Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane

Alabama Cheats


Summer is here and work has finished so it’s time to do some slow sewing, sit in my deckchair in the garden and hand stitch some new Alabama Chanins.

AMZUTFor my birthday in June I received the latest AC stitching book and before we broke up for the summer, I printed out a couple of the new patterns and taped them together on the big sewing table in work – it makes life so much easier. DSC00610

I now have the wrap skirt and the classic jacket to add to my collection of AC patterns. In the latest book the patterns and stencil designs come on a disk which you can either print at home on A4 sheets and tile together or take to a printers who will print the pattern on A1 or A2.

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I had already purchased 12m of cotton jersey in anticipation of this moment arriving: two shades of grey, light and dark; white and stone. Three meters of each colour.

I know I’ve documented previously how I go about sewing a AC garment but today I’ll show you my cheats – things that break the rules and make life a little easier and the sewing a little faster.


I print off the stencil design onto bog standard printer paper and tape the pages together just like a regular pattern. Then I Spraymount this onto a manilla folder and using a scalpel (exacto knife) cut through the page and the manilla. However, I don’t use the whole stencil. I look at the shapes and the layout and make a decision on what is feasible to sew around and what can be eliminated. Sometimes I’ll duplicate a shape or mirror it – just depends. I use the original as a guide only.

On the left, the original design and on the right what I chose to use.




AC recommends fabric dye, either sprayed or painted onto the fabric. I’m a wee bit frightened by this as dye will not wash out – it is permanent and what if I want to change the design a little? To reproduce the stencil design onto the fabric I draw around the shapes with felt-tip pens – washable, of course. Even at this stage I will leave some shapes out, draw a few new ones in and will make decisions on where best to place the design. I am currently making the wrap skirt and know full well that it is very unlikely I shall wear this skirt with a short or tucked in top – so why bother embellishing the top of the skirt when it will be covered?


All previous AC garments that I’ve sewn were put together using embroidery floss for embellishment and seams. I do not use the AC recomm0170205_2006718-IMG_3480_01_400ended ‘strongest thread know to man’. I use a single strand of 100% cotton embroidery thread doubled over. This has been plenty strong to hold my clothes together and doesn’t twist and knot the way other threads do. There’s also hundreds of colours to choose from.


This time round I am using a single strand of Terko satin. It’s a heavy, stiff thread but doesn’t knot and a single strand is still strong enough to hold the garments together.


AC rules state that you have to tie a knot on the thread and then tie another knot exactly over the first one. This is really tricky to achieve and I usually end up with a string of single knots stretching over about 1″ of the tread. So now I just make a loop and thread the needle through it three times and pull tight. I get a large enough knot that won’t pull through the fabric and none of the hassle. I also do the same at the other end when I’ve finished sewing – just remember to leave enough length on your thread to be able to do this.



I’m the first to admit that my embroidery skills are dreadful, so I avoid any fancy stitching and stick to good old plain running stitch. If a stencilled shape is too small to run a few stitches round then I leave it out. Apart from that, all the shapes are stitched around. If a shape is too small or narrow to cut then I’ll sew it bigger and wider.



AC rules state that you must sew each and every shape separately, ie start with a knot, sew around the shape and knot off – start on the next shape. If my stencil design has shapes that are close enough to each other then I just carry on. I can get a whole section sewn with a single length of thread.



When sewing with the embroidery floss I use size 10 needles  these are very fine and slide through the cotton jersey like a hot knife through butter but the eye is small and threading them is a pain. I usually thread about 18 in one go so that I’m ready to sew and sew. This time I’m making life much easier and using a self-threading needle. It’s thicker than the 10 but is working out just fine and I only need one needle so my projects are easily carried about without risk of injury to anyone.


So far I’ve completed one front panel of the skirt, started on the second and then just the back to do. Assemble the pieces and wear!


Of course, when I started writing this the sun was shining and the sky was blue – now however, it is raining and the sky is grey! So when (if) the sun comes back out I’ll maybe get some sewing done……….

So I cheat on the Alabama Chanin rules but then again rules are there to be broken, and I want to wear my items this summer, not next.

24 thoughts on “Alabama Cheats

  1. If I ever get round to trying this your advice will really appeal. Thank you.

    • OK Kate – A challenge! You know you are perfectly capable of this so what’s the delay?
      You could make a bag or poncho or table cloth – you don’t have to wear it – it’s def not Jackie O but the world is an interesting and varied place and we all have our little space within it.

  2. Now I feel much more like my AC skirt is do-able in this lifetime. I haven’t cut the stencil yet…I’ll rethink it…leave more out. Everything you said helps me a lot, so thank you!!!

  3. I love your AC makes, and I’m not daunted by the hand-sewing aspect…it’s the faffing about cutting the stencils. I’m so ham-fisted, I know I’d bugger it up and just get a load of mangled cardboard or bloodstains everywhere.

  4. Rules are meant to be broken.
    I think your skirt is going to be lovely.

  5. Great stuff Ruth. I don,t generally do much sewing during the summer months but you,ve put me in the mood for starting a project. I.m sure your skirt will be great! Thanks for all the tips. Monica

    • Because it is hand sewing it is so easy to transport and move around – bit like knitting without the needles and balls of wool! Give it a go – what’s to lose?
      Thanks Monica – all you need is a metre or so of cotton jersey, a design, some thread and you’re off down the AC rabbit hole – see you on the other side.

  6. I love the thought you’ve put into making your AC garments your own, and for sharing your tips. While I would love to be able to follow the rules, I know I would find myself resenting them! I gave away my first AC book, but it looks like I’m going to buy the latest one. I want access to the patterns and stencils! Thank you again for sharing.

  7. Looks like another school year has gone and you’re out, ahead of us here sweltering in the classrooms for 2 more weeks. Wishing you a creative, productive and relaxing summer I would love to hear more about the self-threading needle – never heard of it before!!

  8. I break rules all the time…..hmmmm….not the ones the PSNI would come after me for of course….wish I had the time to make some AC…..if only for the ’embroidery’ aspect of it all…..can a 70 year old get away with this fashion….maybe stick to a cushion cover when I next decorate.
    Great post!

  9. I’m in awe of everyone who makes garments using this embellishment! Especially since you’ve made several amazing garments using this technique. Can’t wait to see these finished and modeled.

    • Thanks Carolyn – it’s not difficult, just a bit time consuming and between you and me I have previously done a few seams on the overlocker – shhhh!

  10. thank you Ruth for all your tips – they are very helpful. As many, have been thinking of this for awhile, and at this point, it’s a matter of finding light enough knits to layer – my city has but two fabric shops, which both carry medium to heavy-weight cotton knit. Nothing on-line for Canada & duty is dreadful (the last I ordered, I paid double by the time the agents were finished with the parcel!). I suppose I should stop finding reasons “not” to, and just get on with it.. your posts are inspiring!

    • I hear you in the import tax Kathleen, it’s the reason I’ve stopped buying from outside EU. email me your address and colours and I could send a little parcel as a gift and it won’t attract so much attention. Then you will have no more excuses!

  11. I cheat all the time too. I can make stencils but the dye seems to bleed so now I’ve discovered potato printing, so I invent new patterns and go from there. I use Merchant and Mills products all the time but never their self threading needles. I’ll give them a go. And I often sew the dress on my sewing machine. I’ve even done flowery patterns with my sewing machine. Time consuming but it works. I recently decided to print on top of reverse appliqué after making the dress up, so there were loads of little hiccups that I covered up with buttons and beads. Not the cleverest way to do things but the dress looks great. I love the fact that nobody will ever have a dress like mine.

  12. Where do you buy your material? I’ve been searching and I just can’t find any. Love your work and your help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you GLORIA

  13. Great post,thank you!

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