Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Learning to Alabama Chanin

About a year ago, I came across this picture on Pinterest, and, to my delight, it linked to an actual tutorial for how to make it. It was right up my alley - it was called the "Marimekko Style" tunic, and I love Marimekko (I have Marimekko curtains, wallpaper and shower curtains). I also love busy, intricate prints and patterns like this. This was my first introduction to designer Natalie Chanin, and her company called Alabama Chanin.

So, I ended up buying her book Alabama Studio Sewing and Design, which contains the pattern for this t-shirt tunic. Now, the shirt itself was not difficult to make, but the learning curve to figure everything out made it a LOT of effort, and I was very proud of myself when I accomplished everything and came up with an actual shirt resembling what I set out to make.  Now that I know what I am doing, subsequent projects in this style have been much easier.

My sister-in-law loved the shirt and wanted one, so I made her one for Christmas. I used a different tunic style this time; from the "Camisole Dress" pattern from Alabama Studio Style, cut to tunic length.

For these tunics, I followed the aforementioned tutorial on the A.C. website, supplemented with instructions from the book. Basically, this involves "reverse appliqué", where two layers of fabric - the navy and the white - are layered together, and the navy is cut away to reveal the white layer.

First, I had to make a stencil. I deviated from the Alabama Chanin method by cutting the stencil on my Silhouette cutting machine. I had to figure out how to use my machine to do this!  The stencil is downloadable from the Alabama Chanin website in PDF, but the Silhouette will not read PDFs, so I had to convert the file to a JPG. (I think I used Photoshop Elements to do this. I had to figure out how to do this in Photoshop Elements!)

I then painted the stencil on to the navy fabric with fabric paint. Instead of using a spray brush, which scared me, I just used a paintbrush for this. After it dried, both fabrics were pinned together and I hand-sewed around the shapes, and then cut out the pieces, one by one. The best discovery for me has been button-craft thread, a thick, strong thread used to hand-sew these garments. It is awesome, and I always use it for buttons now.  It turns out they sell it at my local Fabricville store, tucked back in a dusty corner I had never noticed.

No sewing machines for these garments!  It's all by hand. It's still faster than a knitting project, though, and kind of relaxing to do while watching TV.

I got all enthusiastic after this, and so here are some other Alabama Chanin projects I made:

I made myself a lobster dress!  Well, I do live in Atlantic Canada.

For this dress, I used the Camisole Dress pattern from Alabama Studio Style. I made a stencil of a lobster, painted it on the red fabric in many places, layered it over the white fabric, sewed around each lobster and cut out the inside, leaving the white layer underneath exposed.

I later fell in love with another Alabama Chanin Pin: this one. I decided to replicate it. I used the same Camisole Dress pattern, but with wider straps it is called the Tank Dress version. I also added short sleeves, to make it more wearable in a greater variety of situations. Not sure if I am happy with this choice.... I think I might like the sleeveless version better.

I cut this stencil using my Silhouette machine again, and the facets stencil from the Alabama Chanin website. Although I think I only cut half of it, because it was already huge and I had to tape four pieces of mylar together, and it was a pattern repeat anyway.

I had planned to make this with a reverse appliqué technique, but once I got the blue paint on the white fabric, I liked it so much I decided to leave it as is. I had to use two full small bottles of fabric paint, even though I diluted the paint with water. In some places, this made it look blotchy, but I liked the variegated effect this gave.

I also made a separate skirt out of yellow interlock cotton, using the bottom half of the Camisole dress pattern. But (shhhh....!) that yellow skirt is machine sewed. I figure I can wear it with other tops too, and can wear this dress without the yellow layer.

The white and yellow fabrics are 100% cotton interlock from Organic Cotton Plus. They were less expensive than the fabrics for the projects above which I had purchased from Alabama Chanin, but are still fully organic and of fabulous quality.

Finally, I added some freehand beading and sequins, inspired by the original Pin where I discovered this garment. (Hmmm... kind of an awkward picture angle. Sorry to subject you to it. But it was the only way to show the beading.)

I have more Alabama Chanin projects in the works. Finally, I have some summer casual clothes that are not t-shirts and capris!  Yay.


  1. WOW! This is super creative! What fantastic garments you've made! I've never heard of Alabama Chanin before.

    1. Thanks! I know, I hadn't heard of the company either until last year, but I think they are really expanding now

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  3. Beautiful!! I love Alabama Chanin

  4. This is the most beautiful post!


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