How to Place Pattern Pieces Straight on the Grainlinecomments (9) July 18th, 2008
When I started sewing, I didn't even know fabric had a grainline, let alone that it had something to do with how I was supposed to be putting the pattern pieces on the fabric. I remember making these knit yoga pants. They fit great, and I was so proud of the fact that I actually made something that I could wear in public! They were perfect, except for one thing—the pant leg on one side twisted as it went down my leg. I tried pressing it, tugging it, and twisting it in the opposite direction. Nothing helped. One day, at the gym, I ran into one of my friends who also sewed. She had a lot more experience than I did in the sewing department. She took one look at my yoga pants and said, "You didn't cut that leg out on grain." I had no idea what she was talking about, but I didn't want to ask her, either (what if it was some really obvious thing that I should already know about; she said it with such quick certainty, it made me feel incompetent that I didn't know what she meant).
Anyway, I went home and examined my yoga pants and I figured out what she was talking about. Looking closely, I could see that the weave of the fabric was not running straight across the leg on the side that twisted, but it did on the side that hung straight. I did some investigating in some of my sewing books, and sure enough, I realized that I had not placed my pattern pieces straight on the fabric. (I was sure that I hadn't because I don't think that I ever paid attention to doing that before.)
Yesterday I was testing my T-shirt pattern, and I reverted back to my old ways and didn't check that my pieces were on grain...I got the old twisting action! So, I decided that I would show you how to make sure you get your pieces on the fabric on grain so this doesn't happen to you!
It is easier to keep track of the grainline if the fabric is not folded. It's my personal preference never to cut pattern pieces on the fold. I also never fold fabric that has an obvious strip because it's impossible to see if that strip is running perfectly straight across the fabric on the side that folded under. Because of this, when I draft a pattern, I always make full front and back pieces so that they don't have to be cut on the fold. I recommend tracing a second copy of any pattern piece that needs to be cut on the fold. Tape the two pieces together so that the pattern piece can be cut out flat.
Working on a large, flat surface with a grid, like a cutting or pressing mat, pin the selvage to one of the horizontal lines in the grid.
Once the selvage is held straight on the board, smooth the fabric gently, being careful not to stretch it. It's tempting to use the cut end to straighten your fabric. Don't do it. This cut edge can be very crooked, depending on how carefully it was cut when you purchased it. If you are folding your fabric, don't try to match the cut edges either—work with the selvages.
Once you've smoothed out your fabric, it's time to work with the pattern pieces. Consult the instructions that came with your pattern for the pattern layout—that's the diagram that shows you how to lay all the pieces onto the fabric. Following the diagram, position all your pieces on the fabric. Now it's time to check to see if they are on grain—before you pin them to the fabric!
Take a tape measure and put one end at the grainline. Hold it in place with a pattern weight (you can use any heavy object, like a dish full of M&Ms). I like to let the tape measure fall off the edge of the table. Make note of the measurement between the grainline and the selvage.
Keeping the pattern weight in position, check the right end of the grainline marking. If the measurement is not the same, carefully adjust the position of the pattern to make the measurement on the right equal the one on the left.
Once you've checked that the grainline marking is parallel to the selvage, you're ready to cut out the pattern piece.