Chanin Machine

“Chanin” and “machine” – now, those are two words that don’t usually travel together. UNTIL NOW. To my surprise and delight, I recently found that the t-shirt pattern included in the Alabama Studio Sewing + Design book fits me pretty well in the places that matter most. (Speaking of Alabama Chanin, Thread Cult recently did a fantastic interview with Ms. Chanin herself; it’s really worth a listen if you haven’t already!) I first tested the pattern out by machine – heresy! sacrilege! – and three more versions quickly followed.

In chronological order:

1. A cropped tee
 I have to admit that the cropped length has nothing to do with style and everything to do with the fact that I accidentally traced the wrong line on the overlapping master pattern in the back of the book… | Alabama Chanin t-shirt

Even though it was an accident, I like the length for tucking into this higher-waisted skirt. This is a lot more feminine than I usually dress; as my sister/photographer eloquently surmised, I had my lady drag on. | Alabama Chanin t-shirt

From the pictures, it looks like I could use both more width under the arms and a sway back adjustment. The only change I made to the pattern was scooping the neck out. | Alabama Chanin t-shirt


The pattern is quite close-fitting. The book advises that their sizes have little ease but suggests washing with air-drying to achieve the perfect fit over time. They also create their patterns for 100% cotton jersey. I’ve worn, washed and air-dried this t-shirt and the fabric has relaxed quite a bit. (I used an interesting cotton double-knit from SCRAP in Portland.) I’m thinking it was originally meant for a baby onesie and/but I love it!

2. Tiny stripes tee
This is a striped cotton interlock from Organic Cotton Plus with absolutely no stretch. Like it’s cropped predecessor, it’s relaxed beautifully. | Alabama Chanin t-shirt


The fit through the upper back looks even better; I think this fabric stretched out even more. Swayback issue on full display, however. | Alabama Chanin t-shirt


3. Plain black
The fabric is a black cotton-lycra blend from Our Fabric Stash. | Alabama Chanin t-shirt


I made the same size as the other two t-shirts, but I think I’d like to go up a size for fabrics with recovery. The bottom hem especially tends to creep up towards my waist. | Alabama Chanin t-shirt

4. Super tight dress
Finally, I tried my hand at turning the pattern into a very fitted sleeveless dress! | Alabama Chanin t-shirt dress



And it feels veeeery fitted to me! It’s ridiculously comfortable but… well, by my estimation, we’re looking at 30%+ less fabric than my voluminous tunics and waistless dresses normally swathe me in. | Alabama Chanin t-shirt dress

I used two layers of my fabric (a beefy cotton lycra, also from Our Fabric Stash) because I like to feel secure and one layer was visible-everything city. Once they were cut, I treated them as one layer. | knit dress hem


I did a fake twin-needle turned-up hem. | Alabama Chanin t-shirt dress


If this super-sassy dress sees the light of day again, this is probably how I’ll wear it. Yep, by covering most of it up. Prudish habits die hard!

So… I think I made these four garments up within the space of two weeks, tops. I was addicted! I’d revisited the Renfrew pattern this fall and even after – or especially after – experimenting with the shoulder angle and chest length, I hadn’t really achieved the right fit. What I found so compelling about this pattern was how the chest length and – perhaps correspondingly – the arm scye fit right away.

What I regret about sewing these in such rapid succession is that I didn’t stop to try making the back fit adjustments earlier in the process. In woven projects, I’m usually aware of fit issues from how they feel; it’s just so obvious when I don’t have enough room across my back. The give of knits made the fit issues less obvious to me and I kept on sewing.

Relatedly, I’ve been really, really enjoying the discussion in bloglandia about the concept of “fast sewing“. I’ve been gathering my thoughts on the topic, and I think there’s a distinction to be made between sewing that is merely done quickly, and sewing that is done so quickly that some of what I perceive as the benefits of sewing for yourself – better construction, good fit, joy at creating something and a useful finished garment that adds value to a wardrobe – get lost. These four projects feel like they live in somewhere in between; I didn’t compromise on my construction standards and, with the probable exception of the dress, they’ve been in heavy rotation. I just wish I’d spent a little time working on the fit of the back and I did feel a bit burnt out by the time I finished the dress.

I’m happy to report that this erstwhile Chanin Machine has been returned to her standard sewing pace, but I’m (oh yah, we’re one and the same) very much looking forward to sharing a few other projects made in the May-June sewing frenzy!


64 thoughts on “Chanin Machine

  1. Great post!! I haven’t made tee shirts for myself yet. I’ve never found a style I like. I really like this one. You’ve created some great staples for your wordrobe.

  2. I made a singlet from that book (by machine!) and the fit is great. One day I will get around to doing the hand stitched version… (probably when I’m too old to wear such tight fitting tops).

    1. Haha! Just thirty more years until we’ll have time to stitch up one of those beauties entirely by hand. I keep on thinking I’d like to hand-stitch one up as an on-going side project, but I have yet to make it happen.

  3. Your t-shirts look great! Love the dress too though I confess I’d cover it up to wear it too… 😉
    I really hope you do write about “fast sewing”, because I’ve really struggled with the way it’s been characterized so far. I sew fast, and I sew copious amounts – and a lot of the posts so far make me feel judged for that! But I wear what I sew, which to me is more important than slowly sewing something couture that I’d never wear. (Not that couture isn’t awesome if it makes a person happy, it just isn’t for me!) I think your distinction between sewing quickly and sewing so thoughtlessly that you lose the benefits of a lovingly made wardrobe make sense. I do feel bad and empty when I sew something so poorly made that I’ll never wear it with pride – which is how I feel when I buy badly fitting RTW just to scratch a consumerist itch. On the other hand, there are times when I need to sew for the meditative and restorative qualities of it, not because I really need one more shirt. It’s certainly a topic ripe for discussion!

    1. Thanks, Gillian!

      I think it would be interesting to hear your expanded perspective on the concept of “fast sewing”! One thing I liked quite a bit about Maddie’s article is that she expressed a very bold opinion (on a topic I feel strongly about, no less) and it’s continuing to inspire dialog on an issue the entire sewing community isn’t going to agree on. I think that dialog would only be strengthened by you adding your voice. I love the positivity of the online sewing community – very unique on the internet, from what I’ve seen – but I think we need to be able to feel free to thoughtfully and compassionately express our opinions. There’s a difference between positivity and groupthink. I thought Sally raised an interesting point in her post (; she feels there’s a community-wide assumption that sewing equals shunning store-bought clothes, one that she never subscribed to and doesn’t agree with.

      I too am familiar with the feeling of sewing something so quickly I don’t feel proud of. I’m also familiar with the feeling of sewing too much when what I really need is something else (hanging out with friends, exercising, doing nothing at all). It gets complicated because I both love sewing and can get compulsive about it. It’s such a part of my life now – and it has so many facets, like community, learning, purchasing, and oh yah, the sewing itself – that my relationship to it is just as complex as anything else in my life.

      1. That is a good post from Sally! Ties into what Rachel from House of Pinheiro was saying the other day about how she feels like she disappoints people when she wears rtw. I”m going to mull over my perspective and post about it sometime – and I hope you do the same! To be honest, the reason I didn’t respond to Maddie’s post was that it made me feel so angry, attacked and preached to that every time I typed out a response I just couldn’t be calm enough to speak clearly. I really don’t do well with people telling me how things should be done (which is why I’m an athiest who doesn’t following sewing directions! 😉 I think her perspective makes perfect sense for her, but the way she wrote it was dictating that her way is more right. (I’ll go back and read it again, but that was my overwhelming sense at the time and when I reread it later…) Now, I don’t think she meant it that way, but that is what her choice of sentence structure implied. It’s such a personal thing, about what ethics you choose to to live with, what makes you happy, and what you choose to sew. Such a good topic for personal reflection and soul-searching, as long as everyone has the right to their own choices!

      2. OKay, reread Maddie’s post, and I think my rage was colouring my perception… upon yet another reread, I think she’s really just talking about being intentional and making things you love. If that’s all, then I’m with her! It’s just the term “fast sewing” that throws me off, I think!

      3. I agree that Maddie presented her argument very strongly and the language was unequivocal. I had some reactions to it, too, which I made in her comments section, but I totally understand wanting to gather and present your thoughts clearly! I’m really looking forward to your post!

  4. I think these tees look great. Love the neckline on you and the dress looks amazing! I wonder about the whole “fast sewing” discussion too. I feel I’m way more critical about the fit of my handsewn stuff than the stuff I’d buy in stores (“$5 sale shirt at old navy but the fit is a bit wonky? oh well, buy it anyway, it’s cheap!”). You mentioned these tops needing a swayback adjustment but they still look great on you and fit better than you could probably get at a (reasonably priced) store, ya know? If I can fool someone into thinking something is storebought and there aren’t issues that really bug me, I consider it a successfully sewn garment. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Kristin! I have been wearing these tops quite a bit (I’ve got the black one on right now) and yah, they are leaps and bounds better than what I think I could find in a store. I think my standards are always changing – I learn a little more about fit and construction and suddenly I have higher expectations of my clothing!

  5. Yay! Seeing all your lovely plain tees is just the kick in the butt I’ve been needing to get sewing more basics. Particularly tees. I have a sway back too, but never thought to look at the back of stretch pieces when I wear them as I always thought it only affected wovens! Love the black one and the dress especially mucho!

    1. I’ll admit that until recently, I rarely looked at the lower back fit of shirts and tops. Now I’m suddenly very aware! I love it when you sew basics and solids 🙂

  6. I am really curious to see your swayback adjustment for a knit tee! These turned out great despite the swayback; like someone else said, it’s still better than what I’ve seen in RTW. I struggle with the fast sewing thing too; I stopped sewing for myself recently because I feel like I have enough clothes in my closet already…but I still want to sew *something* because I miss the process.

  7. I feel well fitting T’s are one of the holy grails of home sewing. I’m intending to try a Vogue and the new Sewaholic one when I’ve finished the other stuff I’m working on, as part of the basic wardrobe I’m getting together. I think the fit on these is lovely. I agree about upper body fit – the reason I liked Tilly’s pattern so much was because it was so neat around the shoulder area on me – but personally I don’t worry about a few wrinkles in the lower back. I’m not sure I could ever get jersey to lie completely smooth there! I’ve just completed 3 sleeveless jersey tops myself and sewing jersey is a whole other country. Faster by nature and with different issues. I feel more comfortable sewing with wovens, but stretch tops are such a modern classic they are worth it….

    1. I will say that I haven’t been worrying much about the wrinkles when I’m wearing them – I’ll blame the photos :). And oh, shoulders – I used to worry so much about fitting my waist and bust, and now I’m realizing it’s truly about the shoulders and back (at least on top!)

  8. T-shirts are an interesting animal, when the fabric and fit is right one looks amazing or NOT. In this case your t-shirts look amazing on you!!! I might try one who knows if they’ll look that good on me? Great job, love your T’s!!!

    1. It’s true – they can be the sloppiest or the most dependable piece in a wardrobe. I think this one was great for me because the shoulders and arm scyes fit well. Thanks, Ines!

  9. It seams to be a very nice t-shirt pattern , realy good fit on your body. I agree with you on the fast sewing topic … there is a distinction to be made. There are sewers that are more skilled or simply more organised and manage to do things faster but if we are talking sacrificing fit, construction and overall quality, well then fast sewing is the homemade variant of fast fashion and that is baaaad ..(in my opinion ;)…

    1. Thank you, Sasha! I think the hardest thing to do is stop yourself WHILE you’re constructing garments too quickly – I know that’s a pitfall I can fall into. It’s hard when we’re all bombarded with so many images inspiring us to buy or make new clothing.

  10. Great styling for the fitted tee-dress – I am a prudish styler as well, but with a long loose shirt it looks comfy, sexy AND modest (as modest as can be).

  11. Great basic tees and I love the fitted dress! It really looks great on you! Love your comments on “fast sewing”. I agree, as a fast sewer myself, I do think there’s a distinction. My sewing projects are made relatively quickly and I love to be making, but as long as everything is worn it doesn’t bother me. I also find that if something really doesn’t work I can always refashion it into something else pretty easily, which I love.

    1. Your requirement that your makes get worn sounds like a very sensible guideline, and I can imagine clothing growing kiddos makes shorter-term projects appealing. I’d love to get more into refashioning! I have an enormous respect for it but tend to get more excited about projects from scratch. Since I tend to donate things instead of refashioning, I try very hard to construct things well enough that someone would want to buy it from a thrift store if it doesn’t work out for me.

  12. Great tops and dress! I never realised how handy a basic fitted jersey singlet dress can be. I pretty much always wear mine with a vest or cropped top or jacket over the top. Brilliant for layering without the effort.

    1. Thanks, Debbie! I really like the versatility of this dress; you’re right, it’s a great backdrop for cool tops and jackets. I may make another slightly more relaxed version and save this one for… clubbing? (Ha!)

  13. I love seeing these because I’m all about Alabama Chanin at the moment! I’ve been gathering supplies to do my first AC project and just bought the Sewing + Design book. I wish I had time to trace & fit one of the patterns in the book, but I’m getting this together as a travel project and time is of the essence so I’m using a pattern I’ve used before.

    I love all your tees and I really love the dress. It looks great on you, but I know what you mean about feeling too exposed – I’m the same way.

    1. Ooh, that’s a great travel project! And yah, when you invest as much time as a true Alabama Chanin project requires, you definitely want it to fit. Bon voyage, Gail, and happy stitching!

  14. The shirts looks great. I will have to look into this pattern. I have some dark purple thin striped interlock fabric–I have too much of it. Let me know if you would like a yard or so of it for another shirt.

    1. Thanks, Meris! The book has around 5 patterns, as well as a lot of project ideas, so I think they’re a pretty good value. I think I might be set for t-shirts for awhile, but thank you for offering! Maybe it’s time for another fabric swap? 🙂

  15. I seriously need to do this – get some nice knits in basic colors and sew up some tees! So happy for you that you’ve found a tee pattern that works well for you! That’s pretty huge!

    1. Yah, I’m pretty excited to have this pattern as a baseline. And, even though I was sewing a little too quickly for my taste, it was nice to do them at once.

  16. Great post Morgan. I had written a very long comment and my bloody ipad deleted it. In a nutshell, I’m looking forward to seeing how you do a sway back adjustment in a garment with no centre back seam, and really enjoyed the link to madalynes blog about fast sewing. This year I’ve been so much more mindful of what I make – I haven’t necessarily slowed down my output but the wearability has improved, and I really think about whether the gap exists in my wardrobe for the garment. For the rest of the year I won’t be buying any non-solid fabric (if any at all!) and as the demand for time in other areas of my non sewing life increases I’ll have to be so much mindful of what I choose to sew on my precious day off each week. I can’t afford the time or money to smash out every latest uber fashionable pattern and as you know I’m all about pattern repeats too, to maximise value and perfect fit. So great work with your tees, and as always thanks for a thoughtful post! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Sarah! As far as the swayback alteration – I just sort of assumed it was possible, having never done one! I guess I shall see and report back!

      I’ve been admiring the consistently awesome and wearable pieces coming off your sewing machine. I really like the approach of using and altering patterns; you’re familiar with the fit and it seems like it inspires creativity.

  17. These are great tees! It’s always interesting and sometimes a bit frustrating… when different fabrics behave in their own “special” way within the same pattern. I like using the same pattern repeatedly…it allows me to have fun choosing fabrics without the pressure of perfecting the fit. You have knocked out some great wearable pieces! As for “fast sewing” …I’m not usually a fast sewer but can be depending on my time and moreover, how inspired I am in the moment. If I’m excited about a garment…watch out I’m on a mission! If not…well you get the picture.

    1. Yah, I hear you – it’s intellectually interesting to learn how different fabrics act but frustrating on a practical level. And I think I’m similar to you in the pace I like to sew – not too fast unless I get a bee in my bonnet!

  18. Lady, you better wear that dress without the shirt on top! You look fabulous!! A well fitting tee is something to celebrate. Looks like you hit it!

  19. I really, really like the dress! You look great in it! If I were you I’d add more dresses like this to my wardrobe: the possibilities are endless. More than that, nothing beats knit in its practicality and easy-to wear qualities.

    Easy and quick sewing can, sometimes, play a positive influence on our self-esteem. A quick end result helps improve a hurt ego or even lift up mood! But I cannot understand how is it possible to sew five dresses in a week without damaging their quality because to me the quality is crucial. Untimely, it’s everybody’s choice to do what they think is best/more appropriate for them.

    1. Thanks, Inna! I do think it would be nice to add one more with just a splash more ease. This one is just a bit too fitted for me to feel comfortable wearing it to work!

      Yes, there is a place for simple and fast projects in my sewing life. If I’ve taken on a larger project, especially, it’s nice to follow it up with some simple undies or useful basics. And I agree that quality is supremely important, even if what that means to me (thankfully) changes over time!

  20. I enjoyed your post. Your Ts are great. The dress is so stylish and just think, by wearing the shirt over it you win-win, modesty and the yummy feel of close-fit underneath!

  21. i love the tops, but the dress is killer! i understand feeling like it’s tight but it really does look great on you.

  22. At some point I am going to break open this book, which someone gave me as a gift a few years ago. There’s nothing like kicking out a bunch of tees at once just to have some wearable clothes. I love that stripey knit–narrow stripes are hard to come by. And tees are an easy lab place to play with fit…

    1. I wholeheartedly agree! These are on high rotation. I’ve made two pairs of pleated pants that I like quite a bit with fitted tees. I love those books – it’s nice that they provide patterns (that happen to fit me pretty well!) but you can also use other knits patterns with the techniques quite easily.

  23. I’ve got a couple Alabama Chanin Studio style dresses that I serged up the vertical seams. I have not shame about it but I think I’ll just use my stretch stitch next time and skip the serger. I’ve got so many recycled t shirts waiting to be pieced into another corset top but I need to do some of my own FBA adjustments so it’s languishing a bit in my queue. Oh the queue…. it tempts me to sew faster, but I too am trying to slow down and joy the process as much as the product.

    1. Learning about the stretch stitch was a revelation to me! There was a small window of time during which I used to construct knits garments using my overlock foot only.

      Oh gosh, the queue… there have been times when my sewing queue was 20+ projects! My brain would be going crazy with ideas and dream up a year’s worth of projects. I ended up writing them all down, planning to make most of them one after another, and then something more interesting would come along and I would deviate from the list. My overthinking brain is all about the fast sewing, so efforts must be made to slow down and, as you said, enjoy the process!

  24. These look great! And you look super hot in the dress!!! It’s a different shape than usual for you, but you really look great! I hear you re: “lady drag”, too. I sometimes make something really feminine and I feel like I’m in costume (wore my Nettie bodysuit with my mint green gathered skirt the other day and felt like some sort of strange alternate reality of myself).

    I think there’s a big difference between sewing quickly and sewing thoughtlessly. If you’re just swapping out a shopping addiction for a fabric shopping or sewing addiction, it’s no better for the environment or for your emotional state. But I don’t agree with people who snark about people who sew quick, simple projects- not everyone has the time or interesting to dedicate hours to sewing garments completely by hand. At the same time, I celebrate that there ARE people who like to do that! There’s room for all kinds of creators and I’m always glad to see people doing different things.

    1. Yes, yes, yes. I think if anything, “fast sewing” as an analog to “fast fashion” is a concept to measure yourself against, if you want – not others. My personal goal is to explore sustainable sewing, so I’m very interested in the idea. At various points in my sewing career, I’ve sewn more thoughtlessly and shopped more. For me, I think the concept of “fast sewing” is a great, shorthand way to remind myself to sew (and all the other activities that sewing entails) mindfully.

      I agree that I feel inspired by all the variety of makers out there. I would be much less interested in couture sewing without Melanie’s blog (Seamstress Poppykettle) and Katherine’s (Bloom’s Endless Summer) for exercise gear, for example. I haven’t really delved into either but they and many other bloggers have opened those worlds to me!

  25. Beautiful makes, Morgan – although I think you’re a little hard on yourself with the fitting aspects! Getting any kind of fabric to form around the curve of a body with only two seams is tougher that it looks, so I’m super glad you’ve found a pattern that suits you 🙂 I would say the dress is my favourite – it looks great! But I totally understand the need to feel a little less… exposed. I would do the exact same thing! The band on the neckline of all of these looks great – do you serge or just twin needle?

    1. Haha, thanks Melanie! You might be right; I think I was just sewing a bit too much when I was making these and had all these FEELINGS afterwards. But I like them and wear them frequently.

      The necklines are actually bound using this method from Pattern Scissors Cloth: It’s great! I use it for almost all of my knit necklines. On the dress, I stitched on both sides of the binding seam because the binding ended up a little thicker than I was anticipating. I could have used a twin needle but I’m irrationally fearful of using one!

      1. Oh that’s a great link, thanks! I really need to go back through Sherry’s blog and bookmark all of her gems. I like her technique because you don’t end up with the bulk you get from sewing both sides of the binding down at the same time, and it kinda looks like a coverstitch finish! Cheers 🙂

  26. So I wrote a huge comment and then my internet died so I think it’s been sacrificed to the internet gods. It was basically too many words gushing about how I love the way you’ve styled the LBD with a shirt, but that if anyone can rock a cotton lycra dress it’s most certainly YOU! Hot hot hot!

    Also, I totally get what you mean about finding where you’re comfortable with the ‘slow’ sewing. When I found that sewing lounge in Portland my first thought was “QUICK! Sew something! Anything! Quickly!” and then, when the pure excitement began to mellow, I realised ‘quick’ isn’t what I love about sewing. I love the research, the fitting, and all the nerdy shit in between, so I changed my game plan to have an ongoing project because that’s what I’m into. But I am also into sewing efficiently and not taking 3 years to finish a garment, so I guess we all have to find our balance 🙂

    1. Hi!! I’m not sure I would have had your restraint if I hadn’t touched a machine in months! Although I have found that taking breaks in between projects helps me take my time with, as you put it so perfectly, all the nerdy shit. And that nerdy shit can really make a project.

      Are you saying what your on-going project is? I’m so curious!

      1. Haha! Well there’s a shirt I really want to make, but I’m thinking a sloper so I can do some pattern making! I was trying to think of a fairly time consuming, not so machine necessary project, as well as something I *may* have been putting off as exciting projects catch my eye…

  27. Wow! You were addicted! All four makes are fantastic and I’m sure will wear you well. Even though this wasn’t a “fast sewing” make, but lived somewhere in between, it will add value to your closet.

    1. Thanks, Maddie! One benefit to sewing them all at once (that I hadn’t thought about when writing this post) was the construction methods, though not difficult, felt even easier because they were fresh in my mind.

  28. These look great! I love that you know how to alter patterns to fit yourself so well–that’s definitely something I need to get better at 🙂 Question: what is the skirt you’re wearing with the white top? I love its clean lines and the interest that the super-wide hem gives it. You’ve inspired me to go finish altering my thrifted dress now and make it fit ME 🙂

    1. Hi there, thanks! The skirt pattern is McCall’s 5591, which I thought was great – curved waistband, interesting pocket detail and most likely you only need to fit it through the waist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s