One of our more popular series of do-it-yourself posts has been our ongoing adaptation of commercially available patterns in the Alabama Chanin style. Among the patterns we have reworked are: a dress from an Anna Sui Vogue pattern, two variations of a Vogue dress from Vena Cava, an open-sourced jacket pattern from Yohji Yamamoto, and other varied pieces.
This series first began as a part of our ongoing Makeshift conversations that explore the intersection of design, craft, food, DIY, and fashion. With this series, we look at makers of all sorts and embrace open-source knowledge, materials, and patterns to create new conversations and collaborations.
We know that it takes skill and patience to complete a garment from another designer’s pattern; however, personalizing those garments—bringing your own body shape, style, and design sensibilities to existing patterns—is sometimes the only option for creating garments that truly fit your life and lifestyle. (You will find much more on this idea of customizing a wardrobe in our upcoming book Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns—which is now available for pre-order.)
We are excited to resume this important experiment with a Vogue coat pattern. I’m in love with the results.
As I’ve mentioned before, writing a book is no easy feat. It involves months (often years) of planning, drafting, edits, new designs, reviews, rewrites, photo shoots, patternmaking…basically, equal parts labor and love. So, I honestly surprised myself when I agreed to write another one. While still a work in progress, the end is in sight, and I’m proud to officially announce Alabama Chanin’s upcoming book, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns. This is the fourth (yes, fourth) book I’ve worked on with my editor (and friend), Melanie Falick, of STC Craft and Abrams.
Around the studio, we’ve been referring to this project as the ‘addendum’, as it acts as a supplement to our Studio Book Series—Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style, and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.
Alabama Chanin as a concept and a company began as a DIY enterprise. I made the first garments by hand, to fit my own body. Our entire business model was created because I couldn’t find manufacturing for the sort of garment I wanted to make—and so, we created our own manufacturing system, one stitch at a time.
Because those first garments were made from recycled t-shirts, many of our customers took the concept and re-imagined it for themselves, making their own patterns and clothing. Others felt that—with just a little help—they could create something similar, something that was their own. Almost accidentally, our garments were stirring in others the desire to make. Slowly, and as the internet became more robust, sewers formed groups on the internet to share their Alabama Chanin-style garments and swap ideas. This was the beginning of a more formal DIY presence in our company.
These things were happening at the same time as I began writing our first Studio Book, Alabama Stitch Book. Writing that book helped me crystallize my thoughts on making, open sourcing, and education. It was, in essence, me putting voice to what was important about sharing ideas and creating a community of makers. Throughout the writing process—and as the company grew and evolved over the years—I returned again and again to the idea of keeping the living arts alive. It’s the belief that survival skills for food, clothing, and shelter, are important arts that we live with every single day. And these arts—often considered secondary arts—are equally (and perhaps more) important as the “primary” arts of painting and sculpture.
Since the launch of Alabama Studio Style, our DIY Eyelet + Angie Throw (also known in my family as a “couch saver”) has been a favorite do-it-yourself kit among home sewers and our workshop participants alike. Today we launch another design option for this project: the Polka Dot throw. This 36” x 48” throw, made from our medium-weight 100% organic cotton jersey, is patterned with our Medium Polka Dot Stencil and can be worked in a variety of techniques. The throw is shown here sewn in alternating double-rows of quilting, appliqué, and reverse appliqué, and then finished with a blanket stitch that runs around the entire outside edge. Find instructions for all of these techniques and more in our Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style, and/or Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.
This DIY kit comes with the backing layer in Navy blue; choose your top layer and appliqué colors. Our production team will match the thread color based on your choices. Or, design your own throw with our Custom DIY option.
From Alabama Studio Style:
Couch savers were a permanent fixture in my grandmother’s home. All manner of crocheted, quilted, and plain fabrics were safety-pinned to upholstered couch backs as well as the arm sand heads of chairs in order to protect the fabric from undue wear and tear. In homage to Gramperkins, who taught me just about everything I love about domesticity, I created this couch saver. To make one of your own, cut a 36” x 48” piece of cotton jersey and embellish as shown. I love to read, relax, and watch movies in bed rather than on my couch, so that is where I display and enjoy this beautiful work.
Over the past thirty-five years, public radio producer Jay Allison has accumulated a wealth of inspiration in his extensive audio archive of human experience. A personal hero of mine, he has brought innovative storytelling to the forefront of radio journalism. His new project, Transom.org, won the first Peabody Award ever given exclusively to a website. This site provides resources and community for young journalists, diarists, artists, and reporters by combining the power of the recorded spoken word and the internet. It also brings otherwise unheard stories to a broad audience.
I discovered this inspiring piece written by artist and computer scientist Jonathan Harris on the Transom Review, a collection of written narratives on Transom.org. “Navigating Stuckness,” is an unashamed look at the journey Harris has taken to understand life’s meaning and the loss and gain of momentum in the long run. The story of his work is actually the story of his life. This may be one reason I found the piece so appealing. Our work is a direct reflection of our developing state.
The October Swatch of the Month highlights one of our most popular embroidery treatments—Alabama Fur. The technique, first presented in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, combines our Spiral stencil with backstitch-worked embroidery floss, and incorporating exposed knots and tails. Simple, yet time consuming, the end result is a hypnotic continuation of curves that is both a beauty to behold and touch (the texture is irresistible).
To create the swatch, begin by stenciling the design to the top layer of fabric using your transfer method of choice. (The Spirals stencil is available for download from our Resources page.)
Align your top and backing layers of fabric, with right sides up and pin together. Using four strands of embroidery floss (or two strands doubled) thread your needle. When you knot off, use a double knot and make sure to leave a 1” tail of floss (note that this tail is longer than we use when working with Button Craft thread, for effect).
In December of 2012, songwriter and musician Beck released an “album” called Song Reader that challenged modern recording industry standards and the traditional definition of what an album should be. With Song Reader Beck took a unique approach by releasing 20 songs in sheet music format and asking artists to interpret and record them as they saw fit.
The concept is – at its core – a DIY approach to songwriting and an invitation to other artists to participate in a collective music-making experience. We view the approach as very much aligned with our embrace of open sourcing. All art is interpreted through the lens of the viewer or listener; this takes things a step further by inviting the audience to actively interpret the art.
Beck seemed excited about the possibilities and told McSweeney’s, “I thought a lot about making these songs playable and approachable, but still musically interesting. I think some of the best covers will reimagine the chord structure, take liberties with the melodies, the phrasing, even the lyrics themselves. There are no rules in interpretation.”
The Swatch of the Month for September continues August’s emphasis on texture as it relates to an overall design perspective. Couching has a sculptural quality and it places significant focus on the stencil or design motif it highlights. This stencil, Anna’s Garden, works well with the couching technique, as it has lots of curved shapes and forms.
Traditional couching is a very old embroidery technique in which yarn is laid across a surface fabric and sewn into place (usually with a satin stitch). While we have used cotton yarn in some of our couching designs, we most often substitute our cotton jersey, cut into strips and pulled to make a smaller version of our cotton jersey pulls. These are more substantial and look beautiful on coats, dresses, pillows – and many other pieces.
Couching is simple in concept, but more difficult in execution. It is difficult, if not impossible, to pin the yarn or rope to the base fabric before stitching it down, so you must use your fingers to turn and shape it into place.
Every day of the week, we use textile paint to transfer stencil designs to our 100% organic cotton jersey. While the colors that can be produced by mixing paints are limitless, we primarily work with the following base colors: opaque black, transparent sand, opaque blue, pearl silver, opaque red, opaque white, opaque yellow, opaque sky blue, pearl red, and forest green. By mixing these colors, we create all of the hues and shades that help define our patterns, stencils, and collections.
Our artisans use our painted stencils as a guide for embellishing our designs with appliqué, reverse appliqué, and beading techniques. We have also discovered that a basic garment featuring a subtle stencil adds texture and delicate details to our designs. Many of our Studio Style DIY customers and workshop participants have asked for these unique combinations of textile paint; below, we share recipes for some of our most popular colors. You can find everything you need to create your own stencil and spray kit in our online store.
August’s Swatch of the Month combines the beading and ruffle elements we explored in May, June, and July. The stencil, Kristina’s Rose, uses curved lines to create a somewhat abstract floral design. Those curves, when accentuated with beads and appliquéd fabric strips, create a texturally rich fabric treatment. We used three different techniques to create this swatch: folded stripe appliqué, beaded chain stitch appliqué, and beaded rosebud stitch.
Begin by cutting ½” strips of fabric in two colors. The number of strips needed will depend upon the surface area your stencil will cover and the number of shapes you choose to appliqué.
Transfer the design to your fabric using your stenciling method of choice. An enlargeable version of this stencil with accompanying instructions and fabric map are shown on pages 126-127 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. You can also download a copy of the Kristina’s Rose stencil from our Resources page.
Select one rose shape to embellish using folded stripe appliqué. To do this, hold together two of your ½” strips (using the two different colors), then randomly fold them back and forth along the line of the stenciled rose shape, while sewing them into place with a beaded straight stitch. Refer to page 108 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design for detailed instructions and photographs.