“Zero” is both a number and a concept. It is both incredibly complex and perfectly simple. Zero is both a value and a digit—a number and a placeholder. It can be called: nil, oh, naught, nada, and zilch. Complex chemical and physical theories involve and surround the concept of zero. All of this to say that, though the word “zero” may describe something that is very small, the larger idea of zero is very, very big.
Our goal at Alabama Chanin is to become a zero waste company. This means we repurpose and recycle every possible material, letting nothing go to waste. There are times when it is challenging to approach design with the idea of waste in mind; designing patterns and establishing cutting techniques that maximize our materials are not necessarily glamorous or exciting tasks. But, we believe taking those extra steps makes our products—and our company—more beautiful.
As a designer, I am constantly in search of inspiration for new patterns. Often, I find ideas in nature. Other times, I’m drawn to simple geometric shapes – such as circles or dots – and how they interact with one another. Polka dots, with their equal size and relative spacing, create a classic pattern on a garment. In fact, polka dots have quite an interesting history throughout fashion.
The spotted design gained popularity in the mid to late-19th century, as the polka dance came into fashion. Martha Stewart describes the origins of the term in her book, Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts:
“To capitalize on the popularity of the polka in the late nineteenth century, one enterprising American textile manufacturer coined the term “polka dot” to describe the dots on one of his fabrics. The name stuck, and today the term refers to round, evenly spaced dots of identical size.”
One of the great joys of my job is the fact that we sometimes get to review books for other authors. Sometimes we order the books from a catalog of new titles and sometimes, the books just arrive like magic in the mail. This was the case last year, when we received a book called Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. The coloring book—intended for children and adults—was published by Lawrence King and immediately found its way to my pile of books I love. On the inside cover is a quote that reads, “Tumble down the rabbit hole & find yourself in my inky wonderland…” And that is exactly how I felt after browsing just a few pages. Although we have played with permanent markers for years in writing on quilts and garments, looking at page after page of beautiful detailed illustrations, I was overwhelmed by inspiration.
Through some experimentation, we found out that black and white photocopies will transfer onto white and/or natural colored fabric with a hot iron. This made it possible for us to transfer the pattern one-to-one from this or any coloring book, stencil, or black and white design. There are arrays of fabric coloring tools available at local craft stores and more arrive on the market each year. We found that the pastel dye sticks and fabric markers (designed for children) work very well.
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.
At Alabama Chanin, we believe DIY projects are integral to sharing creativity and promoting sustainable heirloom-worthy pieces. Bibliocraft: A Modern Crafter’s Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects is a great guide to DIY crafts that utilize a range of library resources for inspiration. Written by rare book librarian Jessica Pigza, this book contains over 20 unique projects and crafts for your home, including the Cyanotype Throw, designed by the Alabama Chanin team.
Pigza walks readers through different types of libraries, collections, and other resources that can foster motivation and provide ideas for the curious and creative. The book shows you how to find the right library for you and also provides information on digital libraries and an array of library catalogs. To get you started on your project, there are lists of recommended library collections from general visual resources to performing arts and film. The book is an informative and inspiring guide for learning about new resources and turning to libraries for discovery. There is something different and special about holding an actual, physical book in your hand that continues to draw me toward libraries. As a designer I find escape within library walls, and as a business owner I find critical information that has helped me grow into who I am as an entrepreneur.
At Alabama Chanin, we have often looked to nature for stencil inspirations. Many of the first stencils I designed when I started embellishing recycled T-shirts were of bugs and animals—what I felt were constant surroundings when I made my return home to Alabama from New York over a decade ago.
Our newest DIY Men’s Kit features the Scorpion stencil, designed by Butch Anthony, on a yoked T-shirt. The yoke cut of the T-shirt helps it stand apart from the standard tee. The design and style fit easily into any man’s wardrobe.
One of our Mother’s Day Gift Guide selections, the DIY Magdalena Shawl is versatile in design and function. The Magdalena stencil is a bold design that dresses up casual wear. A shawl is a simple way to adjust to the changes in weather that tend to occur on a whim this time of year and acts as a perfect canvas to display the Magdalena design.
I like to keep a variety of shawls on hand for chilly mornings and to use as a pillow or blanket on long airplane or car rides. Depending on how you wear your shawl, it is possible that both the front and the back may be visible, showing off the intricate stitches and handwork used to finish it.
Our classic Short Skirt is great for just about every occasion, including Mother’s Day. Whether you arrange an outing to church, a restaurant, or just a walk in the park, you can make Mom happy by making her something she’ll love.
Currently featured as part of our Mother’s Day Gift Guide, the DIY Check Skirt is the only DIY Kit pattern we currently feature using our Short Fitted Skirt pattern from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.
This version of the skirt is made using the reverse appliqué technique and is embellished with beaded eyelet details. Instructions for the Short Skirt can be found on pages 60 – 61 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. When ordering, please specify your desired top layer and thread color.
Mother’s Day will be upon us soon, and we hope that you are all planning a way to make it a special day. Our freelance editor, Sara, says that her father always got worked up over finding her mother just the right gift. Inevitably, this stress would result in a frantic, last minute decision that wasn’t necessarily the right choice. She says that they still laugh about the year he bought her mother a calculator. (And he still insists that she said she wanted one…) Other years, her father did a much better job; Sara remembers once planting a dogwood tree just outside her mother’s kitchen window.
We appreciate that mothers come in all forms, shapes, and sizes, so this DIY Check Tied Wrap featuring our 2014 Stencil of the Year is a perfect fit for your mother, or grandmother, daughter, or friend. In the morning sunlight, it almost looks like dogwood flowers blooming.
We are offering this DIY Kit as part of our Mother’s Day Gift Guide. Make something for mom – or give her something she will enjoy making for herself.
After launching our Swatch of the Month Club in January, we received several requests for a more accessible way to sample a variety of our techniques before investing in a club membership. Our commitment to listening to your feedback and, in turn, giving better service, led us to create the Starter Sewing Kit.
Our Starter Sewing Kit includes three 10” x 16” pieces of organic cotton jersey: one un-stenciled piece for your bottom layer in Black, and two additional 10” x 16” pieces in Slate and Twilight. The Slate fabric is painted on the wrong side—for use as appliqué. Use the stenciled Twilight piece for your top layer, suitable for reverse appliqué.