A Day In The Life

A Day In The Life of Natalie Chanin

by Grace Bonney

One of my secret (although it’s not so secret now) dreams is to move back to the South and work on creating a more unified and formalized community of southern designers to promote and celebrate in the design community at large. The deep South in particular is full of incredible talent that I think is oftentimes overlooked by design publications and television. I’ve always had the pie-in-the-sky idea that I could somehow win the lottery and then devote all my time and energy to helping those designers do anything they need to get the attention they deserve (or more).

One of the first designers that made me look more deeply into the design community in the South is Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. Her incredible fashion and textile designs, sewn by a team of local Alabama seamstresses (who are paid a fair and living wage, which is sadly not common in the fashion industry) using salvage material whenever possible, captured the attention and hearts of shoppers and the media across the globe over 10 years ago. She has been an inspiration to designers and artists in not just Alabama, but across the country. I relish any instance where someone’s design work is as beautiful as their work ethics and Alabama Chanin is one of those rare moments. I’ve always wondered what a day in Natalie’s life looked like and thankfully she agreed to share a peek inside her day! Thanks so much to Natalie and everyone on her team for sharing this glimpse inside her daily life. xo, grace

Click through for the full post after the jump!

“I’m an early riser. No alarm—only my Heath Ceramics | House Industries clock that hangs on the kitchen wall. Right out of the gate I want a café latte made on my vintage Krups espresso machine with our Alabama Chanin | The Factory Blend coffee.”

“I drink my coffee in bed and catch up on reading, emails, and life. There is a photo wall of friends and family that hangs beside my bed. This is my way to ease into the morning.”

“Watering the garden = morning meditation.”

“I have an eight year old daughter named Maggie (and a 31 year old son named Zach). The day really starts when Maggie is up and (literally) running. Hair, clothes, straightening her room, playing horses, a quick bike ride… this is one of the highlights of my day and always sets the pace for what comes next.”

“The breakfast table is filled with an array of objects. Today there is a Mimosa blossom from friend Rinne Allen floating in a Heath bowl—alongside rubber band bracelets from Maggie, homework from the previous evening, bounty from the garden, salt and pepper in Weck jars, and an array items both small and large, and, of course, breakfast.”

“After dropping Maggie off at school, I head to the The Factory. Housed in a former textile manufacturing facility from the 1980s, The Factory includes our store, café, design studio, manufacturing facility, workshop space, online store, and our new machine manufacturing division called Building 14. The store and cafe are open every day from 9am until 5pm and we give tours every day at 2pm. It’s hard to believe that the store and the café have only been open since last November. The space has become such an important part of Alabama Chanin life.”

“First stop is the café. The café crew meets daily to review our upcoming menu and plan produce for the next week. We have incredibly long growing seasons in North Alabama and these crops are the basis for all of our menus.”

“I work best in an organized studio so I spend a little time getting things in order before I start with design and development.”

“Color developments for the new collection and yarn swatches for our newest collaboration with Little River Sock Mills are laid out on my studio tables.”

“We have a new indigo dye house at The Factory and I love seeing all of the pieces hanging to dry. This is one of my favorite rooms in the whole building.”

“I leave the studio, pick Maggie up from school, and head to the barn. She calls her horse, Josh, her “best friend.” This is a time for us to spend together and where I get to hear the all her best stories from school.”

“From the barn, we head home to make dinner. This time of year, dinner is most often vegetables, picked from the garden (or from our CSA box) and most often roasted. A watermelon blackberry cocktail on the porch is a perfect way to settle into the evening.”

“My son Zach has a two-year-old daughter Stella—who is visiting with us tonight. Pure sweetness.”

“I usually end the day at the kitchen table—right back where I started. This evening a wilted Magnolia blossom has also found its way to the table.”

“End of the day, Maggie and I change clothes, settle into bed, read or watch a movie, and plan for our next day adventures.”

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  • I clicked on one of her ads on your site one night and spent so much time looking at the clothing, reading the story, taking it all in. It’s really something to marvel at.

  • Thank you so much for posting about such an incredibly talented woman. I just took a workshop with Natalie this past weekend. What a remarkable, beautiful and genuine woman. She unselfishly shared her knowledge with us in class. She is just amazing. So grateful to have met and to have learned from her.

  • Beautiful! What an incredible life. I absolutely love these little peeks behind the scenes into the lives of creative and exceptionally talented people! As a Southern designer I’ve considered countless times packing up and moving north just to get a little more exposure and become more plugged into the design community, so I was really happy to read the introduction to your post. The South is such a vibrant, authentic, and as you said, often over looked community packed full of extraordinary talent! I’m confident that this region is up-and-coming in the design world, and couldn’t be more excited to read that you have a similar confidence in our community. Thanks so much for sharing Natalie Chanin’s gorgeous work!

  • I had the good fortune to attend one of Natalie Chanin’s workshops. She is so charming and gracious, and it was such a treat to see some of her garments firsthand. I was amazed that such simple materials and stitches could be used to create something so stunning.

    But even more than that, I love what she has done for our shared hometown of Florence, AL. The area has a rich history of textile manufacturing, but most of the factories closed years ago as jobs moved overseas. It thrills me to see her efforts to bring smart, sustainable industry back to the area. And I think it’s been done in a way that honors the past, but has a bright future.

  • Beautiful designs and clothing. Also, i second the comment above, thanks for featuring a designer who is from an older (for lack of a better word) generation. Wonderful post.

  • This is wonderful stuff, but I’m pretty sure that none of her seamtresses can afford an $815 tank top. Just sayin’

  • I remember when she first started her clothing line and I saw it at Barney’s NY.
    Her collection was breathtaking and beautiful. Everyone who was in town for fashion week stopped in to buy or at least look at her collection. She is an inspiration to us all.
    And in response to LKLA’s comment, maybe not but she pays her workers a living wage. which is a lot in the fashion industry.
    The $815 tank top is what a hand made and hand stitched garment costs. She also offers kits to sew your own garment, but you do the labor. a friend of mine bought a kit and made a skirt, which took her months to complete. It gave her a new appreciation of what is involved in the skill and what the price of time really is.
    Natalie also designed some beautiful ceramic pieces with Heath Ceramics.

  • She’s amazing and this post is such a treat. I’ve followed Alabama Chanin since they got started. I love her ethic and her way of life. As a New Orleans resident, I can’t wait for you to take the leap and move back to the south when you’re ready!

  • A formalized union of Southern creatives is so needed! I’m from Atlanta myself with plans to move to North Carolina soon (I’m in London now) and went to the Savannah College of Art and Design. I’m thrilled at the talent that’s coming out of the South but agree that it is so undercovered. Totally unrelated but on the Southerner note – if you don’t already read The Bitter Southerner, do yourself a favor and subscribe. Thanks!

  • Lovely post. And thank you to Patricia who commented about the cost/worth aspect of handmade. I’m happy to hear more people talking about the value of labor.

  • I have been swooning over Natalie Chanin’s work for several years – her textures and patterns are so totally delicious. And I’m in awe of her fantastic business model – the generosity of sharing her ideas, designs and techniques in kits and books so that others can make their own without the prohibitive cost, works well for everyone. AND it’s an absolute bonus that it gives us all a better idea of how much time and skill goes into handmade.

    I’m only a bit sad I will probably never get to see that glorious workshop in real life as it’s a long way from where I live in Australia.

  • I loved this article about Natalie Chanin — what an inspirational woman and artist! I only recently learned about Natalie Chanin’s work through the liner notes of Rosanne Cash’s marvelous new album, “The River and the Thread”. The “thread” in the title was inspired by Natalie Chanin who taught Roseanne Cash to sew and who instructed her, “You have to love the thread.”

  • Love this–her work is stunning and inspiring, and this glimpse into her life a treat. Thank you for introducing me her. Off to spend time on her site!

  • Thanks for featuring Natalie Chanin. I’ve admired her work and the business she’s built. As someone who runs a small upholstery business, plus does knitting and sewing for a hobby, it’s really important to feature a business like Alabama Chanin. Making products by hand (even partially by hand) is not inexpensive, and Americans have really lost sight of how much it costs to manufacture products. To address LKLA comment about the tank top, that price is reflective of the real costs to produce a clothing item if you are paying people a living wage. Thanks to mass merchants such as Target, Kohl’s etc we think a tank should cost $10-20. To be fair, I shop at these stores to help manage our family’s budget, but many people don’t understand the true cost of cheap consumerism.

  • I go to Natalie’s blog early each morning for inspiration. She is a wonderful designer and a gracious woman. Thanks so much for the great post.

  • This was a great post. I love Natalie Chanin’s work, and vision. Not only are her pieces beautiful, each one is proof that the world can be a better place if we put the effort in, the thought, and the heart…and we keep trying, keep working, to live and work according to our best values.

    Like the other commenters, I also love that this feature is about a more mature designer. I know young and emerging designers are very exciting for many reasons… but I think there’s so much to learn and appreciate about people who are either seasoned designers, or emerging, but older. : ) Thanks!

  • I had to buy Natalie’s book and tear open the patterns. I L O V E to make her clothes. What a beautiful woman she is. Thank you for featuring her! As always. love reading your post!

  • Thanks for featuring Natalie! I’m an Alabama native living far from home, so I usually learn about new things native to my home via the news/internet. The South is vibrant, beautiful – and problematic, so it is wonderful to read about such a positive woman+company with roots in that gorgeous red earth.

  • Thank you so much for featuring Natalie! I have longed to visit her shop/studio and maybe even take a class. She is so beautiful and inspiring!

  • Was great to see this in my Feedly this morning. I was inspired by Natalie Chanin, and first heard of her in 2011 at the Hello Etsy conference in Berlin. She is amazing and it’s great to see how what she’s built keeps on growing and evolving into something increasingly wonderful.

  • Natalie Chanin is one of my heroes…to know her is to love her. Her vision is vast, and her generous sharing of knowledge, responsible business practices, and sense of community are a model for the future. If you are close by, go visit! Or, take some time and read through her website to learn more about the good work she and her crew are doing in Florence, Alabama. Thank you, design*sponge, for featuring her here!

  • I have had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know her at several of her workshops here in Bay Area. I just admire her so much. What a talented, funny, warm and wonderful woman she is. I believe that she pretty much single handedly brought back the love of American hand stitching.

    I love this post. Thank you.

    Natalie if you see this post. Heeeeeey! Hope you are well.

  • Grace, I am so happy to both call Natalie a friend and also see your featuring her here. She just joined me teaching here in Nashville at Craft South, which is a new venture off of my own brand that celebrates just exactly what you seem to notice about this part of the country and it’s profoundly talented inhabitants. We will be located in a permanent space at the beginning of 2015 and can’t wait to have Natalie back.
    Happy to share our adventures with you anytime as we continue our journey, best, xoAnna Maria

  • Natalie— I worked at PIPE PLUS while you worked at PIPE CHILD CARE in Durham back in the early 1980s. I remember Zach and when you actually had your last name officially changed. Remember Shari Maskel? Remember Lynn? Anyone else?? I had a little girl named Erin back then and later a boy named Nick. Congrats on making a wonderful life for yourself. I also remember one interesting Halloween costume you designed while pregnant with Zach — I think those were the details!!