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Here’s what I learned yesterday at @AlabamaChanin, the famous and fabulous handsewn, all organic, design studio:  Sometimes when you’re holding on by a thread . . . what you need is some hand sewing. 


We’ll call this the Reverse App.


My wonderful friend @Jessamynhatcher, scholar and professor of the politics of fashion, took 35 NYU students to Florence last year–Florence, Alabama.   They spent a week or two there, with Natalie Chanin, the genius behind Alabama Chanin, and learned about the beauty of organic cotton (there are not enough organic cotton seeds left in the world to meet the need), the timelessness of handsewing, the pride of artisanship and also the pride of owning a fashion company that believes in fair wages, honoring workers, honoring the soil, honoring the fabric, honoring the wearer.    And yesterday, Jessamyn invited my partner Ken and me to spend the afternoon in the penthouse of the gorgeous, stylish ultra-hip Standard Hotel in New York City, in the Village, handsewing book covers with some of the most illustrious NYC design stars (i.e. the incoming curator of the Costume Institute, the editor of T Magazine, the woman who has revitalized the gorgeous Heath Pottery factory . . . and on and on).  Who was there was as stunning as the view but what won the show was the calm we shared as, so humbly and beautifully, we took two pieces of cloth, stitched around the stencils, then cut through to reveal the lovely hidden color below:  reverse applique.   What a metaphor!  


We sat quite quietly, talking, introducing ourselves, and, in my case and Ken’s, learning how to do things like:  thread a needle (you bring the needle to the thread, not the reverse), tie a knot, love the thread (to get out the kinks and align the polymers in the cotton plys).


Here’s the secret:  when the world seems too connected, too overwhelming, too full of work, the hand-work of sewing slows it all down.


Here’s the other secret:  all those tiresome handwrigning pundits, who think that, because young people (and all the rest of us) spend a lot of time online, that means, ipso facto, that we’ve all become shallow, distracted, and lonely:  well, those pundits just need to spend more time–a lot more time–with some of the connected, wired people I know:  we wired ones also love to make things.   We connected learners also love DIY.  Those are not contradictions, they are continuous parts of life.   Why don’t the tiresome pundits realize this?  Why do they make us into stereotypes, automatons, not complex and multi-dimensional human beings, stitched together in all kinds of ways, by all kinds of circumstances.

Think about the possibilities for the handstitched, the handmade that the Web makes possible.  Outlets like Etsy allow handwork and handcraft to thrive by providing a vehicle, without intervention of an overseer or price-gauging middle-man, to reach the people who want it, an online bazaar (the original metaphor of the World Wide Web:  it’s not a cathedral–with flying buttresses and other stable architecture but a crowd-making, on-the-fly-suited-to-the-needs bazaar).   Heath Pottery thrives now online.   AlabamaChanin thrives online.  And those of us who live so much of our lives online, also know the preciousness of, well, handsewing, of reverse application, as metaphor and lifestyle.


Go to any tech firm:  first thing you see, the bike racks.

Go on a trek where there’s no bandwidth:  run into a programmer or two.

Go to a Maker Fair in your city, and find all the online learning folks.

Go to YouTube and find an education, supplied by handcrafters, for handcrafters, courtesy of the bazaar.

Slow Food Movement and the Internet grew up together, with the word about the Slowness communicated by text, blogs, email.

SteamPunk everything.

Folk music and freaky folk

Young Adult Literature didn’t exist as a formal category–or the major place in bookstores–before the Internet.

These are not opposites or compensations but, like reverse applique, something of one lovely color that shows through when you make it visible by cutting through the surface, going deeper (but carefully!) to what is below, and then highlighting it, outlining it, letting it quietly glow for you, a thing of beauty.  Reverse applique.


Of course the Internet can make us shallow, distracted, and lonely—but I’m guessing that’s because, even without the Internet, we feel shallow, distracted, and lonely.   If you are given the World Wide Web and use it to replicate the world without, you are not taking its potential beauties to heart.


And some of those beauties come in the form of a delicate invitation, to an afternoon overlooking the city, needle in hand, sewing organic cotton to organic cotton, stitching around the stencil, cutting through with tiny scissors, and seeing the beauty shine through.  Something learned.  (I can sew?! Moi?!) Something new.  Conversation.  Friendship.  Quiet.  Calm.  Slowness.


All week the exquisite Alabama Chanin will be at a pop up store at 54 Bond Street in New York.  You can read more about it here:     And, if you are not in NYC, you can read about it on line, visit the store online, or, even better, make the trek (actual or mental) to Florence, Alabama, with an afternoon of cloth:  threading, sewing, knotting, cutting, letting the glowing colors beneath the surface of a calm afternoon shine through, among friends:  Reverse Applique. 





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Cathy N. Davidson

Cathy N. Davidson

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