Friday, January 7, 2011

Something Completely Different

Not a lot of sewing this week. The dress is basically done except for some handwork, but I'm going to leave off posting about it until after the wedding. If Mario can't see it yet, no one else should; it's only fair.

I didn't sew for 2 nights because I couldn't decide what to make, and then when I did finally pick a project, my stash ate the fabric I wanted to use. Isn't that the worst, though, when you have the will to sew and you can't decide what to sew?

Yesterday some inspiration arrived in the mail. When at the bookstore last week, I flipped through Natalie Chanin's Alabama Studio Style. I already have her first book, and it's a lot like the Mary Adams Party Dress book - not really my style, but the creativity and energy are contagious. Alabama Studio Style's projects and stories are similar to those in the first book, but for some reason they really intrigued me this time. I think things strike us differently at certain times, and maybe this resonated because I had a lot of pent-up sewing energy and no direction.

Chanin works mostly in cotton jersey - tshirt fabric. She started out working with tshirts and has expanded into larger projects that require actual yardage, but it was the projects that involved taking apart and piecing and applique that really attracted me. As I was rummaging in the workroom last night, fruitlessly hunting that elusive fabric, I came across my bag of thrift store donations. (Actually I tipped it over). These are the clothes I'm taking to the store, not all the ones I bring home.

What fell out of the bag was an olive green V-neck tshirt from Old Navy. I liked that shirt. I wore it a lot. And I wore it while painting my hallway last year and didn't notice the smear of terracotta paint on my left side until it was dry. I couldn't clean it, but I didn't get rid of it either. When I saw it on the floor, something in the back of my head said, "You don't have to throw it away, you can cover it. With an applique."


The book was out in the living room, and I decided that rather than attempting to directly copy something I would work with what I felt I remembered. I started digging through my box of knit scraps and I pulled together 3 colors that coordinated with my shirt. I cut circles in random sizes and then cut them into spirals and stretched them out.

I put the shirt on Evelyn and started pinning. I had no set design, I just started by covering the paint smea with a spiral, then working outward so there were no obvious spiral-on-boob issues. I took them over the shoulder and partway down the back. It seemed a little empty in spots, so I cut tiny pieces, like leaves, and pinned them in the gaps.

I stood back and looked at it, and realized that the right looked more than empty, it looked lost. I didn't want to take the entire 3 color design onto both sides, so I cut one larger spiral and pinned it so that it extended over the shoulder and down the sleeve. At that point I decided more might be too much (though I wasn't sure the whole project wasn't too much already). I retreated to the living room to watch TV with a shirt stuck full of pins and 3 spools of thread.

Each applique was whipstitched down in a contrasting color: orange with dark green, tan with brown and green with tan. It should have been annoying, but it ended up being a very pleasant, contemplative way to spend a few hours. I forget how much I enjoy hand sewing, especially when there's no requirement for perfection; if anything, uneven stitching just added to the feel.

By bedtime, I was pretty certain that I was on to something interesting.

I finished it last night and tried it on. The handstitching keeps the appliques stretchy, so the shirt fit just the way it had, and it's certainly wearable again. The colors work with most of my wardrobe, even if the shirt will probably only get worn on weekends, and in nicer weather.

I admit, it was kind of pointless to do all that work on a shirt that was destined for the rag bag, but you know how the sewing gods are - if I'd made a snazzy new tshirt or pulled a good top out of my drawer to try the technique on, it would have been one huge cheeseball mess of cutesy. And I woudl never have thought to try it on a nice shirt - it was the green one falling out of the bag that sparked the whole process anyway.

As it was, this was an interesting project for me - it stretched me to try something different, to do a technique (applique) that I haven't done since grade-school sew-on patches, to save a shirt from the rag bag, and to practice a technique that I can absolutely see myself using later on a more serious project. Not to mention the almost meditative hand sewing time - I really enjoyed that.

Can you see a dress with an almost tone-on-tone floral applique? Or maybe a little black dress with a vivid white flower? Maybe there's a reason for all my remnants after all.

This may just be a really strange progression from my last post where I lusted after Schiaparelli's roses. Things go into the brain on one side, and by the time they make it out again, they aren't recognizable. But wherever this came from, it took me to an interesting place, and one I don't know well. I think I'll visit more often.


Carolyn (Diary of a Sewing Fanatic) said...

What a great save! You've made a really cute top using some scraps that you had on hand...nice, very nice!

Lisette M said...

I think you should visit that place more often. I like the shirt very much and reminds me of the Anthro inspired skirt you made which is gorgeous.

Faye Lewis said...

That is a very nice embellishment technique that you used.

Ann Made Studio said...

What a wonderful save and it sounds like you had a wonderful time creating it.

shams said...

Love this, Karen. I have both the Alabama Chanin books and, like you, find they are not to my taste, but the creativity is inspiring. What a great application. That IS to my taste. :)

Keely said...

What a great save and nice end result. If you're after roses have you checked out the Alabama Chanin top Judy is making at

Nancy K said...

A great creative use of the scraps you can't throw away. It is, like you, not my typical style, but I can actually seeing doing this kind of embellishment. It's not cutesy nor is it turn the edges under make me crazy. It's just great. I love it, and I may be stealing the idea.

Little Hunting Creek said...

Great t shirt - looks wonderful

SewRuthie said...

D'oh just when I was going to throw out those knit scraps too small to even cut a cap sleeve for a tee, and then you come up with this! I am lost, so lost.

Sewingelle said...

Love it!

But this inspiring idea is not helping me reduce my too-small-for-anything-so-you-should-throw-it-in-the-bin stash..