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Grainline: Finding the Grain

The reason finding the grainline is so important is simple: fit. If you want your clothes to drape properly and fit your body without twisting in odd places, each pattern piece must be cut on the lengthwise grain, unless your pattern specifies otherwise. If cut on the crosswise grain, the garment will have a different drape than if cut lengthwise. Of course, you’ll need to make fitting changes to the pattern to fit your body just right. When you do this, the grainline sometimes must be moved to ensure the correct fit. But that’s a whole ‘nother subject!

Woven gingham is one of the best fabrics for finding the grainline because the the stripes are woven in the crosswise and lengthwise direction. This makes gingham an excellent fabric for making muslins and fitting. If you purchase gingham for this purpose, be sure that it’s woven and not printed. Printed stripes and plaids can sometimes be printed slightly off grain.

This method best works on plain woven fabrics, and it definitely won’t work on all fabric. You shouldn’t tear linens or thin fabrics because the lengthwise grains might pull. Before cutting fabric, you must make sure that your fabric is folded on grain. So fold your fabric along the lengthwise grain as usual, matching up the selvage edges. If there is twisting when you match up the crossgrain (the part of fabric cut at the store), then the crosswise grain may have been cut unevenly. An uneven grain looks like the above photo. There are a few ways to put your fabric back to the correct grain or simply find the grain. Here are two ways:

1. Snip the selvage.

2a. Tear across the fabric. This will create a somewhat wavy edge that can be ironed flat. Don’t worry, this will only tear along the crossgrain. If you’re tearing a printed pattern, stripe or plaid, and the alignment is off, it’s not your fault! There was a problem with the printing which caused the pattern to be off grain.

Some fabrics won’t tear neatly along the crosswise grain, so test out this method at the corner before tearing all the way across.

2b. Instead of tearing the fabric, pull out a thread from the snipped area. Tug on it gently and pull the thread away from the fabric. This will cause some gathering as you push the fabric. Once you’ve removed the thread, cut along the line that’s left by the space where the thread used to be.

3. Here you can see the pulled line denoting the correct crossgrain and the wavy torn edge. They are even just as they should be.

Once you have established the crosswise grain, fold the fabric along the lengthwise grain. Match up the selvages. The crosswise grain should match easily and the fold won’t have any odd twisting.

Watch for the last post on grain where we show you how to cut your fabric on grain!

Caitlin Clark

Caitlin is the Colette Patterns design assistant. You can follow Caitlin at her blog, the story girl.



May 16, 2011 #

So this is where I get confused. I understand WHAT grainline is, but does it frequently differ enough from the pattern to make this worth the effort? Or is this mainly something that needs to be done with solid colors?
Or since I am just a novice should I just wait until I get to some more complicated patterns to worry about?


May 16, 2011 #

Hi Loren. I’m assuming by “pattern,” you mean the pattern on the fabric?

If the pattern is woven into the fabric (rather than printed on top of it), like the gingham above, you can be sure that the pattern is on grain, and use the pattern lines as a guide. With the woven gingham above, for example, you would just use the lines of the gingham to find you grainline.

However, if the pattern is simply printed onto the fabric, it can definitely be printed off grain, and it’s not as reliable as a guide.


May 16, 2011 #

My mother gave me some beginning instruction on how to sew garments and she told me to always align the selvages before cutting. Then, I took a quilting class and the instructor plus all the shop workers said that the selvages will never line up properly if you’ve prewashed your fabric because the selvages shrink differently than the rest of the fabric. So, now I’m confused on the whole subject.


May 16, 2011 #

I’ve never experienced this, and I’m not sure it makes sense to me. Even if the selvages shrink differently from the rest of the fabric, you should still be able to align the selvages so that they’re parallel.

The fabric still won’t twist, unless the fabric itself is off grain.

Perhaps what they meant is that the ends might not form a perfect right angle after pre-washing? Sometimes you might get some puckering around the selvages after washing, depending on the fabric. I find that ironing helps with this.


May 16, 2011 #

Thanks for this post. I’ve been VERY frustrated at my sewing atempts lately. I did not realize the difference between the crosswise and lengthwise grain. I sure appreciate all these helpful posts. I have a lot to learn about garment sewing!


May 16, 2011 #

Love the gingham. Great idea to use this for a muslin.

I have been looking for the large check gingham fabric forever, and I haven’t been able to find one that is a good quality.


November 11, 2012 #

I have this piece of wool. To find the grain line, I’m trying to pull out a thread…but it it always breaks. I can get about a 5 inch line… Any suggestions?

Also, to go with this piece of wool, I have a lining…synthetic of some sort. If I pull a cross grain thread, it pulls the grain line threads. Ripping does the same thing, but worse. Suggestions?


May 12, 2013 #

Please could you help.
I have a printed polka dot cotton, the dots are around 7/8″ wide, and as you mention above the pattern is off grain, by around 1″ I think.
If I cut out the dress pieces so that the polka dots all line up, will the dress hang strange because it has been cut off grain?
So would it then be best to cut on the grain to get the hang, and individually lay each pattern piece onto the right side of the fabric, one piece at a time, to match the polka dots as best I can, to get the right match?
I have The Colette Sewing Handbook, but it doesnt really mention what to do with off grain fabric. I have 3 meters in a lovely mustard colour, so would hate to not use it.
Thank you!


April 10, 2014 #

Does this method work for pre-made clothes? I want to take a maxi skirt and make it into a top, but need to make sure where to cut re on grain and bias. Thank you!