our trip and the inspiration I found in a woman – long dead – named Mabel Dodge Luhan.

Thanks to EcoSalon for the continuing bi-weekly collaboration – read all of my stories there and make sure you let them know what you like.
xoNatalie

A TRIP OF ONE’S OWN

“I can’t believe that I am doing this.” Wait. Laugh. Repeat.  These were the words I kept echoing over and over again as I sat at Gate B27 in the Atlanta Airport. My girlfriend, Jennifer Venditti, is sitting across from me, looking like a vision of New York City chic. I stare at her in amazement. We are waiting to board a flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with plans to catch up on the last six months of one another’s lives.

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PUNCH BROTHERS

It was such a treat to sit with Chris Thile over dinner this weekend and the chance to hear the Punch Brothers up-close-and-personal @Blackberry Farm.

(Along with lovely stories of bows and arrows, Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Converse… looking forward to many upcoming trips.)

Music Sunday = Modern Blue
xoNatalie

DOUGHNUTS + T-SHIRTS

While I was away having fun at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium last weekend, my daughter Maggie was working hard at eating doughnuts and designing t-shirts for our new children’s line.

The top design features a glass of “sweet tea” on the t-shirt front – not iced tea as it “has to be sweet to be tea.” This is from a girl who thinks that doughnuts should be considered a vegetable.

Our children’s line launches next month in New Orleans at Angelique Baby on Magazine Street as a part of our New Orleans and Ogden Museum traveling show.

I can’t wait to get back to NOLA.  See all of our upcoming events here.
xoNatalie

 

AFTER LEAVES OF GREEN

It is going to take me weeks to express the joy, inspiration, and love I found at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium.  (And it will take a lot longer to lose all the weight I found. Strange what a side of pork and a case of beer can do to the body… just kidding – well maybe.)

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LEAVES OF GREEN

We are finishing up our costume fitting this morning for the Collard Opera.

The excerpt from Leaves of Green below ran yesterday on The Huffington Post.

Click here to download the full text.

When I was real little, my mama would say,
“Child eat your collards, don’t push them away.”
But that word made me shudder, and I’d beg and say “Please
I don’t even like Spinach, don’t make me eat these.”

But after my pleading, bad becomes worse.
“You don’t eat your collards, you get no dessert!”
So I mustered enough courage to take the first bite
And I found out then that my mama was right.

So now when I look at a table that’s spread
with casseroles, pastas, fish, meat, and bread,
I search through the bounty and say, “By all means
Fill up this plate with them Collard Greens.”

I am in love with Oxford, Mississippi and the Southern Foodways Alliance…
xoNatalie

Leaves of Green
Sunday, October 30, 2011, 10 am
The Lyric Theater
Oxford, Mississippi

BURNING MAN (+ WOMAN)

It seems that everywhere I turn these days, someone is talking about or asking me to go to Burning Man. This also happened to me a decade ago when I first moved back to New York from Vienna. At that time, all of the talk I heard centered on substances consumed and not content. I found the conversations boring beyond words and the folks talking seemed to be something more than obsessed. You would say something as banal as, “What would you like for dinner tonight?” And their reply would always start, “Well, at Burning Man…” You get my drift.

This new round of Burning Man admirers are of a totally different ilk. Beautiful images, like these taken by my friend, Reyes Melendez, are emerging and at the same time, the conversations are changing.

Each Burning Man enthusiast I have met recently has been speaking with passion (and content) of amazing moments: like drawing classes on classical form held on a white sheet in the middle of a white desert, dance, costumes, and the beauty of the gift economy – no exchange of money – as it relates to everyday economy.

I have to reconsider my decision to discount Burning Man if for no other reason than the fact than the DooNanny was compared to Burning Man in the New York Times and includes a story about the burning “100-foot vagina.”

Perhaps it is time to plan a trip to Burning Man?
xoNatalie

All photos above from Reyes Melendez. See more of his work here: www.reyezone.com

P.S.: Even a pair of our Bloomers shorts made an appearance last year.  Thank you for the picture Kate!

 

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

For those of you have participated in our past weekend workshops, there is a good chance that you have already met June Flowers. (The name belies the tattooed fireball of a woman in our studio who is equally adept with computers, flower arranging, and power washing.) If you’ve signed up for an upcoming workshop then you’ve probably exchanged a few emails with her; if you’re hosting a workshop or providing the space for one of our events, you’ve probably exchanged 50+ emails, including pictures of kids, dogs, and favorite garments.

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HOTEL SAN JOSE

We just finished setting up our Trunk Show @ the beautiful Hotel San Jose in Austin.

The hotel was conceived and designed by our dear friend Liz Lambert (also a friend to our friends at Imogene + Willie).

I can’t imagine a better place to spend the night (and a few days).

In fact, I spent most of my day today working in my room, breaking in the courtyard, having a tea at Jo’s Coffee and resuming my work by the pool. Gorgeous.

Should you ever have the chance to grace one of Liz’s establishments, jump to it.

And should you find yourself in Austin today or tomorrow, come by to see us in the courtyard of the San Jose @ 1316 South Congress Avenue from 7 – 10 pm for cocktails, shopping and a community stitch-in.

Or email us for daytime shopping appointments:  kay (at) alabamachanin.com

 

 

THE COOLEST PLACE ON EARTH

The Museum of Electronic Wonder & Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour is exactly as the name implies: part museum, part sandwich shop. Brainchild of Adam and Krista Bork – of Food Shark fame, this is the place for late-night gatherings in Marfa, Texas.

 

Open from 9:30 until “thirty minutes after the last bar closes,” the menu includes grilled cheese offerings like the Classic with Bacon and Tomato options, Brie with Spicy Cherry Chutney, and Gruyere with Brussels Sprouts and Caramelized Onion.

 

Originally conceived as a kitchen for the Food Shark, the museum has become an extended living room for the Bork’s – hosting locals and visiting art and music enthusiasts for late-night eats.

Why is it that small towns often have the coolest places?  Every small town needs one of these.

See more pictures here.

The Museum of Electronic Wonder & Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour
300 West San Antonio Street
Marfa, Texas

 

EL COSMICO NIGHTS

The beautiful, beautiful Patty Griffin performs with Robert Plant and the Crown Vics.

A dream.

Today I will require a massage (or two) at El Cosmetico.

EL COSMICO

Plan your adventure and join us (along with Patty Griffin, Barbara Lynn, Ben Kweller, The Black Angels, Amy Cook,  Imogene + Willie, and a slew of others) in Marfa, Texas – September 22 – 25.

Learn more about El Cosmico and the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music & Love here.
Adventure awaits…

SOUTHEAST X SOUTHWEST

Packing my bags this morning in Berlin to head home – and later in the week on to our events in Marfa and Austin!

Hello Etsy was amazing, inspiring, reassuring and _____ – fill in the blank. I had every intention to live blog my time here but have found that I need time to process all of the great ideas that were presented.  Over the next weeks – and after our Texas excursion, I will be catching up with some of the great folks we met at Hello Etsy.

Here, a few of my favorite moments from Berlin!

Gluckskind = Darling of Fortune – perhaps tagged here at the entrance to the subway as a reminder to celebrate the small moments in life.

I feel very lucky and honored to have been included in the first Hello Etsy. Thank you to everyone (Matt, Emily, and all!) for such a beautifully organized conference.  I heard a rumor that this will become an annual event and I am already looking forward to the next round!

VIRTUAL BERLIN

If you can’t be with us in Berlin tomorrow for Hello Etsy, check this out:

“If you can’t make a DIY Summit in your area, be sure to tune in LIVE in our Online Labs. You can watch from anywhere in the world! Use this handy timezone conversion tool to find what the Eastern Standard Timezone converts to for your region. Be sure to RSVP for each event so you receive an email reminder to tune in. Use the #HelloEtsy tag on Twitter to join in the global conversation all weekend long!”

Use the arrows at the top of the photographs at the Online Lab to scroll through all of the great talks.

My talk:

Natalie Chanin – Connecting Your Business to Your Community

Saturday, September 17 from 8:00 AM to 8:30 AM EDT

See you there!
xoNatalie

 

EVERY GIRL NEEDS A GOOD TOOL.

So, how is it that I made it for half-a-century without owning my own tire gauge? Until last year, there was a full-service gas station that would graciously check my tires after a fill-up. Now, it is sadly closed. My Prius has a little sensor that tells me when my tires are not just right. I dread when that little light pops on.  It seems like a major ordeal to find a shop or mechanic that will check them for me.  Last week, I drove around the entire week with the tire light shining – nervous each time I glanced down.

I know it’s silly; but, it’s times like these I yearn for a man around the house.

Now, I am the proud owner of my very own tire gauge.  I can’t tell you how empowered I felt when I pulled up to the free air dispenser at my local gas station, whipped out my tool, and filled up my own tires.  You should have seen the looks (and heard the calls) from the cowboys in pick-up trucks.

Yes indeed, a girl needs a good tool.

P.S.: Did you know that you get approximately 4% better gas mileage with properly inflated tires?

TWO WEEKS LATER

Thrilled to be back @ EcoSalon today and shocked that has it has already been two weeks since the last column! Head over there to find out why “Life Demands an Ice Skating Fee.”

Time always seems to pass much more quickly when you have a lot to do; so far, August has been no exception.

Although I’m far from packing for Berlin, I am already dreaming of which designs from the new collection will fill my suitcase. I’ve spent the last few days pouring over images and choosing which ones to add to the site next week. To be perfectly honest, I’m having a hard time narrowing it down –  that is a lovely problem to have.

I have, however, begun packing for Texas. The new collection and a tower of DIY kits for the Marfa Workshop will be traveling with me; this requires a bit more thought and planning, twenty pairs of scissors and a bag of X-acto blades means arriving extra early for your flight!

We would love to see you @ Fancy Pony Land for our trunk show, El Cosmico for a Two-hour workshop (there are a couple of spots remaining), or both!

Or, should you happen to be in Austin the following week, visit us at the Hotel San Jose.

Stop by and visit EcoSalon today and let us know what you think.  If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments below. The next installment will be here before you know it!

In the meantime, have a lovely weekend…

 

 

IN THE BOOKS

After my daughter’s first day at school, Will, a parent from her class called and cried, “We have one in the books!”  I had never heard that saying but now know that after the first full week of kindergarten, we have truly put one in the books.  It was a week of highs and lows, adjustments and realizations. (“I am sad. I love my new teacher, but I miss my teacher from last year, too.”  Don’t we all feel that way sometimes about the things in our lives?)

Thanks to everyone who participated in our first back-to-school extravaganza and to all of the great teachers who make our children excited to get up every morning!

We still have some back-to-school  sweepstakes going and those will be announced in the coming days. If you haven’t entered, get to it!

There are still a few workshop spots left in Marfa.  Plan your road trip and join us.

Got questions? Post a question for Alabama Chanin in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or at EcoSalon for next Friday’s column. Go ahead, ask anything…

The best part of the week for me (aside from surviving the first full week of kindergarten): our HEATH Ceramics collaboration was being photographed in my home and two dear friends – Cathy Bailey and Angie Mosier – were here to realize the images (see our styling table in the photo above).

Launching in November… stay tuned.

One “in the books” indeed!

COME HOME TO ME SOMEDAY

I have several of these Alabama Chanin zipper bags to hold pens and pencils, small electronics, sewing supplies, and cosmetics. But, my daughter can think of a million (very important) things that need a bag (hair bows, toy ponies, pennies, you name it).

Over the years, I have misplaced so many bags that I started customizing each bag with my contact information so that kind souls may help my beautiful bags come back to me.  Works like a charm.

100% Organic Cotton Canvas  + Made in the USA.  Permanent markers for customization included with every purchase made before August 31, 2011.

Give us a shout-out in the comments below by August 31st for a chance to win this (already) customized bag for your very own.

HAVE THREAD WILL TRAVEL

At times my schedule can seem a bit daunting, but I feel nothing but ready for the upcoming months.

Our Events Calendar is a sight to behold – I can barely contain my excitement at the thought of connecting with friends at Hello Etsy in Berlin;  then on to Marfa, Texas for a workshop and trunk-show, and, if the stars align, a round of drinks with some soul-sisters I haven’t seen in ages.

Maybe the Alabama heat has driven me mad,  perhaps it’s the building anticipation of overdue reunions, or quite possibly it’s the energy surge that comes with over a week of good behavior (Detox day 10!) but I’m ready for adventure…

Alabama Chanin is hitting the road.

Everyone in our studio seems to be in agreement: It’s time to see the sights and make some house calls (and a few new friends). If you or yours are interested in hosting an event just contact our studio; 15 participants and a little notice are all we require.

P.S.: A company favorite – our One-Day Workshop @ the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley – is now open for registration.

STAYCATION

Maggie says, “This is going to be the best day ever!”

BACK FROM SEASIDE

and “like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen.”

Vacation 30A Style.

*Quote of the Month from Lettergirl.

The house above in Seaside, Florida was designed by Samuel Mockbee.

Called “Birdie’s,” the bungalow is now home to Vera Bradley and beautifully featured in 30A Style.

NEW YORK – NEW ALABAMA

Just back from New York with the new collection and new photos for the new book. (More photos coming soon.)

See you at the DooNanny this weekend…

And don’t forget to vote for Alabama Chanin Studio Store on the TreeHugger Best of Green Reader’s Choice.

Thanks to Eric and all the folks @Etsy for the lovely new film on Butch.  I love John Henry’s song:

UPCOMING DATES

Weekend Workshop – March 4 -6, 2011 @ The Factory in Florence is almost sold out – contact our office to reserve a spot:  256-760-1090.

Natalie will be speaking in The Ballroom @ Athens State University, Athens, Alabama on the 8th of March.  Free and open to the public.

The DooNanny @ The Woods of Wonder in Seale, Alabama – starting March 25th & going through the 27th at 5pm – book your campsite here.

If you are on the West Coast, plan to visit us @ RedBird in Berkeley on the 28th & 29th of April or sign up for our One Day Workshop @ the Edible Schoolyard on the 30th of April.

2011 DooNanny poster designed by Jaime Cervantes and Jack Sanders

WILD CARD QUILT + GULF OYSTERS

Back in the studio today after almost a month of working from home, the holidays, an amazing trip to Taste of the South and a few (beautiful) snow days.  It was a great luxury to have some time to read over the holidays and I have savored many a volume (both trash and treasure).

Wild Card Quilt by Janisse Ray is such a beautiful, soulful  story of coming home. It speaks to sustainability of community, of people, and of the plants, foods and stories that tie us together.  I find the stories especially moving a decade after I made the leap to come home – a move that changed my life.

This year Taste of the South featured a fantastic talk by Gary Nabhan (Coming Home to Eat – another wonderful book).  Gary spoke gushingly of Janisse Ray (and read a portion of the essay below) while my dear friend Angie leaned over and said, “I just LOVE Janisse Ray.”

I adore her too.

Some of you will remember my mention of The Ecology of a Cracker Childhood Janisse’s story of her Georgia youth and the Longleaf.

I love the line below from page 43 of Wild Card Quilt.  Anyone with a rural Southern childhood will understand:

“I heard Mr. Henry Eason say one time, with the advent of paved roads and electric lights, there ain’t near as many ghosts as there used to be…”


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HÔTEL DE CRILLION

My four-year-old daughter Maggie this morning while looking at the laundry hamper:  “Mama, you REALLY need to do the laundry. I’m just saying…”

Some days you just need to be running down the halls of the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris.  I’m just saying…

*Photo from my friends @  Le Deux Garcons – taken sometime last decade. xo

NASHVILLE + THE BELCOURT

Nashville bound for the nD Fashion Show…

Get out and join Alabama Chanin tonight, along with Billy Reid and Imogene + Willie, for an evening of Nashville’s best – to benefit the historic Belcourt Theater.

nD Festival @ The Belcourt

BOTTEGA FAVORITA

Plan your road trip and join Alabama Chanin, along with Frank and Pardis Stitt, on the 28th of August, 2010 for our annual One Day Workshop/Retreat at the award winning Bottega Restaurant and Cafe in Birmingham, Alabama.

Delight in a special menu from James Beard award winning chefs and restaurateurs Frank and Pardis Stitt, sit, sew, laugh and breathe …

Limited seats available –  phone: +1-256-760-1090

And get ready for your day with Bottega Favorita – one of my all-time favorite cookbooks.

*Photos from Frank Stitt’s Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef’s Love Affair with Italian Food

CONSUMING PASSIONS

I am headed to the mountains of Chattanooga today for a weekend of stitching, cooking and playing with high school girlfriends. Maggie has her bags packed with loads of books for the trip and I have my sewing kit and a book ready for a girls (and kids) sewing weekend with wine, food, reading and relaxing. Sigh. The thick smell of trees and mountain air…

A book arrived on my desk not too long ago and, unfortunately, I don’t know who sent it. In a moment of needing a break from new collections, writing the new book, working on a website update, being a mom, and keeping the garden, I landed on my couch the other night with Consuming Passions by Michael Lee West.

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APALACHICOLA BOUND

Apalachicola bound through the Longleaf Forest and holding my breath to see our Gulf…

How to brace oneself for the image?

CALIFORNIA TO OREGON (+BACK AGAIN)

California to Oregon and back to Alabama again. The travels, the people, the trees, the forests and the ocean were amazing. But then again, there is no place like home.

Thank you to everyone at RedBird for making us feel at home, the Edible Schoolyard (coming to Alabama soon!) for hosting us, Alice Waters and all the folks at Chez Panisse, Chef Bruce Hill and the great staff at Picco’s, Marci and the whole staff of Powell’s Books for their beautiful exhibition of our Textile Stories Quilts and support of Alabama Studio Style, everyone at Mario’s Portland, JP and all the great students at Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Arts and Crafts, Jack and everyone at the ACE Hotel in Portland, our great supporters in Berkeley and Portland and a slew of others who helped along the way and made us laugh…

(Special thanks go out to Sally whose beautiful little purse – filled with goodies – gave Maggie a joy that got us home with smiles and busy little fingers!)

Luckily, nothing stops around here and we are getting ready for all of the great events starting this Thursday for Earth Day 2010 and our Annual Open House and Sample Sale starting on Friday.

Plan to join us!

Natalie

WORD OF THE DAY: EXPLORE

Journey Part 2 = Explore.

Explore – verb

1. To traverse or range over for the purpose of discovery:
She is exploring the city.
2. To look into closely; scrutinize; examine:
Explore the possibilities.
3. To investigate: I am exploring an idea.
4. To engage in exploration: A day to explore.

WORD OF THE DAY: JOURNEY

Preparing for my journey to New York and looking forward to the adventure.

Plan your adventure and journey to Brooklyn to join us for events@ Spacecraft and Etsy.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”    — Mark Twain

BLOG TOUR

When I first thought about the blog tour for Alabama Studio Style, I did not realize what a great opportunity this was going to be to travel the world, connect with some of my favorite people and experience life from my own beautiful table. Now, half-way through, I am awed by deep, thoughtful questions, the vision of these women and sometimes, simply sitting and sewing. Here are a few of the highlights & THANK YOU to everyone who has had me round. I am looking forward to New York next week and to the rest of the tour. A few of my favorites:

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WEEKEND

True to my post on Monday (below), I am taking off early this week for a little family road trip…

Have a great weekend.

Happy trails – until Monday again.

FARM-TO-TABLE

Okay – before I start – I have to say – JOIN THE SOUTHERN FOODWAYS ALLIANCE… good?

I made it through the snow and ice in Arctic temperatures to Walland, Tennessee. My trip to Blackberry Farm might be one of the most extraordinary trips I have ever taken – anywhere. I know that is saying a lot BUT the warm, gracious hospitality that you experience from the time you drive in the gate is exquisite. Add to Blackberry the wit, education and pure joy of the Southern Foodways Alliance and you have – hands down – one of the best events in the world.

I could fill this entire page but have to just highlight a few morsels of the weekend:

Blackberry Farm – I had the luxury of sitting next to Sam and Mary Celeste Beall on Thursday night and was struck by their deep knowledge of this farm and understanding of the ultimate Farm-to-Table experience.

The Blackberry Farm Cookbook – on the inside flap – says it best: “In the foothills, you don’t eat to eat, you eat to talk, to remember, and to imagine what you will eat tomorrow.” The book is lush with photographs of the estate, the kitchens, the gardens and luscious Farm-to-Table recipes.

While talking about the upcoming weekend, Sam and I spoke about the biscuit making classes (see below) and he asked me, “Butter or Lard?” This was just about the best question I have ever been asked over a five-course dinner – with wine pairings. You just have to love a man who understands the true essence of good bread. I laughed and replied, “Butter.”

Friday morning, the Blackberry Farm Chef Team of Josh Feathers, Adam Cooke, and Joseph Lenn offered a Cast Iron Skillet demonstration – which I unfortunately missed – but came home with the following recipe by Chef Josh Feathers which I am going to make and then bake in my cast-iron:

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes **Courtesy of Taste of the South notepad so generously supplied for all our cooking and tasting notes!

3 pounds red bliss potatoes 6 ounces butter 10 ounces buttermilk half & half – as needed Kosher salt – to taste 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Simmer potatoes until tender. Strain and dry in the 300-degree oven for 15 minutes.

Run potatoes through a food mill with a medium die to mash. Stir in remaining, heated ingredients. Taste for seasoning.

Note: Those of you who are new to cast iron, NEVER wash your pan with soapy water. Clean your skillet first with a handful of kosher salt then rinse in warm to hot water and dry thoroughly. I learned this from Angie Mosier while working on Alabama Studio Style.

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RECIPES, GRAVY + BLACKBERRY FARM

Forgive me for taking a vacation just after the holidays; BUT, I am headed out today for my first vacation – on my own – in 10 years (snow permitting)… very excited & for good reason:

Taste of the South @ Blackberry Farms

Alabama Chanin donated one of our Textile Stories Quilts to the auction benefiting the Southern Foodways Alliance at Blackberry Farm this weekend.

The quilt – shown above – is called Aunt Mag’s Chicken Recipe – a story from my favorite great-aunt about her secret recipe for fried chicken that she served only for her quilting circles.

Our entire series of quilts was inspired by the Oral History program  – a series of inspiring recipes, stories and films that are made, collected and cataloged by the Southern Foodways Alliance.

SFA Oral History:  The Story Behind the Food

Thank you to John T. Edge, Angie Mosier, Mary Beth Lasseter, Amy Evans, Joe York and a million more who make the SFA Oral History possible.

If you are not already a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, join today – if for no other reason than to receive your printed copy of Gravy.

Back next week rested and with recipes and stories for the next decade – Natalie

SWIMMING WITH BARRACUDA

The island of Los Roques is attached to an archipelago of approximately 250 islands and is the second largest living organism on the planet – second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef.

The island itself is of volcanic origin and has small rock mountains (really hills) on the Atlantic side while the archipelago side is flat and sandy. At the southeastern Atlantic edge of the island – and archipelago – is a tiny cove which is really just a curved beach with a small volcanic hill slightly offshore.  The small hill is covered with all types of sea birds and the water swirls through the chute between the island and beach with incredible force.  The beach is virtually inaccessible from all sides; to get there, you must hike, traverse a lagoon, rock climb, shimmy around edges and corners before finally dropping onto the sand..

I had that small cove in my sights as I arrived on the island, but it took me some weeks to find time, when the weather permitted, to make my way there. I packed a small bag of supplies one morning and headed out. Three hours later, I arrived at the small strip of sand, maybe the smallest beach in the entire archipelago.  The beach sits next to a large reef of dead coral.  The Atlantic was so strong that the huge pieces of coral were crashing together in the waves and making a sound like a symphony.  Hence, I named the spot “Singing Coral.”

I stood there completely alone, in awe of the coral, the ocean, the sky and the fact that I had made it around the world, around the lagoon and around my life.  The currents seemed so strong but I had an overwhelming urge to swim.  It was like everything in the universe pushed me to the water. I dropped my pack and swam towards the middle of the cove where the water seemed slightly calmer.  I lay there – floating on my back – looking at the sky and then rolled to my stomach to look down into the depths of the cove.  When I turned and opened my eyes, I realized that I was swimming in the middle of a school of barracuda.  Floating there, it seemed as if thousands of barracuda swam around me in their slow, silent, circular funnel that continued as far into the depths as my eyes could see. I lay there still, shocked, terrified and strangely invigorated…

As slowly as their circular path, I began a small paddle back to my little beach. Slowly, slowly I moved and breathed and swam until my feet touched sand.  Standing back on the beach, I let out a whoop that could-be-heard-around-the-world and thought, “I will never be afraid of life again.”

That was the day that I started my journey to Project Alabama, and now Alabama Chanin.  To this day, I strive to live my life with the same courage and conviction I felt as my whoop joined the song of Singing Coral and the universe.

To the next decade – may we all find the courage to swim with barracuda and sing to the stars…

 

MIND OVER MATTER

After a bit of reflection this week, I am able to answer a question that has evaded me for a decade:
What inspired you to start this work? I was inspired and taken by the beautiful decay of an archipelago and how everything was used – everything.  It inspired me to begin collecting scraps of paper, taking photographs, finding discarded stories and trying to build them back together – a technique I used with t-shirts (and my life) once I arrived and settled in New York.  I never really moved back to Vienna.

FISH SOUP

In 1999, at the tail end of the last decade, I chose to leave my life in Vienna, Austria, to spend what I deemed a “sabbatical” on an island off the northern coast of Venezuela called Los Roques. How I got there is a story for another day. What had drawn me there was a woman – Nelly – and “El Canto de la Ballena.” Little did I know that my entire life was about to change.

I credit the beginnings of the work I have done the last ten years with a few months spent on that island. It was a time when hurricanes and storms wreaked havoc and destruction to the coast of Venezuela. I was on this tiny island – due north – as the weather passed through for weeks on end.

I wrote this story in February of 2000 when I had landed in cold New York but still had the stories of Los Roques fresh on my mind… I hope that my translation of Nelly’s words from the original Spanish do her justice.

Fish Soup

The point of the whole thing is food,” she said. “Good food. Real good food. A lot of people have forgotten,” she continued. “Three meals a day, sit down, take your time and eat warm food that is prepared with good ingredients and love. That’s the key,” she stresses, “love. It’s the way it’s washed, it’s the way it’s cut, it is the way one touches and it is the way one thinks as one touches. That,” she said, “is food and food is love.”
–Nelly Camargo, December 1999, Los Roques

Nelly made fish soup that day. I remember that is was one of those first days when the waves began to crash onto the porch. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but I know that by that day, the beach was already gone, taken by the hurricane. And, I definitely remember that it seemed on that day like the waves were coming back for the porch. Soon after this day, we made sandbags because shortly after, the house next door fell into the sea.

The soup took hours. As the weather had been acting up again, everyone had the feeling of being wet and cold. Saying nothing, Nelly just went into the kitchen and started to work. In went the fish, the heads, the bones and just about everything else that could be found in the kitchen and on the island.

I guess that everyone who passed Nelly’s house that day could smell what was going on. So the soup cooked and the word spread, “Nelly is up to something.” And before I knew it, we were five people in the kitchen. Everyone was washing and cutting and chopping and rolling and laughing and talking. I know that I had never seen anything like it before that day. Music blared from the stereo and some were even dancing in the tiny, warm space.

In Nelly’s kitchen there is a window which looks down the hall and out to the sea. When you stand there and see the wooden spoons and the open window and the green-green sea in the background, you cannot help but stand still for a moment and breathe deeply. But that day, no one even looked to the window until about one in the afternoon, when the first faces began to appear.

The islanders were greeted with a big, warm smile and the question, “Are you hungry?” We went on that day to feed what seemed to be the whole island. Many faces and stories and laughter passed through my life that day. Nelly asked everyone, “Have you met Alabama?”

The feast went on into the night and here are a few of the recipes that were made. The fish soup was the best I have ever tasted in my life, but it remains Nelly’s secret. All I can remember is to put in everything you can find (plus coriander – the “spice of life”) and to do it with lots of love and laughter.

Fish in the Pan

Crush 5 cloves of garlic and salt in mortar. Add juice of two limes and a splash of soy sauce. Pour over fish fillets and let stand for awhile. Cook the fish on hot skillet with  the marinade.

Zucchini Carpaccio

Grate zucchini with skins into thin rounds. Lay flat on a big plate. Cover with juice of lime, salt, pepper and a little vinegar. Finish by grating parmesan cheese to cover.

Serve.

Red Cabbage

Cut cabbage into very thin strips. (The cutting is very important!) Crush garlic and salt in mortar; add roasted sesame seeds and crush a little bit more. Add vinegar, a little sugar, a little sesame oil and more roasted sesame seeds. Pour over cut cabbage and serve.

Nelly’s Arepa

Mix salt (about one-half teaspoon) and warm water (about three cups) in a big bowl with a tablespoon of oil. To this mixture, add ”P.A.N” or Arepa Flour until dough is of a consistency to roll in your hand. Shape into 1/2” thick rounds and fry in hot oil. Cook until brown. When they are finished, you have to “thump” them. If they are really done, they make a kind of hollow sound.

This is just the basic recipe. You may choose to add white cheese, sesame seeds or just about anything you want to add.


Nelly moved El Canto de la Ballena in January of 2000, just after the storms had stopped. The new building is a bit further from the beach and behind the fishing pier.

I left Los Roques a few weeks after the Y2K panic was over and our world continued to spin; however, I don’t think that we would really have noticed any computer meltdown on that island. I have not laid eyes on Nelly since that time and have not spoken to her for much too long. I hope that she remembers me and will be proud when I say that the seeds for my work with the former Project Alabama and now Alabama Chanin were watered in her kitchen.

COMING HOME

Although the travels of the last months have been truly wonderful, there is nothing quite like coming home. My garden survived the neglect and the tomato plants are now at shoulder height with green pearls of delight starting to form. And while I have been a bit lax in keeping up with reading and writing, I have saved a few articles over the last months that I look forward to sharing.

I was surprised and delighted to find Preserving Time in a Bottle in the New York Times and see it truly as a sign of changing times. I am looking forward to savoring my time at home, eating in my own kitchen, keeping my suitcase packed away, devouring fresh tomatoes with Maggie, trying out new recipes, “putting up” our garden and letting the summer arrive slowly, slowly…

Photo: Evan Sung for The New York Times


THE LONGLEAF

Back from the wilds of southern Alabama and the Panhandle of Florida… The trip was too short – as always. Although the weather was not so great, the beaches are white as snow, the Apalachicola River soothing and the shrimp melt in your mouth. There is something about watching rain from a screened veranda that makes me sing.

BUT this trip, my memory and thought are for the longleaf. Driving through the Apalachicola National Forest you get a small inkling of how these majestic giants must have stood in beautiful splendor before the true rape of the south when approximately 140,000 square miles of virgin forests were slaughtered.

Butch believes that the young growth trees we were driving through are about 50 years old but the longleaf begins to reach its splendor at about 200 – 300 years and can live for 500+ years. There are 191 species of plants associated with the old-growth longleaf and approximately 122 of them are endangered.

Read this great story about Richard Porcher and his love for the trees.

And Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray is just about as good as it gets.

Her love and understanding for the longleaf takes my breath away: “I drink old-growth forest in like water. This is the homeland that built us. Here I walk shoulder to shoulder with history – my history. I am in the presence of something ancient and venerable, perhaps of time itself, its unhurried passing marked by immensity and stolidity, each year purged by fire, cinched by a ring. Here mortality’s roving hands grapple with air. I can see my place as human in a natural order more grand, whole, and functional than I’ve ever witnessed, and I am humbled, not frightened by it. It is as if a round table springs up in the cathedral of pines and God graciously pulls out a chair for me, and I no longer have to worry about what happens to souls.”

*Photo by Andrew Kornylak for Garden & Gun

SOUTH AFRICA REVISITED

My trip to South Africa was such an inspiration and difficult to digest and share all of the wonderful people and projects at one time…

However, an example that continues to haunt me is the story of Monkeybiz. Economic development, women’s empowerment, health services – does not get more important than that.

There is a fantastic book that was published in 2007 that shows the work in full-color, inspirational detail.

The project has been revered by many from Donna Karen and Paulette Cole from ABC Carpet and Home in NYC to Deepak Chopra and Desmond Tutu.

Visit Monkey BIz here.

And don’t miss the book: Bead by Bead: Reviving an ancient African tradition

SOUTH AFRICA – DAY TWO

I find myself thinking and speaking more and more about business models and today I have seen two outstanding examples.

This morning, we had the opportunity to visit CIDA. This visit was an inspiring look at how one person can become a community and a community, in turn, a nation.
By empowering students, the foundation is providing a method for lifting individuals out of poverty while investing them with the tools to provide for their own communities. This short video says it all:

Our afternoon was filled with the overflowing love of the African Children’s Feeding Scheme. This organization feeds over 21,000 children each day over multiple locations while providing crucial education in health, farming and economic development for parents and caregivers (along with small farming plots.)

One lunch provides each child with 80% of his or her daily requirement for vitamins and protein. When we asked the sister her greatest need, her immediate response was to “feed more children.”
As a reminder, this curtain hanging in a kitchen window reads “No More Hunger.”

After a beautiful lunch, accompanied by Soweto song and dance, we had the opportunity to visit the Shwe Shwe Poppis cooperative.

Shwe-Shwe Poppis are hand-made in Soweto as a fund raising and economic empowerment arm of the Feeding Scheme. Each of the dolls is one child’s drawing come to life. What a beautiful circular chain: child to drawing, drawing to doll, doll to empowerment, empowerment to caregiver, caregiver to child – in complete and unbroken cycle.The paper insert that comes with one small doll reads:“Hello, my name is KHUTHAThis Shwe Shwe is based on my drawing. I live in Soweto, South Africa and buddy is my best game. Chicken is my best lunch. My favorite color is green and I also love lions.”
More tomorrow…

THE COLORS OF SOUTH AFRICA

Blue skies, rolling lands, rich fabrics and faces, recycling – using what you have available to the best advantage. Ingenious.   Colorful. Respectful and full of joy…

These beautiful photographs from Shack Chic by Craig Fraser and a lovely collection of books by Quivertree Publications from a collection of South African artists, foodies and designers.

SOUTH AFRICA – DAY ONE

From New York, I took the long flight with South African Airlines to Johannesburg… landing yesterday to a beautiful thunderstorm, delicious food and smiling warm faces and friends.

It is impossible to write about all of the beautiful people and places we encountered today from lunch with “Mama” to the gift of a walk through the corners of Soweto.

The highlight of the day was the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum which I would rank as one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture and exhibition design I have seen anywhere in the world. The saga of a horrific story told with humanity, humility and passion stirred me deeply.

I copied this quote from a small glass nook where you can look over the vastness of Soweto and imagine – if for just a moment – what courage it took to change a nation:

First victim…

A bullet burnt
Into soft dark flesh

A child fell

Liquid life
Rushed out
To stain the earth

He was the first victim

And now
Let grieving the willows
Mark the spot
Let nature raise a monument
Of flowers and trees
Lest we forget the foul and the wicked
deed…

From Don Mattera, 1976, Azanian Love Song Posted at 11:37 am

MARFA, TEXAS

Butch has been in Marfa the last few weeks working on Liz Lambert’s El Cosmico with Jack Sanders and crew. I love this photograph which shows how something so simple can be so beautiful.

See more photos from Jesse Hartman here: El Cosmico in Process

ALABAMA BOUND

American Routes takes a trip through the music of the Yellowhammer State–Alabama. Visit the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and find out what’s in the water around “The Shoals” to make it a historic hotbed for R&B hits by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and more. Also, a trip through Hank Williams‘ childhood home in Georgiana, and W.C. Handy Music Festival in Florence. And music from Shelby Lynne, the Birmingham Sunlights and the Delmore Brothers.

 

APALACHICOLA, FLORIDA

From St. EOM’s birthday party, we are on to Apalachicola for swimming, oysters, and Tupelo Honey with friend and storyteller Frank Venable.

Maggie keeps saying over and over again, “Mommy,  going beach, Mommy,  going beach.”

Don’t miss Working the Miles by Joe York, a tribute to the men and women of 13 Mile Oyster Company, honoring Tommy Ward who, like his father before him, has served as a guardian of the Apalachicola Bay.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA AND ST. EOM

Happy Birthday America and St. EOM or better known as “Vacation Part 2”:

Angie swears that she is making a cake for the competition and I am seriously considering Snake Calling – see you there!

Buena Vista, GA – Independence Day this year will bring a special day of celebration to Pasaquan, the famous visionary art site located near Buena Vista. July 4th, 2008 will mark our nation’s 232nd birthday as well as the 100th birthday of the man who created Pasaquan — Eddie Owens Martin — who called himself St. EOM.

Eddie Martin was born in Marion County, “at the stroke of midnight on July the 4th” in 1908. After living in New York City for many decades, Martin returned to his rural Georgia home and began building what would become one of the most remarkable and colorful environmental art sites ever created. Since his death in 1986, the unique site has been managed and maintained by the non-profit Pasaquan Preservation Society.

Events of the Day

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of St. EOM’s birth, The Pasaquan Preservation Society has planned a relaxed schedule of interesting and fun outdoor events, suitable for adults and children alike. The festivities will begin at noon with picnicking and music on the cool shaded lawn that lies beneath Pasaquan’s stately pecan trees. Visitors are welcome to bring their picnic baskets, coolers and lawn chairs, or they may take advantage of the pizza, cold watermelons, cooling soft drinks, and other festive food and drink that will be on sale at Pasaquan that day.

Following lunch, a series of laid-back afternoon contests will be offered for the enjoyment and entertainment of all who attend. Included among the planned Pasaquan-related activities will be a snake-calling contest, a Pasaquan costume parade and competition, and a St. EOM birthday cake contest. In addition, there’ll be several surprise activities.

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MEMOIRE LIQUIDE

Recently at Fred Segal in Santa Monica, I had the joy of learning about Memoire Liquide.

It is an amazing and somewhat overwhelming experience to stand before their counter of hundreds of smells, beautiful little bottles and expert sales staff. I was asked questions about my favorite perfumes: Shalimar, “the flagship perfume of the House of Guerlain,” and about my favorite smells: vanilla and cinnamon, two kitchen staples.

I felt at once exhilarated and terribly intimidated standing at the Memoire Liquide counter. I wanted to smell and try all. I wanted to have the entire day to start over and experiment with building my own scent. I wanted to take the entire counter home. But, truthfully, while I have always been drawn to certain fragrances, I am really not knowledgeable about the bases and ingredients.In December, I was lucky enough to meet Michelle Krell Kydd and discover Glass Petal Smoke. My experience of Memoire Liquide reminded me of my many conversations with Michelle and filled my mind with memories of life. I was suddenly reminded of being a little girl in the bathtub and mixing all sorts of lotions, shampoo and cream to formulate my own “perfume.” I told Michelle that I was once asked if I had to “choose only one sense, which one would it be?” My answer, at that time, was the sense of “smell.” And while I am no expert, I know immediately my likes and dislikes. Michelle introduced me to the Tonka Bean by mailing me my very own with the instructions to” place in a sealed glass jar and smell only after two weeks.”

Thinking of scent always reminds me of the beautiful short story from Anais Nin’s, Delta of Venus, about the lover who lost his love because he changed his scent. I believe that smell is so ingrained into our whole being that such a simple thing can change a person forever. Point in fact: I once broke up with a boyfriend because I woke up one morning unable to bear the way he smelled.

I love this quote:

Memoire Liquide Bespoke Perfumery
Remember….Be Remembered….

Standing before the counter at Memoire Liquide, I finally settled for a beautifully packaged set of 3 scents:

Sensual
Joie de Vivre
Fleur de Coton

Flower of Cotton indeed.

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, LOS ANGELES

I have been in Los Angeles to speak at the ITAA conference and conveniently staying next to the MOCA. My first visit to the museum, Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture, changed the way I think about exhibition design.

And, my second visit was equally inspiring: Gordon Matta-Clark: “You Are the Measure”

As I walked through this beautiful exhibition, I kept thinking of the opening quote from Vicktor Papanek’s book Design for the Real World:

The wheel’s hub holds thirty spokes
Utility depends on the hole through the hub.
The potter’s clay forms a vessel
It is the space within that serves.
A house is built with solid walls
The nothingness of window and door renders it usable,
That which exists may be transformed
What is nonexistent has boundless uses.
–LAO-TSE

This show has to be seen first-hand. And although there is a catalog for the exhibition, the detail, humor and spirit of the pieces seem to get lost in photography. The thread-drawn imagery is spectacular.

This piece from the permanent collection takes my breath away.

VENTURA, CALIFORNIA

I had the opportunity to visit all the folks at Patagonia yesterday. What an amazing group of people, an amazing place, and an amazing company. From the ladies in the sewing room to their organic cafeteria, I was floored at the knowledge, care and passion that infuse their lives.

Patagonia has long been an inspiration to me because 1) it grew from an artisan/hand work base 2) they make clothes to fit the body, not clothes that you have to fit your body to 3) they make products that are designed to stand the test of time and don’t forget the fact that you can also climb mountains and swim seas in the things they make.

And aside from the fact that it is a GREAT company from the product side, it is even more outstanding from a perspective of social and ecological responsibility. The first things you see as you pull into their parking lot are the solar panels that run the offices and the playground for the daycare center.

Their mission statement could be a guideline for life:
Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

The book Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman gives a really beautiful vision of where they came from and where they are going. Be sure to visit the Footprint Chronicles to have a very serious look at manufacturing processes.

And One Percent for the Planet is just a very, very good idea.