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Straightening Material for Cutting

HisChildBeth | Posted in General Sewing Info on

I haven’t sewed in almost 30 years, and need some help with straightening my material so I know if I am cutting on the grain or gross grain.  I know on a pattern you can take the lie on the center of the pattern piece and measure out to the selvage in at least two spots and know that the piece is laid out on grain.  At least that’s what I think I remember.

I know that in home ec we use to do something with pulling a thread to get the material “straight” and then we cut along that thread pull.  Is that the gross grain?

I want to try to make a quilt using a 9 patch pattern.  The pattern instructions assume you know the basics of material and cutting, but I can’t seem to find anything this basic on-line.  Probably that is because I’m not asking the right question.  I know that I have to have my material perfectly “square” when I cut, and iron, my blocks or they will not come out square when you put the blocks together.

Do you wash your material before you straighten it and cut it. or after it is washed?

If you cut then wash, I assume that you need to iron out any creases from folding.  Is this correct?  I assume that you would have to iron your fabric after you wash it because it will be all wrinkled.

I have a lot of real basic questions like this and I am looking for a good reference book.  I have been reading reviews of beginning sewing books and there doesn’t seem to be a consensus among reviewers of which book really is a good beginner’s book.  I want a reference book, with a good glossary, a good index, and not a whole bunch of projects for me to make.  I have the projects, I just need to know the right way to do the basics with step-by-step instructions and not a lot of fluff.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

God Bless You!

Edited 4/30/2008 11:32 am ET by HisChildBeth


  1. Pattiann42 | | #1

    Some do not prewash and some do - I am one of the "doers".   Some dyes irritate my hands and some fabrics bleed and some fabrics shrink.

    Separate the darks from the rest of the colors - the dark colors may bleed and you want to rinse these until the bleeding stops.

    For larger lengths of fabric, I put the entire piece in the washer with enough detergent to make a low suds.  Wash in warm - cool water/delicate cycle.  Dry in the dryer until just damp.

    For blocks or strips already cut when purchased, I submerge in warm -cool water and a bit of detergent or baby shampoo, soak a few minutes, press out the water, rinse and roll up in a towel.  Unroll and lay out the pieces until damp.

    Press the fabrics while still damp and the heat from the iron will completed the preshrinking process.

    To straighten the fabric, fold the fabric until the selvages are together, then align the edges until the fold of the fabric is smooth.

    I sometimes snip an edge and tear to get the fabric straight, but found a recent piece did not square up with the selvage after tearing and I went back to using the smooth fold technique.

    I couple of good shows for learning techniques are on PBS - Fons & Porter's Love of Quilting and Elenore Burns' Quilt in a Day.

    Any books (F & P has a magazine) by these designers are worth purchasing.

    Happy quilting!


    PS:  Here is a fun video that may be of help - http://www.expertvillage.com/video-series/307_quilting-beginner-guide.htm


    Edited 4/30/2008 1:14 pm ET by spicegirl1

    1. HisChildBeth | | #2

      Thank you so much for all the great tips!  One question though....

      If I have a piece of material that doesn't haven't the selvage edge on it, how do I make sure that it is straight and on the grain?  Can the material stretch the wrong way if I am cutting, sewing or ironing across the grain?

      I have started a notebook of tips and articles that I have found really helpful and your note is going in there!  I'm in the process of washing the material I bought for my first project.  It has been a long time (30 years) since I have sewed, but I thought I remembered that was the correct way to handle your fabric.  The tip about letting it come out of the dryer sightly damp is wonderful!  When you stop to think about it, it makes perfect sense.  That's the kind of help I need - common sense for the feeble minded.

      I did find a website by Penny Halgren - http://www.how-to-quilt.com/ and she sells a whole bunch of different quilting products including a Beginners Guide to Quilting.  Her packages always come with different offerings of "free" additional information that I have found really helpful especially starting over.  She has several websites, one is a membership site that you pay for every month, the Quilting Coach, with all kinds of resource material and patterns.  With the Diamond Package I purchased I got a 45 day free trial offer that allows me access to almost everything on the The Quilting Coach website.  There is a lot of really good downloadable patterns and educational material.  She has all kinds of monthly membership offers and prodcuts, but the price on the different levels of monthly membership are too steep for my pocket book.  I'll take my 45 day trial, and drop.

      I would rather buy a more diversified magazine like Threads.  I also found another sewing site I like that has one year membership for the same price as Penny's entry level monthly membership.  I subscribed to that.

      With everything I have been buying I'm going to have to sit back and take a deep breath before I buy anything else.  Threads will be great, but later.  I also want to find that one good basic sewing reference book, physical book, not electronic, so I can have a handy reference right by my machine.  I'm going to go check out those resources you suggested.

      Againk, much thanks!  God Bless You!


      1. meg | | #3

        Some quilters do not obsess about whether the fabric is cut 'perfectly' on the grain. If you are cutting into good quality quilting fabrics (cottons), then you may snip into the selvage about 1/2 inch and tear it. It will tear on the straight of grain. Some people don't like this method at all. Another way to get close to the straight of grain is to take your yardage and hold the selvages together; if it is not straight of grain, you'll see diagonal folds/puckers. Move/Slide one side of the fabric, keeping the selvages parallel, until the folds disappear. Cutting along one of the threads, as you've mentioned, is also a way of getting the straight grain.Try not to get hung up on one aspect of quilting. Dive in, and get started. And come back to ask more questions! Have fun.

        1. HisChildBeth | | #4

          Thanks for the practical help.  I tend to be an organizational freak, and I want to do everything perfectly  -- and of course perfectly "the first time".

          Your sage advice of "dive in" is exactly what I'm going to do tomorrow.  I have an unpleasant medical procedure today or I'd start right now.  I've been praying this morning to get past the anxiety and the unpleasantness.  Now I'm passing the time looking at all the sewing and quilting "notions" that are available today.  Many, many more than I ever dreamed!  I'm making a wish list that is going to probably be hundreds of items and thousands of dollars, but wish listing is a great way to "shop" if you DON'T move the items to the shopping cart :-) !  When Christmas and my birthday roll around my daughter asks for a list of my favorite sites with wish lists and then goes and picks something for me that she knows I want and can use.  Even if it isn't a necessity its a useful item and not a wasteful expense just because she wants to get me a gift.

          Have a wonderful day!


      2. Pattiann42 | | #5

        To tell where the selvage edge would be (if it were there) is to gently pull on opposite edges of the fabric.  The width of the fabric that has the most give is where the selveges would be.  I have found fat quarters sometimes are missing a selvage edge and each quarter should have one.

        Selvages run parallel to the lengthwise grain of the fabric.

        I align the selveges so I have a smooth fold when using the rotary cutter for long strips.

        Some templates indicate placing on the straight of grain, and some do not.

        Selvages are not to be used, but are good for a quick reference as to lengthwise and crosswise grain of the fabric.

        My first quilt was made from the instructions in Family Circle magazine (about 20 years ago) without the advice or help of anyone.  Just go for it - experience is the best teacher.

  2. User avater
    VKStitcher | | #6

    Hi Beth,

    The county library is a great place to find quilting and sewing books, without the fear of spending money on something that you don't like.  You can search the library catalog online and request books.  Your local branch will call you when the books are ready for you to pick up.  Of course, I also love to browse the library shelves, but I don't always have time for that, and sometimes books that I want are at other branches.  The online request service is great.  You can also renew online if you want more time to read them.

    I always wash my fabric first, in the same way that I will later wash the garment or quilt.  Sometimes I use a dye-catcher sheet if I have deep colors ("Shout" is one brand), to avoid having colors bleed onto other items in the wash.

    You say that it's been years since you sewed, but you remember a lot more than you think you do.  :-)  Don't worry about everything being perfect before you start, or you'll never get anything done.  The more you sew, the better you'll be at it.  We all learn something with every project we do.

    1. HisChildBeth | | #7


      Forgot about the library!  DUH!  I'm so use to sitting here in my big comfy chair with my laptop I don't think of the "old" way of doing things.  I haven't even been in a library in years.

      I haven't heard of dye catching sheets for the wash, but I'm going to look for them next time in the grocery.  I buy all my laundry stuff at Costco so I hardly look there except to grab my Shout.

      Take care and God Bless!  Beth

  3. Teaf5 | | #8

    The search words you might try are "truing" or "the fabric. In the old days, I spent so much time trying to "true" the fabrics (pulling on the bias) that I ran out of time to sew. Even then, they seemed to revert to their original form after I'd finished the project and washed it again, and the pattern would be distorted anyway.Nowadays, I prewash the fabric and press it before deciding what its grain is. If it is too far off square for my project, it's bad and won't be used. If it's only slightly off, I use it as is and just make sure that my cuts are square so that the piecing and pattern line up nicely.Just like people, natural fiber fabrics have quirks and bends, but you can make beautiful combinations if you just work with the imperfections.

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