Anyone who can build a successful business based entirely on hand sewing in this day and age must be a very special type of genius. I take my hat off to you, Ms Chanin!
And I didn’t think anyone could ever inspire me to embellish my clothes, it just isn’t my thing. Beading and machine embroidery have never appealed to me. But this is different, and so here I am, showing off my first appliquéd top in the Alabama Chanin style.
I had been contemplating making an AC garment for a while, but never quite got off the ground with the reverse appliqué. The way I buy fabrics, mostly opportunistically when I spot a bargain, doesn’t lend itself to having two plain pieces of cotton jersey in the right colours to hand at the same time. Buying them online from AC was out of the question with our low dollar and high shipping costs. But as it happens, merino jersey is very available where I live, often at a very good price, and doing a normal appliqué instead of the reverse one allows me to use up scraps and still add some warmth to a winter garment. Double win, I’d say!
The normal, not reverse, type of appliqué also can be done on a finished garment, which is another advantage. As it happens, I had made a navy merino top last winter that was a little uninspiring and also a bit thin for its oversized style. The perfect candidate for a trial, and I had just the right olive coloured wool knit left over for the appliqué shapes from a top I made years ago. Plus some perfect stone coloured linen thread I had bought for knitting but that turned out to be too thin when it arrived. The planets had aligned for my first Alabama Chanin oversized merino jersey top!
Naturally, not only did I use wool jersey instead of cotton, and an oversized style that isn’t AC at all, I also altered the technique a fair bit. AC spray paints a negative and positive of her designs on the two fabrics to help her cut out and place the shapes. I have no patience for lots of little bitty bits, and I like my motifs, whether for block printing or appliqué, to be about the size of my hand. The design I had chosen was much less intricate than the one in the AC demo video I saw, and I thought cutting the stencil for spray painting would be just as much work as tracing the shapes out individually. On top of that, fluffing around with spray paint when I have no experience with it would be an unnecessary complication. I am all for simplicity, and to make it even easier I chose just one of the branches from this Alabama Chanin design, to be repeated over and over.
So I cut out a template shape of my chosen leafy branch and traced around it on my fabric scraps, using a sliver of soap because it showed up better than texta on the coarse, spongy, darkish wool. (I find the small guest soaps picked up during hotel stays very useful for marking fabric.)
I placed my shapes on the top freehand, starting around the neck, pinned and then stitched them in place one by one with a simple running stitch. Very therapeutic!
One thing I noticed fairly quickly is that the AC appliqué is not nearly as time consuming as one might think. That my chosen motifs were large naturally helped, but I soon discovered that I could appliqué as many or as few motifs as I wanted and the top would still look as if it was meant to be that way. The first Sunday, with a beginners boundless enthusiasm, I powered through stitching on six motifs around the neckline and one on the upper sleeve, and this actually already looked really nice. I could have stopped there if I wanted and still had a very wearable top. The next evening I stitched on another three of the branches and it looked even better. After I did another five, I actually thought that the top didn’t need any more. It was only because I found the stitching process relaxing and enjoyable that I wanted to continue, and I also thought that the more wool pieces I appliqued onto the top the warmer it would be. Warm is good. It does not get below freezîng in winter where I live, but because it is not very cold nobody bothers to heat anything properly. Sitting in my only nominally heated office for hours on end at a computer can chill a cold frog like me down to the bone!
In the beginning it took me about an hour to trace, cut and stitch a motif to the jumper, but you get a bit faster with practice. There are about 20 motifs currently, so 20 hours, which is not at all bad for a hand stitched project. I could maybe fit another 20 motifs on the top if I cover it completely, so 40 hours in total and another couple of hours for the sewing if it is done by machine, which I think preferable. 42 hours would still be very much less than a knitted jumper, the vast majority hand stitching, which is not like sewing by machine, where you need to concentrate and negotiate relatively tricky operations in rapid succession. You can sit in your comfy chair with some music and a glass of wine and just hand stitch away, with nothing more demanding to do than following the contours of your appliqué shape. 🙂
The original navy top had been sewn using one of my TNT jumper patterns, a wide body with the shoulders dropped halfway to the elbows, the hem curving longer at the back and shorter at the front. Amusingly, the top made with the olive Marc Jacobs knit whose leftovers are used for the appliqué shapes was also made with the same pattern.
The details of the pattern and the sewing process are written up here.
So this is how the top looks right now, although I will probably sew on a few more of the motifs. As i already mentioned, I find hand stitching at night very relaxing and might just continue until I find a knitting or other appliqué project to do instead.
A few more photos on the bod, but headless unfortunately because I placed the camera a bit too low.