Have you ever had a pair of pants you hate to iron? The fabric ripples and twists when you lay out a leg and line up the seam. The fabric just doesn’t lay flat, and no matter what you do, the ripple won’t go away.
This happens because of something that took place at the beginning when the pants were made and the pattern pieces were cut. The pattern pieces weren’t lined up correctly with the grain of the fabric.
This annoying twisting and rippling doesn’t just happen with clothes. It can happen in all kinds of projects including purses, pillowcases, and quilts just to name a few.
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 you have a straight edge of fabric to work with and use as a reference. That way, when you pin pattern pieces or cut fabric to get exact dimensions, 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. There will also be a happy sewer. 🙂
It’s called “squaring up” because you’re 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.
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.
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.
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.
How to Square Up Fabric
Squaring up, or finding the straight-of-the-grain on your fabric, isn’t difficult. It can be done in 5 easy steps and works best if you have a board with gridlines to ensure a 90-degree angle when cutting. The gridlines could be on a rotary cutting mat or a foldable cardboard pattern cutting board.
Wash the fabric.
Lightly iron or press the fabric to remove large wrinkles.
Fold the fabric so the selvages are together, hold it up, and let it hang free. Adjust the selvages by moving the fabric left and right until there are no more ripples in the fabric. The raw edges will NOT be lined up.
Keep the selvages together and lay the fabric on your cardboard pattern cutting board. Line up the fold or the selvages with one of the horizontal lines on the cutting board.
Take a yardstick and line it up with a vertical line that is close to the end of the fabric. The yardstick should be parallel to the raw edge.
Hold the yardstick securely and draw a line. The line should be at a 90-degree angle to both the fold and the selvages.
Use fabric scissors and cut carefully along the line making sure the fabric doesn’t shift.
An Alternative to Steps 4 and 5
Alternative to Step 4
Use your rotary cutting mat. It isn’t as big as the cardboard cutting board, so you may need to fold the fabric in half.
To do this, line up the selvages while holding up the fabric. Make sure there isn’t a bubble in the fold. In one motion, gently lay the fabric down on the cutting mat with the selvages close to you. Then carefully fold the fabric in half matching the selvages with the fold. Smooth the fabric and line up one of the folded edges with a horizontal line.
Alternative to Step 5
If you are using the rotary cutting mat, use a rotary ruler and rotary cutter to cut along the raw edge.
That’s it…you’re done!
Only one end of the fabric needs to be cut. 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.