Grain affects the drape and design of a garment in various ways. Unless we pay close attention to grain throughout the construction of a garment, that is, not only in the blocking and cutting phase, but also in unit construction (see definition in the thread “Bishop Method teachings”), the garment may not drape on the body in a pleasing fasion. Grain awareness is key in keeping the fabric “fresh” throughout the construction process.
The unit construction teaching, once learned, can lend a more professional result to your garments because the idea is to pay attention to grain as we stitch and to reduce the handling of a given unit (sleeve, collar, facing, etc.). A good example of the marriage of grain awareness and unit construction is the stay-stitching of the bodice. Let me elaborate.
Stay-stitching is a line of directional stitching which is done before construction. It stabilizes edges that might be pulled out of shape during construction. Stay-stitching should be done on curved and bias edges of fabrics. On curved edges, the grain changes direction as the edge curves. On even curves, such as necklines and waistlines, stay-stitch in two separate steps (see below). On uneven curves, such as armholes, stay-stitch in the direction that stays longest with the grain.
When stay-stitching the neckline, shoulder line and armhole of a bodice, try this sequence to eliminate overhandling the fabric during this very first step after cutting.
(1) Lay the bodice face up. (2) Stay-stitch at 1/2″ with a regulation stitch (that is, not basting) from right shoulder line of garment (as worn; your left side as it faces you) down and around neckline to center front, stitch off the fabric just past the center front clip mark. (3) Lift the presser foot and pull the work out of the bed of the machine for an inch or two. (4) Stay-stich the left shoulder line of the garment (as worn) from neckline to armhole edge. Pull the work out a little from the bed of the machine as before, this time leaving a little longer thread to work with. (5) Holding thread ends out away from the work, now stay-stitch the left armhole edge of the garment (as worn) from shoulder line down and around to underarm. (6) Pull the fabric completely out of the bed of the machine and clip your threads. (7) Now turn the bodice over and repeat same sequence as above for the left neckline, right shoulder line, and right armhole.
This explanation may seem simplistic for some advanced sewers out there, but I don’t want to eliminate anything in the teaching. Here is the point Mrs. Bishop wanted you to keep in mind: You’re only turning your fabric once. This very basic and simplistic teaching eliminates turning the fabric over and over which can lend a worn and “homemade” appearance to the final garment. Multiply that handling many times over through the construction life of the garment and you’ll get the picture.
Of course, each of the areas described are stitched directionally, that is, with the grain, not against the grain. Stitching against the grain on any given unit is what causes the fabric to pucker. If the unit is stitched directionally in virtually every case, not even stay-stitching (unless there is a thread tension problem) will produce puckers.
Stitching against the grain forces the grain out of position. Straight edges can be stitched in either direction without distorting the grain. A general rule to follow is to stitch from widest to narrowest when the shape of the pattern piece allows. For example, stitch a skirt from hem to waist or a fitted bodice from underarm to waist. For woven fabrics, if it is difficult to determine in which direction to stitch, slide your thumb and forefinger along the edge. If the edge stays smooth, you are going with the grain; stitch in this direction. If the yarns at the edges stand out (like petting a cat “against the grain”), you are going against the grain; stitch in the other direction. For knit fabrics, if it is difficult to determine in which direction to stitch (yes, knits too will pucker if sewn against the grain), it is most important to stitch related seams in the same direction. For example, the seams in a skirt should all be stitched in the same direction. The rule is: Follow these directions unless the design dictates otherwise.
When joining seams, it is imperative that you move the work to the inside of the machine in order to maintain the stitching directionally, even if the area has been stay-stitched. This can take some practice for new sewers. I have seen this idea pooh-poohed by some professionals in the sewing industry today. I couldn’t disagree more strongly. My suggestion? Try it and see the results for yourself. Experience is the best teacher.