Sewing Back-to-School: Fabric Grain

This post is part of the Sewing Back-to-School series, 30 days of helpful sewing articles by guest bloggers. Feel free to check out the original Sewing Back-to-School post for schedule and previous posts!

Kate from See Kate Sew has a plethora of helpful tutorials and posts on her blog; if you’ve enjoyed this Sewing Back-to-School series, you will definitely love her blog! I have been loving her Pleat Week posts…check it out!

Hi everyone! It’s Kate from see kate sew! I’m so glad Sara invited me here today! I run a sewing 101 series on my blog each week and one of my first posts was about fabric grain and it was so confusing! I’ve been meaning to rewrite and expand it and this opportunity gave me the push to do it! I’m also going to share with you a fun way to ‘cut’ fabric-by ripping it.

Fabric grain used to be one of my least favorite things. It meant preparing fabric before getting to the fun part of sewing it up. As I have studied my clothes more and more I have realized how important fabric grain is in lots of projects! You may have a shirt in your closet whose side seam has twisted to the front. That fabric was cut off grain! Oh no!

What the heck is grain?
Every piece of woven or knit fabric has grain. Grain describes the direction of the threads. Lengthwise grain, crosswise grain and bias grain. It’s important when sewing, just like woodgrain is important when building. When a piece of fabric is “on-grain” all the threads are lined up how they should be. Clothing that is on-grain is typically more expensive because it means the pattern pieces have to be cut a certain way, which may not be the most economical way.

****Non-woven fabrics (such as felt or leather) don’t have grain, so you don’t have to bother with any of this when using those fabrics.****

Why bother with grain?
Cutting fabric on grain is important because it will ensure that our garment stretches out and wears evenly. It keeps the fabric’s threads happy and level. You see, each pieces of fabric is made of thousands of threads. Some go parallel to the ground and some perpendicular. They are woven together, under-over-under-over or maybe knit together. Gravity, washing and wear affect those threads and their balance. By cutting garments on-grain, the pieces of garment will wear and stretch at the same rate, lengthening the life of the garment.

****A lot of clothing manufacturers don’t pay attention to grain on purpose. Cutting on the grain is not always(…never!) economical, but it will make your clothes hold up better.****

Which grain?

-The lengthwise grain is parallel to the selvage edge. The selvage is the end that is “finished” with tighly woven threads and usually has a series of little tiny holes in it from needles in the production process.
-Crosswise grain is perpendicular.

-Bias grain runs at a 45 degree angle from lengthwise and crosswise grain. 

Bias grain is the stretchiest and has the most give.
Crosswise grain is the second stretchy.
Lengthwise grain tends to have the least stretch or give.

You can cut your pattern pieces out on different grains to get different effects. For example, bias grain is used often in skirts to give a flowy ruffle effect. It’s pretty! But if flowy isn’t what you’re going for, you have two other options!

Most garment patterns instruct you to cut pieces along the lengthwise grain. Which means you place the pattern pieces so the arrows are parallel to the selvage edge.

How to get your fabric on grain:

When you get home from the fabric store, getting your fabric on grain is pretty simple. You might need a friend to help you though. If you’re using a woven fabric, tear your edges so you know you have your threads right. I always cut a slit first, then tear. 
Then all you need to do is stretch it on the bias grain. So, have your friend grab a corner of the fabric and you grab the opposite corner on the other side of the length. Pull until the edges line up. I am showing you with a little piece of fabric, but the same principles and technique apply to get the fabric on grain if you have a large yardage. You know you’re done when the edges line up when folded in half.

For this piece of fabric you’ll pull the upper left corner and the lower right corner until the threads line up and the edges match.

(hairy husband arms, FYI)

If you’re using a knit, cut along one of the stitches, making sure you are cutting straight and do the same thing for wovens, pull the edges.

Let’s get technical:
Lengthwise and crosswise grain are also referred to as the warp and weft, respectively.
Warp threads are the first to go on the loom. They are secured tightly and then weft threads are woven back and forth to make a woven fabric. 

Does it always matter?
Nope! Grain doesn’t always matter. If you’re just using your fabric for a little crafty project, it really won’t matter how you cut it. If it’s not going to drape on a body, then it really doesn’t matter! I also mentioned above that this only applies to woven and knit fabrics, so if you’re sewing with a non-woven, you don’t need to bother. Even then, it’s not as important when sewing with knits, since they are stretchy anyway.

And that is your lesson on grain and ripping fabric. I hope that made a little bit of sense! Happy sewing! Come on by and visit me at see kate sew for weekly sewing tips and lots of tutorials!

 Thanks for having me Sara!

42 thoughts on “Sewing Back-to-School: Fabric Grain

  1. This is great. One question though, since I am new to this and it’s not clear from the photos: when you do the “snip and tear” is it perpendicular to the selvege edge or parallel? I’m assuming perpendicular but wanted to be sure.

    heather.degreeff AT gmail DOT com

  2. @ Heather : both! You can rip on both the crosswise and lengthwise grains to get your fabric all squared up. But if you have a selvage edge you can leave that on since you know the threads are square. :)

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I have not been sewing long, I took a couple classes and had it explained, and I have a book that kinda shows. I am constantly having to refer back because it won’t stick in my brain.
    I am going to pin this.

  4. I never knew you could stretch the fabric back in place…can’t tell you how long I’ve been confounded by mismatched edges! Thanks so much.

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  14. This can be great. One dilemma however, since i have feel fresh to that and unclear in the pics: when you accomplish this “snip in addition to tear” will it be vertical Allen with respect on the selves edge as well as parallel? Now i am assuming verticle with respect nevertheless wished to make certain.

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