The Modern Natural Dyer Work-Along: Depth, Texture, and Layers of Natrurally-Dyed Color with Alabama Chanin

Posted by Kristine Vejar on April 27, 2016 1 Comment


The typical pathway of creating an Alabama Chanin piece is to choose a sewing pattern, cut the fabric for the sewing pattern, stencil the fabric, layer the stenciled fabric over the a piece of non-stenciled fabric of the same size, stitch around the stenciled layers, cut the inside of the stenciled shape out, and then sew all the pattern pieces together. The last step is to add the neck and sleeve binding. Wait, the last step in completing an Alabama Chanin piece is to wear it...flaunt it? Yes, go for it, flaunt it.

When writing The Modern Natural Dyer, there were many experiments conducted, testing recipes, and fine-tuning projects. This process has provided us with an incredible library of naturally dyed yardage, yarn, and garments - like A.Chanin cardigans and tanks.

Some of the tanks have a bit of irregularity in the dyeing, as I have said before, there is always the option of embracing imperfection, and celebrating the movement of the hand, the aliveness of the natural dyeing process. Though, as an appreciator of the Alabama Chanin style of sewing, and one who finds the process of hand-stitching quite relaxing, I wondered what it would be like to add even more hand-work - to put two of the tanks together, and add the layers of stenciled paint, thread, and cut motifs, revealing another plane of naturally dyed color. I found this to be the perfect opportunity to try.

Both of the tanks I scoured, mordanted, and dipped into a wheat bran bath according to the directions for cellulose-based fibers in The Modern Natural Dyer.

Top Layer: Naturally dyed with weld in the darker of the two shades featured on p.98 of The Modern Natural Dyer
Bottom Layer: Naturally dyed with weld in the lighter of the two shades featured on p.98 of the The Modern Natural Dyer

Once dyed, both tanks were dipped into a bath of iron-infused water. Though I used weld, there are many other dyes and colors you can choose for your own piece.

Onto stenciling...

Stencil: Anna's Garden
Paint: custom mixture of brown, black, and a hint of bronze
Thread: Taupe

+ I added ironed a piece of freezer paper to the tank, for stability when stenciling, and so the fabric paint would not seep through to the other side.
+ When stenciling, I did not want to paint the binding on the neckline or on the armholes, so I taped over these areas.
+ If you do not own a spray gun to apply your fabric paint, using a square chunk of foam works better than a foam brush. The square piece of foam applies a thinner layer, more uniformly, so you will use less paint, and it will look more professional.
+ Paint the back first, so you can get used to the process. By the time you get to the front, you will be comfortable and confident. 
+ I applied the above principle to stitching. I started at the top of the back. Once I felt like I had warmed up, I moved to the front. Always making sure my seams along the side were pinned and did not shift while stitching.

I always get really excited when stitching, and have a deep desire to peek at what the finished cloth will look like, so I snip away some of the motifs before completing all of my stitching. Plus, I find it easier on my hands if I balance stitching with cutting. As you can see, I am not quite done with my piece, but it is going really well, and figure I will be done by the end of April. It helps that the garments are already sewn, as once I am done stitching, it is ready to wear!

I know natural dyeing can be a labor of love, and can involve a process akin to learning a new language, but when I sit and stitch this piece, I marvel at the beauty and the infinite intricacies of color and depth provided by nature, and am in awe and gratitude for the extra time taken to apply naturally-dyed color to this piece.

As we round the corner, out of April into May, we also say goodbye to Alabama Chanin April, though, really at Verb, it is always Alabama Chanin April. Don't forget, we have Alabama Chanin stitch-ins every month. We stock a full range of colors in Alabama Chanin organic cotton jersey, a full range of sizes in A. Chanin tanks and cardigans, are always happy to order you a custom DIY kit, (where you get to pick the colors of jersey, the stencil, the pattern, the thread color, and the kit comes stenciled and the pattern pieces come cut, very exciting, I'm dreaming of this one right now), and always have on hand a collection of Alabama Chanin garments, hand-sewn, representing the collection of sewing patterns in the line of Alabama Chanin books, in an array of sizes, for you to try on before, to help orient you in size, style, and fit, before embarking on a new project.

The tank written about in this essay will be on display at Verb starting May 1st, so stop by and check it out. This month has been such a delight to work in tandem with Natalie and Alabama Chanin, I look forward to seeing your naturally-dyed x Alabama Chanin-style sewn pieces.

-- Kristine

P.S. In May, we are focusing on eco-printing, dye gardening, and the project from The Modern Natural Dyer titled Flowers at My Fingertips. Stay tuned! We have some exciting projects in store for you.

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The Modern Natural Dyer Work-Along: Printing with Flowers + Alabama Chanin

Posted by Kristine Vejar on April 12, 2016 2 Comments

Last Summer, Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin visited Verb, which is a cause for celebration. We invited the Verb community to gather and and to share in her company. There were many beautiful handmade, Alabama Chain-inspired clothing in the room. There was a heavenly buzz, as people chatted, swapping stories about the process of making their clothing. Natalie and I had a conversation about a topic I am very interested in; how clothing, what it is made of, what it is dyed with, motifs which are embroidered or appliqued on it, can communicate what is meaningful to the wearer and how it can be used as way to map our journey. Natalie shared with us her process of creating new patterns and stencil designs. I wanted to give Natalie a gift inspired by the evening's topic of conversation. I used flowers from the Verb garden, to print a pattern on Alabama Chanin cotton jersey yardage. So she would have a little piece of California to bring with her, home to Alabama.

In The Modern Natural Dyer, there is a project which teaches how to print with flowers, it is called Flowers at My Fingertips Sewing Kit. I used a process very similar to this when dyeing Natalie's fabric, though I want to take a moment to describe the process of printing Natalie's fabric, as it is a bit different, in the case you would like to create your own printed, Alabama Chanin fabric.

The main difference between the fabric I made for and the fabric used in Flowers at My Fingertips, is Natalie's fabric is made of cotton, also referred to as a cellulose-based fabric, where as Flowers at My Fingertips is made of wool, a protein-based fiber. So I followed the cellulose-based fiber instructions in The Modern Natural Dyer when I went to scour and mordant the fabric (p. 57 and p. 59). And I skipped the chalk / wheat bran bath all together.

Once completed, proceed to Flowers at My Fingertips for directions on how to print fabric using flowers and leaves from your garden. To print Natalie's fabric, I mainly used weld leaves and coreopsis. I decided to go with a less-is-more approach, and used fewer flowers, spaced apart, as I really wanted each leaf and flower to be well defined. Weld, coreopsis, and marigolds make great prints, and are trusted dye materials, though it is always fun to experiment with flowers in your own garden. If your flowers fade over time, you can always print your fabric again with new flowers.

In the next few weeks, I am going to print a new piece of AC fabric, and have many ideas of what I might make it into. Right now, I think I will print on the natural jersey, layer it over a piece of white jersey, and probably make an A-line dress. I hope this process inspires you to create your own printed Alabama Chanin garment. If so, do share with us what you think you might make!


Next month, May, the focus of The Modern Natural Dyer Work-Along, will be on the project titled Flowers at My Fingertips. In case you would like a little help souring the materials, we have a kit you can purchase.

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Stitch Exchange: Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns - We have a winner!

Posted by Kristine Vejar on June 20, 2015 1 Comment

Thank you for participating by leaving comments on our previous blog post as to how you would modify an Alabama Chanin garment - and for entering our giveaway. It was fun to hear about your progress within the Alabama Chanin genre of work, and to hear about what kinds of changes and alterations you'd like to make. One of the most enticing things about Alabama Chanin is the never-ending ways a garment can be made just through simply changing out color of fabric, paint, or embroidery floss. It makes it all the sweeter that now, by using Natalie's newest book, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns, I can expand my skills of garment construction and modification.

The winner of the giveaway is Romy. She posted this on June 3rd:

"Thanks for doing this giveaway! I’m obsessed with the Alabama Chanin aesthetic and have been since meeting Natalie at your shop. I would love to draft a long dress – a sleeveless boat neck fitted top grafted to the wrap skirt. Rose stencil traveling diagonally up the wrapped part of the skirt, across the shoulder, and a small bit on the back of the neck. I would call it my Wrapped in Roses dress and I would wear it everywhere and be fabulous. :)"

Yes! Fabulous!

Stay tuned! Natalie is coming to the Bay Area at the end of July - and we have a trunk show in the works! I will post here once I know more!



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Stitch Exchange: Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns

Posted by Kristine Vejar on May 27, 2015 54 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!

-- Kristine




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