Pumpkin carving has a deep-rooted history in American culture. As a child, my family always used the butcher knife/three-triangles-and-a-mouth method. Today, there are specialized carving tools available from a range of sources. Martha Stewart, a lover of all things Halloween, has brought pumpkin carving to a new level, offering creative designs and techniques. Meanwhile, Maggie’s dad, Butch, looks for the strangest pumpkins available and stacks them in towering sculptures before Halloween, and then plants rows and rows of the leftover seeds in his garden after the holiday.
The holidays offer a unique opportunity for each of us to spend a little bit of time and energy creating for those we love. If you are a maker, you may innately understand the value of a handmade gift. Creating presents an avenue for you to express your love and admiration in the most personal of ways. Receiving a handmade gift often feels like an honor; you are touched to know that someone cared enough to spend time creating something specifically for you.
We at Alabama Chanin believe that the act of making can move beyond craft, into another space that includes design and fashion – without losing the personal elements of creating something by hand. Our Handmade Holiday collection is one way to embody this philosophy – embracing craft, style, fashion, and tradition. You can choose to make elaborate garments or home décor, or you can opt for a sentimental favorite, like this handmade holiday stocking. Holidays are the centerpieces of so many of our memories. Hand customizing something as traditional as a holiday stocking can elevate something that might otherwise be overlooked to high art.
Mary Adams studied art, not fashion, in college, but eventually chose fabric, specifically, the dress as her medium of choice. Her first storefront in New York City was in the Lower East Side, on the corner of Ludlow and Stanton in the early 1980’s, when that area of the city was cheap and dirty and home to artists, writers, musicians, actors, and designers. In her book, The Party Dress Book, Adams shares a glimpse of New York at that time and how the city and its creative inhabitants influenced her work – the brightly colored, twirling dresses she and her friends would wear to nightclubs and parties. Adams worked in an influential time and place for fashion history and her work continues to resonate. Her stories of inspiration introduce how-to instruction on specific dressmaking and embellishment techniques for designing and constructing the best looking dress at any party, anywhere.
The Party Dress Book inspired us to adapt one of our favorite, featured projects into an Alabama Chanin piece, Mary Adams-style.
As part of our Handmade Holiday 2013 selection, we are offering limited edition Holiday DIY Kits. Look for brand new items, some favorites from the past, and special, holiday picks. Alabama Chanin believes that holiday gifts mean more when they are handmade.
This DIY Onesie + Baby Blanket Kit is a two-item option normally only offered for our One-Day Workshops. The smaller scale of each item means that experienced sewers will quickly have a completed gift, ready for wrapping; beginning sewers can learn, practice embroidery techniques on a smaller canvas, and expectant parents (and/or grandparents) can spend (at least a little) time making for baby.
Before Alabama Chanin existed in its current form, before the Journal, the Studio Books, the DIY Kits, even the website, we were a very small company. When I began working to create these garments, I was doing the majority of the making myself. That meant buying t-shirts from thrift stores around the community (or anywhere I could find them), washing them, dyeing them, cutting them up, painting them, and sewing them back together again—all of this from my home/makeshift production office. It was thrilling and exhilarating and exhausting and I learned so much about designing (and running a business) by trial and error. Eventually, staff was hired and our production office moved out of my home and into The Factory; however, those early efforts were a daily experiment.
The first men’s t-shirts were a bit different from those we make today. We had no real patterns for the men’s shirts and each shirt was designed, cut, and sewn based entirely on the style of the t-shirt itself. We were in the beginning stages of developing different seams, stretchable stitches, and elaborate embroideries, so the garments were experiments in non-traditional translations of classic sewing techniques and pared down versions of some of the Alabama Chanin garments you might see today.
The “Pig Shirt” in the photo above is one of my very early garments. It is made from a recycled tee, which was hand dyed (in the bathtub) and the pocket removed. The fabric for the reverse appliqué was taken from a different recycled (printed) t-shirt and everything was sewn together with a straight stitch. The aesthetic was meant to be a tribute to traditional stitch work and the colors and the style served to highlight the stitches themselves. This project is a tribute to our roots, a reflection upon where Alabama Chanin grew from and how those early years helped form the company we are today.
When you select a recycled t-shirt for this, or any, project pay close attention to the quality of the cotton. Look for shirts that are soft and smooth to the touch and don’t ball or “pill” easily. Thicker shirts are less prone to tearing or wearing out quickly. Always make sure that you wash any recycled t-shirt before using it. This ensures a clean surface, but also reduces any chance of shrinking. If you are working with red t-shirts, wash them two or three times to prevent the color from bleeding and avoid mixing red with light colors.
We use stencils in many of our designs. Most often employed as a pattern to follow when adding elaborate embroidery, beading, and appliqué, we also love the simplicity of a stenciled pattern on a basic silhouette.
This DIY Stencil T-shirt focuses on the simple beauty that emerges when you combine just the right pattern, stencil, and colors. The techniques used are easy for both the beginning and the advanced sewer to master. This design is our classic T-shirt Top. Here we used the sleeveless version, but you could use any sleeve length, depending on your personal style and taste.
Our finished Alabama Chanin garments, made from 100% organic cotton jersey, are beautiful when worn as unembellished Basics; however, through the years, most of our designs have highlighted the incredible number of stencil patterns in our growing library. These stencils are the cornerstone of both our design process and our business model.
From page 10 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design:
We use stencils as tools to transfer decorative patterns onto projects like dresses, skirts, and pillows. The stenciled patterns are then used by our artisans as guides for positioning embroidery and beading. Because the stencils so effectively guide the design, our artisans don’t need to work in our studio. Rather, they can work independently as individual business owners when and where they want, scheduling their work time as they like.
Abbie’s Flower All-over Stencil
The Bolero is a popular item for those of us in Alabama, as spring and fall temperatures (and in some years, mid-winter) can swing from 50 degrees to 80 degrees in the course of one day. It is an easy piece to toss into your bag on the way out the door and an effortless way to accessorize your look in any weather.
We shared the pattern for this garment in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, with four variations of how it might be constructed: sleeveless, with cap sleeves, short sleeves, and long, fluted sleeves. It can be completed quickly, regardless of your chosen style, and requires only 1 yard of fabric or so. Imagine our surprise, and disappointment, when some readers reported that their Boleros weren’t coming together as expected, that the pattern was a little bit off. Errata déjà vu.
Couching is one of the more sculptural techniques that we use to embellish garments at Alabama Chanin. The effect adds a unique texture and visual appeal.
Traditional couching is a very old technique where yarn (or another material) is laid across fabric and sewn into place, creating shapes and patterns. Our process of couching involves stitching cotton jersey ropes to an stenciled base fabric.
The Eagle T-Shirt is the second in a new series of Men’s DIY projects, designed in a style that is flattering to both men and women. The Eagle stencil has been in the Alabama Chanin library for several years now. We shared instructions on how to create the stencil and apply it to a basic recycled t-shirt in 2008. (Read more about that here). Since those early years, we’ve designed and created patterns for Alabama Chanin original t-shirts, which you can see on Natalie’s son, Zach, above.
The long sleeve t-shirt is made with our 100% organic cotton jersey and constructed with floating outside seams that add a nuanced detail, emphasizing the hand-stitched quality, though you can make your own design decisions.