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Conversational Threads

fabric printed off-grain

busymsbee | Posted in Fabric and Trim on

A friend special ordered 20 yards of fabric and I agreed to make pinch pleated draperies for her.  The fabric is a cotton and the design is printed rather than woven.  When I pulled a thread, I discovered that the fabric was printed off grain.  We went back to the store to ask if they would reorder, since the draperies will cover an 8 foot sliding glass door and the pattern is large, so will be noticeable (the printing error is one inch across the width of the fabric).  The store owner contacted her rep and was told that it is very common for fabric to be printed off grain and we would just have to match it up as best we can.  I will need three widths of fabric seamed together for each of two panels.  I have a choice of matching the pattern on the widths and making the curtains off grain or making the curtains on grain and having the pattern an inch lower across the width of the draperies.  They will hang better on grain but will look better off grain.  Which method would be preferable?

Secondly, does anyone know of a Council or organization where I could find out if this is indeed common practice for fabric of this type to be printed off-grain?  (It is decorator fabric, first quality, and cost $16.00 per yard).



  1. stitchmd | | #1

    Why not treat it like a bias cut garment and hang the fabric to stretch out before you cut and sew. This way you can match the pattern and not worry about the drape of the drapes. (couldn't resist that one).

  2. marijke | | #2

    I would talk to the storeowner again. If you buy full-price, special-order fabric, it should be printed correctly. If off-grain printing is as frequent as the rep suggests, why weren't you told when you ordered it? This sounds like a cop-out to me. Sounds like this store-owner and rep aren't all that interested in keeping their customers. After all, would you order again after this experience?

    I would insist they take the faulty fabric back! Those curtains will either not hang right (if you match it up off-grain) or will not look right (if you focus on the grain being straight). Either way, it's a losing proposition.

    1. busymsbee | | #3

      These are my sentiments exactly.  I am now working on trying to find out just how much fabric is being sent out of the mills printed off-grain.  If it is anywhere close to what the rep says, it means that quality control in that area has disappeared.  I will post the results if I can find out (just so everyone will know).

      1. marijke | | #4

        It would be great to have that kind of information.  I look forward to the results of your research.  I wouldn't know how to even go about finding out!


        1. rjf | | #5

          Maybe the people who run Threads could give some information.  It seems as if they would have some lines of information we don't.               rjf

  3. Barbaran8 | | #6

    Hancocks will sometimes have fabric printed off grain on their discount tables, but it seems to me it is always less than 5% of the total of printed fabric in the store. Any mistake that occurs less than 5% of the time in production should fail quality control and not be sold as regular price goods, in any industry (can you tell I used to work in quality control?) They are full of it, send the fabric back!

  4. Lsprigg | | #7

    Hello Gale,

    David Coffin forwarded your question to me, so I will do my best to shed light on why the fabric is printed off grain.  Is it common? unfortunately yes when the fabrics are less expensive it is quite common.  If you choose to use this fabric for draperies, you must focus on the the print hanging visually straight because that is what will be noticeable when you look at the draperies. 

    Most fabric stores that carry these under $20 per yard fabrics, are buying discontinued or imperfect goods because they are cheaper.  In the interiors world, this price is the very bottom of the line and therefore more frought with imperfections.  The designer showrooms that display higher quality goods also are more high priced.  F. Schumacher, Lee Jofa, Stroheim and Romann, Scalamandre and many others have prints with 10 to 15 colors and are perfectly registered and nearly always printed on the straight grain.  They also can range in price from $40 to $130 dollars a yard retail.  I have also seen very expensive hand printed fabrics that are terribly off grain, so price is not always a guarrantee. 

    Hope this helps, and good luck with your project.

    Laurel Sprigg

    1. carolfresia | | #9

      Dear Laurel,

      Thanks so much for enlightening us on this subject. For those of you who don't know Laurel, she's a frequent contributor to Threads and a home decor sewing expert. Most recently she's written a multi-part series of articles on making slipcovers.

      I'm a bit disappointed to learn that fabric sold as first quality can actually be imperfect. So let's all remember to check that out before buying, now that we know what can happen. Meanwhile, your advice to prioritize having the print hang straight over the grain being straight is very useful.


      1. Lsprigg | | #11

        Hi Carol, Thanks for your kind words.  I had another thought that the buyer should be aware of and that is the problem of overprinting the selvedge on the low cost decorator fabrics, and some colors of the print being off registration. To match the pattern on adjacent pieces successfully, make sure there is an actual selvedge and registration marks showing.  These are either little squares or circles printed in the selvedge that show whether the dyes are in the right place.  If it is not in the right place, needless to say, a pattern match is more difficult.  (see my threads article in issue 92 January 2001"Introducing Decorator Fabrics.")


        1. User avater
          ehBeth | | #12

          So the colours need to be in the little outlined shapes to be sure things are printed as meant? That's a really useful piece of information. Thank you. 

           =; D

        2. busymsbee | | #13

          Thanks, Laurel, for your information.  The problem with this fabric is the design from left to right.  When I pulled a thread, the design drops one inch over the width of the fabric.   The largest and most noticeable design on the fabric overall are palm trees.  There are two palm trees on each width.  Let's say that the palm tree falls two inches from the bottom of the fabric.  I could then cut the second width where the palm tree would be the same, but the patterns will not match on the seam, as that would be a left side being matched to a right side.  When I get to the third width, I could do the same, thereby having the palm trees pretty close.  I don't think anyone would notice.  Then I could hide the seams in a pleat.  This is the only thing that seems acceptable to me.  The other option would be to cut the fabric according to the design and not the grain.  Then the pattern would match but I don't think they will hang properly.  Maybe I'm wrong - maybe the grain would not be that important in this instance, but it seems that the draperies would not hang as nicely as they should.  If you have any thoughts on this, I would appreciate hearing them.

          1. Lsprigg | | #14

            Hi Gale,

            My advice is to carefully pattern match your seams, then lay out all three widths to determine the hems.  Sometimes when two motifs are printed side by side, one is set slightly lower on the print.  You may need to line up your hem according to the lower tree on each width, across all widths, for example, the right tree on each width. (We have four twelve foot by five foot tables that we can push together just for this type of process.)

             Your plan to put the seams into pleats is good, that is always what we do.  We never place seams in the space between pleats.  Your plan to have the trees a couple of inches above the hem line is also good.  That way the eye goes to the tree and not the space under it.  Since curtains are pleated and there is movement in the fabric as it hangs, the exact distance from the hem to the printed tree will not be noticiable. 

            Don't worry too much about being off grain one inch over each width.  That will not adversly effect the hang of the drapes.  When the print/grain offset gets to be more than two inches, it can effect the hang.  I personally hate it when they are off grain at all.  That goes against my grain (sorry I could'nt resist.) But, in my experience, they have to be way off to make a noticeable difference over a three width curtain.  If you had a loosely woven casement, it would effect things more than will a tightly woven print.  The eye goes directly to the print, and if that is going "downhill" from one side to the other, you will definitely notice that.  It will also be unsettling to live with.  Sacrifice grain for pattern whenever possible.

            Let me know how it comes out.


          2. lindamaries | | #15

            I've been reading this thread and I've been hurting in side just thinking about it.  It is so-o-o sad that this had to happen.  I'm thankful that the discussion members are talking about it, though. 

            Next time I order drape material, I'll be sure to write on the order  "If fabric printed off grain or defective, will not accept and no payment for fabric, shipping, or restock can be demanded." 

            I'm increasingly becoming aware of how the consumer must have everything in writing just to p[rotect their interests.  This past week alone, I've had three instances of troubles with consumer purchases that normally in the past I do not think I would have had.  I do believe that the business community is getting pretty ruthless and greedily uncaring.  I cannot explain why this is so.  I do think, though, it is important, even though it seems so paranoid, to watch everything and be on the defensive always...never trust.  It is very difficult to be this way and takes so much energy to think of all the bad that can befall you.  The minute you don't, though, you'll get taken good.  And when you get taken, it is very important to complain to the Better Business Bureau.  Take the time to say something...maybe if more people would speak up about what is being uncaringly dished their way, then maybe, just maybe the business world will change.  A consumer also, should vote with their dollars.  Don't buy from businesses that dish at you.   

  5. Lsprigg | | #8

    Hii I forgot to include this information for you.  If you are interested in finding out more about industry standards  in the drapery business,  try Draperies & Window Coverings website; http://www.DWConline.com or the Window Fashions website; http://www.windowfashions.com 

    Hope this helps,

    Laurel Sprigg

  6. carolfresia | | #10

    Hi, Gale,

    I forgot to mention that there's a very informative article by Laurel Sprigg on the Threads homepage; go to the Feature Library, under Home decoration, and look for "Introducing Decorator Fabrics."


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