Thursday, June 17, 2010

TN: Alabama Chanin

Last night some of the sewing class and my sister-in-law Christina, my friend Olga and I went to see a lecture by Natalie Chanin in Sewanee, TN. We got a little lost, which is to be expected because I "knew where I was going". But we got there, got to meet Natalie after her talk and had a great and inspiring time.

When I think of art and living creatively, I fall heavily on the images in my mind of collaboration and community, longevity and structure. These seem also to be some of the core philosophies of Natalie Chanin, the designer of the beautiful clothing line, Alabama Chanin.  Natalie designs clothing to be sewn from organic cotton, which supports the dying organic cotton industry. The cotton is then hand sewn by local Alabama artisans into comfortable, lasting heirlooms. Almost literally a cottage industry, Alabama Chanin's studio is a house in rural Alabama, where the decline of the numerous dye mills, knitting mills and people willing to sew for a living have gradually threatened the area's way of life. In this house the people come together to bring about some sort of revival of tradition to their community.

Being a woman who sews, I can appreciate the effort to remember the traditions and women who came before me. My great-granny did not blog and she didn't drive all over on one hundred errands a day. These things are not lasting. She was one of the best cooks in the south, bringing community to whichever table she was laying out a meal, a skilled quilt maker, tatter, crocheter and teacher of the things that are special and the things that will last. And last they will, if we will remember and be the teachers of others.

After the lecture we were given a very nice tour by the director of the art gallery @ the St. Andrews- Sewanee School, Christine Teasley. We saw some of the workshops that are going on there this week and next. One of the rooms that really caught my eye was the room where all the action was, of course, the natural dying workshop. They were experimenting with different leaves, rolling them in fabric bundles and boiling them outside in electric cauldrons. The smell was terrific, eucalyptus and the outside, natural.

On the way home we all discussed our desires and dreams of doing our own clothing businesses. I am so glad we went, to show the younger girls that business can be made in fabric arts and  to not sell themselves short. This is a lesson we need to learn as well.

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