Sewing School Day 7 ~ Understanding Fabrics


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Welcome to Day 7!

Today we are going to go over what you will need to know about fabrics in order to be able to follow a pattern.


Selvedge ~ The finished edge of the fabric that keeps it from fraying  on the bolt.  It will often have the name of the fabric, designer, and a color key printed on it (you can see it in the bottom right hand of this pic)

Straight (or lengthwise) Grain ~ Runs parallel to the selvedge.  On woven fabric, the straight grain will not give when tugged at.

Crosswise Grain ~ Runs perpendicular to the selvedge.  On woven fabric, the cross grain may give a little.


Bias ~ The grain that runs at a 45 degree angle from the selvedge.  The bias will stretch.  Strips cut on the bias will not fray.  The edges will get a little fuzzy, but they will not fray.  Items cut on the bias will drape differently, so they should be allowed to hang for 24-48 hrs before you hem.   After the fabric has had time to set, you will most likely need to trim it before you hem because it will be uneven.


Pattern pieces usually have an arrow that shows how the pattern piece should be laid out on the fabric.  The arrow should run the same direction as the straight grain.  Also, before you cut (actually before you lay out the pattern pieces), you need to be sure the grain of the fabric is straight.  Typically,  since you usually need two or more of most of the pattern pieces, the cutting layout, will require you to fold the selvedges of the fabric together .  If the cross grain of the fabric is off, you will get some really funny looking garments!


There are two ways to get the grain straight.


The first way is super quick and simple, and therefore my favorite!  Basically, all you have to do is look at the fabric.  You can see in the pic above that the grain is off because of the drapes formed in the fabric.  If the grain was straight, the fabric would be smooth.  I just hold my fabric up selvedges together, and adjust until my fabric is all smoothed out.


The second way is still pretty quick and simple, but still takes a little more effort…  Just snip into the selvedge of the the fabric near the raw edge (the edge the fabric store cut when you bought the fabric).


Use a seam ripper to separate one of the threads.


Gently pull the thread out of the fabric…


And there you go…there is a perfectly straight grain line!


A few other terms you need to be able to recognize:


One-way fabric ~ Refers to a fabric whos pattern can only be used in one direction.  This fabric is one way.  See how all the flowers are at the top and stems are at the bottom? If I turned it upside down, it would be …well, upside down!   If you choose a one way fabric, you may need to buy more.  Check your pattern.  Also, some patterns will say “not suitable for one way fabrics”  This is what they are talking about.  I imagine, the patterns that say this probably have pieces that are cut on the bias and it would look strange if you were to use a one way, but you know, like I said yesterday…If you think it will be cool…Go for it!


This fabric pattern can be used either way.  ie if I turn it upside down it will still look fine.


 And last but not least…

Nap ~ This is a fabric that has pile on the right side.  For example, velvet, faux fur, or the minky fabric pictured above.  Cutting layout is usually going to be different for fabrics with nap.


And that’s it for today!  Hope you guys are enjoying the series!  I’ve got to fun announcements today!  First:  In a few days, Wildflowers & Whimsy will be available on your Kindle!!   I’m super excited about it!  I’ll post more once all the set up is complete!  Second, check out your fabric stashes because next week  I am going to post a SUPER simple tutorial for a swimsuit cover up!   I’ll post the materials needed by this weekend.




  1. says

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this series! I’m a new sewist and everything you’ve discussed has been helpful! Thanks so much!

    • April says

      Thanks Dyea! I have really been putting a lot of time and effort into this and it is nice to know that you are finding it helpful!

  2. Heidi R. says

    I have just started to do some sewing for m little girl. I found a great book with patterns for many knit fabric projects. However I am having a difficult time finding a variety of fun knits to sew with. The stores in my area are geared primarily toward quilting and have very little knit fabrics. Is there an online resource that you could recommend? thank you


  1. […]   Note:  The pattern calls for the ruffles to be  cut on the bias so that you do not have to finish the edges (as pictured in the white & pink dress), but for this dress (green flowered dress), I cut the ruffles on the grain and did a rolled hem.   If you want the look of the pink dress cut the ruffles as indicated on the pattern.  If you want to do a rolled hem like on the green dress cut the ruffles on the grain.  Cutting the ruffles on the grain will reduce fabric waste.  If you need help figuring out how to cut on the grain, check out this post. […]

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