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.
For 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.
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.
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.
1. THE STENCIL
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.
2. THE TRANSFER
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?
3. THE THREAD
All previous AC garments that I’ve sewn were put together using embroidery floss for embellishment and seams. I do not use the AC recommended ‘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.
3. THE KNOTS
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.
4. THE SEWING
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.
5. THE STITCHING
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.
6. THE NEEDLES
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.