Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane

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

28 thoughts on “Sweet Home Alabama

  1. I love your white on white AC creations. I am in the middle of my first AC project too (you will think I’m stalking you with the Ziggi jacket and now this!). I made wearable muslins of the tank and short skirt and wore both lots on a recent holiday (just about to blog them), so I can’t wait to finish the real thing – a grey on purple skirt. I hope you make more of these, I’ll look forward to seeing them if you do.

  2. Lovely, great to see this white on white. I do have two of the books but never got round to doing a project with this technique. For me it’s a “sometime in the future” project. Seeing your top reminds me again of it.

  3. Dropped by from you review on PR, thank you for posting this. I look at some of these AC items on the web and I think “I could never make something wearable, my stitches would never be good enough!” Your stitches aren’t perfect but it is still great and wearable (and plus you did not invest in a bunch of extra tools). You may give me the courage to try!

  4. Never thought of doing this type of sewing for wearables, but maybe I’ll give it a try. Your enthusiasm is motivating!

  5. OK, the “uneven nipple placement” of the circles is quite amusing, but what a great first project! Very flattering!

  6. What a great post! I’m always curious to see others AC makes, and I really like that you just dove straight in, using whatever was available from stash. As for your circle placement…. maybe you could wear the top backwards? 😀 Looking forward to more!

  7. I love all the texture of AC pieces, and something about the idea of not using a machine to make clothes appeals to me. I look forward to seeing your future makes like this, and I hope you get more dry sunny days to sew in your deck chair:)

  8. Oh no, not you too, I thought when I saw the title. I am trying not to get interested in AC. it’s not working very well.

    • Two pieces of advice Elle – 1, just give in and go for it – you’ll love it. 2, don’t get started at all, it will take over your life! Your choice!

  9. Cute garments and quite the inspiration but for me, for now, I cannot get excited about raggedy edges and two layers of knit fabric when it has been over 100 degrees for a month already. Please send some of that rain to the West Coast of the US to help with our drought, Ruth! Enjoy the compliments you will certainly receive from such unusual techniques.

  10. I really like how you delve into a new project but I love to see what you are sewing on the machine too so I hope you keep doing both!! I had the pleasure of visiting Ireland only once and so want to return again one day!

  11. Irish summers! That is why everything is green!! In Australia summer is brown. But back to your tops – fabulous. Love the way you just went for it.

  12. This is one of my favorite Alabama Chanin pieces ever! And you totally ROCK the white!

  13. I’m going to give something like this a go. This morning I found 2 shoestring tops in 2 different colours of blue . Will sew shapes of whatever takes my fancy on the top one then cut away the top fabric revealing the one below. But might use the sewing machine for speed. Then maybe some hand embellishment .Is that Alabama Chaninesque ?

  14. There is something very appealing about working on a piece of sewing that you know is very slow to do. It is somehow very relaxing when you take away the hurry to finish it. Years ago I used to do tiny, tiny stitch kits of cottages. I should imagine doing this work has a similar effect and the results are great. And you get to wear it in the end, so a bonus!

  15. Oh, Ruth, these pieces are extraordinary. Love your description of how you enjoyed the process as well. I so enjoy quilting in my lap and knitting, perhaps I’ll give AC a try. Your top is so very pretty, the random glitter and bling has such appeal. Thanks for sharing this…it’s the first AC piece that has really tempted me.

  16. This top and bolero are absolutely gorgeous – well done. I wish you wouldn’t make such interesting, but time consuming, projects. I really want to try this but barely have enough time for basic sewing at the moment. Perhaps I should retire and just sew for myself?

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