Thursday, March 1, 2012

breath of fresh air: alabama chanin corset top

here it is! So, we had a snow-week back in January. Or rather, we had half a snow-week, following on the heels of a Monday holiday and a Tuesday where I did not have to go in. It was like a mini-Christmas break. I was, in fact, overjoyed. I'd spent my winter break editing and organizing and emailing and freaking out with nerves before reading at the MLA ... yeah, not so much fun. I didn't paint, I didn't do any of the things I normally do that feed the other parts of my self.

So I enjoyed the heck out of the snow week. Cass took two days off work and we played like kids. We went sledding - my first time ever, if you can believe it! - down some of the steep hills over Lake City Way in Seattle. We made Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes and ate them after every snowy outing for several days, enough that I finally started getting sick on them (in my book, that means you've just had the right amount). I made gingerbread scones studded with chunks of apple for breakfast with lattes or afternoon cups of tea. We made big pots of tea. We made snow angels. We soaked in the hot tub under falling snow (the best!).

When Cass went back to work, I put my favorite Christmas carols on (so as not to drive him crazy) and I started this project. I've wanted one of these Alabama Chanin since I was in high school, although back then it was Project Alabama that made them. A few details, in case you are curious, Project Alabama (you can find their pieces at some anthropologie stores from time to time now) has abandoned Natalie Chanin's founding values and relocated operations to China. Since then, Chanin founded Alabama Chanin which continues to operate here in the US, where they keep American stitching/embroidery/quilting traditions alive, pay a decent wage to women who are needed at home - often to help raise grandchildren in an intergenerational living situation, use organic cotton jersey dyed with natural dyes and strive for zero waste in their business.

In short, Natalie Chanin is one of my heroines. I have great admiration for her ethics, and for her aesthetic vision - they really do create beautiful garments. However, as these garments are one-of-a-kind AND sewn entirely by hand, I've never been able to afford one of these tops. Imagine how excited I was, then, when Chanin started putting out craft books with PATTERNS for her clothes in the last few years. I own all three. I'd been intimidated about the time involvement, but with a week of falling snow outside my window, I was happily bundled on the couch and well stocked with cocoa and movies, sewing away. It came together remarkably fast, really - even with all those eyelets, which did take more time to sew than anything else on this top.

I made a medium, but used the length from the size XL to make sure the piece was long enough for tall me. The medium's a little bit too big, but I like that it doesn't squeeze my hips. I think I'll use the size small for the tank dress, which is the next piece I intend to make from Chanin's new book, Studio Sewing and Design. I'll use my burgundy merino jersey for the outer layer and grey rayon jersey for the inner. Cozy and warm - it'll be a beautiful winter dress.

I'll probably start this in May or June; I want to be able to take the panels with me when we go to Paris (I'm giving a paper at a conference at the Sorbonne in July - isn't that crazy??), because I love embroidering on planes. Handicraft is such a fascinating way to meet people, especially (I've found) from other countries. I have had the nicest conversations over the years (and over an embroidery project) with a Korean woman in Santa Barbara who sat and had coffee with me one summer morning while I embroidered a linen skirt for Midsommar, with a German lacemaker at our local coffeeshop, with the stewardesses of Iceland Air who cheered me on as I stayed up through an entire transatlantic flight embroidering my friend's wedding veil (it was a photo finish, that project - I was working until 10:30pm the night before the wedding!). There's just something about it, it draws people in.

And apparently it draws me in, too. Hello? Still there? Bored to tears yet? Okay, back to (real) work, then. I'm almost done with that scarf (the tapestry-weave in undulating twill); I should have that to post soon. And then, I think, on to some machine sewing for a change. It's snowing here but I have the spring fashion bug - and a new/old Anna Sui blouse pattern that I think is just the ticket for some springy pastel-striped silk I've had in my stash for years.

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