Alabama Chanin Corset Top

I first found out about Natalie Chanin and her Alabama Chanin clothing line a couple of years ago, and I was instantly intrigued. I’d seen another sewing blogger make one of the corset tops and I loved it. For those unfamiliar with Alabama Chanin garments, they are completely hand stitched out of natural jersey fabrics, and often heavily embellished with beads or their trademark cutaway applique/embroidery. It gives a bit of a bohemian, rustic look, but with more contemporary style lines. And for those who love the look but can’t afford the hefty price tag (embellished dresses retail for almost $6000!), Natalie Chanin has published books of her most popular patterns, along with all the instructions to be successful making them.

Alabama Chanin corset top embroidered

Hand-sewing a jersey garment: the very idea blew my mind. I love sewing knits on my overlocker–so speedy–but I also liked the idea of having a portable project that was garment sewing rather than knitting or crochet. And I’ve always been good at embroidery so I figured I’d probably enjoy sewing a garment together with pretty but functional hand stitches.

I added Natalie Chanin’s Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns to my Amazon wishlist but didn’t think much more about it, and then out of the blue (well, okay, for my birthday) my sister bought it for me. And so I got large format prints done of my favourite patterns, then waited well over a year to actually get started on one. Not sure what took me so long to take the plunge. Maybe it was the idea of all that handsewing!

In a Nutshell:

An interesting pattern for jersey knits and a whole new way of sewing them, but ultimately I’m not sure it’s “me”.

Pattern:

It’s the Corset Top from the Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns book, made up in a straight size L. Yes, that’s what my measurements put me in, which is weird as I’m usually an M and occasionally an S. Not that it bothers me, but I do feel I need to point out that the patterns included in this book (they’re large format on a CD ROM, so you either need to tile to print at home or send to a large format printer) do not cater for fuller figured women. There are only two sizes larger than mine, and I’m generally a UK size 10-12! The book gives instructions on how to adapt for curvier bodies, however, so that’s something.

Fabric:

This is the same old 100% cotton interlock I used to make my Moneta dress. As described in that post, it has relatively poor recovery but is a good medium weight with a nice soft hand. I believe I originally bought it from Vend Fabrics, who if you haven’t come across them do a great range of plain knit fabrics which are quality but really cheap.

New skills learnt:

Hand sewing jersey neckbands in place! Never done this before, and I’m not sure I’ll ever do it again, but it was an interesting experience.

Changes I made:

  • I cheated and used the overlocker for the main construction, but otherwise stuck to the hand sewing method outlined in the AC book.

Construction:

Well, if you know anything about the Alabama Chanin technique then you’ll know that stitching this one up was an exceedingly time-consuming process. I actually started work on this in May, and didn’t finish till September. Okay, I admit I wasn’t working on it very often and with a bit of focus I probably could have done it in a weekend, but I was happy enough with the chilled approach I took. Who needs hand-sewing calluses?!

After sewing all the seams on the overlocker I tried it on to check the fit, which I was happy enough with. I had initially thought I might topstitch the seams (a faux flat felling) with the sewing machine, but then decided I’d give the Alabama Chanin method a try. I topstitched them in place using a running stitch with a thick buttonhole twist thread I had in my stash. I thought black thread would give enough of a contrast to make the stitches visible, but it wouldn’t be too obvious if my stitching went a bit wobbly. As it was, I should have gone for even more contrast as I think my stitching is pretty damn good. Here’s the evidence:

The binding is left unfinished, and hand tacked in place before using a decorative stretch stitch to sew it in place. The book gives you lots of different options for the stitching of both the main seams and the binding, so you can fully customise your garment. I went for the herringbone stitch as I already know I can do a good job of that one, but there ten different stretch stitches detailed in the book, with excellent instructions for sewing them.

It’s worth mentioning here that while this is embroidery, there are no embroidery hoops required. The Alabama Chanin method relies on you stabilising your seams and banding by putting in temporary basting stitches using a normal thread, and then simply sewing over the top. The book contains loads of guidance on how to hand stitch, including how to tie good knots and how to work all the applique and beadwork that Alabama Chanin are known for. It also has plenty of info on fitting knits and how to pattern hack to get lots of different looks from the core patterns, and even though I’m not sure I’ll be making hand-stitched garments from this book again, I’m going to hang onto it purely for all the pattern hacking inspiration.

The hem of the top is left unfinished, which is apparently the Alabama Chanin way. I’m not one hundred percent sure if I like this, but at that stage I really didn’t fancy binding the hem and doing even more herringbone stitch. We’ll just call it finished, shall we?

Time taken: I honestly don’t know. Just over half an hour to piece on the overlocker, and then absolutely ages to do the hand stitching. Sorry I can’t be more helpful than that!

Overall verdict:

When I tried this on after sewing the main seams I was really pleased. It looked like a good fit and a cute shape. But now I’m really not sure about it. So what happened in the interim?

I suppose a large part of it is down to the work I did figuring out my personal style. This seems to fit with my old aesthetic–a bit hippie and obviously hand-made–rather than the “everyday vintage glam” one I’ve been easing into. But I can’t really blame that as I figured all that out in April and didn’t start making this until May. I guess this is one of those projects I’d decided on before then, and willfully ignored the fact it didn’t really fit anymore.

I suspect there is a way to make a corset-style shape work with a rockabilly vibe, but this isn’t it. Maybe I’ll have a think about a way to hack the pattern pieces into something that would work for me. Anyway, here’s the pics of the finished top from all angles. You can see it needs a swayback adjustment but that should be fairly straightforward with all those seams to play with at the back.

Changes for next time:

I’m not convinced I’ll make this pattern again unless it’s for some kind of medieval dressing up costume. If I’m going to wear a corset I reckon I’ll make it a real one.

There is one potential way of making this, though, that might be worth a try at some point. Years ago I had a knit top with these sorts of seam lines, but it was really tight fitting and made out of some kind of technical fabric that had excellent shapewear properties. I loved that top and have always been sad I’ve never found another like it, so I can see this pattern, made up in one of the smaller sizes, could give a very similar garment. I’d probably want to mess around with the neckline, though, as I’m not sold on the shape of it.

Costing:

Pattern: £3

Large format printing: approx £3 –It was so long ago I have no records of how much it actually cost, but I’m guessing around this amount.

The book was a gift from my sister. But if I had paid for it, I’d be breaking it down as follows: £14.29 for book of 10 patterns, therefore £1.43 for this pattern.

Fabric: £0

Ancient fabric excavated from deep in the stash, so although I have a vague idea of cost based on current Vend Fabrics prices, I’m counting this one as free.

Notions: £0

Thread from stash.

Total cost: £3 (approx)

I figure even if I never wear this top, at least it was cheap. And I learnt lots, so that’s always valuable. Plus, the same garment retails for an eye-watering $488 on the Alabama Chanin site, so that’s a pretty amazing saving!

So, what do you reckon? Would you venture into hand-sewing a garment from scratch? And how would you style a corset top like this one?

Disclaimer: some of the products linked above use affiliate links, meaning if you follow the link and make a purchase I will receive a small referral fee (at no added cost to you). Any extra income to help fund my sewing habit is greatly appreciated, but rest assured I only recommend products I love and think you might find useful too 🙂

6 thoughts on “Alabama Chanin Corset Top”

  1. I have an AC book and when I bought it, I really wanted to make a top like yours. Not sure what put me off as now not convinced it is ‘me’. Now I have seen how well yours turned out I might give it a go – though it might take me a few months to finally make the decision……..

    1. Ooh, I’d definitely recommend giving it a try if you like the look. There aren’t any other knit top patterns like it! Definitely takes a while to stitch the AC way, but you could always cheat and use the machine for your first one. Just call it a wearable toile!

  2. Although it’s not my personal style, I do like the idea. I’ve seen the cutaway designs you mention, and they are pretty cool! Hand embroidery does give something special to a garment, though. Sorry that you’re not happy with something you spent so long over, but at least maybe it went some way to helping you to define your style ☺️

    1. Thanks! It’s always useful to try things out even when unsuccessful, and I figure I’ve picked up a new skill which could be useful for making gifts. The AC style is perfect for my mum and sister, so if I’m ever feeling particularly generous with my time they might get a very special garment 🙂

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