I'll just begin by saying Alabama Chanin is a magical place.
It's not just being surrounded by the sample garments everywhere (seriously . . . it was like my Pinterest board had come to life right in front of me). It's not just the bins of fabric scraps in every corner. It's not just the perfectly designed work spaces or the charming quilts on the walls or the chairs (oh, the chairs. . . ) or the button jars.
It's really kind of . . . the All of It.
Even time moves differently there. Speeded up in a sort of fiber-y warp speed thing. (I know that sounds kind of crazy, but every day we were shocked by how quickly time passed.)
The 3-day workshop was perfectly paced. There were classes on technique and construction and embroidery, mixed in with open studio time and one-on-one instruction, mixed in with a behind-the-scenes tour of The Factory, and - of course - a chance to meet Natalie Chanin and hear her speak about the history of the company and her own path.
The first day, we had several hours to make our decision about what we wanted to make as part of the workshop. (An Alabama Chanin School of Making kit of our choice was included in the price of admission.) When I first saw the hours attributed to this particular task on our schedule, I kind of rolled my eyes.
Because how hard would THAT be?
I mean . . . I've ordered kits online before. I am already very familiar with the various styles of kits available. I traveled to Alabama with something already in mind.
Let me just say . . . HA!
I ended up needing Every. Single. Moment. of the allotted time to make my choice! Turns out . . . that having access to all the sample garments to try on . . . and color swatches to play with . . . and stencil swatches to pore over . . . and embellishment and embroidery options to consider . . . just complicate the process. So. Many. Decisions.
In the end, I chose to make the wrap dress. In black with a grape under-layer. With the Magdalena stencil. With some beading.
But don't be looking for a progress shot quite yet. Because I didn't even begin to work on it. Instead, I worked with a sample swatch to try out different stitching, beading, and appliqué techniques that I might want to use (kind of like a knitting swatch). With a project as big and involved as this wrap dress will be, I want to make some decisions before I even get started. And that sample swatch was the perfect thing!
Another really great thing about the workshop is that the instructors tailored their teaching to the things we wanted to learn, individually. Once I saw the crocheted snap covers that are standard for Alabama Chanin garments, I wanted to learn how to do them for my coat.
My. Are they ever fiddly! (Because tiniest of crochet needles. And thread.)
The first one I tried took about 2 hours. (And lots of swearing, but I was quiet about it.) It turned out quite wonky (because tension was a big issue for me), but it'll work.
The next one only took about 45 minutes (and significantly less swearing) -- and it was much neater. Only 4 snaps to go now. And then I can finish my coat.
Our instructors were wonderful. Patient. Generous. Incredibly skilled. They always showed us the "Alabama Chanin Way" (because they have Standards), but also encouraged us to go our own way and do our own thing when making our garments. I very much appreciated their attitude and relaxed approach to Making.
Making this trip to Alabama turned out even better than I had imagined or hoped! It was such a pleasure to meet the other women in the workshop (and what a varied bunch they were!), to experience Alabama Chanin up-close-and-personal, to meet Natalie Chanin herself, and to just . . . live among those incredible garments for a few days.
It was just . . . inspiring. The All of It!