1 From left to right: Rosanne Cash, her daughter Carrie Crowell, Maira Kalman, and my daughter Maud Doyle standing outside the Alabama Chanin studio.
2 The main street in Florence, Alabama is very charming with 19th-century brick and wood storefronts.
3 We stopped for coffee at McGraw's Coffee House. They had delicious latte and iced coffee.
4 Upon entering Alabama Chanin, we were met by this sign: THERE ARE NO RULES - THAT IS HOW ART IS BORN.
5 And another sign: WASTE NOT WANT NOT
6 Natalie, with her distinctive white hair, is a firm believer in craftsmanship, beauty and utility. She's created a cottage industry based on her designs, which are constructed by talented local artists. She firmly believes in the cultural sustainability of preserving the hand-sewing skills or 'Living Arts' of her local culture.
7 She uses organic cotton grown in Texas and woven in North Carolina. The fabric is dyed with natural dyes in Tennessee. The dresses are cut in the studio and stenciled with designs for the 30 local artisans to follow.
8 Amazing hand-sewn detail
9 Another example
10 We spent our first hour getting a tour of the studio and indulging in the beauties and textures of the thousand or so beaded, stitched, quilted, embroidered, and appliquéd samples that are neatly filed in perfectly covered white binders.
11 Leafing through, here are some of my favorites. The handwork is complex and exquisite. Every page we turned was amazing and inspiring.
15 Before I went to Alabama, I ordered the Kristina’s Rose Skirt DIY kit. My kit included the 4 skirt panels already stenciled with the rose pattern, applique strips, beads and thread. This picture also shows the simple glove that Natalie wears with double-stick tape that you stick beads on. It makes it easier to pick up the beads as you sew.
16 This is the detail of the Kristina’s Rose Skirt pattern, using chain stitch with 4 beads in each chain, and folded applique with a bead every 1/4".
17 This is the sew-in label for your completed project.
18 You can learn all about her techniques in her books : Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.
19 Our next step was to try on sample dresses and skirts so that we could choose our silhouettes and then decide on a style and pattern to embellish our creations.
20 Natalie and I wearing Alabama Chanin dresses - The dresses are so comfortable, and they make you look great.
21 I decided to make that shape dress using this square pattern that reminds me of an old sample book. The beading, applique, and embroidery stitches make the square pattern hip and contemporary.
22 After the fabric for the dress is cut, it is stenciled with a very fine paint, which functions as a pattern for the embellishment.
23 Natalie and Rosanne - There is nothing like learning together to make a friendship even deeper.
24 Maira and Natalie - Natalie uses Ball canning jars for drinking water and wraps a pincushion cozy around each jar.
25 Rosanne and I met when our girls were 2-1/2-years-old in nursery school. Maud and Carrie then went to school together until 8th grade. Now that they are 23 and back in NYC. They really enjoyed catching up and sharing such a rare experience.
26 Natalie taught us the importance of 'loving your thread.'
27 She also told us not to thread your needle but to needle your thread - hold the thread and push the needle towards it; it just makes it easier. Once the needle is threaded, hold it in one hand and with your thumb and forefinger gently pull down on the threads so that the fibers relax and meld together, making for fewer knots and tangles.
28 Maira chose to make a coat with this appliqued circle design, which starts out in 5 or 6 rows along the bottom, slowly fading to a few circles.
29 The studio reflects Natalie's journey of making her business meaningful to her clients and community. It's filled with handmade objects, like found art collages.
30 And chairs that talk to you with hand-woven seats
31 In this cottage industry, local artists buy Natalie's cut and stenciled 'project kits,' sew them at home, and bring them back a few weeks later, beautifully sewn and finished. Natalie then buys them back for much more money.
32 The artists get to sew at home on their own time and be in charge of their own lives.
33 Natalie’s love of the living arts inspired her to collect story quilts, and several are displayed on the walls of the studio.
34 These quilts are all uniquely original with their whimsical embroidery and embellishments.
35 One quilt talks about the magical powers of sewing in a studio...
36 With the smell of freshly baked bread.
37 Another is about sewing at Alabama Chanin, which they affectionately call 'The Factory.'
38 Natalie also works with individual clients to design their wedding dresses.
39 This closet was full of intricately embroidered, highly detailed dresses, camisoles, and skirts.
40 Her clients love the individuality of a creation they can be a part of.
41 After two days of focused work, I felt rested and restored. Spending time with my friends, Rosanne and Maira, and our girls, Carrie and Maud, was a gift. Getting to know Natalie in her inspiring studio and learning to embroider and applique was an unforgettable and inspiring experience.