Wednesday, March 03, 2010
A seam between Alabama & Tennessee
For the third time I asked " Are you sure I can't get you anything?... I'm Greek, I have to keep asking.". Natalie smiled and said "I'm Southern, and I do the same!" The way that she called herself Southern made me think of the South as a nation more than a region.
She had accepted the invitation to come to my home as easily as I had offered. Florence, Alabama is less that 2 hours away from Nashville and she was clearly looking as forward to the journey as she was the visit. I daresay without insulting myself that she may have been looking even more forward to the drive than she was the visit. Which speaks volumes about this beautiful designer. The journey is everything. The process as important as where you arrive to in the end. And the end? One of the most enchanting places I've been. The end product that I refer to is the amazing collection of clothing, homegoods, accessories of which Natalie is chief designer.
Its not everyone who can afford to include her couture pieces into their wardrobe-though those that do -can know that the women who made the garment are earning a living for their work. But lucky for all of us Natalie has, for the second time, written a book that opens her studio door, her style and her insight. Alabama Studio Style in a word is a lifestyle book, but she thankfully is just as conscious about the life part of the lifestyle. Furthering her story from the first book, she shares not just sewing projects, but furniture inspiration, and home cooked recipes. It is a joy of a book. If you love to hand sew, as I so do, you will love the book.
For our day together, she brought two kits for us to work on and we wasted no time getting started- the sewing or the chatting.
(photo credit Robert Rausch)
We each began one of these gorgeous relief applique chair cushions (kits available here and the project is taught in her book too). Putting together the pattern as it comes in the kit is enjoyable and not too hard. Though we didn't get too far as we both enjoy eye contact in conversation, and we seemed to have endless topics to exchange various viewpoints: design; fabric; children; parents; motherhood at a very young age; motherhood at a less than very young age; embroidery floss; and our affinity for the perfect reusable plastic kit bag.
Chat.Sew.Chat.Sew.Laugh.Sew. In putting together the puzzle of pieces that compose the applique design it really occurred to me that Natalie's design work isn't just designed, or sewn. it is actually built.
In designing for her clothing line, it always begins with selecting fabrics (now available to us too) and then the building of the real fabrics begins. Stenciling, cutting, piecing, stitching, beading, dyeing, appliqueing, and then often the same happens several more times to one piece of cloth to become a meticulously patterned swatch. Those swatches then become possibilities to compose the silhouettes. But sometimes they don't make it past the swatch phase. And it took a lot of work to get them there.
(photo credit Robert Rausch)
What intrigues me the most when I look at Natalie's work is that I am reminded of the infinite possibilities of just one pattern. Witnessing how many ways just one motif can be translated by subtle changes in technique and color is not limiting, but rather freeing. Refreshing.
In fact, as much as I enjoy the writing, the photography and the projects, these few gray technical drawings that are included in the book to show how one pattern can be treated 3 ways are the pages that I keep flipping back to. I don't know if its the drawer, the sewer or the kid in me that loves this so. Such satisfaction. Like a road map getting you to that enchanted place- the fine art of possibility.
Natalie also brought me her color cards for the fall collection. And here is another point of intrigue: as someone who uses color so obviously, I notice how she uses it so unobviously. At a glance you may think of her collections as being composed of a handful of colors mostly revolving around red, white, blue, grey. I was surprised to see so many gorgeous colors dappled onto the cards and then found myself looking for each of them and finding them in her collection images. And rather than quickly processing and understanding a printed fabric image as this or that, her designs force my eyes to slow down and really see what I am looking at. You can't get it at a quick glance. You have to absorb the intricacies, be aware of the work and ultimately come to know the cloth at which you're gazing. Consciously.
She did accept lunch finally. I made us arugula salad with sesame dressing and deep fried eggplant with lemon. I continued to offer other varieties of things to her and instead of no thank you she just replied "I am so happy right now." But that didn't keep her from nibbling chocolate covered almonds with me as we kept sewing, talking, playing with Roman and continuing our friendship. And we want each others' pin cushions.
And that was a very, very good day. Thank you for including me on your journey, Natalie.
(More about Natalie's book here.)