Creating a Wardrobe by Hand

I have all three of Alabama Chanin‘s books, and this most recent one, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design: A Guide to Hand-Sewing an Alabama Chanin Wardrobe, has my brain buzzing with a million ideas. I love this book, I really do. I’ve been altering my clothes since high school, but until now, I’ve stuck to sewing on cotton and linen and denim almost exclusivley. I don’t have a serger and really don’t like the look of serged seams, and sewing on cotton knit with a regular sewing machine is a recipe for frustration. So when I realized that it’s possible to make sturdy, comfortable garments out of cotton jersey–t-shirt fabric–without ever using your machine, well. I was hooked.


I’m not one for following patterns, so it’s a struggle for me to use the patterns provided in the book to create basic garments so I can work out the bugs–fit, shape, various other tweaks. This bolero is the first actual garment I’ve made from this newest book, and I altered the sleeves for it and didn’t do the bands around the edges the way you’re supposed to and made up my own appliqué, of course, but basically, it’s the pattern from the book:

Once I get it exactly the way I like it–sleeve length, the fit of the bottom at the back (it flares out a little now, so I’m tweaking the pattern for Bolero #2)–I’ll have a good custom pattern I can use over and over.


OK, that’s not true. I did make a t-shirt before I made the bolero, but it was quite horrid, and I don’t love it at all. I made it in a size medium, thinking that, since I wear a medium or a small, that would fit. Logical, right? No: it was so tight I had to cut it apart and add a section in the middle (more on the size of her patterns below).

I have created one other actual garment from her patterns years ago, this one from the first book, Alabama Stitch Book:

skirt made from Alabama Chanin pattern

The cool thing is that, once you get the hang of the seams (a simple version of creating flat felled seams by hand), you realize you can use other patterns and adapt them to making all kinds of other garments by hand. I love this! I can’t tell you how much I love this.

And, truthfully, it’s a good thing: the patterns provided in the book are very, very limited, not just in style, but in size: the bolero you see on the size 8 dress form up there is the largest pattern, a size extra-large. The medium t-shirt, which I tried, was too small for me. That skirt is, I think, a large. So you can see that adapting the basic techniques to other patterns is a necessity unless you feel confident you can alter the patterns successfully (and that may well be easy for most people: the patterns are very, very simple).

Right now I’m trying to figure out what I can create from recycled t-shirts–buying nothing but thread and floss, if possible. While larger garments–the dresses and longer shirts–are going to require actual yardage, it might be possible to piece fabric out of t-shirts, and this is really exciting. I’m imagining a whole slew of clothes made from other clothes that have already been worn and discarded and can now have a whole new life. And now that Tonia’s sharing how she creates her own stencils, I see a whole ‘nother world of possibilities opening up–yay!


Ricë also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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