CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Armchair Travels

Instead of reporting on an event, which you might have missed, or visiting a fiber place that is not within your circle of travels (which I did in my last two articles), I decided to include you in a recent textile experience I had that is simply irresistible.  And you can have it too!  Armchair to armchair.

“Let me write a book report” were the last words I ever thought I would utter at this stage in life.  But here we go.  This book is fabulous.  I checked it out of our local library, fell in love with it, and then purchased my own copy.

The Art of Manipulating Fabric, by Colette Wolff, Krause Publications c. 1996. 311

This book is a compendium, a journey, of what you can do with fabric.  It contains every manipulation that you have seen, and some that you have not, with detailed instructions and very clear photos to walk you through each process.  It made me reflect on various pleats, ruffles, smocking, tucks, corded quilting (who knew that there were so many options???), techniques that I had never questioned:  like “structured surfaces”!!!  Now I am challenged to sit down, and follow, page by page, each chapter and complete a sampler.


Although this was written in the last millennium, it is not dated as a reference and resource.  It is inspirational and useful.  Do not lose it on your bookshelf.  Keep it next to your sewing machine or with your stash of fabric or next to you at breakfast.  You will learn something new and be motivated every time you look at it.  Well, hmmm, now I thought, this is the end of the book report.  The plot does not thicken, no one gets hurt and then saved, no dark and stormy nights… so, I decided I needed to include something about the author, Colette Wolff.  And then, wow, I had the privilege to interview her on the telephone!

Colette was happy to hear that her book was still being opened for the first time by many (I know of a student at the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago, SAIC, who used this book as a text this past semester!)  Colette started her journey in fabric creating dolls and animals, then creating patterns for others to make them and honing her skills in three dimensional creations.

She then wrote for numerous publications, and at one point, while researching an article she was writing, realized that the book she was searching for did not exist.  So, she proposed to her publisher that she would write the book, The Art of Manipulating Fabric.  It took eight years to complete.  While Colette no longer gives workshops or presentations, she is an active member of The Textile Study Group of New York.  I insist that you, right now dear reader, google The Textile Study Group of New York, and peruse it carefully.  You may find presenters for your guild, you may want to join as a member (count me in!), you will find inspiration, and be “au courant” to what’s happening in NY.  The cutting edge (no pun intended)!

Colette also recommended that I look at the website for the The Museum of Arts and Design in NYC.  95% of their collection is accessible online.  You can create your own collection from their collection.  It’s simply wild!!!  Their director recently was a presenter and emphasized the new direction that MAD is taking in supporting “makers”.  Again, look at the entire website, including the “Store”.  I will also be joining as a member.  So this book report took me on an adventure I had not anticipated.  I found a new book to love, who’s author is still passionate and learning, and willing to give advice, recommendation and be a living resource.  And while you are sitting at your computer, google “images for the Art of Manipulating Fabric” you will want to run to your sewing machine; then, you will also see some youtube demonstrations, I watched one on Canadian smocking, and plan on watching more.

My conversation with Colette ended with her sharing a story.  An author of a mystery book called her, and needed to have a detailed description of a garment that would be key to his story and the heroine in his novel.  He sent Colette a photo of the jacket and dress and asked her to describe it in detail, as it would be crucial to be written using the right vocabulary and vernacular.  Of course she was delighted.  A Grande Dame in our midst.  Thank you Colette Wolff for giving us such a gift.  While parts of the book are available on line, on kindle, I would highly recommend buying yourself a copy.  There are new and used copies on  Or go to your local library.

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