Visiting Basic Sewing Concepts:  The Amazing Fabric Grainline

Revisiting basic sewing information sometimes results in renewed and changed perspectives. So, today I’m visiting the concept of Fabric Grain.

First, a short description of Fabric Grain:

When a textile is woven, the lengthwise yarn (warp) runs up and down the length of the yardage; the crosswise yarn (weft) is run side to side on the width of the textile.  Both yarns intersect each other perfectly on the loom. In the weaving process, a finished tape-like strip keeps forming along the length at the two edges – this is the selvage or selvedge.  The lengthwise grain of the fabric piece, then, is parallel to the selvage.  The crosswise grain runs from one selvage to another. To complicate things (well, not really), there is the bias grain, which runs in a perfect diagonal direction.  Each has its place, and if you use the wrong grain in a sewing project, the whole thing will end up in the bin, or hang unused – and you won’t even know why.  So, fabric grain knowledge is a must.

grain graphic

An accepted rule when making good clothing is that one has to cut out the pieces where the lengthwise shape of the garment is cut along the lengthwise grain of the fabric – meticulously so (see graphic above).  That is why an essential marking on paper sewing patterns is the grainline arrow, and one must pay attention to the grainline of the paper pattern before doing anything else!! This will help determine the placement of pattern on fabric accurately aligned with the straight grain.

What happens when clothing is not made with meticulous grain-matching?  You can tell, because it does not hang right from your shoulders, and with time and washing it loses it’s shape.  If you want to make good quality clothing, watch those grainlines.

Correcting the Grain:

  • When finishes are applied to fabric, and it is rolled into a bolt at the textile mill, it stretches somewhat and is no longer perfectly on grain.  As you buy fabric from the bolt, the sellers are not usually meticulous about cutting it out for you on the grain.  As long as the yardage matches up what you ordered, and it’s a straight edge, they will cut it and send you on your way.  Therefore, its up to the user to straighten the grain of a stretched out fabric.  Here’s a pictorial on how the basic grain straightening is done.
  • Pull a thread (or two) along the crosswise grain, from one selvage to another. This will indicate where the true grain is, and give you a visual guide to cut that edge along the grain. Do this at both ends.
off grain
Notice the off grain edge to the right of the picture.  I’m going to pull the thread you see at bottom right.
In this picture I moved the pulled thread further down than shown in the previous image, to give myself some more room for a straight edge. This is just a demo sample. You should cut your fabric with the least amount of waste.
  • Another way to locate the grainline is to tear the fabric piece. It will naturally rip right along the crosswise grain.  See image below?  I tore this one at it’s top edge.  Against the grid, I can see that this piece is now straight. Needs a press, though.

torn edge

  • Is the piece still misshapened? Pull at the corners – go on, try it; it’s easy. Once you’ve pulled it into shape, iron the whole thing. To get the idea, work with a plain weave cotton.  Sorry, I could not take a picture of me “pulling” because it takes both hands. Heh. (Did you know that I now use my iPhone for all images on this blog?)
  • To show the “behavior” of fabric cut on either grain direction, I made gathers on the samples:

Left:  When gathered with the selvage running vertically; the fabric seems to fall straighter and better.    Right:  This piece was gathered with the crosswise grain running vertically, which makes it look bulkier and poofy.

Some random things about Fabric Grain: 

  • Knit fabric has grain, and is obviously along the straight welts that form during the manufacturing process.  Do you own t-shirts that are all bent out of shape after a wash? They’re not cut on grain; go on and take a look!
  • To complicate things a little, there are fabrics which have NO grain!  Leather has no grain – because we don’t weave leather.
  • Every direction (grain) of fabric has it’s uses – the straight, the crosswise and the bias. We’ll visit that in another post.

Since I like to troll the highest end design houses, lets try to locate the grainlines in these Valentino garments for their Spring 2019 collection.  Please chime in with any thoughts you might have.  You can see the entire Valentino collection at

The poofy sleeves looks like they were cut and gathered on the crosswise grain. The skirt gathers, however, appear to be on the straight grain. In a design like this, it’s OK to play with grainlines to get the “look”.   What do you think? 
This pantsuit appears to be cut on the perfect grain.  Grainlines are especially important in a tailored suit.  

This post is far from a complete dossier on grainlines, and I will be addressing more grainline questions in the near future. As all dossiers, this basic information raises more questions, such as: What to do with purchased fabric that’s been printed off grain? Border prints made for gathered skirts can only be used on the crosswise grain running vertically –what now? Where’s the grain in textiles that are not plain weaves such as jacquard weaves, twills, boucles?  Any other questions you have that I should address in the future?


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