Understand Fabric Grain for Your Sewing Projects

Clothes on hanger
Brais Seara/Getty Imaes

Almost all fabric is made from weaving threads together. This weaving technique means that the fabric has a grain. The grain will affect how the fabric moves as it's pulled. If you want to learn to sew garments that really fit correctly you'll need to understand not only how to find the grain but how it affects the fabric. Sewing against the grain can mean you fabric is trying to go in a direction it doesn't naturally like to go in.

Following the grain will help your fabric look and wear the best. Fabric grain also affects they way fabric will hang and drape. It's easy to figure out where the grain in a fabric is. To figure out where the grain is to pull your fabric in several directions. The direction with hardly any stretch is the direction of the grain. 

You should also know how to tell the grain in fabrics because many sewing patterns reference them. It's not uncommon to be given a direction like "cut against the grain". If you make a mistake and sew along the bias or against the grain you could find your fabric starts to pucker in places. It may also start to stretch in areas that shouldn't stretch. The grain lines are also among the strongest threads in the fabric. There are three types of fabric grain.

Types of Fabric Grain

  • Lengthwise grain refers to the threads in a fabric which run the length of the fabric, parallel to the selvage of the fabric.
  • Crosswise grain is the threads that run perpendicular to the selvage of the fabric or the cut edge of the fabric as it comes off the bolt.
  • Bias grain is the thread line that is at a forty-five-degree angle to the lengthwise and crosswise grain of the fabric as it is on the bolt. The bias has stretch in woven fabric and will hang differently than a garment that has been cut on the straight or crosswise grain.

    Woven Fabric

    When you are working with woven fabric, the lengthwise and crosswise grain will not have any stretch. Depending on the tightness of the weave the fabric may have "give" but it will not stretch.

    The Bias grain will stretch, making the bias grain a perfect for couture areas such as covering cording to create your own piping.

    Because the bias grain does react differently than the lengthwise or crosswise grain it may require special handling. For example; A skirt cut on the bias grain must hang for 24 hours before you attempt to hem it.

    Knit Fabric

    Although knit fabric is constructed differently than woven fabric, fabric grain is characterized the same way it is for woven fabric.

    Although knit fabrics stretch, the amount of stretch may vary in the different grain lines.

    Always read the back of a pattern envelope that is designed for knits and test the stretchability of the fabric with the information on the pattern envelope.