Sunday, November 5, 2023

Weekend Review: The Art of Manipulating Fabric


The Art of Manipulating Fabric / Colette Wolff
Radnor, PA: Chilton, c1996.
311 p.

Today I'm sharing the classic in the field of Fabric Manipulation! I picked up a copy of this at a quilt show recently, a great deal. And I've really enjoyed going through it, despite it being an older book and thus all in black and white. The images are there more for instruction than glossy inspo, anyhow, and there is a LOT of instruction and technique covered in this very inspiring book. There are over 350 images to study, showing many different dimensional techniques. 

The book is organized into six main categories, with various techniques and examples in each one. They are as follows: 

1. Controlled Crushing (Gathering, Shirring)
2. Supplementary Fullness (Ruffles, Flounces, Godets)
3. Systematic Folding (Pleating, Smocking, Tucking)
4. Filled Reliefs (Cording, Quilting, Stuffing)
5. Structured Surfaces (Darts)
6. Mixed Manipulations

It's a little overwhelming how many ideas are included here. The images are all of Wolff's samples, illustrating the techniques, and the text is also quite clear. Some of the variations can be quite similar, but she explains the details of each one, including both front and back pictures of some of them to make them more understandable. It's precise, with clear instructions and even measurements for some of the examples.

I am most interested in the "Systematic Folding" section at the moment - pleats and tucks are always something I like to see as garment details, and I've been looking at a few resources on smocking lately, as well. I opened the book to the pleating section and saw the solution to a skirt mend I want to get to -- the back slit is too short for comfortable walking right now, but would be too revealing if I just opened up the seam. So I'm going to add a kick pleat using a style she shows in her book (good thing I have extra fabric left...) That's just one quick useful tip I got from this book right away. But all the parts on smocking and tucking, specifically, are inspiring me to think of ways to use them in some artwork. So many ideas! 

I've seen a few of these techniques spread across other books, but it's nice to have them all collated here so efficiently. This book is very comprehensive, well-organized, and thorough on its subject. It's an older book and intended as a reference volume, so it's not flashy inspo pics like in some more recent books. But it is fully descriptive of a vast array of fabric manipulations, which is what it set out to do. Great book to be able to refer to for ideas and as a starting point for many unusual effects. 


  1. It is amazing and inspiring all the techniques the author has devised. I think very light-weight fabrics would be needed.

    1. So many techniques shared here! Yes, probably a lighter-weight fabric with some body would work well for most of these - although you could experiment!

  2. I have had this book for many many years. I am not sure I ever really used it, but I have always found it so inspiring. A little bit like Lois Ericson's similar books of the time, but this book is very comprehensive. I think I will have to get it out and see how I can use some of the techniques.

    ... Sara

    1. I haven't tried too many of the ideas yet, but it is still inspiring to look through :) I was thinking about some of the gathering effects she shares and how those might be fun to add to some kind of garment... hmmmm!


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