When I was a child, growing up and learning to sew, I was always taught to be sure that the fabric I was cutting was on the grain of the fabric. In sewing class in school, before we could make our dirndl skirt, we had to pull a thread across the width of the fabric and then cut along that pulled thread to make sure that the grain would be straight. This would be the top of the skirt that we gathered and would assure that the skirt would hang straight.
Later, when I learned to make draperies, we always pulled a thread across the width and then cut along that thread to make sure, as I did with my garments, that the draperies would hang straight.
I have transferred those lessons to quilting to insure that the quilts are straight, the patches not distorted, etc. The equivalent to pulling a thread is to tear the fabric. The tear is always along the grain line giving you the true crosswise grain of the fabric. I created this video to show the importance of fabric grain when cutting patches.
We start every bolt in the Studio with a tear strip to determine the crosswise grain. If you order a yard of fabric, we measure out one yard plus extra to account for the torn edges. That way you will have a full yard of on-grain fabric to use. You can straighten the grain by gently tugging the yardage diagonally until the torn edges and the selvage edges are squared.
When fabric is cut from a bolt with a rotary cutter, it is cut at a 90-degree angle to the fold. However, how do you know that the fold is lined up with the lengthwise grain? After the fabric is woven, it goes through several processes including printing, finishing, winding onto a huge roll and then being folded and wound onto the bolts shipped to fabric stores.
All that processing and winding can pull a fabric off-grain. At Jinny Beyer Studio, all our fabrics are manufactured by the same company but some bolts are almost perfectly on grain and a few are off by inches.
The pictures below show an example. The first picture is of the edge of the fabric as it came off the bolt, cut by the manufacturer. The second picture shows the true crosswise grain of that same bolt of fabric. It’s off by inches! This shows why we prefer to tear and find that grain line.