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Learning to Sew

I spent last weekend in Florence, Alabama (located in the far northwest corner of the state), at a stitching workshop at Alabama Chanin. I’ve followed Natalie Chanin through her blog for many years and have lusted over her hand-sewn, quilted (for lack of better word) clothes, along with admiring her business practices of hiring local artisans in her community. Through the years, I’ve only bought T-shirts and basic clothing items and accessories, as the prices prohibited me from buying much else. A few times a year, Natalie offers weekend workshops at her studio, The Factory, so my friend Suzanne and I traveled to Alabama to spend the weekend sewing with fourteen other women who shared our same admiration.

And, as it turns out, I love to sew by hand! We arrived at The Factory on Friday afternoon. Our first task was to pick out a project to work on for the weekend. We had our choice of a large number of existing patterns for dresses, tops and skirts. Both Suzanne and I chose a dress called ‘The Maggie.’ The next steps were to pick out our  colors, stencil designs, and what technique we would like for our applique. Once complete, our ‘orders’ were whisked away for Natalie’s staff to prepare. Then, sitting outside with glass of wine in hand, we practiced by stitching a bandana while chatting with our fellow campers. It was a lovely sewing circle and a good warm up for the dress, a warm up for which I was thankful.

We arrived the next morning to our fabrics already cut and stenciled (yay!), all we had to do was sew. And sew a lot. Natalie had warned me that no one ever finishes their project in a weekend. I made a really ambitious choice with a complicated stencil, which was only confirmed once I started to work on my dress. I went through one spool of thread by the end of Sunday. I was given ten, but I definitely don’t feel one tenth of the way done. My goal is to finish the dress within a year, meaning a lot of nights home with needle and thread.

The Alabama Chanin clothing line is very approachable. By that, I mean that I want to touch all of the garments and understand how they’re made, and there doesn’t seem to be the fear of damaging them or getting them dirty by touch, like there might be with other couture lines. It is an elegance much different from, say, Dior or Valentino. I am absolutely in love with the style, and, because of the workshop, I have a new appreciation of how clothing is made and by whom. I already sense that the weekend has influenced my own style - not that I’ll be sporting solely Alabama Chanin - but I will certainly be more aware of my clothing purchases, from both craft and economic points of view.

And one day I’ll have a new dress.

Detail of my dress.

Natalie Chanin was featured in an Etsy video, which can be found here.


Reader Comments (1)


I love the workshop you took and the wonderful accounting of it. I had never heard of Alabama Chenin. I went to the website and I was just amazed at the incredible handwork that goes into each of her garments. I can see why you only used one spool of thread!!! There is a one day workshop in September in Hudson NY and I'm going to see if I can get a few fellow sewers to join me and maybe take the class. If not, there's always her DIY projects. Maybe a bandana to start! Thank you for sharing, your post has opened a whole new world of sewing to me. Now the tough questions--whether to knit or sew!


May 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFrancesca

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