Thursday, December 5, 2013

Experiments in Alabama Chanin

There has been progress; I've been mucking about with Alabama Chanin stooff, partially making a little fitted tank top to test for size and to allow me to get a feel for the techniques.  It's only half finished, and I've set it aside now to concentrate on my second and "real" Alabama Chanin project  :)
I have outlined some of my thoughts in the hope that they may be useful to others starting out with Alabama Chanin too.  Particularly for Australians: the thing is; the AC book is not written with us in mind; which is fair enough of course but we can't always get hold of the listed materials here.  I am trying to use only materials that are readily available here in Australia.
Fabrica couple of the boys' old Tshirts from the toss-out bag.  I harvested the fabric for the neck and armhole bands from the sleeves.

yes, the same fabric as above, and no the colour is not off.   it got dyed after this photo was taken

Thread: button craft thread is specified.  This is more correctly known as button and craft thread, and Natalie Chanin describes it as “one of the strongest threads (the Alabama Chanin team has) found”.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything of this name in Perth so I'm using Gutermann’s upholstery thread from Spotlight.  It is the strongest in the Gutermann range and is typically available in about a dozen shades.
all-purpose thread at top, the upholstery thread below
I traced the full front and back pieces of the Short/Long fitted dress, fitted top and fitted tunic pattern as one piece each and will just folded back the excess portions when tracing each thing.  I'm generally a bit of a slacker when it comes to checking for fit but since there is a heckuva lot of hand-stitching in these garments, I think a careful check for fit is pretty important! And I am sooo glad I did since I found it necessary to make a substantial sway-back adjustment. 
Stitching: So, to machine stitch or hand-stitch?  I totally cheated and stay-stitched and basted by machine!  I’m undecided about whether or not I will hand-stitch all the seams in my final garment… part of me thinks it would be better to save that effort for the decorative stitching on the motifs.  In some cases I allowed the knots to fall on the outside or right side, a sometimes feature of AC work.  I decided this is not a finish that appeals to me, so I will probably be concealing them on the inside from now on.
The stencil; I bought the plastic sheet for the stencil from Jacksons Drawing Supplies and enlarged the Anna’s Garden stencil from my copy of the AC book.  The whole process is very time-consuming, so the design should be one you're absolutely sure that you will like.  I totally wanted to design my own stencil but decided to play it safe with one that I know from looking at the beautiful projects in the book looks really amazing.  Using a proven design is good practice for getting a feel for how proportions and size of the motifs work for the embroidery and appliqué techniques.  I think once I have a few projects under my belt then I might branch out and try my own ideas.
Printing: y'know, I've got a feeling this is going to be the most difficult part to get right out of the whole exercise...!  I haven't found any sprayable textile paints as recommended, so I experimented with a watered down solution of the Permaset textile paint from Jacksons Drawing Supplies, that I use for screen-printing, mixed in a regular spray bottle.  Results: disastrous! It bled underneath the stencil and the edges were unclear and blurry.  NO pictures because it looked so awful  :(
Attempt number two;  tried stippling undiluted textile paint with a stiff and bristly paintbrush.  This is effective, but took forever!  This may be worth it for small areas of stenciling, and when I want to use just a small amount of the textile paint.
Permaset textile paint, stippled on with a dry brush
Permaset textile paint (Jackson's Drawing Supplies), sample pot of Dulux household acrylic paint (Bunnings)
Attempt number 3; since textile paints are actually quite expensive, and since for some techniques the painted sections are just cut away and discarded anyway, I tried using a cheaper paint.  I bought a sample pot of Dulux acrylic household paint and a small foam roller from Bunnings.  This worked beautifully!  Because this is just an experiment I applied it lightly and roughly here, without giving too much attention to getting perfect coverage but it would be pretty easy to get completely even coverage using the roller, if you were aiming to keep the painted sections partially intact in the final design.
Obviously, household paint is only a good choice if the motifs in the final design are going to be completely cut away because it is stiff and inflexible and not comfortable to wear.  In the case that motifs are to be left partially or completely intact then proper textile paints would be necessary.
the Dulux acrylic paint, rollered onto my "real" project  :)
Something I noticed when comparing my sample with the ones in the book: my stitches are teeny tiny compared to theirs!  Hmmm, might have something to do with why this has taken me sooooo long!  but very small stitches have always been my thing.  In my "real" project I am making an effort to do larger stitches... the project will go along a lot faster and will look more "Alabama Chanin-y" although that's not so important to me as authenticity to my own personal style.  
...the size of those stitches!!!!
I didn't get very far along with this little sample top, but I do quite like it and may actually finish it...  one of these days... once I've finished my swap items, that is :)

39 comments:

  1. Hi carolyn, I am having trouble posting comments here. Hope this goes through. This looks fantastic so far!

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  2. Hi Carolyn, it is nice to see all your experiments and I'm sure your garment will turn out fabulous! I also can't get hold of the button and craft thread and like you decided to go for the Gutermann upholstery thread and that worked absolutely fine. I water down the textile paint a little bit and apply it with a sponge. That works pretty good, but like you said it takes forever. I took Natalie Chanin's Craftsy class and there she mentioned that it is important to not make your stitches too tiny. They should at least be 1/8'' (3mm) and also start (and stay) at least that much away from the edge of the fabric. If you use very small stitches, apparently the seams can fall apart more easily. I should really start another of these projects, I found it so relaxing to work on a handstitching project.

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  3. I came to the same conclusion as you when making an AC top - I wanted to save my hand-stitching for decoration! And I fully support you in using some of your own stencil designs in future projects. I think that would be stunning based on what I've seen of your screen print pieces.

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  4. I love what you have done so far! I went through the Alabama Chanin online store looking for details about the materials they use. By matching up colors and numbers, I determined that the thread is Dual Duty Plus Button and Craft or Button and Carpet thread. I suspect it is available in Australia. They use 9 colors, and I found all but maroon on eBay. I don't recall whether it was in the book or on the website, but they recommend permanent textile markers, among other paints, which might be easier to use simply as an outline, when one plans to cut out most of the painted area for the reverse applique. I made a toile of the corset from the first book, and was glad I did. The pattern piece for the center front is at least 4" too short to match up with the other pieces. I stitched it on the machine, as you did, and decided that I will do so in the future. One can get the look by hand stitching down the seam allowances and applique. It will save a lot of time, and probably be sturdier. I am eager to see your completed project.

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  5. Thank you for posting about your experiments and trials. I have two of the books and intended to make something but have been too scared to make the stencils, let along try anything else.

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  6. Natalie Chanins work is amazing and I also have had a bit of a fiddle around with a sample piece. Could find button and craft thread anywhere in Sydney although I looked pretty hard. I went to pretty well every craft/sewing/quilting shop I could find but no one had even heard of what I was talking about. Like you I decided that it would be the thickest guterman thread I could find. I wondered about embroidery floss as well. It looks ok but probably not as authentically Chanin style. I wouldn't use it for sewing seams though. I used my machine for that. Why do I feel that's cheating? Ridiculous:)

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    1. They do use embroidery floss at Alabama Chanin for the backstitch embroidery. For the construction of garments you really should use sturdy thread though.

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    2. Rebecca, I know exactly what you mean, why DO we feel guilty using the machine? We shouldn't be so hard on ourselves!

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  7. I have all their books and love them. I made my own stencils and use them on lots of different projects. I either paint them with acrylic paint, which I actually think looks good with a little fading after washing, or I just trace them with markers or fabric pencils. I usually trace them if I'm cutting away the design or covering it completely with embroidery.

    About the outside knots and hanging thread that they call fringe: I think it would only look good with embroidery thread and not the thick thread that you use for hand finished seams. The brand of button thread I have is called Coats. It says duel duty button and carpet thread so I would think upholstery thread would be just as strong. I seem to have missed the part about making larger stiches to make the seams last longer. My stiches are tiny too. If I ever do a complete project from one of the books, rather than borrowing pieces here and there, I'll see if that works out.

    Always remember to have fun :)

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  8. An interesting technique. Looking forward to further developments. Jo x

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  9. Interesting... I really like the look of her finished projects so I'm excited to read your notes!

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  10. I wrote a message earlier and apparently it disappeared. How annoying.

    Did you know there is a product that you can add to good old regular acrylic paint to make it more compatible with fabric? Here is one link to an Australian supplier.
    http://www.artstoreonline.com.au/mediums/acrylic-painting-mediums/jo-sonja-painting-mediums/jo-sonja-250ml-textile-medium/prod_13566.html

    There are lots of sources for it though, and you may be able to find another source. If I can find it in my dinky little city, I am sure you will be able to find some in Perth.

    I am trying really hard to resist the allure of Alabama Chanin, but there are so many great garments showing up in blogland. Including your experiements.

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    1. thanks ElleC! we do get Jo Sonja paints here, so I shall check them out for that textile medium... thanks for the tip :)

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  11. This is really interesting as I've much admired the Alabama Chanin projects I've seen and wondered about the process. It's hard reading US blogs saying breezily 'I just got all the supplies from Joanns' AND usually super cheap while we wonder where on earth we'd find something similar over here. Thanks for paving the Chanin way for the Aussies!

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  12. I have used other brands of thread for the stitching with good durable results - upholstery thread, or heavy topstitching thread. On my own clothing I mostly use the hand stitching for the reverse applique, and for the edge bindings, and sew the actual garment seams by machine...

    Since you have had such wonderful success with screen printed fabric, I am wondering if you might be able to screen print designs to then stitch and cut away, rather than stenciling? I use textile paint and a sponge, but make certain to not use too much paint, I find that a really thick layer is not necessary, just enough to visibly change the color from the fabric, as most of it will be cut away to about 1/8" or so...

    When I went to see the actual Alabama Chanin garments at a trunk show, I was quite surprised at how large the stitches were, being at least 1/4" long! That encouraged me to make my stitches longer, since her clothing needs to not fall apart given the price range...

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  13. Thanks Carolyn for posting the details on painting and sourcing materials here in Australia, it's very helpful. I immediately ordered the book after seeing it in one of your previous posts !
    Karen

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  14. Your sample looks very interesting and there is so much to learn and decipher when trying to get products in Australia. I can't wait to see what you come up with next!

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  15. I made a skirt and I love it! Cannot wait to see your first project! Fun to see someone else trying it out.

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  16. this is such an interesting fabric treatment, can't wait to see as it progresses!

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  17. You're making good progress. Thanks for sharing what worked and didn't work for you. Do you understand now why I gave up and just free-hand painted my one-off motif?

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  18. No wonder you have been quiet recently - a lot to learn with this technique.

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  19. The Alabama Chanin books are really lovely. I've also been playing with stitch and dye resist (on napkins, before I do something big!) and have discovered I really love this kind of crafting. It's so creative and relaxing, isn't it?

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  20. I've made about a dozen garments from the Alabama Chanin books, and I looooooove them (making and wearing!) Here in New Zealand we face exactly the same supply issue, and I've done pretty much what you have. I use the guterman upholstery thread, and it works perfectly. I've also used top stitching thread and fine crochet cotton but the upholstery thread is my favourite.
    I've made stencils from laminator plastic, I just got the shop staff to run through a piece of A1ish size which works really well as a stencil.
    For paint I use Fastex textile ink. A 375ml bottle costs around NZ$10 and will do several large projects. I apply it by dabbing it on with a large cheap sponge.
    Oh, and I've found the whole process to be completely addictive, just saying ;-)

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  21. hello Carolyn

    ... at the alabama chanin website under shop studio style diy / resources you can download the stencils in their original size (plus for example the corrected pattern for the bucket hat), when you have the possibility to print a larger size it saves you the work to enlarge the ones from the book - and here in europe i have the same problem with all the materials as you have in australia (in a year i still didn't found something like the cotton tape they use for the climbing daisy stencil ) ...

    kind regards, eve

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    1. thanks Eve, although since enlarging the pattern is as simple as entering "306%" on the photocopier, it is the least of our troubles! I loved that cotton tape embroidery too. :)

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  22. I am keen to see the final project. It is nice to see the process and what does and doesn't work.

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  23. I was very interested to read about your experiments with Alabama Chanin techniques. Your descriptions are beautifully detailed and very helpful for someone who might want to start out and is wondering what is involved...I love the look of the pieces but probably have to accept that they are too time consuming for me at the moment. One day! (By the way I totally agree with putting your own stamp on them, stitch wise. Making it your own is the joy of handmade.)

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  24. You are nothing if not dedicated! I think the AC techniques are lovely to view, but I've never imagined myself wearing them. Maybe it's just me, but clothes that look like you 'tried too hard' don't work very well. I'm not sure how one defines 'trying too hard', I just know that simple designs work best for me. I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with after all this, your eye for design is generally excellent, so I'm thinking you will make this work. Interesting that you 'cheated' and machine stitched some of the handwork. I have a theory that most of us are by nature more drawn to handwork or more drawn to machining. I'm definitely a handwork person, but working on my machining skills.

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  25. I confess that I prefer small stich too ... even if it takes longer. BIZ

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  26. Looks like a fun project and I love the overall look.

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  27. So,
    I've done a little trailing through the AC website, and as I understand it you cut bits out of one piece of fabric thing then layer it and stitch it to the other bit of fabric thing and it looks pretty cool...no? Love the effect. I'm kinda tempted to do a dodgy version of my own and see how it turns out...except the only stencil I have is for 4 kangaroos in a row (it's an old Christmas card thing...can't remember if they're wearing santa hats or not).
    Looking forward to seeing the end result, though!

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    1. thanks Liz! and actually you layer, then stitch, and only then cut bits out of the top layer, which is a bit easier I think :)

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  28. I think I must be a bit late jumping on the bandwagon here, but I've just had a look at the Alabama Chanin website to see what all the fuss is about, and have decided that I must have some new books. And many more hours in the day to try all these techniques out!

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  29. Watch out. I saw one New Zealand sewer who became completely obsessed with Alabama chainin. Love your colour combination.

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  30. Oh, gosh, you're doing Alabama Chanin now?? I've been trying to keep away from AC in an attempt to diminish inspiration and increase actual productivity, but if you start making some beautiful AC pieces how will I be able to resist?

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  31. Hi Carloyn,
    I'm in the Scotland (near the other Perth). I used a thread called Duet, it was nice and thick and looked right but the knots slid out and I had to finish each one with a wee blob of nail varnish. I'm sure I'll find the Guttemann thread here. did you have any problems with the knots or did they hold?
    Thank you
    Karin Borland

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    1. I've used a double knot for both stitching and embroidery, no problems whatsoever and they seem to hold up fine, no slipping through at all with either the upholstery thread nor the top-stitching thread. I've not come across Duet, but maybe it's just not thick enough? or maybe your fabric has a loose weave? it could be that you need to make a much bulkier knot like a triple knot, or alternatively; start with a little stitch repeated over itself, like one would use for regular embroidery. Gutermann's is a German brand that is generally sold worldwide, but it's a good idea to experiment with whatever the supplies you can find in your own local stores too; good luck!

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    2. Hello Karin

      ... I once had the "sliding out knot problem" (the knots became undone, they were not sliding through the fabric) with a very shiny thread (coats/nylbond).
      but when the knots were slightly moistened just after i made them the problem was gone. and it seems ok after laundry ...

      eve

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