Playing with Fabric

Two books and a pattern

By Addy Harkavy

Note: Some of the books reviewed on this page are available at a discount through the Planet Patchwork Bookstore, in association with Amazon Books. You can visit the bookstore here, or click on the link from each book for more information or to order.

When I was a kid, my folks always told me not to play with my food, as I pushed it around on the plate or made sculptures from such delicacies as pureed squash, which I hated. Nobody ever told me not to play with fabric, and the books and pattern that follow quite admirably aid and abet that tendency.

Over the past few years I've found that books about technique or design have proven much more interesting to me than project books. These books -- like Marsden's Quilting with Style tend to wind up on my reference shelf.

The Art of Manipulating Fabric
Colette Wolff Chilton
310pp, $29.95

manfab.gif (9287 bytes)I recently got my hands on Colette Wolff's The Art of Manipulating Fabric. Let the games begin! I'm eager to start playing, and am absolutely amazed by the incredible range and depth of material covered, not to mention a bit intimidated.

The book's given me inspiration for some clothing and a completely new notion about what a white-on-white quilt could look like, all as a result of its amazing graphic examples of dimensional and textural treatments of fabric. This book opens new windows and opens them wide! The author begins with a little rap on how to get the most from the book, and it makes sense because the rap gives a context for what follows.

All the illustrations are line drawings or photographs of white fabric that has been subjected to the technique in question, and the photography uses shadow to its optimum in showing sculptural effects while lending a tactile quality to the examples shown. All instructions are concise and well illustrated, with plenty of notes on how to use (clothing, pillows, etc.) the technique described. Although the book has a special section on quilting, it's difficult to look at any of it and say that it wouldn't apply.

Wolff has refined "quilt as you go" to "installment quilting," and the section on machine quilting is inspiring, even for me (the worst machine quilter this side of the moon). Pleating, shirring, tucking, gathering, smocking, stuffing doesn't begin to tell it all. Each technique is presented in the form we normally think of ... but then there's more. Tucking is followed by cross-tacked tucks, cabled tucks, partially seamed tucks (shows quite a few examples), bow-tie/undulating tucks, blind tucks and so forth. Lots of nifty dimensional techniques that look like shark's teeth, shingles, you name it. I could go on, but you get the idea here.

Suffice to say that this book is a reference shelf "must have" for anyone who loves to play with fabric.

Tucks Textures & Pleats
Jennie Rayment
J.R. Publications
104 pp, $24.95

Just in case you have the impression that Colette Wolff said it all in The Art of Manipulating Fabric, think again! Jennie Rayment's book, Tucks Textures & Pleats admittedly covers some of the same ground, but she covers it differently enough that the two books are additive. Rayment's sections on weaving with fabric, folded designs such as trumpets and cornets, are a joy to read and to work through. She includes prairie points, dimensional bow ties, folded stars, and more. She covers fabric knotting and plaiting, and illustrates the techniques with photographs for functional items that uses these techniques. One thing that fascinated me was a little section on "adding insertions" to the sample. This, of course, is how one would make a dimensional pinwheel, but her instructions generalize the concept so quilters can see how to add dimensional insertions to almost anything!

And that brings me to ...

The Foldy Stuff, Pleated Quilts

Donna Poster

Holiday Designs $8.95

OK. This is a pattern, but wow, what a pattern. On the surface, it appears to be iron-on transfers for a log cabin quilt. But wait! The log cabin strips have a dimensional folded edge for a unique new look.

Of course, I didn't start playing with this pattern until after reading about making insertions in Rayment's book (above), and all of a sudden, my log cabin sprouted shark's teeth, and more!

Seriously, though, Donna Poster's directions are impeccable, and the six iron-on transfers will give you anywhere from 60 to 120 6", 7.5", or 9" log cabin blocks on muslin (you supply) foundations. Poster includes lots of useful info, such as yardage requirements, number of blocks required to make a given size quilt, embellishment tips, and more. Extra transfers are available, so quilters don't have to purchase the instructions all over again if they want more, more, more!

Addy Harkavy co-owns Pinetree Quiltworks in Maine. Their website is at and Addy can be reached at

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