22 April 2015

Alabama Chanin style dress

T'his dress has been in the planning stages for ever. Or so it feels. It's been just over a year since I finished my Alabama Chanin style shorts, and it's taken me since then to find fabric that I was happy to use for this dress. I was looking for 100% cotton stretch fabric, in two co-ordinating colours, of an equal weight with each other, that wasn't too thin. Not too much for a girl to ask for is it? When The Fabric Store was having a summer sale on knit fabrics in January, I went a little overboard with cotton knits. I only realised when I took a photo of my fabrics that they all go together really well. I bought five different coloured knits, ranging from a deep blue through to a light aqua, and a cream to round it all out.

For my Alabama Chanin dress, I decided to go with the two lightest, the cream and aqua. The decision to put the aqua on top was pretty easy, as my white paint wouldn't have shown up too well on the cream fabric.

You'd think that with a year of fabric searching I would have at least made myself a pattern and toile ready for when I did find that elusive fabric, but no, I only did this after buying the fabric! I used the third fabric along to test my pattern out. The design is a simple princess line sleeveless dress, which allowed me to flare the hem out at each seam, and gave greater flexibility to change the shape with more seams than your regular knit dress. I used my regular dress block (non-stretch). I wasn't sure how much stretch my finished dress would have once I had hand sewing all over it, so made it to my exact measurements.

The fabric for this trial dress is so thin, I'm a little worried about wearing it in public! It's great for sweltering hot days, and also to put on over swimmers! I made some changes to how the dress flares after making this wearable toile, but apart from that, left the pattern as it was.

Thanks go to my sister who cut out the template for the Anna's Garden design for me in 8 pieces using her Silhouette (wish I had one of those!) She even labelled them all for me so I wouldn't get all mixed up!

I watered down some white screenprinting paint, and spent a back breaking day of painting all the shapes on. I wasn't worried about how accurate or how well covered the shapes were, as most of it was destined to be cut away.

Alabama Chanin purists may want to avert their eyes as I describe how I put this together. There's no thread knots on the outside, and not only did I sew the seams of the dress together by machine, but I overlocked around all the edges of each segment of the dress before I did my hand sewing around all the shapes. The aqua fabric seemed to stretch out of shape a little after I painted all the shapes in, probably from hanging them up to dry, so I had to gently stretch it back to the correct shape when sewing it all together. I didn't pin anything together as I sewed it up, the overlocked edges combined with the width of the panels were enough to keep it all together as I sewed.

I'll tell you what, sewing one of these is not the faint hearted, or at least the impatient. Painting the white shapes probably took around 5 hours or so, and sewing around them took a conservative guesstimate of another 30 hours. Then there's cutting the shapes out, another 5 hours maybe, and finally the easy bit - sewing the dress together!

The hand sewing was done whilst at kids after school activities - climbing, piano lessons, gymnastics, swimming,and in the evenings while watching TV, over a period of just over 5 weeks, before I could get to anything else on it.

When I cut out the shapes I left a small sliver of white paint showing, mostly so that the edges would be less inclined to curl up.

I had planned on taking my time putting this together, but decided that I really wanted to have it done to wear on Easter Sunday while on holidays, so that's when I stepped up the pace and started hand sewing in the evenings. At the expense of blog post writing I might add.

The hardest part of sewing it all up was the fitting, marginally followed by trying to take a photo of myself doing the fitting (I'm so bad at taking selfies)!

My attempt at a selfie while fitting the dress
There's not really much else to say about it. Except, I love it!

Oh, and that's 2.5 metres stash busted. I'm slowly crawling towards sewing up the same amount that I've bought so far this year, which is my stashbusting pledge. Very slowly.


  1. Wow, your dress is so pretty. I love the colours and AC design you used. I have tried various methods of painting on the design and found that watered-down paint (acrylic or screen printing paint) daubed on with a sponge brush is the quickest and simplest. I got a design painted on a tank top in under half an hour using that method. You don't want it too wet as it could bleed under the stencil. Other people swear by different methods though, so it's all about finding what works for you.

    1. Thanks Megan. Using a sponge would have been so much quicker. I think I'll do that next time. I actually realised last week that we have a spray painting gun for the air compressor. Sounds a bit full on though, and it's so hard to get the paint the right consistency to actually work!

  2. It's gorgeous:) Congratulations!!!