...Fashion, Really Useful-Making

How to Find the Grainline on Vintage and Secondhand Fabric

November 20, 2015

When you are sewing, it is important to know where the grainline is on your fabric.
So what is a grainline, why should we care, and how do we find it..?!

What is the grainline?

I’m trying to keep this really simple, as I remember totally zoning out on this when I was learning to sew, and therefore missed the important bits. I got scared by words like warp and weft, and then swtiched off.
So this is a very simplisitc explanation:
The grainline is all to do with how the fabric has been made. Fabric is woven on big massive looms, and the strands of cotton (or linen, or polyester etc) run up and down, and left to right, and are weaved together to create the fabric.

If you have bought your fabric new, you should be able to see the selvedges on either side of your fabric, and the grainline will run parallel to the selvedges. This grainline is called the true grain.
There is another grainline, called the cross-grain, that runs at right angles to this.
And then the bias, is on the diagonal between these two.
The true grainline has the least stretch, the cross grainline has a little bit, and the bias has the most stretch (hence bias binding being used to bind edges around curves!)
For dressmaking, when the ‘grainline’ is referred to and indicated in patterns, it is referring to the true grainline.

Why should we care about grainlines?

The grainline will be marked on dressmaking patterns, and when you are laying out your fabric and pattern pieces, you need to line up the grainline of your fabric with the grainline arrow on the pattern.
If you are making clothes, it is especially important, as otherwise the fabric might end up twisting round and will be stretching in all wrong places, and the seams could end up puckering.

How do I find my grainline?

On new fabric, bought off the roll, or bolt, this is pretty easy, as the selvedges should be there for you to see, and the true grainline will run parallel to them. Happy days.

BUT, if you are Making Do, and have bought your fabric secondhand, have found some gorgeous vintage fabric, or are re-purposing some fabric from something else, you probably won’t be able to see the selvedges, so will need another way to work out where the grainline is.
Panic not, it’s still pretty simple.

The easiest way to do it is to tear the fabric (eek!).
Make a 1-2cm snip on one edge about 5cm in, and tear the fabric. It should tear in a straight line (although it might not look straight if the edge of your fabric wasn’t straight to start with..!).

If your fabric won’t tear, or you don’t want to tear your precious fabric, then there is another option.
Make a small snip into your fabric, and try and pull out a single thread.
Gently pull this all the way out, and you should see the ‘pull’ it has created running across the width of the fabric.

Both of these two methods establish a grainline, but whether it is the true grainline, or the cross grain, can be a bit harder to establish.
If you gently stretch the fabric in the direction of the line you have just established, you should be able to gauge how much stretch you have in the fabric.
If you then stretch it again, but in the opposite direction (ie left to right instead of up and down, or vice versa) you can compare how much stretch you have in either direction.
The direction with least stretch is the true grainline.
The direction with slightly more stretch is the cross grain.

And here’s two fab top tips kindly shared by the wonderfully knowledgable ladies in the Make Do and Mend-able Facebook group:

  • This is from Sharon. “If you’re repurposing clothes for example, the grain always travels down the body. So if you cutting up jeans say, the grain will be the thread going down the leg, giving the weaker thread the ‘give’ needed across the body.”
  • And this if from Dorothy. “You can also go on the sound for straight grain (warp) if you take a small amount of the fabric and give it a tug it doesn’t stretch and will make a sharp sound – weft (goes weft to right of the selvedge) will have a little stretch and make a gentler sound.”

See, I said it was simple…..!

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