Monday, August 24, 2009

Sweet Home Alabama

I've stopped buying most craft books in the last few years, mainly for space reasons, and do a trial run on any that I'm considering purchasing by taking them out of the library first. It builds in a sense of urgency that's missing when I own books, which is good. If I'm not motivated to start anything from a book in the three weeks or so I have it checked out, there's no reason to buy it.*

So, the latest title I've been casting my gimlet eye upon is Natalie Chanin's Alabama Stitch Book. Chanin's line of clothing and textiles, Alabama Chanin, combines traditional methods of sewing, beading and embellishment with a very modern, feminine aesthetic and sustainable approach, all of which is so very, very up my alley. (There's a great interview with her here.) Most of the projects in the book are made with cotton jersey and many of the patterns are designed to be laid out on upcycled old t-shirts; so you dig an old t-shirt out of the back of your drawer, cut it up and sew it back together into an awesome new shirt.

Still, the proof being in the pudding and all, I was curious to see how clear the directions were and whether the finished garment fit. There's a world of difference between doing a thing well and writing a book that will allow other people to do that thing well at home. I decided on the graphic t-shirt corset top because it seemed pretty straight forward and preserved most of the graphic on the front of the shirt.

Everything laid out for the pattern tracing, including a roommate to keep me company:
The freezer paper was perfect for this, sheer enough that I could easily see through to trace, but substantial enough that I don't have to be especially delicate with the pattern pieces.

It's hard to see the pieces in the photo, but you'll have to take my word for it that I've traced all of the pieces out:

The original t-shirt, which I found in a Salvation Army upstate:
You disassemble the t-shirt into sleeveless pieces and lay out the pattern pieces:

These are the pieces for the front and back laid out together before I started sewing:

Basting along the neck and armhole edges to keep them from stretching out too much while I worked, which I'm not convinced really did anything, but the pattern called for it, so I did it. I actually followed the directions more closely than I have for just about anything I've made, actually, even going to the pages that talk about how to sew a straight seam, for example, to see if there was anything I didn't know about that (um, no. it's pretty straightforward, but I did learn a neat trip about wrapping the thread around the edges to start and finish the seam, which was useful):

In progress:
(side note: if anyone knows why my oxalis has that ashy cast, I'd appreciate it. whatever it is doesn't wipe off — not dust or other external schmutz from what I can tell.)

And done!
I absolutely adore this. I love the exposed seams, though I would also like to try making one where the seams are on the inside, in which case I could sew it all on the machine and take this from a somewhat intensive weekend project to one that could be done start to finish in about two hours. The book also gives instructions on making bias tape from the scraps and using that on the neck and armhole edges, which this top would really benefit from, in my opinion, but I didn't see that until I had already tossed the scraps in a fit of tidying. I may add contrasting trim at some point.

The fit is really what makes this for me, but I did have to do some minor modifications, mostly to fix a bit of gaping around the armhole: shortened the straps by about half an inch and took in the front seams closest to the armhole just in the top inch or so. I need to take a closer look at what I did there and change it on the paper pattern too. Actually, doing a binding on the edges might help with the gaping too. Somewhere down the line, I'd like to try my hand at drafting a sleeve cap so I could make a more winter-friendly version.

I'm putting this book on my definitely-to-buy list. After success with this project, I'd feel confident attempting some of the more complicated patterns in the book. Plus, in addition to the patterns, there is a lot of great how-to information about reverse applique and beading and stenciling on fabric. I don't generally learn physical skills well from books, but the combination of gorgeous, clear photos and well-written text make me think that this could function as a reference text for some of those techniques as well.

*I'm actually fairly conflicted about this policy, since I'm also a firm believer in voting with my wallet and buying things that I think should exist in greater quantities (like, say, high quality craft books put out by women who meld traditional techniques with a modern sensibility) to prove that there's a market for them, but I'm also practical about the amount of space and discretionary income that I have. I am totally buying this one though, so I guess my system works?


Ashley Word said...

This is so, so cute and fits you perfect. I want to try making one, though I'm a little intimidated on getting a good fit. I'm going to look for this book. You've got me motivated!

Gina said...

The fit is great. I really like it.
I thought about buying the book just because it's so beautiful and inspirational, but I passed. The reality is that I do not sew.

Anonymous said...

That is indeed super cute and my mind is now running along thinking of ribbon trims, little sleeves, buttons...I shall have to seek out that book. Thanks for the heads up.

Michelle said...

Have I ever told you how much I love the step-by-step posts you do? They're wonderful. And the finished t-shirt is fantastic and super-hot. (Yeah, I can see why you wouldn't wear it to work.)

Curry said...

Fantastic fit! Lucky that you can find such crafting books at the library.

Carolyn said...

don't buy it if you haven't yet. i will send you the copy i bought as i'm extremely unlikely to make anything from it. the binding is broken but was when i bought it (somehow i didn't notice in the store) but that doesn't make it unusable. :)

Martha said...

That looks fabulous! It really fits you well and if anything, the graphic looks better now. Great job!

Natalie B said...

Looks great! I've been tempted by that book as well. I have the same policy (previewing a book by taking it out from the library) for craft books and recipe books. I get so taken in by all the pictures (and the promise of a great meal or beautiful project), that sometimes it's best to get that "high" out of the way before deciding to purchase. Plus, I just don't have enough discretionary income!

Melissa said...

Oh, I love it and the fit is great!