Natalie Chanin and Diane Hall
Open Design: Sewing and Construction
Join renowned designer and activist Natalie Chanin and Alabama Chanin seamstress Diane Hall for a one-of-a-kind interactive design experience. Natalie will be on hand Sunday through Wednesday to guide participants through the whole design process, from concept to creation, and Diane will work with individual participants through the entire week. In the spirit of conservation and up-cycling, Natalie and Diane invite participants to bring at least one unwanted garment to deconstuct, reconstruct, alter, or embellish. Participants will learn a variety of techniques for re-purposing unwanted textiles: create a quilt that's perfect for picnics, a rock-n-roll top with an amazing fit, opera length gloves with delicate hand-stitching, or a new garment entirely. As Natalie says, "The choices are yours, but we'd love to help!"
Open to all levels of experience, but all participants should have experience in using their sewing machine.
Natalie “Alabama” Chanin is owner and designer of the American couture line Alabama Chanin and author of Alabama Stitch Book (STC – February 2008), Alabama Studio Style (STC – March 2010) and the upcoming Alabama Studio Sewing + Design (STC – Spring 2012). Her designs for hand-sewn garments constructed using quilting and stitching techniques from the rural South have been lauded for both their beauty and sustainability. Made from 100% Certified Organic Cotton combined with up-cycled and re-purposed materials by artisans located near Natalie’s home in Florence, Alabama, her designs have earned accolades from peers as a finalist for the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for Fashion in 2005. In 2009, Natalie was chosen as one of the finalists for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, and her work appeared in the 2010 Cooper Hewitt Global Triennial.
Natalie’s life work began in the year 2000 with the invention of Project Alabama. Natalie returned from Europe to her home in Florence, Alabama to produce a collection of 200 one-of-a-kind, up-cycled t-shirts, along with the 22-minute documentary film “Stitch” - about old-time quilting circles in her community. Project Alabama grew quickly and became a full collection fashion company, added business partners, lost business partners, all the while earning respect from editors and stores around the world.
In the year 2006, Project Alabama ceased operations in the state of Alabama. Rather than choosing to outsource, Natalie made the decision to adhere to the original mission of Project Alabama and launched Alabama Chanin, where she continues to create limited-edition, rendered-by-hand jewelry, clothing, home furnishings, and textiles with local talent using a mixture of organic and recycled materials. Based on the thought that good design should be a part of everyday living, Alabama Chanin gives modern context to techniques that have been passed down through generations of women and men.
Natalie has a degree in Environmental Design from North Carolina State University and works simultaneously as designer, manufacturer, stylist, filmmaker, mother, artisan, cook, and collector of stories from her home in Florence, Alabama.
It has been 10 years since I started working on the company that Alabama Chanin has become today. I am often asked how I had the foresight to start a company based on the principles of sustainability and Slow Design. To this comment, I must laughingly reply that I never intended to start a sustainable design company; I simply stumbled into it like the fool falling off the cliff. When I cut up those first t-shirts, I was doing something that I felt driven to do. The first shirts were never intended to be the basis of a business; they were simply pieces of clothing I wanted to wear. However, when I look back today, it all feels like a seamless and directed adventure into the realms of becoming a sustainable designer and manufacturer.
I am often invited to speak about our business model, as it is an unusual one. Yet, I have taken inspiration for my model from farmers and strive to build a zero-waste company where the results of one production process become the fuel for another. Our primary work is the business of designing and making clothing. And whether a dress calls for recycled t-shirts or locally grown, certified organic cotton, we strive to reduce environmental impact and make the “footprint” of a dress as minimal as humanly possible.
We at Alabama Chanin have an unusual Design/Build philosophy – which originated in the field of architecture. This term means that we build – or manufacture – every piece that we design and sell. By consolidating our entire manufacturing process in-studio, we have narrowed delivery times, have more control over our end product, and can build tighter, more fluid relationships with our customers. Each of our pieces is cut, painted, and packaged by hand, allowing us the maximum possible flexibility. Contemporary Cottage Industry style production allows our artisans to work from their own homes, run their own businesses, and be in charge of their own lives and families. It has always been a part of our mission as a company to bring as much work as possible into our community and to our artisans. This is an issue that we strive to achieve every day.
The finished product is not the only important aspect of Alabama Chanin production; for us, the process is just as important. We seek to be a sustainable company, one that creates beauty and meaning without creating excess waste or destroying natural resources. We do not live as though there is no tomorrow; rather, we live as though we know there will be.