In January of 2012, I told the staff at Verb that I wanted to take off 2 weeks in August. I hoped that by stating it out loud, that I would listen to myself, and really take a vacation. I hadn't taken a vacation in over 8 years. Also, by stating this out loud, I made the commitment to delegate tasks in the shop to the Verb staff. This has been a particular point of work for me. And something I needed desperately to do in order to help free my creativity,
As the months went on, we created more infrastructure at Verb, and the staff did take on more portions of my job. In turn, I've been able to spend more time dyeing and learning new types of technique. In April, we had a surprise visit from Natalie Chanin, founder and creative director of Alabama Chanin. I have been a long time admirer of Natalie and her work, so was thrilled to meet her.
One of my favorite things about Natalie is the way that she looks at materials. Her way of being present. And her way of taking the materials in her immediate surroundings and thinking of how she could incorporate them into her work. As she meandered through the shop, she would pick up a skein of yarn, and ponder out loud as to how it would look stitched with a couching stitch upon the face of the fabric. To me, it read as a way to carry your current experience, and the materials you have access to, the story of those materials, along the face of a cloth, that will then be part of a garment, and therefore you would carry along memories or stories, even people along with you. Funny enough, this theme is similar to my research in India. I studied and documented the appliqued and embroidered motifs of the Rabari, a semi-nomadic group, living in Kutch Gujarat. They have a body of motifs that they use to communicate to others and one another that they are Rabari. And these motifs are comprised of objects in their everyday life; peacocks, a person carrying water, a camel, and so forth.
Deeply inspired by Natalie's visit, I immersed myself in her body of techniques; stenciling, painting, stitching, and appliqueing. Again, my work in India, this time in the form of technique, applique, was useful to these pieces. The fact that my work in India applied has been a huge impetus. While I have incorporated the dyeing portion of my research in India to my work in the US, I have yet to find a place for my work with the Rabari. Really, it has been shelved, quite literally, sitting on a book shelf, for 10 years. So to take that piece of my life, which has been so meaningful in terms of how I see the world, and to re-invent it has been incredibly rewarding.
We ordered the organic cotton jersey Natalie uses in her studio. She has created her own line of jersey. 100% U.S. made and organic. It fits my ideal for what we would stock in the shop. I decided to take 2 yards of white jersey, knowing that I would use it to make a Chanin-esque piece, though not really sure of in which piece or with what stencil, and indigo dyed it; a very light shade of blue, and a medium blue.
While studying Natalie's work, and using her stencils, I began to think about designing my own stencil. I explored ideas using geometric motifs. One night, in July, I was at dinner, and in the garden, there was a banksia with wonderful jagged, triangular shaped leaves, in one of my favorite colors, chartreuse. I snapped a photo just because I thought it was pretty.
After a few days, and as I was preparing to leave for my long anticipated vacation, a road trip to Northern Minnesota, I found myself drawn back to that photo. It occurred to me that the banksia could make a beautiful stencil. I began to sketch a few variations. Once I found one that I thought would translate nicely to painting and applique, I scanned it into Illustrator.
I cut the stencil.
Grabbed my indigo dyed jersey and went on an all night painting binge. Just in time for my trip to Minnesota. Knowing that I would want to stitch as I traveled across the country. I chose the dress pattern from Natalie's newest book, Alabama Studio + Design, due to fact that the pattern pieces were more rectangular in shape, because the motif is fairly large. Also, I painted the banksia flower motif only on the front of the dress, the back of the dress only has leaves.
This dress is composed of two layers of jersey, the top layer the medium indigo blue color, the bottom layer the lighter indigo dyed. This dress is entirely hand-sewn. Each painted motif is outlined with a running stitch. I then hand-sewed the seams, and finished them with a flat felled seam. I then cut through portion of the top layer of fabric to reveal the second layer of lighter blue indigo fabric.
I adore how easily I could transport this project, so similar to my knitting. Using my hands to sew, instead of a machine means that I can sew within a group of people. In Minnesota, as family and friends gathered for the weekend, I caught up on news and family gossip, while all the time stitching.
And soon enough, the project came together, one seam after another, and I had a dress. A garment that embodies a memory of dinner spent with friends and wholesome food, of traveling with my partner and my dog, a time spent with my family in the North woods of Minnesota, thoughts of my work in India, and an extension of Natalie's work to which she has dedicated so much time, energy, and creativity.
I have a few ideas kicking around as to my next piece. Perhaps using my naturally dyed yarn as part of a garment. Or taking a motif from my road trip and creating a new stencil. Or possibly natural dyeing more of Natalie's cotton jersey. Though for the moment, I am perfectly content to relish in the memories of making it and in the comfort of wearing it.
One of my Seam Allowance goals is to incorporate creating textiles and garments into my everyday routine, similar to cooking, eating, and exercising. I have a variety of projects. I use the sewing machine to execute ideas quickly. I use hand sewing and knitting as a way to create textiles and still be able to connect with those around me and as a transportable project to be worked on while commuting to work or taking a coffee break. Using this variety of techniques keeps the process interesting and the garments. The patterns and technique of Alabama Chanin fits perfectly into this plan.
If you are interested in learning more about Alabama Chanin and Natalie Chanin, you can visit her blog and website. Read her three books, Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style, and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. Or take a class based upon her techniques at Verb. We carry all three of Natalie's books, her organic cotton jersey, and embroidery floss.
I hope you find this work inspiring and that you will try making a garment utilizing these techniques.