Monday, we wrote about artist Tilleke Schwarz’s New Potatoes as inspiration for the week. However, Tilleke’s textiles have been a source for inspiration for me for years. When New Potatoes landed on my desk about a year ago, we started the skirt you see above as homage to Tilleke and her work.

We have produced narrative work over the years in the form of our Story Quilts. With that series, we take vintage quilts, refurbish them, and embroider oral histories onto the fabrics. You will find a Textile Stories Quilt project in Alabama Studio Style that describes this series. However, this series is small in comparison to the beautiful narrative work of Tilleke Schwartz.


Using Tilleke as inspiration, we’ve documented with thread and appliqué some moments of studio life over the last year on our Long Skirt, a project from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.


Most everyone in the studio had their hand in working on this skirt. We juxtaposed appliqué and a variety of embroidery stitches on our natural-dyed Indigo organic cotton jersey, in a hand-embroidered style similar to what Tilleke uses in her art. Its development was slow and, at times, stagnant. I began with colorful flowers, let the project sit, picked it back up, added on, passed around the studio, and let the fun in everyday life unfold.


The moments read something like this:

“and the spring time came and went…and still WORDS”, Venn diagrams, Express Checkout, tea, beep beep, sunshine, paths crossing,  “there was a moment when she thought she was crazy,”  flowers, appliqué, “the words started and wouldn’t stop,” and, of course, music. Olivia ended with an embroidered cat.

I believe that everyone and everything is worthy of a story.  Embroidery preserves that story beautifully. You might find Elegant Stitches is a fantastic resource as you begin to embroider your own.



Long Skirt pattern from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design
1 ½ yards of 60” wide natural-dyed organic cotton jersey in Indigo (or choose from our nine Natural Dyed colors)
1 yard of 1 ½” wide fold-over elastic ribbon
Button Craft thread
Embroidery floss
Basic sewing supplies: fabric scissors, pins, needles, ruler, rotary cutter, and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design: this book contains the basic sewing and embroidery techniques we used to make our skirt.
Elegant Stitches We recommend this book for its step-by-step instructions and illustrations of very simple, as well as extremely complicated embroidery stitches.

Follow instructions for the single-layer Long Skirt on page 60 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.



Garment – Long Fitted Skirt from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design
Fabric weight – Alabama Chanin 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Fabric color – Natural dyed Indigo
Fold-over elastic ribbon – White
Button Craft thread for construction – Coats & Clark Colors #1 White (over-dyed with Indigo)
Stencil – Bloomers and Paisley appliqués (download from our Maker Supplies + Stencils page). We also used fabric scraps cut into various shapes and sizes.
Embroidery floss– We stitched with leftover floss from our Garage Sale (including out-of-date colors).
Fine-point Sharpie
Embroidery technique – Zigzag stitch used for waistband; instructions available in  Alabama Studio Sewing + Design
Embroidery stitches- Backstitched, whipstitch, stem stitch, French knots, seed stitch, chain stitch, couching, split stitch, zigzag chain stitch, herringbone, Ermine stitch-  instructions available in  Alabama Studio Sewing + Design and Elegant Stitches
Seams – Inside Felled

15 comments on “TILLEKE SCHWARZ + A SKIRT

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  1. Donna

    Beautiful! I have a friend that when she has a gathering, she puts a plain table cloth on the table and at the end of the night she has everyone sign, make a comment (if they want to) and date it. She then embroiders over their signature and comments for a beautiful unique piece. She’ll use the same table cloth until it is filled up or she likes the way it looks and then start over.

  2. Carol

    Absolutely love the skirt…….I have done narrative art quilts since the 80’s…….and of course have tons of fabric for the collage..and tons of embroidery thread and embellishments…Need to start a cotton jersey stash to make a “story skirt”……..It would be fun to wear my art…the collage and embellishment go so well with the jersey………I really look forward to your journal entries and your work has excited and inspired me…………xo

  3. gisele

    To make this project even more accessible you could embroider on something you already own, making an ordinary something-or-other extrordinary.

  4. jamie

    Oh my, this is absolutely beautiful. Your journal gives me such inspiration and now this amazing skirt that fills with gorgeous meaningful art. sends me~

  5. Julie B

    A couple of years ago I started a list entitled “What I Like”. The list includes iconic symbols, themes, images and items that appeal to me. When I need some inspiration, I turn to this list. It would be fun to create a garment embroidered with my beloved items.

  6. Margaret

    Inspiring! Can you tell me do you use button craft thread or embroidery floss to sew when sewing the fold over elastic at waistline? Thanks!

    1. Alabama

      We use Button Craft thread when sewing the fold-over elastic ribbon and for the garment construction.

  7. deborah barnes

    Thank you for your own sustainability; I say this after watching many gifted, talented ethically focused eco fashion people go under, after a soaring start a few years into the turn of the century.

    I was able to show recycouture and statement textiles in 2011 and 12, but the gallery lost its space as Seattle started going into overdrive . Sold as sustainable- the city focused on urban density. Now Seattle is a greyer, shadowed city. I tried to challenge this idea after finding many arguments against it – riling me up enough to go back to school and get a degree in environmental science.

    I bought your early books as I love your esthetics and the hand work that makes the charming statement that machine embroidery can not!!
    I also appreciate how you tell the stories behind your work. These stories and others are building a New Story about being and doing human!

    I am thinking of starting again, now that the greater public is starting to pay more attention to the issues the eco pioneers and radical design outliers, saw. I sustained subtle hope but now, especially now, this feels like hope in the midst of what is after all a very Great Mess.

    So I am reaching out to thank you for giving me this boost of adrenaline, love, courage and faith to start again.

    deborah j barnes
    fashionRIP Project