Fabric Grain – How To Recognize, Fix And Use It Optimally
Summer, sun, BBQ in beautiful dresses… ohhhh how I miss these…..
…. especially the dresses….
…. especially this dress….
What’s so special about it? I will reveal its secret a bit later, but it has do with the fabric grain.
The fabric grain
There are many mysteries about the grain… and sometimes also a lot of frustration.
Whose fault is it, when your shoulder seams start to grow? The grain’s!
Who is immediately suspicious, when the legs of your pants twist weirdly? The grain!
The waistline of your new skirt is becoming bigger by the second. Why? You guessed it, the grain!
Yes, the grain is hold responsible for many things. But is it justly?
To answer that, first we must understand, what the fabric grain is. Basically, the grain is the direction of the yarns that run parallel to the selvage….
To make it clearer, I brought you this picture. Who had one of these weaving hand looms as a child? Although this is toy size, the industrial production of fabric uses the same principle.
No matter if you are weaving on this small sized weaving loom or on a big industrial machine, first of all you need to set up the warp threads. The amount and thickness of these threads is what ultimately will determine the width of the fabric.
To make the fabric, the weft threads will be weaved in with the help of a shuttle. In the most basic of the three fundamental types of textile weaves, the plain weave, each weft thread crosses the warp threads by going over one, then under the next, and so on.
That’s all well and good, but Where’s the grain?
Actually, there is even more than one grain. You have the straight grain, which is the direction of your warp yarn.
But then there is also the cross grain. The cross grain is perpendicular to the straight grain and is the direction of the weft yarn
And why do we bother about fabric grain at all?
That is due to the characteristics the grain has.
Let’s have a look at this piece of fabric.
See what happens, if we try to stretch along the straight grain. Well, not that much. There is hardly any give.
And if we try the same using the cross grain, so along the weft yarns?
Hmm, a tiny bit of give in the fabric. It has some natural stretch.
What does it mean for our clothes?
If you like boddyhugging clothes and don’t think breathing is necessary, you absolutely can cut your pieces along the cross grain. As there is hardly any give you will feel somewhat constricted (but then I suppose, there are people who like that) 😉
On the other hand, if you like me are a huge fan of breathing, you should use the straight grain and use the natural stretch of the fabric, that will be around your body.
And what’s about that bias?
Let’s have another look at that piece of fabric.
We checked there is no give when pulling along the straight grain and a bit give on the cross grain.
But what happens when I pull on the diagonal, the bias?
Woooooow , look at all that stretch!!
Amazing, isn’t it? The fabric is pure cotton with no elastic and still there is so much give. That’s also why I love my dress so much. It was cut on the bias and is a dream to wear. It will adapt to your body and have a wonderful drape.
Talking about drape. Compare the fabrics on the picture. It is the same fabric but they drape completely differently.
On the straight grain the fabric hugs the body and two quite stable flares will form, whereas on the cross grain, the fabric stands away from the body with actually no flare at all.
The bias also hugs the body and has a more subtle flare than the straight grain.
So after all that advertising for the bias, you probably why everybody is so nervous about it?
That is, because the bias is like a diva. The bias is like Maria Carey of the fabrics. If you don’t play by her rules, there is going to be a stir.
As you have seen, the bias is very stretchy. If you don’t hold it at bay, the edges will start to stretch out once the fabric is cut.
Remember what I said about growing shoulder seam? As our shoulder are sloped, they are cut on the bias like all the time. So you have to stabilize them, as otherwise the bias will make the grow and grow and grow.
You see, the bias can also be quite a bit**. Here some tipps, when working with your fabric:
- Only cut your fabric, when you are also ready to sew it.
- When you cut your fabric, avoid moving it around. If you have to, don’t grab it on one corned and let it hang.
- If you decide after cutting, that you can’t sew it right away, put the paper pattern back on it. It will help the fabric to stay together.
Ok, I got it, I will cut on the straight grain
The thing is, it’s not always that easy to recognize it. Only because you cut parallel to the selvage won’t mean your pieces will be perfectly on grain.
Let’s see this example. In plain weave the warp and weft yarns are perpendicular to each other.
But unfortunaltey, it happens pretty often, that although the warp yarns are parallel to the selvage, the weft yarns are not perpendicular to them.
And why is that bad?
Besides looking really stupid, the bigger problem will be after the first round of washing. The washing will make the warp and weft yarns relax into their natural position and voilá… . there you have your twisted pants.
The same is true for knits. Ever had a shirt where no matter how hard you tried to iron the side seams, they just wouldn’t stay at the sides? Here’s the best tip you’ll ever get…. let go.. really, don’t bother and let go! There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that you can do about that. When the fabric was off grain before cutting, the battle is already lost.
Believe me, there is no fixing this.
How do I recognize if the fabric is off grain?
The best would be, if we had a straight edge not only at the selvage but also across the weft yarns. But how can we get that?
Well, another great characteristics of the plain weave that it will always tear along the grain. have you ever seen the seller snip into the fabric, grab both side and just rip it apart? Seriously, I love that sound 😀
And whenever you get asked, whether you want your fabric to be cut or ripped, always go for the torn version.
Look at the torn edge. Do you see, how perfectly it follows the weft yarn? Now let’s also have a look at the part we ripped away. That can be also a 10 cm wide stripe. Then you’ll have the same on the other edge and all of sudden you have 20 cm less fabric, that you need for you project and paid for.
If your fabric doesn’t tear well (if there are some stretchy fibers weaved in, it might not work well), you can also try to grab a weft yarn and pull it. If its a loosely woven fabric, you might pull out the whole thread. Otherwise pull until it puckers and cut along that line bit by bit. Most important is that you get a straight edge.
Because, once you have a straight edge, you should be able to fold the piece in half with all edges being flush, right? Well, yes, basically…..
It is just that the weft yarns are still off grain. Like if you tried to fold a parallelogram in half. The edges will never be flush. And if they are, the fabric will never be flat.
And how can I correct that?
You have three options.
- Option 1: When it is just a little bit off
You fold the fabric in half and lay all edges flush and fix them with some pins. Next, you take your steam iron, and with a lot of steam, time and a feeling for the fabric, you push the threads back into their position.
- Option 2: When it is off a bit more
Lay the selvage flush and look in which the direction the wrinkles points. Mark the corner they are pointing to and unfold the fabric. Now grab the marked corner and the one on the opposite side and start pulling and tugging it. Now check whether the grain is back. It is possible, that you have to do that more than once. It is also possible, that you overdo and have to start pulling back in the opposite direction.
Honestly, I am sure, there are people for whom this pulling and tugging works, but I am not a big fan of it.
I am a huge fan of option 3 and if you, dear reader, paid attention, you already know what it is.
Pre-wash your fabric the way you will wash also the final garment has many advantages.
First of all, the threads will relax into their natural position and you can spare yourself all that fabric tugging and have a fabric that is perfectly on grain.
Another advantage is, that you can wear your garment the moment you finish it.
Furthermore you can check for any dye bleeding. This is especially useful if you plan to mix your fabrics (just think of red socks forgotten in the machine when washing your whites…..)
And overall I find it more pleasant to work with fabric that is clean.
The washing will also make your fabric a bit softer. I know some people like to work with the more crisp fabric. Then you could simply starch your fabric to give it back some body. Bren shows some great recipes for starch you can even make at home and you won’t end up with all that chemical stuff in your fabric.
Need some bias Inspiration?
No problem, here are the perfect ones. A few pictures from Mme Vionnet, the Queen of the bias cut.
Sometimes it is said, Mme Vionnet invented the bias cut, but that’s not true. However, it is true that she mastered it to perfection. There is nobody who made art with the bias like she did. If you want to dig a bit deeper, you definitively should also check out the book Madeleine Vionnet by Betty Kirke . Not only does it have great photographs, but it also replicates the patterns.
What is your experience working with the grain? What’s your favorite method to straighten it? Do you know any other tips? Let me know in the comments.
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