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. 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 something that took place at the beginning of the process when the pants were made.
The pattern pieces weren’t lined up correctly with the grain of the fabric when the pant pieces were cut.
Types of Fabric Grain
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 they follow along the lengthwise grain. If they aren’t, 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 you have a straight edge of fabric to work with and use as a reference before you lay out pattern pieces or cut fabric.
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. 🙂
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.
- fabric you want to use for a project
- Wash the fabric.
- Press the fabric to remove large wrinkles or creases.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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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The maximum sharpness / Made in Japan /OLFA 45 mm tungsten steel Ergonomic Rotary Cutter & 45mm Rotary Blade Refill, 1-Pack Value Set
Cutting Mat for Sewing & Crafts - 18x24inches, Sturdy Rotary Cutting Mat w/ Self Healing, Non Slip Surface - Perfect Craft, Fabric Cutting Board for Quilting & Sewing - Large Double Sided Mats
Omnigrid Non-Slip quilter's Ruler, 6" x 24", Neon Green
Dritz 890 Superboard Durable Kraft Board, 39-3/4 x 72-Inch
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