Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Garment Sewn Completely by Hand

I have long been intrigued by the notion of sewing a garment completely by hand. Picture how a relaxed vacation at the beach or a week at the cottage could be improved by the addition of needle and thread. After all, people have been mostly fully clothed since long before the invention of the sewing machine. And hand sewing is pretty much the definition of a couture garment. Although I never got around to it, the idea remained in the back of my mind.

When I started this project, I took my inspiration from the artisanal aspect of the Alabama Chanin style. I wasn't really thinking about that old sewing pipe dream exactly, but that is exactly what happened: A Garment Sewn Completely by Hand. Most of the stitching was done watching an old movie with a glass of wine. Or out in the yard with a cup of tea like I didn't have a care in the world.

In the interest of full disclosure, few pixels were used: I did design the bird pattern on the computer.  Next, I cut the stencil out of a sheet of acetate. ( Note: Don't cut your stencils from acetate. It curls up. You'll get paint all over your fingers straightening it out. Use something else.) I cut one layer of fabric with the pattern, Butterick 5473*,  stenciled it with Tulip paint using a 4" wide foam paint roller. After the paint dried, I sprayed fabric adhesive on the back and smoothed the fabric onto the second layer of fabric and cut it out along the edges of the cut pieces. I staystiched the curved edges and safety pinned the straight ones. The fabric is grey heather "Laguna" cotton jersey with a little lycra from

I did a running stitch around each bird and egg and french knots for the bird eyes. I used a double strand of Coats and Clark "Heavy" thread in Temple Gold. I experienced a lot of knotting even though I was using Thread Heaven, so I started cutting two lengths of the thread and threading them, in the same direction, through the needle together. What a difference that made!! I left all the threads unfinished on the inside.

After the birds were done, I stitched the shoulder seams together with a strip of  scrap selvage in the seam, then flat felled the seam with short parallel stitches. The side seams were stitched the same way. I put selvage in the front side of the pockets as well. I made the pocket bags yellow. Why? Why not!

Finally, I cut narrow strips of the fabric for binding. They are actually wrong side out to take advantage of the knit's natural inclination to curl to the right side. I stitched them the same way as the seams.

It was a long, but very satisfying process.

*I did have some issues with the pattern itself. I have actually purchased this pattern twice. The first time I did and FBA on it, and the vest I made from it never saw the light of day. Its kind of hard to explain what was wrong with it. It fit in the bust, but it was too big above the bust, but just at the center, not through the shoulders. In order for the center to lie flat above the bust it had to overlap itself. And the same condition happend just below the bust. It seemed like the center front is too long? I chucked the pattern because I thought I had messed up the FBA somehow.

This time when I used it for this project, I cut a larger size and didn't do the FBA on it. Plus this is a knit fabric. And the same fit issue happened...

See how the center fronts are at an angle? And the extra fabric at the center under the bust? If I straightened it under the bust, the extra fabric would transfer above the bust. But, if  I folded out a dart from the center to the bust, right at bust level, it straightens everything out, but that would just look weird.

I trimmed some off the center front edge above the bust and tilted the fronts up and took out an inch on the neck side of the front at the shoulder but its still not right. Maybe if I had one big breast in the middle instead one on each side it would fit better!

I will not be revisiting this pattern.


  1. Wow. Just wow. You've done beautiful work on this.

  2. What a gorgeous dress. I have all three books from Alabama Chanin and the course on Craftsy is mine but I have yet to actually make something!! You did a terrific job with the design and stitching. Thanks for reminding me, must do.....