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….



27 thoughts on “Not just the book…..

  1. Go you !!!!!!!! It is all going to be gorgeous. What a satisfying project. I have been a long time admirer of Alabama Chanin.

  2. Looking good! When the sewing seems endless and it appears that you are getting nowhere, check out blog posts like this:

  3. I am excited to see your makes. I love the hand sewing of it and seeing it take form. Plus it is nice to take to on the road. I love your idea of having it all cut out and ready to sew whenever you get to it.

  4. wow you are really getting into it… it seems like a completely different genre…. I guess knitting is my equivalent diversion. Looking forward to seeing both your AC finished items and your “normal” sewing. Hope we don’t lose you forever to the dark side.

  5. Impressive Project!
    Can’t wait to see more.

  6. Make sure you use thick hand cream every night as the chaffing from handing fabrics continuously will take it’s toll even with cotton knit. The fabric will take any moisture and oil from your hands and leave you feeling parched…even in Ireland! Thank you for all your handy hints for beginners and the just plain curious!

    • So that’s what it is! I never knew that but you’re absolutely right. I also have callouses on my finger tips too. Great clothes and bad hands – LOL

  7. Well! – you certainly go for it. What IS the secret of all your energy? I look forward to seeing all your wonderful creations.

  8. I’m impressed you are making a whole wardrobe of AC. Will look forward to the completed outfits. I can’t imagine myself being that patient for a garment, but perhaps my day is coming for all the handwork.

  9. Wow! That looks like a LOT of work! I wish I had your patience.. Looking forward to seeing the finished garment..

  10. I’m so impressed with how you’ve jumped right in! My SIL gave me the book and she’s done a number of her own designs that are simpler and bolder than the AC designs. I’m afraid I’ve been hung up on/intimidated by the stenciling and painting step. But your approach is very encouraging, so maybe I’ll take the leap.

    I do love handsewing! I’ve made a few handsewn historic garments for my daughter and the feeling on needle and thread in your hand and a pile of fabric in your lap is so satisfying.

    I look forward to following your projects.

    • Hi Laura, for future garments I think I’ll just trace round the stencil shapes with a pen and skip the whole painting/dyeing thing. There is something nice about sewing on your lap though isn’t there?

  11. Forgot to mention – have you seen ? She’s made quite a few AC style things. If you just search Alabama on her blog, they’ll all pop up.

  12. I have to admit you have peaked my curiosity. Prior to this I was not the least interested but know I am beginning to consider a project. I have wanted for a long time to up my hand sewing skills and this might be a good way to do that. I look forward to watching your progress. I also really your attitude, no one is dying here and nothing will happen if all is not perfect. Tracey

  13. I can’t believe you plan to complete an AC garment in a week. *gasp*
    And don’t be shy about ‘just planning’ your wardrobe – most of us (and I mean me) don’t even get as far as planning!

  14. So exciting Ruth. I am presently sewing a shirt/jacket by hand……and I know exactly what you are talking about. I am just loving this process…something to pick up and put down, yet your still moving forward with the sewing… I have added some French knots (for the conversation starter……..”yes, well I’ve sewn this shirt by hand— yes…by hand…no machine!”…so far the most comments I have gotten have been “why??? —– is your machine broke, can’t you get it fixed?? or Why would you do that?” and I say…….. “for fun”.
    I will be following your blog, nose to the screen, ……all good things are worth the wait.
    have a great evening.

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