Showing My Spirit

By now you all know I’m a huge Alabama Chanin fan. One of the first things I learned about Natalie Chanin was how she decided to strike out on her own using quilting/embroidery techniques she learned growing up in Alabama to transform Thrift shop T-shirts into one-of-a-kind corsets.  I’ve used Natalie’s beginning as inspiration for my own.  I can’t wait to share my projects with you, but let’s start at the beginning:

I wanted to start this post with a bit more background on Natalie and Alabama Chanin but I got overwhelmed doing research and I found I couldn’t do her justice so I was procrastinating as a result.  But here’s the great news, I’m signed up to do an Alabama Chanin weekend workshop this November so I will get to meet Natalie in person.  I will definitely post about my experience, but in the meantime, I found a few great articles about Natalie and the history and philosophy of Alabama Chanin:

Here’s a great article in The Bitter Southerner that she herself promoted on her blog:

This shows how far she was able to take her thrift shop T-shirts:

This NPR article talks about how she sources her cotton:

Here’s an article from the National Endowment for the Arts about her history and her open sourcing philosophy:

Finally, an article about the fashion industry why “slow-made” is the future:

So, what have I done with my inspiration.  My first T-shirt project wasn’t exactly a thrift store project.  I am so fortunate to have some great friends who help me get my boys everywhere they need to go.  A couple of Christmas’s ago I decided to make a gift of some spirit shirts for my carpool buddies.

Keep in mind we have to be at warm-ups at 6 a.m. so carpool is key!

Our kids swim for a club called Nova, so here’s what I did:

  • I took the swim clubs logo off their website and created a stencil
  • I bought some T-shirts on sale from Target (two red and two navy)
  • I bought some white and some navy fabric paint
  • I painted the logo on the shirts in four different combinations
  • I raided my son’s outgrown shirt pile and cut some pieces of fabric for backing behind the logo
  • Finally, I sewed a running stitch around the logo and cut out the centers – negative applique style

It was such a fun project, and so cool to see the different effects of the color combinations.  Sorry I don’t have more pictures – I did this a couple of years ago before I even imagined I would be blogging. The white fabric paint on blue fabric turned out silver looking and it was my favorite, so that’s the shirt I kept.

That was three years and many machine washings ago.  It’s held up pretty well!

My next spirit project came about because I sent my boys to a hockey game with Grandpa who bought them a ticket package that included T shirts, so, I had an extra XL Washington Capitals T shirt to play with.  I wanted to use Natalie’s corset pattern because I thought it would work well with the graphic on the shirt.  This was my first adventure into felled seams and contrast stitching and now I’m a big fan of both.

I love the way it turned out except if you read my Me Made May post, you know I’ve got some work to do on measuring seams and sizing.  Makes for a va va voom picture though!

My next T shirt also came to me serendipitously.  My son was participating in Destination Imagination and his team manager had some old D.I. T-shirts laying around.  I love the message on this shirt – it sums up D.I. perfectly.  I used the camisole tunic pattern because I wanted to keep the message in tact.  There wasn’t enough material on the shirt to complete the whole pattern so I grabbed an old white T shirt for the side panels and the straps.  I used a Cretan stitch on all the seams which was pretty time intensive and it’s a lot of look!


I wore the shirt to the state tournament in April even though I hadn’t had time to put on any binding.  Also, it was pretty darn cold that day so I wore a black T-Shirt underneath.

I thought it might be a one-time shirt, but, by a stroke of luck my son’s team advanced to the “global finals” level so I had time to put black binding on the neckline and armholes.  It really does give it a much more finished look.  Now, let’s just hope that wasn’t his last year doing D.I.

My most recent project was another swim team shirt.  This time, it was a speed project.  I literally got the T shirt the night before the championship meet.  Again, the graphic dictated the pattern.  I chose the corset because it lined up with the names on the back of this shirt, and since all the kids had worked so hard to make it to this meet, I wanted to honor that by keeping their names in tact.  I spent the evening stitching away and managed to get the shirt together before warm ups the next morning at 8 a.m.

After the meet, I decided I wanted to put on binding so I can wear the shirt next summer during swim meets.  But, what color to use?  I didn’t really have anything in the same blue as the graphic but I had ordered some Alabama Chanin cotton jersey in Peacock to match the skirt that I had sewed from a DIY kit and I thought it would look great wearing this shirt with the skirt.

I’ve enjoyed working with T shirts so much a headed over to Goodwill and pickup up quite a few more for some of my favorite teams.  What a fun way to show my spirit!  I hope I have inspired you to take up needle and thread and let your spirit shine.