Thursday, May 4, 2017

MAKERS: pre- Custom Workroom Conference in Nashville

I got home at 9:30 last night from the Custom Workroom Conference in Nashville...... a 5-day trip packed with adventure, inspiration, education, and friendship.  I taught two classes, "Taking the Stress out of Relaxed Roman Shades" and "Streamlining Top Treatments."  As a MAKER I am ALL ABOUT simultaneously maximizing quality and efficiency.  I'm also all about the fusion of fun, work, and learning, and by that standard, these 5 days were a spectacular success.  The conference was produced by Susan Woodcock and Rodger Walker, who made a whole lot of hard work look effortless.

This is a LONG POST about the pre-conference trip, which unintentionally was essentially all about MAKING.  Our trip began when Jen White left her house at 3:15am Saturday to pick me up.  This first blog post ends Sunday evening- before the conference even began!  Our pre-conference adventures were sewn together with a common thread: it was all about MAKERS.  Makers of textiles, makers of music; makers both ancient and modern; makers of luxuries, makers of necessities; makers of food, makers of drink; and makers of history.

Jen and I left New York at 6:40am on Saturday, and barely made our flight thanks to road closures on the way to LaGuardia Airport.  Our luggage didn't make our plane, but we did, and enjoyed a great flight with a friendly seat-mate with whom we laughed it up in the back of the plane all the way to Nashville.
Our destination was Florence, Alabama, and the goal was to visit the factory and headquarters of Alabama Chanin.  Alabama Chanin embodies the essence of modern MAKERS.  Natalie Chanin is one of my heroes.
The showroom is a fantasia of exquisite textile work.
When we were disappointed to learn that there were no factory tours on Saturdays, and since we had come "all the way from New York" to see the Alabama Chanin facility, the staff unbelievably gave us a private tour, and that tour kind of blew my mind.  Alabama Chanin is essentially a cottage industry.  Local sewers produce the custom garments by hand in their own workrooms, fabricating to the company's unique aesthetic and standards.  The work is rustic and impeccable at the same time- you know, exactly the kind of juxtaposition of opposites that make my heart skip.  Natalie's market expanded when she branched out from custom work and began the School of MAKING- offering products and kits for people to MAKE her garments for themselves.  DIY MAKERS.  I came away with my head spinning with fresh possibilities for MAKING, new ideas for business models for MAKING, and renewed inspiration for teaching MAKING.
We made our way to the town of Florence, a haven for MAKERS, brimming with local artists and home and apparel designers.  At the Billy Reid store I was lucky enough to find a beautiful shirt for John at half-price.  The friendly staff was familiar with Alabama Chanin since the two companies have been collaborators on projects, so they were delighted with our story about our private tour of The Factory.
After lunch at Rosita's, we walked toward the river to visit the Indian Mound and Museum.
This ancient Mound is a well-preserved artifact of pre-Columbian Woodlands Indians, kin to other Mounds throughout the central and southern US states.  MAKERS.  I was grateful and humbled for the chance to privately view these artifacts, a timely reminder of the Chain of Knowledge of Making running through pre-history and pre-Columbian America right straight through to Alabama Chanin, Billy Reid, and me and Jen and our own tribe- all of us MAKING our way to a convention of MAKERS.
The museum had just closed when we arrived, but in keeping with what we were learning was typical super friendliness in Florence, the gentleman who was beginning to lock up invited us in, turned the display lights back on, and gave us an overview of the Mound history, and let us wander through the exhibits without hurrying us.  
Back up in town, we found ourselves in the midst of the People's Climate March, sponsored by Northwest Alabama Indivisible.  What a surprise!  We chatted with other like-minded people who were there to voice their love and concern for our planet: MAKERS of history, TAKERS of responsibility.
Performing was our new favorite band- Mitch Mann and the Mojo Mixers- a group of rootsy pros who are also links in a long chain of MAKERS, like us- in this case, MAKERS of Music.  
Florence, Muscle Shoals, and other adjacent towns are at the heart of a long history in American music recording.  Old-timey blues music-MAKERS were recorded here, and later, my own music- the Rolling Stones; the Allman Brothers; Bob Dylan; many, many others.  The chain remains unbroken today.
If we had set out to find a fine local band, we couldn't have done any better.  We were lucky we found our way there,  and were disappointed that we had to get back to Nashville for our missing luggage and couldn't hang out for more music later.
They even played every sewer's favorite Donovan song..... "you've got to pick up every stitch....."   ....... can't improve on that!
 So we headed back north, fetched our luggage, and since at that late hour there were few rooms available, found ourselves in a room with these window treatments........ NO WORDS. 
Morning found us up in town, checking out vintage Nudie Cohn stage costumes over local beer and fried pickles, at Nudie Cohn's Honky Tonk.  OF COURSE there was live music at noon.  Do you know about Nudie Cohn's costumes?  You need to.  You really need to.   Click and learn.  I've put 3 links there for you to check out.  Do it.
Talk about MAKERS- Nudie Cohn was the creme de la creme of stage costume- and I aspire to produce my things with the same level of expertise and creativity. 
Oh, right, and we sampled products from local beverage MAKERS- any beverage with "hop" in it- has my name on it.  Look at those bottles, Hap and Hop LOL
MAKERS of music kept us entertained at Nudie's- as they do in every window-front in town, apparently all day and all night, every day and every night.  I need to get back to Nashville for more.  That's one of Nudie's own Cadillacs hung over the stage.
Nashville is full of purveyors of HAND-MADE boots and hats.  Too bad I can't wear cowboy boots- not with my instep- and hats give me a headache.  My great-uncle W. Z. Leatherwood used to wear a white Stetson and bolo and boots every day of his life. 

The MAKER of Bluegrass- Bill Monroe- arrived in Nashville in 1945 with his brand-new music genre.  One of John's most memorable gigs as an audio engineer was with Bill Monroe when he performed in our area back in..... 1985 maybe?  88?  It was always an honor and a thrill to work with professional musicians of that caliber, and especially those of the old-timey generation of MAKERS that's long gone now. 
Since this was a work trip I didn't have time to get to the Grand Ole Opry, BUT, as a one-time roadie myself for John, I did make a point to walk Ryman Alley between the Ryman Auditorium and Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, feeling a faint frisson that just might have been the faint echo of the footsteps of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash........
At the Country Music Hall of Fame, we professional sewers wandered the halls marveling at the workmanship of more stage costumes by MAKERS both old and current.  My favorite display was Johnny Cash's boots and black suit. 
From there we made a mad dash through blinding rain to the car, coffee in hand, drenched, and reluctantly left Nashville behind, heading for the conference center where we happily came smack-dab up against OUR OWN TRIBE- professional soft furnishings fabricators, our work soul-mates, our fellow textile obsessives, our fellow MAKERS, all checking in together.  I did have to make a panic run at 7:50pm to Best Buy which closed at 8pm, for one last projector cable, what John says is a "just-in-case, not-gonna-need-it but what-if-somebody-does-need-it" cable...... (which, of course, nobody needed!).... and then it was time for a final run through my first Keynote presentation, and, finally, some sleep.  My first class, coming at 8am Monday!  More tomorrow........


  1. u learn something everyday....never heard of this

    1. Are you talking about the Custom Workroom Conference? If you’re a professional workroom or fabricator, check it out! Next one is one year from now. Let me know if you decide to attend!