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Preparing Fabric For Sewing

Many times we go to the fabric store, buy the patterns and fabric we’ve been thinking about, and immediately head home and start cutting out the garment or craft item.  This might work for most fabrics, most of the time; however it only takes one major mess-up to make a really bad day and perhaps cost us dearly because we’ve just ruined an expensive piece of fabric.

Proper fabric preparation is essential prior to cutting the fabric, and you need to understand the basic facts of fabric structure before starting on the project.  A firmly woven strip called selvage is formed along each lengthwise edge of the finished fabric.  Grains indicate the yarn direction — lengthwise or crosswise.  Any diagonal that intersects these two grainlines is bias.  Lengthwise grain has very little give or stretch.  Crosswise grain has more give and drapes differently, giving a fuller look to a garment.  Bias stretches the most — a bias-cut garment usually drapes softly (example circular skirts), but also tends to be unstable at the hemline.

If the fabric you just brought home is not cut evenly, there are two methods for straightening the ends:

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A.  Tearing is suitable for firmly woven fabrics.  First make a scissors snip in one of the selvage edges; hold the fabric firmly and rip across to the opposite selvage.  If the strip runs off to nothing part of the way across, repeat the process beginning farther from the edge.  The “tearing” process will follow the thread line where you did the cutting, therefore making the edge straight when you get to the opposite selvage.

B.  A drawn thread is better for soft, stretchy or loose weaves.  Again snip the selvage edge and pick up one or two of the crosswise threads and pull gently, as shown in the diagram.  You will need to pull the thread and push the fabric until you reach the other selvage edge.  Cut along the pulled thread line and you’ll have a straight edge for the fabric.

Re-aligning the grain

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After straightening the ends, fold the fabric lengthwise, bringing the selvages together and matching the crosswise ends.  If the fabric edges fail to line up on three sides (as shown above), or if the edges line up but the corners do not form right angles, the fabric is off grain and must be re-aligned before cutting.

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Dampening the fabric is the first step in re-aligning it.  This relaxes the finish, making the fabric more pliable.  Fold the fabric lengthwise, matching the selvages and ends; baste the edges together.  Enclose the fabric in a damp sheet (as shown above) and leave several hours; or moisten the fabric itself, using a sponge or spray bottle.  Be sure to pretest a small area – if water damages the fabric, omit this step.

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Next, the fabric is stretched on the bias.  This is usually sufficient to put it back in proper shape.  Pull gently, but firmly, until the fabric is smooth and all corners form right angles.  Use caution, however, because too much stretching can cause further distortion.  Lay the fabric on a flat surface to dry then press if necessary.

Sounds like a lot of work just to get the fabric back to the proper grain, but if you are making a suit or dress out of very expensive fabric, you will be very glad you took the time for this procedure.

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Pattern Maker, Instructor & Author

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