Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Alabama Chanin ALL the things

Are you familiar with the Alabama Chanin books and distinctive style?
Natalie Chanin's second book, available at The Drapery, $44.95
They're the creation of Natalie Chanin, who hails from, clearly, Alabama USA. Her signature style is hand-stitched garments made from organic cotton jersey, with various embellishments including reverse-applique and beading. You can buy her beautiful hand-made-in-the-USA ready-to-wear garments, at understandably substantial prices (oh look here's one named for me), or you can read her books and tackle the projects yourself.

I've been wanting to try this for ages... oh you know, the never-ending project list? Anyhow the planets aligned and I had a go at a fitted top. I just used the most basic construction method and no embellishments since this was really just a test for fit. I used a double layer of fine cotton jersey that was a gift from a destashing friend.
It's not perfect but I'm rather liking it all the same! You can see it has a tendency to fall off my narrow, sloping shoulders, but I think I can remedy this by taking it in at the centre back seam. I already shortened it a bit at the shoulders. The four-panel construction means there is a lot of shaping, and in double-layer jersey, I feel more comfortable than I expected in a garment this fitted.
 It's entirely hand-stitched, which doesn't take as long as you might imagine. It can be quite a soothing, meditative thing to do. I used Gutermann upholstery thread, and like to use a thimble, especially when working with up to 6 layers of fabric such as on these felled seams. Probably one of the most labour-intensive parts is simply the frequent re-threading of the needle. The thread is used double. A length no longer than your forearm is recommended to avoid tangles. A useful tip I read in Natalie Chanin's first book was to thread up a whole lot of needles before you start, so you can just pick up a new one each time and get right on with stitching. I'll definitely try that next time!

This pattern comes with multiple cut-off points that mean it can make a top, tunic, short or long dress and short or long skirt. (I believe there are patterns very similar to this in each of her books; this one was from her third book which I purchased some time ago.)

My top ended up a slightly odd length. I wanted to make sure it wasn't too short, and had plenty of fabric, so cut it quite a bit longer than the 'top' version. What I didn't think of then was that the seam construction means you can't really just chop it off at the bottom without a lot of re-stitching. In any case I quite like this length with my Grainline Moss skirts.

At The Drapery we have a selection of organic cotton knits - most Australian-made - that are ideal for the Alabama Chanin style.  They are light, pure cotton (no spandex) and quite stable.
Top to bottom: Chocolate, Muted Donkey, Grey Marle, Navy, Kelp.

So far, this is feeling a bit addictive. I'm now working on a skirt from the same pattern, and aim to make another top with a few fitting adjustments. The fabric I used on this first garment probably has a bit more stretch to it than the fabrics we have in the shop, so I need to try fitting with the 'proper' fabric. Then when I feel that's right I would love to make a dress with embellishments. Maybe it will be a nice winter-by-the-fire project this year? And a wrap would be nice... and the wrist-warmers... and a long skirt....

- Jane & Fiona xx

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