Learn how to crawl: the New York City Yarn Crawlย is on through Sunday, September 25.

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Dear Ann,
We hate posts that start with a litany of reasons why the blogger ain’t been bloggin’. So I won’t do that. Life has been chock full o’ distractions. But many of the distractions have been of a crafty nature. Help me, Ann–I’ve come over all multi-craftual!
For months now, I’ve been deep into all things Alabama Chanin. This is a long-percolating love. I had pored over each of Natalie Chanin’s books as they came out. They were Right Up My Alley. I love handsewing. I love recycled fabric, and cotton jersey. I love the photography, styling and spirit of these books. But something was always in the way of actually starting a project. The handwork skills are elemental– the basic sewing, embroidery and beading than many of us learned in Home Ec and Camp Fire Girls–but the materials require preparation. There are t-shirts to be hacked up, there is stenciling. Something like cutting out a pattern or figuring out the straight grain of a piece of cloth can blow me off course; basically, I never got it together.
Then, one day this past spring, a knitting pupil/pal started testifying about Alabama Chanin. She showed me her beloved collection of Alabama Chanin clothing and her own DIY project, and I began to covet like crazy. I fell into a hole reminiscent of my first glimpse into a Rowan Magazine back in the early 90s. I was all “MUST MAKE THIS NOW”–trembling to cast on. And to my delight, I learned that nowadays I don’t have to do my own t-shirt processing or stenciling. Alabama Chanin sells kits for many of the designs. You can make your own bespoke Alabama Chanin wardrobe for the price of handknits (albeit the handknits of a fiber snob; I’m looking at you, everybody). You can look like Rosanne Cash in this amazing video, which is Made In America, down to the Alabama Chanin jacket she’s wearing.
What I want to shout to the rooftops of the knitting world is that this type of sewing– piece by piece, by hand, in your lap–pushes the same buttons as knitting. It’s mindful, centering, and satisfying. And the clothes are great. That’s my beaded swing skirt up there under the book–can you dig it? ME–Miss I Know It’s Not The 80s But I Still Wear A Lot of Black– in a beaded anything? It fits and looks great and was very fun to do. Bonus is that the painted stencil is so nicely done that you can wear the thing before it’s technically finished. I’m still pondering how to deal with the stems on my floral stencil. More beads? French knots? Cross-stitch? I love the fact that every stitch of the garment–including all the seams, and the elastic waistband–is by hand, yet it’s not fragile. It blows my mind that I flat-felled the seams BY HAND.
Lesson Learned (Again)
This is my second Alabama Chanin project, the corset top. I made it for Carrie, who modeled it dutifully but has not worn it in Real Life. Luckily it also fits niece Kristin, who has worn it willingly and fetchingly. But when am I going to learn?
Here are the steps to follow to get a teen to wear something you’ve made by hand:
1. Make it for yourself.
2. Say out loud, as casually as you can muster: “This is mine. I love it and do not particularly want to share it.”
3. Reluctantly, let her borrow it, or better yet, steal it.
This is the only method that has ever worked for me. Clip ‘n save, knitting and sewing mothers of teenage girls. (Note: also works with purchased clothing, especially favorite jackets, scarves and accessories, and anything you still own from 1987; in fact, if you want to hang on to them for yourself, first try to give them to Teen.)
Next Alabama Chanin project for me: a blanket. Of course. Of my own design, sort of.
I’m going to be back again soon, as I have GREAT BOOKS TO GIVE AWAY. So bear with, and stay tuned.

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  1. great sewing, K! i love the structure of that top. and it’d be lovely if you could give us more tips on navigating the Teen world. oy.

  2. Heh, yes: what Cauchy says! Wondering if there’s maybe something magical in your handiwork that helps navigate the stormy/frozen terrain that is the World of Teendom. I will do some testing myself.
    Anyway, your work is, as always, magical in its own right. I first encountered the Alabama Chanin Project stuff at Louis Boston, which you may know as a Temple of $$$$$. I found it breathtaking and out of reach. I LOVE that Natalie has made it accessible to crafters. Your closeup shows both how replicable the work is *and* how totally individual.
    It’s luscious! Getting the books now.
    Oh, and Carrie? Stunning model. Love how she is contributing to the family business at this tender age. It’s very traditional! And – not even joshing now – it’s probably a big factor in smoothing the path of the teen years.
    xo, and as always, every post is such a treat! Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. All I can say is WOW!

  4. Carrie looks hip and haute as usual. Was she roasting in that leather jacket?
    Are any of the books Alabama Chanin? I’ve lately been hung up on Madelaine Vionnet; especially the embroidered linen smock she worked in — it’s one of the few of her designs I could wear in public. The book by Betty Kirke has actual patterns. Just sayin’.

  5. Thanks for the mention. Keep up the good work.

  6. I now have something new to obsess over.

  7. Wow. Beautiful. I’m getting back into sewing, and trying to learn to machine sew. I may forgo the machine for something along these lines.

  8. I must have those kits. I covet them so hard and I just saw them (must be living under a rock).

  9. So happy to see a post! Handsewn garments are a bonus ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. p.s.
    I misread Susan in Katonah’s comment as “I’ve lately been hung up on by Madelaine Vionnet.” Took me THREE tries to stop adding the “by”…argh.

  11. What a very cool top! I’m sewing a lot myself lately, although the idea of hand sewing something entirely is a little intimidating… But it would be fun to have portable projects.
    As you of course know, your daughter just keeps getting more lovely. I’d kill for that hair. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Ohh, you’ve piqued my interest. Those books have been floating around out there for a while but I’ve not focused. Now with a lazy month ahead, you’ve given me something new to investigate!

  13. Love love love Natalie Chanin’s stuff!! I have made a whole wardrobe of 6-gore skirts adapted from a patter in book 2 (I think). I was sick to miss her week-long workshop here at the Shakerag Workshops this summer. Sigh

  14. Oh. My. Her stuff just makes me drool. So glad you have jumped into the deep end on my behalf!
    Glad to see you back in the bloggy saddle!

  15. I am actually, at this very moment, feeling the old thrill I used to feel when stealing something from MY mother’s closet. Heh.
    Gorgeous stuff.

  16. Ohh love the corset top. I love the Alabama Chanin pieces but have only successfully completed one of them for myself. I think I need to give another one a go. Thanks for the inspiration!

  17. A new post! I let out a cheer even before reading it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Oooh- I love Alabama Chanin and just bought the latest book. I want to work in wool jersey instead of cotton. I like my cotton woven, not knit and here in the Pacific Northwest on the coast, at least for me, heavy cotton jersey just sucks in the dampness and leaves me cold. Wool jersey on the other hand doesn’t take on the moisture in the same way and always keeps me warm. I just need to find a good supplier of wool, preferably white or cream merino wool jersey so I can get my hands dirty in the dye bath first and spend lovely long evenings with needle and thread. My 16 year old granddaughters went a little nuttsy over the great bucket hats on the front cover. There was much oohing and aahing and plenty of hints as to what ownership of such a thing would mean.
    So lovely to see you are creating in this way. Kindly keep us posted of your future Alabama Chanin progress.
    Oh and thanks for the link to Rosanne Cash’s video, stunning jacket and stunning video complete with sacred geometry on the beach.

  19. Scary part: getting teenage *boys* and (non-teenage, but still boy) husband to wear things I’ve made for them works *exactly* the same way…

  20. Can’t believe you’ve posted this today. I spent an hour on the Alabama Chanin website just yesterday, reading about everything, then promptly got my books down off the shelf and started planning. I’m on it!

  21. I, too, have been obsessed with all things Chanin this summer: Bought two of the books, raided the Goodwill outlet store for cheapest t-shirts, scoured Pinterest and Flickr for images… When I get frustrated or bored at work, I click over to the Alabama Chanin website and start dreaming. Which colors are best? Which styles? How can I possibly choose between all the surface textures and designs? Just a couple days ago I finished my first project, a simple tank top just to test the pattern sizing. I was so excited to see your corset today–great work! It looks so badass with the leather jacket.

  22. Gorgeous stuff. Thx for the link to the Rosanne Cash vid:: love it, great song.

  23. Eh. But does she make dishcloths….

  24. Kay, I believe you mentioned Alabama Chanin once before in the past, but this time I think you have reeled me in. I love the creativity, but the long hand stitches with double thread and untrimmed knots makes the machine sewer and quilter in me just twitchy! Guess I’ll have to set aside my knitting for a while, buy the Alabama Chanin books, and see what transpires. Sigh….
    As for dealing with female teenagers, reverse psychology does, indeed, work best. Your post reminded me of the time my daughter and I spent weeks searching every mall in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for a dress for her school’s 9th grade banquet and dance. At one point, she told me that if I said “I can sew that for much cheaper” one more time, she was going to scream. (She was at the stage where “label” clothing was everything of any importance in the world.) We finally found THE DRESS, but it was $175, and for a single mother of two, that was too much money to spend on a one-wearing dress. She looked darling in the dress, even if I thought that solid black was too mature for her age. So, I gave her an ultimatum: Either I made a dress exactly like this one, or she had to wear her Easter dress to the banquet and dance. (I knew I was hitting below the belt, and the look of horror on her face told me so.) She went to the school affair in her homemade dress that looked EXACTLY like the store one, and came home that night gushing about how all the girls were wild about her dress! Unfortunately, she’s now the mother of two boys, so she will never know the joys? of dealing with a teenage daughter.
    Mary G. in Texas

  25. I am drinking the KoolAid.

  26. I am drinking the KoolAid.

  27. I am drinking the KoolAid.

  28. Glad you are having so much fun, next you NEED to take a class from Natalie. More fun! Sara in AL

  29. Glad you are having so much fun, next you NEED to take a class from Natalie. More fun! Sara in AL

  30. I love her designs. I had the great fortune to take a workshop with her at Textile Fabrics. She is every bit as warm as she seems. I have made two tops and one six gore skirt. They are soooooo wearable!

  31. That is beyond cool.

  32. Want to see the skirt! Lovely work, and extra snaps for all that delayed gratification. This is a hole I could fall into too–it’s the outside seams with handstitching I love.
    (Not-the -80s-but=I-still-wear-black ? )

  33. I am in freakin’ Istanbul yet I cannot resist chiming in with a quick (n expensive Internet) AWESOME! Love it! The craftspersons of Cappadocia could do nothing finer; the Anatolians, the Kazaks, the Ushakis, they wish they could reverse appliquรฉ their black tents with such loverliness.

  34. Yay. Welcome back. Love that top, but can’t quite imagine myself hand sewing anything (let alone finding a spot to store the fabric).

  35. Gorgeous! Love it!

  36. Oh, man, Kay. I have owned the Alabama Studio Style book since it came out. . . and I am not ashamed to say they pages are worn and may even have dried drool on them. But. Lazy strikes.
    Kits???? Kits, you say. . .
    I’m doomed. . .

  37. I have missed you!
    Glad you are well and creating away. I really like that corset top. Very nice!

  38. Dear Kay, I have also been bit by the Chanin bug and by hand-sewing in general. I cut up a couple old t-shirts though they were too small to make the Alabama head scarf in its official size and made a small version. Stitching around the reverse applique cut-outs was a blast because it creates the beauty of thread-work without the fussiness of embroidery. Nothing like the beautiful top your stunning daughter is modeling though!
    Although I haven’t yet bought fabric from the website, I am so happy that Ms. Chanin is sourcing fiber grown, spun, and dyed in the US. It’s in its boutique phase now, but it gives me hope that someday, textiles will come back to us; this time in ways that honor the land and the people who live and work in it.

  39. Kay, My warmest congratulations to you! Another wonderful creation. Really appreciate and love the shirt, i can see the style, uniqueness and the creativeness. Well knitted! Thanks again for sharing this pattern. Looking forward for your next knitting piece.

  40. Thanks for the heads up. Getting Studio Style to check out.

  41. We have been parched, parched I tell you. First for rain and secondly for an update from MDK. So glad the second drought is over.

  42. happy to hear from you kay
    even if i do not sew i can admire the work
    and fine creative minds
    that create the lovely
    computer does not speak nice nice excuse

  43. love the books. I am in the process of trying to adapt a pattern from the books to fit my post middle aged self. I am sooo excited to be taking her Hudson workshop in September! I even went to blicks and bought a bunch of stenciling supplies. I once aspired to make all of my clothes and then I had children….

  44. Have the books, have her fabric, but have not taken the plunge. I did see a particularly fantastic dress on a woman a few months ago and she said she wears the dress half finished and then adds details over the course of many months. AND, she overdyes it when she needs a change of pace.
    Might have to drag out the fabric. Wish the fairies could cut it our for me.

  45. Darn it Kay! Now I have yet ANOTHER crafty thing to try!! These are so beautiful!!! I don’t know whether to kiss you or curse you! ๐Ÿ™‚

  46. Your Alabama Chanin project is fantabulous! I love her stuffโ€ฆand, now, I see that the DIYs really ARE doable. Amazing.

  47. I am also deep in love with all things Alabama Chanin. I am THIS CLOSE to being done with my third top and have grand plans to make a dress with all over stenciling/embroidery. I’m going entirely DIY though and I have purchased a craft airbrush for the paint application. I blogged about the first tops (lots of process pictures) and I’m constantly prowling google for more blog posts about sewing Alabama Chanin style. I’m looking forward to seeing pics of your blanket.

  48. As always, you rock, and this is perfect because I just saw the JP Gaulthier exhibit at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, and nothing makes you want to re-purpose fabric and proliferate beads in an intricately hand-stitched manner as that – ESPECIALLY to make corsets!
    Freaky mind-blowing show that was.
    You can make pseudo-teen clothes for me anytime – tell Carrie she has competition, if that will help ๐Ÿ˜‰


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