Sensational Alabama Seamstress Comes to Sew at Camp Bacon!

An Interview with Natalie Chanin


Photo: Peter Stanglmayr

I first met Natalie Chanin at Southern Foodways Alliance. I don’t know Natalie that well but I do know her enough to say with confidence that pretty much everything she touches is very special, and that she moves through the world with a light and elegant energy the likes of which I’ve rarely experienced in the world.  In the small northern Alabama town of Florence she and her staff do an amazing job of cutting, sewing and reconstructing clothing to make some beautiful, limited edition items.  They do for clothing what our the artisan food producers we work with do for bread, cheese, olive oil and bacon—take great raw materials, traditional techniques, and a lot of careful hand work to make really excellent, limited edition items.   If you don’t know her work, check it out at her website. While she’s not directly in the food business, Natalie is a BIG supporter of Southern Foodways. And on top of all that, Natalie will be coming up our way for the weekend of Camp Bacon!

On Saturday, June 1st, Natalie will be speaking—and sewing—as part of Camp Bacon’s main event.  She’ll be doing a segment on Sewing with Bacon (you read that right!) that I’m personally really looking forward to!  To cap off her Zingerman’s Experience Seminar she’ll be staying after Camp to come to the ZingTrain two-day, Creating a Vision of Greatness seminar.  -Ari


Ari: I’m really excited that you’re coming to Ann Arbor to be part of Camp Bacon and to share your artisan approaches to clothing.  Since most folks up here won’t know you yet, can you tell us a bit about your business?

Natalie: Alabama Chanin is an artisan-based company based in Florence, Alabama. We make clothing, accessories, and home goods primarily by-hand, using the most ethical and sustainable methods possible. We have also published three craft books, have an ongoing dinnerware collaboration with Heath Ceramics, and, of course, have a deep appreciation for the food that goes onto those plates.

Ari: I’m sure you’ve told the story six thousand times by now but it’s a good one—how did you get the company started?

Natalie: I worked as a designer and stylist in Vienna, Austria, where I really got my education in style and design. My first Alabama Chanin-style garments I made for myself. The positive response I received from wearing those pieces gave me the idea to begin a clothing line. The company has continued to grow and expand and we hope to keep growing.

Ari: What’s drawing you to Camp Bacon?

Natalie: Other than the smell of sizzling bacon? I am looking forward to seeing all of my Southern Foodways Alliance friends and making new ones, and I believe that there is talk of some sort of bacon/sewing moment… Just saying.

Ari: What’s your experience with Southern Foodways Alliance?

Natalie: I’ve been involved with the Southern Foodways Alliance for almost a decade now. I admire their mission and goal because I feel that we believe in many of the same things—education, community, sustainability, individuality. I try to support the organization however I can, attend as many events as I can fit into my schedule, and I get a lot of love back (and a lot of food).

Ari: Was bacon a big part of what you ate as a kid?

Natalie: Growing up, we ate bacon and eggs for breakfast every day. Most days we ate toast, but on really good days there were biscuits. Bacon, eggs, and biscuits—the perfect breakfast. My daughter Maggie and I still use this format on many days (although she adores sausage as well).

Ari: Tell us about the sewing class/workshop that you’re going to be teaching while you’re here?

Natalie: The workshop we’re hosting allows each participant to select an Alabama Chanin DIY project to create. Then we bring all of the prepared materials and tools to complete the project. We’ll talk a little about Alabama Chanin, demonstrate different techniques and stitches, help one another with our projects, laugh, and tell stories… and, of course, eat good food.

Ari: You’re also staying over for the ZingTrain Creating a Vision of Greatness session on the Monday and Tuesday after Camp Bacon. what’s drawing you to it?

Natalie: I am just looking forward to having two days to sit and think about the company. As an entrepreneur, it happens so often that you get so busy running the day-to-day that you don’t really have a change to sit down and be creative with the company itself. Can’t wait to do a bit of brainstorming on that…