Book reviewed by Megan Enright: Megan is wife to a tolerant and encouraging husband and mother to four children ranging in age from 18 years down to 5 years. She spends her days keeping company with her 5 year old daughter and her evenings cheering on the sidelines as her older sons deal with homework, sport and other teenage issues. In her quieter moments, she likes to knit, embroider, sew and cook. She’d like to have the time and talent to crochet and quilt….maybe one day. She can be found at Notebook from home blog.
Alabama Studio Style by Natalie Chanin. STC Craft/A Melanie Falick Book (March 1, 2010)
Over the last few years I have developed a bit of a crush on Natalie Chanin, founder of the business and fashion label, Alabama Chanin. So it was with a high level of excitement that I came to review her second book, “Alabama Studio Style”.
My admiration for Natalie Chanin stems from not only the clothes that she produces, simple yet embellished, but also from her philosophy of fashion and how fashion and clothing production can become a community builder and an opportunity to make a lifestyle statement. Natalie believes in “slow design”, a theory which is along the same lines as “slow food” or “slow living”, a deliberate and thoughtful method of making clothes far removed from the department store production lines so common in our shopping baskets today.
As a result of this dedication to the process of clothes making rather than the speed at which a garment can be produced, her books consist of hand sewing instructions only and I was unable to see machine sewing references in the book at all. Clothes made by hand!? What a concept. However, such is Natalie’s thinking and her clothes are simple, elegant and superbly individual. Not something that you can put together in a couple of hours.
In this particular Alabama Chanin book instructions are given for making a dress, a skirt, a scarf and other homeware items including placemats, pillows and jar covers. Because the clothes are of a simple design the instructions are clear and easy to understand. The recommended fabric for all clothes is jersey cotton and a variety of stitches, both stretch and non-stretch, are outlined clearly in the book. Hand stitches, of course.
I love hand stitching and am much less confident with my machine so I approached Natalie’s patterns with great anticipation. I attempted a simple panelled skirt. My only small complaint is that the sizings are small. I am a standard Australian size 12 in all clothes and I found with my measurements I fell into the largest sizing outlined in the book, an XL. My first attempt was in a smaller size (my ego refusing to believe I could be an XL) and it was indeed way too small. So if you are a curvier girl I feel some adjustments would need to be made to the patterns.
Putting this aside my very plain skirt turned out quite well. The next step in the Alabama Chanin method is to embellish. Instructions for stencilling, embroidery and relief appliqué are all included in the book and the pictures of the finished effects are very inspiring. The possibilities are restricted only by the sewist’s imagination and the idea is to use Natalie’s visions purely as a guide to create your own individual piece.
Natalie’s designs are available as completed garments, all hand sewn by local women from Natalie’s community in Southern America, however, I feel through her books Natalie is very encouraging of crafters to create garments that have meaning for them and that are cherished because of all the love and labour that has gone into producing that one item of clothing.
I am yet to embellish my skirt. It has taken quite a few hours in the evening just cutting, piecing and sewing. However, even though it appears a very plain skirt it is one I will wear with great intention knowing how many hours went into its production. I believe that this is Natalie’s purpose with her books, to instil a sense of thoughtfulness into what we wear and to not just buy and wear clothing that hasn’t been produced ethically or with fairness to all of the people involved in the production of that garment. A few beautiful clothes made with care and attention are indeed more meaningful than many made haphazardly and cheaply.
Natalie Chanin’s voice comes through very clearly in her writing and in this book she includes some recipes and other small insights into her life within a much cherished community. “Alabama Studio Style” only reinforced my admiration for Natalie and I know it is a book that will not sit on my bookshelf untouched. It is a reference book not only for creating lovely clothes but also for creating a meaningful outlook on life.
[Take a peak at Natalie Chanin's studio and some business advice from when she was a guest at whipup in 2010. -ed.]