Sunday, September 28, 2014

An Alabama Tank

Yes, I'm back with another hand-stitched Alabama Chanin garment.  I made this one up this week and wore it on a date with Hubby yesterday.

Before I got any of the Alabama Chanin books, I always thought of that work as solely reverse applique, and I do think that is the style most folks work when they pick up this technique.   So I was surprised to see several other styles and techniques when I finally bought Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, and one that caught my eye immediately was the Beaded Random Ruffle Fitted Tank on page 159 of the book.  I couldn't stop thinking about it, so my mind went to work figuring out what I had on hand that I could use to make it.

Remember this fail of a dress?

I wore it only once and felt uncomfortable the whole time.  It's been hanging in my closet ever since, waiting to be turned into something better.  I figured I could fit the pieces for the Fitted Tank on the skirt portion, and I almost could.  Because of the way the grainline sits and the shape of the pattern piece, I had to cut the front pieces about 1.5" shorter than the back.  No problem though - I just tapered the back hemline in a mini hi-low hem.  I actually really like it and would consider doing this on purpose in the future!

I had a couple of objectives with this make other than just using up my fabric and getting a darn cute top.  This is really a fitting muslin.  On my list is to make the Fitted Dress from the Sewing + Design book; I'm not too worried about how the skirt will fit because it's very A-line.  But I did have concerns about the bodice, and rightly so.  My measurements put me in a size M, so that was my starting point.

On this top, I ended up removing 3/8" from each of the four shoulder strap pieces.  It's OK on this one, because this fabric is a very stretchy cotton/lycra jersey.  But for future makes I'll take that back to 1/4", and maybe only on the front.  The armholes ended up being a little smaller than I'd like.

I definitely need to do a sway back adjustment on future versions:

And I'll shave about 3/16" off the center front seam from the neckline, tapering down to nothing about 3" below.  I had a bit of gaping around the neckline in the cleavage area.  This time I took care of it by pulling my neck binding extra tight to gather the neckline in a bit.  Again, this works because of the stretch of this fabric, but might not look too great on a fabric without lycra.

My other objective was to try a couple new stitches and techniques from the book.  Working the Beaded Random Ruffle was really fun, and surprisingly quick.  I think it only took me about an hour to work all four ruffles!  I cut my ruffle strips 3/4" wide, rather than the 1/2" recommended in the book, just because I felt like it.

All the seams were inside felled, like on my first Alabama Chanin project.  After I had the tank sewn together, I tried it on for fit before adding the bindings.  Because the shoulder straps were long, I undid those seams and took some off as mentioned above.  Then I worked all the bindings with the Feather Stitch.

I had wanted this one to be lower-cut than I usually wear, but because I took so much off the shoulders it doesn't show a whole lot of cleavage.  Honestly, it's probably better that way - I won't feel like I have to keep yanking it up.

I think this top is both pretty and comfortable.  Hubby loved it of course!  More than the other one, because it's so form-fitting.  I'm also happy that it goes with a jacket I bought years ago that doesn't go with much else in my closet:

And now, believe it or not, I'm ready to start doing some sewing with a machine!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Playing catch-up.

First off - thank you so much to everyone who gave me some styling tips on my last post!  Lots of great ideas in there; I'm sure I'll be trying some of them out in the future.  Please excuse my laziness in not answering each comment separately.  Some days are just like that :-)

I've spent part of the morning today updating my 2014 Sewing FOs page.  I hadn't added any finished makes since May!  There was a lot of catching up to do.  I realized that some of the things I made over the summer I never even posted about - partly because I was so busy, but also because a lot of them are the same patterns I've been using for a while, just in different fabrics.  I find myself using Instagram more these days for show and tell, and this space more if I have something I really want to say about a pattern, process or make.

That said, yesterday I wore two of those unblogged makes and really liked how the outfit came together, so I snapped a couple of bathroom-mirror selfies to share.  This is the kind of outfit I feel right at home in.  Of course, it's based on some slouchy jeans :-)  But on top of those jeans is an item I made early in the summer that actually filled a hole in my wardrobe:  a plain white Renfrew!

I'm sure it will come as no surprise that I completely fell off the Stash Diet wagon over the summer.  One day I was at my local fabric shop getting zippers or something, and my eyes fell upon a lovely 2-yard piece of silk chiffon in the remnant area.  It came home with me, and a couple days later I sewed up the long edge and then sewed the two ends together to make a huge infinity scarf.  Honestly, it's a bit too big, but by keeping the yardage intact I can change my mind later and make it into something else if I want to.  It's kind of a Moroccan tile print in lavender, yellow, white and black.

And because it was chilly when I left the house in the morning, I added one of my favorite jackets, purchased probably 15 years ago at Loft.

Rounding out the look were some simple silver jewelry and a pair of quilted black block-heeled shoes.

After I came home from my coffee date with a friend and an impromptu lunch date with Hubby, I finished up my second Alabama Chanin project.  I do have a couple of things to say about that one, so I'm hoping to get some pictures of it over the weekend.  Stay tuned, if you're interested in that stuff!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Following through.

Well, I took some "modeled" pictures of my Alabama Scout today, and I'll tell you:  they're not great.  I thought the soft afternoon light would be perfect for catching glints of the beads, but my camera disagreed with me.  In fact, it didn't even want to focus on my face, preferring instead the electrical cover plate next to me.  Can't say I blame it actually - I got very little sleep last night and I'm wiped out ;-)  So it might be apparent that I wasn't really into this photo shoot; but as much as I love this top, I'm ready to hang it up, post-wise, and move on.

Despite all that, I went to the trouble of doing my hair and putting on makeup.  I even tried two different outfits, but I think the photos will make it clear which I preferred.  Here's the first one:  the "fancy" one, with dressier pants and silver shoes, and understated jewelry.

I actually think this is a pretty OK outfit, but I just couldn't get a picture that relays how nice it is.

Even so, this top really says "Rocker Chic" to me (or at least, something a little more tough than the above).  I felt a lot more at home in the second outfit, with boyfriend jeans, studded ankle-strap flats, chunky jewelry and bright red lipstick.  (Which, by the way, I was terrified I would get on my beautiful top.  Rest assured, all is well.)  I even went all out and did the half-tuck:

By the way, I like that the last vestiges of my summer tan show up in these pictures.

I kept trying to stand right in the light that filters into the house mid-afternoon, hoping it would pick up the beads, but to no avail.  You can almost see them in this shot:

Here are a few more from different angles, which also show how it looks un-tucked - nice and flowy.  I did wash this the other day: by hand, air-dry for about 3 hours and then finished in the dryer on delicate (all inside out, of course).  It softened nicely.

And finally, the silly shot:

Hey camera!  I'm over here!  Quit looking at that cover plate!

And now I have a question to pose to you all that I've been thinking about a lot.  How would you style this top?  I think that I tend to get into a rut with certain items of clothing and end up always wearing them the same way.  Do you guys do that?  I ask because sometimes I read other bloggers' posts about their makes where they say, "I'm not sure what to wear this with."  I always seem to come up with ideas for other people, but not so much for myself!  I'm the same way with home decor too, by the way.  So if anybody would like to share an opinion, I'd love to hear it!

So this is (finally) the last post about this top.  But fear not:  I've already started (and almost completed!) a second Alabama Chanin project!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Alabama Scout: Construction

Wow, a whole week since I posted!  Over the course of that week, I spent the majority of my free time - about 15 hours altogether - and yesterday completed my Alabama Scout!

I know there are a few of you who were interested in the construction of a garment like this, so I was good and remembered to take photos while I was sewing the top together.  A LOT of photos!  A few  of these have been shared on Instagram over the last couple days, but most are new.

Each day this week, I spent approximately 2 hours working on the beading.  On Friday evening, I finished up the back, the last and largest of the pieces.  Here are all four pieces, in a picture I excitedly shared on IG after I'd gotten to this stage:

And another couple close-ups of the accent beading, which sadly doesn't show in most of the photos:

I couldn't resist sewing up the short shoulder seams that night, just to try it out.  I'd decided ahead of time that all my seams would be inside felled.  As per Alabama Chanin's instructions, I used a doubled strand of Button Craft thread and a simple running stitch.  Here is the original seam:

There are a few areas where I changed my construction from the method in the book, using techniques I normally use in sewing, and this is one of them.  Before felling the seam, I trimmed the seam allowance that would be on the inside of the felling in half:

That reduced a lot of bulk and made things much easier for me.  Here is the finished, felled seam:

Yesterday I spent about 4 hours sewing together the remaining seams and the neck binding.   All seams were worked as above, and in addition,  I marked all my seam lines to keep everything on track.

As I set in the sleeve, I actually felt like I had a lot more control than I do when I sew something like this on the machine.  Holding the work in my hands and being able to manipulate and ease the fabric stitch by stitch made the whole process a lot less nerve-wrecking than I usually find it to be.

Other than hand-stitching everything, I used the normal seam allowances and construction for the Grainline Scout.  (Note:  the pattern I used here is the one I adjusted several months ago to have the more swingy back and to fit my measurements.)  After setting in the sleeves, I sewed the side and sleeve seams in one continuous pass.  The bottom edges of the sleeves and body were left unhemmed, so that as the top is worn and washed, they will curl a bit.  In order to keep my layers sandwiched together, I didn't remove my pink silk basting threads until I was ready to sew each seam.

The neck binding is one long strip, cut on the crosswise grain, 1.25 inches wide.  I used the "Cretan Stitch" shown in the Alabama Studio books to apply the binding after sandwiching the neckline in between its folds, again with a doubled strand of thread.

And once I'd done that, I was done!  I almost couldn't believe it!  I quickly tried it on to check the fit and snapped a couple of bathroom mirror selfies:

One thing I'd been concerned about throughout the making of this top is that it wouldn't be comfortable against the skin.  You may have noticed that there are a LOT of knots on the inside:

I was afraid I might end up with a gorgeous, sparkly hair shirt.  So I was really relieved that the knots don't bother me at all!  And I expect that over time, with several washings, everything will soften up.

And now a few thoughts :-)

The whole time I was stenciling, stitching, cutting and beading the pieces, I treated them like gold.  They felt so delicate.  But now that the top is sewn together, the whole thing feels surprisingly sturdy.   I feel like I can wear this without worrying that it's too precious.  And there's an added level of comfort in knowing that any beads or seams that come undone can easily be repaired.

One of the things I struggle with most in sewing is understanding the relationship between the weight of a fabric on the bolt and in the finished piece.  I mentioned before that the fabric I used here is quite a bit lighter than the jersey sold by Alabama Chanin, and I was concerned that my top might be too flimsy in the end.    But now that it's finished, I think this lighter fabric was a good choice for the combination of techniques I used.  The combination of the 2-ply backstitching around each motif and the accent beading inside added significant heft to the finished garment, so that it's actually quite a bit heavier than it looks.  And while I do expect the whole thing to soften with washing, the final result is a fabric with more body than drape.  I think that if I'd used the heavier Alabama Chanin jersey, a top in this style would be far too heavy for me.  That said, the heavier fabric would make for a great jacket, dress or skirt.

I'm happy to have this project finished, and I had a great time making it.  It will probably be a few days though before I can get some "real" pictures of me wearing the top.  It's too cloudy today; I'm really hoping to get some good light so that the sparkly beads show.  And I'm also considering giving it a wash before taking any pictures, so the drying time will add to the wait.

Meanwhile . . . on to the next thing on the agenda!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Sinister Mitten

Sinister, because I started with the left mitten.  Anybody else take Latin in high school?  Super useful in daily life.  I took two years and enjoyed it immensely.  None of this is sarcasm - I really did, and I really do find it useful!

Also sinister because this design is not approved for all audiences:

I'm making these as a little KAL with my friend Alicia.  We meant to do these last year, but didn't get started soon enough for the cold weather, so we shoved it off to this year.  We cast on together on Friday via a Google Hangout since we weren't able to get together in real life.

I've finished the corrugated rib on this first mitten, and am ready to move on to the chart.  Having fun so far, although these needles are a little slippery.  I'm using two skeins from my stash:  one of Starmore Campion (blue) and one of Fortissima Socka (magenta - which matches my winter coat). 

I didn't do a gauge swatch, and cast on with the recommended needle.  There's a chance they may end up being a tad big on me, but if they are that's OK - I'd rather have them too big than too small, because I can always knit an inner lining or felt them slightly.  Both fixes would give added warmth, and that's always a good thing.

One of these days I need to sit down and wrangle all my knitting WIPs into one place and make myself a list.  I have a lot more going on than I've documented on Ravelry . . .  oops!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

All Aboard the Alabama Train!

I'd meant to add all this to yesterday's post, but as usual I was too verbose!  So I broke it down into two, to make it more manageable.

For all of our trip, we had only occasional internet access, so I limited myself to reading emails, scanning my blog roll, and viewing and occasionally posting on Instagram.  At some point in late August, I received an email from Alabama Chanin informing me of a 20% off sale over Labor Day weekend.

Ruh roh.

I just couldn't resist!  I was worried about adding packages to my held mail bin, so Hubby said I could have items shipped to his office.  When we got home on Saturday, I saw an email telling me the items had been delivered that morning.  So on Monday when he returned to the office, I was expecting him to be able to collect them and bring them home to me.  But apparently things don't run that smoothly in mail rooms - he was not able to get the two boxes (the items shipped separately) until Thursday afternoon.  Yes, there were some grumpy faces each night as I expected but didn't receive my packages!!

So what did I get in the sale?  Well, I wanted just about everything on offer.  But I managed to narrow it down to two items:  a stencil and a DIY kit.

The Alabama Chanin stencils don't come cheap, and even at 20% off they are costly.  But since I've discovered I love doing this, I decided to splash out on a very intricate design:  Angie's Fall.  I don't mind cutting the stencils, honestly, but my favorite part of this process is the stitching.  I was also curious to feel the type of stencil film the company uses on these.

The stencil is just beautiful.  Laser cut, so each shape is perfectly formed.  The film is nice and heavy, and translucent.  It's similar to the plastic used in plastic milk jugs.  I'm really looking forward to trying this out in the near future, and because the quality is so great, I would absolutely consider buying another one (on sale - and the sales seem to be frequent).

The other item I ordered was a DIY kit, for a sleeveless top with stitching just on one shoulder:  the Anna's Garden Shell Top.  Sadly, it no longer appears on the website so I can't link to it.  I ordered the kit because I was curious to feel the "house" fabric, and also to see and feel the stenciling as done in the Factory with an airbrush.

Here's a picture of the whole kit - you get everything you need to make the project.  When ordering, you choose your size and the outer color, and then you have a limited selection of thread colors to choose from.  My outer fabric is "pewter" and the outline thread is black/white variegated.

You also get one of those groovy Alabama Chanin labels to stitch into your finished piece.

The fabric is listed as a medium weight at 9.8 oz. and I'd say that's accurate.  It's slightly heavier and fuzzier than the lightweight jersey I ordered from for my first top.

I was surprised to see that the fabric paint used for the stenciling has an almost pearlescent shimmer to it.  Alabama Chanin uses the Createx brand, and I used Jacquard textile paint.  I'm planning to try out the Createx for my next project, as I do have an airbrush and compressor, acquired over 25 years ago.  The stenciling on the kit fabric is a bit less stiff than the foam-brush stenciling I did on my project.

I'm really happy with this kit, but I think for the future I'm likely to stick with putting my pieces together on my own.  What remains to be seen is whether I like wearing the lighter weight fabric I bought before, or will prefer the Alabama Chanin jersey.  Both are organic cotton; the main differences I see (aside from the weight) are the color selection and the price.  On my first project all pieces of the top are two layers of fabric; I think two layers of the heavier Alabama Chanin jersey would be too hot for me for a short-sleeved top.  The shell kit I ordered only doubles the fabric under the stenciling.

One last neat thing:  even the box the kit was shipped in has an Alabama Chanin motif on the outside!  So pretty!