Alabama Chanin · Sewing

Alabama Chanin Tunic: Catamount

I travel on occasion, and when I do I like to fly. One of the things I like most about flying is viewing the landscape below, which is why I always choose a window seat (and sometimes arrive at my destination with a sore neck). Wisconsin, and much of the USA, divides land using the geometric Public Land Survey System and I am endlessly entertained by the patterns and design of our land, both natural and man-made.


Somewhere between Wisconsin and Mexico, February 2015.

The aerial view of Wisconsin in the warm months can be stunning, reminiscent of a giant quilt — with every shade of green you can imagine, sometimes striped or blocked with brown or yellow, full of texture, contrast, and pattern. It gives me a thrill every time I see it. In autumn, add the reds, golds, and oranges of turning leaves. In winter… not quite as thrilling. There is still geometry, texture, interest, and it can be quite tranquil and lovely; it can also be bleak, raw, and desolate (not to mention cold).

I often view the landscape below me and think about it in terms of textiles: how could a particular design be used in quilting, knitting, or lately sewing (mainly surface design/embroidery).


My main inspiration came from Snow Drawings at Catamount Lake, Colorado, 2013

When I decided to make an Alabama Chanin A-line Tunic/Dress using the lovely gift of organic cotton jersey from Margene a couple of months ago, I knew I wanted something special to honor the gift. I'm not sure when I first saw Sonja Hinrichsen's snow drawings — sometime in the past year, a photo or article shared via social media, no doubt; I was immediately struck by her work, and I swear to god, the choir began to sing! The concept of her snow drawings blows my mind, and even after some intimacy with her work, I continue to be utterly amazed… the vision, the design, the execution, the perfection.

Mosaic1My  normal mode of operation is to dive right in, but I did do some testing to figure out some particulars.

The first step was to choose the particular areas/motifs I wanted to document on the fabric and then manipulate the images to correct the angle (so that circles were circular instead of elliptical).

Mosaic2Wow, that stuff really works!

Chosen design motifs were printed on an adhesive-backed wash-away fabric stabilizer (such as Sulky or Pellon), then cut out and arranged on the fabric. I was interested in a deep design at the hem… at first, I was going to do the entire dress, but quickly decided to do only the front.


Some of the motifs are very labyrinth-like, peaceful and meditative, contrasting with the high-energy, whimsy, and unabashed fun of other parts — and I felt all of those things while stitching, but mostly excitement! It was so much fun to do and I looked forward to sewing time everyday!

A million progress/process photos were taken along the way.


The dress was assembled after embroidery was complete. (Construction details below.) I modified the neckline a bit, then bound my first V-neck. The Wonder Clips are amazing, of course, for holding things without piercing the fabric, but it occurred to me that basting the neckline might even be better. I had recollection of the neck gaping a bit on Maddy's Hootie shirt and it occurred to me that there would be a better chance at correcting that if I basted first; it would also eliminate weight from the clips that might stretch the fabric a bit more than I'd like while sewing up. I did, in fact, make an adjustment at the back neck before finishing, and the basting lines made perfect guidelines for sewing the beaded binding.


Front and back – finished!




That's my name in Morse Code beaded into the hem on one side; the year is beaded on the other side.


I finished the dress on Sunday, and decided on Tuesday that I wanted a Bolero to go with it. I really want to make a gray & red version to go with the dress, but some "quick" slow fashion was called for, as I wanted to wear it on Thursday evening. I made a single-layer cap-sleeve version using a thrifted men's XL t-shirt. The fabric is off-white, I used Slate thread, binding the neck edge with parallel stitch and finishing the sleeves with a random ruffle — a nod to and coordinating with the tunic, but no beads.


Alabama Chanin A-line Dress: CATAMOUNT

  • Alabama Chanin 100% organic cotton jersey fabric - Blue Slate
  • Button craft thread – double strand of Black for construction, single strand of Slate for embroidery & beading
  • Backstitch embroidery
  • All knots inside
  • All seams inside felled
  • Customized length to between tunic & dress length (hits just above the knee)
  • Customized neckline to make slightly deeper V
  • Parallel binding stitch at armholes
  • Beaded parallel binding stitch at neckline
  • Beaded random ruffle at hemline
  • Seed beads: clear and red
  • Bugle beads: dark gray, satin gray, and red
  • Chop beads: dark gray and red
  • Sequins: silver and dark gray

I've shared my project with Sonja Hinrichsen, whose work inspired the embellishment, and I'm happy to report that she loves it!

There are a few more photos (if you can believe it) in a Flickr Collection/Alabama Chanin A-line Tunic: Catamount.

18 thoughts on “Alabama Chanin Tunic: Catamount

  1. You have had me awe-struck from the moment you shared your project with me. I feel honored to have aided you in your creative pursuit. I am truly caught somewhere between awe and tears at the beauty of your inspiration, but also in your interpretation! How quickly you sew! Less than two months to create this dress all by hand. You are truly an inspiration in so many ways. The detail work of each seam, each motif, and each bead–all stunning. I have spent the last 10 minutes just looking through the photos on Flickr. Thank you for your detailed documentation! I look forward to more of your slow fashions! xox

  2. Now you're making ME cry!!  😉  It was a labor of love from the beginning… it is infused with it. Love for the fabric, for you, for Natalie Chanin and this ridiculously amazing and inspiring rabbit hole world she's created that we've all fallen into, for the pattern, for Sonja Hinrichsen and her equally ridiculously wonderful awesomeness. There was not a single moment of frustration… it was pure fun and pleasure to make. I am honored to be given such tools and have the ability to make something half decent. Thank you Margene!!

  3. This is simply fabulous! Really beautiful. I, very much, enjoyed the whole ‘story’. The inspiration, the stitching, everything.

  4. That is SO cool! It is so unique and personal and don’t you want to wear it all the time and tell everyone, “why, yes! I DID make this!!”! Beautiful! You should be so proud!

  5. You’ve created something truly fabulous! Thank you for sharing the whole story and many photos. I’m entranced by Snow Drawings at Catamount Lake and your innovative interpretation. If I didn’t know you had a lot more creativity, inspiration, sewing, and beading skills still waiting to be expressed, I would say this was your “magnum opus” (à la Charlotte’s Web – the finest thing she ever made!)

  6. This is amazing…both as a work of art and as an article of clothing. I enjoyed reading how you worked out different aspects of the project and seeing each step. Brava!

  7. Your work is amazing and so creative. I enjoyed how you worked on each phase of this project and shared it with us. I know you will enjoy wearing this beautiful dress every time you put it on.

  8. Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. Vicki! It is just stunning — in every way. Backwards and forwards. Inside and out. Up and down. I love it so. You are Incredible. XO

  9. Wow! What an amazing piece… I love the story behind the embellishments; you did a fabulous job taking that inspiration and making it real. And the dress fits like a glove. Wow!

  10. Wow! Just so special in every way Vicki! I’m especially wowed by your entire creative thought process. That hem is brilliant! 😉

  11. I have been a long time reader of your blog, but have never commented before. But this dress is spectacular and deserves a ‘bravo’. So bravo on a beautiful creation. It is stunning!

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