Sunday, January 10, 2010

Alabama Stitch Book, the abridged version

I bought the Alabama Stitch Book when it first came out. I can't justify buying the follow-up book, until I actually make something out of the first book. I understand what Natalie Chanin says about fully handmade goods and sewing love and intention into every stitch. But, realistically, I have arthritis and limited free time. I decided to machine stitch my version.

Here's one of the four t-shirts from Goodwill that gave their lives to make the skirt.  If purple isn't enough to make you smile, then mahalo surely will.  So good intentions are integral to the skirt.

The book suggested using buttonhole twist, a very thick thread.  I didn't have any in blue, so I used two strands of blue thread with a large-eye topstitch needle.  I used a third color of blue in the bobbin.  This project used up several leftover spools of blue thread.  There's still plenty more left.

The book comes with a 4-panel pull-on skirt pattern.  The front and back are the same.  Their skirt is slung low on the hips and is held up with elastic.  It's not even flattering on the tall and skinny models in the book.  I decided to use a skirt pattern that I know fits my body well.  I began with the skirt from Vogue 7607 that I used for Unsuitable for plaids or stripes.  I traced out half the front and back panels and added center seams to make a yoked, 4-panel skirt.  The length of a skirt made out of old t-shirts is limited by the length down the center front of a shirt.  A yoked skirt helps eke out a little extra length.  My skirt is 26" from waist to hem.

I made a collage of the many steps in the construction process.  I wouldn't recommend doing it the way I did.  This was really an experiment.  I switched around the steps between the front and back.  (Note to self: make the back first so that the front looks better.)

I then cut the panels from the bodies of 2 blue and 2 purple XL t-shirts I bought at Goodwill. (The two front pieces are cut from one purple t-shirt, the two backs from another shirt.  Repeat for the blue underlayer.)

The instructions in the book used stencils and an airbrush with textile ink to transfer the applique design to the t-shirt jersey.  I had textile paint, but lacked an airbrush.  I tried to make my own stencil, but cutting a stencil for a one-off project was too daunting.  Then I made a light box from an under-counter fluorescent light fixture and a clear acrylic quilting table that fits around the free arm of a sewing machine.

I bought a half yard of home dec fabric with the kind of flowing abstract pattern I had in mind.  Then I discovered that the pattern isn't really suitable for a stencil anyway because it has closed areas inside of closed areas.  So I simplified the pattern as I traced.  Eventually, I ended up painting a design freehand instead of tracing the pattern.

I liked the appliqued stripes in the new Alabama Chanin Spring 2010 line.  I cut 1/2" strips from the sleeves of the two purple shirts.  Because they are slightly different shades of purple, the stripes provide a subtle contrast.  (The blue threads and embroidery stitch #57 on my Bernina Aurora QE provides another color and texture contrast.)

I decided to place the stripes in a 45 degree chevron.  This turned out to be less than a stellar idea.  Notice how Alabama Chanin places her stripes on the straight cross-grain?  There is a reason for that.  The jersey is not a completely stable fabric and those stripes move around as you sew.  I couldn't get all the stripes to match up at the seams.  Notice that the stripe offsets result in less bulk at the seams.   I planned that all along.  ;-)

If I did this again, I would:
  1. Cut out the top panel the exact shape of the skirt pattern 
  2. Cut 1/2" strips from the sleeves
  3. Cut rough rectangles for the bottom layer
  4. Draw my main stripe lines, making sure they match at the seams.
  5. Paint on the designs in the area not covered by the stripes.  (Note how there are extra paint lines in there amid the stripes?).
  6. Layer the top and bottom layers and pin baste together
  7. Sew the strips down and free-motion quilt the applique areas
  8. Trim away the top layer in the reverse applique areas
  9. Trim the completed sections to the exact pattern size
  10. Construct the skirt in the normal manner.  To reduce the bulk at the seams, I pressed the seams open, serged each seam allowance, and then topstitched 1/4" on each side of the seams.
The yoke is a heavily-textured cotton jacquard. The yoke lining is made out of quilting cotton. Here's the completed skirt back

and the front.

I'd probably wear it like this, with boots or sandals, depending upon the weather.  Yup, I own an alarming number of Eileen Fisher pieces.  It's a good thing Bad Dad doesn't know how much they cost.

This skirt was made entirely out of stuff I already had crammed into my sewing room. I really need to use and enjoy more of my stuff. so there is room in there to move around and see all the awesome stuff I have lovingly collected over the years.

(There's also stuff people gave me because they know I make things from recycled textiles.  When I took a class from fabric collage artist, Cindy Rinne.  She told us that she doesn't buy fabric because people give her bags of scraps--much more than she could use.  She brought the scraps to class and I found some real gems in the heap, which I incorporated into my collage.)

I made a Flickr slide show of my Vogue 7607 skirts and posted a pattern review for the project.


  1. That's really pretty! I love the offset strips - you meant to do that :)

  2. Gorgeous. I've always meant to play with those ideas. Great results.

  3. Fabulous--plus, I imagine it is super comfy!

  4. Despite the hassle and the making it up as you go along, I think it looks great!

  5. divine! i, too, have this book and need to get busy and make something from it. i am feeling back to myself, so i think a sewing binge is coming to my house very soon:)

  6. Absolutely a work of art...

  7. I love your idea of the diagonals. Quite Fab.

  8. I can see why you get compliments, truly a labor of love. Inspires me to attempt one, maybe for christmas gifts.

  9. I'm glad I found this post as this is exactly the sort of thing I was just thinking about doing--an Alabama Chanin style garment using t-shirts from goodwill--and it's useful to see how you made it work within the limitations of the fabric source.

    (I'm sorry to comment on an old post, but I wound my way here via a recent comment you made on So Zo that led me to look at your posts on water and cotton and that led me here.)


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