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Properly Preparing Your Fabrics - Part 1

Properly preparing fabric for sewingBefore cutting into fabrics, interfacings or linings it is imperative that the lengthwise and crosswise grains are perpendicular to each other. This ensures a garment that will hang and drape without pulling or riding up on the body when fitted and sewn properly. Fabric grains can sometimes become distorted during the manufacturing process or if they are improperly wound on a bolt or tube. This can result in a crooked piece of yardage once it has been cut from the bolt. To rectify this, make a small horizontal slit through the selvage starting about 1/2” from the top of the fabric. Gently pull one of the threads that will be revealed in the slit and continue pulling across the entire width.

If the fabric is very crooked and the pulled thread runs out and off the end of the yardage before reaching the other selvage, make another slit below the first one and start again. Repeat this process at the bottom of the yardage so both ends are “thread perfect.” The closer and tighter the weave, the more the thread may break. If this occurs and it’s difficult to see the end of the broken thread, use a magnifier and pick out an inch or so of the thread with a needle or sharp pin and continue pulling, then cut along the drawn thread to straighten.

On some difficult fabrics where the thread keeps breaking, make a slightly larger cut in the selvage and slowly rip the fabric along the crossgrain taking care not to accidentally cause a tear or pulls on the lengthwise grain. If the fabric is loosely woven, the thread will often pull out very cleanly leaving a “channel” where the thread once was. Cut inside this “channel” to straighten. On woven plaids, cut along one of the crosswise yarns at the top and bottom of the yardage. Serge or ziz zag along each crosswise end to prevent raveling. Use an L-square or grid to line up the selvages and crossgrains. If they are not at right angles to each other, gently pull opposite ends of the true bias grain to help realign the threads. A sewing buddy is helpful when straightening larger yardages. Using a steam iron and pressing with an up and down motion…not ironing…will often help set the threads in place.

To straighten knits, locate and baste along a lengthwise “rib” at the center of the yardage. Locate and baste or pin along a crosswise yarn known as a “course” at the top and bottom of the yardage. Cut along this yarn. Fold the yardage in half along the basted “rib” to align the selvages and crossgrains. On both woven and knit fabrics, basting across the selvages as well as the top and bottom crossgrains often helps realign the yarns during pre-shrinking. Knits can be straightened or “blocked” by dampening and pinning into position until dry.

When purchasing patterned fabrics that have been printed, always check to be sure the design has been printed on-grain. Unlike woven patterns, it is nearly impossible to straighten printed yardage without distorting the image. However, if the design is printed satisfactorily on the lengthwise grain, you can often cut along the crosswise design with little or no distortion of the finished project. This is known as making the fabric “piece perfect” as opposed to “thread perfect.”

Next month, we will explain various methods of pre-shrinking and testing for color-fastness.

by Marcella Joswick
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