A book of soul, stitches and stories.
A generous gift card from a friend allowed me to treat myself to the next visual book on my list, clothing designer and textile historian Natalie Chanin's Embroidery: Threads and Stories from Alabama Chanin and the School of Making (Abrams, 2022)....and what a treat it is.
In addition to acting as chief designer of the sustainable clothing company called Alabama Chanin, Chanin has made a short film focused on the stories of quilters, collaborated with a variety of artists and organizations in her home community of Florence, Alabama and beyond, and founded The School of Making, which offers textile supplies and a variety of workshops. This book is her fifth.
Before I rhapsodize, let me declare myself. I don't sew, stitch, quilt or embroider. Tempted as books like this one or Kaffe Fassett's occasionally make me, I'm fairly certain never will.
Happily, that doesn't matter. This isn't so much a book about how to sew as about how to live. Live soulfully. Live creatively. Live sustainably. Live generously. Live in a way that balances self and community, past and present, present and future, patience and eagerness, beauty and utility. Full of resonant images and searching stories, Chanin's journey speaks to, witnesses and embodies, all of that.
Plus, she's a born storyteller. The Introduction begins with the line, "Some years ago, I stood on a stage in New York City and believed I was dying" and ends with this: Every step I've taken since that day has led me closer to home. Twenty-one years later, I sit here and think that this may not be redemption, but it looks like something that veers in that direction. Creative process is filled with fear and vulnerability, and yet, we rise up every day and keep making stories." Amen, sister.
Plus, it's a gorgeous book. Quotes from Chanin and others set on images of fabric or knitting. Two-page spreads devoted to small things like a traveling sewer's roll and big things like the Southern sky. Textures everywhere: a boll of cotton, a jacket embroidered with a story, hand-scribbled notebook pages, a bevy of old bone needles...and of course, stitches and stitchery galore, photographed so perfectly I could swear it was possible to tug at the threads.
Wisdom, story, beauty. In my world, a book doesn't get better than that. —Suzanne Fox