#TransformTSAL – Fabric Manipulation Techniques

Some time ago my friend and fellow Board member Linde Carr lent me a lovely book by Colette Wolff, The Art of Manipulating Fabric. It’s a comprehensive book, rather scholarly, and presented entirely in black and white with each sample made in plain unbleached cotton. It really is a source book and not something you would want to read  cover to cover. But there are many interesting techniques featured in the book and I will be using it as I create my Transformed T-shirt.

Linde, in William Morris

Let’s have a look at Saillard’s designs. Here we see a deep slash in the front (unfinished I think), with two areas of controlled pleats, sewn to the body at left and right front, so that the hem is brought up. The neckline and sleeves are unaltered.

Saillard T

Below I have more images, and descriptions of how the work is done.

Women’s Wear Daily describes Saillard’s process:

“Sleeves tucked up into graduated architectural caps, a neckline gathered down to reveal the nape of the neck in the manner of a kimono, delicate pin tucks bisecting the front, seams covered in silk piping — the techniques mined the repertoire of couture to cunningly twist the jersey into new shapes.

Stitches holding them in place, and the occasional self-tie allowing subtle adjustments, there wasn’t an adornment in sight, save for whip-stitched crosses marking the front of an item — for reference only as some of them can still be transformed further by being worn back-to-front.”


Vogue Magazine writes;

“The now-exquisite high-low pieces drape and swathe over the body with a T-shirt’s insouciant elegance, but inside they are finished like haute couture dresses, with three little red thread cross-stitches to remind the wearer which side is the front of the garment; grosgrain inner waistbands to secure them in place (while maintaining the illusion of insouciance); and hand-finished organza panels to stabilize those signature pleats.”

Even more interesting!

I am not particularly advocating copying Saillard’s designs directly, unless you want to. Most of my followers commented that the finished product is too extreme-looking for ordinary women, and that may be true for you. For myself I initially found T-shirts that are closer to my own size, and then pinned them where they seem to need to be taken in. Once I have decided where it would look best for the fullness to be supressed I will do some pleating or pin tucks or smocking to pull them in, in a way that creates a wearable and flattering look.

Mary asked for rules for the #TransformT Sew a long, so I will give some, but feel free to break at least one of them.


  • Use a traditional cotton T-shirt several sizes too big for you.
  • Change the shape using slashes, pleats or other types of shaping such gathering, tucks, darts or smocking
  • You cancombine or layer two T-shirts if you wish
  • Have it done by early January and let me have a photograph for sharing.


  • Start with a cotton T-shirt that is too big for you. Here is a suggestion. My  T-shirts from Primark which cost £2.50.
  • Put on yourself, or your dress stand and play with the look until you find the right place to put the pleating, using pins, safety pins or rubber bands.
  • Decide if you want something very wearable and subtle, or something more experimental and out there. Maybe one of each?
  • Consider how you are going to take up the excess. I have suggested pleats or other types of shaping such gathering, tucks, darts or smocking or pin tucks. If you wish I can run through each technique, but most of you know all this, and for those that don’t Google will provide. Saillard’s seamstresses have mainly used pleats on top of pleats, stacked pleats, to create a more 3D effect. This requires more fabric, and therefore a larger T-shirt.
    From Wolff, The Art of Manipulating Fabric
  • Consider cutting the fabric to release tension and to allow you to do even more with the fabric, eg twisting, or moving it from one side of the garment to the other.
  • Colour is important but this might just be a time to choose a colour you wouldn’t normally wear, just for Christmas, or for fun. You could dye the T-shirt before you start. Alternatively sew your pleats, dye your T and then release them to get a shibori effect.
  • And please share your ideas and learning below so we can all have the benefit of it.

Thank you!

6 Responses

  1. Elaine

    Intriguing, and I have that book too, so gorgeous just to flick through it! The black and white makes it all feel rather zen…
    I’m tempted, but it would not be for me, maybe for the missus. We’ll see…

  2. Michelle

    Fascinating, as ever. I love the idea of smocking a t-shirt and there are so many other ideas I’m keen to have a go at – I’ve got a couple of old t-shirts I can try out some of the techniques on. I will follow along with great interest and will look for some suitable t-shirts in the spring (charity shops here are currently full of winter woollies!)
    Have a good weekend, Kate.

  3. Hélène

    I think I might have to sketch something just to know where I want to go with it. Thanks for these clear directions and more inspiration. Great WIP Kate!

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