Last spring I had the pleasure of attending one of Natalie Chanin’s sewing workshops in New York. It was such a lot of fun! We each selected a project beforehand, and when we arrived it was waiting for us in a lovely kit (much like the one that Melanie Falick blogged about recently.) At the workshop, Natalie showed us how to use the same techniques her couture team follows when they stitch items for the Alabama Chanin collection. Then we spent the day stitching and chatting, and a chef came to prepare a delicious southern-style lunch for us. If you ever have the opportunity to spend a day with Natalie at one of these workshops, you’ll find that it’s incredibly rejuvenating and relaxing; none of us wanted to go home at the end of the day, and we made some wonderful new friendships in the process. (What is it about women, sewing, and bonding? I had a similar experience last summer at Heather Ross’s Weekend Sewing workshop in Vermont and am looking forward to doing it again this summer. It’s such a great way to make new like-minded friends!)
I never showed you what I made in Natalie’s workshop, but at last it’s time for the big reveal.
Back when Natalie and I first met, I sent her some Oliver + S patterns and one of her seamstresses made a darling Tea Party Sundress using the Alabama Chanin methods. The dress made an appearance in Cookie magazine’s profile of Natalie, and when I saw how wonderfully it turned out I just had to make one for S. I selected two colors from her organic cotton jersey fabrics: silt and light pink. I used the stencil provided in the Alabama Stitch Book (which I reviewed here) to transfer an all-over pattern onto the traced dress pieces, and once Natalie got me started with stitching I just couldn’t put the project down—I stitched all the way to Pittsburgh and back when we went to Quilt Market, and it was finished in time for my sister’s wedding.
As Natalie explains in her new book, Alabama Studio Style, cotton jersey relaxes when you wear it. Which means that it’s a good idea to start with a snug fit when you select the size you’ll be making. I made Tsia’s dress in her regular size, and of course the finished dress was too big. (I should have started with a pattern two sizes smaller and lengthened it following the methods I just posted on the Oliver + S blog to fit her height.)
So we’ve waited a while, and the dress is starting to fit. Tsia has worn it all winter with a turtleneck and tights, and I love how the fabric edges are starting to soften just a bit with each washing, giving the reverse appliqué a patina.
I had so much fun making this dress, now I’m planning to make myself one of the dress patterns from the Alabama Studio Style book . I still need to decide which style, size, fabric colors and stencil pattern to use. Any suggestions? (I really love the Angie’s Fall stencil, which is new to this book.)
If you’re interested in trying out these techniques but aren’t quite ready to take on a complete dress (and it is a commitment to make a full dress), there are lots of other terrific smaller projects in both books. I love the Small Medallion Placemats and the Medallion Boudoir Pillow in the new book (both of these projects use another new stencil that is included in the book), which look really contemporary and minimalist. There are so many great projects and recipes included, and the book feels very much like Natalie’s warm and relaxed personality, with some of her wonderful southern hospitality thrown into the mix. With both books, you’re only missing the companionship of a group of stitching women like we had at the sewing workshop.
And maybe a chef to cook you some delicious southern food at lunchtime while you relax and stitch and chat.
Natalie has included instructions for many different embellishment techniques like relief appliqué, backstitch reverse appliqué, and the beaded embellishments that have graced recent Alabama Chanin clothing collections. I’ve had an opportunity to admire these details during Fashion Week every season, and they are so inspirational. Each of these embellishment techniques look very different from the others when completed, and you could use them in many different ways to suit your own purposes, even if you don’t make any of the specific projects in the book. I particularly love the starburst “eyelet” stitch, which you could embroider by itself or bead for two very different looks.
I love how these two books can stand independent of each other but also build on each other. They're both absolutely beautiful, informative, and inspirational.