Fabric designs are the basis of all our collections at Alabama Chanin. Each design starts as a simple 10” x 16” rectangle of our organic cotton jersey that is embellished using a variety of techniques and manipulations that may include stenciling, embroidery, beading, and/or appliqué.

My decision to use a 10” x 16” rectangle was based on the mere fact that we can easily obtain 3-ring binders to store and display swatches this size. These binders also provide us a simple way to organize our designs by color, season, and/or pattern.

We may develop 10 or 15 fabrics before we come up with one a design that actually becomes a part of a collection. Colorways and different combinations of threads, embroidery styles, or other manipulations are tried, rejected, and retried before a final fabric is approved.

In Alabama Studio Sewing + Design (on page 90), I wrote more about our swatches:

“When my first company, Project Alabama, closed in 2006 and my involvement with the label ceased, I took some time to think about what makes a good company better. I considered the mistakes we had made, what we had done well, who our customers were, and what they wanted. My goal was to incorporate these lessons into the new company—Alabama Chanin—we were building. It struck me that I had spent years developing incredibly detailed and elaborate fabric treatments for seasons that passed too rapidly. For all of my talk of recycling, sustainability, and placing value on the products we were producing, I had been devaluing our textile developments by discarding them every six months. I thought of all the fabrics, stencils, handwork, colors, testing, sewing, and re-sewing that had gone into developing these textile designs for which there was no documentation or swatches. When starting Alabama Chanin, I resolved to preserve the best of our developments in a library that we could return to over and over again. Without realizing it, I was also enriching our business by setting up a system for custom orders in which a client could become an active participant in the design process.

“My simple decision to set up a standard way of recording the development of every design and fabric has led to an elaborate library consisting of more than five hundred swatches. To date we have twenty-seven books of fabric swatches that we use for everything from custom orders for clothing and interiors to inspiration for participants in our weekend workshops. When I spread these books across one of our 14′-long work tables, I am amazed to see the beauty we’ve created. In the past, we often tested colorways in garment form. Today, before any garment is cut, a tested and completed fabric sample swatch is approved. This small step has saved the company untold money, time, and waste.


I recommend that you start a library to document your own work. To do this, always create your samples at the same size so that your (master) pieces can be easily stored. And even if you don’t want to keep the samples for posterity, you can use them to make pillows or patchwork quilts, or even frame a few to hang on the wall.”

In order to bind our fabrics into our binders, we create white cardstock “headers.” To make your own header for a 10” x 16” fabric swatch, follow these instructions:

Cut an 8 1/2″ x 11” piece of white cardstock in half lengthwise so it measures 4 1/4″ x 11.”

Fold your 4 1/4″ x 11” piece of cardstock in half lengthwise again so it measures 2 1/8” x 11.” Your header will have one long side that is a fold and another long open side.

Using a three-hole punch, punch each long side of your folded header to create a total of 12 holes.

On the open side of your folded header place a 10” piece of double-stick tape just above the three holes. The double-stick tape will hold your fabric swatch in place and prevent shifting.

Place one 10” edge of your fabric swatch on top of the double-stick tape, making sure that it is centered on your cardstock.

Thread a needle with a double strand of Button Craft thread, love it good, and tie a double knot following the instructions from our Alabama Studio book series.

Attach your fabric to your paper header by sewing through the fabric at each of the punched holes, alternating from front to back until you arrive back at the beginning.

Knot off securely. Your fabric swatch is now attached to your header.

We use a rubber stamp to add our logo to our headers, We also give each fabric swatch a number and a name.

We cover our 3 ring-binders with white organic cotton jersey using the instructions for our Book Cover given on page 115 of Alabama Stitch Book.

4 comments on “SAMPLE BLOCKS + LIBRARY

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  1. pam newton

    I love this. I also love the new book. Generous heart deserves a generous response, you have given so much to the fashion & fiber worlds. You are the only artist & business I have ever groupie-d for. Own all three books, have followed the blog for years, have purchased materials from you, &, mostly, been inspired by all of you who are Alabama Chanin. Many many many gracias.

  2. Pingback: Sustainable Design Tuesday: Sample Block Quilt « Alabama Chanin

  3. Christy

    I am embarking on a new exciting venture in the fabric business. My stock is gorgeous upholstery fabric from Italy. At this time I have a box of over 500
    12 x 12 fabric swatches. I am going to use this tutorial to make my own swatch books. My Mother is also a huge fan of yours and visited your cafe cutting a visit to Alabama for my Sisters Wedding. She was so thrilled to meet you and see your fabric in person. Thank you for the tutorial.