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



Stars and Stripes

Nothing looks neater and better finished than a garment whose stripes match up. I had a bit of red and white striped cotton jersey remaining from my foray into T-shirt drafting and quickly knocked up another kimono wrap top, designed by Stephanie of Three Hours Past… this is actually my fifth one. I love it so much – it’s easy to sew and easy to wear. In previous versions I’ve left off the centre back seam for speed but with this one I kept it in just so that I could get a chevron spine.

You can’t match up stripes in every direction and at every seam – this is one of the wraps, but no one will see that as it will be tied around my waist.

Look at the patterns the stripes make as they wrap around – oh dizzying! On the left – tied at the back and on the right wrapped all the way around and tied in front.

And here’s some super stars who took the time and matched their stripes too:
Mujerboricua with her ginger skirt chevrons
Frankie‘s dress

Thanks for reading. Ruth



You may remember my disaster with grain-lines over Christmas and the wasted rib knit fabric that didn’t make it into a long Burda cardigan.… but did make it to the bin! I salvaged a bit and had a bit left over – just enough for a more substantial kimono wrap top to suit this time of year.

I lengthened the sleeves all the way to wrist this time. As a bulkier knit than the first version tying the wraps in a knot also feels bulky, so I fastened the front with a decorative pin. Makes it into a dressier look too.

I’ve tried to brighten the pictures as much as possible so you can see the ribs in the charcoal knit and the lovely patterns they make when crossed over.

As this was the second time making the pattern, this wrap top was made in under 2 hours. I reckon if you are lucky enough to have a serger (overlocker) you could shave another 30-40 mins off.

You know, one of the best things about this pattern is you don’t need to wear anything underneath because the wraps are so ‘wrappy’.

It is mega secure too – no shifting about when you move either and no constantly pulling the wraps together at the front.

How many wraps tops can you say that about?

Thanks for reading. Ruth


Somewhere over the Rain……..

Now that I’ve subliminally planted that ear-worm here are some pics to go along with it.

McCalls 6247

Rainbow Missoni (not real) knit from stash

2yds but only 45″ wide – damn that stash!
So no sleeves, but nice yoke detail at the back.

Oh and I added a draped collar thing from another pattern. I didn’t realise how sheer and un-fluid this was until I saw these photos.

I don’t even know if this type of garment has a name…

Sleeveless cardigan?
Long waistcoat (vest)?
SF top? (stash fabric)

I would wear this on the yacht in the summer but ours is in the ship yard this year being remodelled and having a helipad fitted – bummer huh? Just when I have the perfect cover-up for my itsy-bitsy bikini?

Thanks for reading. Ruth


3 Cheers for 3 Hours Past….

Burda Style Magazine 2012
The next item to be sacrificed from the stash was the fine ivory knit. I was planning on a ballerina-at- practice type of wrap cardigan. While I neither have the poise or the body (I put it down to genetics) I thought one of those would look good with a swirly skirt and even high waisted trousers (pants) in spring / summer.  I don’t do sleeveless even in 36 degrees C, especially in 36 degrees, and this would be just right as a cover up. I found a pattern in Burda Style Magazine – YIKES – lines and colours and A B C D sheets and tracing and time and …. oh just forget it. I am basically lazy and couldn’t be bothered with all that crap.

However, there was not a pattern out there in whole wide world that met with my stringent requirements so I was gearing up to do the tracing thing – went into training and all – when Stephanie from 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World posted about a little 1950s Advance 7701 pattern for a kimono wrap top that she’d been working on. I was so jealous – this was exactly what I wanted, but how to get my grubby little hands on it?

I retired to the hollowed out volcano to devise a plan. I developed a behavioural-neural influencing ray and set the coordinates for Brisbane, specifically at Stephanie’s house. And it worked!

Not long after I zapped her with the ultra-infra-high-frequency-thingy-that only dogs can hear, she transposed the 1950s pattern into her own design and created a pattern that we all can have. I made her stay up for a whole week so that she could finish it in time for my sewing schedule this weekend. She didn’t sleep or eat or cook dinner until this beautiful wrap top pattern was complete. And the funny thing is, she thinks she did this all of her own choice. Ha Ha Ha. Ha Ha!

I got first pick (of course, that was part of the grand plan) at the pattern on Friday as a proof reader and tester.

The instructions are clear, ordered with just the right amount of personality that proves that a real person designed this for other real people. Stephanie included photos at various steps throughout which proves she has made and tested the design too – so knows the pitfalls and areas to watch. She gives fabric amount and width, even the sewing needles you should be using – sooo considerate.

It is a downloadable pattern in 24 sheets (plus the instructions) and I could just about manage that – but there’s only three pieces – it’s really no big deal. I tiled and lined up the sheets, taped them together and cut out. The top is really made from one big piece (cut twice), a neck band and the ties are separate so that you can choose a wrap or a draped version. Two patterns in one – I love that.

Right, now on to this stash thing.

It really isn’t working for me. I had this fine knit just sitting waiting to be used – 2yds – plenty you would think, BUT, it’s only 50″ wide! Maybe I should read the small print. For this top I need
1 3/4 yds at min 55″ wide. I was undeterred and determined. I marked out the bias grain line and used that instead of the straight or cross-grain lines. That way I could get the one big piece to fit onto the fabric albeit diagonally.

From then on everything proceeded as per the instructions and today’s plan. Unfortunately, I do have to stop for lunch and messages (errands) and other stuff, but best guess is this took 3 hours maximum to complete. 
I deviated slightly from the instructions on the following points: Added tape to the neck edge to stabilise it – remember I cut on the bias. Lengthened the ties – the pattern is for a 30″ waist, and I don’t have a 30″ waist. I  also slip stitched the neckband in place as I’m a big scardy chicken when it comes to stitching in the ditch. I made the bracelet length sleeves.
I have a very basic Janome sewing machine and normally I only use the straight stitch, the zig-zag and the button hole. Today I tested another one and created a little fancy edge thing to the sleeves. I don’t have an overlocker (serger) so I zig-zagged all the raw edges of this knit to stop the unravelling.
I said this was a fine ivory knit, what I should have said was that this is a VERY fine ivory knit. Regardless – here is it and don’t I look just like a ballerina (retired). Paired with Paco’s half-circle skirt for extra ballerina styling

The back (obviously)
Wrapped around waist and tied in front

Tied at the back
Pulled down over hips

 There’s more than one way to wear this top too.

Designed by 3 Hours Past
Takes 3 hours to make
Wear it 3 ways

I say 3 cheers for Stephanie!

To get your own pattern for this super kimono wrap top to go Craftsy.
And to read about the trials and tribulations this girl went through go here.

Thanks for reading. Ruth