My denim knit skirt – Alabama Chanin pattern

Earlier this month I thought about making some trouser jeans for a job interview at a tech startup. But I soon realized I didn’t have enough time to make a mockup and then make the jeans without stressing out. So I decided it would be better to make a knit skirt, using the mid-length skirt pattern from Alabama Studio + Design. I’ve made it before and to save time, I’d skip the hand sewing and just sew it on my machine. So I popped over to Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics and found this great heavyweight cotton denim knit fabric (5 percent lycra). Perfect to make a denim knit skirt!

Denim knit fabric - Stonemountain and Daughter Fabrics - CSews.com

In the above photo (taken after I washed the dried the fabric), it looks black. But in person, it looks like a dark indigo denim. You can buy this heavyweight organic cotton knit fabric in black on Stonemountain’s website. The weight feels great and it’s so soft! It was worth the price of $26.70/yard, the most I’ve ever paid for a knit fabric. All I needed was 1 1/3 yards for my denim knit skirt. The pattern calls for 1 1/4 but I got a little extra in case of shrinkage.

I used the pattern from this Alabama Chanin book, which is now out of print but you can find copies of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design on Amazon. I’ve made the bolero, a tunic, and two other mid-length skirts from this book. You can see the second skirt I hand sewed in my Toaster Sweater 2 post.

I bought the fabric on a Saturday, finished sewing it on Sunday and wore it to my interview on Monday. So that’s why I didn’t have any time to hand sew it. I rarely ever sew fabric that quickly. It usually sits in my stash for a while before I sew it.

If you’re familiar with Alabama Chanin aesthetic, it’s all about organic cotton knit fabric and hand sewing. I’ve hand sewn my other Alabama Chanin outfits but for this one, I just used a zig-zag stitch on my sewing machine. 😉

I cut size XL but because there wasn’t a lot of stretch on this denim knit fabric, I decided to increase the seam allowance to 5/8 to give my self enough ease. Then I quickly basted the skirt to check fit and took the waist in about an inch. I usually have to grade up in the hips so this wasn’t a surprise. Then I removed the basting from the side seams and zig-zagged the two front pieces together and then the two back pieces. Now I was ready for the elastic.

This skirt pattern uses foldover elastic at the waist but with this heavyweight knit fabric, I didn’t think that would be strong enough. So I looked for something similar but wider and a little more substantial. I found this soft elastic that was 1 3/8 inches wide (~3.5 cm) and wouldn’t add too much bulk. It wouldn’t fold as easily as foldover elastic but it was pliable enough to do the job.

Wide elastic used as foldover elastic - CSews.com

It was a little tricky to sew it to the waist. I had to rip out my first stitches because I decided to use double-sided fusible at the waist to hold the elastic in place before sewing it. The idea was to avoid pinning the elastic. I used a wide zig-zag stitch and then tried on the skirt. If you’ve worked with knit fabric before, you can probably guess what happened. The waist was too wide and stood out from my waist. I realized I needed to slightly stretch the elastic as I sewed it – similar to sewing neck binding on the t-shirt.

So I ripped out my stitches – luckily, very easy to do because of the wide zig zag – and then used a small zig zag to sew the elastic to the wrong side, stretching it slightly as I sewed it. Then I folded it over to the right side and sewed a wide zig zag in the middle.

Here’s the wrong side of the front. You can sort of see the small zig-zag stitches just above the wide zig zag.

Elastic at waist of denim knit skirt - Alabama Studio Sewing + Design mid-length skirt - CSews.com

And here’s the right side of the front waist. This fit well.

Elastic waist - denim knit skirt - Alabama Studio Sewing + Design mid-length skirt - CSews.com

And here’s the finished denim knit skirt, which I wore to the Bay Area Sewists meetup at Britex Fabrics last weekend with my Pilvi Coat (ponte knit) and my Toaster Sweater 2 (black French terry). It’s my all-knit ensemble! I took the photos with my iPhone and the lighting wasn’t the best because I’m standing in the shade. You can’t really see that the skirt is a dark denim, not black. In this photo the skirt blends in with the Toaster Sweater.

Knit ensemble - Pilvi Coat, Toaster Sweater 2 and denim knit skirt from Alabama Chanin Studio Sewing + Design - CSews.com

I used a photo timer app (gives you a countdown and lets you pick how many photos to take and how much time between each shot) and attached my phone to a tripod using the Promaster Mobile Phone Tripod Mount (affiliate link). I got mine at Adolph Gasser Photography, an independent store in San Francisco, which sadly closed last year. The tripod mount expands from 2 inches (~5 cm) to a maximum of 3.75 inches (9.5 cm). It fits my iPhone 6 and it’s battery case.

Knit ensemble - Pilvi Coat, Toaster Sweater 2 and denim knit skirt from Alabama Chanin Studio Sewing + Design - CSews.com

Here are a few more views of this A-line denim knit skirt. This fabric has a lot of body and not much drape so it stands out at the bottom. You can really see the silhouette of this skirt in this photo.

Knit ensemble - Pilvi Coat, Toaster Sweater 2 and denim knit skirt from Alabama Chanin Studio Sewing + Design - CSews.com

I got my hair cut two weeks ago – lopped off a couple of inches. It had been covering my neck before I got it cut.

Knit ensemble - Pilvi Coat, Toaster Sweater 2 and denim knit skirt from Alabama Chanin Studio Sewing + Design - CSews.com

Here’s a back view. It was a warm day so I didn’t wear a hat – plus new hair! It’s so nice to have my hair off my neck!

Knit ensemble - Pilvi Coat, Toaster Sweater 2 and denim knit skirt from Alabama Chanin Studio Sewing + Design - CSews.com

Here the denim knit skirt looks a little more like denim rather than black.

Knit ensemble - Pilvi Coat, Toaster Sweater 2 and denim knit skirt from Alabama Chanin Studio Sewing + Design - CSews.com

I didn’t get the job but I have a skirt I love. I know I’ll wear it all the time.

Knit ensemble - Pilvi Coat, Toaster Sweater 2 and denim knit skirt from Alabama Chanin Studio Sewing + Design - CSews.com

Me Made May 2014: Days 2-12

9 days of Me Made May 2014 - csews.com

On the first of May I committed to five days a week of wearing something I sewed for Me Made May 2014. (If you haven’t heard about MMM14, read about on So Zo’s blog.) On Day 1 I wore a skirt I made a few years ago. All the photos were taken with my iPhone – so apologies for low-quality photos. I posted most of these photos on my Instagram account (@csews).

Here’s a rundown what I wore for the next several days, starting with this red dress on Day 2. I wore this number to a magazine awards event in Los Angeles. (The magazine I work for was nominated for several awards and we won four! I and three other staff members flew down for the event.) The evening began with cocktails so that’s why I’m holding a glass of red wine here.

Me Made May 2014 - red dress - vintage pattern - csews.com

I wore my vintage hat (black velvet and white woven fabric), which I got at All Things Vintage in Oakland, along with my new shoes – black with white trim! (Yes, they a bit too pointy for my feet but I figured they would be OK for a few hours. I needed something with a vintage look to go with the outfit. I found these low-heeled Bandolino pumps at DSW in San Francisco.) I made the dress a few years ago from this 1957 McCalls pattern. The fabric is a cotton woven, quilt weight, red with tiny white polka dots. This dress has a side zipper and I made the belt using the same fabric.

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Back then I didn’t really know what I was doing as I graded up in the shoulders and hip area. I didn’t now anything about tracing patterns and just cut the actual pattern [wince] and didn’t make a muslin [gasp]. Yep – this was the muslin. In fact I had never made a muslin of anything back then. Heheh. #ignoranceisbliss

From what I recall, my neckline adjustments were slightly off so I had to make some pretty small seam allowances to make it work. Plus it took me f-o-r-e-v-e-r to figure out how to interpret the instructions for that middle pleated detail in the center of the bodice. Even now I stare at it and I don’t remember how I did it! I was slimmer when I made this dress so at the moment there’s not a whole lot of ease in the hip area. 😉 There is plenty of room to walk because of a pleat in the skirt back. It’s not uncomfortable but a little more ease would be better. I need to get back to the gym!

On Day 3 I wore this cotton voile skirt I made last year. On the last day of my LA trip I had the pleasure of meeting Kathy (@nerdyseamstress on Twitter and @thenerdyseamstress on Instagram) who blogs at The Nerdy Seamstress. We follow each other on social media and arranged to meet at Republique, a great place for brunch, and then went to The Fabric Store to do a little shopping. We each wore skirts we made that day. (You can read about my skirt here.)

Kathy of the Nerdy Seamstress and Chuleenan wearing Me Made May skirts

On Day 4 I wore my Hummingbird peplum, a Cake Patterns top, which I made last year. (You can read about it here.)

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On Day 5 I wore this hat, which I made from some home dec fabric I got on sale at Joann’s and trimmed with Petersham ribbon from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. (Yes, this is a selfie, thus my shoulder looks odd – a little Quasimodo, eh?)

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On Day 6 I wore this bias cut skirt. The fabric is from Discount Fabrics in San Francisco.

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Day 7 – The Trench, pattern from Christine Haynes first book Chic and Simple Sewing, which I blogged about here. This one is from a handwoven cotton – very thick, like home dec – and trimmed with bias tape I made from striped silk fabric. I also added a cuff detail in the same striped fabric.

I’ve been a long-time fan of Christine’s and even interviewed her when she released her first of her patterns in 2012. You can read that Q&A here.

The Trench- Christine Haynes pattern

Day 8, my other Trench – this one in wool, trimmed with a bias tape made from tiny hounds-tooth wool fabric. You can read about that Trench here.

The Trench - Christine Haynes pattern - csews.com

Day 9, my hand-sewn bolero from black jersey, pattern from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design book by Natalie Chanin. Sorry you can’t see much detail in this badly lit photo. For some reason I never got around to blogging about this bolero.

Bolero - Alabama Studio Sewing + Design  - csews.com

Days 10 and 11, I didn’t wear anything I made and Day 12 I wore my Emery Dress – one of my more feminine dresses (lace trim, embroidery on the collar). This is also a Christine Haynes pattern. You can read about my experience making this dress (and see better photos!) here. The fabric is cotton voile is a remnant I got from Britex Fabrics. I also got this cute hat on sale at All Things Vintage. I love the hats at this shop run by two ladies with excellent taste. Nearly every time I go there I buy another hat!

Emery Dress - Me Made May 2014 - Day 12 - csews.com

Thanks for visiting! And if you’re participating in Me Made May and have worn anything by the designers mentioned above, please let me know. I’d love to see what you made!

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Me Made May 2013 – Final Post

Here are the things I wore from May 22 to May 31 for Me Made May 2013. I did repeat a couple items but I wore them with different things.

I wore 18 different hats on the first 21 days. I think over that next 10 days I wore maybe another four that I hadn’t worn in the previous weeks. I wasn’t paying close attention. But I do have more hats than what I wore over the past month. I guess you could say hats are my favorite accessory. ;o)

Thanks to all the folks at work who took photos of my outfits on various weekdays: Cailan, Diane, Donna, Jeffrey, Kari, Karmah, and Marsha. You’re all good sports – especially Donna, who took the most photos towards the end!

Day 22: I make this rayon knit jacket about four years ago (Issey Miyake Vogue pattern). It was a pretty windy day. Hat: Vintage wool felt with an ostrich feather pom-pom.
Day 22: I make this rayon knit jacket about four years ago (Issey Miyake Vogue pattern). It was a pretty windy day. Hat: Vintage wool felt with an ostrich feather pom-pom.
Day 23: I made this jacket from Christine Haynes book Chic & Simple Sewing. The fabric is a herringbone corduroy I got at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse.
Day 23: I made this jacket from Christine Haynes book Chic & Simple Sewing. The fabric is a herringbone corduroy I got at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse.
Day 24: I wore my hat again. I used an upholstery fabric sample. The pattern is by Patricia Underwood for Vogue.
Day 24: I wore my hat again. I used an upholstery fabric sample I got at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland a few years ago. The pattern is by Patricia Underwood for Vogue.
Day 26: Handsewn knit skirt. Hat: straw with a leather band
Day 26: Handsewn knit skirt. Hat: Tightly woven straw with a leather band.
Day 25: Hand-pleated Petersham flower.
Day 25: Hand-pleated Petersham flower.
Day 26: Handsewn knit skirt. Hat: straw with a leather band
Day 26: Handsewn knit skirt. Hat: straw with a leather band
Day 27: I made this mini-infinity scarf from this silk remnant. Hat: corduroy cap from the Gap.
Day 27: I made this mini-infinity scarf from this silk remnant. Hat: corduroy cap from the Gap.
Day 28: I made this jacket - The Trench - from Christine Haynes book Chic & Simple Sewing. I made the bias tape for it as well. The skirt is RTW but I added the lace trim.
Day 28: I made this jacket – The Trench – from Christine Haynes book Chic & Simple Sewing. I made the bias tape for it as well. The skirt is RTW but I added the lace trim. Hat: vintage – I added the lace trim and made a hat pin from the same lace.
Day 29: I made this sleeveless top from Christine Hayes Sassy Librarian Blouse Craftsy class (pattern comes with the class). Hat: vintage wool - I use a hat pin in the back to keep in in place.
Day 29: I made this sleeveless top from Christine Hayes Sassy Librarian Blouse Craftsy class (the PDF pattern comes with the class). I wore this top on Day 8. Hat: vintage wool beret – I used a hat pin in the back to keep in in place.
Day 31: Handsewn bolero, tunic, and skirt from a Natalie Chanin pattern. I also made the necklace from ropes of black knit fabric. Hat: vintage - I added an ostrich feather to the original Petersham trim.
Day 31: Handsewn bolero, tunic, and skirt from Natalie Chanin patterns in her 2012 book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. I also made the necklace from ropes of black knit fabric. Hat: vintage wool felt – I added an ostrich feather to the original Petersham trim.
Day 31 - Linen blend pants from a Vogue pattern (these pants have an elastic waist and pockets). Hat: straw
Day 31 – Linen blend pants from a Vogue pattern (these pants have an elastic waist and pockets). Hat: straw trimmed with grosgrain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Unofficial Me Made May 2013 – Week 3

Hey, I made it to Week 3 of Me Made May 2013! As I mentioned in my previous post (“My Unofficial Me Made May Participation: Weeks 1 and 2“), I’m unofficially participating in this handmade wearable challenge.  So far I’ve only had one repeat – wearing my red hat twice. But I think I’ll be running out of things I’ve made pretty soon. Meanwhile, here’s a recap of what I wore on days 15 through 21.

Day 15 - Wool cape made from a 1980s Vogue pattern I got for 25 cents
Day 15 – Wool cape (fabric from Britex Fabrics). I used a 1980s Vogue pattern 1980s I got for 25 cents.

Day 15:  The mornings can be chilly in San Francisco – so on this work day I wore this as my coat. The hat is a cotton Kangol my youngest sister got me for my birthday a few years ago.

Day 16 - Wearing my trench coat, which I made from Christine Haynes book Chic & Simple Sewing
Day 16 – Wearing my trench coat, which I made from Christine Haynes book Chic & Simple Sewing

Day 16:  I wore one of my favorite jackets. I got the wool fabrics from the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse – the bias tape is a wool houndstooth. I love the big pockets on this coat. I like to wear this wool hat with it. I got the hat on sale for $1 at Urban Outfitters about six years ago. Now I wish I bought more!

Day 17 - Cotton print bias cut skirt - fabric from Britex Fabrics
Day 17 – Cotton print bias cut skirt – fabric from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco

Day 17: I love the fabric on this skirt. I wore a thick-brimmed black vintage straw hat and a vintage bracelet with this skirt.

Day 18 - knit top
Day 18 – knit top

Day 18: The fabric for this top was an imported cotton stretch knit from Italy, which I bought as a remnant from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. It was going to be a really hot Saturday and I wanted to keep my arms covered. (I wore this sun hat all day – keeping my face in the shade as I listened to a lot of good performances at the Malcolm X Jazz Festival in Oakland.)

I initially had a piece of wide elastic at the bottom of this top but it didn’t look very good on me. It was too poofy on the hips so I took out the elastic and I either belt it or tie a knot like I did here.

Day 19 - My repeat day - I wore this hat again.
Day 19 – My repeat day – I wore this hat again.

Day 19: I also wore this hat on Day 4, More details on the hat are in my first Me Made May post.

Day 20 - Knit tunic and bolero - pattern from the book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design
Day 20 – Knit tunic and bolero – pattern from the book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design

Day 20: I wore my red knit tunic (hand pleating on the neckline!) with the black knit bolero, which I wore on Day 10. The hat is a really lovely vintage hat with wool lace that was made in France. I use a hat pin that I stick through a pony tail in the back to keep it in place.

Day 21 - Vest I made from home dec remnant I got a Britex Fabrics
Day 21 – Vest I made from home dec remnant I got a Britex Fabrics

Day 21: I wore this vest with a vintage velvet hat.

And that concludes Week 3 of my unofficial Me Made May 2013 participation. I’m not so sure how much longer I’ll be keeping this up but it’s been fun so far. It’s also been a good opportunity to show my hat collection. I’ve worn 18 different hats over the past 21 days!

I’ve drafted people at work to take my picture at the office. On the weekends, it’s been hubby or a mirror. ;o)

 

A Review of Sewing Patterns I’ve Traced

Last week, I wrote about tracing patterns (see “Tips on Tracing Sewing Patterns“). In that post I was going to include some of my thoughts on the sewing patterns I’ve traced over the past few months but it got too long. So here’s my brief review, which covers patterns from three books: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design by Natalie Chanin; Shape Shape: Sewing Clothing Patterns to Wear Multiple Ways by Natsuno Hiraiwa; and BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern by Jamie Lau as well as a PDF, the Sassy Librarian Blouse by Christine Hayes from her Craftsy class. Here’s the rundown:

Alabama Studio Sewing + DesignI really liked the clothes in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design so I bought it last fall. (See “Book Review: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.”) This was my first experience with patterns that you had to trace, not cut out. The patterns were printed on both sides of the paper and some of them overlapped each other. Granted this saves paper and space but I was used to buying traditional patterns printed on tissue paper that you cut out. But I was game – this was a chance for me to use that Swedish tracing paper that had been sitting around for a couple years. (For more on the book seeBook Review: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.”)

Alabama Studio Sewing + Design - pattern
Patterns from the book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design by Natalie Chanin

The patterns were very easy to trace because each size has very distinct lines and seam allowances are included. So all you needed to do was trace and cut (no darts!). I just traced these patterns freehand. All the garments use jersey fabric and are rather fitted because you’re using fabric that stretches.

I made a hand-sewn tunic, skirt, and bolero jacket from this book as well as an embroidered wrap, which I’ve posted about a few months ago (see “The Embroidered Wrap“). I haven’t written about the outfit yet but here’s a preview.

hand sewn tunic, skirt and bolero all made from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design patterns (photo by Emily Loftis).

Shape Shape by Natsuno HiraiwaAbout a month after I bought Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, I ordered a copy of Shape Shape: Sewing Clothing Patterns to Wear Multiple Ways by Natsuno Hiraiwa, a graphic designer turned fashion designer. This was a bit of an impulse purchase. I liked the photos of the garments, lots of asymmetric cuts and of course, interesting shapes.

The patterns in this book are also printed on both sides but they are not that easy to trace – not only do many pattern lines overlap but the lines are all of the same skinny weight. It’s difficult to be sure you’re following the correct line for a particular piece and there is no differentiation among the pattern lines designated for each size. This means that the line is exactly the same for size small, medium and large. (Note: This pattern doesn’t include seam allowances so you must add them.)

The lines in the Shape Shape patterns are hard to trace - see all that overlapping? And no differentiation between the different sizes!
The lines in the Shape Shape patterns are hard to trace – see all that overlapping of pattern pieces? And no differentiation between the lines for different sizes either!

I made one garment from the book (the Free-Style Curved Stole) but it was a little small (and I didn’t forget to add the seam allowance either!). I think I’ll give it to one my sisters who’s about 4 inches shorter. The garments in the book are sized for petite Japanese women, which means that at 5 feet 7 inches I’m a giantess for these clothes. There are only three sizes (S, M, and L) but I must be an XL or larger – something to bear in mind if you make anything from this book. (Of course, if I had read the reviews on Amazon, I would have realized that the sizes run pretty small, large is more like a medium.)

If you want to see what some of the clothes from the book look like, check out the review of Shape Shape by Handmade by Carolyn. She’s made some of the clothes from the book.

BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern book coverFor my next adventure in pattern tracing, I turned to the dresses in BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern. With this book, I got more serious about tracing and finally bought a few French curves. (See my post “Tips on Tracing Sewing Patterns” for more on the tools I use.)

The patterns in this book are very easy to trace — even when many pattern pieces overlap — because some pieces are printed in black ink and others in red, plus the lines for different sizes are very clear. Seam allowances are not included, which makes it easier to adjust and/or modify the patterns. For many of the garments in the book, you need to take one of the base patterns and modify it to create a new pattern.

Let me tell you, after Shape Shape, it was a relief to trace patterns from this book!

If you want to see the dress I made from this book, check out my post “My First Fashion Photo Shoot for a Dress” or see the dress posted on my BurdaStyle page “Tea-Length 1950s Dress – BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern.” It was a finalist in BurdaStyle’s sewing contest earlier this year.

Patterns in BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern are printed in red and black ink.
Patterns in BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern are printed in red and black ink.

Sassy Librarian BlouseLast but not least, is the pattern I traced from a PDF. I few months ago, I bought Christine Haynes Sassy Librarian Blouse on Craftsy, which uses a PDF pattern that you download and print on letter-sized paper. The pattern uses more than 35 pieces of paper, which you then need to tape together, overlapping the edges to match the lines. By the time you’re done taping all the pieces together, the pattern is a bit bulky in some areas.

So I decided not to cut the PDF pattern and instead, trace my size on to pattern tracing paper. I’m used to those tissue-weight patterns. Seam allowances are included in this pattern. None of the pattern pieces overlap (yay!) and the sizes are clearly delineated.

Taped together PDF pattern for the Sassy Librarian Blouse by Christine Haynes
Taped together PDF pattern for the Sassy Librarian Blouse by Christine Haynes

I’m still working on this top. I traced the pattern pieces and cut the fabric and my woven interfacing. When I finish it, I’ll be sure to post about it! What have been your experiences tracing patterns?

Hand Sewing

Herringbone stretch stitch
Herringbone stretch stitch (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

Over the past few months I’ve been hand sewing, not machine sewing, which has a very different feel. When I’m sewing on a machine, I want to have blocks of time to work. I want an uninterrupted five or six hours minimum to sew, iron, snip, etc.

But when you sew with a needle and thread in hand, you have more flexibility. It’s a lot slower than a sewing machine but you can be interrupted and it’s not a big deal. You can work on your hand sewing for 20 or 30 minutes and still feel as if  you got something done. And it’s very portable, you can just stuff it in a bag along with your needle and thread and work on it wherever you have decent light.

I’ve been doing some embroidery and though I’ve been working on off and on since October, I can see my progress. So far, I’ve written two posts on my embroidered wrap, which was inspired by the one in the book  Alabama Studio Sewing + Design by Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin (my review). You can read about my embroidering experiences in this post “Getting Started on My Alabama Fur Wrap” and “The Embroidered Wrap.”

I’ve been making jersey garments from the book. If I were sewing this fabric on my sewing machine, I’d use a zig zag stitch or I’d use the built-in stretch stitch, which is a bit bulky and tedious because it goes over every stitch three times.

But as I discovered from Alabama Studio, there are many different hand stitchesincluding stretch stitches that you can use on jersey fabric and elastic. I had no idea.

I learned how to hand sew a herringbone stitch to attach the foldover elastic to the waistband of a skirt I made from the book. It’s a rather time-consuming stitch to so because there are sooooo many stitches to sew but I did it!

The cretan stitch is much faster to do because the individual stitches are further apart. I think I’ll use that stitch the next time I hand sew elastic!

The Embroidered Wrap

In October I began embroidering a wrap featured in Natalie Chanin’s book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design (see my post “Getting Started on My “Alabama Fur” Wrap“). After a few evenings and about 15 hours of stitching spirals on this black jersey knit fabric, I realized that I was making spirals on the so-called wrong side of t fabric. Ack!

How did this happen? Well, I was sewing in the bedroom where the light isn’t so great – and I probably need to get reading glasses sometime soon. The weave on this fabric was rather tight and frankly I couldn’t really see much difference from one side to the other. The right side was supposed to have fine ribs and the other loops but it really wasn’t obvious.

So I just picked a side and began embroidering. Then one day when I was stitching again, I thought, hmmm, let me see what else people say about the wrong side/right side of jersey knit fabric. I found something saying that jersey fabric curls up toward the right side on the cross grain. So I looked at my wrap and realized “Oh, no, crap – I’ve been stitching my spirals on the wrong side!”

I felt my face get hot and I just there in a slight stupor. I’d already put in 15 hours on those spirals. What to do? I’d only covered about ten percent of the wrap, which meant I had many more hours to go. So should I rip out all the spirals I’d already completed?

I put it away for about a week. Then I looked at it and thought, well, the weave is tight, it doesn’t really look like the “wrong” side; I don’t want to rip out those stitches; I can live with the mistake; having the wrap curl up on the ends of the wrap is OK because that part will be over my arms.

I took a long break from it. I didn’t work on it for about a month (and I haven’t written new post since then). Also I really had no idea how slow embroidering can be. I haven’t embroidered anything since I was a kid. It takes a few minutes to stitch each spiral – and that’s not counting separating the strands of floss and threading needles.

I’ve got a system now: Cut several lengths of floss; separate strands; thread two strands per needle; knot strands. I usually thread about a dozen needles and then start stitching. My hubby and I have been reading aloud some nonfiction books to each other and when he reads, I stitch. He’ll read about 15 to 20 minutes and then it’s my turn.

I started embroidering again last week and now I’m a little more than halfway across the wrap. I’m not putting the spirals so close together anymore. Also, I’m not following the stencil provided by the book. I’m improvising and just embroidering spirals wherever I feel like it. I’m spacing them out because I don’t have the patience for more than that.

I like the space though. And I could always add more later if I really want the full “Alabama fur” effect. I’ll post an update when I’m finally finished with this embroidered wrap!

Note on photos: My Macbook Pro died last month (wah!) so I’m stuck using my iPhone for photos. I’m using a Chromebook until I can figure out what I’m going to get as my replacement laptop. 

Getting Started on My “Alabama Fur” Wrap

Photo of Alabama “fur” from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design

When I got my copy of Natalie Chanin’s Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, which I reviewed in September, I was all fired up to make a wrap embroidered with spirals, or what designer Natalie Chanin calls “Alabama fur.”

The “fur” is created by leaving one-inch tails of embroidery floss on the right side of your fabric. You knot the thread and leave a tail at the beginning and end of each spiral. It’s an amazing look, isn’t it? This is a photo from the book.

The Fabric Outlet in San Francisco was having a 40 percent off sale that week so I was determined to find some jersey fabric and embroidery thread and get going. All of the clothes in the book are made from organic cotton jersey.

I really haven’t made very many things using jersey fabric so I as I browsed, I just kept in mind what I’d read about knits: jersey curls up on the ends, interlock and ribbed knit stays flat.

I found some black jersey and it seemed like it was cotton (or maybe it was a blend). But hey, it was $9.99/yard and it was on sale (40 percent off!). (Yes, I am a sucker for a fabric sale.) It had a nice medium weight so I bought a few yards.

Then I hunted for embroidery floss and got several skeins of black, very light grey (DMC 3024), and dark grey (DMC ultra dark beaver grey). My spirals could be stitched using those three colors.

Next I had to enlarge by 342 percent, the spiral stencil pictured in the book. I did a test page on 11 “x 17″ paper but that only got one small part of the stencil on the page. So I went to a copy place in San Francisco that did large-scale enlargements. The finished printout was poster-size 24″ x 36”. Whoa – I didn’t know it was going to be that big. It cost about $11 for the enlargement.

Now I had all my materials and was ready to get underway. I used freezer paper to create the pattern and cut out two pieces of fabric 21″ x 30 inches. The books says if you are going to add embellishment, to use a double layer of fabric.

But how was I supposed to get that spiral stencil on the fabric?

There was no way I was going to cut out the spirals with an exacto black and then trace them on the fabric. I could see that that could take f-o-r-e-v-e-r.  So should I use tracing paper? I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do and the book didn’t really address this as it referred to all the designs in the book as stencils, which mean cut them out. Ha.

I posted a photo of the stencil on Instagram and Twitter and said: “OK I enlarged the @AlabamaChanin spiral design. Now how shd I transfer it to #fabric?”

Lo and behold! I got an answer from Alabama Chanin via Instagram! “We use textile paint but you can also use a marker or a pencil and trace them.” I was thrilled to get a response. (Yay for social media!)

However, I couldn’t see myself tracing all those spirals. I’m impatient and that just seemed really tedious. So I put the fabric on top of the photocopy of the spirals and started drawing the spirals in marking pencil on my fabric. But before I began doing that, I had to figure out what was the so-called “right side” of the jersey fabric.

The book had close-up photos illustrating what the wrong and right side looked like but I couldn’t really tell from my fabric because it was a rather tightly woven jersey and there really didn’t seem to be much of a difference so I just picked a side and began. Also it really hot that week because we were in the midst of an unseasonable fall heat wave and I didn’t have any bright (hot) lights on. Plus I just wanted to get started. (Did I mention I’m impatient?)

I was essentially freehand drawing – looking at the spirals and trying to draw them as they appeared on the photocopy. I drew spirals on one corner and then I began embroidering using two strands of embroidery floss doubled, which meant that each stitch would have four strands.

This is a backstitch endeavor, per the book. (If you don’t know what a backstitch is, here’s a nice explanation “How-to: Back Stitch” from Sublime Stiching.)

I knew it was going to be slow going but I didn’t realize how slow until I began making the stitches. After a couple hours, I hadn’t finished very many spirals. I stitched for a few hours every evening for three days straight. But I quickly realized after I made one black spiral, that black wasn’t going to work because it completely disappeared against the black knit fabric. Duh.

I don’t know why I thought black would work. I thought I would at least see a texture but it’s like those spirals aren’t even there (see spirals circled in red). Darn it!

So I stuck with the greys. By the second day, I was more efficient at making the spirals and I had my own assembly line going – I threaded six needles so I didn’t have to keep stopping to separate the strands and thread the needle. I just used the grey, threading needles with two strands of dark grey, two strands of very light grey and then one strand each of dark and very light grey. I tried a strand of black and a strand of grey but the black still disappeared so I just stopped using black altogether.

Then I decided I needed another color, maybe a grey that was in between the dark grey and black. So I went to Lacis in Berkeley, which carries many embroidery flosses, including every single DMC color available. I looked at all the colors but didn’t see a really dark grey.

Then helpful store clerk pointed out DMC 399, very dark pewter grey (right). It’s a grey with more blue in it. It still wasn’t as dark as I would have liked but it was subtly different from the other dark grey.

My Alabama fur wrap is underway! When I’m further along, I’ll write another post about it.

Three days of embroidering

Sewing Books at the Library: Improv Sewing, Sew Retro and More

I love the public library. It’s a great source of free information for everyone. It’s also a wonderful place to check out new sewing books. Right now I’ve got five books out, four from the Berkeley Public Library and one from the San Francisco Public Library.

I flip through the books to see how many things I’d like to make and whether I’d learn any new techniques and ideas. Oftentimes I stick post-it notes on the pages of things I’d like to make or ideas that inspire me. If there are a lot of post-its, then I’ll very likely buy the book, which is what happened with Alabama Sewing + Design, reviewed here.

Here’s my roundup of the other books I’m reading:

Sew Retro: A Stylish History of the Sewing Revolution + 25 Vintage‐Inspired Projects for the Modern Girl by Judi Ketteler ($24.99). This is a fun book – a brief romp through fashion history (1880s to today) interspersed with profiles or interviews with women designers of the decades – from the 19th century’s Ellen Curtis Demorest to today’s Amy Butler. Alongside those pages, the author has projects (and patterns for them) that are supposed to be reminiscent of each time period. It’s a bit of a hybrid book with more pages devoted to history and people rather than sewing projects.

The projects were pretty basic, ranging from bags and purses to pillows and coasters – all things a beginning seamstress could easily handle. I’m not really interested in making most of the things in the book because I don’t need any more potholders, aprons, bags, etc. But I did like the needlecase – a nice design to store your hand sewing needles and thread snips.

Flowers I made from Petersham ribbon

Chic on a Shoestring: Simple to Sew Vintage-Style Accessories by Mary Jane Baxter ($22.95). This 2011 book has many ideas for embellishing tops and shoes – adding buttons, lace, rickrack, you name it – to refresh or refashion your existing wardrobe. Some of Baxter’s ideas aren’t really my style though. For example, I wouldn’t trim a hat with small pom poms or put lace doilies on a top. The author is a milliner.

The book also has several ideas for making accessories: belts from old neckties and necklaces as wells as detachable collars from a variety of materials — shoelaces, ribbon, fabric, beads and lace. I liked her idea for making flowers using Petersham ribbon that I made a few last month (see photo). I’ve attached clips to the back so I can wear them in my hair. She put several flowers on a purse, which looked quite elegant.

Sewn by Hand: Two Dozen Projects Stitched with Needle & Thread by Susan Wasinger ($19.95). This book has nice photos and illustrations on hand stitching, covering how to make knots (the single-hand, tangled knot vs. the two-hand knot) and a variety of hand stitches (running stitch, back stitch, stem stitch, blanket stitch, slipstich, overcast stitch, and so on). The book’s projects are all very nicely designed and photographed. Some of the usual things featured in sewing books are here: a tote bag and potholders. But the author gives them unique touches, such as the covered buttons and rope strap on the tote bag and the potholders with smocking.

Improv Sewing: 101 Fast, Fun, and Fearless Projects: Dresses, Tunics, Scarves, Skirts, Accessories, Pillows, Curtains, and More by Nicole Blum and Debra Immergut ($19.95). I put a slew of post-its on the pages of this book, which means that this one’s a keeper and I’ll definitely buy my own copy.

The book is full of simple designs for clothes (dresses, skirts, and tops), home projects, accessories and gifts. You make your own pattern for tops using your own shirt (or one you get from a thrift store if you don’t want to cut one up) as pattern pieces. Once you have your torso pattern piece, you reuse it again and again for the other designs

The majority of the book is devoted to clothes that you can make fairly quickly because they don’t have very many pattern pieces – and they look good! Some of the skirts use jersey knit fabric with foldover elastic over the waistband (no hemming necessary). How easy is that?

Sometimes I’m really impatient with sewing so it’ll be great to make something that I can finish in an afternoon. At more than 300 pages and with clear instructions and plenty of photos, it’s well worth the cover price. Oh, and the authors share a blog Improv Diary (in addition to their individual blogs) and they have an Improv Sewing Flickr group for folks to share what they’ve made.

Book Review: ‘Alabama Studio Sewing + Design’ by Natalie Chanin

I recently checked out this great book on hand sewing from the public library: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design: A Guide to Hand-Sewing an Alabama Chanin Wardrobe by Natalie Chanin. It focuses on creating a hand-sewn wardrobe – yes, everything from bolero jackets and wraps to dresses and skirts of varying lengths – from cotton jersey fabric. The various pieces can be layered for a striking appearance or worn with a pair of jeans for a more casual look.

These are all designs from Alabama Chanin, where a hand-sewn and hand-embroidered tank top retails for more than $1,000. But you can make your own versions with this book!

The photos of the models wearing the clothes in this book are gorgeous. And there are nice illustrations of the various stretch stitches you can use when you are hand sewing.

A couple pages from ‘Alabama Studio Sewing + Design’

The author recommends using button craft thread for hand sewing because it’s one of the strongest threads. It’s made “with a polyester core surrounded by vary finely spun cotton yarn,” writes Chanin.

I was so enamored of the clothes in this library book that I went ahead and ordered it from Amazon (and paid sales tax for the first time on an Amazon-purchased book – yes, California’s online sales tax law went into effect last weekend). I can’t cut into the patterns that come with a library book because other people will be checking it out. So I just had to buy it.

Featured in the book & available to buy on Alabama Chanin’s website

What makes the clothes unique is the appliqué work, beading, stencils, and embroidering. The stencils and various designs for embroidering and beading are all provided in the book along with patterns for the various clothes. You can also purchase the stencils from Alabama Chanin’s store. Cutting out the stencils yourself is certainly time-consuming so you may want to spring for a stencil if you intend to reuse it or just want to spare yourself the tediousness of cutting out the designs.

I was so inspired that when I saw that the Fabric Outlet in San Francisco was having a sale this week (everything 40 percent off!), I went shopping for some black cotton jersey. I also picked up several spools of button thread. I’m not sure if I’m going to hand sew the entire thing – my zigzag stitch on my sewing machine may be employed for this endeavor. But I’m certainly going to give it serious consideration.

I’ll be sure to post about what I make from this book. Though it may take a l-o-o-o-ng time because of the hand sewing!

Chuleenan Svetvilas