This week's DIY is a t-shirt DIY — which is, in case you haven't guessed, one of my favorite kinds of do-it-yourself project, because of the ubiquity of the raw materials. And this t-shirt DIY comes to you with the help of a very special guest: fashion designer Natalie Chanin, of the label Alabama Chanin. She showed me how to do the most incredible things with a needle and thread.
In addition to the acclaimed Alabama Chanin collection — for which Natalie has been nominated for a Council of Fashion Designers of America award, and which you might have seen in the pages of such magazines as Vogue — Natalie Chanin runs sewing workshops and sells DIY supplies, clothing patterns, and kits on her Web site. She's also the author of three DIY books. That hands-on focus is unusual in high fashion, to say the least, which often likes to preserve as many illusions as possible about where (overseas?) and how (proprietary!) and by whom (paid?) it is made. And Alabama Chanin definitely is high fashion — its clothing can retail in the thousands of dollars.
Chanin is out to challenge the idea that "fashion" is about the designer, and "sewing" and "craft" is about the home-made. As she puts it, making things needn't be viewed as a competition between the "auteurs" and the "amateurs." (This view also has a gendered dimension that is itself inherently problematic — "fashion" connoting that which is hierarchical and male, "craft" that which is humble and female.) When she started selling her patterns, she says, others in the industry told her, "You just killed your business." But sales of her collection remain robust, she says — probably because the many hours of work that go into most pieces make them difficult to truly replicate — and the DIY side of Alabama Chanin has meanwhile grown to nearly match the fashion side.
Natalie Chanin lives in Florence, Alabama, where her design workshop is located (and where her clothing is made, by local seamstresses who earn a living wage in an area of the South that has been ravaged by unemployment and industry flight). But this week, when Chanin came to New York for the Makeshift conference on sustainability and DIY culture in fashion, I jumped at the chance to meet her. We drank chamomile tea and talked DIY and did DIY. I learned things.
If you're like me, you believe that making things can be powerful. It's an exercise in autonomy, and it's a demonstration of thrift. I find sewing a purse, even if it takes me a week's worth of evenings (maybe because it takes me a week's worth of evenings) much more empowering, and certainly more satisfying, than I do buying one.
Here's how to do the t-shirt DIY we chose.
You will need, clockwise from top left: 1) A stencil. 2) A t-shirt. 3) Butcher paper, or old brown paper bags, flattened. 4) Fabric paint. 5) Sewing scissors and embroidery scissors. 6) Beads and sequins that you want to use. 7) Scrap fabric if you want to do appliqué. 8) Pins, needles, and a pincushion. 9) A Sharpie. 10) Thread. 11) Beading needles. You will also need a hairdryer, a sponge, and a plate, not pictured.
First, you need to consider your needle and thread very carefully. You need thread that will be strong enough to secure some heavy elements, and you need a needle with an eye big enough to contain that thread, but small enough to pass through a tiny glass seed bead. Chanin likes Coats Button Craft thread, a strong, rigid thread with a polyester core wrapped in cotton. It's made in Mexico; there aren't many U.S. factories that make specialty threads these days. As for needles, Chanin likes Richard Hemming & Son Milliners Large-Eye Needles in size 10. The eye is totally flush with the barrel of the needle, but it's big and round and just fits a Button Craft thread.
But there's more to threading your needle than just having the right equipment. Chanin told me that you should always thread the end of the thread that comes right off the spool — you shouldn't unspool a length of thread, cut it, and then push that cut end through the needle's eye. This is an old wives' tale, but it turns out it's based in physics. Any thread has torsion because it's made of many smaller fibers twisted together. When thread is rolled onto a spool, it picks up torque — meaning that when you cut it, thread is more likely to twist in one way than another. When you cut into a thread that comes off the spool, says Chanin, the fibers in that thread shrink back and twist more tightly around each other — making that cut end easier to navigate through the eye of a needle. The other end of the thread, by contrast, starts to untwist when it's cut. Always thread right off the spool. And always cut the thread at an angle, to make a sharp, twisted "point" that will go through a needle's eye with relative ease.
"There's another old saying," said Chanin. "You don't thread your needle, you needle your thread." Don't take the thread to the needle. Hold the thread securely between thumb and forefinger, and bring the needle's eye down onto it.
Chanin also told a story about how to knot the thread. Big, bulky knots are a signature of Alabama Chanin clothing — because when you work primarily in cotton jersey t-shirt fabric, you need a big knot to hold your work together. (Cotton jersey is a knit, and up close, like all knits, it's riddled with little holes a small knot could slip through.) "There's a story my granddaddy told me when I was a little girl," said Chanin. He told her to pick up all the sticks she could from the yard and bring them to him. When she did, he took one stick and asked her to break it. "So I did," she said. "Then he had me pick up the whole bundle, and he asked me to break all the sticks. And of course I couldn't. He said, 'That bundle of sticks is like your family. And nothing can break it apart.' You need your family of threads to have a big, strong knot, or your work will come apart." She was wearing a floor-length skirt covered in hand-sewn appliqués in the shape of leaves; each was secured with a large knot. It had taken over a month to sew, she said. And in years of machine washings, not a leaf had come undone.
I decided to sew on some sequins, using a chain stitch. Here's how you do a chain stitch: first, push up through the fabric from the wrong side. Pull the thread all the way through.
How To Make Surrealist Schiaparelli Sunglasses
How To Keep Any Strapless Dress From Falling Down
How To Master The Art Of Ombré Nails
How To Ditch Your Boring Throw Pillows For Something Cooler
How to Make Easy, Fast, Foolproof Bread From Scratch
You Too Can Have Kick-Ass Nails Like Rihanna
How to Make the World's Easiest Purse
How To Wrap The Best Gifts Without Breaking The Bank
How To Pluck Your Eyebrows
How To Winterize A Coat
How To Knit A Burberry-Inspired Cowl
How To Make A Colorful Wrapped Hair Comb
How To Transform Yourself With Special Effects Makeup
How To Give Yourself Paint-Splattered Jackson Pollock Nails
How To Turn A T-Shirt Into A Pillow
How To Make A Felted Soap
How To Make A Manicure Last
How To Make A Corinne Day-Inspired Spiderweb T-Shirt
How To Do A Polka-Dot Manicure
How To Do A 30s-Style Moon Manicure
How To Make An Envelope Clutch
How To Paint Your Nails With A Charming Leopard Print
How To Alter A Thrift-Store Dress