You may have seen the two sewing books out by founder Natalie Chanin: Alabama Stitch Book and Alabama Studio Style. I looked at the latter briefly when it first came out and mistakenly assumed that it wasn't my aesthetic. But then I saw a dress by this designer on display in the FIT Eco-Fashion exhibit and it was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. I also had the good fortune to meet a woman wearing a beautiful skirt that was handmade using the techniques found in Chanin's books. I was fascinated to learn that the method espoused by the books - and the line - is one of pure hand sewing. A machine never comes into the picture. The pieces in the line are created by artisan stitchers in Florence, Alabama. (The garments are fantastically expensive, as you can imagine.) But the real draw is the gorgeous embellishments.
I marched myself right back to the bookstore yesterday to pick up Alabama Stitch Book, and reading about the method is truly fascinating for sewing geeks and couture enthusiasts alike. (Plus, it'll make you itch to sit down with some intricate hand stitching!) The pieces are achieved by taking regular cotton jersey (sometimes sourced from old t-shirts), creating a deconstructed couture look with handstitched - often exposed - seams, and embellishing with intricate skill: stencils and fabric paint create the designs, and then the amazing handwork is created by applique, decorative stitches, and beading. The use of jersey, which doesn't ravel, is pretty brilliant: the applique edges can be raw, rather than that fussy look you can get with applique edges that have to be turned-under or stitched with a heavy satin machine stitch.
I'm not interested in copying these pieces exactly (though, if you are, the books are an awesome help for that). My question is: how can I tailor these embellishment and couture stitching techniques to my vintage aesthetic?
It's not quite such a stretch to imagine these techniques on 50s styles. After all, applique and beading was rampant during that decade. Can't you see these styles done Alabama style?
The real question is how to use the Chanin method, but achieve a more constructed look (rather than deconstructed) while still maintaining the simple, modern elegance of the embellishment?
I would love to try these embellishment techniques on a basic 50s-style dress like my swirly red one. The dress could be structured as usual (no exposed seams or unfinished hems for me). But I would use a stable knit like a doubleknit or a wool jersey for fall - this would allow the applique pieces to be unfinished, as on Chanin's creations. But it would be interesting to still structure the piece with facings, silk organza underlining, and horsehair braid on the hem to give it that 50s couture look I love. But then I would try a mixture of applique, reverse applique, and beading (and maybe sequins!) on the skirt border: with a vintage-inspired pattern like the roses on this lovely tablecloth.
What do you think? How would you adapt the Alabama Chanin style to suit your own?