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Fabric Grain: What It Is and How To Fix It If It's Off

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You might have heard the term, "fabric grain." It sounds like it could be a breakfast cereal just for sewists. But in reality, it's a technical term that describes the direction your fabric has been woven. It's important to know which way the grain is running, because fabric that is off-grain when you are cutting pattern pieces can cause your completed project to stretch out of shape. We're here to give you a better understanding of fabric grain and some tips on how to straighten it.

When you buy fabric off the bolt (in store or online), they unwind however many yards you want, then cut it off with scissors. Along either side (perpendicular to the cut edge) are the factory-finished edges called the selvage (or selvedge). These edges are bound to keep the the fabric from unraveling.

The grain of the fabric is made up of the threads running parallel to the selvage and the threads running side-to-side (perpendicular to the selvage).

The three types of fabric grain

Lengthwise Grain: Sometimes referred to as the grainline or simply grain, lengthwise grain refers to the threads that run parallel to the selvage. The technical name for these is "warp threads."

Crosswise Grain: Crosswise grain refers to the threads that run parallel to the cut edge of the fabric (the width) and so are perpendicular to the selvage. The technical name for these is "weft threads." Here's your little rhyme to help remember which is which: "weft runs right to left."

For more about the fascinating world of warp and weft, check out our tutorial, All About Fabric Weaves.

Bias: While technically not a grain, it's the 45˚ angle between lengthwise and crosswise grain. Fabric cut on the bias is stretchy, and often used anywhere you need the fabric to "bend" more smoothly around a curve, such as for covering piping, creating bias binding, or in apparel projects where you want a soft, flattering shape.

Why does grain matter?  

When a fabric is "on-grain," the lengthwise and crosswise threads are at an exact right angle to each other. Woven fabrics always follow the grain because they are made with the actual warp and weft threads. With wovens, when the grain is off, so is the pattern. With printed fabrics, their designs are printed on top of the woven threads. So the grain can be off and the pattern can still look okay.  

Your fabric grain can be off a little bit and it won't affect your project. But if it's off by too much, your designs won't line up when you're trying to match panels and your seams can bunch or stretch because they're actually being sewn too close to the bias.

How to check your fabric's grain

You can check to see if your fabric is on-grain by establishing a straight line across, from selvage to selvage, then folding the fabric to see if it squares-up. 

To do this, lay out your fabric panel right side up and flat on your work surface.

Near the top cut edge and starting at one side of the selvage, find one thread that goes all the way across (crossways). Start pulling it.

Ideally, you can simply pull the thread right out of the fabric. But if not, just pull until the fabric puckers along the thread, then keep bunching the fabric and pulling every few inches until the pucker reaches the opposite selvage.

Either way, pulling out this single thread will give you a straight line across the fabric.

The methods listed above still work without a selvage. It just makes it a bit harder to find the horizontal thread to pull. Place the fabric on your work surface oriented so the weft is running as it should: horizontal. If you're not sure, make your best guess. At one corner, fray the fabric so you can get ahold of one thread and pull as described above. If your pieces are small, there may not be much you can do since the cuts from the larger fabric have already been made.

Using this thread line as your guide, cut all the way across the fabric.

Some folks prefer to rip across. To do this, snip about ½" in from the selvege, then rip the fabric across.  Your ripped edge will need to be pressed flat. 

Fold the fabric lengthwise so the selvages align and are perfectly flush. If the two sides of the edge you just cut also line up and are flush, your fabric is on-grain.

If they don't, proceed to the next section.

How to straighten your grain

There are two ways to do this.

Ironing: Fold your fabric in half (selvages together) so your cut edges are aligned. Pin along the cut line and pin the selvages together. Iron your fabric until flat.

If this doesn't correct your grain, you can try stretching the fabric.

Stretching: Fold your fabric in half (selvages together). When your grain is off, you'll see that one of your corners is short. Hold the short corner with one hand and with the other hand, grasp the opposite corner. Gently stretch the fabric on the diagonal.

Fold it in half again to see if the edges now align. Repeat the gentle stretching if necessary. Be careful not to stretch too strenuously or the fabric's printed design motif can be stretched out of shape.


Comments (42)

Patty Ng said:
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im having a hard time getting my cotton fabric to be on grain.  I've ripped the side from selvage to selvage, and lined it up , lined up the selvage but the fold of the fabric is bubbly ( not draping straight). I've stretched the fabric all over but I don't think that helped any. :(. why is it bubbly when I've already ripped the fabric ?  Thanks!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@ Patty - It sounds like you've tried the stretching solution. Did you try the ironing solution? Beyond that, you may simply have a fabric that is badly off grain and can't be completely corrected. Your best solution is probably to get it as flat as possible by ironing and stretching. If working with pattern pieces that require a specific straight of grain cut, you'll just have to adjust as best you can as with a cotton you also will likely need to make sure your printed motif is straight. All our best tips are included above, but you might find additional feedback with a further search of various sewing forums or on YouTube.

Anna P said:
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Thank you for such a helpful article! I have a quick question about grain vs pattern when the pattern isn't aligned to the grain. I am making a dress for a toddler which has straight lines in the pattern it. Would it be wrong to try to align the dress to the pattern, rather than the selvedge? I understand that it may make it harder to match edges up etc? Thank you 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@Anna - Thank you for your comment - so glad you found our article helpful. We're not garment experts here at S4H, but in general, for any of our patterns, we prefer to fussy cut to the fabric design in order to get the best finished look. It's a little tricky if you're working on the bias, but for standard patter pieces, we like to center the fabric design to the pattern piece. You can read more about fussy cutting in our tutorial linked below; it includes some hints for matching along a side seam: 


Diana said:
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I have a question about ripping fabric on the grain to get it straight. Is there a tip that makes ripping not so hard on the fabric? When I tear it, there seems to be about 1/4" edge where the fabric has been too stretched during the tear. Do I need to rip faster? Slower? Something else?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@ Diana - ripping a thin woven is a great time saver and gives you a straight edge since it's tearing along the grain. The edges can be a bit stressed but not to the point of being damaged. You should be able to press the edge back into shape - or if pre-shrinking, a wash, dry and press should take care of things. In general, after clipping through the selvedge, you just just grasp the fabric firmly in both hands and rip smoothly and evenly - and pretty quickly. Rip until it stops, re-adjust your hands, and rip again. 

Tsu Dho Nimh said:
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Excellent instructions!  I remember my home ec teacher, in the dim distant past when there were home-ec classes in schools, hammering this into our dense teenaged heads. "Wash it, dry it, check grain, press it, and THEN - and only then - start your layout."

One other tip, with printed designs, is to make sure it's on-grain before you buy it.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@ Tsu Dho Nimh - Thank you - excellent words to remember from your ol' home ec teacher!

Carol Brown said:
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Thank you for this great explanation. I am making drapes and have fabric on a large roll. I am trying to match the pattern of the lengths (two lengths for each side of the drapes). But I am finding the pattern is not printed square with the grain. Should I focus more on the grain and not worry about the pattern matching? It is a floral design.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@Carol - That's a tough one to troubleshoot long distance without seeing the situation. It's pretty common for prints to be printed off grain. It likely most depends on how visible an unmatched seam would be. I'd be likely to err on the side øf matching the motif over the grain, correcting top and bottom to insure those edges are straight once the pånels are seamed (assuming you have enough fabric to trim both top and bottom as need be. Unless the fabric is wildly off grain (I'm guessing this probably isn't the case), it shouldn't affect the hang of the drapes. At the end of the day, it's really personal preference; if you want an uninterupted look to the panels when they are closed (when the motif is most flat and so most noticeable), staring at a mis-matched seam might drive you slowly insane. If the floral is very dense and random so you can't tell the motif is mis-aligned, then you can opt to go with the grain. 

Susan Crowe said:
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Hi, I have the same problem as Carol Brown...My pattern is printed at an angle to the grain on some very expensive fabric

My question is, how much is "wildly off grain"? I'm joining 2 drops of 154cm (60") and the pattern drops 2cm (1") from left to right.

I have cut my lengths and only realised when trying to pattern match the 2 drops - I have enough hem allowances for loose the error....

(.. I've made dozens of pairs of curtains and never had a varience this large or noticable ...)

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@Susan - We've seen some pretty "wild" off-grain fabrics, yes - as much as 1" as you describe.... even on expensive cuts. That much off isn't necessarily common, but no unheard of. It's really a shame, isn't it? But, it sounds like you were able to pattern match by adjusting your hems, which is great. 

Susan Crowe said:
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Thanks Liz - If customer services cannot do you thin adjusting for a 1" skewing of the pattern will affect how my curtains hang? I'm using eyelet heading...

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@Susan - So sorry, but I don't consider myself enough of a "window treatment expert" to troubleshoot that kind of detail long distance. I'm afraid I just can't tell you for sure. I hope it all works out for you. 

Lesley said:
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hi this is my first time cutting fabric, and I'm confused about the instructions above. I have enough material to cut the two pieces from 145 width fabric next to each other or alternatively one and then one below (taking up more material) is it wrong to do it a particulare way? Apologies for what is probably a Very stupid question, but any help would be much appreciated.


Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@Lesley - There's aren't any stupid questions! You don't really need any of the instructions above unless you think your fabric is off-grain or "crooked." The choice of which way to cut is two-fold: you can choose based on the most efficient use of the fabric (in this case probably side by side), or you can choose based on the best option to center/frame the motif on your fabric -- also know as fussy-cutting (another loink below to that). Either way is "right" if it works best for you. 

Now - if you are using a commercial pattern for a garment, the pattern pieces are likely to have an arrow printed on them that should be placed along the grain of the fabric. You do need to pay attention to that as the pieces are designed to be cut to take advantage of the fabric's stretch in a specific direction along the fabruc's grain in order to create the correct fit. 


Denice said:
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I purchased yardage of a heavy cotton duck from a home fabrics store that I am using for a partition drape. The unusual thing is that there aren't the typical tightly woven selvage ends. The weave goes all the way to the edge, with just a tiny 1/8 fringe along the sides. I would like to do an overlapped seam to join two widths of fabric together since the finished drape will be seen from both sides. I normally cut off the selvages, but in this case, I'm not sure what to do. If I cut off the edges/side fringe I'm afraid the edges won't be as straight and even as they are now. What do you think?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@Denice - I would agree with you. I'd leave the edges as is to do your seam, then finish the seam allowance with your favorite method.

nancycp said:
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Wow, the internet is so great, you can find anything! I am into my first foray of online fabric purchasing. I have a piece of 54" wide cotton slub home decor fabric, it's been washed and line dried. The ends are quite crooked on opposite sides, I didn't trust getting the selvages together and I don't understand waving it left and right. I remember from 7th grade (40 years ago?) about "pulling a thread". So I did, perpendicular to the selvage. 

It's SO much MoRE crooked! I am to pin it and iron it into submission?? Can the selvages be really off??

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@nancycp - We've seen some crazy examples of off-grain fabric, so nothing would surprise me. However, the selvedges themselves are usually straight. Perhaps it's just the width of the fabric that has been cut crooked... maybe even cut crooked on both ends?! I"ve seen that before. If you did the "pulling a thread" trick along one edge, cut along this pulled thread line as shown above. Then, try aligning the selvedges. Your pulled thread edge should be flush and your selvedges should be flush. Then you'd just need to square up the bottom. If the fabric has indeed been cut crooked across the width, you may end up loosing height. Document along the way with photos, because if you end up with a final squared-up piece that is too small for your project, you may want to take that up with the online retailer and you'd want photo documentation to prove how bad the original cut was. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@Ashley - Do you mean in this situation - when you are trying to straighten grain? If so, it helps "Stretch or Push" the fabric in the right direction. 

Kristin B said:
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thanks so much for the post. I was really struggling with some fabric that was off. Such a pain in the a$$ but happy I found your post!  It worked great! 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@ Kristin - So glad to hear it helped you. Fantastic news!

Marie shockley said:
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        I am in the process of making a "turning twenty " quilt and have a question.   There are 3 pieces that make up one of the 20  quilt blocks (Consisting of pieces measuring, 7.5 x 10.5, 10.5 x 10.5 and a 7.5 x 17).    In the square quilt block pattern, periodically it is necessary to cut rectangle pieces against the straight of the grain.  It is so contrary from how I am used to using fabric - should I be concerned of any effect this will have with the end quilt product? 

Thank you

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@ Marie - We are not necessarily quilting experts here at S4H, so your question may be better directed to those on a quilting site or forum. That said, if your quilt pattern is directing you cut them in this manner, I'm sure they've tested it and all will be fine. 

Terry Collins said:
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Hi Liz,

Sorry that I wasn't able to explain it very well.  It would be helpful to watch the video, but I didn't want to post the web address without checking with you.  If it's ok, I will be happy to provide it.  AND, since coming across Sew4Home a couple of days ago, I have spent hours viewing your projects and instructions, and I am truly amazed at the consistently excellent and thorough instructions and photos.  I have never seen anything like it!  Love this site, and thank you to you and to all of the staff!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@ Terry - Thank you for such a nice compliment!!

Terry Collins said:
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I learned a VERY EASY way to straighten the grain from Wendi Gratz of Shiny Happy World.  It takes only a few seconds.  It seems weird, but it works!  Fold the selvages together, then holding the fabric in your hands, move your hands to the left then to the right (hard to explain, but do it kind of quickly, back and forth a few times), and then shake the fabric a couple of times.  Repeat the process two or three times, and you will find that it works!  Then, with the fabric still folded, place it on your work surface, and trim off the piece on one end so that the two layers are lined up evenly.  So easy, and takes only a few seconds!  Try it!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@ Terry - Thanks for the tip! I'm not 100% sure I understand exactly what's happening, but I'm going to give it a try. Love new solutions - especially if they're fast

Nancy Kriner said:
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A new method of making sure the fabric is straight I have read is to fold the fabric in half, selvages together.  The selvages do not have to be even but the fold must be straight with no ripple.  The fold must lay flat.  Sometimes it is not possible to have the selvages even because they are stretch out of shape.  I now go with the method of making the fold lay flat.

Gayle Mitchel said:
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I like the ripping method of finding the straight grain.....especially when someone has cut me off in traffic getting home from the fabric store!  Good article and great refresher.

Sandee Kustermann said:
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This take me back to 4H sewing and 7th grade Home EC. 

Loved the way you explained it!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@ Sandee Kustermann - So glad this was helpful... Ah... gool ol' 7th grade Home Ec 

Rosemary Bolton said:
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Very good and thorough explanation.

Well, I remember learning all of this in Home Ec class waaaay back in the days of olden.

It is nice to have a refresher course. Fabrics have not changed much in the way they are manufactured since then, so it is that this is a common situation that one should not be afraid to manage. The end result, especially in garment sewing, is always worth it.

Thank you Liz

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@ Rosemary - Thanks! You're so right... it's always good to have a refresher now and then. We certainly remember/learn things each time we do an article. 

Lynda Huber said:
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If you pull the fabric on the diagonal to straighten the grain - what happens when you wash the fabric? Does the fabric not return to it's original shape?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@ Lynda Huber - as mentioned above, these are tricks to help straighten the grain prior to cutting and construction. If you plan to pre-wash your yardage, do that first, then press, then check to see if you need to straighten the grain. Then procede with your project. If you've done your best to insure the grain is straight, things will sew together nicely. Once sewn, you'll be okay. 

Betty Meyskens said:
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Good article - just getting back into some sewing and this was a nice refresher.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@ Betty Meyskens - Yep! It's always good to remind ourselves of the basics.