- Size and alterations: Straight size medium, with neckline raised a few inches and made into a scoop neck; the original v-neck is really deep
- Fabric and thread: Alabama Chanin medium-weight cotton jersey — top layer in Sand, bottom layer in Dark Grey (only Dark Grey is currently available on their site) — and red craft/button thread
- Stencil: Anna's Garden
- Paint: Tulip fabric paint in Black, watered down and applied with an airbrush
- Embellishment: Outside reverse applique -- in which you stitch slightly outside each shape and then cut out the shape exactly on the lines
- Stitch type: Straight stitch for outlining and construction, Cretan stitch for binding
Here's how it looks on me:
Once again, I need to sing the praises of Alabama Chanin's medium-weight organic cotton. It's by far the best cotton I've ever worked with — strong, stable, and extremely soft. I've bought cheaper cotton from other sources and nothing compares. Buy the cheapie stuff for muslins (or use old t-shirts) and save your hard-earned cashola for their 20% off sales.
The #1 question people ask: How long did it take?
I'll spare you the list of stuff we binge-watched while I worked on this, but let me say that we watched all seven seasons of Buffy just about twice. (We have long, boring winters in New England.)
The #2 question: Why would you hand-stitch an entire garment?
But I fell in love with the aesthetic — hand-sewn garments look really different from machine-sewn. The seams are slightly puckered; the edges are raw; you'll wind up with lots and lots of imperfections. And that's okay!
(As Natalie said during the two-hour workshop, at some point in the reverse appliqué process, you will screw up and cut through the back layer of fabric. What should you do to fix it? "I don't know," she said, "call attention to it. Sew a bead on it or something." Words to live by.)
|I'm gonna fix that hem, though.|
Also, I found hand-stitching garments to be really mellow and relaxing. I missed it when I wasn't able to do it (I'm missing it now that this project is done!), and it's portable entertainment on planes/trains/buses. And when keeping an eye on convalescing cats.
I found Natalie's Craftsy class to be really helpful when it came to stitching and cutting. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available anymore, so I've included some of her tips below.
I made a muslin first in a size medium to check the fit. To cut the final dress pieces, I laid the top-layer piece on top of the bottom-layer piece to make sure they matched up and used my trusty magnifying glass to check the grain. I then chalked around the pattern pieces, removed them, and then cut out each fabric piece with scissors.
The book recommends basting around the neckline and armholes. I suggest basting (or at least pinning) at the sides too, because the fabric tends to shift as you work your way down.
Whoo, this was tough. I did some test swatches (and even a test dress), but had a really hard time keeping the paint from bleeding outside the lines. Eventually I figured out that the best ratio was half fabric paint to half water — but it still came out blotchy and uneven. Maybe real airbrush paint is the way to go.
What I learned:
- Tape the stencil on top of the fabric with just a few pieces of painter's tape, and use something very flat (like kraft paper) underneath. That way it's easy to pull up when you're done.
- Push down on the airbrush trigger (not up, jeez)
- After airbrushing, blot the excess paint with a paper towel, then immediately (gently) pull the stencil up and away from the fabric. Hang it right away on a towel rack.
I found it really difficult to stitch outside the lines of each shape without stitching really close to (or on top of) other shapes. Haven't figured out how to address this yet. Also, the top layer seemed to pucker and contract a bit as I went. (It looks this way in some pieces in the books too, though.) This could affect the sizing, I imagine.
Cutting the shapes out was the most difficult part. I used a brand-new pair of Fiskars embroidery scissors and still had trouble getting really clean edges, especially on corners. I welcome any tips — I might email Alabama to see if they have any! Also, Natalie had one great tip from the Craftsy class: Don't go in with the scissor tips down. Hold the fabric horizontally and slightly pull the two layers of fabric apart before making a small snip horizontally in the top layer. You're less likely to cut through the bottom layer of fabric that way.
Pretty straightforward. As with all AC projects, I did two rows of straight stitching on each seam to close up any gaps, taking as small stitches as possible.
Because the top layer contracted a bit as I went, I first outlined the seam edge of the "real" top layer with pins, then used that as a guide to pin the two top layers right sides together before stitching. (I wish I had a picture so that would make more sense!)
I used this tutorial for the Cretan stitch. Almost have the hang of it!
I've washed it twice now and so far it seems to be holding up. It dries pretty much overnight!
What it's like to wear
The book suggests going with a snug fit, because over time the jersey will relax and conform to your body. I agree — at first it felt too snug, but it's already loosened up a lot. I might even need to do some restitching because it feels too loose up top!
I've seen some reviewers on PR say that it's not comfortable having the knots against their skin. It doesn't really bother me, but you can feel it. I guess you could always wear a slip or a tank top underneath.
I found it to be surprisingly comfortable in hot weather (even in a NY heatwave), but it's heavy enough that I think it would work for fall or winter, too.
My favorite comment so far was from a guy at Mood who yelled at me halfway down the aisle, "Excuse me! Is that Alabama Chanin?" I said, "Yes," and he said, "That's what I thought! Nice work." :)
I might make a couple of additional edits (cutting or lengthening the uneven bottom, tightening the center seam a bit, and fixing the left shoulder, which is a bit loose — that means undoing and then redoing the binding, though).
The finished piece feels really solid and substantial. Strong fabric + strong thread = strong dress. This is not something I'm going to need to donate in a year — it feels like it'll really hold up.
I want to keep going, expand my skill set and improve my hand-stitching and cutting. Eventually I'd like to make an Alabama Chanin capsule wardrobe — I'm thinking two more dresses (one for summer, so not fully embellished), leggings, a light underskirt and a blazer. I wish they had a blazer pattern, but I've found a Vogue pattern that I think will work.
My hands are already missing this project. I need to start the next one!
Please feel free to comment if you have any questions or tips!