Tag Archives: Fabrics

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.



With a continually evolving supply chain and our mission to be as resourceful as possible, we have a few updates to announce. The School of Making is introducing new colors of Embroidery Floss. Our colors are now available in a rotating selection—some all-time favorite colors will stay, some other colors will come-and-go with the seasons.

Due to popular demand, we’ve also added Limited-Edition Fabrics back to Maker Supplies. Colors will roll on and off, per availability. Because of this, and natural variations between dye lots, we recommend purchasing all the floss and fabric you will need for your projects at the same time.


Be sure to follow The School of Making on Facebook and Instagram for the latest announcements and updates.



Part of our newest Collection includes our first garments made from organic chambray fabric, courtesy of organic cotton pioneer Sally Fox. Sally was an invaluable resource for Alabama Chanin + Billy Reid as we tackled our challenging experiment in growing organic cotton in Alabama. She has worked for decades experimenting with colored cotton and researching pest-resistant strains of organic cotton through her company, FoxFibre.


In the past, we have utilized Sally’s sturdy organic colored cotton for aprons, and we have maintained our relationship with her, as she is always innovating and looking for new perspectives on employing her fabrics. The cotton used for the organic chambray is grown on Sally’s farm in California, then spun, woven, and eco-finished in Japan. The black chambray that we use is dyed using a combination of steps including actual natural indigo and low-impact dyed indigo. The chambray drapes differently than our traditional organic cotton jersey, allowing us to experiment with new silhouettes and structures—creating patterns with a bit more structure and architectural features.


Sylvia Dress


Leighton Skirt

These chambray garments allow our design team to utilize more tailoring details and experiment with new shapes and techniques. The chambray pieces, like the Sylvia Dress and Leighton Skirt, are constructed using a combination of machine-sewn and hand-finished techniques, combining all aspects of our design and production methods. This woven fabric provides variance of texture and adds new facets when incorporated into appliqué. Our design team finds that it brings an interesting depth of surface dimension, adds interesting edges, and provides cohesion for this new collection.


The quality of the chambray is remarkable—exquisite, fine cotton with a slight slub texture. It feels distinctive and luxurious. We are excited about this new offering and the diversity it brings to our collection. We invite you to explore our chambray garments— the Alexa Skirt, Leighton Skirt, Lee Dress, Sylvia Dress, and Valerie Dress—and look for more offerings in the future.

View our current Collection here.



We’ve written before about the importance of sample blocks and how we use them to design our collections and other projects. As you explore new techniques, we encourage you to create your own fabric library to document your process. The most efficient way we’ve found to do so is to attach what we call “headers” to each one of your sample blocks.


To make your own header for a 10” x 16” sample block, follow the instuctions below:

  1. Cut an 8 1/2″ x 11” piece of white cardstock in half lengthwise so it measures 4 1/4″ x 11.”
  2. 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.
  3. Using a three-hole punch, punch each long side of your folded header to create a total of 12 holes.
  4. 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.
  5. Place one 10” edge of your fabric swatch on top of the double-stick tape, making sure that it is centered on your cardstock.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Knot off securely. Your fabric swatch is now attached to your header.

We have our headers printed locally with our logo, but in the past, we used a rubber stamp to add our logo to our headers. We also give each fabric swatch a number and a name that can be referenced in the creation of new garments.

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.




The Sylvan stencil is one of Alabama Chanin’s most intricate and involved yet—mimicking the details of its namesake (the woods). The design groups leaves, flowers, petals, and stems showcasing various embroidery stitches and techniques.

The Lark Tee and Liza Dress are machine-sewn garments that feature Sylvan hand embroidery, which adds depth and texture to the simple silhouettes. Sylvan styles are available in four colorways: Silver, Baby Blue, Concrete, and Black—each with unique thread and paint colors.

Find these styles and 100% hand-sewn garments that also feature Sylvan in the Alabama Chanin Collection.


Left: Lark Tee; Right: Lark Tee and The Mid-Length Skirt


Top: The Cocoon Cardigan and Liza Dress; Bottom: Liza Dress

View our current Collection here.



Continue your year of making and designing with our second, limited-edition Design Bundle. Like the first quarter, Design Bundle #2 contains fabric, thread, embroidery floss, and beads that are intended to be used as tools to practice appliqué, embroidery, or beading treatments from our Alabama Studio Book Series.

Offering a new range of pre-selected fabric and paint colors, this Design Bundle includes Natural, Ochre, Peacock, Black, and Faded Polka Dot fabric selections. Our classic Small Polka Dot stencil is paired with Aurora—a new stencil design with an Art Deco motif. New, complementary paint colors are also introduced with each fabric color.

The notion colors are updated to include Ochre, Ecru, Peacock, Black, and Ashe Embroidery Floss and Gold Armor Beads.

Use the treatments, color combinations, and beading designs as inspiration for your next sewing project and add all the completed swatches to your growing fabric library.


What you will get:

  • Design Bundle Color Card
  • 10 – 10” x 16” swatches of organic medium-weight cotton jersey (two of each) in Natural, Faded Polka Dot, Ochre, Peacock, and Black, as your bottom layer
  • 5 – 10” x 16” swatches of organic medium-weight cotton jersey (one of each) in Natural, Faded Polka Dot, Ochre, Peacock, and Black stenciled in Aurora to use as your top layer
  • 5 – 10” x 16” swatches of organic medium-weight cotton jersey (one of each) in Natural, Faded Polka Dot, Ochre, Peacock, and Black stenciled in Small Polka Dot to use as your top layer
  • Choose between tonal or metallic paint (metallic paint pictured above)
  • 5 spools of Button Craft Thread in Cream, Slate, Dogwood, Navy, and Black
  • 5 spools of Embroidery Floss in Ecru, Ashe, Ochre, Peacock, and Black
  • 5 vials of Beads: Clear Bugle, Dark Grey Bugle, Gold Armor, Brown Seed, and Black Chop


“Sail on, silver girl. Sail on by… Your time has come to shine; all your dreams are on their way.” – Simon and Garfunkel

Silver: a very malleable element that is capable of a high degree of polish. Its atomic number is 47 and its symbol on the periodic table of elements is Ag, from the Latin word argentum.

One of the seven metals of antiquity, silver was known by prehistoric man and was almost certainly used as a primitive form of money.

In Italian, silver is translated as argento; in Spanish it is plata; in Polish, srebro, and in Scottish Gaelic, airgid.

Silver and gold can form in star explosions, or supernovae; smaller stars produce silver, while large star explosions produce gold.

A powerful color, silver can supposedly bring mental, physical, and emotional harmony. It is associated with spirituality, introspection, illumination, and artistic endeavors. Silver is a link to the moon – to the ebb and flow of tides. In Islam, the Urdu word for silver is chandi, which means soft spoken and eloquent. In folklore, silver often has mystical powers and associations, offering protection from witches, werewolves, and monsters.


Our Collection’s spring color palette has until now included Black, Concrete, Baby Blue, Natural, White, and the recently launched Navy. Silver is newest to the color card—another earthy, natural hue that complements its sister colors in tone and in mood. May it inspire your imagination and your meditations.

Explore the Collection and find embroidered and Core styles in our signature organic jersey, now also available in Silver.



We’ve seen such beautiful pieces made with our Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey collaboration with Spoonflower that we’ve decided to add another design. Now available is our 100% Organic Medium-weight Cotton Jersey in Sand printed with our newest Daisy Stencil design in teal.


Experiment with our newest design of Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey using patterns available on our Resources page or in our Alabama Studio Book Series.

Look for more project inspiration on our Journal in weeks to come.

In the meantime, check out past projects we’ve made using our printed fabric like our popular Swing Skirt and Factory Tunic, and find Daisy project inspiration here.



All of our medium-weight cotton jersey yardage is now sold unwashed. This includes all medium-weight fabric sold by the yard and included in Build a Wardrobe. Our DIY kits and finished garments are cut from pre-shrunk yardage, so this change does not affect our sizing in any way.

Since our medium-weight jersey fabric shrinks approximately 3% in length and 1% in width once washed, we ship generous cuts of fabric to allow for shrinkage. We recommend that you pre-wash your fabric in the same way you intend to launder your finished garment—preferably in cold or warm water—to ensure that your finished garment will not shrink after it’s been through the wash.

If you have questions about our unwashed fabric or need help choosing the right amount of yardage for your project, please give us a call at + 1.256.760.1090 or email us at orders (at) alabamachanin.com.



Anyone who is familiar with our company knows that Alabama Chanin is built on the beliefs of collaboration and the open exchange of information. Our connections and relationships with fellow designers, makers, customers, and suppliers run deep, and we appreciate every opportunity to learn from, be inspired by, and to teach and work with others. Examples of design and manufacturing collaborations from Alabama Chanin include Patagonia, 6397, Heath Ceramics, Little River Sock Mill, and DPM candles.

And after months of development (and years of requests for pre-printed yardage), we’re happy to announce our newest collaboration: The School of Making @ Spoonflower. The fabric base is our 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey in Natural, printed with grey ink, in two designs: Anna’s Garden and New Leaves.


These designs are digitally printed using eco-friendly, water-based inks and dyes. Unlike our normal jersey yardage, this fabric is sold unwashed.

We are testing this first foray into pre-printed fabrics—so based on the response, look for expanded selections in the future. Be sure to wash your fabric before beginning any new project and, as always, share what you create with us using #theschoolofmaking on social media.


Purchase Limited-Edition Printed Cotton Jersey here.

Learn more about Spoonflower here and follow along @theschoolofmaking on Instagram here.


For the uninitiated, Spoonflower is a North Carolina-based web company that allows individuals to design, print, and even sell their own fabrics, wallpaper, and giftwrap. Founded in 2008 by Gart Davis and Stephen Fraser, the Spoonflower user community now numbers over a million people who use their digital textile printers to print custom runs of fabric. This is not typical large-run, conventional textile manufacturing. Their large-format inkjet printers can create small batches at a relatively inexpensive cost. They print fabric with very little waste of materials or environmental impact. The company uses eco-friendly, water-based inks on natural and synthetic textiles, with no additional chemicals added to the production process.


Recently, Fraser has created a book that is intended to help readers and makers get the most out of the Spoonflower technology—The Spoonflower Handbook: A DIY Guide to Designing Fabric, Wallpaper, and Gift Wrap. Designing digital art is intimidating and seems complicated to the average person. But, while the book assumes that the reader is familiar with using a computer, the instructions make the design process understandable for those who aren’t that tech-savvy. The book contains about 30 projects and its chapters are structured so skills build upon one another. Even if you opt not to use the Spoonflower printing service, you can still use the information in the book to create your own patterns and designs.


The book itself is structured in two parts. The first part is designed to get the reader comfortable with digital design. It describes how the Spoonflower print-on-demand process works, and also gives important information on different types of printing surfaces and how to create digital files. Part one does an excellent job of delving into relatively complicated topics like color and repeating design patterns. In part two, they build on the basics of part one with a number of projects and invite the reader to experiment with simple ideas and more complex techniques. There are plenty of examples of projects and custom designs created by Spoonflower’s maker community.


We have been experimenting with the Spoonflower site for a while now and are excited about the possibilities it affords us in our design processes. We look forward to a few The School of Making + Spoonflower special projects available this fall. Stay tuned…


“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal — that is your success.” – Henry David Thoreau

Recently, longtime friend and collaborator Kristine Vejar created fabric for us using a technique from her newest book, The Modern Natural Dyer. Kristine gathered flowers and plants from her woods and garden and dyed several yards of our 100% organic cotton jersey by pressing the flowers into the fabric. She puts this process to work in her Flowers at My Fingertips Sewing Kit project found on page 79 of The Modern Natural Dyer. We were drawn to the idea of dyeing fabric with whole flowers; a step in a different direction of our previous indigo dyeing projects.

We used our custom-dyed fabric from Kristine to create this one-of-a-kind version of our Maggie Tunic – the pattern featured in the first quarter of our Build a Wardrobe program.

The fabric used here was dyed by pressing the flowers into the fabric and then rolling it tightly to transfer the color. There are many common flowers that make great dyeing materials. Kristine suggests using marigolds, cosmos, dahlias, yarrow, and coreopsis to create vivid and long-lasting imprints. Play around with the plants that you use, you just might discover a flower with beautiful, hidden dying potential. These flowers can be picked at, or just after, their peaks (freeze or dry your flowers to store them). And don’t forget to save a few seeds for your garden next year.

After you’ve gathered your flowers, it is time to dye your fabric. Kristine followed the cellulose-based fiber instructions in The Modern Natural Dyer when she went to scour and mordant the fabric (p. 57 and p. 59). She skipped the chalk/wheat bran bath all together. Below, we offer a basic synopsis of how to create this fabric, but we recommend that you consult Kristine’s book for detailed instructions before attempting the project yourself.


First, bundle and dampen the fabric that you are going to use to create your pressed flower project. Lay your fabric out flat and place a row of flowers along the middle of the fabric. Fold the top third of the fabric over, being careful to gently press each flower into the fabric with the palm of your hand. Fold the bottom third of the fabric over the top, and begin rolling your bundle. As you roll your bundle, continue adding flowers and greenery as you wish. Secure your fabric bundle tightly with string.

Place your fabric bundle in a large pot and completely submerge the bundle with water. (You can add flowers to the dyebath to add more color.) Over the course of 30 minutes, heat your dyebath to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, turning the bundle halfway through. Then, simmer for another hour.

Turn off the heat and let your fabric rest until it is cool. Once the fabric is cool, unroll your bundle and remove the flowers. Wash your fabric and allow it to dry.

You can learn more about the process here on Kristine’s blog, where she explains how she “printed” on our cotton jersey.


Garment: Maggie Tunic
Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Natural
Button Craft thread – Natural
Technique – See the Flowers at My Fingertips project on page 79-83 of The Modern Natural Dyer
Knots – Outside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan stitch

Follow along on social media and on our Journal with the hashtags:

And follow along with Kristine at A Verb for Keeping Warm and on Instagram @avfkw.


December has arrived, and with it come holiday parties, family get-togethers, and plenty of reasons to cook and bake. The Factory’s calendar is a little less packed this month, simply because we all have so much to do at home and with our families.

But—great news! December is National Egg Nog Month. No matter what you celebrate or when, December offers plenty of opportunities to participate. (We recommend Martha Stewart’s classic recipe—but drink with caution. Martha’s recipe packs a punch!)

December 3 – Café Nights: Wine Cocktails with Zach.  Join Chef Zach at the Factory Café for specialty drinks and cocktails. Small Bites + Snacks will also be available for purchase.

December 7 – The final First Monday @ The Factory of the year, from 8:30am – 11:30am. Bring your projects and sit, share, sew—and make plans for next year’s to-dos.

December 10 – Sip + Sew @ The Factory. Share your work from the year while enjoying some beer, wine, or your beverage of choice.

December 12 – National Ambrosia Day. An entire day to celebrate your favorite aunt’s favorite holiday dish!

December 21 – Winter Solstice. Today, the Northern Hemisphere is pointed at its furthest distance from the sun, bringing less light and colder temperatures. For those of us on the northern part of the planet, the shortest day of the year comes at the solstice. After today, the days will get longer and the nights shorter. This year’s winter solstice will occur at exactly 10:49pm CST.

December 24 + 25 – Alabama Chanin offices and The Factory are closed for the Christmas holidays.

December 27 – National Fruitcake Day. We recommend celebrating with one of Zingerman’s mail order offerings.

December 31 & January 1 – Alabama Chanin offices and The Factory close at 2pm on New Year’s Eve and are closed for New Year’s Day.

We have now reached the end of 2015’s Swatch of the Month Club with this month’s Inked and Quilted swatch in our Angie’s Fall stencil. Detailed instructions are available on page 56 of Alabama Studio Style. You can see additional options for varying your stencil effect with marker on pages 18 – 19 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.



Fabric – 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey
Top layer fabric color – Dove
Backing layer fabric color – Dove
Stencil – Angie’s Fall
Treatment – Inked and Quilted
Textile paint – Pearl Slate
Button Craft Thread – Slate #26

If you’ve finished each of our swatches (or have every intention of finishing), you might want to use them to create one of our beautiful archived projects—like the DIY Swatch Wrap or the stunning Sampler Block Quilt. Those of you who have completed swatches—please share your creations with us. Thanks for stitching along with us this year and we look forward to sharing more projects with you in the New Year.

Follow along on social media and on our Journal with the hashtags:


When we first opened our Bldg. 14 division in July of 2013, we learned quickly that there was still SO MUCH to learn. So, with the concept of The School of Making firmly in place, we began at the beginning to work on a set of finishing examples for our Bldg. 14 machine-made division. Like our Alabama Chanin Library of hand-embellished fabric swatches, this library documents the capabilities of the machines, folders, and attachments we have available in the factory and the endless variations and combinations that create everything from collars to hems and in between.

In 2015, and as we fold our MAKESHIFT programming into The School of Making, we foresee many more conversations about design, fashion, DIY, and community. And, of course, we will continue sharing the evolution of our manufacturing systems—including this new sort of maker’s library—to explore their part in the larger making process.


Photos from Abraham RoweAngie Mosier, and Rinne Allen




Our final Swatch of the Month for 2014 combines several techniques explored (and hopefully mastered) in previous months’ swatches—including appliqué, negative reverse appliqué, and eyelet beading. The design, titled Natalie’s Dream, is beautifully intricate and one of my personal favorites (hence the name).

To create the swatch, begin by stenciling the design to the top layer of fabric using your transfer method of choice. (The Facets stencil employed here is available for download from our Maker Supplies + Stencils page.)

Align your top and backing layers of fabric, with right sides up, and pin together. Thread your needle and knot off.

Using your stenciled top layer of fabric as a guide, select a flower shape and begin straight-stitching directly on the edge of the stenciled shape. Cut the top layer of fabric 1/8” outside the edge of the stenciled flower shape, leaving a sliver of top-layer fabric beyond your stitching line. This creates the negative reverse appliqué effect.

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Not quite terra cotta red; not exactly pinkish; not really coral, but really red.

Pinkish: an adjective meaning somewhat pink.

Coral: also an adjective meaning a reddish yellow; light yellowish red; pinkish yellow.


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The Swatch of the Month for November highlights one of my all time favorite designs, Climbing Daisy. The technique uses ribbon embroidery, which beautifully adds dimension and detail to projects and garments. The concept is simple: we use cotton ribbon rather than thread or embroidery floss to stitch the design. This technique can be applied to almost any of our stencil designs and combined with any of our stitching practices.

To create the swatch, begin by stenciling the design to the top layer of fabric using your transfer method of choice. (The Climbing Daisy stencil is available for download from our Maker Supplies + Stencils page.)

Stitch the larger petal shapes using 100% cotton tape and a large-eyed embroidery needle. (Note: over the years, we’ve found that upholstery needles with a large eye also work quite well with this technique.)

After the larger petals are stitched, create French knots (see page 75 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design) with the cotton tape at the center of the petal shapes, as well as along the stems.

Next, stem-stitch (see page 85 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design) long, curving stems using the embroidery floss. Repeat this process until you have stitched each of your stenciled shapes.

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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.”

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Our longtime friend and collaborator Anna Maria Horner has created a new line of knit jersey fabric – Anna Maria Knits. On my recent visit to Nashville for Anna Maria’s newest venture, Craft South, we hosted a joint workshop that focused on combining machine and hand techniques with both Alabama Chanin and Anna Maria Horner knits.  Before Craft South, we got a sneak peek and explored what might come of applying our techniques to the colorful designs.

Her 100% cotton interlock fabric is available in 5 prints with 3 different colorways each, for a total of 15 different pieces. When planning these new textiles, Anna Maria opted for a knit she felt would work well with a sewing machine, in addition to hand stitching. Those who love texture and pattern can experiment with combining our Alabama Chanin stencil designs and techniques with these patterned knits.

Alabama Chanin Cotton Jersey in Peacock with Sealing Wax Knit as Reverse Applique backing using our new Large Polka Dot stencil

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At Alabama Chanin, we’ve spent years working with textiles to find the perfect medium for our techniques and products: 100% organic cotton jersey. We are drawn to artists who utilize what some might call ordinary materials and tools to create extraordinary work. Dana Barnes has done just that; she has taken familiar techniques like crochet and felting and combined them with a common material, merino wool. But, her results are not ordinary. Rather, they are unexpected and exquisite.

Dana Barnes is a renowned fashion designer, having created collections for lines like Elie Tahari, Adrienne Vittadini, and Tommy Hilfiger. Her exploration into wool and textiles sprang from a practical issue – one that many mothers face: as her young daughters ran and played, they made a little too much noise for the neighbors living beneath the family’s expansive loft. At the time, Dana was experimenting with wool and felting and wondered if she could make a rug that was big enough to cover the family’s living space. What resulted was a massive rug sewn together by hand from large crocheted squares of felted, unspun wool.


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About four years ago (to my dismay), Diane Hall, our head seamstress and studio directress, turned in her five-year notice. However, as her retirement grows closer, it has become evident to all of us at the studio that we will continue to see her around The Factory after her “official” retirement.

Diane has developed a passion for natural dyeing—in addition to sewing, pattern making, etc. She first encountered natural dyeing with indigo during our workshop at Shakerag in 2012. Her experience there with the renowned dyer Michel Garcia left a lasting impression. Last summer, while our entire company was writing a 10-year vision, Diane wrote that she envisioned a natural dye house here at The Factory and volunteered herself as the head dye master after her retirement.


After that simple act of writing our vision, the dye house miraculously began to take shape.

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Friend, inspiration, and collaborator Anna Maria Horner has been featured on our Journal several times. She is a multi-talented woman fluent in more than one creative medium, from her imaginative books and fabric design to fine art. Natalie and Anna Maria’s friendship has only continued to grow as they connect over everything from food and family, to sewing and gardening.

Since we last featured Anna Maria on our Journal, she has added child number seven to her large and happy home. She, her husband Jeff, and their children (aged 1 to 22) live on two acres of land in Nashville, Tennessee. Anna Maria’s ability to balance her life as a mother and entrepreneur is truly remarkable.


Having collaborated with Anna Maria on garment design (and creation the textile patterns Little Flowers and Little Folks), we are excited to work with her once again during an upcoming weekend workshop in Nashville: “Fashion by Hand” with Anna Maria Horner and Natalie Chanin.

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We’ve written before about the importance of color – from a cultural standpoint and a design perspective. At Alabama Chanin, we tend to embrace more muted tones for our design color palette. Muted colors have a reduced intensity, so any saturated color stands out in comparison.  We are drawn toward natural tones and some of our fabrics are colored with natural dyes to create rich, pure shades of color.

When it comes to individual style, our feelings about color can be personal; a color can make you feel happy or sad, energetic or depressed. Colors can transmit mood, thought, and feeling. When discussing the best way to exhibit the color options for our DIY projects, Olivia – a member of our design team – suggested that we approach the display as an art project. The result of her work, this wrapped canvas, is beautiful, simple, and focuses the viewer’s attention directly on color. Anything else you take from this, like your thoughts on color, is personal.


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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 month, as part of our Swatch of the Month Club, we are demonstrating some of our most popular techniques so that you might try your hand at creating new designs and embroideries. If you join the Swatch of the Month Club, you will receive a ready-to-sew package each month with the supplies needed to make that month’s unique piece. Just provide your own needles, pins, and scissors. Techniques and instruction can be found in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

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I’ve kept a journal, or some type of notebook, on and off since I was fifteen years old. My current journal is full of messages, reminders, sketches, and sweet notes and drawings I’ve collected from Maggie over the past few weeks—which, since Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, includes a lot of heart-shaped and heart-adorned things.

I first started making these covers for well-worn (and well-loved) books. Soon, most of my binders, notebooks, and journals had covers, as well. Each time I retire a journal to my shelves, I slip a new one into my hand-sewn cover.


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January’s Swatch of the Month incorporates Alabama Chanin’s basic reverse appliqué technique with our Paisley stencil. Explore our techniques and build your skills with a membership to our Swatch of the Month Club and follow along here on the Journal.

The photograph above shows one of many options you can create when making your own swatch.

Experiment with your swatch. You can work it in reverse appliqué like we did, or use another treatment: negative reverse, backstitched reverse, quilted, or embellish with beaded stitches. Reverse appliqué can be done by beginners and experienced sewers alike and is worked on two layers of fabric: The top layer is stenciled and then stitched to the backing layer; next, part of the top layer is cut away to reveal the backing fabric underneath.

Each kit comes stenciled and ready-to-sew with all of the notions needed to complete the swatch—just provide your own needles, pins, and scissors. Colorway options include Navy/Black (our design choice), White/Natural, Neutrals, Reds, and Blues.  Techniques and instruction can be found in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

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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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Past & Present is a collection of essays on decorative art history and DIY projects by Design Sponge columnist, Amy Azzarito. Grace Bonney, founder of the very popular Design Sponge website, first met Amy while working on a video project at the New York Public Library. The two became instant friends, as Grace was impressed with Amy’s knowledge and passion for design and the history behind it. Thus the column, Past & Present, was born. In this book, Amy highlights some of her favorite styles in the history of decorative arts and pairs her essays with advice from various designers on creating DIY projects that reflect the eras she writes about.

We chose to create one of the projects, using our 100% organic cotton jersey, to make a Shaker-style hanging lamp.


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We have written before about the rich manufacturing and textile history present in our community. The Shoals area and surrounding communities were working fabric and textile materials beginning in the late 1800’s. Those earlier years were often unkind to the mill workers and their families who worked long hours, lived in factory-owned apartments, and shopped in factory-owned stores. But, as the Industrial Revolution gave way to reform, textile manufacturing stayed in our community and flourished. Eventually, it was something that we in The Shoals were known for, as we were often called the “T-Shirt Capital of the World.”

Terry Wylie’s family founded Tee Jay’s Manufacturing Co. here in Florence in 1976, and in doing so became the foundation for a local industry. Whole families were known to work together, producing t-shirts and cotton products. Typical of our community, the company and the employees were loyal to one another. It was common for an employee to stay at Tee Jays for decades. Our Production Manager, Steven, worked for the Wylie family for years – for a time, working in the same building where Alabama Chanin is currently housed. It was this way until the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Tee Jays and other local manufacturers eventually shuttered all domestic manufacturing. It was an undeniably tough hit for a community that had “worked” cotton for most of its existence. Some of those who hand stitch for us once worked in mills and lost their jobs when plants here in Alabama closed and moved to cheaper locations. This move left our building, once a thriving manufacturing center, an empty shell, as you can see from the picture above. Machines like the ones below were moved elsewhere, and the resounding hum of our once busy manufacturing community was silenced.


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As this posts to our Journal this morning, part of our Alabama Chanin team will be in the air and on their way home from MAKESHIFT 2013. We hope that you have followed our explorations and conversations during New York Design Week via Instagram and have had conversations of your own.  Leaving MAKESHIFT this year, we are even more convinced about the importance of making, sharing, and finding common ground. You can expect a full recap of our experiences from New York Design Week in the next days, plus expanding conversations about design, fashion, food, craft, and DIY over the coming months.

One thing we do know is that, as we continue to open source our ideas, our Alabama Chanin conversations series and workshops will continue to grow.  These events—like MAKESHIFT—have become an intimate, extraordinary way for us to connect with fellow makers, designers, and like-minded creators across the country (and the world). See more in the coming weeks about the bag project we started at MAKESHIFT 2013.  In the meantime, here are some instructions for a different kind of bag (with an equally important message).

In the early spring of this year, Alabama Chanin designed and created a one-of-a-kind bag to support the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s “You Can’t Fake Fashion” campaign. We loved the finished product so much that I wanted my own version, adapting the Organic Tote Bag. This bag measures 11 1/2” x 13” x 3” and is large enough to use as a purse or laptop bag or to carry your sewing projects. The tote has been double-layer appliquéd all-over using our Paisley stencil in Alabama Indigo fabric.

The bag comes in Natural. We chose to customize this tote to match our CFDA bag by dyeing it indigo, but your design choices are endless.


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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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February’s Desktop of the Month is all about pink (and shades around it). To celebrate the spirit of love, we’ve talked about what the heart symbolizes and what we might want it to mean for 2013: joy, beauty, acceptance, and more. Here, the backstitched reverse appliqué hearts in gray and pink are simply a way to celebrate those sentiments.

P.S. Come back Thursday to see our Camisole Dress made in the Hearts pattern.



The colors of a season include shades, tones, and hues that are sometimes steeped in meaning:

Red: The color includes shades that run from deep blood red or plum and burgundy to apple, fire engine, and carmine.  The meanings sometimes associated with this color can be as diverse as the shades, themselves. Red is said to be connected to energies, actions, passion, blood or, sometimes, when those things go unchecked, rage or revenge.

Pink: with shades like blush, nude, and bashful, has been said to represent unconditional love and nurturing. It is also associated with a girl, all things girly, a ballerina, and can even signify something sickly sweet or bring to mind Pepto-Bismol.

Rose: the name that shares its origin with the flower of sweetness. It’s not quite magenta, which is strong and bold, but somewhere between the passion of red and girly nature of pink – more playful, summery in nature, and sometimes wild.

Books have been written about the history, meaning, and commerce of each color. Portrait painters through the centuries used combinations of colors to tell stories about their subjects, businesses have been established on the premise of helping you “find YOUR true color.” The funny thing is that our own personal memory plays a huge role in exactly how we feel about every color.

I remember a Valentine’s cake from my childhood that was sweetly pink on the outside and blood red once the first cut was made.  I remember the colors vividly, the taste acidic in a bad strawberry sort of way.  Sometimes public restrooms have a fake bad strawberry kind of smell. Maggie was given a hand-sanitizer that smells the same way.  Every time I have a whiff of a restroom that smells of strawberry, I think of that pink and blood red cake.  Never fails.

From hearts to shades of red and pink, come back this week as we continue to explore the theme of the season.

(Get this bundle of organic cotton jersey, specially priced for exploration. Or, take your time and explore each shade individually.)


I use ropes made from our organic cotton jersey fabric for wrapping all of my holiday packages (and for many other things–as evidenced in the DIY instructions below). If you have ever ordered garments or fabrics from our online store, you will have found your contents tied up in one of these Cotton Jersey Pulls. Follow the instructions below to make your own from scraps or from old t-shirts. Look for more posts about how to use these pulls in the coming year. Anything you order from our online store between now and the end of the year will come shipped wrapped, tied with a Cotton Jersey Pull, and ready to gift.

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Amethyst, aubergine and lavender; lilac, mauve or mulberry; orchid, perse, plum, and violet. All of these beautiful words for one color, and yet, purple has never been one of my favorite shades. While I haven’t had any adverse experiences with the color purple (it is, after all, one of my favorite books— ever), it is just not a color that I have used often as a designer. (Although, I have enjoyed Purple Fashion since my days as a stylist.)

Perhaps it was those purple flavored hippie years in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, or maybe a sensitive palate as a Supertaster for colors, but I have a hard time finding shades of the color to adore.

However, I note that there have recently been more and more requests to make items for friends, fans, and family in purple.  Yesterday as I sat down for my morning reading, I was a bit perplexed to come across this article from Forbes titled “NASCAR Green is Really Purple.”

Purple, in this case means the merging of right and left, red and blue, Republican and Democrat for a common cause.  It seems that everywhere I turn today, people are finding ways to reach other people IN SPITE of politics.  Purple.

This past weekend, en route to the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, I listened to podcasts from The Civil Conversations Project— ideas and tools for healing our fractured civic spaces—from On Being. These talks of extremes between sides and WITHIN sides sprung to mind as I read through the Forbes article.  Purple.

Can it be that we are finding ways to get along and that this color, which has never been my favorite, might be where we start conversations in this country? The world? With no screaming?  No threats?

Community, conversation, and relationships are at the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin. In the end, I’ve come to realize that purple truly is a beautiful color. Don’t you think?

Look for Grape colored fabrics coming soon…


Yesterday morning, as we headed out the door to school, my daughter Maggie asked for a sweater. It feels like summer is quickly fading, and it’s time to break out light sweaters, ponchos, and scarves. Many of you have asked how we at Alabama Chanin wear our Organic Cotton Scarf, so we’ve compiled a few of our favorite looks for you to try. The versatility of this scarf makes it an essential piece for my closet, year-round.


The variation above is perhaps the most basic way to wear our Organic Cotton Scarf. Simply double the scarf in length, place around your neck, and insert the free ends through the loop. Voila!


To achieve this look, spread the fabric and drape it over your head so that it frames your face, leaving the ends hanging evenly in front of your shoulders. Take one end and place it over the opposite shoulder, allowing it to hang freely down your back. Do the same with the remaining end so that the fabric crosses loosely at your neck. Great for gardening, walks in the sun, or windy nights.


A look fit for evening or day: place the scarf around your neck with ends hanging in front. Allow the scarf to hang longer on the right side. Using your left hand, take the longer side of the fabric and lightly drape it around your right shoulder. Take that same piece around your front and toss it over your left shoulder, leaving the end to hang freely in the back.  This can also be reversed so that the scarf drapes your left shoulder.


This look shows the scarf as a shawl. This is an easy way to achieve coverage when there’s a chill in the air and an easy way to bring together a classic evening outfit. Simply spread the fabric out and wrap around your shoulders. Let the excess hang at your side and flow with the movement of your arms.


Although this style may look more complex, it’s actually easy to achieve and can polish off your look in minutes. Spread the fabric and wrap it around your shoulders as shown above for the shawl.

WAYS TO WEAR OUR SCARFFrom there, take the dangling ends and cross them around your back. Bring them back around to the front and tie on the side of your choosing.


For this wrap, begin as you did with the shawl, spreading and wrapping the fabric around your shoulders. As you begin to tie the excess fabric at chest, do not pull the end all the way through. Leave a loop and pull the fabric tight. This adds a different element to your scarf. Keep in mind, the wrap will fit loosely and may need to be adjusted throughout wear.


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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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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While working on some press and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages this last month, I came across some texts that date back across the decade of Alabama Chanin. In reading and going over some of these texts, I thought it would be a good series to share on our Sustainable Design Tuesdays. Here is one of those texts about building a round company:

My goal with building designs – as I have built my company – is to make a sphere.  I strive to create a well-rounded, (w)holistic company that revolves around a central theme: sustainability of culture, environment, and community.

It has been over a decade since I started working on the company that Alabama Chanin has become today and I am often asked how I had the foresight to start a company based on the principles of sustainability and Slow Design. To this comment, I laughingly reply that I never intended to start a sustainable design company; I simply stumbled into it like the fool falling off the cliff. When I cut up those first t-shirts, I was doing something that I felt driven to do. I didn’t think of those garments as the basis of a business; they were simply pieces of clothing I wanted to wear and, perhaps more importantly, make. However, when I look back today, it all feels like a seamless and directed adventure into the realms of becoming a sustainable designer and manufacturer.

I am often invited to speak about this process and our resulting business model, as it has developed into an unusual one. However, truth be told, I have simply taken inspiration for our model from farmers and strive to build a zero waste company where the results of one production process become the fuel for another.

Our primary work is the business of designing and making clothing. And whether a dress calls for recycled t-shirts or locally grown, certified organic cotton, the designing and making of that product spurs our model. It was developed not by intention, but through process.

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This text – some of our most important sewing tips at Alabama Chanin – is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design (which we plan to receive and start shipping around the 15th of this month). It is important to us at Alabama Chanin that we as a humanity (women and men – girls and boys) take back the essential survival skill of hand-sewing, and that we also understand the physics behind the clothing that shelters our bodies.  It’s as simple as picking up needle and thread.

Old Wives’ Tales and Physics

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of old wives’ tales around the sewing room, but I’ve come to learn that many of these tales find truth in everyday life. And as tale after tale has proven true, I’ve also come to understand that there’s reason, or “physics,” behind them.

Needle your thread; don’t thread your needle:

This makes perfect sense in that the thread is the weaker of the two elements and easily moves or bends. Moving the more stable element—the needle—over the thread to “needle the thread” makes this a simple task.

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Most of you who follow this blog (or our 21 years retrospective) know that when I returned to Alabama in 2000, I didn’t have a grand plan to build the company that is now Alabama Chanin. Any plans I may have had seemed to fall away into something far larger than I ever anticipated. It is easy to feel overwhelmed in such a position and I readily admit that, at times, I was incredibly overwhelmed. However, as the initial “project” morphed into a business, I learned how to run it on the fly—one day at a time. I have often said that I am not a quick learner, but I finally realized that my community has such a wealth of knowledge as to the workings of cotton AND manufacturing. These two things had been part of the vernacular of this community for a century. So while it took time for me to understand, I finally realized I just needed to “go to the well” to draw upon that information. Here in Florence, Alabama, that “well” was Terry Wylie.

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Thanks to everyone who reached out about and/or shared my post on organic cotton last Friday on @EcoSalon.

For the sake of making a plea for organic cotton, here it is again… spread the word.

Pound for Pound:

I am pissed. It doesn’t happen often, but, it does happen.

I grew up in cotton country. My mother and her sisters picked cotton every summer to make money for new school clothes, as they didn’t want to head back in “handmade.” My aunts and uncles raised this cotton. I slept under blankets made from scrap cotton that grows after the harvest has taken place – the dregs that are left over.  I made a film about cotton and rural quilting. For better or for worse, cotton is part of the vernacular of my community, my childhood, and my life. I would venture that cotton plays a large role in your life as well.

Since this fiber is so prevalent in our lives, I think that there are 10 things you should know about it.

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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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“a rectangle of cloth
to wrap the baby, make the bed,
grace the meal and honour the guest,
to mop up a spill, encircle a waist,
screen the window and admit the breeze,
to proclaim a cause,
to tend the corpse…”

Gewn Egg, Second Skin, page 6.

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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


I own a lot of books on pattern design but British Textiles – published by V&A – is one of the loveliest I have seen for a long time.

(It was at the bottom of the pile yesterday but is on top today.)

The book highlights woven and printed fabric (embroidery is planned for an upcoming volume); however, I adore the simple painted designs that sometimes include the artist process.  In my favorites, you can see finely drawn pencil lines, loosely painted swaths of color and the underpinnings of structural grids.  The silk design above from page 29 feels incredibly modern but was designed by James Leman in 1719.

Moving through the  book, you experience an exquisite evolution of British color and design through the ages.

While expensive, this big (weighs 6 pounds), complete (494 pages), beautiful (over 1000 images), inspirational book is one of my new favorites:

British Textiles: 1700 to the Present

Looking very forward to the embroidery volume as well…