Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane


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….



Sweet Home Alabama

Every summer when the exam marking is finished and payment is received, I treat myself. This year I bought Alabama Studio Sewing and Design book and I may just have found my spiritual sewing home, albeit 2 to 3 years after everyone else. DSCN4383Between the book, blogs and Flickr – I have been scouring every source for images, techniques and ideas of this gloriously homemade rustic look. I appreciate that Alabama Chanin may not be everyone’s idea of chic but personally I think it is fabulous: the clean simple lines of the clothes are highlighted with the the sewing techniques and applique methods, the beaded embellishments are staggeringly beautiful and this is coming from someone who does not like bling! I could wax lyrical for hours about Alabama Chanin……it’s obsessive.

a5 images-1 images

I’ve always enjoyed hand sewing as part of a project – pad stitching a tailored jacket collar or adding trim to a Chanel style jacket, fell stitching lining to a coat- but to construct an entire garment without the machine, that’s new and slightly daunting.






White on White

I had some ivory jersey 100% cotton and some pure white jersey cotton with lycra lying in the box and used these as a test of AC: to see if I could do it; to see if I liked it; to see how long it would take; to see if it fell apart after one wear.

The book comes with traceable patterns for a long dress and skirt that is simply cropped off at various lengths to make a fitted top, a tunic, a short dress and skirt, a mid dress and skirt – ingenious. There’s also patterns for a T-shirt, a bolero and dimensions for hat, poncho, shawl and gloves – entire wardrobe, head to toe.


I choose the fitted top as my test. I do not have stencils, fabric dye, buttonhole threads and all the other accoutrements that are required to produce a genuine Alabama Chanin creation, so I just went with what I had to hand.









Having traced the pattern and cut out two layers of the ivory and the white, I took a felt tip pen and drew some random circles on the top (ivory) pieces.


I found some thick but cheap beige polyester thread in the notions drawer and started sewing.

I attempted various embroidery stitches, applique methods, adding sequins and glittery things – in fact, my fitted top is really a sampler of various AC techniques.


Reverse applique with sequiny things


Scrapy French knots (otherwise known as tangled knots) – I invented a new embroidery stitch! After a few washes the felt tip pen circles disappeared.


More tangled knots and some couching


Shiny things and stars and a fossilised fern leaf!


Neck binding


All the tops, skirts and dresses have four panels – two for the front and two for the back: no darts or closures, just shaping from the pattern and a good fit.


Felled seams on the outside, no hem treatment and all four panels are different and unique

And I love it! I love wearing it and I loved making it.

I love the fit and the surprising robustness; I love the white on white. It’s the perfect sewing project because it’s portable, just thread up a few needles and sit in the garden or on the beach slowly sewing in the sun or lounging on the sofa with one eye on a movie. My embroidery is atrocious and my running stitch leaves a lot to be desired – but practice makes perfect, right?

So I moved on to the bolero.


Two layers but plainer


Sleeve detail


Floating seams on the outside

Check out these creations: Julie, Annekata, Dr. Fun, Carolyn

And take a look at the Flickr site, there is such a wealth of talent out there that I feel positively intimidated (in a good way).

There are You Tube videos, full selection here

A Craftsy class (recently added to my wish list)

How can you not love a designer who wears her own creations?

How can you not love a designer who wears her own creations?


Sway back adjustment needed


The double layer of cotton jersey is comfy and helps hold in the wibbly- wobbly bits too


From a distance the white on white and crappy embroidery is very subtle


With bolero


OK OK, the circle placement on the front could have been better…..


And not a sewing machine in sight. I’m hooked. I may not sew any other way ever again…………….

Nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to photograph this fitted top and bolero in the dappled sunshine under our tree, so let me leave you with the view from my sewing room window this morning – while many of you are moaning and wilting in the heat, spare a thought for those of us who live in Ireland.


My forlorn deckchair with a puddle in the seat where most of the fitted top sewing was done! Irish summers! I ask you


Bold 2 in 1

I didn’t wear the hat but I did wear the knickers!

I have only one photo on my camera that I’m in: isn’t the bridal party beautiful?

And I wasn’t the only one wearing homemade clothes – the bride’s mother made the dresses!


It was a perfect day.

But living in a castle, being waited on every minute of the day and night and eating and drinking for 12 hours solid  has to come to an end some time so all the glad rags are washed and packed away silently waiting for another grand occasion.


There aren’t too many gaps in my wardrobe – that’s the benefit of making your own clothes – but there are two styles of dresses that were missing – a shirt waister and a maxi. I’ve been avidly reading about shirt waister dresses and researching patterns and various styles and settled on Vogue 8829. V8829 V8829I believe this now OOP but it must be quite recently as I think I only bought the pattern in the one before last Vogue pattern sale. There is a multitude of options on this dress – long, short, A-line, straight skirt, sleeveless or any length of sleeve you want. It’s great.

I’ve avoided the maxi dress until now because – I don’t know why – just have.  Anyway, I combined the two into one…….


The fabric is an bold African cotton seersucker by Julius Holland and a meagre £16 gets you an amazing 5 yards (albeit only 45″ wide); a black and white geometric embossed wax print from Middlesex Textiles. I also purchased a few other black and white designs while I was there. The cotton is not a soft drapey fabric but  remains a little stiff even after washing, however  this means it keeps its shape. Just be aware that most of the prints are large motifs which is not always clear from the website photos. As you can see, I went for the maxi view C – this is achieved by sewing a band around the bottom of the skirt so easily removed if I change my mind about the length.

The fabric necessitated a bit of headache inducing pattern matching – want to see some good chevrons?


The dress has a centre back pleat for ease of movement and I just made a self-fabric tie belt. The pattern calls for only 8 buttons on this maxi length but I put on 14! I felt I needed the extra security and thought the last button was just too high – creating a crotch view split!




All in all – I’m happy with the length and the dress itself for summer wear. This is a kind of muslin as I have some delicious wool and linen mix for autumn workwear and it’s going to be this dress. I’ll make the collar a little smaller, make the straight skirt (turning waist pleats into darts), add some in-seam pockets and stick in some sleeves.


Are your thoughts turning to autumn/winter wear already too? Or spring/summer if you’re in the southern hemisphere? Regardless, happy and successful sewing to you all!




Literally, head to toe -


With the itty-bitty bits left over, I’ve now got matching underwear! Now, what boutique in the world could offer you that?

Pattern is Fehr Trade’s Lacy Thong, once again, downloadable and free.

I really am indebted to all the sewing sisters out there who give their time and designs for us mere mortals to abuse and misuse – from the bottom of my heart – THANK YOU.



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