Inside: Finding the Fabric Grain
Understanding fabric grain is an essential element when sewing with woven fabrics.
It’s something new sewists tend to skip over and seasoned sewists occasionally brush off.
Why is fabric grain important. It’s extremely relevant when sewing garments, especially pants. Have you ever owned a pair of jeans where one of the seams twisted towards the front or back? The reason for this is the manufacturer didn’t bother to look for the fabric grain when cutting out the fabric.
Before starting to find the grain, it’s recommended that you wash, dry, and press your fabric. You NEVER want to work with wadded up, wrinkled fabric.
What is the Fabric Grain Line?
All woven fabrics (like 100% cotton) have a grain line. This occurs during the manufacture of the fabric when it is being woven. Picture a loom with its long threads stretching out. Those long threads form the lengthwise fabric grain or the warp.
In the weaving process, shorter threads are woven over and under across these long threads, thus forming a woven fabric. The shorter threads form the crossgrain or the weft.
The bias runs 45-degrees across the grain and will stretch. There will be times you want to cut and sew along the bias. You’ll want to be aware that it stretches and account for that in your project.
The Lengthwise (warp) grain line runs parallel with the selvage edge. This is the factory edge and one edge will be stamped with the manufacturer’s name and other information about the fabric.
The lengthwise grain lines are the strongest threads in a woven fabric and, in most instances, you will want your pattern to run along these lines, making your project sturdy. Note: For quilting, longer pieces such as sashing and borders work best when cut along the lengthwise grain and will help stabilize and square up a quilt.
Try this experiment: Pull your fabric along the grain line (or selvage). Notice that there is hardly any stretch.
The Crosswise grain (weft) runs perpendicular to the selvage edge. This is the edge where the fabric is cut at the store and is rarely on the straight of grain. Note: I do not recommend using the fabric store cutting line for squaring (or truing) up your fabric.
If you hold your fabric between the selvages and pull, you will notice that there is a little stretch. Cutting things like quilt binding on the Crosswise grain allows for a little give in your binding without it being too stretchy.
The Bias is cut at a 45º angle from the selvage edge. This is where the fabric has the most stretch.
In garment sewing, cutting on the bias means your garment will drape nicely.
In quilting, cutting on the bias can cause your quilt blocks to stretch and be larger than expected.
If you ignore the fabric grain, you may end up with your fabric being cut on a bias which will distort your project.
Finding the Fabric Grain Line
What if you are using a scrap of fabric that no longer has a selvage or perhaps you are repurposing something? There is still a way to find the straight grain.
You could tug on the fabric to see if the fabric stretches, but this would not give you an accurate grain line.
Instead, snip about 1″ in from an edge.
Then pull and tear across the fabric, leaving a frayed edge. Pull out the excess threads until the top threads are along the same line.
Note: The tearing method is best used with 100% cotton. For fabric blends, I recommend snipping about 1″ down, but instead of tearing the fabric, carefully pull out a thread along the snipped line. This will give you the grain line and you can square up from there.
Squaring Up the Fabric
That even thread line is your grain line! Now, set this grain line on a straight edge, like a cutting mat, and you will be able to square up the other side.
A Note About Quilt Binding
When cutting out quilt binding, pay attention to the grain line. You will want your binding to have a little give so it can be eased onto the quilt.
Cutting binding on the Lengthwise grain will not allow for any give in your binding and you may have difficulty when turning the binding or sewing it down.
The Crosswise grain is the best option for cutting binding. It has just enough give in the fabric to make corners smooth and turning a breeze.
There may be times you want to cut your binding on the Bias. This can provide a nice detail on a finished quilt and it is ideal for projects that have rounded corners. The one thing to avoid is over-stretching the binding when sewing. It’s best to add Bias binding with a walking foot.
Finding the fabric grain is simple and just a matter of paying attention to where the fabric gives.
Once you understand this, it gives you control over any project. You will be able to avoid stretching fabric where unwanted and adding stretch when wanted.
And this will ultimately give you control over your project.