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  • Writer's pictureLonda

Tools & Techniques for the Alabama Chanin ‘Look’: Part VI

The Tools and Techniques developed by Natalie Chanin are a wonderful blend. So much of all this is a delightful ‘twist’ on what I’ve known in my creative past.  What intrigued me from the beginning was the stenciling.  Years ago, I had Diane Ericson to my retail storefront and I fell in love with her ‘brand’ of surface design.  Visits and teaching from Diane, her late mother, Lois Ericson, and Marcy Tilton all profoundly added immensely to my personal repertoire of creative sewing.  When packing for our big ‘MOVE’ from IL to TN, my collection of stencils and paints received special care and await future creative sewing fun.


Diane Ericson surface embellishment

When I discovered Natalie’s work on Pinterest, I was absolutely charmed by her surface embellishment.  Then, I found that my supplier carried her books and promptly ordered in my pick:  Sewing Patterns and the Alabama Stitch Book.  As I shared in Part I of this series, when we stopped by The Factory in Florence, my ‘creative buttons got pushed’ big time.  Hence, these installments of the Visit to Alabama Chanin.  This post will share what I’ve found regarding her tools and techniques.

Alabama Stitch Book
Sewing Patterns

Each photo above is a link to that book at my website.  Enjoy a $5 discount with this coupon code:  AC$5


When I first purchased the Sewing Patterns book, I went crazy identifying the thread that was used.  Being a retailer with ‘sources’, I was able to do that and here’s the scoop:

I truly believe that the thread sold at the Alabama Chanin website/Factory store is Coat Dual Duty Plus:  Button and Craft Thread.  It is a 10 wt (heavy) polyester core, wrapped with cotton, and polished with a Glace finish that prevents tangling and abrasion.  This is a HAND sewing thread!  Never put it in the sewing machine.   ‘Glaced’ thread in the sewing machine will coat the tension discs and just mess up the tension terribly.  This thread comes in 10 colors.

flosss spools

Alabama Chanin sells a nicely packaged set of 3 for $10.  If you can forgo the unique packaging of being wrapped in a sling of jersey cotton scrap fabric, I offer the virtually the same thread.  Here’s the scoop:

  1. Alabama Chanin offers 9 colors, also in boxes of 3/color for $10.

  2. Their thread is on cream-colored spools, and wound 75 yards per spool, whereas what I offer is 50 yards per green-colored spool. Both are titled ‘Button & Craft Thread’.

  3. Both are made in Mexico.

  4. This is 75%poly, 25% cotton, theirs is marked 74%Polyester, 26% cotton.

  5. The additional colors I offer include Forest Green and Natural.  I believe what they call Burgundy is the Chona Brown that I offer, but I am not absolutely certain at this writing.

  6. I  have ordered in this thread in some basic colors for my own use and agree that it works well in the Milliner’s larger sized needles and yields the STRENGTH and ease that creating a hand-sewn garment of cotton jersey requires.

  7. Since there are so many similarities between what Alabama Chanin offers, and this thread, my conclusion is that this is perhaps the newer ‘packaging’ version of the thread she has.  Undoubtedly she purchased such a large quantity, she could get it wound on 75 yard spools of a cream color.  That is my professional conclusion.

 Bottom line, this thread WORKS for Alabama Chanin-type 

stitching, and you get 33% more thread for a $10 investment.  Another way of looking it is:  you can order 2 different colors (a box of 3 spools per color) for the same price you get 3 spools of one color from Alabama Chanin.

Thread Technique

Double strands of this Button & Craft Thread is used for all of the construction and embellishment stitching except the beading.  For beading, a single thread is used.  As I shared yesterday, no longer than from fingertips to elbow, as doubled for the length.  Other important techniques regarding threading and ‘loving’ your thread are included in the books and quite important for success.  For my project, I used a silk heavy topstitch thread that I had in my ‘stash’, and I would NOT recommend trying to use a ‘slippery’ thread.



The floss used is 6 ply, and French.  The closest I can seem to find is Presencia Floss.  From what I can discern, embroidery floss isn’t used that often in the surface embellishment.  The nice thing I see about what AC (Alabama Chanin) offers is that it is wound on spools which prevents kinks as in normal skeins.  The floss offered online is $10/spool of 75 yards (in the store, $8/spool).  FYI:  Presencia comes in skeins of 8.75 yards for $1.15, so their price isn’t that out of line.



The needles used are Milliners  and Sharps.

Milliners (also known as Straw) Needles  are long with round eyes and are traditionally used in the art of hat making. They are also used for pleating and creating fancy stitching commonly known as smocking.

Since the needles are the main ‘tool’, honestly, I value what they have collected, and would highly recommend just purchasing vials of needles at this link from Alabama Chanin if you are serious about duplicating this look.  FYI: Shipping is via UPS an ground is $10.44.  Considering that expense, I’d order 2 vials – that’s my plan anyway.


Of course, their lovely stencils are key, and are offered online at $8 for a digital copy, or averaging $100-$150 for a LARGE cut stencil 25″ x 41.5″.  The stencil plastic is 10 ml – so quite heavy.  I looked online and it is available, by the roll at a very reasonable price, but then you have to cut it yourself – which, having done myself a few times, is NOT FUN.  Key to the overall look is the large size of the stencils. Some stencils are included in the books.  You can find their collection at the website HERE.  What I notice about the stencils they offer is that the cut out part is quite large scale, as is necessary for their technique. s

I had always done stenciling as taught by Diane Ericson, by hand with a stencil brush, aiming for a shadowed, lighter in the middle, look.  However, at Alabama Chanin, they use a Badger Airbrush.  I don’t see it handled on their website.  I found it online at Amazon ($83) and from the company itself.  The gal doing the work said they desire an even coating.  I always hated cleaning off the paint from the stencils, so I asked if they cleaned them routinely and was told emphatically, yes.  That did not surprise me, as the entire ‘factory’ was as neat and clean as a whistle.  This made me remember that I DID invest in an airbrush at one time, and have never used it…….perhaps the time has come.

The paint used is Createx.  Though they sell it in their store, I could NOT find it on their website.  Of course, it is on Amazon, so look for it there. I believe it comes in 26 different colors!  These bottles were LARGE and $26 each.



Glass Head Pins – At $10, for 100, that is quite pricey.  Glass Head Pins are my favorite – and I offer 2 brands: IBC (Imported by Clotilde), and Clover.  Both are excellent quality and about half the price.

Marker – The Clover Chalk Markers are used.  Again, priced quite high at AC ($4), because the regular price is $2.25 HERE.

Trimming Scissors – Classic 4″ Gingher Scissors  or 5″ Knife-Edge Trimmers.  Both are regularly priced at Alabama Chanin HERE.  

Couching Ropes  – I find this really interesting to create what you see below.  The lengthwise strips are allowed to roll, and then couched over as they outline a painted area.  At the website, a package of 68 pieces, 1/2″ x 32″ long is offered for $30.  These are vertically cut strips – EZ to do with a rotary cutter and ruler.  The fabric they sell from which they are cut is 54″ wide and $29.50/yard.  So – this is really just 1/2 yard.  Do the math – cut your own, and save!  Honestly I’m quite eager to try this technique.  How about you?

Couching Rope

Beads and Sequins 

Bugle Beads, cut bugle beads, seed beads, and flat (not shiny) sequins are all used for further embellishment, and stitched on with a single strand of the Button & Craft thread.  I suspect one of the Sharp Needles is used.  Beads are available at the website as well, along with a myriad of different places online.  The color is the key – so study what is carried at their website.


At the School of Making, you can take classes anywhere from $225 for a beginning class all the way to a full week for $3485.  I am still pleasantly amazed how generous the company is to share their techniques and sources.  If this look is something that causes your heart to go pitter patter (as it does mine) and you don’t want to work it all out by yourself with the 4 books (5th one releasing this fall), GO TO FLORENCE, ALABAMA!  It will be a trip that will change your creative life, for sure!  Be SURE to eat at their cafe, AND to take a tour.  I know I’m planning to venture the short 2 hours away again soon, taking some sewing friends with me.

ONE MORE POST – will share info and photos of their stitches classified for all levels in the final installment of this series, sometime yet this week.  Thanks so much for your notes of how you’re enjoying this series.  It’s been fun but it’s time to get stitching!


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