I was asked recently, “How do I make sure my fabric is straight for cutting?” Great question. Mainly because before laying out any project you want to be certain that your fabric is straight or square or straight on grain.
My first response was to explain how to line up your fabric with the selvage edges lined up even and then either striking a line on the edge (90 degrees from the selvage) and cutting it with scissors or cutting is with your rotary cutting tool. That works and is the easiest method. I rely on this method most of the time.
Ah but, then…..my home economics teacher crept from way back in dark hallows of my memory and screamed at me “Pull the threads to determine the grain!” Oh yes. Way back in the dawn of time, when sewing was still taught in schools, our very first sewing project was to make a simple apron from 1 yard of fabric (if that much) and we began by making sure our fabric was true to grain. We pulled a thread. It was tedious. It was boring. It took too long. All I wanted to do was get to that sewing machine and sew. But, you know what? It works. It really does work. And this is how it works.
Think back to any type of weaving you may have done in your childhood or just take a really close up look at your fabric. Threads running along the selvage edges are the weft threads. The weft threads are the long threads on the loom and the threads running from one selvage to the other are the warp threads. (the selvage is where the warp threads are woven back through to the opposite weft edge that creates that edge) So, a warp thread (cross-grain)and/or a weft (long-grain) thread are going to be an indicator of the true grain of your fabric. Are you following me?
Once you have washed and dried your fabric lay it out on your cutting surface. Determine where the shortest edge is along the selvage. Either selvage edge. At about a half an inch from the shortest point you can make a cut into the fabric about 1 to 1 1/2 inches long.
Now pick out one cross-grain thread, one of those warp threads and gently pull it. Continue to gently ease and pull the thread all the way to the other selvage edge.
When it has pulled far enough that you can see where it is wrapped at the opposite selvage edge you can make a clip in the fabric at the thread. If the thread breaks pull out the one next to it. Slow and gentle will get the thread pulled all the way across the width of your fabric.
This is where I lost patience as a teenager and just wanted to go sew.
Once that thread is pulled out you will see where you need to cut to make your fabric perfectly straight.
Now do the same at the other end of the length of your fabric.
But, what happened if you do this thread pulling method on your beautiful printed fabric and the images don’t look straight? Well, think about where the fabric came from. Was is a good quality fabric or was it from a bargain bin? The printing of fabric is quite the process and with many things there is always lots of room for error. Did you know that fabric today can be printed on a large format Hewitt Packard printer? In any case, if the original fabric isn’t fed straight on grain into the machine that is actually printing or dying the fabric, the finished image will not be straight. You can pull threads until the cows come home. Or you can cut until your blade gets dull, your fabric will be straight on grain but, the image will not.
To avoid such aggravation you can take a quick, close look at your fabric before you have it cut in the fabric store. simply unfold about a yard or so from the bolt and fold it from selvage to selvage and look at the image on the fabric. If it looks fairly straight you should be fine to use it in your projects. If it look crooked no matter how square you try to fold it, you should probably put it back and move on to plan “B”.
I hope all this information helps and I hope it makes sense. Hopefully it comes in handy the next time you are looking at fabric for a specific project that requires your printed fabric to be straight such as for a pillow cover or for curtains. Or even to help create beautiful drape in a garment you are making.