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Go Against the Grain

The direction of a fabrics yarns presents many design opportunities and can take a garment from ho-hum everyday to absolutely sublime.
The direction of a fabrics yarns presents many design opportunities and can take a garment from ho-hum everyday to absolutely sublime.

The direction of a fabric's yarns presents many design opportunities and can take a garment from "ho-hum everyday" to "absolutely sublime."

by Ann Steeves
From Threads #131, pp. 38-43

For many sewing enthusiasts, discussion or thinking about fabric grain is limited mostly to aligning pattern pieces correctly on the lengthwise grain, using the arrows printed on commercial pattern pieces as a guide. We've had it beaten into us for years, after all. But I'd like to encourage you to break free from traditional grain rules. The direction of a fabric's yarns presents many design opportunities and can take a garment from "ho-hum everyday" to "absolutely sublime."

First, study your fabric

Straight and narrow, no more
   

To become a grain rebel, you first need to identify and understand fabric grain (see the box below). Then take a fabric and tug it in all directions to test its stability and stretch. Once you know how different fabrics stretch and drape, you can start playing with grain to make a garment that is truly unique.

If you take the time to manipulate grain, you want it to stand out. So look for fabrics with bold texture, like damask, linen, herringbone, or faille. Or opt for a linear print. My absolute favorite fabrics to play with are stripes and plaids.

Straight and narrow, no more. Pivoted and turned in unconventional ways, a simple striped fabric adds dimension and shape to the garment in the photo at right.


 

 

Crash course on grain
Grain is the direction of a fabric's yarns in a woven fabric: lengthwise and crosswise. In knit fabrics, the yarns interloop, so the following don't apply.
Lengthwise
Lengthwise grain is commonly referred to as "grain" or "straight grain" on commercial patterns. It's marked by an arrow on the pattern piece, indicating the direction in which the pattern should be placed on the fabric. Lengthwise grain lies parallel to the selvages and has little or no stretch. Therefore, in most garments, lengthwise grain runs perpendicular to the ground.


  Grain
Crosswise
Crosswise grain, also called "cross-grain," is made from the yarns woven over and under the lengthwise yarns at a 90-degree angle. Crosswise grain has more stretch than lengthwise grain, thanks to the over/under weaving, which naturally provides less tension. In most garments, crosswise grain runs around the body, parallel to the floor.

Bias
Bias-not technically a grain, refers to any line diagonal to the lengthwise and crosswise grains. "True bias" is a cut made on an angle 45 degrees to the selvage. It has the most stretch and gives fabric a flowing drape over the body. Because of the inherent elasticity of bias, it requires special care in cutting and sewing to utilize the stretch without distorting the fabric.



Grain as layout guideline, not gospel
With a grain-worthy fabric at the ready, look to your pattern. And don't be bound by the layout outlined in the instruction sheets. Pattern layouts are starting points only. They're not commandments.

I often hang a large swatch of fabric on the bulletin board in my sewing room and turn it several ways while deciding what I want to do with it. When I'm ready to get adventurous with the grain, I ignore the recommended pattern layout completely. Take my lead and simply experiment. Lay the pattern pieces out on the fabric, and try all sorts of different layouts:
Add texture with strips
Add texture with strips. Place each one on a different grain. Turn the seam allowances out.
   
Princess-seamed jacket Pocket flaps on the bias
On this princess-seamed jacket (McCalls 5106), the pocket flaps are turned on the bias, with interfacing added for support.

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Comments (3)

MissMarie MissMarie writes: This is a very encouraging article for a first time adventure. Can you give me advice on how to line.
Posted: 10:50 pm on September 23rd

Meels1 Meels1 writes: Fantastic! I have a piece of left-over material too small for much - but turned sideways I can cut out a straight skirt on the cross-wise grain. Might as well experiment!
Posted: 11:39 pm on February 25th

lin1975 lin1975 writes: fantastic site!
Posted: 6:12 am on June 25th

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