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How to Get Your Fabric On-Grain

Tips for making sure you cut your fabric on the grainline.

Posted in: Fabric & Textiles • July 25, 2022

Have you ever struggled to get your fabric on grain? Getting unruly fabric to fold on-grain can test your patience, but it’s not a step to skip.

If you encounter a stubborn, twisted fabric, there are a few ways to get your fabric on-grain, which hopefully will help you avoid some of this frustration when you sew. 

If you’re wondering what the grainline is and why it matters, first read this article: Do You Really Have to Cut Fabric on the Grainline?

Now, let’s get on-grain! If you want to see this all in action, watch the video below.

How to get fabric on-grain

If you have pre-washed your fabric, it might come out of the washing machine a little off-grain. Sometimes, fabric is off-grain as it soon as it comes off the bolt. So, how do you get it back on-grain?

If you’re sewing with stripes or checks, huzzah! The grainline is visually represented for you, so just follow the pattern. But if your fabric doesn’t have lines, what do you do?

There are a few approaches to coaxing your fabric to find the grainline. One approach involves holding the fabric and adjusting it, and the other involves tearing along the crossgrain.

Fold out the draglines

Fold your fabric in half, matching the selvages. Pick up your fabric and hold it horizontally, with the selvages on top. Line up the selvages and wiggle the fabric around until it is on grain. 

Move one selvage up and down and back and forth until you notice that there is a single fold along your fabric. The fold is not twisted and there are no draglines.

If holding your fabric horizontally is too difficult, you can also hold your fabric vertically and move the selvages up and down until they align.

Once you think you have it, lay your fabric on your cutting table and examine the fold to smooth any wrinkles.

Look for the crossgrain

If the selvages aren’t helping you get rid of all the draglines, then you need to find the crossgrain first. If you’re using a fiber that can be torn, like most natural woven fabrics, you can snip into the selvage and rip your fabric, exposing the crossgrain. 

You can also do this by pulling out a single thread from the crossgrain, tugging it across your fabric, and then cutting along that line.

When you establish the crossgrain, you know you have a straight edge on that side of your fabric. Now, you can fold the fabric along the lengthwise grain. 

If your fabric is printed or woven off-grain, your selvages may not line up, or you might need to trim off a bit of fabric from the ends until the selvages do line up. This is why sometimes it helps to buy an extra 1/8-yard (114 cm) of fabric to help get it on-grain. However, many fabric companies, Seamwork included, have a little buffer in yardage charts.

What about knits?

Knits are notoriously unruly along the grainline. To fold knits on-grain, follow the same steps as above.

1. Hold your fabric folded horizontally, with the selvages facing up.

2. Wiggle your selvages back and forth until you see any wrinkles on the fold relax.

3. Lay your fabric on your table and double-check for any drag lines along the fold.

To ensure your fabric stays perfectly on-grain, you can pin along each wale in the knit. This can be time-consuming, so you can also just survey the fold to ensure the wales are running parallel to the fold, and not crossing over it.

If you’re feeling frustrated while trying to match those teeny tiny wales, here’s a tip: cut single layer! It’s easier to keep things on-grain, and it usually ends up saving you some fabric, too.

What if it’s still not on-grain?

What happens if your fabric is off-grain and you can’t figure out how to straighten it?

You can manually straighten your grain to an extent by stretching it back into place. To do this, gently stretch the fabric along the bias (diagonally). Then fold it in half to see if that helped it get more on grain. If not, try stretching it again, and repeat until it straightens out.

You can also grab your iron and press while gently tugging on the bias to see if that helps.

And that's how you can get your fabric on-grain! But, ultimately, some fabrics won’t get on-grain. Read this article to see what happens if you don’t cut on-grain, including some exceptions to the rule.

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