The All of It


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!

Unraveled . . . in a big way


By the time you read this post, I'll be headed off . . .to a 3-day Alabama Chanin workshop in Florence, Alabama with Vicki.  (Plus a bonus visit to Nashville.  Stay tuned!)

I haven't knit a stitch this week, but I have been stitching.  I've been working hard to try to wrap up an Alabama Chanin project to take with me.


And while it's ALMOST done . . . it's not actually done.  (I still need to sew on the snaps down the front.)  So I'm planning to cram it in my suitcase and maybe work on the finishing touches while I'm down there. 

What is it, you ask?

Why, it's a new pattern from Alabama Chanin . . . the car coat.

I have some bad photos to show you.  Photos I took myself.  In the bathroom.  After the sun went down.  In a black garment.  (Just so you won't have high expectations here.)


I wanted to use a contrast lining - sort of like the one in the pattern link (above).  In fact, I wanted to use JUST that contrast lining - from Alabama Chanin.  Until I found out it sells for $50/yard.  And I needed 3 yards.  So.  No.  I visited my local fabric store instead and found the herringbone knit you see above.  Only $9/yard!  A bit wild - and definitely not of the same quality as AC - but sort of fun.


While the design is a basic boxy jacket (with intense bat wing action), the actual sewing was a bit more demanding than other AC things I've made.  Partly because there is a collar and a facing, which just ramps everything up a notch -- but also because the sewing instructions are a bit . . . vague.  (Let's just say it's a good thing I've done a lot of collars and facings before.)

For this project, I did some of the stitching (seams; hem) by machine, and did the topstitching by hand. 


The verdict is . . . I like it!  I'm planning to pack it - along with the snaps and my sewing supplies - to finish it up in Alabama.  Maybe I'll even talk Vicki into helping me take better photos (that don't have my toilet in the background) (just sayin').

As for reading?  Who's got time for reading!?? 


Today's post is part of Unraveled Wednesdays.  To read more Unraveled posts, hop over to Kat's!




Plain Vanilla

For a couple of years now, I have wanted to make an Alabama Chanin dress.  Because what hooked me on Alabama Chanin in the first place . . . many years ago . . . was a dress.

Seriously.  That first Alabama Chanin dress was kind of life-changing for me.  I'd never seen anything like it!  It was hand-stitched and stenciled and had some beads.  Threads were knotted on the outside!  It was artsy and craftsy -- but altogether wearable.

I was smitten.

So, after tackling a couple of smaller Alabama Chanin projects (a shawl, a simple t-shirt, a more complicated wrap skirt), I decided I was ready to try a dress.

Pattern and fabric in hand, all that was left . . . was deciding what to do with it.  (Because SO MANY options with Alabama Chanin.  The sky is the limit.)

Single layer or double?

For months, I just mulled over options.  Constantly.  I would decide to do things one way . . . and the next day, decide something different.  I read.  I browsed.  I drew.  I bought a stencil.  And an assortment of beads.  I Pinterested the HECK out of it.  I made myself crazy.


In the end.

I went with Plain. Vanilla.


That's the Alabama Chanin Factory Dress in one layer.  Totally hand stitched.  No embellishment whatsoever.


I love it!  It fits well.  It's super comfortable and easy to wear.

I'm already mulling over my options for another one.


The options are head-spinning!

Unraveled . . . Tales of Stitching and Reading

These days, most of my "creative time" is spent out in the garden (and my fingernails really show it . . .), but I still try to find time to stitch every day.

IMG_6886 2

No unraveling this week.  (At least, not of the knitting or stitching variety.  In the garden, though?  I have a MAJOR unraveling going on, but I'll save that for another blog post.)  

The Colorwash Scarf continues to be a joy to knit, and it's growing quickly.  I'm hoping to be finished before Kirsten Kapur releases the first clue (June 15) for this year's Through the Loops Mystery Shawl -- but I'll have to knit quickly.  Because . . . 

See that sort of mustard-y green pile of fabric underneath?  Well.  That's my basic Alabama Chanin Factory Dress . . . and it's hogging most of my stitching time these days.

As for reading, in the ears I've got David Sedaris' newest book, Theft by Finding (audiobook-read-by-the-author, if you're following along with Summer Book Bingo).  In print, I'm reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (biography).  Earlier this week I finished The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (borrowed).  

How about YOU?  What are you reading and unraveling this week?


Today's post is part of Kat's Unraveled group.  Click here to see more posts about stitching and reading.


One Stitch at a Time

I finished something a few days ago.


It's an Alabama Chanin wrap skirt.  

And I love it!


I learned to hand sew when I was a very little girl.  My Great Grandmother Strom taught me when I was 5.  Simple, running stitches first.  And then backstitches.  I stitched all the time -- I was intrigued with how stitches could hold fabric together.  Plus, I was always big on "making stuff."

Mostly, as a child, I made clothes and accessories for my dolls out of scraps of fabric and old socks.  But, sometimes, I even hand-stitched items for myself.  (Although I must admit, the oil cloth "boots" didn't perform quite as anticipated. . . )  I didn't touch a sewing machine until 6th grade, so was quite practiced in sewing things together by hand.

When I first laid eyes on Alabama Chanin items (back when I discovered the very first - then the only! - book during a bookstore-browse), I was entranced.  But totally intimidated.  Looking back, I'm not quite sure why . . . exactly.  I mean, first I had all that childhood experience with needle and thread, followed by decades of sewing clothes for myself and my kids on a sewing machine.  I'm very comfortable putting garments together.  

It was the "stitched by hand" part that freaked me out.  Because . . . all that time.  So many stitches.  It would take forever!  And . . . would it hold together???

I bought my first Alabama Chanin kit years and years ago -- and then I just . . . got it out and looked at it once in a while.  For two years!

When I finally admitted my hesitation to Vicki, she kindly pointed out that we knit sweaters "one stitch at a time" . . . so why NOT sew a shirt or a skirt the same way.  Her gentle encouragement spurred me on!  Her words clicked.  I dug in.  (First making this, and then this . . . before tackling the wrap skirt.)


It takes a long, long time to first embellish, and then stitch together, an Alabama Chanin garment.  The wrap skirt I made had some futzy finishing!  There are darts and facings and a waistband and ties.  All sewn by hand.

But so very worth the effort!


I really love it! 

I'm so glad I got over the intimidation thing . . . and just went back to the basic running stitch my Great Grandmother taught me all those years ago!  

I'll be stitching more -- but don't be looking for any oil cloth boots, like . . . ever.

Stitching the Afternoon Away

When we were up north last week, I brought along a lot of books, my knitting, and my Alabama Chanin t-shirt.

IMG_7898 (1)

Mid-week, the weather took a rather nasty turn with thunderstorms and a severe temperature plunge.  Once the rain stopped, I bundled up in my hooded sweatshirt and a blanket and spent the afternoon out on our deck . . . stitching.

IMG_7898 (1)

I had completed all the appliqué and cutting (this is reverse negative appliqué, in case you're interested in Alabama Chanin technique) on the front of the shirt before heading up,

IMG_7898 (1)

 so all I needed to do was stitch the entire t-shirt together.

IMG_7898 (1)

My new Wonder Clips really are a wonder!  They work like a charm -- so much better than pins on stretchy jersey fabric.

IMG_7898 (1)

By the end of the afternoon . . . my t-shirt was whole!

IMG_7898 (1)

And ready to wear!

IMG_7898 (1)

I'm completely addicted.  (And . . . the sun came out again just as I finished up!  Bonus!)

Right Now . . . June 2014

June . . . 

What a busy, bursting-at-the-seams, blooming month!


What's happening in my world . . . RIGHT NOW?


Watching . . . Sunsets. (Which seem to be more awesome every night.)  Fireflies.  (Saw my first one of the season just last night.)  Weeds.  (We've had plenty of rain this year, so everything - including the weeds! - are enjoying a bumper crop.)

Reading . . . All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  I'm nearly half-way in, and let me tell you -- this book is totally living up to its hype!  I'm still re-reading Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin (the book I first loved and read in 1983), and finding ... it's as good as I remember!


(I realize this shot is completely . . . unappealling.  The color is so much more awesome in real life.  Plus . . . mystery.  So you'll have to wait to see it in all its glory.)

Knitting . . . Lately, it's been All-Mystery-Shawl-All-the-Time around here!  So far, I'm keeping up with the clues (last one out this weekend!) and really loving the design.  There's something magical to me about knitting lace in the summer -- so this lace-y mystery is really fitting my life right now.  That said, I'm ready to embark on something a little less brain-taxing.  I have this in mind.  And . . . I may finally cast on for one of these.

Listening to . . . Dar Williams.


Dreading . . . Dealing with the ugly string algae in my little garden ponds.  (I'll spare you a photo.  Just picture . . . ugh.)  (Also -- last month I showed you a photo of my shattered iPhone screen.  The fix was super-easy!  I had the screen replaced.  It looks like a brand new phone.  And now, my phone is safely ensconced in an OtterBox.)

Planning . . . What to take with me on my vacation up north.  (Which begins TODAY!)  (Knitting and reading materials being vital for a quiet week away!) 

Humming . . . When I got my new car last month, it came with 3 free months of satellite radio.  It didn't take me 30 seconds to locate the Pearl Jam station.  This song has been stuck in my head for a couple of days now. . .


Wondering . . . How people can manage knitting rather complicated lace from just the written directions?  I am in awe!  I have always knit lace from a chart - which seems super intuitive to me.  But I know that there are lots of knitters who prefer knitting from written directions.  

Drinking . . . Peachy Canyon Zinfandel (my current favorite).

Itching to . . . Sort out some things that are bugging me and get some perspective.  (I think a week up north ought to help with that.)

Needing to . . . Tackle the weeds that are EVERYwhere in my garden this year -- and especially in my herb garden.  Lots of rain = lush plantings + WEEDS!

Organizing . . .  Garden stuff.  Now that the biggest rush of planting is (for the most part) finished, I can take some time and organize my potting bench and gardening tools, etc.


Delighted by . . . Playing ball with JoJo.  Because she actually brings the ball back - and gives it to me! - to throw again.  Interactive fun for both of us!  (Jenny, by contrast, is always more of a tug-of-war dog.  I throw the ball; she catches the ball; then we have to tug for it.  Jenny always wins. . .with her jaws-of-steel.)


Inspired by . . . My sewing machine and the Vogue pattern super-sale I ran into at JoAnn Fabrics last week.

Celebrating . . . Vacation.  Starting today!


Pleased with . . . My new patio furniture!

How about YOU?  What's going on for you . . . Right Now?


Where Skies Are Blue

Today's soundtrack. . .


can mean only one thing.


I finished my Alabama Chanin project!


I really did love making this shawl!  It was futzy -- but no more futzy than most knitting projects.  


Vicki encouraged me to plunge on in and Just Try It back when I was hesitating.  

All those stitches, I said.

No big deal, she said.

You knit entire sweaters . . . one stitch at a time, she said.

Huh, I said.

You're right, I said.


And, although I love it . . . and remain completely charmed by the whole Alabama Chanin stitching couture Thing . . . I will say that I am spoiled by the hand-knit shawl!  (The drape and light, comfortable warmth are hard to beat.)  This shawl -- being two layers of high-quality cotton knit fabric -- is rather heavy and has little drape.  It is lovely -- a true work of art! -- but not as wearable as my hand-knit shawls.

It feels rather like . . . it might be more appropriate as . . .

a table runner!


I think I'll keep it slung over a chair.  Where I can admire it every day.


Will I try another Alabama Chanin project?

Oh, yeah!  You bet!

Big wheels keep on turning . . .

Throwback Thursday: The Beginning (or Getting REAL)

Five years ago . . . at the very end of May 2009 . . . I posted my very first blog post.

I was really kind of nervous about it.  I had a hard time explaining why I was even doing it.  And I didn't tell anyone about it, really.  No one I knew in real-time, that is.

Midnight Rider Fini Front

(Me.  May 2009.)

When I was finished with my chemo treatments and was beginning to process what it meant to "be a survivor" I had this incredibly strong desire to . . . become REAL again.  For me, having cancer sort of canceled out my "real life" and gave me this "other life" -- the life of a sick person.  (I had a bit of an identity crisis during chemo.  Who WAS this person who had cancer and was going through chemo?  Because . . . it sure as hell wasn't ME.)

In the months immediately following the end of treatment, I had some reflective work to do . . . to figure out who I was and how I wanted to live the rest of my life -- going forward.  One book was particularly helpful to me -- Picking Up the Pieces:  Moving Forward After Surviving Cancer.  (I still pick it up once in a while.)  Anyway, the book has some wonderful exercises and examples to help lost souls figure out . . . What now?  What next?

Somehow, out of the reading and the reflecting and a whole lot of journaling, I decided that I wanted to have a blog.  I felt a strong pull to tell my story . . . and, in the process, help me become REAL again.

I never dreamed I'd still be blogging 5 years later.  I never thought anyone else would read my blog.  Or make a comment.  Or reach out to me in any way.  (Or, heaven forbid, invite me to meet them!) 

And yet. . .

And yet. . .

Here I am.  Five years later!

Astoundingly . . . celebrating 5 years of blogging.

Please join me here throughout May -- in a month-long 5-year-blog-anniversary celebration!  On Thursdays (starting next week), I'll share a then-and-now 5 year retrospective (a little nod to Throwback Thursdays), and on Fridays, I'll give you a little blog quiz.  Answer the questions, and you'll be entered in my blog-anniversary-contest!  (One winner each week, with one Grand Prize Winner at the end of it all.)

AND . . . because I'm very near that major "comment milestone" of 10,000 comments, there will be a bonus prize for the 10,000th comment!  (This may take awhile; I'm just short of 9,500 now.)

So.  Thanks for visiting.  Thanks for commenting.  Thanks for reaching out.  

But, mostly?  Thanks for making me REAL again!


(But, wait!  There's more!)



(And, more!)

Here is the stubborn photo from yesterday . . .  of my Alabama Chanin progress!




Right Now . . . April 2014

[Edited before posting:  Because of Typepad's continuing frustrating . . . issue. . . I have spent far too long this morning trying to get a great photo of my Alabama Chanin project.  It will not load.  I give up.  Maybe tomorrow.]

April . . . just flew by!  

Although the weather is not reliable quite yet, it is definitely more spring-like.  And I'll take that.  (Even though the early part of spring is always one of the most unattractive times of the year.)


(But at least the snow is finally gone.)

What's happening in my world . . . RIGHT NOW?


Watching . . . A storm rolling in.  Leaves popping out.  Robins making a nest in my pergola.  (It'll be a few weeks before I'll dare get my swing out!)

Reading . . . Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez . . . a re-read of one of my favorites, in memory of one of my favorite authors.  I'm also reading Bach: Music in Castle of Heaven by John Eliot Gardiner.  (This one will take awhile.  I like having a big ol' biography by my bed to read before I sleep.  Sometimes it takes months to finish, but that's fine with me.)

Knitting . . . Not much, actually.  Not much at all, in fact!  Instead, I've become totally immersed in hand stitching -- and obsessed with my Alabama Chanin project.  (Addicting, I tell you.  Totally addicting.)  I do have one knintting project on the needles:  Another folded poncho!  This one for summer, in Hempathy.  (My goal is to bring this to Italy when I leave at the end of August.  Any bets?)


Listening to . . . Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.  (Inspired by my reading, of course.  Plus one of my favorite pieces of classical music.)

Dreading . . . Yet another dinner of baked spaghetti!  It's very good and all, but one pan lasts for days (and days!) when Tom is not around to share.

Planning . . . Where to plant 2 new trees I just bought!  A Satomi Chinese Dogwood and a Hearts of Gold Red Bud.

Humming . . . ALL of the songs from Grease.  I blame an old friend who posted something on Facebook yesterday that seems to have triggered the onslaught.  (I'll spare you.)

Wondering . . . Where all these ants coming from?  Right here!  In my kitchen!


Drinking . . . A lot of water!  (Trying to up my daily intake.)

Itching to . . . Plant my herb garden.  But it's still too early.

Needing to . . . Finish cleaning up my garden beds.

Organizing . . . Inspired by my newly-organized closet, I'm ready to tackle my jewelry box next.  

Delighted by . . . The whole Alabama Chanin thing.  I'm completely charmed.  (Can you tell?)


Inspired by . . . My closet re-fresh.  Enough so, that I'm ready to tackle every corner of my life in an effort to further pare down and minimize.

Celebrating . . . So. Many. Things.  Tom's imminent return (from weeks in Mumbai).  Brian's graduation.  My dad's birthday.  And a special visit -- from someone all of you know!!!

Pleased with . . . Myself!  For sticking with my running -- something I NEVER dreamed I would do.  (I'm now up to a regular 4+ mile course -- hills and all!)

How about YOU?  What's going on for you . . . Right Now?