Baby Clothes… Alabama Chanin Style

IMG_1002So, I have a new crafting obsession.  I’m quite late to the Alabama Chanin DIY party, but I recently discovered Natalie Chanin’s books.  I’ve spent a lot of time gathering inspiration by reading the many blogs posts people have shared over the years about creating their own clothing using her methods.  Now that I’ve made a couple of things of my own I’d like to add to the sea of posts on the subject, and to add something fresh I’ve used the techniques to begin building a unique wardrobe for my baby.  In all my Googling I found pretty much nothing made for babies with the Alabama Chanin hand stitching and embellishment techniques on cotton jersey, so…

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I’d actually heard of Project Alabama back in the early 2000s, but it seems that Natalie had to branch out on her own to maintain the made in the USA for fair wages aspect of her vision, and that is how Alabama Chanin came about.  I found an Alabama Chanin wrap dress pattern while looking for inspiration for drafting my own dress, and one thing led to another.  (As far as the dress, I ended up transforming my standard tunic dress into a wrap, and I love it!  Something for another post, I suppose.)  I decided to purchase the AC pattern and then realised it was going to be quite the endeavour.

Normally I do not sew knit fabrics.  Okay, I never do.  Back at FIT we did one project in jersey and used highly specialised machines for it.  I never considered knits after that since the machines are ridiculously expensive, heavy, and huge.  While I saw others using modern sewing machines to make clothing from jersey I never cared to learn about that realm thinking it would be too much a bother when I could just buy the items more cheaply.  After a while I didn’t find so many suitable shirts and did wish I could make things that would fit better, not have such thin fabric, or were more to my taste, but construction still presented a problem since I couldn’t really picture a way to do nice seam finishes or achieve a remotely professional look.  Then I was looking for wrap dress ideas and found the AC pattern, which led to reading blogs, discovering that apparently one can hand stitch cotton jersey, and buying one of Natalie’s books.  Hand stitched knits?!  Who knew!

Of course I wanted to make the dress, and I wanted it long.  I went out and bought 4yds of fabric and it occurred to me that this was a pretty big project to begin with.  Even so I was all set to dive into the deep end and figured it wouldn’t be too time consuming, but I was a bit nervous to cut into the somewhat pricey fabric without doing a toile.  Instead I thought it might be fun to make something tiny for D.

Never doing things in moderation, I went to the thrift store and came home with a dozen or more XL mens T-shirts to turn into baby clothes.  While going through the racks inspiration hit, and my own dress was all but forgotten.  I loved that I could use old T-shirts for fabric while D is still small, and making her clothes solves my problem of building her a wardrobe in the next sizes up.  Besides, I rarely like what I find in the stores anyway.  I used some purchased pieces as reference and drafted little dress, T-shirt, pants, and bolero patterns in a size somewhat larger than needed now.

I began the first piece with a really cool fabric.  It was a garment dyed T in a lovely purple from a jazz festival.  I cut out a simple shift dress and decided to appliqué a few lady bugs cut from the scraps for embellishment.  Note: I actually was starting with a lovely dark green T and the same dress, but when I tried using fabric spray paint and a stencil it was ruined entirely.  The very thin paint wicked instantly into a sad blob.  Instead of spray paint I tried a Sharpie to mark the lady bugs.  I traced them onto scraps and carefully pinned them onto the dress matching grain lines although I see from the photos in the book that AC doesn’t seem to bother with the grain.  It was a fun project, and I discovered I’d underestimated the time involved by a fair amount.  Yup, a dress would be a major commitment, so baby clothes that are “quickly” completed would give a much better accomplishment high.  I wonder when I’ll try tackling a large project for myself knowing now how long it all takes?

The jazz shirt wasn’t all that large, and I was lucky it was made without side seams allowing for creative placement of the pattern.  The sides did have a faded streak, so I centred the back on that line to avoid too much weirdness.

 

 

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The purple dress really didn’t take awfully long though, because it did not involve cutting and basting two layers or tonnes of decorative stitching.  I was very pleased with the end result and motivated to begin more.  It was time to try the signature AC look with two layers of jersey and reverse appliqué.  I carefully cut out a grey-beige layer and used a thinner dark navy T-shirt for the inside.  I’d searched the local craft stores and bought a few stencils that I liked and which looked somewhat suitable for the process, (but I also have plans to make some of my own with better motifs.)  For this dress I chose the fluffy flowers but also thought it would be cute to add bees.

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Instead of spraying paint and ruining the fabric I tried Tulip fabric paint applied with a foam stencilling dauber.  The colours available to me locally were too bright and the wrong palate, but the ugly ballet pink-beige paint actually worked for this.  Next time I’ll see about using Jacquard.  Adding the bees was fun, and I ended up deciding to put one on a sleeve too with a flower on the other side.  My plan was to tie knots on the outside and embrace the handmade look.

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After carefully basting the layers together I started by stitching the back, and it went well.  Then I did the sleeves quickly.  My attention had begun to waver by the time I was working on the front, and it had the most stitching to do.  Being able to pick up and drop what I was doing or take the panel to another room made it an ideal project to try working on while caring for a six month old.

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Finally it was time to carefully cut out the top layer from the stitched areas.  This is where using smaller and less appropriate stencils makes things tricky.  I started on a sleeve in case I cut through both layers thinking is a less painful piece to re-make.  I did not have any such accidents until the last section: the complicated and time consuming front panel.  I ended up darning those bits to the best of my ability.  Gah!

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I didn’t have many chances to work on the dress, and completion took a few weeks.  When it came to construction I first had wanted to use floating seams, on the outside, as a part of the design.  I liked how this looked with the two colours, but I was not keen on the appearance of the running stitch in light thread.  So, I tried the decorative stitching that I used on the purple dress, but I thought the light thread and busy stitch took away from the reverse appliqué.  L agreed, but I was reluctant to un-pick both shoulders and sleeves of work.  First I un-picked one to re-do in dark thread.  I liked it far better and nearly finished the entire garment with it, but L suggested combining both light and dark.  I went with that and am mostly pleased.  I like it, but I also have the original vision in my mind too and would have like it.  Even the decision of where to use which thread on each seam caused some angst over the different directions of look to go with, but I am not unhappy with the choices.  Finally the dress was all done!

 

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I have already cut out some more double and single layer dresses.  The simple single layer one is half complete despite only a few minutes of work, but I’ve discovered that it is more pleasant to hand stitch when using two layers.  Interesting.  Perhaps it is only the particular fabric, but the needly just doesn’t find its way through without a lot of effort.  The plan is to make a decent number of simple shifts and a few fancy ones in a size the might work as a dress and tunic for a while.  I have also drafted a pixie hat pattern besides the pants and bolero, and before the hand-stitching craze hit I’d made a few similarly flexible patterns for woven fabrics that I’ll write about next.

 

 

 

Stencilling a Subfloor: a budget friendly makeover

Ah, this was a project I planned to tackle before we even moved into our house just over two years ago.  How time flies!

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Perhaps you’ve already read about my first stencilling project?  Well, I knew that the solution to the stained (and in my opinion very unappealing) master suite carpeting was to rip it out and stencil just like I’d done to the apartment kitchen.  I even decided to stick with the same colours  and pattern!  According to the mix information I purchased the paint for this before we even moved… and here I am finally done with it.

I began tearing up the carpet on Monday the 13th thinking that with luck I could be done for the weekend.  Ha!  I just completed it on Thursday and only did so by opting not to clear coat.  (I’d wanted to do everything properly and thus apply several coats and let it dry for days as directed, but that meant not stepping into the room until next week, doing things in stages thanks to furniture issues, plus a lot of work… nah.  It’s good.)

Here is a before picture showing the carpeting.  It seems I did not take many photos of the room before we moved in, and you do not see the brown mystery stains here.  Any shades of tan, beige, and brown have never been my thing, and by the time I finally began tearing it out the carpet had additional pulls and damage.  It was beyond time to go.

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It was easiest to start inside the closets, and oh look!  A mystery stain!

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The padding underneath was actually really nice, but it had to go since I wasn’t about to put in another dust collecting carpet.  Annoyingly, previous workers had been rather careless with spackle and paint which left the floor a bit lumpy.  I didn’t want to try sanding anything though, because with the plywood it seemed weird to.

This was a lot of work, and I didn’t quite finish removing the carpet on day one.  I’d begun thinking it was perfect timing to bring the trash out for collection the next morning, and it ended up being 12 contractor bags full at the kerb not counting what was still on the floor when I quit for the evening.  At this point I may have been having a second thought or two.  The were about two million staples to find and pull up!

Last time when I stencilled the apartment kitchen floor I neglected to prime first.  That was not to be skipped now!  When I was nearly done brushing it on I noticed that the can said it wasn’t meant to be used on flooring.  Oops.  Perhaps it would have been better to stick with only the floor paint after all and no primer?

It looked a lot cleaner after priming anyway.  The next day I brushed on a few coats of the base colour.  In the apartment I’d regretted having the edges dark since it showed dust bunnies too well, but I ended up doing the same thing here with the navy blue exposed at the edges.  Actually, I was very close to switching to the grey except that I’d already completed the cutting in and taping for the navy.  In the end I suppose it works out better in this case to have the darker one at the edges to disappear better under the heaters and disguise imperfections?

I filled in most gaps which included rough cuts around doors and a lot of gaps in the landing area.  I’m unsure why they never installed any trim there and had to add some myself.  I really don’t like quarter round and always opt for cove moulding instead.  Rather than wood I used the foam stuff thinking it would curve with the “tower” wall, but the piece I had ended up snapping around a nail, so I filled the wide gap instead.  Eh, it works?

Previously I had made a painted border, and I wanted to again, because I think it looks more complete with one, but I was intimidated by the idea of taping a curve.  Whether this room would end up with a border or not was up in the air until I actually attempted to tape.  It wasn’t bad at all with just a bit of care and finessing.  I was rather proud of myself!  😀

The navy had an entire holiday weekend to cure before taping and stencilling.  I only eyeballed the distance from walls and tried to account for projecting bits of trim to balance with the baseboard heating units.  No portion is perfect, but I am entirely pleased with the results.

It was at this point that I considered switching to grey for the outside border, but I’d not trimmed the tape or planned for that.  The navy matches very well with the bits of carpet on the stairs too, and that helped me decide to keep it as the main colour.  So, another line of tape was added within the perimeter of this.  Just look at this!  So proud!  😀

Before quitting for the day I wanted to complete the border by brushing on the navy to seal the edges and then two coats of the grey.  I peeled up the inner tape before anything dried too much in hopes that it wouldn’t lift any layers that weren’t supposed to.  Success.

In the kitchen I’d measured and begun the pattern symmetrically, because the room was narrow.  Here I decided that the most important focal point was the space between the entry door as one walks up to the landing, so I began there.

 

This is how far I made it the first day:

And finally I was done late on day two and just barely with enough paint in the tray for the last bit:

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Working on a much wider room was a challenge, and I had a difficult time keeping the pattern on track.  It isn’t perfect, but I’m still quite pleased with everything.  Here is the tour starting with the landing:

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Standing in the corner is one of the steamer trunks that my paternal great-grandfather used when he left Slovakia in 1900.  Each of my uncles has one or two, I’m told, and my parents had two but kept this “uglier” one in the damp basement (and mum painted the “nice” one, sigh.)  I rescued it a couple of years ago, washing and waxing away rust and mildew and treating the leather, but the bottom (back here) is falling apart.  😦  It is a fairly awkward item to keep around, but I don’t want to lose a rare bit of family history, and so here it lives.

Last fall I scored an older one, with at curved top, free from a neighbour after it didn’t sell at their yard sale and about to be tossed!  It is also in less than excellent condition but has a nice look with neat metal reinforcements at the edges and lovely bare wood. I’m going to let it dry out this summer then preserve it.  I’ll be sure to write about it here.

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For the photos I decided to set up the cradle that I refinished to match the bed (which I also stained and waxed to have a greyed Restoration Hardware look.)

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L and I are much happier now with the room and feel like it finally has our style.  I’m also glad to be rid of the dust-trapping aspect of carpet and look forward to a much easier time when vacuuming.  The only thing that I might do something about are the closet doors and trim colour.  It would be a pain, but it could be worth gel-staining the wood to a darker tone?  I’d really like to paint it but think that would be a shame to do and will not, but a deeper shade could make a big difference.  The trim already looks significantly better here than it used to having been touched up to hide strange fading and wear.  As for the doors, they are loud and feel flimsy.  Depending on measurements I could rig up some Ikea PAX sliding doors or something one day?

Next I’ll have to finish painting the bathroom.  Colour goes a long way, and paint disguised the nasty formica-like vanity, but one day we hope to renovate it.  I’m sure that will be many years from now if ever, but it doesn’t stop me from envisioning marble tile and some sort of wonderful tub.