The Thing About Grain Line

We've all heard about grain line. What is it exactly? Simply put, it is the direction that the woven threads run. The most simplistic weave is horizontal and vertical threads.

The threads that run end to end are the lengthwise grain. The threads that run diagonally from selvage to selvage are the crosswise grain line. (To make it easier, you may better understand it another way......the crosswise grain is the edge that the fabric cutters cut when you tell them how much you need.) The bias grain runs at a 45 degree angle to the lengthwise and crosswise grains.

Why is this important? Because grain line can make or break the way your completed doll outfit lays or drapes. Knowing your grain lines can help your end product (your doll outfit) to be the best that it can be.

You get a different drape with each grain line of your fabric. With crosswise grain perpendicular to the floor, you will have less body in the fabric. But if you have the lengthwise grain perpendicular to the floor you will find that your garment will have more body and drape.

If your fabric is 'off grain' you will have difficulty getting it to lay right and you will need to correct the problem before you cut. 'Off grain' simply means that the crosswise and lengthwise grain are no longer at right angles to each other. This can be a result of the manufacturing process, rough handling, or simply from laundering it before use (which, by the way, is something that you should do).

How to Check Your Fabric

First, begin by washing and drying your fabric (check the end of the bolt for washing and care instructions when purchasing your fabric). If the fabric is wrinkled when you are through laundering, press it flat. Once that is done, fold your fabric so that the selvage edges touch each other (as in picture below).

Smooth your fabric from the selvage edge to the fold line, making sure to keep your selvage edges even. If it looks like this, then it is on grain and you can proceed with your sewing project. More often than not, you will find that your fabric is on grain.

However, if after matching the selvages and smoothing the fabric towards the fold, it looks like the picture below (the fold does not lay flat and is distorted), then you need to straighten your grain line before cutting out your outfit pieces. (Another term for straightening the grain is "squaring the grain".)

Straightening That Grain

Fixing the grain line is relatively simple. You are probably asking yourself right about now, "Why is it important to even bother with this?" It all comes back to drape. If the grain line is off, the fabric will not drape properly and your finished creation will not look its best. You'll also find that if you need to wash your outfit sometime later (your little girl accidentally spills something on it while playing dollies) that it may distort when you dry it. So you're going to want to fix that grain to save you some heartache later! The easiest way to fix the grain, is the stretch method.

The Stretching Method

The stretching method (I suggest this method first because it is the easiest). First, launder your fabric and press if needed. Fold your fabric in half so that the selvage is touching the selvage. Then stretch the fabric on its bias grain as shown below. Be careful that you don't over-pull because you could cause an entirely new distortion:

Then lay your fabric on your table or cutting board and fold your fabric so that the selvages are lined up, and then smooth the fabric to the fold. If you were successful (and your fabric responded to this treatment) your fabric will now be on grain and look like this:

If it didn't work, keep in mind that it may not always work because different fabrics respond differently. Don't worry. There are a few other things that you can do.

Drawn Thread Method

If stretching didn't work and your fabric is lightweight, then you can use the drawn thread method.

Clip into the selvage as seen in the picture and select at least two threads. Pull gently across the crosswise grain line, readjusting the fabric as it gathers.

The objective here is to pull the two threads out all the way across the crosswise grain. Be patient. This method takes a little time to complete. As you near the selvage on the opposite edge, you will see where you need to clip into that selvage so that you can completely pull out your two threads.

Once you have pulled them out, you will notice that you now have a straight little channel that runs across the crosswise grain.

You have just created an 'on grain' cutting line for yourself! All you need to do now, is to cut along this space that was created by pulling out the threads.

Refold your fabric, matching the selvage edges and it will now be on grain and ready for use.

Tear Method

For fabric that is heavier, there is the tear method. Cut into the selvage as shown in this picture, and then tear it until you nearly reach the opposite selvage, cutting it when you get to the end.

Refold your fabric, matching the selvage edges and it should now look like this:

All of these methods work for straightening (squaring) the grain, with one exception. In the case of a fabric that is plaid or has stripes printed on it (keyword being "printed" here), straightening the grain will not realign poorly printed plaid, striped fabric, or other geometric design! So you must be on your guard when purchasing these types of prints.

Look carefully at the picture below and you will see that the grain of the fabric does not run parallel with the printed lines of the fabric. Even if you straighten the grain of this fabric, it will NOT straighten the printed design! This is a flaw that cannot be fixed.

Sometimes it is as easy as just looking at the selvage edge to see if the stripes or plaid line up perfectly with the selvage.

The Exception

There are two methods of fabric design. One is "print". The designs/colors of the fabric are a result of them being dye-printed directly onto the cloth. The second is "true weave" whereby the designs/colors of the fabric are achieved by weaving with various different color threads to achieve the plaid, stripe or other design. If your fabric is a "true weave" and the plaid, stripe, or design is off kilter, it CAN be straightened by straightening the grain.

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