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

How to Keep Your Hat on Your Head

I wear hats everyday and there’s one thing I gotta  be sure of – that my hat stays on my head. Here are my tips on how to keep your hat on your head instead of flying off and floating down the street whenever it’s windy outside. (For more about my hat collection, see this page)

If your hat fits well, before you leave your home, give it a tug so it’s snug. A few months ago I hadn’t given my hat that little tug so it blew off my head right into traffic. Yep. Luckily the cars weren’t moving very fast but I couldn’t get to the hat before a car rolled over it. I was able to grab it before another car rolled over it (or I got hit by a car!). But I never want to do that again. The hat survived with just a gray smudge on one side.

One easy way to keep your hat on your head is to attach a piece of elastic cord to the back of the hat. I got this idea from a black vintage hat of mine. This great hat (I love the fun and fluffy ostrich feather on the side) came with the elastic already on it. If my hair is in a ponytail, I just slip the elastic below the ponytail and the hat stays in place. I can also just pull my unbound hair through the elastic and it’ll stay in place because my hair is on top of the elastic.

Elastic cord inside

I’ve added black  elastic cord to add to two of my hats – a very lightweight straw hat trimmed with brown ribbon (pictured in “Shopping for Hats“) and a red vintage wool hat, which also could be secured with a hatpin. The straw hat only weighed a few ounces – a light breeze would easily blow it off.

Most hats have a piece of grosgrain ribbon along the inside brim and the ribbon is the perfect place for you to poke two small  holes – one on each side – where you’ll place the elastic.

The elastic goes in place a little bit behind the ears. To figure out the the correct length of elastic, hold one end of the elastic behind one ear near the inside grosgrain ribbon, put it under your hair and then hold it near the opposite ear. Then cut the elastic about an inch past your finger.

The elastic I inserted in my straw hat

For my straw hat, I used about 13 inches of elastic and the red hat 17 inches. The length will vary according to how high or low the hat sits on your head.

I used black elastic because I have black hair (well, it’s mostly black but rather salt-and-pepper in the front – but hey, I’ve had silver in my hair since junior high). Use a color that blends in with your hair.

After you cut the elastic, thread it through the holes and tie a knot in the elastic to hold it in place. You can add a piece of wire to the knot to further hold it in place – like I did for the straw hat. I think this snippet of wire was something that the price tag was attached to. I recycled it by cutting it in half and adding it to the elastic (how’s that for reuse!).

[Update: You can also buy 12-inch hat elastics – a piece of cord elastic with a small metal barbs on the ends – at millinery supply houses, such as Judith M, which sells them in white, tan and black or Lacis retail or online store (search “hat elastic) in Berkeley.]

Now you’re all set to wear your hat on a windy day!

Elastic cord inserted into my red vintage hat