Harley helps.

Harley helps.
Harley, my hard-working sewing assistant.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Marcy Tilton sparklies

First, thank you for all the kind comments on my Alabama Chanin dress! I really appreciate it. Still mulling over whether to lengthen or shorten...I'm leaning toward shorten. Should be able to spare a couple of inches!

In next-make news: I requested some metallic linen swatches from Marcy Tilton for V1510.  They came super-fast -- I sent the request Friday and just got them today.

I kind of love them all: 

I can't decide which color to get. Leaning toward Hematite (in the middle), but I like the silver ones too.

I also asked about more metallic linen, and they sent this note:

MORE SPARKLIES. They know me!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

completed: Alabama Chanin fitted dress

Yeah, I can't believe I'm saying that either! It's going to be a long post, so here we go.

Design choices

  • 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:

Hanging up:

I picked the color scheme after seeing it in a sample book at the two-hour workshop in New York last year. (Highly recommend either ordering the color cards or checking out their sample cards in person if you're interested in doing a big project.) Someone at the workshop pointed out that high-contrast colors tend to work really well in Alabama Chanin patterns; I tend to agree.

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?

Eight months, give or take. I started back in December 2015, with a deadline of MPB Day, and worked on it pretty steadily, except for a three-week trip to the Netherlands (where I was still able to knock out a few shapes). Each panel took four to six weeks; final construction and binding took just over a week.

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?

As I was telling Peter at MPB Day, my first thought when I first heard about the Alabama Chanin method of hand-stitching entire garments was, "Is she crazy? We have machines!"

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.


If you've read the books, you know there are five steps to the process:
  • Prepping/cutting
  • Stenciling
  • Embellishing
  • Construction
  • Binding
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.


In her Craftsy class, Natalie recommends using longer stitches, taking them two at a time. That saved my sanity! I also found that if the thread is twisted when you first pull it through, you can tug on the knotted end to straighten it out.

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!


After construction, I pressed the whole thing — especially the binding — then washed it on the delicate cycle in a washbag. I don't know if the pressing did anything, but I thought I read somewhere that it "sets" the thread? Even on knit fabric? Y/N?

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." :)

Final thoughts

I'm not totally thrilled with my paint and stitching on this first dress, but overall, I think I like it.

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!

Monday, August 15, 2016

MPB Day 2016

The weather was hot and steamy, but as always it was a fantastic day.

Lisa, James, Peter, Anna and I met up at the Blue Dog on Saturday morning for coffee and flea-marketing. James brought his portable hula hoop, so Peter tried it out. He's a really good hooper!

We headed over to the flea market, where I gawked at wax-print fabric and antiques, and Peter yo'ed it up:

$45 for 2 pieces, bummer

can't go wrong with a Duncan Imperial
This mirror tho. I wanted to buy an extra bag and take it home
And also these candlesticks. Trippy modern! Come to mama!
James and Lisa; Lisa's wearing her me-made Sorbetto and white skirt
Afterward, we swung through the antiques market across the street (hooray for A/C! ...and also, I'm so going back on the next NY trip; there's an amazing vintage lingerie stall) and made our way to FIT to see the uniform exhibit. I liked the Sacai piece on the right.

Then it was off to Panera for lunch, where I pattern-swapped, met Trudi and her husband, and found out there's such a thing as sewing camp (!!!!!!!!) And then we went shopping.

I fell in love with Botani Trim, where you can order a custom zipper in any length, tape color, and teeth color, and with any pull you want (they have zillions), and they'll make them while you wait. I ordered three.

And if your'e in the market for really enormous zippers, you're in luck:

No no really:

they'll eat your head

And the machines there were amazing.

I don't even know what you're for, but I love you

We visited another trim store and met the official trim store kitties, named Rick and Rack. They were grumpy but cute.


Lisa and I snuck in a trip to Muji because I was overloaded with stuff at that point and needed a cheap tote bag. Then we hit Paron's (and its free bin), Mood, a bead store, and then Kinokuniya before heading over to meet up with everyone in Bryant Park.

Afterward, I went back over to Kinokuniya and met up with two MPBers browsing through the Japanese pattern books. We all left with at least one. Here's mine:

Unisex patterns in interesting shapes -- lots of sweatshirts and t-shirt options. Most appear to be made from scraps and upcycled stuff. I'm looking forward to making some up.

My fabric haul:

L to R: Faux leather and quilted lining for V1517 from Mood, and a random piece of Dracula-themed silk jacquard from Paron's, which I picked up for a secret husband project.

This was by far my favorite find of the day, though:

Connect-the-dots silk jersey. I think I'm going to make a shell for the office with the raccoon front and center:

Also, the next day I went with James and Lisa down to Soho for a little retail therapy. We went to Oak + Fort, my source for affordable futureclothes, and Anna Sui, my source for not-so-affordable pretty purple things.

Side note: I wore the Kirsten Kimono tee in the morning and the Alabama Chanin dress in the afternoon. The AC dress was surprisingly comfortable in the heat; the left shoulder is a little loose and may need to be restitched. I'll do a longer post later this week on construction.

I had such a good time! Thanks again, Peter. (BTW, his recap is here, and photos are here.)


I stayed at the Carlton Arms again (I just love that place) and visited my favorite official hotel cat/welcoming committee again. Here s/he is, in my room, playing with my socks.


After that, s/he decided to hang out on the bed with me while I tried to sleep (it was after midnight), and...you know how cats like to knead stuff with their paws?

...She kneaded my butt. For like half an hour. Free kitty butt massage! Thanks, Carlton Arms!

Also, I was going through old MPB posts and found a pic of kitty at the reception desk in 2014...

....and 2013, when s/he was four months old and exploring everything.

I hope s/he's still around next time. Wait for me, my little butt-kneader!

Friday, August 12, 2016


I'll be at MPB Day! (Either wearing the Alabama Chanin dress or a backup, if I chicken out. Ha!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Eight months later, it's done.

It's in the wash now. Long, rambly post to come! Woohoo!