I was lucky enough to get to visit the Craft South workroom in Nashville again this past month for a special weekend learning the intricacies of slow design and handwork with Natalie Chanin from Alabama Chanin.
Here are some of the new friends I made from all around the country and their projects:
Craft South, recently opened by Anna Maria Horner, is a wonderful environment for taking workshops and classes. The focus is on making new friends, learning new techniques and finding inspiration from those around you.
This weekend featured textile artist Natalie Chanin…. as Anna Maria says, Natalie doesn’t design fabric, she builds it.
Anna Maria and Natalie are the perfect hosts… open, honest, funny and kind. And just look at the beautiful things we learned how to make.
These are some of the samples Natalie brought to class.
When I wrote that the focus of Alabama Chanin is “slow-design”, that’s exactly what it sounds like. These are not articles of clothing that can be whipped up in a weekend. These elegant, whimsical, hand-crafted tops, dresses, jackets and skirts might each take months by local artisans to make by hand. Each stitch lovingly outlines designs that have been hand-painted onto 100% American-made jersey cotton.
I went into the weekend hoping I would walk away with a cute little jersey skirt or dress. And there was plenty of inspiration there to allow you to achieve that goal. Look at all of these AMH patterns and swatches of fabric to choose from. So much fun!!
But with Anna Maria’s guidance about the ins and outs of sewing knits using a regular old sewing machine, I realized that I had all the knowledge necessary to take home these patterns and make them on my own. She unveiled the mysteries of the twin needle, quartering a neckline, and making adjustments to a knit to suit those of us who aren’t exactly “proportional” on the top and bottom. Thank you, Anna, for making knits a lot less intimidating.
However, what surprised me most was how absolutely captivated I am by Natalie Chanin’s concept of handwork. The idea of taking jersey cotton, the Joe Schmoe of the fabric world, and using the alchemy of embroidery to turn it into a divine textile suited for the runways of Paris??? That’s genius.
In order to make one of these organic, earthy, sophisticated garments, you really have to commit. There’s something centering in the process of making them. We don’t have to do it… we’re not pioneers forced to wield needle and thread under the threat of wandering the plains naked.
Yes, it would certainly be easier to run over to Target to pick up a jersey skirt. But it’s the choice and the commitment to engage in this task that make it so grounding. Each stitch is part of a meditative process. And even the construction phase doesn’t interrupt the soothing rhythm of the needle– every last seam is hand-stitched.
The purchase of an Alabama Chanin garment wouldn’t really be considered a thrifty choice. A single couture jacket can go for $8000. But what is truly amazing, is that Natalie Chanin is willing to teach us all how to make garments like this ourselves. Her books are gorgeously photographed how-to manuals for beginner and advanced sewists alike. And on her site, she sells perfect DIY kits to get you started making your very own Alabama Chanin outfit.
Here’s a gore of a simple 4-panel skirt I’m working on. I’m practicing applique and reverse applique, backstitch and whipstitch. I’ll add some beaded eyelets here and there, and maybe some beading at the bottom. It’s for my 7-year old daughter, so I will let her determine the amount of bling.
It doesn’t really compare to the other pieces you’ve seen in this post, but it’s mine. Every little wonky stitch is mine. And I hope each of my daughters will enjoy it as they grow (or maybe just giggle at it together when they see what mom attempted to do back in 2014 during her Chanin phase).
With fall just around the corner, it may be awhile before I’m able to travel again. I am grateful that my weekend in the south provided me with an abundance of inspiration and knowledge to keep my creativity flowing.