Back on the Mountain; And, A Provocative Lecture
June 17, 2010
Yoohoo! I’m over here! So sorry to be out of touch, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been a) knitting, b) thinking about making things, or c) disconnected from the Internet, because Gawd knows that I cannot live without the electronic IV of twitchyjuice, even if I’m up on the Cumberland Plateau.
Many things to discuss, so many. But the thing most on my mind this morning is the field trip I took last night with my pal Annis, who quilts, over to the Shakerag Workshop that’s in high gear five miles down the road in Sewanee.
Kay, Shakerag is completely and totally mind-blowing. You GOTTA come up for one of these things. The participants come from all over the country to participate in week-long, residential workshops in everything from 16th-century embroidery techniques to papermaking to book arts. The clay people are there, the fiber people. Everybody looks slightly zoned out, so blissed at being in a place where you don’t have to explain why you’re building an egg using half-inch-long pieces of willow tied together with tiny knots of waxed twine.
Here’s the workshop next week that I would love to attend: Joan Morris’s “Natural Dye Extracts and an Indigo Pot: All You Need to Make Shibori Textiles.”
Last night we went over to hear a lecture by Natalie Chanin, the founder of Project Alabama, the company that creates completely handmade (read: insanely expensive) clothing and home stuff using cottage-industry sewers who do the embroidery and sewing in their north Alabama homes.
You’ve surely seen her recent books, Alabama Stitch Book and Alabama Studio Style.
Chanin told a bitterweet story of an idea that has proved hard to make work. I mean, it’s working, but it’s hard. Chanin and her original partner parted ways in 2006, so now she continues her original concept with another company she set up, Alabama Chanin–not to be confused with the Project Alabama clothes that you’ll find these days at Anthropologie and such. After Chanin left the company, Project Alabama began using Indian labor for the sewing, which completely changed the economics of the clothing: a handmade skirt at Alabama Chanin can cost $3,000, while a Project Alabama skirt at Anthropologie costs a fraction of that.
I’m so conflicted about Alabama Chanin. Yes, it’s cool: all materials and work are done as locally as possible–no foreign anything. But a roll through the online store for Alabama Chanin gives me total vertigo when I look at the prices. As someone who makes things by hand, I understand how expensive it is to create beautiful things using only one’s hands. But I have a hard time reconciling all this effort to make organic-cotton, hand-beaded, reverse appliqué treasures that are available only for the most rarefied customer. Maybe I just wish I could justify springing for a $4,000 applique coat . . . but I can’t get my head around that. It seems so extravagant, so peeled grapes. I keep thinking about Marie Antoinette, if Marie Antoinette shopped at Barneys.
To her credit, Chanin is not unaware of the difficulty of her pricing. Her books, she says, make Alabama Chanin designs available to anyone who can thread a needle. Kits for many projects are available. Workshops happen down in Alabama all the time. Maybe that’s the only way to channel all that love of handwork into a place where the vast majority of consumers live: if you don’t want to pay for all that handwork, you can just do it yourself. Or, like me, simply admire the photographs and sigh when you see a detail like this.
While we listened last night, I worked on this:
Heidi Kirrmaier‘s Medano Beach bag. Isn’t it just the cutest thing ever? Couldn’t I buy one of these at Target for $12?
Yesssss, sort of . . . though it wouldn’t be made in this awesome, waxy-feeling Allhemp6 by Hemp for Knitting. (Every time I see “Hemp for Knitting,” I think, “AsOpposedToHempForSmoking.”)
And I wouldn’t be able to make the straps exactly the length I’d like them to be.
And I wouldn’t have the joy of making the jogless stripes I’ve always wanted to experiment with.
You know the problem–knitting in the round throws stripes off a stitch when a new round begins, a line of hinky in an otherwise hinkyless piece of knitting. With the jogless stripe technique, a little trick camouflages the join.
See the slightly wonky stitches running diagonally in the middle there? You can’t? Awesome! Thank you, TechKnitting for the brilliant tutorial on jogless stripes.
And at the end of the day, I’ll be able to sew in my ANN SHAYNE label, indicating that it was made by hand, cottage industry style, in the woods of the Cumberland Plateau.
PS Yes, the bluebirds are back! We seem to have arrived at the same time. They’ve been mucking out and re-lining their box, the same way I’ve been doing with the shack.