I am an only child who grew up spending lots of time by myself in my beautifully decorated bedroom, which had a Danish modern desk (I wish I still had it) that was just perfect for all of my projects. Bargello needlepoint, knitting, decoupage, paint-by-number oils, and hand embroidery consumed me. Tea towels, aprons, blouses, you name it, I embroidered it. I still have my first and most precious embroidery hoop.
All of my hand projects went by the wayside when I got my first Bernina 830 sewing machine in 1972. It was machine stitching from then on, and I was possessed.
Fast forward to 2013 and a phone call from Alex, my daughter who lives in Cleveland. “Let’s go to Florence, Alabama to an Alabama Chanin workshop!” Without even knowing who or what this was, of course I accepted and we went.
I still have the photo of Alex at the front door of an unassuming metal building in the outskirts of Florence, and remember thinking, “What have we done here?”.
But once inside, the magic began. From the gorgeous clothes,
to the food,
to the help of amazing people,
something was awakened in me that I hadn’t felt for a long time — that need to stitch....by hand. And Alex loved it, too.
The brilliance of Natalie Chanin and the Alabama Chanin experience has captivated me like no other. In fact, I had to break away from my current hand-stitching Alabama Chanin t-shirt project to even write this piece. My little canvas bag of work is with me constantly — on the road, in hotel rooms, on the patio and in waiting rooms. I love it when curious people on airplanes stop by to talk to me as I stitch.
I own all of Natalie’s books. Each one has its own character. Alabama Studio Sewing+Design is my go-to book to see all of the stitches and techniques all in one place and for fashion inspiration. But the fourth one, Alabama Chanin Studio Patterns: A Guide to Customizing a Hand-Stitched Wardrobe puts everything into a real place — projects that are really doable, in a reasonable amount of time, for everyone. And the patterns are included. Lucky us!
I saw this wrap skirt during my very first trip there, and I loved it. So when I saw that the pattern for that skirt was in the book, I was thrilled (and so was Alex, the recipient of my final skirt).
By the time I returned to Florence, the interior of the unassuming building had changed dramatically. Even more inspiration, a true lifestyle approach to the presentation of the brand, and beauty everywhere.
That’s where I started to make my own wrap skirt from the pattern in the book. And it was time to up the ante and stretch my skills. Now I wanted to do more than just basic reverse appliqué (although it’s still my favorite technique). With the help of Natalie, Diane Hall, and Olivia Sheriff, I learned the best tips for backstitching, couching over tubes of organic knit, and the most intimidating of all, beading. See more project details on the Alabama Chanin Journal, September 10, 2015 entry.
Details of the different techniques I used
A look inside the skirt
Waistband tie finish
I can’t thank Natalie and her team enough for reviving my interest in hand-stitching and educating me along the way about ecologically sustainable materials and the idea of simple beauty using simple cloth and tools.
I literally dragged Erin and Kathy to Alabama to a workshop, and they came away as hungry as I am to quietly stitch. Here is a showcase of a few projects that resulted from our journey.
To shop our selection of Alabama Chanin Organic Cotton Knits, click here.
To shop our selection of Alabama Chanin 100% Cotton Embroidery Floss, click here.