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Alabama Chanin


After returning to the original home of her grandparents in Florence, Alabama, Natalie Chanin founded the company Project Alabama.  Bordered by cotton fields, at the base of the Appalachian Mountains, the company was established in 2000.  Project Alabama came to be known for its elaborately embellished, hand-sewn garments.  At its height, they enlisted the craftsmanship of approximately 200 artisans, called “stitchers”, all living and working within a three-hour radius of Natalie’s, small ranch style home.  Her cottage industry approach to business was touted as the way of the future.  Yet, by 2006 Project Alabama ceased to be, only to be replaced like a phoenix from the ashes, by a new company called Alabama Chanin, based on the years of experience with Project Alabama.


Using mostly 100 percent cotton, recycled T-shirts as a base, Alabama Chanin produces beautiful, work intensive pieces with little in common with the humble origins of a second hand T-shirt.  Having developed techniques of combining self on self stenciling, fabric layering, naïve basting stitch, chain stitch and whipstitch techniques with knotted ends, and cutting out patterns to reveal other colored layers of fabric beneath, Alabama Chanin achieves elaborate, decorative and highly innovative designs.  The simple, well-fitted styling balances the complexity of the techniques and textures, producing some breathtaking effects.  Making deceptively simple T shirts from combinations of patchwork, reverse appliqué’ and stencil printing, to elaborate beaded and embroidered, multi-layered party dresses and wedding dresses.


“Most of the techniques are based on the quilting and embroidery techniques of the Depression-era South, and others have been practiced by artisans for hundreds of years. I have borrowed this knowledge and made it the foundation of most of my designs.”


Natalie Chanin enlisted local quilters and seamstresses who grew up learning to sew at the feet of their grandmothers, mothers and aunts.  For generations, creation has been part of these women’s everyday lives; they made quilts, knitted afghan’s, baked bread and stitched beautiful prom dresses, creating sustainable products by using the materials readily available to them in their community.  Natalie’s fine appreciation of these skills, and the artisan inside us all, has led the creative direction of her company. “At Alabama Chanin, we consider (our artisans’) work to be extraordinary, and we try to reclaim a time when products were made by hand by skilled artisans who played an esteemed role in their communities.”


Natalie strives to preserve these fading domestic arts by putting them into a contemporary context.  Seeing their preservation as our connection to our roots, our past, our community and consequently to our present.  “Living arts are an essential part of the social fabric of our communities, like planting seeds, reaping the fruits of our labors, and preserving our food.  Such traditions are the backbone of what makes a community a home, and preserving them ensures that future generations can enjoy the same quality of life with the same attention to detail, function and beauty. “


Alabama Chanin is the perfect embodiment of slow design, by using age-old techniques to create products that celebrate strong design principles for modern living.  Honoring the rich cultural heritage of cotton production in Alabama, Natalie openly recognizes the sometimes-ugly history, but constant connection to the past and the fiber within the community.


Website: www.alabamachanin.com

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