Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane


Falling Leaves

Just in time for autumn, although right now the sky is blue, the sun is shining and temperatures are hotter now than in August, my penultimate Alabama Chanin outfit from the flurry of needles and thread that started in the summer. I feel a wee bit daft wearing all this black and autumnal colours when it’s still practically summer.

This is especially for all those sewing bloggers who have decided to retire – this outfit is for you……(oh! and me too!). I miss you.

A knee length skirt with leaf applique, a coat embellished with black bugle glass beads with a reverse applique collar to mirror the skirt (the T-shirt is shop bought). Hand sewn in black and brown, it is supposed to straddle the navy/black outfit and the brown/pink outfit.


The coat is the fabulous vintage Vogue 8875: fitted and flared, cut on sleeves, princess darts, detachable collar, tie belt and I added two patch pockets. I shortened it quite considerably as I wanted the co-ordinating skirt to hang below. This is a double layer – black on the outside and brown on the inside, both mid-weight cotton jersey.

V8875 V8875







Quite honestly, the coat could be made out of sack-cloth and still look good. It is such a good shape. Mine is more like a cardigan because it’s made from cotton jersey but still retains an element of formality when paired with a skirt and hopefully will work just as hard well with a pair of jeans.



Two strips of cotton jersey around the hem held in place with a catchstitch and a running stitch, embellished with glass beads. And adds a good weight to the hem


Additional patch pockets made with a double layer of black and brown: more glass beads along the top and matching beading on the sleeve hems.



Detachable collar with one row of glass beads along the edge

The Vogue pattern instructs you to slip stitch the detachable collar in place but in my eyes that’s not detachable, so I sewed a few snaps to the back neckline and waist. Now it’s truly detachable and I might just make a navy/black version if I have enough fabric left over to perfectly match the navy/black skirt and tunic.



Detachable collar detached in an instant and last week’s brown bolero sleeves worn long under the bracelet length coat sleeves.


DSCN4536 And onto the skirt….

Pattern from Alabama Studio Style book; mid weight black cotton with light weight earth brown leaves. Knots left on the outside.


The stencil pattern was downloaded for free from AC website and printed out full size. I used a piece of heavy weight interfacing to make the stencil, although it wasn’t large enough for the whole stencil, so I just used part of it.


I’ve given up with dying and fabric painting techniques and now just trace the shapes with felt-tip pens directly onto the skirt pieces.


Then a fast and large running stitch around each shape. I’ve also abandoned the buttonhole thread – this skirt was made entirely (seams and all) with embroidery floss – a single strand doubled over. And it hasn’t fallen apart yet!


Once a reasonable area is stitched then I cut the uppermost brown layer away, leaving the leaves (ha ha)



Four panels later; the centre and side seams are stitched and felled, a bit of elastic stitched to the waist, a wash and press and Bob’s your uncle – a skirt!


My original intention was to embellish the coat the same as the skirt but it really would have been tooooo much, so I’m happy with the plainness and a bit of decoration on the collar only. Anyway, I’ll be able to wear with coat with more things.


The skirt also goes with the brown bolero from the pink/brown set – a real mix ‘n’ match ensemble.


Anyway, I’ve somehow acquired a steadily growing pile of wovens – wool and tweed and cotton and viscose and rayon and corduroy – Oh my! so I suppose I ought to cut into it and get the sewing machine cranked up again.


A last glance at a hand sewn outfit (for a little while anyway….) And let’s hope autumn comes soon so I can wear it!


For £62.82, some thread, a few packs of needles and some beads I’ve now got – three skirts, a tunic, two boleros, a T-shirt, a coat and a scarf  and a dress (unfinished) – about £8 each!




Are You Bored Yet?

Indulge me.

The next Alabama Chanin outfit.


No applique on this set – all plain – except for thousands of glass beads on skirt hem, T-shirt neck and sleeves. It weights a tonne and could easily be used as a weapon – one swipe of that hem as I sashay by and some innocent bystander would have bruises!

I did not do this in one week, so no comments about productivity  please – I had already started many of these pieces in the summer holidays and alternated between stitching, beading, seaming, cutting:  I had at least 5 garments on the go all at the same time! The benefit of this method is that each item moves forward little by little and then all of a sudden, one weekend, it only takes a few seams, a little washing, pressing and voila – all’s done!

I present to you for critical feedback and commentary – the plain brown and dusky pink beaded ensemble……mid-length skirt, T-shirt and bolero.


I added a 1″ strip of jersey and sewed the beads through both the sleeve and the strip for added strength.


For the skirt I sewed the beads onto a strip of jersey first, then stitched the beaded band to the skirt hem.




Bolero sleeves are folded back to show off the T-shirt sleeves beading



Mid weight cotton jersey for the skirt. Light weight for the T shirt and bolero

All patterns are from Alabama Studio Sewing and Design and made entirely by hand. There is a definite softness to hand stitched seams and once again very comfortable to wear. I’m not 100% convinced about the colour of the T-shirt but the original intention was to for it to be worn under a dress…..


One panel almost completed – only another three to go………………and if I still don’t like the colour it’s easy to change – as the fabric is all cotton – just dye it!



Black and Blue, and worn all over

If you know anything about Alabama Chanin or have seen the clothes, then I really don’t have much to add to your knowledge and exposure, so this post is really all about me and showing off!

First outfit finished! Yeah FINISHED……..



Everything is so tactile and soft


I lengthened the bolero to cut just above the waist rather than just below the back bra strap


Not so fitted tunic and skirt


Close up of 10,000,000 stitches – I counted!

DSCN4459 DSCN4466 DSCN4471


OK, so now a little bit of detail.

The bolero has a plait made from cotton jersey ropes around the edges, slipped stitched in place.



It is a wee bit reversible in that the black side has a band of jersey to cover the stitches on the navy side.


All the patterns are from Alabama Studio Sewing book: fitted tunic, mid length skirt and bolero. All the seams on each item are hand sewn and felled to the outside. The stencil pattern is Anna’s garden.


I underestimated how long it takes to cut out the stitched pieces – each skirt panel (4) took 3 hours in cutting! So now on my next pieces I stitch, then cut as I go. Probably still takes 3 hours but at least it’s interspersed with something interesting.

All the items are incredibly easy to wear, so comfortable and really surprisingly robust. I did think that hand sewn clothes would be fragile but they are very sturdy. I love the simple shapes of these pieces too. These are all double layered so I think they will last into winter and all the way out the other side.

I did a rough guess calculation, based on amount of embellishment and prices of similar things on AC website

Tunic – $1,300

Skirt – $2,700

Boler0 – $300

Scarf – $ 60

That’s a whopping $4,360, which I made for about £25 (excluding the book) and had a fun time doing it too. Now surely that’s reason enough for those of you still on the fence……


Time to sit back in the old deckchair where most of this work was done, relax, enjoy the early September sunshine and bask in the comfort and pride of sewing this all by hand…….. except…..



While I was in the garden taking the photos, look what DHL delivered

DSCN4481Another ten thousand metres of cotton jersey!


Swimming, not Drowning


Lying on the sun drenched sands of completion are a navy over black tunicDSCN4410

A reversible bolero (black & navy) and a matching scarf.DSCN4411

Paddling at the shoreline are two skirt backs being seamed at the centre…


Two skirt fronts, stitched and ready for cutting…


Running over the sand dunes are a plain brown, single layer knee length skirt..


And a plain brown, single layer bolero – both awaiting embellishment of a band of beads.


Further out at sea is a black and brown skirt


Floating on a Lilo and being carried by the tide is  a dusky pink T-shirt with thousands of glass beads at neck and sleeve ends….


Bobbing amongst the big waves is a brown over dusky pink dress, just started on stitching…


And way over the horizon is a black over brown coat – cut but still on the paper pattern.


And the boat is bringing more cotton jersey………



Not just the book…..

I think I may have forgotten to mention in my last post that my summer treat was not just the AC book but also included:

  1. 18m cotton jersey
  2. 800m  spool black thread
  3. 80m dusty pink buttonhole thread
  4. 5m fold over elastic – navy and black
  5. Spray mount
  6. Acetate sheets
  7. Fabric pens and  fabric dye
  8. Brushes, sponges and other miscellaneous items
  9. Trips to the print shop for A2 printing.
  10. The Craftsy class on hand embellishing knit fabrics (I paid full price one day before the 50% off sale! Duh!)


You see, I had a feeling that I was going to like Alabama Chanin and got prepared! I was right – I’m really enjoying it. I have traced off every pattern from the book – Alabama Studio Sewing and Design – and have gone through my existing patterns to select some that would be suitable for machine free sewing – those that are not too complicated or don’t have too many darts and closures etc. or only have a few pieces.



I have cut stencils, made samples and tested dyes, dyed fabric in the garden when it wasn’t raining and am now ready to sew a complete Alabama Chanin wardrobe.







So far I have cut out and prepared:

  1. Fitted tunic – navy & black – started sewing this one
  2. Long sleeved bolero- navy & black, plans for reversible too
  3. Mid length skirt- navy & black
  4. Mid length dress – brown and pink
  5. T-shirt – pink


I also intend to cut and prepare the following before returning to work next week:

  1. Bolero – brown
  2. Knee length skirt – brown and pink (if fabric permits)
  3. Coat/jacket (pattern unknown)  – black and brown
  4. Knee length skirt – black and brown (if fabric permits)

And… I have actually completed one item – a scarf!

This was a test base for sewing techniques – single thread, double thread, machine, colours, using cotton ‘ropes’ etc. and I may as well get something to wear from all that work.

DSCN4417DSCN4415 The lighter threads are machine done using two different colours of thread – grey and denim blue and stitch length of 5mm. This gives a very even stitch (obviously) but was really so much hassle, all that turning and starting and stopping, that I have voluntarily opted for the hand sewing route.


Reverse side with knots

Anyone interested in the technical details, processes and supplies (UK / Europe)?

If not, then skip this bit…..


Cotton jersey (not organic) purchased from Tissu – washed black, jet black, navy, earth brown, dusty pink, more earth brown; mixture of lightweight and medium weight, 3m of each colour. Lightweight means lightweight and would be thin and flimsy for a T-shirt but when doubled up with a second layer the fabric takes on a whole new persona while still retaining the stretch and comfort.


This seems to be the biggest issue when doing AC! I still don’t know if this is the ‘right’ stuff but it’s what I’m using and it’s sorta working out. Coats black Terko satin has a polyester centre and cotton strands which is what Natalie Chanin describes as her button craft thread. It is a “stiff’ thread and very tough as I cannot break it with my hands.

412 terco dk grey-160x120

 Coats Terko Satin is a cotton wrapped polyester corespun thread with a glace finish. Terko Satin combines the excellent sewing performance of cotton with the superior strength and elongation characteristics of continuous filament polyester. The cotton wrap protects the polyester core from needle heat even in the most demanding of applications. The glace finish binds together the fibrous surface of the thread and creates a lustrous finish to the thread with enhanced abrasion resistance.


Other thread is Gutermann Creativ silk buttonhole twist which glides through the fabric like a hot knife through butter and comes in 10,000 million colours, but is expensive and comes on tiny 10m spools.

Check out this site for a range of threads – The Lining Company. This is where I bought mine from.

My novice advice to anyone interested in trying AC style of sewing is just pick a thread and try it; buttonhole thread seems to be ideal as it’s thick – don’t dwell on what the thread is called, you’ll know thick thread when you see and feel it.


This is the one section where you could spend time, money and effort but you don’t have to. I downloaded Anna’s Garden design full size from Alabama Chanin website for free and stuck the PDF on a USB pen. This was then printed out at the print shop onto A2 paper for £3.

The one and only craft shop in Belfast didn’t have Mylar so I bought 4 sheets of A4 acetate and taped them together to make A2.


Then I did the usual thing with the craft knife and cut out each and every shape! Honestly, if you do have $90 buy the stencil from AC!

To get the stencil design onto the fabric I veered off course completely here:



I knew I’d be scrappy and imprecise at applying fabric paint / dye to the fabric and decided to be subtle about the colours and if I really messed up then it wouldn’t be so noticeable and I could pass it off as a deliberate design element.I unscientifically mixed up some Dylon hand dye and a handful of salt with some water in a 1 litre milk carton and shook it until it all appeared to be dissolved. I spray-mounted the stencil to the fabric and painted the stencil gaps like a 3 year old. Yes, I got bleed; yes, I missed a few; yes, I filled in the gaps with free hand shapes.


There’s one thing that Natalie Chanin says in her Craftsy class and this constantly resonates around my head – a conversation between a pupil and the master:

Student – “What’ll happen if….I use a different thread; I miss a stencilled shape; my edges don’t line up; etc. etc.etc”

Natalie – “Nothing.”

How true. It’s not a cure for cancer nor will it solve world hunger – it’s a skirt! Keep everything in perspective my friends and all will be well.

My real problem is that my dyeing technique is so subtle that it’s difficult to see the shapes to sew around. So I then drew around the shapes again with a felt tip pen. This washes out.


Sewing Alabama style is not quick or easy but it can be made quicker and easier and your choice of needles is paramount – so spend your money, effort and time on this area.

_HBL0978-180x180I started with Merchant and Mills’s easy thread needles – brilliant for me with my AGE related eyesight. Cut 12 strands of thread and clip each through the top of the needle. Easy and quick. I am testing thinner and longer needles at the moment and I’m sure there is a number somewhere that denotes this needle type but I don’t know it because I threw the packaging out. So, dig out your existing needles and test them. Personally, I’ve found the thinner and longer the better for my style of sewing but maybe not necessarily for you.



My stitches are closer to 1/4″ than 1/8th”  which is fine with me. You are going to be sewing about a trillion stitches for each garment so if one or two (or 1,000) are slightly longer or shorter, will they really, I mean really, be noticeable? What’ll happen? – Nothing!

So don’t beat yourself up about it. What I would suggest however, is reverse your typically sewing order and start with the back pieces. By the time you make it to the fronts your stitches will be just fine.

Keep the stitches big! You want them to be noticeable but not glaring. You need them to robustly hold the layers together and delicate stitches will not do this. Do try, but don’t lose sleep over it, to have even sized stitches.







When the sewing seems endless and it appears that you are getting nowhere, just sit and flick through the book or drool over Google images of Alabama Chanin, and you’ll soon pick up where you left off.4e3ce38ca5636a9bd18ba16ee75c6512


I no longer measure sewing time in hours and minutes but in needles. I take a zen-like 5 minutes in the morning and thread up an army of needles. I aim to use them all up over the course of a day.





There is something otherworldly about wearing a completely handmade item – accomplishment, achievement, relief that it hasn’t fallen apart! You know how you all feel when you are wearing your own makes – well it’s that feeling times 100!

If you want the genuine thing then the AC website sells the whole kit and caboodle – from needles and thread to fabric and everything in between.

The only problem with AC style of sewing is that while it is fabulous for me, it’s really boring for you: you have to wait for weeks to see a finished garment and even then, it’ll be the same style over and over again. So my plans are to continue with AC in between ‘normal’ sewing. I already have my A/W wardrobe in my fabric box – all I have to do is choose patterns, cut and sew…..

Happy and stress-free sewing! May all your stitches be even….



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