Natalie Chanin is one of my heroes.
In 2001, when I was working as a designer for Ralph Lauren, I would often run across the street to Barney's during lunch just to ogle the Project Alabama t-shirts. They were like nothing I had ever seen before: a sort of shabby couture garment made from recycled vintage t-shirts that had been cut up, painted, re-assembled, appliqued and embroidered entirely by hand, one by one, by quilters in Alabama. They were gorgeous. And they sold for something in the $200+ range, as I recall. For a t-shirt. But a t-shirt like nothing you've ever seen before.
Flash forward a few years to the Project Alabama runway collection. Also gorgeous, and also made using the same hand-sewn, distressed (see? I do know how to spell it!) techniques. But this time it was more than t-shirts; it was dresses and skirts made using those same labor-intensive, hand-crafted techniques.
And then they went out of business. Or that's what I thought, anyway.
Actually Chanin, the founder of PA, and the organization itself parted ways. A difference in philosophy, apparently. Chanin soon resurfaced as Alabama Chanin, but I wasn't sure where that was going. I was certainly waiting to find out, however.
Ok, flash all the way forward to last week. I opened the apartment door the other day to find a WHAT!?!? book by the founder of Project Alabama. About WHAT?!?! the same techniques and projects I've been drooling over for seven years now!?!
Well. Knock me over.
And the book is amazing. Gorgeous. Beautifully photographed by fellow Alabaman (is that the right term?) Robert Rausch, with a thoughtful and clean page design and attractive handwritten elements included among the type. Plus, all those lovely construction details are fully explained. The techniques and steps are detailed in areas I would never expect them to be explained: the philosophy and history that drew Chanin to start the company, an explanation of how to select the best materials for the project, what sort of stitching and knotting to use (and why), what materials the "Alabama" stencils are made from (felt!), how to prepare your thread before you start hand stitching (you "love" it, of course!).
Also included are two pull-out pattern pages in the back so you can make your very own corset t-shirt (one of those original Project Alabama styles I admired so readily as an aspiring designer) or skirt. It also includes a perforated postcard with instructions for beading it; a stencil for making the reverse applique that I love, love, love (I really love it, can you tell?); and instructions for projects big and small, quick (relatively speaking, that is) and time-consuming: an applique tablecloth, sweet stuffed bunny, deconstructed quilt, bookcover, headband, any size project you want to try. It's a book filled with useful information, detailed instructions, and inspiring ideas.
Have I told you how much I love this book?
Chanin appreciates the process and history of crafting. Her philosophy is similar to that of the slow food movement, which emphasizes quality and sustainability. I think it's wonderful that she's written this book to pass along the history, techniques and appreciation of hand-made. And to show us how to make them ourselves, even if we can't afford to buy that fabulous t-shirt in Barney's. We can certainly afford to participate in the traditions and to make them our own.
See? My hero.