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  • Writer's pictureLonda

Alabama Chanin-Inspired Knit T Top by Londa


I discovered this reverse applique ‘look’ on Pinterest – and was immediately intrigued and ‘hooked’.  Then, when I saw that my sewing supply source was offering her books for sale, I immediately ordered them into stock (for me) AND to sell!


There are 2 books.  The first is ‘Alabama Stitch Book‘.  Treat yourself to an afternoon reading and studying this book!  Natalie is a designer who returned to her Florence, AL roots to develop her line of hand-made garments featuring stenciling and reverse applique.  She is a purist, to be sure – and in this fast-paced world, that is a beautiful thing.  The 2nd book is Alabama Studio Patterns – consisting mainly of a princess line silhouette and A-line skirt.  I loved doing the stitching on my top while awaiting the birth of our first granddaughter – so my T Shirt ‘Chanin’ top will always remind me of that precious time.  After studying the book, I came to several conclusions:

  1.  This would take some TIME, but not a whole bunch of skill.

  2.  After reading the book, I knew that I would basically start with two 100% cotton T-shirts – ready-made, cut them according to my Terrific T Basic Knit Top Pattern , stencil, stitch, then construct.    Natalie was so very firm regarding the 100% cotton, that I decided to try it – though in general, I ALWAYS advise and desire some Lycra with the cotton (or poly) to achieve ‘snap’ retention in my tops.  I selected a long sleeve maroon T for the base garment and a pink for the ‘under’ color.  To get the most ‘fabric’ with which to work, I bought them in size 2XL.  They are by Gildan, with no side seams.   My conclusion after making and wearing is that I will use a fabric that has some drape and retention as I thought I would prefer anyway.  Both being jersey knits, I don’t see why the fiber content would make ANY difference in the overall ‘look’.


My other challenge was to identify the recommended thread.  She calls for ‘Buttonhole, Carpet and Craft Thread which I finally determined is a Coats n’ Clark product.  The challenge (for me and going forward IMHO) is the limitation of this thread to just 10 colors:  Natural, Cream, Navy, Dogwood, Red, White, Chona Brown, Forest Green, and Grey.  This product is a cotton wrapped polyester core thread with a polished glace finish.  This thread comes in 50 yard spools (which will quickly get used up I found!) and is $1.40/spool – I can order it for you in full boxes of 3 spools per box regularly $4.20 at my full box 20% off every day thread offer making a full box of three spools $3.36.  I currently have in stock these colors that I can sell per spool: Navy, Grey, Cream.


Drawing on my years of retail fabric store experience, and searching my suppliers, I determined that the YLI Jeans Stitch thread is likely a WONDERFUL alternative!  It comes in 26 colors including 4 variegated colors:  Earth, Primary, Jewel, and Pastel.  This thread is a 30 weight polyester topstitching thread which is recommended for stitching on jeans, sashiko stitching, quilting where you want toe stitching to show and decorative serging.  200 yards per spool, 6 spools per box.  At the 20% off full box of  1 color, that comes to $24.00 per box.  I LOVE this thread!  I’e used it  for years in decorative serging and topstitching.  Comparing the weight (diameter) and strength, these threads are almost identical!  My next project will definitely be with this YLI Jeans Stitch Thread.  I currently (for ‘shopping’ and comparison, have it in stock in Topaz, Jeans Gold, White, Seafoam, and _______.

Did I use either of these threads in my first project?  No – remember, I was hustling to get this project prepared for the ‘baby trip’.  Instead, I used a variegated heavy weight silk thread from Clover Notons – now discontinued. While I had 2 spools, I thought I had plenty – but I barely made it through.  All stitching is done with double thread, so it REALLY uses up thread!!!

A summary of my first ‘Alabama Chanin’ experience follows:

  1.  Cutting

I cut out the sleeves from the base maroon T, cut the neck ribbing off leaving a 1/2″ seam allowance, cut off the cuffs and opened the sleeves so that each could lay flat for recutting, slashed through the shoulder seams of the body of the T, and slashed at what would have been side seams.  At that point, I have:  Front, Back, 2 Sleeves, ribbing.  Folding the Front and Back both wrong sides together, I could lay my pattern onto this ‘fabric’, scootching the pattern down 1 1/2″ so that the hem of the T could be utilized.  I saved ALL scraps.


2.  Designing

I ALWAYS lay the Front on my body and mark the bust points to achieve proper ‘lady-like’ focal design placement.  Then, playing with the stencil, I made the decision, based upon the “Rose & Lace” Stripe Shirt garment (show below) in the book – page 120.   In retrospect, I wish I had done more of a shoulder ‘spray’ at the right chest,shoulder area front and back, with a hint of the same at the left hem.  I feel the placement I was inspired to do from the book resulted with a very side-focused design that I then was led to ‘balance’ with the contrasting and unique neckline finish, and sleeve cap detail.    Please understand, as I execute the ‘creative process’, I NEVER know or plan exactly what I will end up with.  Instead, I believe it just must ‘happen’.  While placing the stencil, I had the thought of adding applique at the top of the shoulder or more stencil work (which I did end up adding).

3.  Stenciling

I used the leaf stencil from in the book for the Reverse-Applique Corset (which is shown on the cover of the pattern book), adding another stencil I’d made on my own copying some art on a Hawaiian fabric.  Some purple acrylic paint and stencil brush with a very LITTLE BIT of paint and a light hand accomplished the stencil work in short order.


4.  Hand Stitching

Next, I cut a strip of the pink T-shirt, matching the grain – plenty wide to go behind the stenciled area.  I did machine baste it all around and through it once to hold it in place while I did the hand work.

The Stitching technique is nothing other than a basic running stitch.  Natalie divides stitches into ‘stretchy’ and ‘non-stretchy’.  The basting running stitch is a ‘non-stretchy’ stitch according to her, not to be used around a neckline.  Stretchy stitches include a chain stitch, cross stitch, etc.  I was especially intrigued by her advise to ‘LOVE the THREAD’ before beginning.  She explains twist of thread (S and Z) – totally accurate from my knowledge base, but then has you thread the needle (and a good needle glossary is included in the book), double it and then to ‘Love the Thread’ – squeezing it between thumb and index, along the length of it several times.  The way I see it, that is ‘stroking’ the thread in one direction on one of the threads, and in the opposite direction on the other thread – so I did this on the single long length of thread BEFORE knotting.  If you did smocking or fine embroidery with DMC Floss, this was called ‘stripping the thread’ as I was taught – for the same reason – to flatten it and to get the twist removed so as to avoid tangling.  I found this was VITALLY important with the silk thread I was using.  I also did some research and found agreement among fine hand stitchers that one should knot the end of the thread as it comes from the spool – THEN thread the cut end through the needle.

For the sewing Needle, Natalie recommends a #9 Sharp because it is longer than others and allows her to get more stitches on the needle as she does the work.  I used an Embroidery Needle – so that I could more easily thread it and it seemed to work fine.  I’m not sure of the size – it’s just my favorite needle.

The other thing I want to mention is that I DID cut a cross small slit in the center of each of the applique areas BEFORE I started, so the trimming close after the stitching was done was easier and safer.



5.  Neckline Design and Finishing

With the ‘raw edge’ look of the reverse applique, I decided to carry that through in the application method of the ribbing.  See on the Nightie – aqua on the right above, that the garment has a completely raw edge, backed with the folded ribbing, and attached with a double row of stitching.  The neckline was worked BEFORE the side seams were sewn – making it SEW much easier!!!  Since this was a ‘play’ with design and technique garment, I decided to go for ultimate, and sketched in a curved neckline that I thought would compliment the curves of the stenciled leaves.  See that above, at left.  Would I have enough ribbing between the neckline and sleeve ribbing from the pink T?  I think so – YEAH!   So – I took a deep breath and rotary cut the edge as shown for the neckline.  Note I made sure it would match at the shoulder seams.  What I learned was that even on this shaped neckline, I needed to STRETCH the ribbing so that it hugged my neckline.  I even wore this garment once to realize I needed to RE-DO the front neckline at the curve closest to the applique work, stretching it even MORE, as it was falling away from my body.   I should have realized that earlier, as the middle photo below shows my first back neckline – which, while lovely on the mannequin, really ‘flopped’ on MY body.  That highest curve at the left in the middle photo below – did NOT work.  Hence, the lowered version you see on the back neckline of the right photo below.  I share all this because that is one of the beauties of Blogs – that you get to benefit from my trial and error – just the same as in my pattern line.


I hand basted after stretching and pinning in the ribbing as shown.  THEN, I used the 2.5/70 Twin Stretch Needle for the stitching work, and CAREFULLY trimmed back the excess pink ribbing from the inside.

6.  Side Seams and Sleeves

Part of the beauty of using a pre-made garment as ‘fabric’ is that you don’t need to re-hem it!  See the side seam below.  Granted, the inside is not ‘as pretty with the side seam being sewn after the hem is already stitched in, but it works.  I like to topstitch the seam allowance towards the back as you can see I ‘ve done in the photo to the right.  


As I mentioned earlier, I felt I needed to bring some accent to the other side of this top with all the reverse applique and stenciling so far on the right hand side.  I had the (crazy?) idea to put a ‘roll trim insert’ accent of the pink in the top sleeve cap area.  See how I did that in the photo below.  Crossgrain on this jersey knit rolled to the wrong side.  See how I ‘angled’ it at the clips (dots) on the sleeve cap.  After trimming the portion in the seam allowance close, I inserted the sleeves as normal.  WALA – either you like this accent – or you don’t.  I do!

I’ll close with 2 close-up photos to show the VERY raw look of this top.  You either like it – or you don’t.  Remember, knits don’t ravel.  These photos were taken after I had laundered this garment one time.  


Have YOU tried Alabama Chanin reverse applique?  Please Comment below with your experiences.  Email your photos to me at:  


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