THE HEART: THE FACTORY
If you visit our studio here in Alabama, you will arrive to find that we are housed in a sturdy, industrial-style, metal building which we call “The Factory.” Our community was, for generations, home to textile mills that employed an incredible number of area residents. This industrial building where we work and spend hours of our lives has seen thousands of workers pass through the doors over the years; it has heard the hum of machines running and the voices and laughter of employees passing the day away. This building is part of Alabama Chanin’s history, but, more importantly, it is part of our community’s history—a symbol of economic boom, hard times, and community rebuilding.
Tennessee River Mills, a local textile company, built the building that we call The Factory in 1982. In 1996, the Wylie family and Tee Jays Manufacturing acquired the building and all of its equipment, located in Florence’s industrial park, to use as a t-shirt manufacturing facility. Tee Jays started primarily as a screen printing facility, but grew into a comprehensive operation, creating textiles from yarn, then sewing, dyeing, and screen printing the final products. In this building alone, there were 54 circular knitting machines and six large dye machines, each having a capacity of 600 to 1000 pounds of fabric per cycle. Approximately 300,000 pounds of fabric were knit and dyed in this building every week. Around 450 sewers were employed in this space, sewing basic t-shirts, raglan-sleeve garments, sweatshirts, and a range of other products. The facility housed about 650 people, just a fraction of the people employed by Tee Jays.
Though Tee Jays and many other local manufacturers closed shop after the passage of NAFTA legislation, Terry Wylie retained ownership of the building. This facility, known to the Tee Jays staff as Building 14, was largely empty after 2001. The massive space measures about 105,000 square feet in total. Knowing how difficult it might be to find a tenant who required that much room, the Wylie family decided to recruit smaller companies and break up the building into more manageable spaces. The former Building 14 has housed Alabama Chanin since 2007 and we are neighbored by several other office and storage spaces. Alabama Chanin and the developing A. Chanin line utilize a total of 20,000 square feet of the building: 5,000 for the studio and Alabama Chanin production, 10,000 for the new machine-sewn textile facility, and 5,000 for our new event space.
As we’ve mentioned, our production manager, Steven Smith, once worked in this very building. He worked for Tee Jays for many years in about seven different buildings, two of those years in our current Alabama Chanin space. Steven was a floor person, a unit supervisor, and worked in the dye house. Toward the end of the textile boom, Steven was one of the last two Tee Jays workers in this building, one of the last to leave the dye house before the company closed the doors one final time. He admits that coming back to this space with Alabama Chanin was surreal. His current office was once the Tee Jays plant manager’s office. Seeing the massive space subdivided was initially jolting; sometimes he still sees the building as it once was. Where he once saw shirts cut and sewn dozens at a time, he now oversees garments cut piece-by-piece, by hand. And he will be here to, once again, hear the hum of sewing machines. It is a true, full-circle moment.
Faye Davis, a former Tennessee River Mills employee who has also worked for Alabama Chanin, told us: “I graduated from high school on Saturday and went to work in the plant on Monday. The man in charge asked me ‘Does your mama know you’re here?’” She replied that her mother was, in fact, working and sewing in the plant. Faye went on to describe how the people, the workers, at the plant were her family. “We shared lunches, and family, and raised our kids.” Faye has also returned to this building. She once operated an automatic hemming machine and a back-tacker (a machine that closed t-shirt sleeve seams) in Building 14’s sewing room. She went on to work 11 years for Tee Jays, though in another building. Today, you will find her in the Alabama Chanin Factory sitting, again, at a sewing machine, although producing garments in much smaller quantities.
Steven says that, after the devastating mill closures of the 1990’s, he never imagined working with textiles again, let alone in the same building where he stood so long ago. Working here with Alabama Chanin gives him a fresh perspective on where the textile and garment industry can go and how it might grow. We find a strength and a safety working in a place with such a storied history. Sometimes it seems that the building has a bit of wisdom to pass on, that it is invested in us and wants us to succeed. We at Alabama Chanin want to remain in the former Building 14, now The Factory, for years to come. We want to be a part of revitalizing the textile industry here in The Shoals and we want to honor those who worked here – the Fayes, Stevens, and their contemporaries – and helped build our community.
The Factory, part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.
Third Mondays @ The Factory
Join us the third Monday of every month in our new expanded studio space to sew and socialize. Spend your morning working on your latest project in the company of fellow sewers. Share inspiration, encouragement, and fellowship. Coffee, tea, and light breakfast will be available for purchase from The Factory Café. Please bring your own fabric and sewing notions.
Monday, January 19, 2015
8:30 am – 11:30 am
Monday, February 16, 2015
8:30 am – 11:30 am
462 Lane Drive
Florence, AL 35630
For more information, contact: jennifer (at) alabamachanin.com or call +1.256.760.1090
GRAM PERKINS’ EGG SALAD + HOMEMADE PICKLES
My Gram Perkins passed down several recipes to me through the years. I keep most of them in a recipe book my mother compiled of family recipes. From Chocolate Pie to Thanksgiving dressing, Gram Perkins’ delicious Southern dishes continue to make their way onto my table—always tasting amazing, but not quite as good as when she made them.
One of the simplest (and most beloved) recipes she gave to me was for egg salad, featuring homemade Fourteen-Day Pickles (also known as sweet or bread-and-butter pickles). I think of it as one of the ultimate comfort foods. When I was a child, Gram Perkins often served it to me as a summer lunch or afternoon snack. I have vivid memories of sitting in her kitchen, watching her prepare her famous egg salad sandwich for me—always with extra pickles in a jar on the table.
After my Gram Perkins passed away, my granddaddy, lovingly known as Perk, continued making the famous Fourteen-Day Pickles. My mother carries on the family tradition today by gifting pints of these treasures every holiday season. Egg salad is definitely better with this homemade version but there are great bread-and-butter pickles available on the market today that you can use for your homemade egg salad. We recently taste tested the Blackberry Farm version and found it delicious.
No one really knows when egg salad itself was created, but it became a popular luncheon salad in the early 1800s, after French chef Marie-Antoine Carême invented mayonnaise as we know it today. A sister to tuna and chicken salad, egg salad is a nice option for those looking for a simple lunch, packed with protein.
We’ve started serving Gram Perkins’ egg salad in The Factory Café, complete with homemade pickles, made from her recipe. Stop by for lunch (new menu below) and try it on whole wheat sourdough toast, served with julienned honey crisp apples. (Trust me—the pairing of eggs and apples is delicious.)
GRAM PERKINS’ EGG SALAD
Yields 2 cups
1 1/2 cup whole eggs, hardboiled and coarsely chopped (about 5 eggs)
2 tablespoons Fourteen-Day Pickles—coarsely chopped (recipe below)
2 tablespoons lemon garlic aioli (see recipe below)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
Chives, for garnish
Chop the hardboiled eggs and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped pickle, aioli, mustard, cayenne, and kosher salt. Stir using a whisk. Add in the eggs, folding them in gently using a rubber spatula. Garnish with chives, if desired.
Store refrigerated in an airtight container.
LEMON GARLIC AIOLI
Yields about 1 cup
1 whole egg
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Blend the egg, lemon juice, and garlic using a food processor or immersion blender on low speed. Gradually increase the speed, streaming in the olive oil until the mixture thickens. Season with salt and pepper.
Store refrigerated in an airtight container.
GRAM PERKINS’ FOURTEEN-DAY PICKLES
2 gallons cucumbers—sliced into 1/4″ rounds
1 gallon water
1 pint salt
2 1/2 pints vinegar
4 quarts sugar
Pickling spice (see recipe below)
Canner and canning supplies
Wash cucumbers thoroughly and slice into approximately 1/4″ rounds. Combine warm water and salt and let cool to create brine. Place cucumbers into a ceramic pickle crock and cover with brine. Let cucumbers and brine stand seven days, making sure that they are completely covered with brine. You can place a plate on top of the brine to make sure that all cucumbers remain below the water line.
Pour off brine and add 1 gallon water. Let stand 24 hours.
Pour off water and add 1 gallon fresh water and a lump of alum the size of a walnut. Let stand 24 hours.
Mix sugar, vinegar, and a handful of pickling spice. Boil 3 minutes. Pour over cucumbers.
Pour off the vinegar mixture (cucumbers remain in container), boil for 3 minutes, and pour back over cucumbers. Repeat this process each day for 4 days.
On the 5th day, boil the vinegar mixture for 5 minutes. While boiling, place cucumbers in sterilized jars. Pour hot vinegar mixture over and follow instructions for canning to create a seal on pickle jars. Label and store in a cool, dark place.
Note: A half bushel of cucumbers makes approximately 2 1/2 gallons sliced cucumbers. Yields approximately 16 pints of pickles.
2 tablespoons whole mustard seeds
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 bay leaves, crumbled
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
6 whole cloves
Mix all ingredients together in a sterilized jar and store in a cool, dark place.