How to Place Pattern Pieces Straight on the Grainline

comments (9) July 18th, 2008     

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JenniferStern Jennifer Stern, contributor
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Taking the time to position your pattern pieces straight on grain is the first step to sewing success!
Dont use the cut edge to square up your fabric. Depending on who cuts your fabric when you buy it, these ends can be very uneven.  
Measure the distance between the grainline and the selvage at one end of the marking.
Taking the time to position your pattern pieces straight on grain is the first step to sewing success!

Taking the time to position your pattern pieces straight on grain is the first step to sewing success!

Photo: Jen Stern

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.

Pin selvage along horizontal line
Using pins to hold the selvage straight makes it easy to square up the fabric.

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.

Crooked cut edge
See how crooked the cut edge of my fabric is. Imagine trying to straighten that out!

posted in: embroidery, grainline

Comments (9)

latoya927 writes: I have a question, now after reading this i understand how to find the grain in my fabric, but when you are making a pattern, how do you establish or decide what the grain will be and mark that correctly on the pattern? is it something that is completely your choice? or do you have to follow certain rules?
Posted: 10:25 pm on December 28th
Sewfunnytroy writes: Thanks - that was a great explanation of many of us "sewers" feel & go about finding out the "how-to's" of sewing.
I always get asked how do you know which end is the selvage; my memory sometimes leaves me on this subject when the selvage is cut off; but after a bit of trial & error I find the grainline. I never truly understood why the grainline was so critical to fit, but it does make sense if you consider the task. Appreciate the tutorial since I was having a senior moment to find the grainline/selvage before I cut a piece of beautiful skirt fabric.
Posted: 5:11 pm on August 26th
asian_pears writes: Thank you so much!
Posted: 7:42 pm on February 18th
JenniferStern writes: Hi Asian Pear-- I know exactly what you mean. Directional prints can look great when all the pieces are going the same way on the fabric. I think you can get away with cutting out the carriers in the same direction as the other pieces. However, the binding and loop piece needs to be cut on the diagonal (or bias) so that it will have some stretch. If you cut the binding on the straight of grain with the rest of the pieces, you won't have an easy time finishing the legs with it because it won't have any stretch. Happily, the binding and loop pieces will be very narrow after you finish folding them--so it will be hard to tell which way the tigers stripes are going. Hope that helps!
Posted: 5:22 pm on February 18th
asian_pears writes: Help! I am making a pair of shorts and picked out a fabric that has a tiger design and i want the direction of the stripes to be the same throught the shorts. The only problem is that it goes against the grain line when i lay the peices out. The "carrier" piece goes vertical and the "leg binging and loop" piece goes diagonal. Is there a way i can fix this?
Posted: 8:56 pm on February 17th
cherree writes: Thanks so much for the tutorial. Great help!
Posted: 9:05 pm on August 18th
clb707 writes: I so admire you new sewers on making your own patterns. The very first one I did was for Home Ec in high school. We had an assignment to made clothing and my dad said we couldn't afford a pattern or fabric. My mom found me some fabric she had and I designed a dress. It was fairly simple, but it was proportioned properly and it fit. When I got my grade back from my teacher it was a C. Her comment was "very unusual". Ever since then I've had trouble designing anything. I love to sew and I do a lot of it and it looks like a pro did it. Only wished......I just noticed the site at the bottom of the page. Think I'll check it out.
Posted: 1:52 pm on July 25th
JenniferStern writes: Thanks for the comment artlikebread...congratulations on your new sewing machine! I would love to see what you're working on, post some pics in our member gallery!
Posted: 9:00 am on July 21st
artlikebread writes: Thanks for this helpful refresher on how to cut pattern pieces. I'll be putting it to use with my new sewing machine. :o)
Posted: 5:57 pm on July 19th
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