Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Alabama-style stitching - Part 3

[just tuning in? Part 1 is here]

Here's a look at the completed stenciling on the back. I reused some of the main motifs from the front, in different positions, and filled in with additional leaves and some dots. The dots are stamped with one of the sponge-on-a-stick things I was using to apply the fabric paint. I've also added some dots to fill in the larger empty spaces and edges of the front.

My under layer is an identical sleeveless T in a (slightly faded) kelly green, which is my favorite color combo with this bright blue. I could have simply slipped one inside the other, but decided to reduce seam bulk by cutting away the seams, hem, and neck/arm binding on the inner layer. The two layers are pinned together with small safety pins, which I placed on the inside, so as to keep them out of the way of stitching. Here you can see the under layer pinned around the edges. I also added a few more pins in the center.

So far I've really been enjoying this process, designing and cutting the stencil and seeing that pattern emerge. Now the real fun begins: hand stitch around each motif, and cut out the larger bits for a reverse applique effect:

First I had to make a thread choice. The Alabama Stitch Book recommends button/craft thread, which is a thick, strong cotton-wrapped polyester. I have some ivory of that, and some beige. Not my first choice, although the beige is what I've ended up using.

I first tried some dark blue 100% poly upholstery thread, but decided I had zero confidence that the knots would hold, as it's quite slippery. Then I considered hand-quilting thread, which is heavier than all-purpose thread, and which I have several nice colors of thanks to my Mom, who passed most of her thread stash on to me. Alas, a brief tug test revealed that the stuff has the tensile strength of wet Kleenex, so not a good choice for this project. Probably also useless for quilting, other than it's 100% cotton which I guess may be important to someone. Not to me, though. I'll probably collect all those spools and toss 'em. If I ever hand-quilt something I'll want those stitches to last.

Final option, some poly top-stitching thread. I have two spools of purple, which would be a fun color choice. But it's a bit too heavy for this, so beige button/craft thread it is. Although the book says to use it doubled, I tried that and decided I prefer a single thread. I think that's because, as I realized when I went to pin the two layers together, what I'm working with is not a simple interlock, but a very fine single rib, which has more sideways stretch and heft. You might think that was so obvious I'd have noticed it a bit earlier on, but it's typical of me to have been so caught up in the enthusiasm for a new project that a key detail went undetected during the planning stage and into execution.

I chose to leave the knots/ends on the outside, although remembering to start from the front is a challenge. It's so deeply ingrained to bring that first stitch up from the back to hide the knot and tail. I've miffed that twice so far, but it's not really noticeable.

Here's a close-up of the reverse applique effect:
I've never hand-sewn cotton jersery before, and it is so soft and lucious to work with! It's been a couple of decades since I did any kind of embroidery, and I wasn't sure how working without a hoop to stretch the fabric would work, but the jersey handles just fine.

What I'm so enjoying about this method:
~ how meditative and relaxing the hand-sewing is; even more so than hexies, possibly because the running stitch is smooth and easy
~ the in-your-face hand-sewn effect, knots and tails out there for everyone to see, plain-jane running stitch, nothing fancy about it; yet the result is complex and elegant
~ how the reverse applique bumps the stencilled pattern toward the abstract by making the echo shape more prominent that the line of the stencilled pattern

I'm asserting great restraint to hold off on adding beads to this one. I'm eager to take that extra step toward labor-intensive excess, but will save it for when I'm working with new fabric. Because I do want to do more of these. First, though, I need to finish this one, and that will take a while.

When I've got all the reverse applique done I have one more decision to make, and that's whether to cut off and hand-finish the neck and arm edges. And maybe the hem, too.

I think I want to, but have no extra jersey to make a binding from unless I cut up another shirt and add a third color, which would be too much. So I'd have to come up with some way to stabilize the neck/arm edges. Maybe a strip of fusible interfacing on the underlayer?

That's the kind of thing that would have been easier to do before all this hand-sewn assembly, but I'm sure it's doable. Nevertheless, I've decided to wait on the neck/arm edge decision until I get the rest of the sewing done.


  1. hey, what about some fold over elastic? I think you could get close to the right shade, but even a contrast would be kind of cool. Do you have any of that?

  2. Ooh, good idea, thanks! No FOE around here, but I've been meaning to try it someday. I'll shop online. It's on my list, too, for when I go fabric shopping on the mainland this fall; hope to get to a store or two with good notions sections.