Friday, 1 May 2020

Tip of the Day: Fabric Grain

What is the fabric grain? What does it mean to cut the fabric on the straight or cross grain? How to find the right grain especially if you work with tiny pieces of fabric without a directional pattern? Why do you need a bias binding? Keep reading if you would like to know the answers to these questions and hopefully by the end of this post you will learn something useful and helpful.


It is important to remember to cut the fabrics the right way (on the right grain) to avoid any unwanted stretch in your finished make. As you might know, I mostly work with cotton and linen fabrics, and I sew small items like coasters, pouches, bags, placemats. My fabric stash mostly consists of Fat Quarters and small scraps of fabric. Sometimes just by looking at the pattern on a piece of fabric, we can tell the direction of the grain. Other times we might have a piece of fabric that has the salvage that will tell us the direction. But what to do if the piece of fabric is too small and the pattern does not have a direction, like polka dots for example or tiny floral motives? Before we look at how to tell the grain of the fabric, let's see what fabric grain is.

In fabric, grain refers to the orientation of weft and warp (woven) threads. There are three grains: straight grain, cross grain and bias grain. Well, technically there are four grains because the bias grain runs in two directions.

STRAIGHT GRAIN is parallel with the warp threads and the salvage of the fabric. It is the most "stable" grain that has less stretch than cross grain and bias grain. Most of the items I sew are cut on the straight grain from top to the bottom of the fabric. On most patterns you can see double ended arrows that tell you the direction of the grain used in that pattern. Just like the arrow on the pattern below shows you the direction of the straight grain. So you will be placing the template with the arrow parallel to the straight grain or the selvage of the fabric.


CROSS GRAIN is parallel to the weft threads and perpendicular to the salvage of the fabric. This grain has a bit more stretch. Sometimes you want your fabric to be cut on the cross grain because of the direction of a particular part of the print or when you need that extra stretch in your final make. The piece with the apple in the image below needs to be cut on the cross grain to be pointing up in your finished make. It would be better placing this piece between pieces that are cut on straight grain to stabilise it a bit.


BAIS GRAIN is referred to the direction of the grain that runs between the straight and cross grains. This grain is 45 degrees to the salvage and sometimes it's called true bias. This grain has the most stretch and in my sewing I mostly use it for making bias binding. If you are not sure what binding to use, simple rule might be helpful: if binding a piece with straight sides, use straight or cross grain binding. If binding something with curves, then the bias binding is the way to go because it stretches nicely and does not fold (bulk) around the curves.

How do you tell the grain of the fabric if a piece of fabric is too small and there is no salvage or directional print? Well, there is a trick that will help you with that. Take a piece of fabric and find the threads that run up and down and left to right. Hold the piece in your hands and gently pull it from side to side along the horizontal threads. Then gently pull along the vertical threads. The one that is more stretchy is the cross grain, the one that is less stretchy is the straight grain. Easy!


You can watch the video on my Instagram here to show you this little trick in action.

Look at the photo below. Let's say you want to make short handles for a small tote. The fabric for the handle at the top is cut on the straight grain (parallel to the salvage). As you can see it curves on both sides a bit, just like a little boat. When you pull it, it hardly stretches.

The fabric for the handle at the bottom was cut on the cross grain (perpendicular to the salvage). I even left the salvage on the right side for you to see. This handle is slightly twisted already and if you pull it, it would stretch. So the cross grain cut is not really suitable for items like handles.

Another place where I find it very useful to pay attention to the fabric grain, is when I leave a gap in a make for turning it the right side out. For small coasters or placemats I try to leave an opening on the right or left side (on the straight grain) as I find the fabric stretches less and makes it easier to stitch the opening closed by hand.


I hope this information helps you in your sewing and makes it easier to make the right choices when it comes to the fabric grain. Happy sewing! Larisa xo

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