Tag Archives: Open Source

ALABAMA CHANIN - HOST A PARTY 2018 1

HOST A PARTY: NEW STYLES

Started in 2015 as a way to facilitate making in your own community, the Host a Party program allows you to gather friends and fellow sewers and be host to a personalized sewing party.

As host, you will get together six or more friends, decide on the location, gather payment, and provide instruction, hospitality, and refreshments of your choosing. Though everyone will work on the same project, each attendee will choose their own size and colorway. All group members will receive 20% the regular price of the DIY Kits and as host, your kit will be free.

As this third year of Host a Party gets underway, The School of Making has updates and additions to the program. We listened to your feedback and have released five new project styles: the Fingerless Gloves, the T-Shirt Top with short sleeves, the Alabama Sweater with long sleeves, the Mid-Length Skirt, and The Factory Dress.

ALABAMA CHANIN - HOST A PARTY 2018 2

The stencil options have been revamped with the addition of the Aurora and Large Paradise designs, which join the customer-favorite Anna’s Garden, Bloomers, Magdalena, and New Leaves stencils.

Our colorways have also expanded with the addition of the new Magdalena colorways (which were introduced with Natalie’s Bluprint class) and new tonal paint options.

Follow The School of Making on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date with all the happenings and new releases. And join The School of Making’s new Facebook Stitchalong group to share your projects.

Get started with your own sewing party here or email workshops(at)alabamachanin.com.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TARTAN + TARTAN

TARTAN + TARTAN

Use the Tartan Stencil to achieve a plaid look on your fabric using the most basic stitch—the Straight (or Running) Stitch. Tartan embroidery is achieved by using strategically placed straight stitches on the square grid (as covered in The Geometry of Hand-Sewing) laid out by the Tartan Stencil. This design is made up of 1/4” squares that are evenly spaced with some larger spaces that you can leave empty for a more traditional Tartan plaid look—or fill them with appliqué and beading for more embellishment. Because of the straight, geometric nature of this stencil and technique, we recommend using it on garments that have more straight lines, such as the Cropped Car Jacket shown above.

On the original Tartan embroidery design, we used three different colors of Button Craft Thread with the colors passing over and under each other to further mimic a classic plaid pattern. We now use Embroidery Floss to achieve this look since there are more colors to choose from. The embroidery can be completed using a single color of Embroidery Floss or Button Craft Thread if you’re going for a more tonal look.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TARTAN + TARTAN

We’ve had a number of requests to share this technique, so we’ve provided instructions and illustrations below for the Tartan embroidery treatment using three different colors of Embroidery Floss (or Button Craft Thread, if you prefer).

ALABAMA CHANIN – TARTAN + TARTAN

You will work this stencil in blocks as shown above to cut down on the number of times you need to knot off and start a new stitch. Thread your needle, love your thread, and knot off. To begin one 16-square block, come up at A and sew a Straight Stitch as shown above until you go down at B. Turn and come up at C and sew a Straight Stitch as shown until you go down at D. Knot off on the backside of your fabric.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TARTAN + TARTAN

To complete the four columns of vertical stitches in this block, repeat this process in the center of the next two blocks as shown above. Come up at A and sew four Straight Stitches. Go down at B, turn, and come up at C. Sew four Straight Stitches and go down at D. Knot off.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TARTAN + TARTAN

Next, you will complete the horizontal stitches in your 16-square block with the same method used to complete the vertical stitches. Thread your needle, love your thread, and knot off. Come up at A and sew a Straight Stitch across to B. Go down, turn, and come up at C. Sew a Straight Stitch across and go down D. Knot off on the backside of your fabric.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TARTAN + TARTAN

To complete the four rows of horizontal stitches in this block, repeat this process in the center of the next two blocks as shown above. Come up at A and sew four Straight Stitches. Go down at B, turn, and come up at C. Sew four Straight Stitches and go down at D. Knot off. Complete all vertical and horizontal stitches before moving on to diagonal stitches.

Next, you will stitch the diagonal lines across your blocks in a second color. You may complete each 4-square block individually, but we recommend sewing two 4-square blocks at once to save time and cut down on the number of knots on the backside of your fabric.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TARTAN + TARTAN

To complete the diagonal lines in your second color, you’ll be working two 4-square blocks at a time in an alternating pattern as indicated above by the darker squares. If you wish to bring in a third color, this will be sewn as indicated by the lighter squares above.

Thread your needle, love your thread, and knot off. Come up at A and go down at B. Come up at C and go down at D making a slightly shorter stitch than the rest. Come up at E, go down at F, and come up at G. Repeat this pattern to complete the rest of your block. Sew all diagonal lines in the same direction for an entire row of blocks before going back across with the same color (much like sewing cross stitch).

ALABAMA CHANIN – TARTAN + TARTAN

Once you’ve completed a row of diagonal stitches in one direction, go back across the row crossing the stitches you’ve just sewn in the opposite direction. Come up at A, go down at B, and come up at C. Make a short stitch and go down at D. Come up at E, go down at F, and come up at G. Continue this pattern to complete the blocks. Sew all diagonal lines in your second color before moving onto the third.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TARTAN + TARTAN

Once the second color is complete, thread your needle with your third color of choice, love your thread, and knot off. You will be filling in the blocks that were skipped before. Using your third color, come up at A, go down at B, and come up at C. Make a small stitch and go down at D. Come up at E, go down at F, and come back up at G. Finish the block using by continuing the pattern. Complete the row of blocks working in the same direction in your third color.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TARTAN + TARTAN

To complete the Tartan embroidery, you’ll now go back across the same row working with your third color until you have crossed all of the stitches in your third color on the same row. Come up at A, go down at B, and come up at C. Make a small stitch and go down at D. Come up at E, go down at F, and come back up at G. Finish the block using by continuing the pattern. Complete the row of blocks working in the same direction in your third color.

Since this treatment focuses on embroidery rather than cutting away fabric (like Reverse Appliqué or Negative Reverse Appliqué), this technique is great for outerwear or a structured skirt as it adds a bit of weight to a garment. If you try it out, be sure to share your work with us on Instagram using #theschoolofmaking and #thegeometryofhandsewing.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE SWING SKIRT TECHNIQUES & CONSTRUCTION

BLUPRINT: THE SWING SKIRT TECHNIQUES & CONSTRUCTION

The School of Making was founded back in 2014 as an overseeing body that encompasses the DIY Kit collection as well as workshop programming, format, and content. It was also developed to direct and innovate learning initiatives and educational programs that will continue to teach Slow Fashion and sustainability and promote the Living Arts to our growing maker community. Today, we’re proud to announce our latest learning tool in partnership with Bluprint—a video course titled “The Swing Skirt Techniques & Construction with Natalie Chanin & The School of Making”.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE SWING SKIRT TECHNIQUES & CONSTRUCTION

The Swing Skirt is one of our all-time most popular DIY styles. It’s universally flattering on all body types, and its simple, four-panel design and easy construction make it the perfect beginner garment. In “The Swing Skirt Techniques & Construction”, Natalie gives in-depth instructions for all aspects of creating a Swing Skirt including planning, cutting, stenciling, stitching, and completing your garment.

If you like to complete every step of the process yourself, you’ll receive a downloadable Swing Skirt Pattern PDF with four lengths—21”, 24”, 26”, and 28”. There is an expanded version of the pattern available online with two additional lengths—33” and 40”—in both PDF and printed versions. In addition to the pattern, we also have a Swing Skirt Bundle available with all the fabric, thread, and elastic you need to complete a 28” Swing Skirt as demonstrated in the class. The top layer comes in our newest printed fabric option—the Magdalena design printed in gray on 100% organic cotton jersey in Baby Blue—which can also be purchased by the yard. The bottom layer fabric color is up to you.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE SWING SKIRT TECHNIQUES & CONSTRUCTION

Or if you’d like to start sewing right away, there are a number of Swing Skirt DIY Kits cut and ready-to-sew in our most popular stencil designs—Magdalena, Anna’s Garden, and Bloomers—or create your own kit to your exact specifications through Custom DIY. We also suggest using “The Swing Skirt Techniques & Construction” as instruction for Host a Party. Gather at least six friends, choose the Swing Skirt as your garment, make your design choices, and gather to work through the course together.

View the trailer for “The Swing Skirt Techniques & Construction with Natalie Chanin & The School of Making” below:

And sign up for the course here.

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.

Blue fabric detail with couching and black beads

COUCHING INSTRUCTIONS

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). To make it easier to achieve this technique at home, we are now offering pre-cut Couching Ropes in our full range of 25 colors to match your next project. Find the instructions for couching on pages 110 – 111 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, or continue reading below.

Cut couching ropes in black

SUPPLIES

Stencil
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
Pins

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.

ALABAMA CHANIN – NEW: DESIGN STACKS

NEW: DESIGN STACKS

We officially retired our Fat Eighths last year to make room for new and improved design tools to use in your studio at home. Today, we launch the Design Stack in Basic and Painted versions—available in 5” square or 10” x 16” sample block sizes—with 25 swatches that include one of each color from our Organic Cotton Color Card. The Painted Design Stack is available with our Magdalena stencil design in either tonal or metallic paint.

ALABAMA CHANIN – NEW: DESIGN STACKS

While we’ve always had color cards available for our Organic Cotton Jersey, this new format gives you larger pieces of fabric to use as you design your next project. Use the 5” Design Stack along with our Project Planner Worksheets as you plan out fabric and paint colors for your next handmade garment. The 10” x 16” Design Stack is perfect for testing out an embroidery technique on a small scale before applying it to a full project. This size also works perfectly with our Headers and Binders for keeping your swatches neatly organized in your very own swatch library. Or if you’d like for your completed swatches to be on display, use them to make a book cover, pillow, tote bag, clutch, or other small projects—or save them all and use them to make a colorful quilt.

Visit our website to purchase your own Basic or Painted Design Stack (or both) along with other supplies for designing and making at home.

ALABAMA CHANIN – BUILD A WARDROBE 2017: THE WRAP DRESS

2017 BUILD A WARDROBE: THE WRAP DRESS

Universally flattering and a staple of any wardrobe, the Wrap Dress is the focus of the third quarter of Build a Wardrobe 2017 and is available for the first time today as a digital pattern download. Offered with five sleeve options and five length variations, the pattern is available in sizes XS through  XX-Large. The $18 download also includes construction instructions and is formatted for both wide-format and tiled printing.

ALABAMA CHANIN – BUILD A WARDROBE 2017: THE WRAP DRESS

Make a basic version or use any of the techniques in our Studio Book series to take your Wrap Dress from casual to special occasion worthy. Be sure to share your project with us using the hashtags #theschoolofmaking and #buildawardrobe2017.

Check back with us in October for our fourth and final quarter release of 2017.

Purchase the Wrap Dress pattern.

Visit The School of Making’s Facebook page here.

P.S.: We ask that you respect our policies and use our patterns for your own personal projects. They are designed for individual use and are not intended for reproducing, distributing, or commercial venues.

ALABAMA CHANIN – LAUNCHING THE GEOMETRY OF HAND-SEWING

LAUNCHING THE GEOMETRY OF HAND-SEWING

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.

Pre-order The Geometry of Hand-Sewing here.

ALABAMA CHANIN – LAUNCHING THE GEOMETRY OF HAND-SEWING

SUPPLY CHAIN (+ DYE HOUSE) UPDATE

One of the challenges of running a company dedicated to sustainability is adjusting to the ebbs and flows of other small businesses in our supply chain—businesses that are devoted to sustainable practices themselves. Sadly for us, one of those companies has closed its doors after almost 20 years of operation. North Carolina-based Tumbling Colors, our dye house since 2008, worked with Natalie and the Alabama Chanin design team on color development for all of our fabrics. They dyed small batches of our 100% organic cotton jersey with low-impact dyes, producing custom colors for our Collections and DIY. To Chuck and the rest of the Tumbling Colors team: we have thoroughly enjoyed doing business with you.

Beginning last month, Green Textile, located in Spartanburg, South Carolina, became our dedicated dye house. We have employed them as our knitters since 2006 and now they will also be dyeing our fabric with the same low-impact processes we are used to.

ALABAMA CHANIN – SUPPLY CHAIN (+ DYE HOUSE) UPDATE

As a small business ourselves, we’re always navigating the challenges of supply and demand. Last fall, a portion of cotton was contaminated, lowering our stock of 100% organic cotton. Since then, we have been working to build up our stock. With recent changes in dyehouses, our stock in colors has been substantially reduced, and much of our fabric is currently low stock or backordered (as noted on the color cards). We appreciate everyone’s patience, and we are diligently working to match our supply with our demand.

If there is a fabric color you’d like to order that we currently stock, we encourage you to make your purchase now. We’ll have more updates soon and a lot of new DIY offerings in the coming months. Be sure to check back on our Journal and subscribe to our mailing list for the most up-to-date news.

Purchase our 100% medium-weight organic cotton jersey colors here.

THE HISTORY OF EARTH DAY

As a sustainable design company, we take the health of our employees and our environment into consideration every day. And though not all businesses have the same focus, it is interesting to look back on how much has changed and become the norm—both in workplaces and homes around the world. Forty-plus years ago, the idea of recycling had not yet begun to take hold in the American household. The public did not know about things like the dangers of CFCs, the importance of the ozone layer, and endangered rainforests; we had not yet faced what we now know was to come: an oil embargo, the meltdown at Three Mile Island, and Love Canal. But, awareness was emerging and the birth of that awareness can be almost directly traced to April 22, 1970—the first Earth Day and the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

In 1970, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson was a senator from Wisconsin when he was shaken by the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill and by seeing Ohio’s polluted Cuyahoga River burst into flames. At that time, all across America, students were organizing protests as part of the anti-Vietnam War movement—a tactic Nelson decided to adapt, hoping to promote environmental issues in the public consciousness and on the political agenda.  At a conference in Seattle in 1969, he announced to the national media that he was organizing a national “teach-in” on the environment, which he was calling Earth Day.

Nelson, a Democrat, partnered with Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey and activist Dennis Hayes to promote the event, which was strategically scheduled for April 22, in order to fall between college spring breaks and final exams. On that day, 20 million Americans across the nation rallied in major cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In New York, a portion of 5th Avenue was cordoned off for a rally with the mayor and actors Paul Newman and Ali McGraw. In Washington, D.C., Congress went into recess and large groups gathered to hear political leaders speak alongside musician and activist Pete Seeger. Organizations that were fighting against various environmental ills like oil spills, polluting power plants, toxic dumps, harmful pesticides, and wildlife extinction united under one larger, common cause.

According to Nelson, “Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day—it organized itself.” That first Earth Day transformed the way the public viewed environmental issues. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, (created in December 1970, in an almost direct response to Earth Day initiatives) public opinion polls reflected a permanent change in national priorities immediately following those events. The event also united disparate political parties, ultimately influencing the passage of the Clean Water, Clean Air, Toxic Substances Control, and Endangered Species Acts—among others.

There is much that still needs to be changed and improved with regard to environmental protection and human welfare (particularly in our own industry). But we should appreciate the number of things that—largely thanks to Earth Day and the environmental movement—are now fairly common: recycling and purchasing recycled products; solar and wind energy technology; low-emission, hybrid, and battery-powered vehicles; home goods like compact fluorescent light bulbs, rechargeable batteries, and low flush toilets; electronics take-back programs, even reusable shopping bags.

This Earth Day, find ways that you can take action to reduce your environmental footprint. Find an Earth Day event in your area and take part!

As part of our commitment to responsible production, your goods will always be delivered to you via carbon neutral shipping.

ALABAMA CHANIN – THE HISTORY OF EARTH DAY

Photos by Robert Rausch

MATERIALS CULTURE

I’ve been reading Pattern Recognition (2003) by William Gibson as a sort of “digital book club” with a friend of mine who lives in another state. I’ve never been a huge fan of science fiction—and had, honestly, never heard of William Gibson but managed to get lost in the book—equal parts thriller and exposé on consumer culture. Voytek Biroshak, one of the minor characters in the book, is introduced to the reader at Portobello Market in London, where he is involved in a deal to purchase a Curta from a somewhat sketchy seller. The Curta is a mechanical calculator (quite beautiful as you can see in the photos above) that was the pre-cursor to the electronic calculator and was designed by Curt Herzstark when he was imprisoned in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. You can still purchase a Curta today on eBay (if you are willing to pay). The Curta is really a symbol of a time and, as Pattern Recognition unfolds, we discover that there are a slew of underworld collectors of early computing hardware. Voytek, our minor character, is an artist collecting Sinclair ZX 81 personal home computers (produced by the Timex Corporation in 1981) for an upcoming show. Casey (pronounced “Case”), our main character, asks Voytek:

“What do you do with them?”
“Is complicated.”
“How many do you have?”
“Many.”
“Why do you like them?”
“Of historical importance to personal computing,” he says seriously, “and to United Kingdom. Why there are so many programmers, here.”

And with that, we have the crux of what we call Materials Culture.

Material Culture:  noun, Sociology. 1. the aggregate of physical objects or artifacts used by a society

In my design training, we never really spoke directly about the cultural impact of the things (products) we were making. In my memory, conversations tended more towards how the culture impacted us as designers. I learned to make dresses and thought about the manufacturing process that follows good design, but it took me years to understand that the process of manufacturing has its own culture, its own language, its own trajectory that was completely separate from me as designer.

ALABAMA CHANIN - MATERIALS CULTURE 2

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FOUR IN THE MORNING

Way back in 2007, performance artist John Rives put together a light-hearted TED talk meant to tease conspiracy theorists everywhere. I won’t get into the incredible connections he makes between people like country music artist Faron Young, Dame Judi Dench, and Bill Clinton. (I suggest you watch for yourself.) But he manages to connect one event to another, and another, through the hour of four in the morning. Four in the morning, he says, is the “worst possible hour” of the day. It’s shorthand for a time of inconvenience, mishaps, and yearnings.

What Rives didn’t expect was that the “four in the morning” effect was more widespread in our culture than he ever imagined. After his initial TED Talk, people began sending him “Four AM” references from all over the world. He has received so many references of “four in the morning” in our culture—from Shakespeare to The Simpsons—that he is now the self-proclaimed expert on 4AM. (For just a hint of it’s presence in our culture, here are a quick set of 50 Four in the Mornings that we’ve all seen at some point.)

In response to the overwhelming response, Rives put together a short follow-up talk to show us what he’s learned about 4AM: watch here. So we must ask—has he discovered and decoded the real witching hour? Or is it a magical, creative hour? Or is it nothing at all? Rives has catalogued every reference he’s discovered at the Museum of Four in the Morning, where you’ll find instances in literature, movies, music, television, and all manner of pop culture transmissions. We invite you to click around, examine the copious evidence, and ask yourselves: Just what is the deal with 4AM?

 

ON DESIGN: WORKING FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

The design world is filled with innovators making products that can impact the human experience for good or for ill. The idea of designing and making with positive, spirited intention is growing far beyond its early influencers like Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio or the now defunct Architecture for Humanity—inspired by Mockbee’s project. Today, AIGA—one of the oldest and largest professional design organizations—has an entire program dedicated to Design for Good. Design leader John Bielenberg created the innovative and influential Project M that is always generating creative solutions to real design challenges. (See Project M’s Pie Lab in Greensboro, Alabama, for an example.)

One of our earliest “social” collaborations was with an organization called Goods of Conscience, whom we worked with on some of our first indigo dyeing experiments. This was quite a few years ago, when design and social change were words that weren’t often used together. It was one of the early examples in the textile industry we encountered that proved the two ideas could exist together and elevate one another.

All design has social impact, but good design focuses on people as fundamental to the products they make. Designers have a remarkable ability to influence how we communicate and with whom, what we think about, what is relevant, and how social and economic power balances might be restructured. When designing for the good, effective ideas, methods, and products can better a society and humanity. Nest, the non-profit organization we’ve partnered with through The School of Making, has fostered successful initiatives by building deep relationships with the global makers with whom they partner—collaboratively building sustainable solutions to the greatest needs within communities where artisan craft stands to create positive, long-lasting change.

ALABAMA CHANIN – ON DESIGN: WORKING FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

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ANNA MARIA HORNER KNITS (PART 2)

Last September, as we were preparing for a workshop at Anna Maria Horner’s venture, Craft South, we got our first look at her new line of knit jersey fabrics—Anna Maria Knits. We have since experiemented and played with several of these patterned knits using our techniques and are loving the results. Shown here is our Swing Skirt from Alabama Stitch Book appliquéd with our Large Polka Dot Sencil, using her Tangle Knit print in Rust.

It reminds me of a harvest moon.

SUPPLIES

2 yards cotton jersey fabric for skirt
1 yard cotton interlock for appliqué
1 yard fold-over elastic ribbon
Button Craft thread
Basic sewing supplies: needles, pins, embroidery scissors
Alabama Stitch Book for Swing Skirt pattern and instructions

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MERCHANT & MILLS: THE FACTORY DRESS PATTERN

In January, we added to our ongoing Makeshift series, adapting available garment patterns using Alabama Chanin techniques with a Merchant & Mills pattern for the Shirt Dress. This month, we’ve created another Merchant & Mills garment in our own style—an Alabama Chanin version of the Factory Dress (love the name). This piece is shown here without embellishment to highlight the simple design, but you can choose to utilize any of the techniques from our previous posts or our Swatch of the Month Club to embellish your project

Keep in mind that Merchant & Mills is a UK-based design house and that UK sizes differ a bit from US numbered sizes. Their website has clear size charts that can help you select the right pattern size for your body. Also note that their patterns are priced in pounds, not US dollars, and you should take into account shipping costs when shopping. Alternatively, there are quite a few stockists in the US with ready links available here.

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SUPPLY CHAINS: A COMMITMENT TO COTTON

According to Wikipedia, supply chain is defined as “a system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer.” At Alabama Chanin we strive to responsibly produce quality, sustainable products—at every level of the supply chain. We believe that responsibility means transparency and understanding where each material comes from and whose hands it touches before it arrives to the end consumer. For over a decade, we have worked tirelessly to secure a supply chain that is, as much as is humanly possible, Made in the USA.

With events like the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, consumers are asking questions about how and where their clothes are made. We’ve noticed an increase in emails, phone calls, and questions about our 100% organic cotton jersey fabric—and we welcome those questions. In response, we have compiled all the information here. Each time we take a closer look into our supply chain, we discover something new. This is the projected course of our supply chain in the best case scenario, which is often altered by Mother Nature. Unfortunately, there are always circumstances out of our control, so we share this information with that in mind. As of 2016, this is every step of the supply chain for our medium-weight cotton jersey—from Texas, to the Carolinas, to Alabama.

SUPPLY CHAINS: A COMMITMENT TO COTTON

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DIY ANNA’S GARDEN LONG SKIRT KIT

This take on our Long Fitted Skirt—one of my longtime favorite go-to pieces—is available for a limited time in our DIY Sewing Kit Collection through The School of Making. I own many versions of this skirt in a range of colors and wear them throughout the year, from one season to the next. The Long Fitted Skirt is fitted at the waist and flares to the hem, which has a slight train in the back.

This version is worked in our Anna’s Garden design using negative reverse appliqué with our medium-weight 100% organic cotton jersey—choose your fabric and thread color. This and all of our DIY kits can be personalized to your specific design choices and worked in any technique from our books or Swatch of the Month to embellish. Create your own version using the custom DIY kit.

View all DIY Sewing Kits and purchase your own Anna’s Garden Long Skirt kit here.

DIY ANNA'S GARDEN LONG SKIRT KIT

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MERCHANT & MILLS: THE DRESS SHIRT PATTERN

In our ongoing Makeshift conversation on design, craft, food, DIY, and fashion—and how they intersect—we continue to adapt open-source patterns from other designers and brands using Alabama Chanin techniques. This experiment demonstrates how open-sourced materials and collaborative works can be used in any number of ways and tailored to almost any personal style.

For this entry in the series, we have chosen to work with a pattern from Merchant & Mills, a popular UK-based company created by Carolyn Denham and Roderick Field, formed, in their words, “to elevate sewing to its proper place in the creative world, respecting the craftsmanship it entails.” That is certainly a philosophy in line with Alabama Chanin’s mission and Makeshift’s goals.

Merchant & Mills has an interesting selection of patterns to offer. UK sizes differ a bit from US numbered sizes, but the website has clear size charts that can help you select the right pattern size for your body. But keep in mind that their patterns are priced in pounds, not US dollars; you should also take into account shipping costs when shopping. Alternatively, there are quite a few stockists in the US with ready links available here.

In order to highlight the simple beauty of this Dress Shirt, we have opted to make a basic version. Of course, you can choose to utilize any of the techniques from our previous posts or our Swatch of the Month Club to embellish your project. We’ve found that the loose fit and shape of the pattern makes it an easy pull-on garment when paired with our stretchable cotton jersey, and this piece looks great with The Every Day Long Skirt or the Bloomers Swing Skirt and Stripe Tall Socks.

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DIY MAGDALENA FITTED CARDIGAN

This Cardigan is a modified version of our Casual T-shirt Top from Alabama Studio Sewing + DesignWe’ve created the cardigan simply by cutting our t-shirt front panel down the front to create two pieces (or alternatively, you can choose not to cut the pattern on the fold). When cut this way, it creates a cardigan or cover-up from our Casual T-Shirt pattern. Produced in a double-layer, the organic cotton jersey adds warmth but not bulk.

The kit is shown here in Black and has been produced in our backstitched reverse appliqué treatment. But, this and all DIY kits can be customized for any of our embroidery techniques or embellishments. Choose your own fabric color to go with our Variegated Black embroidery floss, or you may also design your own T-Shirt Cardigan through our Custom DIY option. When purchasing this DIY kit to work as a cardigan, you may want to choose one or two sizes larger than you would normally wear, to allow for additional layering room.

SUPPLIES

DIY Magdalena Fitted Cardigan Kit
If you opt to cut your own Fitted Cardigan without a prepared kit, you will need 4 total yards of fabric—2 yards for the outer layer and 2 for the inner layer.

Basic sewing supplies: scissors, pinsneedles
Alabama Stitch BookAlabama Studio Style, or Alabama Studio Sewing + Design: All three of these books contain the basic sewing and embroidery techniques we used to embellish and construct the garment.

Instructions and photographs for backstitched reverse appliqué can be found on pages 95-97 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. You should complete all embellishment using embroidery floss, prior to constructing the garment. Use Button Craft thread, rather than embroidery floss, for construction.

Follow the instructions for the T-Shirt Top/Bolero on page 50 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

DIY MAGDALENA FITTED CARDIGAN

OUR DESIGN CHOICES

Fabric weight – 100% organic medium-weight organic cotton jersey
Fabric color for outer layer – Black
Fabric color for inner layer – Black
Embroidery Floss – Black Variegated
Button Craft thread – Black #2, used for construction and binding stitch
Textile paint color – White Gold
Stencil – Magdalena
Knots – Inside
Seams – Inside felled
Binding stitch – Cretan

DIY MAGDALENA A-LINE DRESS

With the release of Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns, we offer a DIY Sewing Kit for our A-Line Dress. This dress is part of our DIY Sewing Kit Collection. Made from our medium-weight 100% organic cotton jersey, the dress is patterned with our Magdalena Stencil and shown here worked in negative reverse appliqué; however, you may choose a technique from any of our books or Swatch of the Month to embellish this kit.

The A-Line dress has been a popular style around our studio because it flatters almost every figure; in fact, we use this dress as part of our uniform for The Factory Store and Café. The kit—or the finished dress—also makes it an excellent gift, as it does not require strict measurements to fit. It is substantial enough to be worn in any weather and works as a versatile layering piece. My daily uniform consists of the A-Line Dress paired with a basic or embellished version of our Every Day Long Skirt.

DIY MAGDALENA A-LINE DRESS

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ASANTE SANA

In March of this year, we unexpectedly received an email with the subject line, “Asante Sana (Thank You) from Kenya!” It was sent by a woman named Nirvana, who is part of a team working to empower rural Kenyans with life and entrepreneurial skills. It seems that their goal is to inspire people to challenge the current social and cultural systems that tend to keep rural Kenyans impoverished. Read part of Nirvana’s first email to us:

Dear Alabama Chanin,  

You inspired 39 rural Kenyan women and men to start a tailoring class to learn hand sewing! They thought they had to have a sewing machine to learn tailoring. They also thought only poor people sewed by hand!

My American team and I are living in rural Kenya to teach Kenyans how to move beyond survival entrepreneurship. When so many community members said they wanted a tailoring class, I had to get creative. I knew there had to be a way to empower these youth without having to buy or find at least 20 sewing machines. So I Googled “hand sewing.” Of course, that led me to Natalie and Alabama Chanin!

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VOGUE #V8860 (AN ALABAMA CHANIN DIY COAT)

One of our more popular series of do-it-yourself posts has been our ongoing adaptation of commercially available patterns in the Alabama Chanin style. Among the patterns we have reworked are: a dress from an Anna Sui Vogue pattern, two variations of a Vogue dress from Vena Cava, an open-sourced jacket pattern from Yohji Yamamoto, and other varied pieces.

This series first began as a part of our ongoing Makeshift conversations that explore the intersection of design, craft, food, DIY, and fashion. With this series, we look at makers of all sorts and embrace open-source knowledge, materials, and patterns to create new conversations and collaborations.

We know that it takes skill and patience to complete a garment from another designer’s pattern; however, personalizing those garments—bringing your own body shape, style, and design sensibilities to existing patterns—is sometimes the only option for creating garments that truly fit your life and lifestyle. (You will find much more on this idea of customizing a wardrobe in our upcoming book Alabama Studio Sewing Patternswhich is now available for pre-order.)

We are excited to resume this important experiment with a Vogue coat pattern. I’m in love with the results.

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LAUNCHING: ALABAMA STUDIO SEWING PATTERNS

As I’ve mentioned before, writing a book is no easy feat. It involves months (often years) of planning, drafting, edits, new designs, reviews, rewrites, photo shoots, patternmaking…basically, equal parts labor and love. So, I honestly surprised myself when I agreed to write another one. While still a work in progress, the end is in sight, and I’m proud to officially announce Alabama Chanin’s upcoming book, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns. This is the fourth (yes, fourth) book I’ve worked on with my editor (and friend), Melanie Falick, of STC Craft and Abrams.

Around the studio, we’ve been referring to this project as the ‘addendum’, as it acts as a supplement to our Studio Book Series—Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style, and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

LAUNCHING: ALABAMA STUDIO SEWING PATTERNS

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THE SCHOOL OF MAKING

Alabama Chanin as a concept and a company began as a DIY enterprise. I made the first garments by hand, to fit my own body. Our entire business model was created because I couldn’t find manufacturing for the sort of garment I wanted to make—and so, we created our own manufacturing system, one stitch at a time.

Because those first garments were made from recycled t-shirts, many of our customers took the concept and re-imagined it for themselves, making their own patterns and clothing. Others felt that—with just a little help—they could create something similar, something that was their own. Almost accidentally, our garments were stirring in others the desire to make. Slowly, and as the internet became more robust, sewers formed groups on the internet to share their Alabama Chanin-style garments and swap ideas. This was the beginning of a more formal DIY presence in our company.

These things were happening at the same time as I began writing our first Studio Book, Alabama Stitch Book. Writing that book helped me crystallize my thoughts on making, open sourcing, and education. It was, in essence, me putting voice to what was important about sharing ideas and creating a community of makers. Throughout the writing process—and as the company grew and evolved over the years—I returned again and again to the idea of keeping the living arts alive. It’s the belief that survival skills for food, clothing, and shelter, are important arts that we live with every single day. And these arts—often considered secondary arts—are equally (and perhaps more) important as the “primary” arts of painting and sculpture.

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DIY POLKA DOT THROW

Since the launch of Alabama Studio Style, our DIY Eyelet + Angie Throw (also known in my family as a “couch saver”) has been a favorite do-it-yourself kit among home sewers and our workshop participants alike. Today we introduce another design option for this project: the Polka Dot throw. This 36” x 48” throw, made from our medium-weight 100% organic cotton jersey, is patterned with our Medium Polka Dot Stencil and can be worked in a variety of techniques. The throw is shown here sewn in alternating double-rows of quilting, appliqué, and reverse appliqué, and then finished with a blanket stitch that runs around the entire outside edge. Find instructions for all of these techniques and more in our Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style, and/or Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

Design your own throw with our Custom DIY option.

From Alabama Studio Style:

Couch savers were a permanent fixture in my grandmother’s home. All manner of crocheted, quilted, and plain fabrics were safety-pinned to upholstered couch backs as well as the arms and heads of chairs in order to protect the fabric from undue wear and tear. In homage to Gramperkins, who taught me just about everything I love about domesticity, I created this couch saver. To make one of your own, cut a 36” x 48” piece of cotton jersey and embellish as shown. I love to read, relax, and watch movies in bed rather than on my couch, so that is where I display and enjoy this beautiful work.

DIY POLKA DOT THROW

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JONATHAN HARRIS: NAVIGATING STUCKNESS

Over the past thirty-five years, public radio producer Jay Allison has accumulated a wealth of inspiration in his extensive audio archive of human experience. A personal hero of mine, he has brought innovative storytelling to the forefront of radio journalism. His new project, Transom.org, won the first Peabody Award ever given exclusively to a website. This site provides resources and community for young journalists, diarists, artists, and reporters by combining the power of the recorded spoken word and the internet. It also brings otherwise unheard stories to a broad audience.

I discovered this inspiring piece written by artist and computer scientist Jonathan Harris on the Transom Review, a collection of written narratives on Transom.org. “Navigating Stuckness,” is an unashamed look at the journey Harris has taken to understand life’s meaning and the loss and gain of momentum in the long run. The story of his work is actually the story of his life. This may be one reason I found the piece so appealing.  Our work is a direct reflection of our developing state.

JONATHAN HARRIS: NAVIGATING STUCKNESS

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SWATCH OF THE MONTH: OCTOBER 2014

The October Swatch of the Month highlights one of our most popular embroidery treatments—Alabama Fur. The technique, first presented in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, combines our Spiral stencil with backstitch-worked embroidery floss, and incorporating exposed knots and tails. Simple, yet time consuming, the end result is a hypnotic continuation of curves that is both a beauty to behold and touch (the texture is irresistible).

To create the swatch, begin by stenciling the design to the top layer of fabric using your transfer method of choice. (The Spirals stencil is available for download from our Resources page.)

Align your top and backing layers of fabric, with right sides up and pin together. Using four strands of embroidery floss (or two strands doubled) thread your needle. When you knot off, use a double knot and make sure to leave a 1” tail of floss (note that this tail is longer than we use when working with Button Craft thread, for effect).

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BECK’S SONG READER (+ DIY MUSIC)

In December of 2012, songwriter and musician Beck released an “album” called Song Reader that challenged modern recording industry standards and the traditional definition of what an album should be. With Song Reader Beck took a unique approach by releasing 20 songs in sheet music format and asking artists to interpret and record them as they saw fit.

The concept is – at its core – a DIY approach to songwriting and an invitation to other artists to participate in a collective music-making experience. We view the approach as very much aligned with our embrace of open sourcing. All art is interpreted through the lens of the viewer or listener; this takes things a step further by inviting the audience to actively interpret the art.

Beck seemed excited about the possibilities and told McSweeney’s, “I thought a lot about making these songs playable and approachable, but still musically interesting. I think some of the best covers will reimagine the chord structure, take liberties with the melodies, the phrasing, even the lyrics themselves. There are no rules in interpretation.”

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SWATCH OF THE MONTH: SEPTEMBER 2014

The Swatch of the Month for September continues August’s emphasis on texture as it relates to an overall design perspective. Couching has a sculptural quality and it places significant focus on the stencil or design motif it highlights. This stencil, Anna’s Garden, works well with the couching technique, as it has lots of curved shapes and forms.

Traditional couching is a very old embroidery technique in which yarn is laid across a surface fabric and sewn into place (usually with a satin stitch). While we have used cotton yarn in some of our couching designs, we most often substitute our cotton jersey, cut into strips and pulled to make a smaller version of our cotton jersey pulls. These are more substantial and look beautiful on coats, dresses, pillows – and many other pieces.

Couching is simple in concept, but more difficult in execution. It is difficult, if not impossible, to pin the yarn or rope to the base fabric before stitching it down, so you must use your fingers to turn and shape it into place.

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DIY RECIPES FOR TEXTILE PAINT

Every day of the week, we use textile paint to transfer stencil designs to our 100% organic cotton jersey. While the colors that can be produced by mixing paints are limitless, we primarily work with the following base colors: opaque black, transparent sand, opaque blue, pearl silver, opaque red, opaque white, opaque yellow, opaque sky blue, pearl red, and forest green. By mixing these colors, we create all of the hues and shades that help define our patterns, stencils, and collections. Our artisans use our painted stencils as a guide for embellishing our designs with appliqué, reverse appliqué, and beading techniques. We have also discovered that a basic garment featuring a subtle stencil adds texture and delicate details to our designs. Many of our Studio Style DIY customers and workshop participants have asked for these unique combinations of textile paint; below, we share recipes for some of our most popular colors. You can find everything you need to create your own stencil and spray kit in our online store.

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ALABAMA RED
500 mL opaque red
15 mL opaque black

CREAM
105 mL opaque white
70 mL transparent sand
1.25 mL opaque yellow

PEARL BROWNIE
300 mL pearl silver
100 mL brownie (see recipe below)

BROWNIE
115 mL opaque red
115 mL fluorescent blue
15 mL transparent forest green (Shake)
250 mL opaque yellow (Shake)
42.5 mL opaque black

CHARCOAL
15 mL opaque white
19.5 mL opaque black

LEMONADE
100 mL opaque white
10 mL opaque yellow

MOSS
5mL opaque white
100 mL transparent forest green
25 mL opaque yellow
30 mL transparent sand
5 mL opaque red (Mix)
1.25 mL opaque black

NAVY
75 mL fluorescent blue
20 drops opaque black

MIST
45 mL opaque white
5 mL sky blue

SWATCH OF THE MONTH: AUGUST 2014

August’s Swatch of the Month combines the beading and ruffle elements we explored in May, June, and July. The stencil, Kristina’s Rose, uses curved lines to create a somewhat abstract floral design. Those curves, when accentuated with beads and appliquéd fabric strips, create a texturally rich fabric treatment. We used three different techniques to create this swatch: folded stripe appliqué, beaded chain stitch appliqué, and beaded rosebud stitch.

Begin by cutting ½” strips of fabric in two colors. The number of strips needed will depend upon the surface area your stencil will cover and the number of shapes you choose to appliqué.

Transfer the design to your fabric using your stenciling method of choice. An enlargeable version of this stencil with accompanying instructions and fabric map are shown on pages 126-127 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. You can also download a copy of the Kristina’s Rose stencil from our Resources page.

Select one rose shape to embellish using folded stripe appliqué. To do this, hold together two of your ½” strips (using the two different colors), then randomly fold them back and forth along the line of the stenciled rose shape, while sewing them into place with a beaded straight stitch. Refer to page 108 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design for detailed instructions and photographs.

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DIY INDIGO CAMISOLE TANK

Based on feedback that we have received from some of our DIY customers, we are now offering supplementary instructions in each of our DIY Kits. Each kit will be shipped with an insert that includes basic instructions, including how to “love your thread,” directions on completing basic stitches, simple construction tips, and how to add rib binding to your item. We hope that this will help make completing your DIY project easy and stress-free. As always, complete instructions for projects can be found in the Alabama Studio Book series.

We have recently been highlighting natural dyes and Alabama Chanin’s new dye house, run by our head seamstress, Diane. This project highlights the beautiful new shades of indigo that are emerging from our dye vats, shown here on one of our most popular silhouettes – the Camisole Tank. The tank can be adapted to fit almost any body type and its simple design is well suited for most stencils and embroidery techniques.

The tank is form fitting and features feminine back and necklines. It measures approximately 25” from the shoulder.

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DIY STARS TUNIC

Each month of 2014, we have been demonstrating some of our favorite embroidery techniques as part of our Swatch of the Month Club. The month of July features our satin stitch-embroidered Stars design, embellished with beads and sequins.

To highlight this stencil and technique – and as a way to celebrate Independence Day all summer long – we suggest purchasing a machine-sewn Racerback Tunic in the size of your choice and all the supplies needed to embellish your tunic with our Stars design, including our Stars stencil, Red Button Craft thread, bugle beads, chop beads, and sequins.

This project combines our hand-worked techniques with a machine-made garment. Look for more projects combining hand with machine coming soon.

CUSTOM DIY: MAGDALENA GORE SKIRT

The Alabama Chanin Gore Skirt is one of our more popular DIY items because it is a simple design that is the perfect canvas for a wide variety of colors, stencils, and embroidery techniques. Shown here in reverse appliqué in our Magdalena design, the skirt sits low on the waist and flares to the hem—creating a beautiful, flowing silhouette.

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Using our Custom DIY options, you can choose every aspect of a reverse appliqué garment to fit your style and personality. For instance, you can go for a subtle, yet beautiful tone-on-tone approach, as we have shown here. Or, you may choose a high contrast option for your backing and top layers. The Gore Skirt featured here is just one example of how you might create your own garment.

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SWATCH OF THE MONTH: JUNE 2014

The Swatch of the Month for June combines a number of embroidery techniques into a single design. This stencil, appropriately titled June’s Spring, combines both basic techniques, like backstitch embroidery and appliqué, with more elaborate treatments, like beading and Feather stitch embroidery. The combination of these elements on one swatch results in a lush, rich looking textile.

Detailed instructions for completing the June’s Spring fabric treatment and a fabric map illustration can be found on pages 118-119 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. This particular swatch allows you quite a bit of creative freedom, since you decide what elements to embellish and to what degree they will be decorated. We recommend that you make a plan (like the fabric map shown in the book) ahead of time for how you will decorate each element. But, you might think it is more fun to improvise and make decisions as you create. Either approach will undoubtedly result in a beautiful completed swatch.

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DIY MAGDALENA SHAWL

One of our Mother’s Day Gift Guide selections, the DIY Magdalena Shawl is versatile in design and function. The Magdalena stencil is a bold design that dresses up casual wear. A shawl is a simple way to adjust to the changes in weather that tend to occur on a whim this time of year and acts as a perfect canvas to display the Magdalena design.

I like to keep a variety of shawls on hand for chilly mornings and to use as a pillow or blanket on long airplane or car rides. Depending on how you wear your shawl, it is possible that both the front and the back may be visible, showing off the intricate stitches and handwork used to finish it.

MAGDALENA-SHAWL-SIDE-BY-SIDE

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SWATCH OF THE MONTH: MAY 2014

The Swatch of the Month for May demonstrates our beaded ruffle stripe technique. This is a variation of our random ruffle technique, featured in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. You can add several rows of ruffles for a more elaborate textural design or use just one if you want to highlight the technique itself.

Detailed instructions on how to apply ruffles can be found on pages 107-108 in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. To add ruffles to your swatch, you will need to use tailor’s chalk to draw a line (or several lines) on the right side of your top layer fabric. This will be your guide for where to add your ruffles.

To make a ruffle stripe, cut a 1”-wide strip of cotton jersey, sew with a basting stitch down the middle of the strip, then pull on the ends of the basting thread to ruffle, or gather, the strip. Attach the ruffled stripes to your double-layer fabric swatch by first basting them down (along your chalked line) with an all-purpose thread and then securing them with a stretch stitch or another decorative stitch down the center of the ruffle. We used a zigzag chain stitch on our version of the swatch.

For our swatch, we have opted to add chop beads to the stitches securing the ruffle to the base fabric. The beading adds a bit of sparkle, dimension, and detail.

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DIY CHECK SKIRT

Our classic Short Skirt is great for just about every occasion, including Mother’s Day. Whether you arrange an outing to church, a restaurant, or just a walk in the park, you can make Mom happy by making her something she’ll love.

Currently featured as part of our Mother’s Day Gift Guide, the DIY Check Skirt is the only DIY Kit pattern we currently feature using our Short Fitted Skirt pattern from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

This version of the skirt is made using the reverse appliqué technique and is embellished with beaded eyelet details. Instructions for the Short Skirt can be found on pages 60 – 61 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. When ordering, please specify your desired top layer and thread color.

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DIY CHECK TIED WRAP

Mother’s Day will be upon us soon, and we hope that you are all planning a way to make it a special day. Our freelance editor, Sara, says that her father always got worked up over finding her mother just the right gift. Inevitably, this stress would result in a frantic, last minute decision that wasn’t necessarily the right choice. She says that they still laugh about the year he bought her mother a calculator. (And he still insists that she said she wanted one…) Other years, her father did a much better job; Sara remembers once planting a dogwood tree just outside her mother’s kitchen window.

We appreciate that mothers come in all forms, shapes, and sizes, so this DIY Check Tied Wrap featuring our 2014 Stencil of the Year is a perfect fit for your mother, or grandmother, daughter, or friend. In the morning sunlight, it almost looks like dogwood flowers blooming.

We are offering this DIY Kit as part of our Mother’s Day Gift Guide. Make something for mom – or give her something she will enjoy making for herself.

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DIY BOOK COVERS

In service to everyone who showed such great response to our Swatch of the Month, we are featuring a series of DIY projects that you can create with your completed swatch(es). This month’s project is a book cover adapted to fit the size of our Studio Books. It requires one swatch and four blank panels of fabric to complete. Make your own Studio Book cover, or adapt the size to fit your favorite book.

We chose to use this month’s appliqué swatch for the main portion of our book cover. The additional four panels were left unembellished in order to highlight the intricate Anna’s Garden design.

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SWATCH OF THE MONTH: APRIL 2014

The Swatch of the Month for April allows you the opportunity to experiment with a basic, traditional appliqué technique in our Anna’s Garden stencil design. Appliqué is a way of “applying” one fabric on top of another. We use appliqué for many reasons – to add color, texture, dimension, and more elaborate design work to a piece. You can use any number of stitches to appliqué your top design to the bottom fabric. Here, we demonstrate the most common way that we add an appliquéd element to a base fabric: a simple parallel whipstitch.

Detailed instructions on appliqué techniques can be found in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Match up each appliqué shape with its correct position as you cut it to avoid creating a complicated puzzle for yourself. Take care to position your appliqué pieces precisely by pinning each cut shape of the stenciled design into place. Then, stitch each appliqué shape to your fabric using a parallel whipstitch, which will attach your appliqué pieces securely.

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STARTER SEWING KIT

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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DIY SWATCH PILLOWS

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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SWATCH OF THE MONTH: MARCH 2014

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 (or purchase an Essential Sewing Kit from our online store). Techniques and instruction can be found in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

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DIY MEN’S CHECK T-SHIRT

Our newest men’s DIY Kit features the Check, our 2014 Stencil of the Year. The shirt is shown here worked in reverse appliqué, but there are various ways to work this stencil, including negative reverse appliqué and outside reverse appliqué, along with a variety of other techniques found in the Alabama Chanin Studio Book series.

The body of the shirt is our popular men’s classic T-shirt which has long been a unisex favorite. However, this top can be easily adapted to a women’s T-shirt – pattern and instructions for which are found in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

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TWO-HOUR WORKSHOP + AFTERNOON TEA

Our first workshop of the year is this Friday at The Factory in Florence. It’s not too late to register and spend the afternoon with Natalie and the Alabama Chanin team. Registration closes at noon on Wednesday, February 26.

This workshop is suited to beginner and experienced sewers alike. Work with Natalie and our Alabama Chanin DIY Kits to create a project from our Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style, or Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. DIY Kit options for this workshop include one of the following projects: scarf, T-shirt, set of four tea towels, set of four placemats, baby blanket, onesie, apron, or journal.

After the workshop, join us in The Factory Café for Afternoon Tea (a selection of gourmet sandwiches, savory pastries, Southern-inspired sweets, and an assortment of teas and coffees). The cost of the workshop includes materials, instruction, afternoon tea, stories, and laughter.

Friday, February 28, 2014
1:30 pm – 4:30 pm

The Factory
462 Lane Drive
Florence, AL 35630

DKNY VOGUE PATTERN + AN ALABAMA CHANIN DIY DRESS

Vogue designer patterns, which are available to all at reasonable prices, are excellent examples of resources contributing to and encouraging the DIY opportunities in modern fashion. The existence and availability of such resources help us to continue our ongoing conversation on Design, Craft, and Fashion and how they intersect.

As part of our ongoing series adapting open-source designer patterns using Alabama Chanin techniques, we selected a dress from DKNY—Donna Karan New York—the mainline label for the Donna Karan brand. I’ve written before about the connection I have with Donna Karan as a designer and we’ve previously featured another of her Vogue patterns as part of this DIY series.

This modern shift dress pattern is flattering on all body types, simple enough for beginners, and can be easily accessorized and embellished. We made both a Basic version, as well as an embellished version, featuring the Check pattern, our Stencil of the Year.

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DIY HEARTS JOURNAL

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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SWATCH OF THE MONTH: FEBRUARY 2014

February’s Swatch of the Month illustrates a variation on Alabama Chanin’s basic reverse appliqué technique in our Anna’s Garden design. With a membership in our Swatch of the Month Club, you can try out a different technique each month. You may purchase a Swatch of the Month membership at any point in the year and will receive all swatches from previous months. Follow along on the Journal as we demonstrate some of our most popular embroidery and embellishment techniques.

This photograph shows the second installment of the year: outside reverse appliqué. View January’s swatch—basic reverse appliqué—here. Outside reverse appliqué is very similar to basic reverse appliqué. The only difference between the two techniques is that outside appliqué does not leave any textile paint on the fabric.

Each Swatch of the Month kit comes ready-to-sew with all of the notions needed to complete the project. Just provide your own needles, pins, and scissors (or purchase an Essential Sewing Kit from our online store). Techniques and instruction can be found in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

NAVY-ANNAS-GARDEN-REVERSE-DETAILW

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AN ALABAMA CHANIN FAMILY OF BUSINESSES

Those of you who have followed Alabama Chanin for years know that this company was built around the concepts of expert craftsmanship, beauty, function, and utility. Focusing on using sustainable, organic, and local materials and labor, we have committed ourselves to producing quality products made in the USA.

As we grew, the company developed a life of its own that emerged as a multi-fold organization—while staying true to the original mission and business model. We encouraged organic growth, without forcing ourselves to fit into a traditional mold. We recently began referring to what has emerged as the “Alabama Chanin Family of Businesses”—a heartfelt nod to the Zingerman’s approach and their Community of Businesses. Each of our divisions has individual specialties, yet all fall under the same mission established for Alabama Chanin. Our philosophy guides each arm and we all work together toward the same goal: creating beautiful products in sustainable ways that enrich our customers, community, and co-workers.

From our mission statement:

At Alabama Chanin, we preserve traditions of community, design, producing, and living arts by examining work and life through the act of storytelling, photography, education, and making.

Thoughtful design. Responsible production. Good business. Quality that lasts.

A guide to our growing family of businesses:

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Alabama Chanin—the heart and head of our family of businesses—began early in 2000 with the creation of hand-sewn garments made from cotton jersey fabric—and retains the same intention and integrity today. Heirloom pieces are made from 100% organic cotton, sewn by hand through a group of talented artisans who each run their own business, in their own time, and in their own way. The company strives to maintain sustainable practices—across its disciplines—and create sustainable products, holding ourselves to the highest standards for quality.
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SWATCH OF THE MONTH: JANUARY 2014

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 (or purchase an essential sewing kit). 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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DIY BUNNY RABBIT

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.

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THE BOLERO AND ERRATA

The Bolero is a popular item for those of us in Alabama, as spring and fall temperatures (and in some years, mid-winter) can swing from 50 degrees to 80 degrees in the course of one day. It is an easy piece to toss into your bag on the way out the door and an effortless way to accessorize your look in any weather.

We shared the pattern for this garment in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, with four variations of how it might be constructed: sleeveless, with cap sleeves, short sleeves, and long, fluted sleeves. It can be completed quickly, regardless of your chosen style, and requires only 1 yard of fabric or so. Imagine our surprise, and disappointment, when some readers reported that their Boleros weren’t coming together as expected, that the pattern was a little bit off. Errata déjà vu.

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BLUPRINT CLASS (A RECAP)

This past February, Alabama Chanin partnered with the team at Bluprint, 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 Bluprint 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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INDIGO FLAG QUILT

I am a child of the 1960s…no way around it. And, while denim has been around since 1860’s-era France, the decades of the 60’s and 70’s jump to my mind when I think of this fabric. That era also makes me think of all the controversy around the American Flag and its use as a symbol on both sides of divisive matters like segregation, the Vietnam War, and other social issues. Images of Abbie Hoffman, clad in his American Flag button-up shirt, alongside flags made entirely of cut-up old blue jeans come to mind. Like I said, a child of the 60’s.

We recently received a comment, referring us to the United States Flag Code, suggesting that our American Flag Quilt doesn’t adhere strictly to the advisory rules. I want it to be clear that I love my home and our flag—that symbol of home. The Alabama Chanin representation of the American flag is made by stitching together disparate pieces to create a beautiful, larger whole. We take care with every small scrap of fabric, embroidering each stenciled piece so that when inspected up close, you can see the detail involved; each small piece painted with a different stencil; stitched using a different technique; each technique modified to highlight the possible variations; all somehow fitting together…much like our country.

INDIGO FLAG QUILT - photograph by Robert Rausch

INDIGO FLAG QUILT - photograph by Robert Rausch

The Flag Quilt is made with 100% organic cotton medium-weight fabric and constructed using techniques from our Alabama Studio Book Series.

DIY GARDEN GEOMETRY SKIRT

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.

GARDEN GEOMETRY SKIRT

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BUCKET HAT (AND WRITING A BOOK)

The process of writing a book is involved. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Each draft gets written and edited, reviewed, passed from hand to hand, rewritten, reedited, and re-reviewed until – after many (many) drafts – you finally arrive at a finished product. It’s a shiny new representation of years of hard work. And in a best case scenario—like a perfect dinner party— it looks effortless.

Each author wants her books to be perfect, especially considering the blood, sweat, and tears that go into every word. You haven’t just written the pages, you have rewritten, proofed (see photo below), had projects produced, reproduced, pages designed, and then redesigned again. It’s all part of the glorious process of eliminating errors, removing comma splices, making things pretty, laying a foundation, and inspiring a person to want to hold your book, to open it and, in the end, find it perfect.

BUCKET HAT AND WRITING A BOOK

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STUDIO WEEK

On the heels of MAKESHIFT 2013, we are inspired and invigorated by the conversations around design, fashion, food, craft, and DIY that took place last week during New York Design Week. We hope that you have followed our explorations throughout the events this year and have used our discussions to begin conversations of your own. We are even more convinced about the importance of making, sharing, and finding common ground, and look forward to expanding the conversations about design, fashion, food, craft, and DIY over the coming months.

One thing that resonates from those talks last week, are the concepts of collaboration and skill sharing.  As we continue to open source our ideas, our Alabama Chanin 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).

STUDIO WEEK

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MAKESHIFT 2013: CHAIR WORKSHOP

On Sunday, as part of MAKESHIFT 2013, we co-hosted a Chair Workshop, modeled after the MAKESHIFT 2012 workshop, Crafting Design, sponsored by Partners and Spade. This year we teamed up with Build It Green!NYC (BIG!NYC) and Krrb and invited an array of makers to join us for an afternoon of collaboration, innovation, and chair re-design. While our event at The Standard focused on conversation (though there was plenty of making going on as well), the chair event has evolved into a make-centered occasion where a community of designers work both independently and together through skill sharing and mutual encouragement.

The event was held at BIG!NYC’s restore facility in Brooklyn – a warehouse filled with doors, fireplace mantels, sinks, mirrors, tiles and a number of other goods, much of it vintage and antique, acquired through donations and offered at low prices for those looking to save money (and the landfill) in home renovations. Or in the case of friend Kerry Diamond (of Cherry Bombe Magazine) and her chef/partner Robert Newton, the interior of their third and most recent restaurant, Nightingale 9, was designed with salvage bought from BIG!NYC.

CHAIR WORKSHOP

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DIY PAISLEY TOTE

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.

DIY PAISLEY TOTE

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BUILD IT GREEN!NYC (AND A PARTY)

As MAKESHIFT 2013 takes shape, we continue the conversation that began last year about the intersection of art, craft, making, producing, designing, and manufacturing.  One of last year’s most popular events, Crafting Design: Chair Workshop with Partners and Spade, found resonance with a league of artists, designers, crafters, and makers. And due its popularity, we are excited to be curating the workshop again, this year hosted by Build It Green!NYC, on the 19th of May, in their Gowanus, Brooklyn location, and in collaboration with Krrb. This year’s event includes a Chair Exhibition, followed by a party—both open to the public. Expect some local brew, a food truck (or two), and some surprises along the way.

Build It Green!NYC (BIG!NYC) is New York City’s only non-profit retail outlet for salvaged and surplus building supplies and materials. Co-sponsored by Community Environmental Center (CEC), which assists New York buildings with energy efficiency, BIG!NYC works to keep building materials out of landfills, using all materials where possible (much like Alabama Chanin). You can find most anything at BIG!NYC, whether it’s shutters, panel doors or refrigerators. Construction and demolition waste is a massive portion of landfill content (over 19,000 tons of building material are thrown out each day in NYC) and that waste contains pollutants, GHG emissions, and contributes to climate change and global warming. All proceeds from sales through BIG!NYC go back into supporting CEC’s environmental programs throughout the city: BIG!Compost, BIG!Blooms, BIG!NYC Gives Back, along with a variety of other projects that continue to emerge.

Our friends (and Southern Foodways Alliance cohorts) Kerry Diamond (of Cherry Bombe Magazine) and her chef/partner Robert Newton (of Smith Canteen) built their newest endeavor, Nightingale 9, from materials found at Build It Green!NYC.

BUILD IT GREEN!NYC

Last October, Hurricane Sandy nearly destroyed one of BIG!NYC’s reuse centers, flooding their 21,000 square foot warehouse with five feet of water. Two days later, volunteers from across the state amassed on the site to help remove the unsalvageable and clean what could be saved. With the help of those volunteers, Build It Green!NYC was back in business within days, aiding those hit hard by the storm and providing needed building materials. BIG!NYC suffered major losses as a result of Hurricane Sandy, which only reinforced their mission to extend the usability of construction materials by keeping them out of landfills.

Like last year’s chair workshop, participants in this year’s event will  repurpose cast-off, found chairs into objects of beauty. And like last year, friends, makers,  and designers, like Natalie, A.J. Mason, Andrew Wagner, Tanya Aguiniga, Amy Devers, and more, will be on-hand to help and participate. While space for this workshop is limited, a Chair Exhibit and party will take place directly after the workshop and are open to all. Build It Green!NYC will also be open for business during the workshop with a portion of all sales benefiting Build It Green!NYC Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Come join us…

P.S.: The workshop is currently wait listed, but spots may open so go ahead and send us an email. We want to hear from you: rsvp (at) alabamachanin.com

 

DIY BLOOMERS GORE SKIRT (AND A CORSAGE)

Southern children who grow up with a healthy respect for their elders, particularly their mothers, are said to have been “raised right.” Across the south, most children (and their fathers) must have been “raised right,” because there is almost always a big to-do made about Mother’s Day. Even though new Easter clothes have just been bought, a slew of children will go shopping again for new Mother’s Day outfits; it is expected to make a good impression at church on that big day. Mom gets to sleep in (just a little) and breakfasts will be prepared and served by the children. We present our mothers and grandmothers with beautiful corsages. Often in my community, the tradition is to give carnations. It’s common to give Mother a red or pink one and to set a vase of white carnations upon the kitchen table for grandmothers or great-grandmothers who have passed away. In my family,we  presented corsages to Mother and Grandmother on Mother’s Day morning.

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DIY TUNICS (MARIMEKKO STYLE)

This week, we’ve been exploring Finnish design company, Marimekko, well known for creating colorful, often bold patterns and fabrics. While their designs were first made popular in the 1960’s by Jacqueline Kennedy, the bright and vibrant garments remain classic choices, appropriate for any generation. Personally, I love to add a bold pattern or color to my regular wardrobe from time-to-time, and re-visiting the Marimekko story inspired this Tunic.

This pattern is a variation of our T-shirt Top, available in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design cut to tunic length. The tunic has a bit of a flare starting at the waist, which makes it comfortable and forgiving. We also have variations of tunics – the Camisole Tunic and the Tank Tunic – available as patterns in Alabama Studio Style.

DIY TUNIC MARIMEKKO-STYLE

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DIY LITTLE FLOWERS A-LINE TUNIC

In addition to our Little Flowers and Little Folks stencil collaboration with Anna Maria Horner, we’re also introducing a new DIY Kit through our Custom DIY: the Little Flowers A-line Tunic. The relaxed fit makes this tunic an easy favorite in my day-to-day wardrobe. Think absolute comfort.

The top is fitted through the bust with an empire-style flare that lands just below the hip, providing a comfortable, yet feminine shape. It measures 31 ½” from the shoulder.

The kit comes stenciled with Little Flowers and ready-to-sew with all notions for the project. We also feature our variegated embroidery floss in this project.

While we don’t offer the A-line Tunic pattern in our Studio Book Series, you can simply follow the construction instructions for the Fitted Top on page 52 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

OUR DESIGN CHOICES

Garment – A-line Tunic; follow instructions for the Fitted T-shirt Top in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design
Fabric weight – Alabama Chanin 100% organic medium cotton jersey
Fabric color top-layer – Black
Fabric color bottom-layer – Natural
Stencil – Little Flowers
Button Craft thread for construction – Coats & Clark #2 (Black)
Embroidery Floss – Variegated Black #53
Embroidery technique – Backstitch reverse appliqué; instructions available in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design
Seams – Inside Felled

Create yours through our Custom DIY.

LITTLE FLOWERS + LITTLE FOLKS (WITH ANNA MARIA HORNER)

Two years in the making, we are thrilled to officially introduce our Anna Maria Horner collaboration to Alabama Chanin’s Studio Style DIY. In-depth conversations, back-and-forth emails, and Nashville-Florence meetings with Anna Maria resulted in two textile pattern designs called “Little Flowers” and “Little Folks”.

Our collaborative process illustrates the infinite design possibilities that emerge when you start a conversation on design; our collaboration is an enlargement and elaboration of Anna Maria’s textile pattern: Little Folks.

I’ve been a fan of Anna Maria and her lively prints for years. Seeing the evolution of many of these prints into complete fabric collections made me curious to see what one would look like worked in our Alabama Chanin style. Little Folks had all the elements I was interested in incorporating into an Alabama Chanin design: simple forms, intricate detail, and repeating geometric patterns. This elemental approach focused on the essence of her design, evident in the laser-cut stencils.

LITTLE FLOWERS STENCIL- ANNA MARIA HORNER COLLABORATION

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A RECIPE FOR INDIGO

We have been working with indigo-dyed cotton jersey for years now. Between Father Andrew and Goods of Conscience in New York City and Artisan Natural Dyeworks in Nashville, Tennessee, there has never been a need for us to start our own indigo vat. And in the quantities we dye, it’s better to leave it to the experts. However, there has always been this little part of me that covets an indigo bath and I dream of one in our studio for “play.”

Since we set about exploring indigo this week, it seemed a perfect time to also explore recipes for a vat (which Father Andrew says is “very much like making beer”). While investigating recipes, I remembered a text message I received last fall from friends A.J. Mason and Jeff Moerchen about an indigo vat they created in the woods of upstate New York. Here they share the story of their vat:

A RECIPE FOR INDIGO

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TIE THE KNOT CORSET

While cleaning up for our recent Garage Sale (stay tuned for another coming towards the end of February), I found a bag of our Cotton Jersey Pulls cut into 4” lengths. Most likely, these were prepared for button loops, but no one in the studio can remember exactly why they were prepared and cut.

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THE SHAPE OF THE HEART

It’s the time of the year when the shape of a heart makes its prolific comeback (although with a six-year-old girl at home, the heart shape is a pretty common part of daily life). Graphic symbols often carry with them deep histories (and controversies) over where the shape emerged.  This simple shape is no different. Apparently it is found in cave paintings dating as far back as 10,000 B.C.E.

Some believe that the shape was a simplification of the silhouette of the human heart; others believe that it was a sign used for a now-extinct plant called silphium, which was used as a form of birth-control—therefore becoming the sign of love.  Still others believe that the inverted heart symbolized the hanging scrotum —perhaps a stretch of the (over-active) imagination.

Wherever your beliefs land, it can’t be denied that the heart is possibly the most (over?) used symbol of our time. But then, why should that stop us?

Here is our version of the heart in stencil form:

Check back this week as we elaborate on all things love (and heart shaped), from Dr. Ruth to DIY Kits, and little girls’ valentines (to themselves).  “I love you. I love you. I love you,” she murmured as she gazed in the mirror.

Should we all find such self-love in these next two weeks… and for the rest of our lives.

P.S.: Heart rocks above were carefully selected from Natalie and Maggie’s collection.

DIY MUSIC: SONG READER OR “DO WE? WE DO.”

You know how we at Alabama Chanin feel about open sourcing. We offer our techniques and the information necessary to recreate our products, should you decide that you want to do-it-yourself. After three books, countless DIY Kits, and an amazing array of workshops, we have learned some important things: people will take your ideas and run with them; what you put into the world will come back to you in ways that you never imagined; the world is a creative place; and you never know what people are capable of until you give them the tools and the opportunity to create.

That being said, I think we’ve found a kindred spirit in the musician, Beck. While listening to one of my podcast staples, All Things Considered, I caught an interview where he described his newest album – an album that he, himself, hasn’t actually recorded. Song Reader (published by, awesome, McSweeney’s) is a set of 20 songs that Beck has released only in sheet music format. His hope is that other musicians will take the material and record their own versions. After releasing so many solo albums, he said that crowdsourcing his music seemed like a way to make the process less lonely.

From All Things Considered: “When you write a song and make a recording and put out a record, it’s kind of [like] sending a message in a bottle,” Beck says. “You don’t really get a lot of feedback. This is a way of sending that song out, and you just get literally thousands of bottles sent back to you.”

There are plenty of artists that have taken up this artistic challenge. You can hear many of them at Beck’s Song Reader website. Maybe, you’ll find your own inspiration there.

To hear the entire interview and some of the songs that have been recorded, listen to the All Things Considered segment here.

P.S.: Sheet music image from “Old Shanghai” by Beck and included in Song Reader. Illustration for that piece by Kelsey Dake.

DIY BLOOMERS KNIT (AND STITCH) BANDANA

With the publication of our Alabama Studio Book Series, we open sourced our beloved techniques that these living arts might be preserved for future generations. One of the things that we learned along the way is that people who are dedicated to one particular area of craft can also become converts to another area. The art of working with your hands seems to span all disciplines.

We have customers who are woodworkers, potters, scrapbookers, knitters, and crocheters. Particularly, knitters seem to find themselves at home making Alabama Chanin pieces. Perhaps loop-by-loop finds familiarity with our stitch-by-stitch method. Knitters Melanie Falick (my editor) and Mason-Dixon’s Kay Gardiner are now hand-sewing enthusiasts in the Alabama Chanin style.

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DIY: SISTER SHIRTS

In the style of “old-school” Alabama Chanin – and perfect for holiday gifts – make our Sister Shirts using mirror-image or mix-and-match sections of your favorite t-shirts. Follow the instructions for our Printed T-shirt Corset on page 155 of Alabama Stitch Book to complete the project.

From the project introduction:

Follow the instructions as given but prepare pattern pieces for two printed T-shirt corsets. Instead of using one of the T-shirts for the whole corset, mix and match by swapping out, for example the center front panel from one of the t-shirts into the center panel of the other. Do the same with the back panels. Ultimately, you will create two shirts that are nearly alike except for the transposed panels.

In the corset tops above, we traded out the Center Back and Middle Front pattern pieces. Leave edges raw and seams floating.

Done.

DIY THURSDAY: GUY LAROCHE

Today, for DIY Thursday, we are featuring a Guy Laroche pattern from Vogue Designer Patterns constructed in the Alabama Chanin style. I never had the chance to meet Guy Laroche, nor have I met the house’s current artistic director, Marcel Marongiu, but I admire their focus on impeccable tailoring. Laroche’s collections once featured billowing empire line dresses; the pattern that we chose to adapt combines the flowing nature of those garments with their famous tailoring skills.

Because this garment was dressier than some of our other Vogue Pattern adaptations, we only made a basic version. We think it is spectacular without embellishment. However, it would be gorgeous with some beading around the neckline or the hem. Either way, this dress is perfect for any upcoming holiday parties.

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APPLIQUE CAMISOLE DRESS FOR CREATIVEBUG

Our Camisole Dress from Alabama Studio Style is highlighted in a video class on Traditional Appliqué at Creativebug.com. You fill find the pattern sheet for this dress at the back of the book and can follow along step-by-step with our instructions on Creativebug. We now offer this project as a DIY Kit from our online store and all the supplies we used are listed below.

Creativebug is a subscription service and just in time for the holidays has gift subscriptions available starting at $24.99 for a month. I love this as a gift for my crafting friends as there are so many great classes available for the holiday season.

About our appliqué class from the Creativebug website:

“Appliqué is beautiful way to add texture, pattern and color to a project. Natalie uses applique to stunning effect in her Alabama Chanin collection, and in this workshop, she’ll share with you her basic technique. She’ll also show examples of how using different stitches and thread result in dramatically different finished looks.”

Our camisole dress is shown in Apple (double-layer) with Anna’s Garden appliqué in Natural placed around the bottom of the dress . The appliqué is sewn with a whipstitch with a single layer of Cream #256 Button Craft thread. We used Red #128 Button Craft thread for construction of the dress and also for the Cretan stitch along the binding. Seams are felled on the wrong side (inside of the garment).

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DIY THURSDAY: TRACY REESE

Continuing our conversation around design, craft and fashion, this week we present a Tracy Reese pattern from Vogue Designer Patterns for DIY Thursday.  In all my years as a designer, I have not had the chance to meet Tracy, although I have been familiar with her work since the launch of her collection in the mid-1990s. At that time, I was working as a stylist in Europe and spent much of my time in boutiques, reading fashion magazines, and working with clients.

In an effort to understand Tracy Reese’s philosophy, we reached out to her press office for information and received a note stating that they could “not provide any information at this time.” However, this is what I found on the CFDA website:

“Detroit native Tracy Reese is a graduate of Parsons School of Design. Reese apprenticed under designer Martin Sitbon and worked as design director for Women’s Portfolios at Perry Ellis before launching her eponymous collection in 1996. The collection blends the ultra-feminine and nostalgic with modern polish. plenty by Tracy Reese, was introduced in 1998, after a trip to India provided endless inspiration. A joyful color palette, art-inspired prints and playful details are seen on essentials with a bohemian spirit. With flagships in Manhattan and Tokyo, the Tracy Reese and plenty brands have expanded to include footwear, handbags and home goods.”

Martine Stibon remains one of my all-time favorite designers and I used those pieces often during my days as a stylist.  I do love the dress that emerged using our organic lightweight cotton jersey fabric with Tracy Reece’s pattern.

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DIY THURSDAY: ANNA MARIA HORNER PAINTED PORTRAIT BLOUSE OR DRESS

In January, we began a conversation about the intersection of Fashion, Craft, and DIY. That dialogue started with our friends at Vena Cava and progressed to our Makeshift events, and continues with adapting patterns from designers like Anna Sui and Donna Karan (one of my personal favorites that I wear often). This week we extend the conversation with a collaboration and pattern from textile designer Anna Maria Horner.

Below are instructions for Alabama Chanin’s basic version of Anna Maria’s dress pattern in Light Golden and Goldenrod, the newest colors in our hand-dyed, cotton jersey fabric collection. These fabric colors, like our Indigo and Coral, are hand-dyed in Nashville, Tennessee, using the osage orange wood and myrobalan fruit in varying amounts to create variation in shades.

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DIY RANDOM RUFFLE T-SHIRT – AT CREATIVEBUG

Check out our classes at Creativebug.com and make this Random Ruffle T-shirt:

From the Creativebug Website:

“Basic sewing skills can transform a plain t-shirt into one of your favorite go-to wardrobe pieces. The random ruffle t-shirt uses a simple appliqué technique that’s quick and easy, yet true to the Alabama Chanin style.”

Shown here our T-Shirt Top with Cap sleeves is appliquéd with five ½ inch vertical rows cut across grain of random ruffles. This t-shirt is a single layer of light-weight Silt with the ruffles in light-weight Black. The t-shirt is constructed with Slate thread, using a straight stitch along the sleeves and side construction and a Cretan stitch for the binding. The ruffles are sewn with black thread.

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REVERSE APPLIQUE RUNNER SUPPLY LIST

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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CREATIVEBUG.COM

Beginning Tuesday, our video workshops will be available on Creativebug.com.

Subscribe to Creativebug to view.

THANK YOU to the Creativebug film crew, it was such a great experience to have them in our studio…
xoNatalie

DIY THURSDAY: EYELET DOILY

For DIY Thursday, we share instructions for the Eyelet Doily, from Alabama Studio Style. Start yours now for your July 4th table spread.

We chose Apple organic cotton jersey fabric for our doily. The “petals” of the doily peek out underneath a serving platter or cake plate, leaving the decorative embroidered eyelets visible. Our favorite colors for the 4th of July are Apple, Natural, and Navy, of course.

We also have a DIY Eyelet Doily Kit in our Studio Store. It comes in your choice of fabric color with all materials and notions needed for completion. The size measures approximately 15 1/2.”

Add your own plate and recipe.

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DIY THURSDAY: BEADED SEAM CORSET

Perfect for all of the upcoming festivities and beyond, our Beaded Seam Corset is easy to make for yourself by following the pattern with instructions from page 145 of Alabama Stitch Book. As one of the most popular garments in our collections, the corset is designed to show off a woman’s best assets, enhancing natural curves.

A flattering pick for any party. Pair with our swing skirt or blue jeans and celebrate.

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DIY THURSDAY: STAR STENCIL

The word “star,” with its many meanings, occupies several places in my mind (and the universe):

First, a star is simply a shape- the most common being five-pointed. As I was taught in geometry class, it is constructed from points, proportions, and folds. Seen in patriotic prints of the 1960s and 70s, its contour was fitting with the bold, geometric patterns of the time. Fifty of these shapes are on the American flag, each representing a state and the collection of stars symbolizing our country as a whole.

While designing and constructing quilts, I’ve learned that a quilt’s geometry is systematic. Sewing together the triangular and diamond-shaped puzzle pieces to make each polygon requires great planning and thought. This geometry is apparent in our Indigo Star Quilt, and in the repeated shapes of the Flag Quilt.

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A ROUND BUSINESS MODEL

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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FERN STENCIL

Nature and flowers are often a source of inspiration for my pattern designs, which is evident in their titles: Climbing Daisy, Anna’s Garden, and Kristina’s Rose, to name a few. I simply find Mother Nature’s curvaceous forms and shapes alluring.

I look for pattern inspirations everywhere I go, and most often find them when gazing out of my kitchen window. Ferns, such a strong presence in the South, have always found their place either hanging on the front porch, or perched on a pedestal in many a home. With our unusual weather in Alabama, I’ve watched this year’s ferns move along rather quickly; their early appearance takes my mind back to the time when I was fervently working on my new book, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

This book introduces the Beaded Fern Fabric that has been a part of our Collection over the years. While the fern isn’t quite a flower (I believe it fits more into the ‘spore’ category), I still find it to be an elegant decorative element, one that has been a staple in fashion history.

Historically, the fern motif dates all the way back to the ancient Egyptians. Ferns became incredibly popular during the Victorian Era in Britain, when botanists began going out into the field to further their research. Fern Fever- they called it. During this time, artists frequently replicated the fern motif in pottery, glass, textiles, and sculpture. Back in August, Garden & Gun highlighted the trend, which is making yet another comeback in modern fashion.

When designing, I think about the ebb and flow of organic patterns, how they will translate onto the garments, and if the finished product will retain a natural beauty as our bodies move in those garments. Looking at our beaded fern embellishment, I can almost see the wispy leaves dancing.

Our Beaded Fern fabric below has a particularly organic, but elegant feel and is among our clients’ favorites. We choose to use a satin stitch and incorporate chop or seed beads. To experiment with this design yourself, download the Fern stencil from our Resources page.

 

DIY THURSDAY: COTTON TAPE

Cotton-Ribbon-(1)-WIn New York’s Garment District, there are two stores that take the prize for the most comprehensive selection of embroidery ribbons: Mokuba Co., Ltd and Tinsel Trading Company. At Alabama Chanin, we happen to purchase the cotton tape that we use for embroidery from Mokuba, who supplies us with gorgeous ribbons and other notions made in Japan. I have visited Mokuba many times in search of the perfect ribbons and always found a more than exquisite selection.

This week for DIY Thursday, we would like to share instructions on the ribbon embroidery used as an embellishment in our newest book. In Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, we introduce ribbon embroidery with 100% Cotton Tape as a beautiful way to add delicate dimension to your projects and garments. (Color card available here.) We have been using this technique since 2002, when I began using ribbon embroidery for our collections. This ribbon creates a sophisticated, old-world effect and gives the garment a unique sculptural quality. Below, we share the steps to create this detail, using the Climbing Daisy stencil.

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ANNA SUI (+ ALABAMA CHANIN DIY DRESS) WINNER

 

Thank you to those of you who shared your thoughts on the intersection of Fashion + Craft. We are truly inspired and excited by everyone’s interest in the conversation.

As it was difficult to choose a “best” entry, we decided to place everyone’s name in a hat and draw names.

Congratulations Margaret on winning our Anna Sui (+ Alabama Chanin DIY Dress). We hope you’ll wear it fashionably and proudly!


WE (HEART) ANNA SUI

We all encounter bumps in the road, but with encouragement and tenacity, we persevere.

Back in 2001, I faced one in my life. I returned to New York to continue developing my life’s work into what is now Alabama Chanin. At the time, I was living in the Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street while I was developing the line, working with partners, and sorting out production issues. One Sunday morning, I woke up feeling extremely frustrated. Continue reading

DIY THURSDAY: ALABAMA CHANIN COVERED SNAPS

While we are a manufacturer of high-end women’s and men’s clothing, our office works less like a production facility and more like a studio. Because we custom-cut and paint each piece in our collections, it is important that we pay especially close attention to detail.

What seems like a small mistake – like choosing the wrong thread color – can result in an entire order being mismatched.

The garments that we make are often sent to different artisans for completion. So, if we inadvertently give one artisan the wrong thread color, we would end up with a single item that looks completely different from the rest of the order. This is the reason that, many years ago, I wrote this saying from Thoreau on a small blackboard in our cutting room:  “Life is in the details.”

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VENA CAVA (+ ALABAMA CHANIN DIY DRESS)

Last Thursday, we wrote about Vena Cava and began a dialogue (one we plan to continue every Thursday) about the intersection of Fashion, Craft and DIY. While in New York a few weeks back, I sat down for a quick coffee with Lisa Mayock – half of the Vena Cava design team – to share our DIY Dresses and talk about fashion, life, and open sourcing.  We appreciate all the response and emails from our post last week and look forward to continuing this conversation.  Here, a little chat about the Vena Cava/Vogue Designer Patterns collaboration:

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VENA CAVA (ALONG WITH VOGUE PATTERNS + DIY THURSDAY)

They make fashion; they curate a magazine called “Zina Cava;” Maggie Gyllenhaal models for them; they are, in my opinion, the coolest duo to come along in the fashion industry in years.

They host dinner parties instead of fashion shows and give away posters like the one below celebrating their 8 years in business. It’s the kind of party you hope you’ll get an invitation to…

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SOUTHEAST X SOUTHWEST

Packing my bags this morning in Berlin to head home – and later in the week on to our events in Marfa and Austin!

Hello Etsy was amazing, inspiring, reassuring and _____ – fill in the blank. I had every intention to live blog my time here but have found that I need time to process all of the great ideas that were presented.  Over the next weeks – and after our Texas excursion, I will be catching up with some of the great folks we met at Hello Etsy.

Here, a few of my favorite moments from Berlin!

Gluckskind = Darling of Fortune – perhaps tagged here at the entrance to the subway as a reminder to celebrate the small moments in life.

I feel very lucky and honored to have been included in the first Hello Etsy. Thank you to everyone (Matt, Emily, and all!) for such a beautifully organized conference.  I heard a rumor that this will become an annual event and I am already looking forward to the next round!

VIRTUAL BERLIN

If you can’t be with us in Berlin tomorrow for Hello Etsy, check this out:

“If you can’t make a DIY Summit in your area, be sure to tune in LIVE in our Online Labs. You can watch from anywhere in the world! Use this handy timezone conversion tool to find what the Eastern Standard Timezone converts to for your region. Be sure to RSVP for each event so you receive an email reminder to tune in. Use the #HelloEtsy tag on Twitter to join in the global conversation all weekend long!”

Use the arrows at the top of the photographs at the Online Lab to scroll through all of the great talks.

My talk:

Natalie Chanin – Connecting Your Business to Your Community

Saturday, September 17 from 8:00 AM to 8:30 AM EDT

See you there!
xoNatalie

 

SANDWICH WRAPS

My daughter received a sandwich wrap similar to these for her birthday two years ago and it quickly became a treasured item in our household (Thank you Carrie and Michael).  So treasured, in fact, that we have almost worn it out.  With back-to-school this year, I realized that we need many of these in our kitchen – in fact, one for every day.

We used scraps of medium-weight 100% cotton jersey in ochre, light grey, and faded leaves from our studio to make the wraps pictured here.  They are lined with a PUL fabric (found at our local fabric store), but I have also used wax paper as a liner for a particularly messy sandwich.

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YARN + FABRIC COMPUTER COVER

There are so many computer and electronic device covers on the market today that are perfectly serviceable and will take you lots of places. I have avoided writing about these functional items for years; however, our babysitter made a version of the one shown above for her reading device and I was inspired to create our own Alabama Chanin version. I love the juxtaposition of materials that functionally protect the device and the hand-sewn detailing that make the piece personal.

Follow the instructions below to make your own cover:

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ONE WOMAN’S TESTAMENT TO THREAD AND NEEDLE

This is my first installment of a new bi-weekly fashion column for EcoSalon. Material Witness will offers my perspective on the fashion industry, textile history and what happens when love for community trumps all.

From EcoSalon – August 12, 2011

ONE WOMAN’S TESTAMENT TO THREAD AND NEEDLE

As a designer and entrepreneur in the fashion industry, it is a bit uncommon that I am also an author. A few weeks ago I turned in the very last edits to my third book, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Truth be told, in my younger, bolder, high school days, I fancied myself an aspiring writer. I imagined traveling the globe with pen in hand, creating change at every turn. I fantasized leisurely lunches at Paris cafés. I subscribed to magazines; I was an avid reader. My only hindrance in achieving my dreams was that I was a rather lazy student and proper usage of English grammar and punctuation escaped me. Even today, the comma splice can present problems. So, it is a bit exciting, humbling, and, frankly, scary that I have been so graciously asked to contribute as a bi-weekly columnist at EcoSalon.

While I have had the opportunity to lunch in places like Paris over the years, I haven’t quite traveled the globe with pen in hand yet, though circumstances always change. These books I have written aren’t the next great American novel, they’re craft books. They’re books that teach the time-honored, hand-sewing techniques that are the basis of my fashion company, Alabama Chanin. The books are simply guides that speak to a sustainable lifestyle that is at the core of my work. I want to make that lifestyle available to all.

The decision to open-source Alabama Chanin for individuals through our books is not common in the fashion world, in an industry that is more accustomed to secrecy. However, you have to look at the whole of the picture to understand why sustainable designers do what we do.

My personal work is expensive because it is organic, custom-dyed cotton jersey that is cut, painted, sewn, and embellished completely by hand in America with skilled artisans who set a fair price for their work. Over the years, I heard rumblings in the media of my work being “elitist,” and “inaccessible” because of its price. And while our collections have been deemed “couture,” we run our business in the most down-to-earth way from a small community in North Alabama. Sustainability – both ecological and cultural – has defined our growth from the very beginning and “elitist” would actually be the antithesis of who we are.

When the thought of sharing our techniques and patterns to individual users arose, I understood that this could both sustain the needlework traditions that our company celebrates while making our work available to many more people. The concept of open-sourcing seemed a way to make our products more accessible.

Timing is everything and to understand my decision it’s important to understand the period in which I was working. As all of this was unfolding in 2003, open-sourcing was a new idea. Wired Magazine wrote about and provided music tracks for sampling that were free reign for anyone who had the desire to use them. The internet was spreading like fire and for the first time, vast amounts of information was, almost literally, at our fingertips. Books like The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson (on my required reading list), about the concept of selling less of more were being heatedly discussed. The world of business was changing and it seemed to me that sharing traditions that I did not invent was not only the right thing to do but the modern way to approach my business.

Of course, there were naysayers who firmly believed that, by openly sharing, I was putting the nails in my own coffin. They thought that once our “trade secrets” were common knowledge, no one would purchase our couture garments. Honestly, I was fearful when Alabama Stitch Book landed on the shelves around February 2008. However, the book sold well and, more importantly, interest in our couture collections continued to grow. My fears proved groundless. But then, isn’t that the way it usually goes?

Readers who work with the techniques described in the books now tell us that they understand not only why our garments cost so much but why they are worth so much. At the same time, a completely new part of our business has burgeoned. We now sell the supplies needed to make our designs (organic cotton jersey, thread, stencils, fabric paint, beads, and project kits) via the internet and host hands-on workshops both in our studio in Florence, Alabama and around the country.

So, all of this information is the story of how a feeling to do what is right – not perhaps what was right for my industry – changed my business and my life. I am not sitting in too many Paris cafes these days. But then, I have a five-year-old daughter and I imagine that she and I will have plenty of time for that together. I do write a lot these days – revisiting my younger, bolder, high school dreams – and, it seems that I am traveling the world, pen (or computer and camera) in hand and trying to make a difference. On this journey, I find it inspiring to start conversations about life, living and, of course, fashion.

The thing about fashion is this: I want to OWN my clothing on all levels – just like I want to own my life. I want to cut it up, sew it back, and make it MINE. I want a skirt I buy to make it through the first wash and a hundred more.  I want to take the time to make decisions about what I choose to put on my body with the same care that I decide what I put in my body.  I’m hopeful that you feel the same way. In fact, I want to know more about you and hope to start a conversation next time by answering ten reader inspired questions – fashion industry or otherwise.

 

 

AWAITING PROOFS

It is hard for me to believe that I am almost finished with my third book, now titled Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Had someone asked a decade ago where I saw myself in ten years, it certainly would not be lying in bed, reviewing and making notes on a “pass” (publishing lingo for a low-resolution printout) of my third book, writing additional texts, and trying to be quiet while a sleeping five-year-old tries to nudge me out of my own bed.

Strange where life takes you when you least expect it.

For our avid journal readers, I believe that it was clear over the last year that I was – at times – absent.  I most definitely was.  There were certainly times when I wanted to write – and felt that there was something important to say – but could not find the words.

For my staff, it must have seemed that I would never return (and am not fully “back” yet).

I am driven by enthusiasm – in all areas of my life.  So, when we signed the contract with STC for our third book, I was over the moon and (CERTAIN I) knew exactly how the book would work and look.  I was convinced that this was going to be a piece of pie. You know, third book, seasoned designer, a decade of work behind me… I was sure things would just fall into place, right?One and a half years later, I am thinking that I survived by the skin of my teeth.  I can’t tell you exactly why this book was harder than the rest. But I assure you, it was. I remember once distinctly calling out across our studio, “Can someone please drive me to O’Neal Bridge, so I can jump off?”

Those days are fading in (my tarnished) memory and these days I patiently await the final proof from the printer – the last step in this intricate process. I look back over the printout from the photo above and I am surprised how much information we managed to pack into 176 pages. And I think to myself that, I am really, really proud of this work.

The Alabama Studio Design Series truly documents my path these last ten years.  From simple new t-shirts crafted from recycled ones, to couture garments, to sustainability on all levels, the books follow from one stage to the next. Alabama Chanin history is all here: from the materials we use, to the way we make our garments, to cultural sustainability, and finally to open-sourcing our patterns for individuals.  (More about my decision to open-source coming soon.)  It is a path that makes me proud.

A big warm thank you to everyone in our studio – who put up with me over the last year (I am asking forgiveness for all transgressions), to Sara Martin – who read and reread and listened to me rant, to Robert Rausch – our book designer – who practiced zen patience with every tiny change, and to Melanie and all the folks at STC who believed that we had one more in us.

ALABAMA STUDIO RESOURCES

Stencil artwork used in our Studio Style Book Series are now available for download from our new Resources page.

These stencils should (in best case scenario) be to full scale when printed; however, keep in mind that different printers can alter the scale slightly.

Visit Studio Book shop for our favorite sewing, resource, and inspirational books.

CAST IRON COOKING

This is what I want for the holidays: the largest cast iron skillet that can be had for oven-roasting vegetables.

I am no recent convert to the joys of cast iron cooking as the pans pictured above have traveled the world with me for 30+ years. However, I was reminded of the detriments of aluminum while reading Clean last week and want an alternative to parchment paper and the large “roasting” pans in my kitchen cabinets.

In terms of sustainability, reasonably priced cast iron lasts forever and, with a bit of care, provides a stick-free surface for life. Use kosher salt and water to clean and your “seasoned” pan will thank you.

When I was pregnant with Zach, my doctor was shocked that my iron levels kept getting better and better as I had a tendency towards anemia… of course the answer was cast iron cooking.

I am planning a family outing to the Lodge Factory in South Pittsburg, Tennessee and have been dreaming of designing my own pans.  Imagine “Alabama Chanin for Lodge”… mmmm.

Any great recipes for cast iron that I need to try over the holidays? Please comment! Continue reading

CANNING AS GIVING

And in speaking of happiness…

Nothing like giving – and receiving, hint, hint – the bounty of summer.

Canning-Jar Covers – pictured here – from page 137 of Alabama Studio Style.  Made with scraps of our 100% organic cotton jersey, Small Medallion stencil pull-out from Alabama Studio Style and an extra-fine permanent marker.

Prepare to be loved.

Have you ever baked in canning-jars? Angie Mosier did this when we were in New York City last year and I have been wanting to try it… seems like a perfect way to wrap up some holiday joy for friends.

Got recipes for me to try out with Maggie on these cold and icy days?

VIDEO BLOG #1 – LOVE YOUR THREAD

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…

BLOG TOUR

When I first thought about the blog tour for Alabama Studio Style, I did not realize what a great opportunity this was going to be to travel the world, connect with some of my favorite people and experience life from my own beautiful table. Now, half-way through, I am awed by deep, thoughtful questions, the vision of these women and sometimes, simply sitting and sewing. Here are a few of the highlights & THANK YOU to everyone who has had me round. I am looking forward to New York next week and to the rest of the tour. A few of my favorites:

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NATURE’S 10 SIMPLE RULES

Thanks to Maria for sending over this fantastic review of Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto from Kevin Roberts at KR Connect: Nature’s 10 Simple Rules

Adam Werbach’s book offers a great list of Nature’s 10 Simple Rules for Business Survival. In this list Adam draws from nature a tough bottom line for sustainable business. “Nature is far harsher than the market: If you are not sustainable, you die. No second chances and no bailouts.” I’m not usually a fan of rules but these ten make sense to me. They are big-scale – forest-scale. Ocean-scale. Planet-scale. I’ve jotted down my own thoughts on each one. I’ll share them with you here – five this week and five next.

Nature’s # 1. Diversify across generations. This idea has certainly inspired me to write a number of posts here that I’ve called Stella’s World. Of course they are about my and Ro’s first grandchild but they are also about what change across generations can really mean. How few companies have that aspiration! In principle we all want our businesses to thrive across generations, but how few succeed. Adam tells me that fully one-third of the companies profiled in Jim Collins’ Built to Last as out-performers, are now under-performers. Think Ford and Citibank. They lost the juice of excitement, wonder and delight and got lost in expectations and self-obsession.

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PIE LAB

John Bielenberg and Project M are serving up good pie in Hale County, Alabama this summer.

Get involved with Project M this summer:

Open Sourcing Project M

The Project M 2008 Team, in collaboration with HERO, has created a permanent Design Lab space in Greensboro, Alabama. This light-filled studio building is situated on the HERO campus which includes a bunkhouse for up to 10 people and lodging for visiting advisors. Greensboro is also the center of Hale County where the Auburn Rural Studio has been building wonderful structures to benefit the community since 1993.

However, the Design Lab is only an empty building without passionate young designers to inhabit it on an on-going basis. This is where you come in.

We encourage both Individuals and groups to contact us if they are interested in using the Project M Lab space to work on meaningful projects in Hale County. We guarantee that it will be an intensely satisfying experience.