There are very few magic manufacturing businesses owned and operated by women, and one highly respected name in the industry is Lynetta Welch of Fabric Manipulation. Born in Tyler, Texas, but raised in several states, Lynetta discovered magic the same way many did: through Marshall Brodien’s TV Magic Cards, ads for magic books in Weekly Reader, and store racks of S. S. Adams tricks. She saw a magician in the first grade, but her real influences were Ricky Jay on the Dinah Shore Show and the TV specials of Doug Henning. She sat mesmerized by both and later reflected that she was drawn to them partly because they rejected the traditional image of the magician in white tie and tails. As Lynetta told Jaq Greenspon for MAGIC, “Me being a girl, it told me that I didn’t have to look exactly like what people say a magician has to look like.”
Henning became one of her idols, and years later in 2000 Lynetta was honored that he requested her to make six Topits for a lecture tour he was planning. While he was too ill to meet her face to face when Lynetta came to his Los Angeles home, he spoke to her from behind a screen in his upstairs room and expressed how pleased he was with her work. It was a moment that remains poignant for Lynetta, as the iconic magician died just a few weeks later.
But that’s getting ahead of the story. Born in 1963, Lynetta had a passion for fabric and for magic growing up. When she was twelve, her parents bought a sewing machine at a yard sale. After she paid them back the $75, they agreed to pay for her sewing classes. She excelled in Home Economics and Shop classes and theatre in school and always assumed she would be involved somehow in show business. But she didn’t realize a person could make a living with magic. That all changed when she was 19 and living in Harrison, Arkansas. Chuck Jones was producing a magic show at the now defunct Dogpatch USA—an amusement park that hoped to be the hillbilly rival to Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Lynetta was working as a character actress at the park when she was offered the job as a magician’s assistant.
Her response? “I don’t want to do all the work and have some guy take all the credit for what I do.” Even at 19 she could articulate what was in the hearts of magicians’ assistants everywhere. Nevertheless, she changed her mind when the offer was made again, and thus began a partnership with Ed Alonzo that lasted eight years.
At the end of the season, she moved to LA. It was 1983, and Lynetta was eager to learn more about magic. She was so determined to get into the Magic Castle that she sometimes snuck in, claiming she had forgotten her membership card. She spent hours there, hanging out in the library and soaking up everything she could from Billy McComb and other legendary performers. Peter Pit initially discouraged her by saying she’d never make it as a performer. But, as she told Ariann Black in MUM, “I listened and paid attention to his critiques and pointers and worked to get better.” Lynetta knew that she had earned his respect “when he asked me to appear on a television show with him.”
Yet she mostly put her own performance dreams aside to help her partner. With her shop-class training, Lynetta was designing and building props and illusions for their show. In 1987 she built the first Twister Illusion based on a concept by Lou Lancaster. As she told Paul Critelli in Genii, she built the prop in the garage, “with no plans whatsoever.” The team appeared on TV specials and stayed together until 1991. Lynetta is grateful for the fun times she had and for the introduction into the world of magic that came about through her relationship with Ed, though she candidly admits that it was a tough challenge moving on and being on her own for essentially the first time.
In fact, Lynetta dropped magic for a couple of years. But she couldn’t stay away for long and soon was toying with the idea of a manipulation act that could take her around the world. Instead of just buying utility devices for her routines, she made them, often inventing new ones. As word got out about her skills, Lynetta was called on to assist or design materials for the Pendragons, the Amazing Jonathan, Rudy Coby, Blackstone, Jr., Don Wayne, and others, and she also began filling requests for custom-built apparatus and fabric items. She gained further experience and contacts doing some film and TV costume work. But since many of her jobs were “one-offs,” it was hard to make a living. The lure of performing was always there, but after 9/11 she decided not to go that route. It was time to bring her creations to the market.
In 2002, Lynetta moved to Las Vegas and launched a new product line called Fabric Manipulation. Johnny Thompson had been looking for someone to recreate the egg bag for his famous routine, and Whit Hayden suggested Lynetta Welch. Thompson admired her craftsmanship and respect for history, though Lynetta was slightly intimidated by the commission to reimagine an effect that featured Max Malini and Charlie Miller in its pedigree. She described her process to Jaq Greenspon: “I sat there for days, just running my fingers through it, trying to feel the seams, trying to figure out how this thing was made. I probably made twenty of them wrong.” But she finally accomplished her goal and even made improvements to the bag. The Great Tomsoni was delighted with the result, which became FM’s first product. Lance Burton called it “the best egg bag in the whole world.”
Insisting on the best materials (including even the best threads) and careful craftsmanship, Lynetta set out to maintain a small and select product line of items that she has either developed or provided improvements to. Skeptics told her that the business would fail because (as they said) “magicians are cheap and won’t pay for quality props.” Lynetta disagreed, believing that working pros want durable, quality items that will hold up under tough performance conditions. Despite this confidence, she was concerned at first whether other dealers would accept her as part of the club. But her quality products—and her insistence that customers do their homework and strive for originality—won her colleagues over. “It took a couple of years,” she admits, but the respect finally came.
She takes pride in each hand-crafted prop or gimmick and cannot stand to hear magicians say that they’ve bought one of her products but have never taken it out of the bag. These effects are made to be used. Though Lynetta has slowly expanded her product line, she is highly selective and wants to avoid duplicating things available elsewhere. In addition to the Silk Legacy Malini Egg Bag, her creations include the Devil’s Pocket Hank, the Crown Royal Change Bag, and her original No-Ring Ring Hank, all of which have been very well received. Just to cite one example, David Oliver of Genii praised her Ghostly Pocket Hank in 2005, admitting, “Frankly, I’m amazed that no one has thought of this design before. The gimmick is hinged and is not randomly sewn into the hem; rather it is anchored at one spot and swivels to any position needed within the double-layered cloth.” The utility items she manufactures include the Beer Bottle Gizmo (that holds a production bottle in the performer’s jacket), the Ideal Ball/Egg holder, the Super Silk Roller/Holder, and, of course, her custom-installed Topits.
Lynetta loves hanging around magicians. She’s accepted as “one of the guys,” though she thinks it’s a shame that more women aren’t drawn to the business. “School counselors not doing their jobs again,” she quips. A confident, independent personality, Lynetta holds her own with magic’s most famous names. And they seek out her advice and talents. She is the go-to professional for any magical challenge involving fabric. Her creations have been seen in such Las Vegas shows as Penn & Teller, Mat Franco, Piff, Le Reve, and others. One of her favorite commissions came from Teller, who needed a fabric effect for the finale of his 2015 production of The Tempest. He wanted Prospero the magician to wave a worn-out scarf and restore it. Taking such a simple, classic prop, Lynetta developed what is no doubt the most elaborate version of the color-changing silk ever made, something that could be performed by an actor and still work perfectly in every performance.
Her experience seeing the show was memorable. When The Tempest came to Las Vegas, it played under a tent outside of the Smith Center. The audience was seated on bleachers, and the result was a perfectly eerie creaking that sounded like a ship in a storm. Not only was the show incredible, but that unintended effect made that Shakespearean experience even more magical.
Lynetta Welch’s diverse interests have led to her designing fabric props for ballet, circus, and theater productions, as well as for films such as The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. She also lectures on the history of fabric in magic, covering 500 years of conjuring with textiles, including such effects as the Devil’s Hank, the egg bag, black art, quick-change, chapeaugraphy, and the use of fabric in illusions. She delivers this presentation to magic clubs and conventions but would love to branch out to college theatre departments someday.
Orders for her products have come in so steadily that she recently expanded her studio. Her dear friend Lupe Nielsen offered her space in Norm’s former poster gallery, and now Lynetta says she has “the studio I’ve always wanted.” Three women work in the same building—Lynetta with her fabric creations, Lupe with her woodworking, and Lisa Caterbone with her web design business. Lynetta loves the synergy that happens when creative women work in the same space.
Lynetta’s thirty-five years of experience in front of and behind the curtain make her sensitive to the needs of the working performer. While it is true that many women have employed their tailoring talents backstage in the magic world, Lynetta’s unique talents and her ability to design consistently original creations have enabled her to carve a much-needed niche in this art. As a result, she has been profiled in The Linking Ring, MUM, Genii, MAGIC and other magazines. Visit her product line at www.fabricmanipulation.com or at www.lynetta.com. But whatever you buy, please don’t just put it on a shelf!
A version of this article first appeared in the April 2008 issue of The Linking Ring and appears here by permission. My thanks especially to Lynetta Welch for providing updates.
Many other talented women could have been featured for the letter “W.” Three are from England. Marjorie Waddell (1911-1984) had an award-winning act in the 1950s. Elizabeth Warlock (b. 1932) is the daughter of a prominent magician, a long-running columnist for The Linking Ring and The Magic Circular, and a respected performer, critic, and historian of magic. Rae Warwick (d. 1959) was the wife and assistant to Oswald Williams, a favorite at St. George’s Hall in the 1920s.
Other international “W” women in magic include the famous Belgian duo of Elizabeth (1875-1954) and Suzy Wandas (1896-1986), who was also part of a mother-and-daughter team that toured as The Wandas Sisters. Learn more about Suzy Wandas in this Lunar Tribute. A lesser known Belgian, Miss Walter, was a professional illusionist in the 1920s. Anita Wagner conjured in her native Norway in the Seventies and Eighties. Twin magiciennes Larissa and Melanie Watson hail from Auckland, New Zealand. As the partner of Australian magic star Tim Ellis, Sue-Anne Webster is a skilled performer in her own right. Sonja Wengorra conjured in Germany in the late 1920s. Joan Woodcock (1932-2007) of Ontario, Canada, was “Magical Joan.” Wooki from Korea performed her manipulation act at FISM in 2006. Mai Wynn from Saigon was the Female Escape Artist of the Year in 2011. There is also Canadian stunt performer and magician Amberlynn Walker.
In the United States: Magician Terri Wagner has served as co-director of Tannen’s Magic Camp. Princess Wahletka (1885-1968) read minds in vaudeville in Native American dress, though she was a White woman named Lottie May Navarre. Originally from Chicago, Rachel Wax has based her comedy magic act in New York City since 2013. Now retired, Donna Weihofen took time away from her job as a Senior Nutritionist at the University of Wisconsin to perform for children as “the Nutrition Magician.” Daisy White worked as an assistant to LeRoy, Houdini, and Frank Ducrot and was a demonstrator at Martinka’s magic shop. She also played a role in the infamous Houdini code controversy involving Bess and Arthur Ford. DeLora Whitney (1917-1988) was an active magicienne in Oklahoma City. Frances Willard continued her father’s famous spirit cabinet routine with her late husband Glenn Falkenstein. Former first lady of the IBM Robbie Willmarth (1937-2021) was a gifted artist and entrepreneur. Along with Gay Blackstone and Harriet Jacobson, she sold specially crafted jewelry for magicians.
Nani Darnell Wilson (b. 1931) worked at her husband’s side for over 60 years as one of the all-time great stage partners. Another loyal wife and partner was Charlene Wheatley (1928-1979), who assisted her husband Al “Chop Chop” Wheatley. Dorothy Wolf (d. 1965) was the business manager of the Sphinx and secretary to John Mulholland. Edna Wood (1867-1956) assisted her husband Will B. Wood until his tragic death in 1908. Jennie Wood performed magic in Boston in 1864. Henrietta Wurtzel (1910-2008) was a magician in Freeport, Illinois, with her husband Bob, while Carolyn Wycoff (1902-1973) did some USO shows and was active in Magigals in the New Jersey area. Finally, one of the earliest known female magicians in the United States was Miss Wyman (1820-1898), who performed for three years from 1839 to 1842.