Alabama Chanin


I can't pinpoint the exact moment that I became smitten with the idea of making something from one of Natalie Chanin's books, but somewhere along the way that's exactly what happened.  And the more that I looked at her work and thought about the process of making one of her patterns, the more I became enthralled by the idea of making something entirely by hand.  There's something about it that goes against almost everything that we do as home sewers.  I mean, how many times do we choose certain fabrics or finishing techniques because we want our handmade items to look like ready-to-wear items?  And yet, here's a process that fully embraces the fact that something is not only handmade but that it looks handmade.  And the fact that it looks handmade is a good thing.

No.  It's a great thing.

I can totally get down with this philosophy.

But enough blabbering on.  Let's get to the good stuff.  The top that I ended up making is the fitted tank top pattern from Alabama Studio Style and the great part about this book (and her other books) is that they essentially offer one or two patterns that are available in all different lengths, from a top all the way down to a maxi dress (and you can also just cut the skirt out if you're only looking for a bottom).  Ingenious.  The other great thing about these patterns is the cut of them.  I love that they're incredibly simple, but really feminine.  They emphasize the little curves that I have up top while working great with the much bigger curves that I have around the hips.

Based on my measurements I was at the bottom range of the size medium, but because they recommend a fitted fit I went down to a size small but graded out to a medium at the hips.  I'm really glad that I ended up going down a size because it turned out that the shirt would have been much too big in a size medium.  As it was, I sewed all the seams with a slightly larger seam allowance than recommended (3/8 inch) to get a better fit.  Also, because the top has a fair amount of flair around the hips I probably didn't need to grade out to a size medium for the bottom half, but better safe than sorry I suppose.  I also cut out a size medium in length because I'm oddly paranoid about having shirts that are too short, but I don't think that the extra length was really needed.  Oh, and I also sewed the shoulder seams with a 1/2 inch seam allowance to raise the neckline a bit since it's definitely on the low-cut side.

While my lazy-butt almost never makes a muslin, I did make one in this case because I didn't want to sew everything by hand only to have it not work out in the end (I think I might have cried if that happened).  Plus, I ordered a yard of Alabama Chanin fabric to make this top and that fabric ain't cheap, people, so I didn't want to waste it.  I made the muslin entirely with the sewing machine and while it was helpful in working out the fit, there were a couple things that I guessed on because my muslin fabric was quite a bit stretchier and thinner than my garment fabric, especially since I made my garment with two layers of jersey.  

About that - initially I was just going to make the top with only one layer since I wasn't doing any fancy stenciling or cutting away the top layer, but in the end I chose to make a two-layer top because of the stability that the two layers together provides and I'm really happy with that decision.  Two layers for the win!

The top layer is the fabric from Alabama Chanin (storm color way), but I only decided to make it a double layer garment after I had already received my Alabama Chanin fabric so in an attempt to save a couple bucks I ordered the second layer from Organic Cotton Plus, based on Jessica's post about her beautiful dress.  She was spot-on when she said that the weights are similar and I've already placed another order from them in order to make a dress from this pattern.  What can I say?  I'm hooked.

I used the button/craft thread that the book recommends and was just able to find it at my local craft store.  I did, however, spend a good 15 minutes combing through the thread aisles looking for this particular type of thread because it only comes in like 4 colors so it's hard to find amid 100's of other spools of thread.  I opted not to fell any of my seams because I just like the clean look of leaving that step off.  As for finishing the neckline and armholes, I stitched the binding on with a cretin stitch and while it was slow-going at first, once I got the hang of it, it went pretty fast.  And dare I say that I actually enjoyed all that hand stitching (I know!?!  Who am I?)

I should probably also add that I bought a package of beads from Alabama Chanin with the intention of beading a part of this top, but in the end I just couldn't do it because I love the look of it without any kind of adornment.  What can I say?  I'm a boring type of gal.

A boring type of gal in a totally handmade shirt.



  1. Oh, seriously, I think I must be somehow channelling your thoughts because I have recently bought one of her books and have been obsessing over it and what to make... and was actually waiting on another open tab in my browser to come up with search results for 'button craft thread' when I opened your post. Oh I hope I can track down that kind of thread here in Australia! LOVE your top. I can imagine this kind of making would be addictive. Looking forward to your dress. Okay, off to Google up that thread again....

  2. This is lovely - I've also been perusing the books & wondering if the time was right to start a project. Your simply elegant top is perfect :)

  3. This is absolutely gorgeous! You summed it up perfectly, saying that it's a good thing that it looks handmade. It's an amazing thing! I got to eavesdrop on Natalie's CraftSouth workshop in Nashville on Saturday for just a few minutes and it was incredible. I really want to make something like this now.

  4. It looks fab, but alas hand sewing and I are not friends (it gives me terrible RSI)

  5. Ooooh, I love hand-sewing (really!) but I have yet to delve into the whole Alabama Chanin phenom. I might be a little scared to look, because I suspect I will become obsessed and find myself sourcing weird fabric and thread!

  6. That Alabama Chanin sewing is so addicting! Your top is beautiful, and those princess seams are so flattering.

  7. I bought one of her DIY kits at last year's Black Friday sale and have been slowly working on it, and am sooo nervous that the finished product won't fit (after all that work!). So right on with making a muslin, I bet I'm going to be kicking myself that I didn't.

  8. Gorgeous top! I love the books but haven't had the guys to dive in and make something. You're results are inspiring.

  9. I'm writing a post about her and would love to share a photo of your cute top with a link.


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