This summer, I’ve ended up with a lot of time on my hands and not a lot of money in my entertainment fund. So, I decided to use this as an opportunity to clear out my stash of backlogged and half finished projects. By the end of the summer, I’m planning on either finishing or officially abandoning all the projects in my backlog! The first one I decided to tackle was the fabric manipulation project I’d started in March and then pushed aside when the semester got to the hectic stage.

A pink pillow using assorted fabric manipulation techniques sits on a bed with white sheets and a hand sewn quilt. A calico cat looks into the camera while raising her paw.
Attempts to photograph this project were assisted by the ever adorable Clara.

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About the Fabric Manipulation Workshop

I’m a regular subscriber to The Crafter’s Box, so I learned about this kit when they posted the monthly workshop for February. My first thought when seeing the Fabric Manipulation Workshop, was that it was meant for anyone who had ever picked up a copy of Colette Wolf’s book The Art of Fabric Manipulation (Amazon/Bookshop) and said “I want to do that!”

The basic techniques weren’t new to me (we do a unit on fabric manipulation in my Textiles II class), but I was really excited to see how the instructor, Amanda Whited, would approach teaching the techniques. Honestly, one of the main reasons I spend so much time taking online crafting classes is because I like seeing how other instructors approach teaching.

Like all the workshops offered by Crafter.com, there is both a kit and a video tutorial. The video tutorial can be purchased separately, and if you have fabric and basic sewing supplies laying around, this is actually a good one to try that out with. There also are several optional add-ons including a cutting tools bundle and additional fabric.

The workshop was offered in several different color ways, mostly a variety of blues and greens. In an unsurprising move for anyone who’s met me, I chose the “petal” color way, which consisted of a few shades of pale pink and off-white. Because this millennial will never get sick of millennial pink.

There was a little bit of a delay, so the kit for this workshop didn’t get to me until March, but as of now they seem to be fully in-stock.

Making the Fabric Manipulation Pillow

This kit is suitable for beginners, but I think it’s best if you have at least basic sewing skills. If you know how to thread a needle, sew a running stitch, and measure/cut fabric you’ll be in great shape. You don’t need to have or know how to use a sewing machine for this workshop, but I found it helpful.

Preparation and Unboxing the Kit

The kit comes with three different pieces of cotton and linen fabric, two kinds of thread, a small clear plastic ruler, a heat erasable fabric marker, and some pins. The materials generally are good quality, though I strongly prefer glass head pins over plastic headed pins. There also was an instruction booklet with basic instructions and some helpful diagrams.

There were also a few things that needed that weren’t included. You need cutting tools, which can be either sheers or a rotary cutter and mat. You’ll also need snips or something to cut your threads with as you work. While I think you could get away with just finger pressing, it’s best to have an iron and ironing board or pad. You also will need to provide your own pillow form. I went with this one from Amazon, but any 12″ by 20″ pillow form should work just as well.

One thing they don’t mention in the instructions is pre-washing and pre-shrinking your fabric. Before I got started, I washed my fabric and dried it in the dryer. If you think you’ll ever want to clean the pillow, pre-shrinking is a must with fabrics like linen and cotton. I also pressed my fabric so that it would be nice and flat for measuring. I’d recommend doing this right before you want to start cutting, as this fabric can easily crease when left folded.

I’d also recommend watching the “preparing for pillow construction” section of the video before starting so that you can see how the whole thing comes together. That starts at about 1 hour and 18 minutes in.

Learning and Practicing the Fabric Manipulation Techniques

The workshop covers three different techniques: smocking, tucks, and gathering. There are variations of each technique, so you can choose what you like. There’s also plenty of fabric included, so you can try out a few things and then decide what techniques or variations appealed to you.

I chose to do one variation of each technique since knew I wanted to end up with a multi-technique sampler pillow. I went with the leaf pattern for the smocking section, some thinly spaced tucks, and then played around with some gathered strips. Each section was big enough that I felt like I really got a feel for the technique, but small enough that I didn’t get bored.

I found the instructions to be easily understandable and the design templates to be thoughtfully laid out. I appreciated that Whited had already done all the math, so as long as I followed directions I’d end up with finished samples the right size to sew together. Because sometimes I want to do a bunch of calculations and sometimes I just want to be a passenger princess in my own project.

Assembling the Pillow

I chose to do a version of the pillow that used three different techniques for the front, so I first put together my three sections. The instructor recommends putting any smocking patterns in the center and just working any necessary folds into place. This worked pretty well for me. I used my sewing machine to sew the panels together, though there’s no reason that this couldn’t be done by hand.

Then I assembled the back, which back uses overlapping panels. I really liked this detail, as it makes the cover removable and gives you a bit of wiggle room in case your pillow ends up a little big or small. Because I’m a little extra, I chose to do a visible running stitch when hemming the back panel. I did this in the same pink thread I ended up using for the quilted pillow.

Once the front and back pieces were assembled, I pinned them together and sewed around the outside, again using my sewing machine. This also is totally possible to do by hand, but if you have a machine it does speed up the process quite a bit.

Making a Bonus Quilted Pillow

After planning out and getting the pieces prepped for my first pillow, I realized that I had enough fabric left over for another small project! I’d been meaning to recover the small pillow I use in my lounging chair, so I decided it was fate.

I’d been in the mood for more hand quilting for a while, but I didn’t want to take on something as big as my last hand pieced quilt, so a small pillow seemed like a good idea.

I went with a simple shoofly style quilt block for the front and a did a little whole cloth quilting on the back. It wasn’t difficult to figure out the measurements for the quilt block pieces, but of course I have lost my notes so I won’t include details here (side note: my students keep saying I’m their most organized teacher and I have no idea how that can be possible given what a mess I am!).

For the quilting patterns, I found templates that I could easily trace and adapt in Sandie Lush’s Welsh Quilting Design. I traced the patterns onto the fabric using a light board and my usual Dritz Mark-be-Gone water erasable maker.

I had some scraps of the Hobbs Tuscany wool bating that I like, and since the pillow was small, I was able to find pieces large enough to use without buying anything new. I sandwiched those bating pieces in-between my layers to help add definition to the finished quilting.. I quilted everything by hand using my favorite hand quilting thread, Coats & Clark 30wt All Purpose Cotton Thread in the color Red Rose, a bright deep pink.

After pinning the front and back with the right sides together, I used my machine to sew around the finished quilted pieces. Again, I could have done this by hand, but sewing that much bulk can be annoying, so I opted for the easier method. I left a gap at the top for inserting my pillow form.

The pillow form I used was pulled from a pillow I had already with a ripped cover. It was a 10″ x 10″ square form similar to this one. It actually ended up a little small but I made it fit. Next time, I’ll add a 1/2 inch of ease when making a quilted pillow cover. Once the pillow was stuffed, I sewed the top closed with some the strong thread from the kit.


A pink pillow using assorted fabric manipulation techniques and a smaller quilted pillow made of the same fabric sit on a bed with white sheets and a hand sewn quilt.
Both of the finished pillows.

Overall, I had fun doing this project and I’m happy with the end results. I was able to apply some fun techniques to create objects that I’ll actually use in my day-to-day life. The main project can be done in a day or so if you focus, but is easily broken up into shorter increments if you need to. And while you may have scraps leftover, there isn’t an excessive amount of excess material.

Let me know if you try this kit or play around with fabric manipulation in another way! You can leave a comment below or find me over on Instagram.

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