Tag Archives: Embroidery

Fabric swatch featuring the New Leaves design with couching appliqué.


Couching is a traditional embroidery technique that’s been used for hundreds of years. Historically, yarn (or some other form of rope) was laid on top of a surface and sewn into place with a satin stitch. At The School of Making, we define couching as a type of appliqué in which cotton jersey ropes are appliquéd to the base fabric using a parallel whipstitch—often following the outline of one of our stencil designs.

Couching can add weight and warmth to a coat or elevate a wedding dress to a work of art. The technique gives garments a sculptural quality, and it has become a customer favorite. It’s simple in concept but is best executed by more advanced sewers since it’s nearly impossible to pin the couching ropes into place—you must use your fingers to hold the ropes in position as you sew. Don’t be afraid to experiment with techniques—couching and armor beading mix well together as shown in the fabric detail above (more on that next week). Find the instructions for couching on pages 110 – 111 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, or continue reading below.

Cut couching ropes in black


Cotton jersey fabric for top layer
Cotton jersey fabric for backing layer
Cotton jersey fabric for ropes
18” transparent plastic ruler
Rotary cutter and cutting mat
Textile paint
Spray bottle or airbrush gun
Embroidery scissors
Hand-sewing needle
Button Craft thread

1. Stencil Fabric and Prepare Ropes
Stencil the right side of your top-layer fabric, and set it aside to dry thoroughly. Using the fabric for your ropes, cut 1/2”-wide stripe, cutting them with the grain and making them as long as you want. Pull each strip from both ends at the same time to make ropes about 3/16” in diameter.

2. Align Top and Bottom Fabric Layers
Align the top and bottom layers of fabric, both right side up and with the grain lines running in the same direction, then pin the two layers together.

3. Prepare for Couching
Thread your needle with a double length of thread, love your thread, and knot off with a double knot. Choose one shape in your stenciled design as a starting point. Place one end of a couching rope at the edge of that stenciled shape, leaving about 1/2” of rope free beyond that point; insert your needle from the back of the fabric up through the middle of the rope to secure it with a couching wrap stitch (or small whipstitch centered on the couching strip) at the edge of the stenciled shape, bringing the needle back down through both pinned layers of fabric to prepare for the next step.

4. Couch First Stenciled Shape
Using your fingers, hold the secured rope along the edge of the stenciled shape, and work one couching stitch around the rope to anchor it in place by bringing needle up on the edge of the paint line and going back down through the same hole through both layers of fabric. Realign rope with next part of stencil design’s edge, sew next couching stitch about 1/8” to 1/4″ away, and continue this process around this stenciled shape to arrive back at your starting point.

5. Finish Couching First Stenciled Shape
Trim the couching rope so it overlaps the beginning end by 1/8”, and secure the overlapped ends with a couching wrap stitch, stabbing the needle through the ends and pulling the thread through to the back of the work. Knot off your thread using a double knot.

Couching stitch example.
Detail of couching stitch

Original publish date: August 24, 2017.
Updated: June 14th, 2023.



Jessica Marquez is a professional photographer and the creator of Miniature Rhino, a full-time embroidery and teaching business based out of Brooklyn, New York. She is a self-taught embroideress who travels for inspiration and views instruction as one of her callings. She grew up surrounded by woman makers, who taught her to love all-things craft; one of the results of this love was her first book, Stitched Gifts: 25 Simple and Sweet Embroidery Projects for Every Occasionwhich she wrote and also photographed.


We came to know Jessica through one of our sewing workshop a few years ago, where she gifted Natalie with some of her embroidery kits. She often lists The School of Making in her classes as a resource for tools and techniques. Our relationship has continued and we were one of the first to receive a copy of her newest book, Make and Mend: Sashiko-Inspired Embroidery Projects to Customize and Repair Textiles and Decorate Your Home.


Make and Mend shares Jessica’s passion for hand embroidery and exposes the reader to the Japanese technique of sashiko—a stitching technique that uses simple stitches and patterns to mend and embellish fabric. Sashiko is a traditional technique to mend and repair, but is an easy way to add detail to any garment; it is a wonderful way to repair worn-out clothing or embellish your favorite pair of jeans. The book is easy for even the less-experienced stitcher and offers careful step-by-step instructions. It provides 15 projects and requires no equipment but needle and thread. The book is full of patterns and color and also delves into ways to be more environmentally friendly through crafting. We love that she is encouraging mending, rather than discarding less-than-perfect garments.


Through Jessica’s work, be inspired to mend and embellish your own garments in new ways.



This week we share insight and inspiration from The Art of Embroidery: Inspirational Stitches, Textures and Surfaces in a Journal series from our contributing writer, Elaine Lipson.

As I was reading Françoise Tellier-Loumagne’s The Art of Embroidery: Inspirational Stitches, Textures and Surfaces, her deep visual dive into embroidery as an art and design form, I began to imagine the first embroiderer. Sometime in the 5th century B.C., maybe somewhere in China, our original stitcher broke through the functional-stitching wall and went decorative. Accidentally or deliberately, a stitch was formed that was not purely functional. Maybe grasses or stones or flowers came into the sewer’s view and became the first stitched motifs — or maybe he or she put a bird on it — and infinite possibilities were born.


Whatever inspired that original stitcher, everything that embroiderers do today is essentially the same, except that the techniques have been refined over 2500 years, made into patterns and diagrams with smooth manufactured needles and flosses, styled with regional variations, expanded into different forms, even industrialized and made by machine — and we love mastering the medium with all of this helpful structure. But this book definitely isn’t for tracing patterns and coloring inside the lines; like that first embroiderer, you’ll be challenged to figure out processes on your own.


Instead, this book is for experimenting, improvising, and pushing your limits as a stitcher and an artist. “To embroider is to draw, paint and write,” Tellier-Loumagne says. To embroider is to “look, analyze, choose, explore and translate… to express yourself… to create, innovate… to develop and elaborate.” And finally, it is to “express yourself and communicate.” Through hundreds of color plates of stitched and embellished cloth, often paired with an inspiration photograph of anything from leaves to fences to an orange covered in a rainbow of mold, Tellier-Loumagne creates a dizzying array of textures, dimensional effects, repeat and irregular patterns, layered stitches, blended colors, and shapes. This main section of the book is organized into twelve sections, from lines and stripes to friezes and frames to allover designs, and almost any page can be a starting point for experimenting.


The Art of Embroidery will happily put you to work with threads and floss but also with plastic paillettes, synthetic threads, and machine stitching — anything goes. It has a minimalist stitch guide (for a more detailed exploration, look to The Geometry of Hand-Sewing) and a brief survey of specialties such as whitework, blackwork, and goldwork; but here too, other resources do a better job of breaking down formal embroidery techniques, if that’s what you’re after. But when you feel the need to experiment, like that original stitcher in 5th century China, let this book set you loose to freely express and interpret what you see with stitches, and be inspired by everything around you.


Here are links to some of Elaine’s favorite nature-inspired embroidery artists to explore:

Françoise Tellier-Loumagne

Bettina Matzkuhn

Meredith Woolnough



Our Craftsy virtual learning courses dive into hand embellishment and construction in The School of Making techniques. In The Swing Skirt: Techniques & Construction, Natalie walks you through each step of creating a hand-sewn garment. Creative Embellishments gives an in-depth look at our most popular hand embellishing techniques including quilting, reverse appliqué, whipstitch appliqué, and more. Natalie’s newest course—The New Embroidery: Simple Geometry, Beautiful Stitches—rounds out the series by sharing embroidery tips and tricks perfected over the years.


In this course, you’ll learn more about the grid system used throughout The Geometry of Hand-Sewing that provides you with a fool-proof method for achieving even, consistent stitches on any project. Natalie demonstrates how to use the grid system to embroider a wide range of stitches from the most basic to the more complex.

The course is broken into six lessons. The first covers the physics of sewing, how to use the grid system, and the tools and supplies you’ll need to get started. Lessons two, three, and four cover the different types of grids and stitches that can be made using each. Lesson five shows how to add beads and sequins to any stitch as well as lacing your stitches with a contrasting thread to add texture and color. In the final lesson, Natalie shares projects to practice your stitches including a stitch-sampler scarf and a reference binder of stitch samples you can refer back to as needed.


See all available virtual learning courses available through Craftsy here. Share your projects on Instagram using #theschoolofmaking and #thegeometryofhandsewing, and join our global maker community in The School of Making Stitchalong group on Facebook.

P.S.: If you purchase your class from the links on our website, we will earn a small commission from the product purchased through that link. This commission supports our business and helps us stock our 100% organic fabrics, pay our employees a living wage, and allows our teams to continue to design and create the products that you love. What might seem like a small gesture can go a long way for our business, so thank you.


Now available in the Maker Supplies + Stencils section of the website, a new take on our classic Armor Beads is available as the new Bead Mix product. Each new mix incorporates a variety of beads and sequins in an array of complementing and/or contrasting colors to add sparkle to your next project. Pair these mixes with embroidery stitches from The Geometry of Hand-Sewing and techniques from Natalie’s latest Craftsy class—Creative Embellishments.


Colorways from left to right: Gold Bomb, Silver Fox, and Burlesque; Natalie’s Mix pictured at top

Natalie’s Mix shown here in armor beading on page 102 of The Geometry of Hand-Sewing.

P.S.: If you purchase a Craftsy class from the links on our website, we will earn a small commission from the product purchased through that link. This commission supports our business and helps us stock our 100% organic fabrics, pay our employees a living wage, and allows our teams to continue to design and create the products that you love. What might seem like a small gesture can go a long way for our business, so thank you.



In Norwich Castle Museum in England, you can find several textiles made by a woman named Lorina Bulwer—embroideries that might be seen as messages of protest or anger. Of the three wool and cotton-scrap pieces, two are square images of arguing men, and the others are scrolls made of scraps, heavily embroidered with stream-of-consciousness-like text. Lorina sewed these messages from inside the Great Yarmouth Workhouse—an asylum.

Lorina Bulwer was born in the mid 1800s to parents who owned a chain of grocery stores. She appears to have been middle class, educated, and never married, living with her parents until their deaths. In the early 1900s, she was committed to the Great Yarmouth Workhouse by her brother, who decided that Lorina was “incapable of running her own affairs.” At that time, the workhouse was home to about 500 inmates, 60 of them (like Lorina) determined to be mentally ill and classified as “lunatics.” It was there that she created the embroidered scrolls and textiles expressing rage and frustration at her circumstances.

Her stitched messages were long tirades, all in upper case and without punctuation. Some of the things she writes appear to be fantasy, like her hopes of being related to the Royal Family. Other parts of the text refer to fellow inmates, their predicaments, and their deaths. She also suggests that she may have been sexually assaulted by a physician. Some of these events are verifiable or at least likely, as dates and names can be backed up by ledgers or legal records. Over 70 people are identified in the three tapestries, all apparently real, with her sister Anna Maria a frequent focus of Lorina’s ire.

It is unknown as to why Lorina was confined at Great Yarmouth. It is possible that she was indeed mentally ill and there was no one to care for her after her parents’ deaths; it is also possible that her siblings saw her as challenging or did not have the money or desire to take her into their homes. Asylums were also places that the destitute could go for health care if they had no financial support. Lorina had no problem expressing her disgust and sense of abandonment and held a specific belief that she had been cheated out of money.


No one has a clear understanding as to how or why these tapestries survived. Museum staff have theorized that a nurse may have kept them, but no one knows for sure. Two embroidered panels were found in an attic by incoming tenants, and they are now also housed at Great Yarmouth. Lorina Bulwer remained in the asylum until her death of influenza at age 79. Her body was not collected by family and she was interred at the Great Yarmouth Workhouse grounds. Details of her life and the asylum conditions are emerging over time and historians will undoubtedly continue to be fascinated by her story—told through needle and thread.



Images from Made in Slant



We’ve written in the past about the challenges that come from writing a book. This book alone went through numerous drafts and made its way around our studio to be proofed and edited many times before being sent back to our editors at Abrams. Despite the rounds of proofing and editing, incorrect versions of the following stitches somehow slipped through the cracks and made it into the book. Updated, correct photos of the Double Chain Stitch, Zigzag Chain Stitch back, and Coral Stitch back are shown below for reference. We’re sorry for the mix-up, and we hope that you love the book as much as we do. Happy sewing!

Page 49: Double Chain Stitch – Front


Page 49: Double Chain Stitch – Back


Page 57: Zigzag Chain Stitch – Back


Page 77: Coral Stitch – Back


P.S. – You can also download the errata sheet here to print and keep with your book.




The books have landed, and we’ve started shipping out copies of The Geometry of Hand-Sewing. The School of Making team is so excited to share this new resource—it has truly been a labor of love. The idea for this book blossomed from Natalie’s love of geometry and math. As our team started analyzing embroidery stitches, we realized that most stitches are based on a geometric grid system. This different take on embroidery makes even the most challenging stitches easy to achieve.


The Geometry of Hand-Sewing is an invaluable resource that provides detailed written instructions for over 100 embroidery stitches paired with illustrations and photographs for each stitch. The book features a spiral binding giving it a workbook feel—perfect for working through dozens of different types of embroidery stitches. Included in the back are two perforated stitch cards that you can tear out and use to practice stitches on or for marking guidelines for your stitches onto your desired surface. The first chapters of the book index the tools and notions we love to help perfect our stitches. Chapter 3 works through the basic, foundation stitches that are built upon throughout the book—starting with the simplest and working to the more complex.

Each stitch (over 100) in the book is diagrammed showing both the right-handed and left-handed points of view. We even included photos of the backsides of stitches, so that your technique will be practically perfect. Once you master the basic stitches, chapters 4-6 show you how to embellish stitches, manipulate the grids shown in the book, and how to combine stitches and embellishments into patterned stitches. Design details are listed in the back of the book, and there’s an index of all the stitches shown so you can quickly find exactly what you’re looking for.


Pre-orders have shipped, so keep an eye on the mail for your book. Look for products and programming to go along with The Geometry of Hand-Sewing in the coming weeks. Visit our Makers Supplies + Stencils section to find all the tools you’ll need to get started.

Happy stitching from Natalie and all of us @ The School of Making.



At The School of Making and Alabama Chanin, we’ve become known for our own style of embroidery and other stitched embellishment that involves applying thread, embroidery floss, beads, and other notions to organic cotton jersey. We know that some of these techniques can seem intimidating for even experienced sewers, and we have developed our newest book with just this in mind.

We are excited to finally announce that The Geometry of Hand-Sewing will be available in the coming months. The book shares what we’ve learned through experience and taught to hundreds of artisans and workshop guests over the years. It is our comprehensive guide for hand embellishment and breaks down even the more complicated techniques into smaller, easy to follow steps.

Our team took a look at the stitches we use daily—and some that we don’t use as often—and broke them down into basic geometry to see how everything could fit into a grid. We examine over 100 embroidery stitches in 7 different grid structures that come pre-punched on the included Stitching Cards as a way to help you understand and practice basic stitches.

Starting today, you can now pre-order your own signed copy of The Geometry of Hand-Sewing. We expect the book to be in our hands at The Factory early November, and we will start signing and shipping pre-ordered copies (plus a special gift) as soon as they arrive. Be on the lookout for more information on the book soon, and for new workshop programming focused solely on embroidery and embellishment detailed in the new book.

Purchase The Geometry of Hand-Sewing here.




We are continually intrigued by artists who conceive new ways to create old-fashioned arts. Cross stitch, which is one of the oldest forms of embroidery, was originally used to embroider textiles in ancient Egypt and China. Today, it is often used as a way to decorate clothing and fabric with flowers or patterns. Recently, Spanish artist Raquel Rodrigo has employed the technique to make walls of flowers.


Rodrigo’s education and background are in set design and interior design, but since 2014, she has been producing large-scale cross-stitched street art in Valencia and Madrid. Through a series of X’s, Rodrigo creates hibiscus flowers, roses, cherry blossoms, and other flowers, all best viewed from a distance.

The designs are made with thick string cross-stitched onto wire mesh. Rodrigo creates depth in her designs by combining different shades of string. She assembles her work in her studio, then rolls them up for transport. Her designs range in size and are situated in a number of places including buildings, window grates, bike racks, and chain-link fences—each piece highlighting the unique architectural qualities of its location.


Rodrigo uses enlarged cross-stitching as a form of guerrilla marketing for Arquicostura, a street-art marketing agency. Through Arquicostura—a word that combines the Spanish words for architecture and sewing—Rodrigo has created art for Alhambra, a luxury Italian brand, and Endora Productions.

Rodrigo’s work is a beautiful marriage of an age-old pastime with modern sensibility. The beauty in her flower creations and her innovative spirit inspire us to keep finding ways to make what is old new again.


Images from Arquicostura and This is Colossal.



Each month, we invite our fellow stitchers to create a favorite Alabama Chanin pattern, embellishment, or embroidery technique through our Swatch of the Month Club. As a companion to that monthly series, we are also offering DIY projects that you can create with your completed swatches. Past projects include DIY Swatch Pillows, DIY Book Covers, a DIY Clutch, and a DIY Swatch Wrap. This month, we illustrate how to add an embellished pocket to a finished tote bag using August’s Beaded Kristina’s Rose swatch.

August’s completed Swatch of the Month (or your favorite swatch of choice)
1 – 1 ¼”-wide strip of fabric, measuring 16” long, cut across the grain, for binding
Alabama Chanin #3 Organic Tote Bag

Basic sewing supplies: needles, embroidery scissors, pins, rotary cutter, ruler, cutting mat

Complete your swatch of choice according to the instructions – or create a swatch using your personal design choices. Alabama Studio Sewing + Design can provide instruction on techniques and embroidery options, if you need additional guidance or inspiration.


Use your iron to press your 1 ¼” binding strip in half, lengthwise, with wrong sides together. Position your swatch horizontally and encase the top edge of the swatch with your binding. Pin or baste the binding strip into place. Whipstitch the raw edge of the binding to your fabric swatch to secure. You may also opt to use a decorative or stretchable stitch, based on your personal design preference.

Lay your tote on a level surface and smooth the fabric to make sure it lies flat and unwrinkled. Center your swatch – with the finished edge on top – in the center of the tote’s face. When positioning the swatch, align the top edge with the opening of the tote. Pin your swatch onto the outside of the tote bag.

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Each month, we feature a favorite Alabama Chanin embroidery technique as part of our Swatch of the Month Club. Additionally, we offer suggestions as to how you might put your completed swatches to use. Past month’s project offerings have included the DIY Clutch, DIY Book Covers, and DIY Swatch Pillows. This month – with 6 completed swatches to utilize – we offer instructions on how to construct a Tied Wrap. Our wrap uses our completed swatches from January through June; each reworked using a White/Natural colorway.


6 completed Swatch of the Month panels (or 6 – 10” x 16” cotton jersey fabric swatches of your choice)
1 – 20” x 48” rectangle of cotton jersey fabric, for optional backing layer
2 cotton jersey ropes 18” long (see page 8 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design)
Basic sewing supplies: scissors, needles, thread, pins, and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, which includes all necessary instructions for completing swatches and Tied Wrap.

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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.


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Each Thursday on the Journal we post DIY projects and ideas. On Thursdays following our highlight of the Swatch of the Month, we will be creating projects made from our completed swatches as a source of inspiration for those of you following along. At Alabama Chanin, swatches start out as a design concept for new collections, but as we have discovered over the years, you can do almost anything with them.

We have chosen to take the swatches from the past three months and create decorative pillows. We re-worked the swatches from January, February, and March using the Neutrals color scheme, in order to create a cohesive look for the entire project. Follow the instructions for creating a pillow on page 109 of Alabama Studio Style, making accommodations for the size of your chosen pillow.

Whatever their size, these pillows make great accents for a couch, chair, or bed. I love them in simple color-blocked versions and, as we’ve done here, with the front side embellished with swatches.

March’s swatch, the Beaded Fern, is appliqued to a 12” x 20” double-layer White pillow, lined with White piping, with a whipstitch and Dogwood thread.


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This stuffed bunny rabbit is Alabama Chanin’s version of the old-time childhood favorite, the sock monkey. My grandmother used to make sock monkeys for all the children in our family. Each one she made took its own personality and looked different from the others. Our DIY Bunny Rabbit doll is an easy project to complete, and is a perfect handmade gift for the little ones this holiday. And each time you make this project, your bunny will take on its own unique personality, much like the well-loved sock monkeys from my childhood.

Get creative with your bunny rabbit – you can customize the fabric colors and embroidery floss, change his face to reflect any mood, or even turn him into another woodland creature. (One of our studio team members recently made a little stuffed bear by altering our pattern a bit.)

All of the instructions for this bunny, along with the pattern, are available in Alabama Stitch Book.

Make a few with friends, kids, neighbors, and community.


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December’s Desktop of the Month highlights an elaborate modification of a traditional embroidery technique, negative reverse appliqué.

Negative reverse appliqué looks much like traditional appliqué, but is worked slightly differently. Here, we stencil the top layer of fabric, then place it on top of the backing fabric. We then use a straight stitch to attach the top layer of fabric to the bottom layer, and cut away the top layer of fabric, leaving a 1/4” sliver of top-layer fabric beyond the stitching line.

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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 a stenciled base fabric.

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For those of you who sew often, you likely understand how something as simple as draping fabric can also be very complex. For those of you who don’t, or who are novice sewers, the technique of fabric draping can involve more than just hanging fabric in a lovely way. It is not likely that a Roman emperor casually tossed a bed sheet over his shoulder one day and called it a toga, just as it isn’t likely that a lovely red carpet gown accidentally folds so perfectly around the waist of a posing starlet.

Technically, draping is the ability of a fabric to fall under its own weight into wavy folds. There are different strategies based upon the weight and stiffness of the fabric, its flexibility and tendency to stretch, and the general effect of gravity upon the fabric. Some softer, more flexible fabrics will make drapes that ripple and are more form fitting; stiffer and thicker fabrics will have less flow. When designing patterns, adding draping to your design increases the pattern-making difficulty immensely.


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This past February, Alabama Chanin partnered with the team at Craftsy, an online community of makers who offer projects, craft ideas, and courses on dozens of topics. Our online class, Hand-Embellishing Knit Fabric: Stenciling, Appliqué, Beading, and Embroidery, has provided us with a new way to interact with our fellow makers and has given us the opportunity to share just a few of the techniques that we teach in our Workshops.

We have talked before about the concept of online learning and how the Internet is making education opportunities that were once expensive and inconvenient cheaper and more accessible. Enrolling in online courses takes geography out of the equation. It is no longer essential to sit in a physical classroom with other participants. You don’t have to plan your life around when classes are scheduled. Online classes, like our Craftsy course, allow you the opportunity to learn the same stitches and techniques as someone on the other side of the country, or the world.

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Earlier this year, we featured artist, friend, and collaborator, Anna Maria Horner. As that week came to a close, we were inspired by Anna Maria’s elaborate needlepoint projects and decided we would experiment with more involved embroidery techniques ourselves. For our first project, the  Embroidered Flowers T-shirt, we mixed traditional embroidery stitch work with retro patterns using modern silhouettes. We adapted a vintage McCall’s pattern for the floral embroidery design and used the Alabama Chanin T-shirt pattern as the base. The result was relatively simple to complete.

For this project, our Garden Geometry Skirt, inspired by Anna Maria’s pattern of the same name (and available in Anna Maria’s Needleworks Notebook), we adapted our Swing Skirt, creating intricate embroidery designs on a larger scale. In her book, Anna Maria writes, “this is by far the most straightforward approach I have made toward the traditional way of creating a crewel design.” As she also mentions, the pattern lends itself to enlargement and experimentation. The result is a colorful expression of our experimentation. Make your own Garden Geometry Skirt using fabric and thread colors that suit your personal style. There are stitch and pattern diagrams available in Anna Maria’s Needleworks Notebook that can help direct your design.


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Last  fall, one of my neighbors gave me a box of vintage patterns he found tucked away in his basement. The weather-stained cardboard box that once belonged to his mother was filled with patterns that represented decades of accumulation: Vogue Patterns, McCall’s, Simplicity, and Butterick . Each had been purchased for as little as a dollar and some change.



Click on image to enlarge.

To create Little Folks: 1. Stencil fabric using Little Folks stencil and the stenciling technique of your choice. 2. Backstitch square shapes by stitching directly on stenciled edge. 3. Backstitch circle shapes inside of the flowers by stitching 1/8’ inside stenciled line and cut 1/8” outside of stenciled line. 4. Backstitch diamond shapes by stitching directly on stenciled edge and cut 1/8” inside diamond shape. 5. Backstitch flower shape then cut 1/8” inside the backstitch. 6. Whipstitch straight lines inside the flower shapes. 7. Add satin sequins using eyelet stitch. 8. Add French knots in between satin sequins.


In 2005, I was inducted into The Council of Fashion Designers of America.  Long before that time (and during my days as a stylist in Europe), I didn’t really know what the CFDA was (or did). However, the organization was founded in 1962 by Eleanor Lambert as a not-for-profit trade organization to support American womenswear, menswear, jewelry, and accessory designers. Today, the CFDA consists of over 400 members across the nation (we have 2 from Alabama). Their mission statement has grown to reflect a desire to “advance artistic and professional standards within the fashion industry, establish and maintain a code of ethics and practices of mutual benefit in professional, public, trade relations, promote and improve understanding and appreciation of the fashion arts through leadership in quality and taste, and to support the overall growth of American fashion as a global industry.”

Some of the programs growing out of this agency include the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund for which Alabama Chanin was a finalist in 2009 and which Billy Reid (the other CFDA member in the state of Alabama) won in 2010. Other programs include CFDA Fashion Awards, Made in Midtown, and the great {Fashion Incubator} program, among many others.


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As most of our readers know, we have a deep love and admiration for our friend – and collaboratorAnna Maria Horner. She is an artist, fluent in more than one creative medium. She not only creates bold and unique fabrics, some of which we have adapted into Alabama Chanin garments, but she also designs kitchen and paper goods, writes, works as the spokesperson for Janome, and keeps up with her beautiful family, all while pregnant with baby #7.

As I read through my new copy of Anna Maria’s Needleworks Notebook, I was moved by her descriptions of family and creativity and how being surrounded by the beautiful handmade things they made influenced her life path. While my parents weren’t as prolifically artistic as Anna Maria’s, the stories of her grandmothers and their sewing resonate with me strongly.


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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.


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I first saw Tilleke Schwarz’s work in an exhibition called Pricked: Extreme Embroidery at the Museum of Arts & Design in New York. The needlework was displayed proudly as contemporary art by extraordinary female artists. Boundaries were pushed as textile art was made. Friend, Maira Kalman, also had work on view.

Tilleke’s work resonated with me with its elaborate technique and profound artistic statement. At the time, her first book Mark Making (2007) had quickly sold out, so when her self-published second book, New Potatoes, came out a few years later I readily ordered 10 copies.



You can add texture to anything (and everything) with our Spiral embroidery technique from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Personally, I would like to have a Spiral embroidered couch; however, my production manager just shakes his head.

Perhaps a quicker and easier place to start is with a set of the Spiral embroidered coffee cozies shown above.

Instructions for this coffee cozy below.

Spiral stencil available to download from our Maker Supplies + Stencils page here.

Spiral embroidery instructions available in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

Time is your own.



This month’s Desktop of the Month features our Spiral embroidery technique from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Due to its textural quality, I think the Spiral is one of the most beautiful techniques that we use here at Alabama Chanin. Those that wear garments embellished with this simple (but time consuming) embroidery treatment often remark that perfect strangers ask to touch their garments. While you can’t touch this image, it gives you a perfect illustration of what it might be like to touch and be touched.

Come back this Thursday for our DIY Spiral Embroidered Coffee Cozies (although I wish it was for my DIY Spirals Couch).

Fabric swatch showing appliqué couching around a floral stencil on plum-colored fabric.


Couching is another age-old technique that we employ over, and over again as a design practice at Alabama Chanin.

When embellishing, we often use cotton jersey pulls as appliqué to give weight and a sculptural quality to our crafted garments and home goods.

From page 110 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design:

“At Alabama Chanin, we use the term couching to describe a form of appliqué in which cotton jersey ropes are appliquéd to a base fabric with a parallel whipstitch, following a design stenciled on the fabric.”


As one of our advanced techniques, couching requires a steady hand and thoughtful eye to hold the fabric into position as you sew. In the image above, the fabric is worked in our Anna’s Garden stencil with Pearl cotton yarn, or couching cord, as an alternative to our cotton jersey pulls. Using the same technique, this couching cord provides a finer amount of detail and a lighter weight than fabrics worked with our cotton jersey ropes. Here, we chose to embroider both the inside and outside of our stenciled shapes.

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We (HEART) this story in the newest NO’ALA Magazine (on pages 110-117) about our custom made Bridal gowns:


It takes a village:

“Once the elements of the gown are chosen, Diane, the master seamstress, measures the bride and Carra-Ellen cuts the fabric and prepares the pattern. Steven, the production manager, applies the stencil to the fabric using an airbrush technique. And with Natalie’s stamp of approval, Olivia prepares the kits for the artisans.

The artisans, who are all from the North Alabama area, are independent contractors, who charge per square inch, depending upon the intricacy of the stitching. This cottage industry-style production model allows artisans to work from their own homes and set their own wages.”


Plan ahead:

“Brides should allow three weeks for online orders and several months for a custom gown. ‘It’s a slow process,’ says Lyndsie, ‘but it’s well worth the wait.’”You can contact Lyndsie: office (at) alabamachanin.com. Look for our new bridal line to launch soon.


P.S.: What did you wear to your wedding(s)?

“A handmade silk slip underneath a silk brocade, baby blue fur-collared evening coat from Anna Molinari, heels, and a diamond choker,” says Natalie. “Totally 1996.”


No one can find inner peace except by working,
not in a self-centered way, but for the whole human family.
– Peace Pilgrim

There are many ways to make DIY Peace.

Mildred Norman set off on New Year’s Day and began to walk across the country in the name of peace. Changing her name to Peace Pilgrim, she said, “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace.” Peace Pilgrim continued her journey until her death in July 1981.  That’s 28 years of walking for peace.

Others have worked for peace in their own ways. There have been singers for peace, like Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, or Bob Dylan. Many have spent their lives attempting to create peace on a global level: Nelson Mandela, fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter, Elie Wiesel. There are those like Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, who have devoted their lives to prayer and meditation for peace. So many across the world continue to protest and work for peace.

At Alabama Chanin, we only know how to do what we CAN do to promote peace… So, for today, while it may seem trivial, that’s as simple as our Peace Skirt.  It’s not earth shattering; it’s a skirt. However, perhaps the time sewing, and/or the time wearing will give us each a little time to reflect, or to work towards peace in small ways for our own lives.

Make your own or purchase our DIY Peace Skirt Kit (kit comes ready-to-sew and includes all fabric, floss, and thread needed to complete your project).

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I think that our Beaded Fern treatment lends a holiday feel to December’s Desktop of the Month. Up close, Beaded Fern resembles a holiday tree, but the glass beads can also catch your eye across a crowded room.

Perfect for your next holiday gathering…

Learn more about the Fern Stencil here and flip to page 121 in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design to begin stitching one of your own.


When working on a new collection, part of the design process involves creating fabric swatches in various colorways and patterns, and using an assortment of embellishment techniques. These “samples” help us quickly and sustainably choose the perfect finish for our garments.

I’ve written before about our Sample Block library and swatches as part of a sustainable design practice. Unfortunately, not all created swatches make their way into the final collection and library. Subtle changes might happen in the design process or a color dropped from the line altogether. However, these swatches are all beautiful in their own right. A stunning way to display them (rather than having them collect on my desk) is to incorporate these swatches into a Sampler Block Shawl, modeled after the Sample Block Quilt.

The 10” x 16” dimension is based on the size of the binders we use to store our fabric blocks. You can use any dimension of fabric block you’d prefer by cutting organic cotton jersey to your desired size.

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From the Creativebug Website:

“Reverse applique is the signature look of Natalie’s designs at Alabama Chanin. Natalie demystifies the process in this workshop, showing you how to add depth and texture to a cotton table runner. The technique is worked on two layers of fabric, with the top layer stenciled and then stitched to the backing layer. Once stitched in place, parts of the top layer are cut away to expose the color below for a satisfying final reveal.”

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I have had a set of cotton twill curtains in my house for years. I don’t really remember where I bought them anymore; they have just been a part of my home for ages. This spring, I got a set of new set of (more energy efficient) French doors to replace the 1950s era sliding glass doors that open from my kitchen to the back patio.

Because the curtain rod now needed to be moved, I took the cotton twill curtains down for a wash – and I decided to decorate them.

Applique Curtain- DIY (8)

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Kristina’s Rose is one of our newest fabric designs and stencil patterns, seen in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. The undulating circular pattern is reminiscent of the Circle Spiral Applique from page 156 of Alabama Studio Style, but translated using more elegant techniques.

Highlighted in Chapter 8 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.: Fabric + Fabric Maps, the Kristina’s Rose fabric (page 126) uses the folded stripe appliqué technique from page 108 of Chapter 7 in combination with the stripe with beaded chain stitch on page 105,  and the beaded rosebud stitch from page 79 of Chapter 5 – all worked in loose, undulating circles.

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As we posted last Tuesday, I highly recommend that you start a library to document your design work. As you create your samples, make them 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 work towards making a Sampler Throw like the one shown above. As we develop our many fabrics, it often happens that a particular sample, as beautiful as it may be, just doesn’t fit neatly into one of our Fabric Swatch Books or collections. That was the case with the swatches that became the basis for this Sampler Throw. You may even find that you want to make the Sampler Throw not as a way of developing different fabric swatches, but just because it’s a beautiful and easy project. Either way, I urge you to explore our stencils, colors, techniques, and stitches to sustain rewarding design experiences.

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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.

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Mending is not something we – as a culture – spend a lot of time doing these days.  Fast fashion and mass consumerism has taught us to simply throw older or imperfect items away and replace them with newer versions. I am all for the “Sewing Schoolyard” – let’s teach ourselves and our kids to mend – a satisfying task.

My favorite, 10-year old tea towels have seen better days; but, I just can’t find the perfect replacement.  I use our Alabama Chanin Tea Towels for most kitchen tasks but these have just given me so much kitchen love that I can’t bear to part with them.

In perfect wabi-sabi style, Olivia – our Studio Assistant (and budding pattern maker) – mended my old tea towels using scraps of our organic cotton jersey and Button Craft thread.  Using applique in combination with seed, whip and eyelet stitches, she repaired the holes and covered the stains.  Perfect.

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The whimsical fabric creations of Stitch Magic are simply breath-taking. Alison takes inspiration from Colette Wolff’s sewing fetish book The Art of Manipulating Fabric, giving a contemporary spin to twenty beautiful projects, ranging from home decor to fashion accessories. Machine sewn projects include fabric necklaces with dainty button closures and hand embellished egg cozies that are two of our favorites.

We combined our hand-sewing techniques with simple pin tucks from page 58 and quilting from page 82 to make these tea towels using the pattern from page 91 of Alabama Stitch Book and our 100% organic cotton jersey in medium-weight (colors Sand and Doeskin).

My daughter loves to use these tea towels for napkins, as a bib to cover her school clothes when eating breakfast (we use a wooden clothespin to hold two corners behind her neck) and she takes one to school in her lunch box to use as her own personal placemat.  She started kindergarten last Thursday and I think I will be making a lot of these tea towels in the coming year! Continue reading


Thank you to Sara for showing me the work of Lauren DiCioccio and a new way to look at the everyday.

Artist Statement:

My work investigates the physical/tangible beauty of commonplace mass-produced media-objects, most recently: the newspaper, magazines, office papers and writing pads, plastic bags, 35 mm slides. These media are becoming obsolete, replaced by the invisible efficiency of various technologies. In some cases, this transition is a good thing- faster transmission and distribution of information, streamlined systems, openness to user input, less waste. But a hole is left behind by the disappearance of these everyday objects. What will happen when we no longer touch information? When newsprint does not rub off onto our fingertips? When we no longer write longhand?

The tedious handiwork and obsessive care I employ to create my work aims to remind the viewer of these simple but intimate pieces of everyday life and to provoke a pang of nostalgia for the familiar physicality of these objects.


The Doo-Nanny was amazing this year and I have arrived back home after what seems like months. It was lovely to sit at my dining room table this morning and think about all the stories and laughter…

I hope that you can all join us next year in Seale. It is a magical experience and there will be more about this next week. BUT… back to today.   I have been asked over the course of the last year (about a hundred and one times) to start a video blog and I have probably tried it just as many times. I never once posted the video for one reason or the other but mainly because I could not make it through one video watching myself and hearing my own voice. Ever felt that way?   Anyway, I have been broken by peer pressure (Melanie + Gilberto I am writing to the two of you) and here present Video Blog #1. Depending on the feedback (ahmmm… this means to comment below), I will start to share one on a regular basis.   So here you have the story of “Loving Your Thread.” You will find this story in both Alabama Stitch Book and Alabama Studio Style.

Loving Your Thread is at the core of our work at Alabama Chanin and at the core of my work as an entrepreneur. After I become a Video Blog Aficionado, I will most likely want to do this one again.

Smile and let me know if you need subtitles for my Southern accent…


I have been traveling so much that it has been difficult to keep up with all of the inspiring people, places and things that have crossed my path these last months. I am looking forward to slowing down for the holidays to process.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, I had the opportunity to tour the incredible International Quilt Study Center where the most fantastic, pristine, beautiful quilts find a home and are perfectly archived for future generations.

Visit their site to explore their magnificent collections.


Elegant Stitches is by far the best illustrated guide to simple, as well as extremely complicated stitching. Our Stitchers all have a copy that have been dog-eared and used over and over again.

Get your copy here: Elegant Stitches by Judith Baker Montano