Straightening Fabric Grain

Straightening Fabric Grain

When doing any craft, there are some things we have to do that are more a groan than a pleasure. That’s how I feel about straightening the grain of fabric. To be honest, I don’t do it for most projects, but there are times when it is imperative that the fabric grain is true, and for those times, here are the steps to take to ensure your fabric is on grain.

On woven fabrics, the warp threads in the lengthwise grain are stretched on a loom. The weft threads in the crosswise grain are then woven back and forth the length of the warp threads. In a perfect world, these should be perpendicular to one another. This is called on-grain. If they are not perpendicular to one another, it is called off-grain, and it can cause completed projects to stretch out of shape or natural fringed edges to be uneven. To check grain, you will need to make a straight edge on one of the crosswise grain edges. There are three ways to do this.

How to create a straight crosswise grain edge:

1] Rip fabric. (See Rip and Tear Napkins for this How To.)

2] Cut along a line. To do this find a line near the crosswise edge that touches both selvages. Carefully cut along this line. NOTE: If using a true plaid or stripe, meaning one that has been woven with different colored threads, looking the same on both sides of the fabric, you can cut along one of the threads. If a plaid or stripe has been printed on the fabric, DO NOT cut along a line. The printing could be off-grain. Use methods 1 or 3 for printed fabrics.

3] Pull a thread. (See below.)

How to create a straight edge using Pull a Thread:

1] Begin by laying out the fabric and looking at a crosswise grain edge. Look at the weft threads going back and forth. Chances are the fabric was not cut evenly along a weft thread. Try to find the first weft thread that stretches from selvage to selvage. Follow that thread to either selvage, and make a snip in the fabric about 1/2″ below that weft thread. Your snip should cut through the selvage. (The selvages are the tightly woven strips of the fabric that run along the 2 outer edges of the lengthwise grain.)

2] Remove one of the weft threads which will create a visible line that you can cut along, creating a straight edge. To do this, find one of the weft threads and begin gently pulling on it.
This will make your fabric start to gather.
Gently slide the gathers to the opposite selvage.
As the thread is pulled, it will create a line in your fabric.
If your weft thread breaks, simply cut along the line you are creating until you get to the broken thread, then grab the thread and continue.

3] When the weft thread has been removed, cut along the now visible line. You have created a straight edge along the crosswise grain.

Checking for grain:

1] Fold the fabric in half lengthwise, matching the selvages.

2] Look at the straight edge you created by ripping the fabric, cutting along a line, or pulling a thread. If the straight edge lines up evenly, then your fabric is on grain and you can proceed with your project.

3] If the straight edge is not aligned, there are 2 different methods for getting your fabric on-grain.

First, if only slightly off, you can iron your fabric to help straighten the grain. Do this by lining up the straight edge. Pin the selvage together. Smooth out the fabric so it lays flat. (Your fabric should still be folded in half lengthwise.) Iron your fabric. Your fabric should now be on-grain.

Second, if your grain is considerably off, firmly hold the short corner of the fabric then follow the bias (the diagonal line) to the other selvage. Gently tug on the fabric. The fabric will stretch on the bias. If you have a long length of fabric, move farther down the fabric and again tug on the bias.

Recheck the grain by folding the fabric in half lengthwise and checking to see if the straight edge is aligned. If not, pull along the bias again. Once the straight edge is aligned, you should be on-grain, and ready to start your project.
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  1. Thanks so much for this detailed and helpful information! I recently just learned about grains in class and it was quite confusing.

    Can you explain why you would pull the fabric in the bias direction? I would assume that if your fabric is going one angle, you would want to pull it in the opposite direction for it to be perpendicular?

    Thanks again!

    1. Nevermind, I got it, thanks!

      Will definitely share this, the best explanation I’ve seen so far.

      1. YAY! Glad you figured it out. When I write tutorials, I hope they make sense 🙂 Sometimes I do need to go back and clarify something. Have fun sew!

  2. Hi, what will I do if the selvage has been cut off? Sometimes I have really big usable pieces of fabric but can’t tell where the straight grain is. Does is matter if I cut in relation to the cross grain or straight grain if I’m consistent?

    1. Basically, you just want to make the threads are perpendicular to one another. If the selvage is missing, use one of the methods described above to make sure all 4 sides are straight. Then simply do some tugging to line everything up. 

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