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.
xoxo, Anna

(More about Natalie's book here.)


  1. Oh my gosh! She's coming to my town (Portland) and I want so much to take the workshop! Her new book is gorgeous! And Natalie Chanin just seems amazing! Lucky you to get to spend a day with her!!! (And lucky her to get to spend a day with you!)

  2. Oh wow looks like you two spent a lovely day! Natalie's work in so intriqit (sorry spelling)

  3. I'm in love with the pincushion that has the hollow center for scissors or trimmings. Is that one of her patterns?

  4. HI Ms. Jan- that ones in my first book, Seams To Me, and thanks! xo,Anna

  5. I am a big fan of you both! I also have to comment on the pin cushions. I love them both, but I have only made yours and I love it so much! I use it all the time. It will be perfect to use while working on projects from this new book. So much inspiration! Now, I just need to make her pin cushion. Is there a kit for that?:) Thanks for sharing this visit with us!

  6. what a lovely, lovely time it must have been. you are both very lucky ladies. :)

  7. so sweet!

    off to learn more about this designer... ;)

  8. So interesting to see the process. Lovely.

  9. Such an interesting story you wove. I've been following her blog tour, and your's was the best. I already bought the book, and keep looking at it (and hoping to make something soon). I also love YOUR pincushion. I have your book and didn't relize it was so big. I'm totally making one!

  10. wow....just wow! Looks like a great day!

  11. So much talent in one room! I am a big fan of Ms. Natalie...she's such a wonderful example of "Gracious Southerner" and I appreciate her keeping her business in my home state. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for your visit--you are both so very gifted.

  12. What a beautiful day! I'm pretending like I was there, and we are all best friends and swapping recipes, patterns, and stitch techniques. What a cool life. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  13. I never thought I liked hand sewing until I saw you embroidering a "C" so long ago on this blog, or when I bought the first Alabama book without even opening it at the bookstore because I just loved holding it so much...then I opened it and spend my entire vacation in the upper peninsula of Michigan reading it, re-reading it, drooling over the photos with my (now 19 years old) stepdaughter and making plans.

    Then I saw here that you had your little ones using a hoop and tapestry needles, and MY little one was sitting next to me and asked if she could have 'broidery tools.

    Then Amazon suggested that I might like to pre-order Ms. Natalie's second book. Naturally I did, and took it on another vacation, savoring every page, and reading the construction methods aloud as a bedtime story to litlle Miss Ella each night.

    Thank you both for your inspiration and your continued creativity and sharing.

  14. Oh my, if I could have only been a mouse in the wall, peaeking out to see what you were doing--NO, wait, I would have had to scurry up on that table to get a closer look! Wonderful day. May you have many more together! Only, next time, I'm coming too!

  15. I *love* your pincushion bowl - so cute!

    Charlotte xx

  16. Run a camera next time. We'd all love to stitch along and listen in.

    Do people really have the amounts of money involved? Are there really people buying $360 dresses? I guess I'm out of the modern loop.

  17. oh this is SO beautiful :)

  18. Ooooo, what a lovely day. Next time can I come? :)

  19. Oh what a perfect day- I recently spent the day with Melanie Falick- working on our Natalie skirts...ahh bliss.

  20. Two amazing women coming together and sharing it with us all. I made your pin cushion, and now I want to make hers.

  21. Directions for Natalie's pin cushion are in Alabama Stitch Book, her first book.

    Thank you for the wonderful story and photos. It was almost as good as being there with you both. Two talented, lovely women.

  22. I love the pincushions too, especially the round one with the space in the middle. So useful. It looks like you had a delightful day of stitching.

  23. Honey, the south is a nation! ;)

    Looks like a lot of funny. I wish I had half the sewing talent either of you have!

  24. It's so fun to be able to sew with a good friend, ahh..sigh. I hope I can have a friend like that too, I mena sewing along as we chatting..
    That's the best.

  25. I'm Italian and I do the same thing. I love that you remembered to include what you had for lunch. That is just the kind of detail we needed to be there with you. And, oh, nothing says "friendship" like fried eggplant.

  26. Thank you so much for sharing your day with us! I have been looking forwards to hearing about it ever since you mentioned it last week.

  27. How special and fun Ann - thanks for sharing.

  28. What a beautiful day. And damn that lunch sounds good!

  29. day EVER!? it is obvious you two are beautiful - inside and out, and inspiration just eeks out of you. i love the pictures and descriptions in this post. just beautiful.

  30. What a lovely day it looks like y'all shared! I have to say that I LOVE your pincushion, i use mine all the time. i love how it is big enough to fit several different types of pins in little sections. And the hollow space in the center is ingenious! It was the first thing I made when I bought your book : D

  31. What an ideal way to share your day. I loved this post. Thank-You for sharing your visit with us!

  32. Thank you for introducing! As someone who LOVES to handsticth I love her work and the use of stencils too. Were the two of you sewing with buttonhole thread? I saw on her site it's her fave and I've always bought quilting thread...I'd love to know your take on that if you have time.
    Her designs are fabulous too.
    What a day that must have been with 2 such talented woman able to chat and sew together!

  33. Such a beautiful stiches! I really love them!

  34. i can imagine it was a delightful afternoon for both of you. her work is so inspiring!

  35. Beautiful! Thanks for letting me know about Natalie, her work is so inspiring.

  36. Wow, thanks so much for sharing your day with her. Two powerhouses together!

  37. Maureen6:43 PM

    What a gift you shared with us...I would have given just about anything to have been there! I've been knitting for about six years but did many years of crewel embroidery, trapunto, and needlepoint...I also loved to sew but haven't done much since we moved (downsized) and I lost my sewing room. My fingers are now itching to do some hand sewing again! I just ordered both of Natalie's books (I have yours already and love them!) and can't wait to get started! I also sent an inquiry to you via email on January 1. I'm resending it tonight in the hopes that you can send a quick response.

    Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful work!

  38. I LOVE N. Chanin- have her books- have made many t shirts here at home.....
    going to her trunk show in Berkeley in April....LOVE her stuff so much, I guess because I love to hand sew

  39. How cool! I love Natalie's work and I am from Florence, Alabama, too! I now live in the Birmingham area (about 2 hours south of Florence) but go home frequently to see family.

    Thanks for posting this! I love both pincushions. Do you have a pattern for yours?

  40. Natalie's work is amazing .. I was oooing and ahhhhing while reading your post!

  41. How wonderful is this post! I've met and written about Natalie and she is so lovely in person and her work, just beyond gorgeous. So glad I found your blog!

    xo Mary Jo

  42. The south IS it's own nation! ;)
    My mother refers to it as the "Promised Land." I cannot WAIT for Handmade Beginnings to come out. I got Seams to Me for Christmas and have been working my way through it! AND I went through the new Spring Simplicity catalog the other day and saw your fabric all over the pages! Exactly what I needed- more Anna Maria in my life :)

  43. Two of my favorite designers sitting across the table from one another....that's just fantastic!

  44. I love that as women, we love to bond and learn from each other . Natalie seems like a spiritual person and has a sense of depth that is so cool , same as yourself Anna Maria !

  45. Marianne1:47 PM

    This must be one of your loveliest posts. You tell about your day in such a way as to make me not wish, bet feel that I was there, meeting you both.
    And I agree, those drawings are amazing. Absolutely amazing

  46. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing it. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall; I think you are both such great women.

  47. I understand your appreciation for comments. I also understand the inability to reply to everyone! But your website is simply stunning and inspiring. I have stumbled upon it before, and today a friend sent me your link. Truly delicious, thank you.

  48. This comment has been removed by the author.

  49. I love this post so much. It speaks to me because I like to work similarly to this. I love to meander around shapes and create outlines. Plus, Natalie's work is just so beautiful and well done. I just keep coming back to it.

  50. Ok, Random question time.... the chair in this post with the pillow on the seat (photo credit is given to Robert Rausch). I'm noticing the regular seat (is it called cane) is missing and replaced with what looks like knit fabric strips? I have a chair in my son's room that is loosing the seat... I would love to replace the woven seat myself. If that chair belongs to you, I would love another photo of the seat and a little info about what type of fabric you used.
    cararolinson at gmail dot com THANK YOU!

  51. I left this comment on the wrong post. I will try again. . .
    I would love to have a pattern for the pin cushion and the sewing kit pictured in your posts. If possible, please e-mail me the information for them. Thanks, Sarah

  52. I'm in love with the pincushion that has the hollow center for scissors or trimmings. Is that one of her patterns?
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