Today I’d like to share one of my absolute favorite sewing books: The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff, published in 1996. Simply stated, this book is nothing short of a masterpiece. It covers, in great detail, the full spectrum of fabric manipulation techniques from simple gathering and pleating to complex structural forms that combine multiple elements into works of textile art. If you have any interest in learning about the world of fabric transformations, even if you only use it as inspiration or eye candy, I would highly recommend checking out Colette’s exhaustive manual. Honestly, it blew my mind!
Colette begins the preface of the book with this simple introduction:
“This is a book of ideas about sewing cloth.”
She goes on to explain that she wanted to present the techniques independently of their potential applications so that the reader can take the ideas and run with them. I love this idea! All the examples are presented on a square of unbleached muslin with pinked edges. No garments, no home decor pieces, no quilts, nothing. Just amazingly manipulated pieces of muslin that you can transform into anything your little heart desires. She writes about the muslin:
“When sewn into samples, its plain, smoothly woven surface doesn’t distract from the main point, the manipulation. Its bland color proved exceptionally receptive to the light and shadow of black-and-white photography.”
This book has all my favorite elements of a sewing book: a textbook-like layout, small text to fit in as much technical information as possible, clear line drawings, and no fluff. By “fluff” I mean full-page, full-color, overly-styled photographs that take up valuable space and provide almost no useful information. Modern sewing books are full of these, and it drives me crazy. Call me a purist, but I don’t want to spend my hard-earned money on something that borders on a coffee table book. I want technical instruction!
There are plenty of photographs in this book though, and they are phenomenal teaching tools. There is a sewn sample and associated photograph for EVERY SINGLE TECHNIQUE that Colette describes in the book. If it is in the instructions, there is a photo. Period. No omissions, no confusion. I can only imagine how long it took her to wash, iron, cut, and sew all the samples. It is truly mind-blowing. In the foreword, editor Robbie Fanning describes her dedication in sample-sewing:
“Periodically, I would be in the same town as Colette and she would show me the samples. Always, I would be staggered at the workmanship and the possibilities. Who but Colette could have made darts into works of art? I began to drag other people into the meetings, merely for the pleasure of watching their faces as she pulled out some samples. At one point someone at Chilton [Book Company] asked her to ship her samples to Philadelphia for a meeting. Colette politely asked, ‘All 23 boxes?'”
Wow. I seriously want to give this woman a hug.
Anyway, enough of my gushing. Let’s check out this amazing book!
The book is organized into chapters for each technique, and each chapter contains detailed instructions followed by photographs of the samples. Above you can see the introductory instructions for creating flounces (which you might use for a peplum, for example). The line drawings in the instructions are exceptionally clear and helpful, and I found them to be remarkably true-to-life. As in, I wonder if Colette actually sewed a fabric sample and then precisely drew how the fabric behaved. And yes, she drew all the line drawings herself! Amazing.
Here’s an example of the photograph sections, in this case for gathered double-edged ruffles. Who knew you could do such amazing things with a simple ruffle?!?!? What’s great is that if you’re just casually flipping through the book and see a photo you like, you can flip back a few pages and find the detailed instructions on how to create it. Colette uses consistent terminology throughout the book, so it’s easy to match a photo with its instructions. Or, you could read this book like a novel like I did, drooling with every page turn. You know, just saying. 🙂
Here’s a close-up of some of the ruffle samples – I’m fascinated by the bottom one! Where could I apply this technique – maybe along the hem of a summer skirt? As a brooch for a blazer? On a purse? So many possibilities!
Here’s another technique that I found really inspiring – tucks with geometric notches cut out at regular intervals. I can imagine making a boxy summer top covered in these tucks from shoulder to hem. How cool would that be??
And check out the instructions for them – you pin the tucks inside out, sew and cut out the notches, clip the corners, turn everything inside out, poke out all your corners, press everything, and then sew the tucks. One by one. This sounds amazingly labor-intensive and amazingly awesome. Am I ambitious enough to give it a try?? (Hint: Probably not!)
Check out this awesome chart of pleats and associated pleat samples. I mean, honestly Colette, you had me at CHART OF PLEATS. I had never even heard of half of these! I don’t know how I would incorporate these intricate and structural pleats into a garment, but I can imagine some exquisite drapes for my future sewing room. Imagine stuffing your pipe organ pleats with sewing notions. Need an extra button? Just reach into the built-in storage cubby in your drapes, LOL!
More drool-worthy samples:
I know this book may not be for everyone, but I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to share it with you and perhaps get your creative juices flowing. The book retails for $29.95 US, which is not cheap, but not bad considering the wealth of information and inspiration it contains. As always when buying books, I would recommend looking for it at your local independent bookstore and asking them to order it if they don’t have it in stock. Yes, Amazon is cheaper, but nothing beats the experience of perusing your local bookstore and checking out the books in person — just like with fabric shopping!
(For the record, I purchased this book with my own money and am writing this review of my own volition. I have no affiliation with the author or publishing company and just wanted to share a book that I enjoyed!)
Do you already own The Art of Manipulating Fabric? If so, have you used any of the techniques in your sewing projects? I’m dying to know! 🙂