After discovering Alabama Chanin through a number of knitting podcasts (strangely I have never heard the name mentioned on any of the sewing podcasts I follow) I decided to add this book to my birthday wish list this year and luckily my OH listened and suggested it as a present to his parents.
Chanin, Natalie (2015) Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns: A guide to customising a hand-stitched Alabama Chanin wardrobe. Abrams, New York
The book itself is broken down in to 3 main sections;
- an over view of the patterns included with step-by-step instructions for construction (this section is further broken down in to new patterns an patterns from each of the three previous Alabama Chanin books)
- fit and customisation which covers how to measure your body accurately, how these measurements relate to the patterns included and a wide range of suggestions for ways that you can alter the patterns included to adjust fit or alter the style of the finished garment
- basic techniques and embellishments which really does cover the basics, from how to knot your thread to how best to cut out your pattern and fabric. It also covers surface embellishments in the form of visible/ decorative stitching, stencilling, applique and beading.
For each of the photographs of finished garments in the book details are given for the construction and embellishment options used so that you can recreate an exact look if you should wish.
The patterns to accompany the book are provided on a CD in pdf format inside the back cover of the book and must be printed and assembled by the reader. Yardage requirements for each pattern are also included at the end of the book.
Patterns included on the CD;
- A-line dress/ top/ tunic
- Classic coat/ jacket/ cardigan
- Wrap skirt classic/ long/ short
- Fitted dress/ top/ tunic
- T-shirt top/ bolero
- Camisole and tank top/ tunic/ dress/ gore skirt
- Swing Skirt
My first impressions were that it was a beautiful book, easy to read and visually appealing and this may sound strange but the neutral colour scheme used for the garments etc made it feel quite calming to read. Clear schematics were given for all garments/ patterns although some of the stitching illustrations didn’t always correspond with the photographs or instructions (I’m thinking primarily of one of the corset schematics).
Only so much can be learned from just reading through a book so I decided to test out one of the patterns in order to be able to provide a more comprehensive review.
In the end I chose to make the corset pattern from the book, I would have preferred to start with an easier pattern such as the t-shirt top or the fitted top but the corset had few pages to assemble for the pdf pattern. I came to the conclusion that I hate pdf patterns, they are the world’s most annoying jigsaw and any mistakes in assembling them can have major implications for the finished fit of the garment! It may just be a question of practice as it was my first time working with one, I will admit to being rather daunted by the idea of assembling another one though. Just for information the shortest pattern in the book is 8 A4 pages in length but the longests is 40 A4 pages long.
The patterns themselves are layed out in such a way that up to 7 individual garment options can be made from one print out which can be a little frustrating if you only want to make the top option rather than a full dress.
As I wasn’t sure how the finished garment would turn out I decided to use fabric that I already had in my stash, the only stretch fabric I had though was some lycra rather than the cotton jersey recommended. I faced an initial challenge when I realised that I had left all my sewing supplies back at the old house but a quick trip back to pick up sewing scissors, general purpose thread and some pins meant I could make a start. The book suggests using button thread for all the major sewing on the garments which I didn’t have in stash but I eventually tracked down at the local market for a considerably cheaper price than I had seen on the internet sadly there were limited colour options on the market and the stall holder appeared very confused when I explained what I wanted it for.
I discovered that I need more practice when it comes to cutting out stretch fabrics, it isn’t easy at the best of times but toddler distractions a small cutting table compounded matters. I cut the pattern in a size L (10-12) for the bust and waist graduating to a size XL (14-16) for the hips with measurements of 37″/30″/40″. The instructions on altering patterns made this a really straight forward process and something I felt more confident to do after reading the book than I would have done before.
Working with a 6mm seam allowance was new to me and something I need to get better at judging, in places I’d defaulted to a 1cm seam allowance when sewing the corset together so it is a good job there is a serious amount of stretch in lycra!
When I first started sewing garments whilst I was at university I used to do all of my sewing by hand (mainly because I didn’t have a machine) but I had got out of the habit recently so I had forgotten how calming and meditative hand stitching can be (it can be rather tough on the wrists as well though so you may want to take care and pay particular attention to not sewing for long periods at a time particularly when working with multiple layers of fabric). Sewing up the corset did transport me in to my own little world of calm especially as I was able to work on a large part of it outside in the sunshine surrounded by my little family playing happily and having fun.
The instructions for how to assemble the corset were very clear and helpful and broken down in to stages. For the most part I followed the instructions as given but I chose to just fold over the neckline and arm holes rather than binding them as I couldn’t face cutting out more fabric with toddler distractions and I wasn’t convinced I would be able to get a neat enough edge on the binding.
As a guide to how long it took me I cut the pattern out on the Friday and finished the last stitch on Tuesday with a whole lot of life, family outings and mummy chores accomplished in between. For the next one I make I will perhaps take longer – see my earlier comment about wrist pain for an explanation as to why.
My ta-dah moment for the finished corset;
As you can see I have slight bra issues but this is entirely my fault for not working the binding and to some extent can be rectified by wearing it with a different bra.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the untrimmed/ visible ends to the threads, I can’t help looking at them and feeling like everything is a bit unfinished rather than deliberate although it would probably look like more of a deliberate design feature on an embellished garment rather than the basic/ plain version I made.
My own body issues mean that I will probably feel more confident pairing this with some high waisted trousers or skirt as the front of the corset bodice sits slightly higher than I am used to but the back is the perfect length.
I know I have picked fault with a number of elements there but I have to say I am really, really happy with the finished corset it fits my body way better than any shop bought item I own and it makes me feel special when I wear it. In fact it makes me do my weird grinny face which is always a sign of being proud of myself and over the moon with a handmade item. The top got my OH’s seal of approval too, when I showed him the finished top he said “ooh aren’t you clever, it looks like I need to take you out to a wine bar or something” – not bad considering I was wearing it with some jogging bottoms at the time!
So, in summary, this is a beautiful book to look at and read, contains helpful step-by-step instructions for a large number of patterns and the patterns themselves work really well in real life. A very big thumbs up from me, so much so that I am going in search of some more fabric in order to start working my way though some of the other patterns in the book, after I’ve made myself another corset – this time an embellished one.