Alabama Chanin Weekend

My husband gave me an Alabama Chanin Weekend Workshop for Christmas.  If you’ve followed this blog long enough, you’ll know that I absolutely LOVE to create new things—whether it be with fabric, paper, wood, or letters—basically anything I have at my disposal.

For a while now, I’ve been following Natalie Chanin’s work and blog.  You absolutely have to read her two books Alabama Stitch Book: Projects and Stories Celebrating Hand-Sewing, Quilting and Embroidery for Contemporary Sustainable Style and Alabama Studio Style: More Projects, Recipes, & Stories Celebrating Sustainable Fashion & Living for an inkling of what I’m talking about.  Chanin is a designer who sells at Barneys New York and Fred Segal, among other high-end shops, but she lives in the small community she grew up in, tapping into the deep history and resources of her family and friends.  She designs and sews dresses, skirts, shirts, bandannas, tablecloths, napkins, hats, scarves out of—guess what?—T-shirt material (knit jersey)!  You’d never know it.  The pieces are double-layered and stitched with embroidery and beads, elevating the materials to an Oh. My. Gosh. level.  Really.  You have to check out her Lookbook.  It’s remarkable.  I could gush all day.

She has pattern-makers and sewers in-house, but she also contracts out to sewers who sew in their homes.  The exquisite handiwork is breathtaking, as I keep saying.

What was most surprising—to little old me—was the remarkable generosity and kindness of all the people who work at Alabama Chanin.  When I think of the word “designer,” I don’t automatically think “kind” and “generous” and “transparent,” but that’s what Natalie and her team are.  I came away rejuvenated, exuberantly excited about the projects I took away, and impressed with a strong, independent woman who followed her heart.  LOVE that.

I’ll include a few pictures, just so you can see (a little) what my project was like.  I’ll link to whatever I don’t have pictures for.  Truly, you must browse Natalie’s site to get the full gist of what she’s about!

When I arrived, Kay helped me choose my project.  I tried on various sample dresses and skirts—from racks and racks of pre-made garments—to pick what I would be working on.  I chose the Maggie Dress in a color they called Slate Blue, which is more like a deep charcoal gray with a slight tinge of blue.  The dress is a negative reverse applique dress, which I’ll try to explain as we go along.  [Keep in mind the DIY kits are much cheaper, because you’re doing the sewing yourself!]

Rachel cut out the front and back panels of the dress.

Olivia cut out the under layers of both the front and the back panels…and the tabs and ties.

Brown or gray stenciling on my gray fabric?  I chose the gray on the right.

Using the gray paint, Steven sprayed a stencil—named “Anna’s Garden”—on both the front and the back pieces.

Here are the panels drying.  Don’t they look rich, almost like velvet?  It FEELS like velvet.  So amazing.

The Maggie dress is a wrap dress that has two panels, basically, a front and back.  [I’m adding stitching to it.  You really can add anything you want to it.]   I started with the front panel.  I took the front stenciled panel, matched it up to another blank front piece, and pinned them together.  This creates the double layer, giving extra support and providing a background for when I cut the stencil out.

Then I sewed for a day and a half.  This is a segment of what I sewed.  I’m doing the “knots out” kind of sewing, where the knots are left on the right side of the material.  It lends a little texture to the finished piece.  [Yes, the stitches must be the visible 1/4″ kind.]

I don’t have my own personal picture for this next part, since I’ve not reached this point yet.  But I’ll try to explain as clearly as possible.  As soon as I’ve stitched around each stenciled piece, I’ll cut out all the negative space of the front panel, to show the bottom under layer.  So, if you can imagine it, I’ll be cutting 1/8″ around each little piece that I’ve sewn on, so they’ll look like they were appliqued on in exactly those spots.  Again, this is an approximation of what it will look like when it’s done.

Alabama Chanin is big on layering things, since it adds depth and movement.  So, I’m making a simple long black skirt to wear underneath.

Fab, huh?  I can’t wait to finish.  It’ll take me a while.  I’m not done stitching the front panel yet!

What are you working on?  And are you enthused about it?

[Post image: Alabama Chanin participants and employees.  From left to right (seated): Leah, Kay, Natalie; (standing): Jackie, Kitty, Kate, me, Jennie, Debbie, Diane, Rachel, Olivia.]


  1. kelly g.
    Mar 09, 2011

    that is sooooo fabulous! looking forward to seeing finished product! love to you friend.

  2. Jennie
    Mar 14, 2011


    I love how you documented each step of the process. It was such a great weekend. I’ve wanted to do nothing but stitch since I got home. I have about a million projects in progress at home, but anything hand stitched is now at the top of my list (after my dress!)


    • Elissa
      Mar 15, 2011

      And I haven’t had time to. We were in CA over the weekend…so now I’m picking it up again! xo

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Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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