Thursday, May 13, 2021

Sweet Alabama


Now I get it. I've been to nirvana and back. And I want to go again. 

An Alabama Chanin workshop has been on my imaginary bucket list for quite a long time. An opportunity happened and I jumped on it. Yes, it's expensive. Gulp. And unlike that zip line course I did in Belize with the church youth group, I'm hoping this is not one-and-done.

It starts out so very low key. Look at their store front! I had seen this before when I visited with BSF Ginny but it still is surprising to see how laid back their operation really is, at least on the exterior.

The workshop comprised three days of pampering, surrounded by women who also love hand-sewing and several expert thirty-somethings (our teachers) waiting on us and answering each and every question. And everywhere I looked, I saw more inspiration. Here are some of the garments worn by fellow participants, those who had attended other workshops, or simply ordered kits and made from home.

The Car Jacket, very different in different fabrics, stencils, and threads

The Factory Dress, stitched with silk ribbon

One of the days, Natalie Chanin came in and gave an impromptu talk on her experiences with her business during COVID, as well as some personal revelations she has experienced during this time. 

We had shared work benches with plenty of space for practicing as many techniques as we could squeeze in. There were stacks of 5" sample fabrics to use for practice. We received detailed instruction on each of these. 

The first morning was fast, as we needed to select our workshop projects, included in the price. We had received via email a description of maybe 2 dozen projects to consider well in advance but I had not decided. They started with a trunk show of many of the options (and options within options). Then we were set free to try on sample garments from multiple racks to determine exactly what we wanted. During this time the teachers were assisting us in determining size and finding styles to try. 

I chose the short version of their trench coat, called the pea coat

Many of us wanted adjustments to the styles - different sizes, added sleeves, raised necklines, and so on. All were possible. 

Once we had determined the style of our workshop project, then we needed to choose the fabric colors, one for the outer layer and one for the under layer that is revealed when portions of the outer layer are cut away. As you may know, the fabric is 100% organic cotton grown and manufactured in the US. And before noon that first day, we also had to determine the stencil we wanted to use from at least a dozen or so options. Whew!

When we arrived at our work stations the next morning, we each had a tidy package containing our workshop projects. The package contained each pattern piece cut in each color, carefully labeled (upper sleeve, lower sleeve and so on). The stencils had been applied and some of us were ready to start. Not me.

Because many of the participants had attended previous workshops they jumped in. There were frequent demonstrations by our teachers for newbies as well as those who wanted more instruction. And while we practiced, the sweet teachers floated around offering advice and answering questions. 

And, of course, one day we had a tour of their factory. That's always inspiring. Another time, the expert who makes crocheted snap covers for their clothing demonstrated her technique. It was like magic to watch her work. 


Another day we had a demonstration and presentation from her stencil designer. She showed how she creates the design and takes them through to stenciling on garment pieces. There was a charming one created in collaboration with Rosanne Cash. Cash wrote and produced a song about Alabama Chanin titled The River and The Thread. My new and lovely sewing friend Michelle played it for us as we drove from the workshop to the hotel and to eat dinner. That stencil is not available for home sewers, but you can order the tee shirt!

One of our teachers showing a variation on the basic dress

And meal time was elegant. We were served sit-down breakfasts, lunches and mid-afternoon dessert. Yes, we were totally pampered. 

My chosen project is their Pea Coat, a short version of their Trench Coat. Both the outer and inner fabrics are a dark blue. The stencil is black. I decided I wanted subdued design on this first (!) one. The stitching is high-contrast, so it's not totally knocked back. I think I'm going to love it.

In the meantime, I am totally loving the process of hand-stitching the motifs on each pattern piece. It is a time-consuming process, but I'm enjoying each step. I did not make one stitch on it while I was there and so was anxious to start when I returned home. 

The first step was to carefully baste the two layers of fabric together on each piece in the Pea Coat project. This is necessary so as to avoid any shifting during the process of stitching the motifs. The seam allowances are only 1/4" so there is no margin for being sloppy. And there is no waste. Project packages include a 10x10 square of the two fabrics, one with stenciling, one without, to allow for sampling of techniques. I am grateful for that. I am not being my usual jump-in-and-figure-it-out-later style sewist on this project. I promise.

I returned to earth (home) totally saturated with inspiration and a strong desire to spend every waking minute with needle and thread in hand. It was a time I will remember fondly.

Some of us after dinner at Odette's


  1. What a wonderful treat! I did the Factory tour a couple of years ago and would LOVE to do a workshop...but I've been a 'crank it out and get it done' seamstress since pretty much day one...I dunno if I have the attention span to create a AC garment. But they are so lovely...I may give it a go someday. I very much enjoyed your report! Can't wait to see your finished jacket!

  2. Sounds like a marvellous course. I know I would not have the patience to do it and certainly not in the darker colour spectrum. I really look forward to seeing your finished pea jacket, it know it will be wonderful.

  3. I've kind of blown off this whole style . . . until seeing what you've posted. WOW. No wonder you are enchanted. Can't wait to see your completed garment.

  4. Oh my. A teeny bit jealous (ok, maybe more than a teeny bit). I've been on the tour ... maybe one day soon? Thanks for the little push! Can't wait to see what you're making!

  5. I have been an admirer of Alabama Chanin for a while and took a quick course on it when Linda Lee taught it at Sewing Expo. But have yet to make a garment in the style. Your jacket is going to be beautiful. I can't wait to see it finished. Jean

  6. So amazing!
    can't wait to see you project when you finish.

  7. Sounds like a wonderful workshop. A perfect project to work on at night.

  8. O, goodness.... how very inspiring! I have to revise my bucket list! Very nice and thank you for sharing.