How to Square Up Fabric

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Do you know why it’s important to square up fabric before you cut it?

Think about this scenerio:

You have a pair of pants that needs to be ironed but the fabric ripples and twists when you lay out a leg and line up the seam. No matter what you do, the ripple won’t go away and you can’t get the fabric to lay flat.

This happens because of one or more things that took place at the beginning of the process when the pants were made.

  • The fabric’s lengthwise and crosswise grains weren’t squared up before cutting.
  • The pattern pieces weren’t aligned with the grain of the fabric when they were cut.

Types of Fabric Grain

Understanding the different types of fabric grain is the first step in squaring up fabric and eliminating ripples and twists in finished garments and other sewing projects.

When fabric is woven, there is a lengthwise grain and a crosswise grain.

  • The lengthwise grain runs the length of the fabric. It’s parallel to the selvages.
  • The crosswise grain runs the width of the fabric. It’s perpendicular to the selvages.
  • Some projects require cutting on the bias. This is a cut that is at 45-degree angle to the lengthwise grain.

In many pant patterns, the leg pieces should be laid out so the arrows on the pattern pieces follow along the lengthwise grain which should be at a 90-degree angle to the crosswise grain.

If the lengthwise and crosswise grains aren’t 90-degrees to each other, ripples and twisting will occur in the finished pants.

This annoying twisting and rippling doesn’t just happen with clothes. It can happen in all kinds of sewing projects.

It’s critical you square up your fabric before you cut or sew any pieces together.

If you don’t, there could be puckering, distortion and a very frustrated sewer. Also, the fabric won’t lay flat when the project is finished.

What’s squaring up fabric?

Squaring up fabric has to do with making sure the lengthwise and crosswise grains are at a 90-degree angle to each other.

It’s also referred to as being “on-grain” or finding the “straight-of-the-grain.”

By squaring up the fabric, you’ll be confident the fabric will do what you want it to when you sew pieces together.

There won’t be any pulling, puckering, or distortion of the fabric, but there will be a happy sewer. 🙂

Once you know your fabric is squared-up, you can begin laying out pattern pieces or cutting a straight edge on one side and use as a reference before cutting fabric for quilting or other projects.

Should you prewash fabric before you square it up?

That depends. Some people do and some don’t. If you just started sewing, you’ll find there are all types of opinions, ideas, techniques, etc. about how to prepare fabric and about sewing in general.

Just know, sewing is like raising kids. There’s more than one way to do things. As you delve into the wonderful world of sewing, keep your eyes and ears open, implement what you learn, and decide what makes sense and works best for you.

My thoughts on prewashing…It bothers me to think about things I make shrinking so I almost always prewash before I sew anything that will eventually be cleaned in a washer and dryer.

How You Know if the Fabric is Already Squared Up

There are a couple of different ways I use to determine if the fabric is squared up. For both of them, you need to recognize how the edges of the fabric are different.

Selvage vs. Raw Edge

  • The selvage is the finished edge of the fabric. It’s tightly woven and keeps the fabric from fraying.
  • The raw edge is the unfinished edge of the fabric. It’s the edge that was cut.  It tends to fray as the fabric is handled.
selvage and raw edge

Method One

One method I use is to fold the fabric, lining up the selvages with each other and lining up the raw edges with each other. If there’s a ripple in the fabric, it’s NOT squared up.

ripple in fabric
Do you see the ripple in the middle when both the selvages and raw edges are lined up? This means the fabric is NOT squared up.

Method Two

Another method I use is to fold the fabric by lining up the raw edges on one side. I give the folded fabric a good shake while I’m standing up. While holding the fabric, I look to see if the selvages are lined up. If they aren’t, the fabric is NOT squared.

While this picture below shows the fabric laying on a cutting board, you would get the same result if you were standing and holding the fabric.

raw edges lined up but selvages aren't
There isn’t a ripple in the fabric using this method. It’s eliminated and the uneven selvages are the result. So, the fabric is NOT squared.

How to Square Up Fabric

selvage and raw edge

How to Square Up Fabric

Yield: Learn how to square up fabric
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Squaring up, or finding the straight-of-the-grain on fabric, isn't difficult. Learn how to determine if a fabric is squared and what you can do if it isn't.

Materials

  • fabric you want to use for a project

Tools

Instructions

By following the steps below, you will square up the fabric AND end up with a straight edge of fabric to work with.

Depending on your project, a straight edge isn't always needed. Sometimes it is enough to square up the fabric. (Steps 1-4)

Make sure to read the notes at the bottom and watch the video for additional information.

  1. Preshrink the fabric if the finished project will be washed.
  2. Press the fabric lightly to remove large wrinkles or creases.
  3. Fold the fabric so the selvages are together, hold it up, and let it hang free. Adjust the selvages by sliding the fabric left and right until there are no more ripples in the fabric. The raw edges will more than likely NOT be lined up.
  4. Keep the selvages together and lay the fabric on your board or mat with the gridlines. Line up the fold or the selvages with one of the horizontal lines.
  5. Take a yardstick and line it up with a vertical line on the mat or cutting board that is close to the end of the fabric. The yardstick should be parallel to the raw edge. draw line with yardstick
  6. Hold the yardstick securely and draw a line. The line should be at a 90-degree angle to both the fold and the selvages.
  7. Use fabric scissors and cut carefully along the line making sure the fabric doesn't shift. cut on drawn line
  8. That's it...you're done! The selvages are straight and so is the raw edge you just cut. The fabric is now squared up and ready to be used for your project.


Using Rotary Cutting Tools

If you've laid the fabric on a rotary cutting mat instead of a cardboard cutting board, you don't need to draw a line. Just use the rotary cutting ruler and cutter to cut the fabric for steps 5-7.

If the fabric is longer than the rotary cutting ruler, you may need to fold the fabric in half.

To do this, line up the selvages while holding up the fabric as described in step 3. Make sure there isn't a bubble in the fold.

In one motion, gently flip out the fabric and lay it down on the cutting mat with the selvages close to you.

Keep holding on to the selvages and carefully fold the fabric in half matching the selvages with the fold.

Carefully smooth the fabric and line up one of the folded edges with a horizontal line.

use rotary tools to square fabric

Notes

Just by following steps 1-4, you've got the length and crosswise grains squared up.

Depending on your project, you may not need to cut an end.

For example, if you're cutting out pattern pieces for a garment, you won't need to use a yardstick or ruler to cut the end off.

However, if you are working on a quilt, you'll want to make the cut on the end so the edge is straight. That will ensure any strips or blocks you cut are square.

Only one end of the fabric needs to be cut.

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My main goals are to support, empower, and inspire you to discover the joy of sewing.

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4 Comments

  1. Great article and we’ll explained, Nicki. I’ve been doing this without even thinking bout it, 😆. I think it was one of the first things I learned from my mom. Also loved your video!!

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