Posted by Kristine Vejar on May 27, 2015 53 Comments
Let's create a scenario. You and I are sitting together, enjoying an afternoon cup of tea, and let's say that the topic of sewing comes up (hopefully), one thing is certain, I will begin to enthusiastically discuss the work of Alabama Chanin. And if you are unaware of what Alabama Chanin is, I will begin to describe it to you. Natalie Chanin is the founder. It is a style of sewing: the pieces are made by layering organic cotton jersey, the application of paint in various designs, the stitching - all done by hand - form clothing and home wares. I will most likely pull an in-progress piece of Alabama Chanin inspired work from my bag - or show you samples of clothing, if we are in my shop.
I will struggle internally with how much I can tell you within a time frame in which will keep your interest, as this is a topic I can wax poetic for quite some time. But really, I don't want to spoil it for you, for much of the fun lies in the discovery of Alabama Chanin's past, present, and glimpses into the future as Natalie transverses her path through the US terrain of textiles, fashion, manufacturing, and cultivation of materials in which her clothing is made.
Natalie shares this journey through her blog, The Journal, through story telling when she teaches, and through the publication of a collection of books - all which teach how she makes garments. Natalie's first two books, Alabama Stitch Book and Alabama Studio Style, give a glimpse of what it might be like to live in Natalie's world - the Alabama Chanin lifestyle. There are gorgeous photos of the country side, of beautiful, rustic homes - adorned with hand-stitched home wares, and models wearing garments which are both elegant and wearable. I daydream of sitting in a Alabama Chanin dress, in the sultry south, sipping a (spiked) lemonade - while stitching a new Alabama Chanin dress!
Natalie's third book, Alabama Studio Sewing and Design, focuses on sewing garments, and there is a strong focus on the myriad of ways an Alabama Chanin garment can be adorned: cloth color, paint color, stencil design, thread color, bead color, etc. The models in this book wear multiple Alabama Chanin pieces at once, giving the reader an idea of what a wardrobe of Alabama Chanin might look like (amazing), and inspires the notion that there are endless opportunities within the Alabama Chanin repertoire to explore surface design.
So, when I heard that Natalie's fourth and newest book, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns, focuses upon garment construction and pattern modification, it seemed like a natural next step, as Natalie has progressively become more focused upon technique and garment, and I was (am) very excited. That said, when I first opened the book - I felt a pinch of pain - this book is chock full of the nitty gritty of sewing. It is a technical manual (hello slashing and spreading). This is good - this is great - this is ideal - but whoa! I think this would be very hard to write and it takes an extraordinary amount of discipline and focus. Whether it was or wasn't painful for Natalie, I do not know - but I do want to use this space to recognize her work, effort, and diligence. Looking through the book, I feel like I am sitting in the studio, I am a member of the Alabama Chanin production team. And we are designing a custom garment.
As I was dreaming away, thinking of what I would do first with this book, much to my utter surprise, Alabama Chanin contacted me, and asked me what my custom garment would look like - and they offered to make it for me! This was easy, as there are thousands of variations of Alabama Chanin that I would happily accept - and also incredibly hard - which one do I choose?! I am used to helping the customers at verb make these decisions - but when it came to me - I was tongue tied. So I listened to my own advice - choose colors and shapes you know you love.
In terms of color, last year, I dyed a t-shirt with golden flowers of the coreopsis plant and dipped it into a bath of iron water. I love the color - a warm brown that borders on grey. So I decided to go with a similar color with matching paint. Plus, in the back of my mind, I am toying with the idea of overdyeing this dress - this light color will allow me to do that but is beautiful even if I don't decide to dye it.
In terms of shape, I have a black, cotton jersey empire waist dress I adore - which I tend to wear often in the summer. The shape of this dress is similar to the A-Line Dress - one of the new patterns released in the book. So I felt safe to choose this shape and pattern. I also love a v-neck!
I chose the Magdalena stencil pattern as I love how the motif curls and winds it way around itself - like a meandering vine of ivy. Now for the modifications!
Pockets! I adore pockets - lipstick, keys, phone. Enough said. And directions can be found on page 28.
Sleeves. In the Bay Area, I am never too far from the breeze (wind) blowing off the Pacific Ocean - or the damp, chilly, layer of fog rolling in or out. Don't get me wrong, I love living here - it is beautiful - and I love not having to use an air conditioner - but goodness! It can make wearing sleeveless garments challenging. So I requested sleeves on my A-line dress. Even today, taking these photos, though the sun is shining brightly, there was a slight nip in the air, and I was grateful for my sleeves - while giving my legs some sun time. And in the event that it is even more chilly, I can always throw on a pair of leggings. I asked how they made this modification and this is what I was told, "Take the armhole from the casual, fitted top and draw it in place of the armhole in the A-line dress. Then, use the sleeve pattern included in the book." Brilliant! For me, this is the million dollar answer.
So, here's my question to you - say we are still sitting side-by-side, drinking tea, though now you have purchased her newest book, which pattern would you make, and how would you modify it? Leave a comment below, by Wednesday, June 3rd, midnight PST, and you will be entered to win 2 yards of Alabama Chanin medium weight fabric (from our current stock).
My adoration of Natalie as an artist, an entrepreneur, and an activist knows no bounds. And to you, I give gratitude for sharing in this journey!