Are you interested in learning different fabric manipulation techniques? I thought I’d introduce two of my favorite books on the subject:

The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff


Fabric Manipulation by Ruth Singer

Maybe you already have at least one of them. These are the most extensive books about fabric manipulation I have found so far. Many of the techniques introduced in these books are a great way to create interesting surface structures to your garments. But probably people are mostly using them for other kind of sewing projects, such as cushions, tablecloths, curtains or bedspreads.

Among the techniques, my personal favorites are pleats and smocking, obviously!

But let’s see the books then.

The Art of Manipulating Fabric

Between the two, this is probably the more famous book.

The Art of Manipulating Fabric cover

It was published in 1996 by Krause Publications. Before writing this book, the author Colette Wolff had contributed several cloth-related articles to the major craft, sewing- and textile publications.

This book has a total of 320 pages and as you can see here in the Table of Contents, it’s jam-packed with a variety of fabric manipulation techniques. Each chapter has a more detailed table of contents of their own to separate the sub-categories of each technique.

The Art of Manipulating Fabric, table of contents

According to the author, her objective for this book was to

”catalog fabric manipulation techniques, emphasizing what they are, what they do to a piece of cloth, and how it’s done, detached from associations with product.”

She used the same medium-weight cotton muslin to create samples of each technique you see in the book.

Let’s take a closer look at the different chapters.

Gathering fabric

The first two chapters are all about gathering fabric in various ways. In fact, the chapters are called Gathering and Shirring.

You can gather by hand or by machine. Use just the thread, an elastic, or create a casing. Gathering only one edge or both edges produces different effects, as does the volume and shape of fabric you gather. Ever heard of furrowing? That’s when you gather all over the piece of cloth with little tacks.

Shirring means gathering the fabric with multiple rows of stitching. These rows can be stitched all in one direction or in two different directions crossing each other. You can also do pattern shirring by stitching for example wavy- or angled lines. As you can imagine, each style produces different outcomes.

Ruffles etc.

The next three chapters are about Ruffles, Flounces and Godets. These are all beautiful details you can add to your garments, so it’s definitely a useful group of techniques.

Ruffles from Colette Wolff's book

Again, there are so many variations on each. For example all the different ruffles you can achieve simply by changing the quantity, shape or placement of the gathering stitches. Not to mention pleated ruffles, that are a category of their own.

Flounce differs from the ruffle in that you don’t gather it.

Godets are triangular inserts you can use to create more fullness for example to a skirt.

Pleats and Smocking

Then there’s my favorite part of the book: Pleating, Smocking and Tucking.

All types of pleats are explained here. Knife-, box- ,inverted- and accordion pleats, plus of course their variations, such as doubled box pleats, pinch pleats and pipe organ pleats.

Pleats from Art of Manipulating fabric

The Smocking -chapter is divided into English-, Direct-, North American- and Italian Smocking. It explains the basics and the stitches. There are also some grids you can try.

Smocking from Art of Manipulating Fabric

Tucks are like tiny pleats that have been sewn at their base from end to end. The cool thing is that you can create different surfaces by changing the distance and size of the tucks. You can treat them like mini pleats and make little box pleats. Random- and cross-tucking looks pretty amazing, too. Check these out:

variations on standard tucks

How about tucks with a scalloped edge? Also with top-stitching you can create a series of different looks.


The three chapters that follow, are all about filled reliefs and probably interesting to quilters: Cording, Quilting and Stuffing.

Inserting cords inside channels sewn into doubled fabric creates 3 dimensional surface patterns. You can use different diameters of cord for different end-results. Try making an entire surface with cording or just one decorative motif.

Cording from Art of Manipulating Fabric -book

The Quilting chapter offers basics of hand- and machine quilting. With the Stuffing technique you can make low- and high-relief designs to your fabric surface. Basically it means adding fiberfill. This can be done either directly on the main fabric surface or you can make separate stuffed appliques.


The following chapter is about Using Darts to sculpt the fabric’s surface. With the help of either single- or double pointed darts it’s possible to create different 3-dimensional shapes, such as pyramids and cylinders.

The final chapter consists of inspirational pictures of fabric manipulation art. These designs mix different techniques into creative combinations. It kind of wraps the whole book up in a perfect way.

Fabric Manipulation

How about Fabric Manipulation by Ruth Singer then? This is a more recent book. It was published in 2013 by David&Charles and consists of 175 pages.

Fabric Manipulation by Ruth Singer cover

The author Ruth Singer is a textile artist, who has exhibited extensively her art and also won several awards. With this book she wants to inspire readers to create their own fabric manipulation experiments based on the techniques she introduces.

Here’s the Table of Contents.

Fabric Manipulation by Ruth Singer, Table of contents

As you can see, Fabric Manipulation starts with a chapter on different materials and tools you’ll be using, as well as the stitching techniques. A nice beginner-friendly way to start.

Pleats and Tucks

The first technique introduced, is pleating. So different kinds of pleats and their variations.

Knife pleats from Manipulating Fabric -book

Lot’s of amazing ideas here. My favorite is knife pleats with a ribbon sewed vertically on top of the edge.

Then there’s decorative box pleating. It’s worked on ribbon which you can later use as an embellishment. There are lots of different ways to fold the ribbon that create cool surface designs. If you line the fabric/ribbon, you’ll get even more variations.

Next are the Tucks. Here we get the basics and all the different variations, tuck and fold being my favorite.

Tucks from Fabric Manipulation -book


There’s a separate chapter on the actual Ribbon Folding with some really nice pointy designs you’ll learn to fold.

Ribbon folding from Ruth Singer's book

From ribbon folding, the next step is folding single shapes of different kinds of fabric you then appliqué on top of the fabric to create interesting surfaces.


As you can see, part of the techniques are the same as in The Art of Manipulating Fabric. Like the chapters on Ruffles and Frills, Shirring, Gathering and Smocking that follow. But the variations are a bit different, and especially the chapter on Smocking has more easy-to-understand grids for you to use.

Smocking styles

Stitch & Slash

There’s an interesting technique called Stitch and Slash, which basically means sandwiching various layers of fabric together with diagonal rows of stitches and slashing the upper layers open. This reveals the layers beneath. You can just leave it like that or go on and stitch on top of it, across the previous rows, folding the fabric as you go. You’ll create all kinds of surface patterns like this.

This book, too, has chapters on quilting, cording and stuffing, but with different designs.


New entries are flat-, 3D- and reverse appliqué. The 3D appliqué is not stuffed shapes as in the other book. But rather done by using gathered or folded pieces of fabric, or even ribbon.

3D appliques from Fabric Manipulation -book

Reverse appliqué has several layers of fabric stitched together and you reveal one or more layers of fabric underneath by cutting away the top layers. Just stitch a shape you want to create and cut away the fabric layers in the middle.

Last, but not least, Fabric Manipulation shows you how to use holes and decorative edging to create interesting details and how to add in-seam decorative trimmings.


So now you might be asking which of these two Fabric Manipulation books you should get? Actually, I think both. They are complementary to each other, even though many of the techniques are shown in both books.

If you really must choose one, it depends on your personal taste. The Art of Manipulating Fabric is more thorough, after all, it also has more pages. There is a lot of text. It seems that most people end up choosing this book.

Fabric Manipulation on the other hand has more illustrations and colorful pictures that let you see the results made in different kinds of fabrics. It might even be faster to understand the different passages following the step-by-step illustrations. Surely there are less variations to the different techniques, but it’s definitely a good starting point.

More Inspiration

These two books have inspired some pattern experiments of mine and consequently these blog posts:

Smocking and a rose sleeve

How to draft patterns that create patterns

How to draft patterns that create patterns -part 2

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