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With The Grain? Against The Grain? Bias? Selvage?

Summary

What exactly does the term "with the grain" mean when it pertains to a piece of fabric being used in a quilt? Read all about it in this article.

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With The Grain? Against The Grain? Bias? Selvage?

What exactly does the term "with the grain" mean when it pertains to a piece of fabric being used in a quilt? I've often been asked if paying attention to the grain of fabric while cutting fabric for a quilt is necessary. Being conscious of the grain of fabric during dressmaking is very important for the drape of a skirt, but a quilt doesn't need to drape around a form - it only lies on a bed. Yet grain can actually be quite important in a quilt.

With The Grain? Against The Grain? Bias?

 

There are two types of "grain" in a piece of fabric - no matter what type of fabric you purchase (flannel, burlap, satin, etc.). There is lengthwise grain and crosswise grain. The lengthwise grain runs the entire length of the fabric as it comes off the bolt in the fabric store. When the gal at the fabric store cuts a yard of fabric off the bolt for you, she will cut directly through the lengthwise grain.

These long lengthwise threads are called the "warp threads". Today fabric is produced quickly and in massive quantities. But, traditionally, the warp threads were attached to the top of a loom, strung vertically and secured at the bottom of the loom. Home looms could produce fabric only as large as the loom was. Factory looms produced much wider and longer pieces of fabric.

Lengthwise and Crosswise Grain

 

Loom

 

The "crosswise" grain runs the width of the fabric. The width of all fabric is measured from selvage to selvage. Cotton quilting fabric generally measures 44" selvage to selvage. Fabric, in general, can run from 35" wide to as wide as a manufacturer desires.

Selvages

 

The selvage edges of fabric are made up of the lengthwise and crosswise threads that have been tightly woven, and measure about 1/2" wide and appear in a lighter thread color than the main fabric color or print. This tight selvage edge is unusable in a quilt and must be cut off when starting to create your quilt blocks. It is not recommended that you cut off the selvages of your yardage as it is purchased since the selvages gives your fabric stability prior to usage, and the designer's name and fabric line is listed within the selvage edge. You may also find color dots within the selvage edge that show you what colors of dyes were used in making the fabric to help you in choosing coordinating fabrics.

The crosswise grain is made up of what are called "weft threads". Traditionally, these threads were created by shuttles filled with thread which were woven in a continuous back and forth motion through the whole of the lengthwise threads.

Both the lengthwise and crosswise grain are considered "straight of grain". This means that if you can pick out an actual piece of thread within the fabric then you will know for sure that the thread line is perfectly straight. With today's high quality quilting fabrics though, finding a single thread to pick at is very difficult! Sometimes you can visibly see the lengthwise and crosswise threads in homespun fabrics and loosely-woven plaids, or if a fabric edge frays. Finding the straight-of-grain was common practice in days gone by, but is actually not necessary in today's quilting because of the wonderful quality of cotton quilting fabrics that are produced.

Bias Cut

So back to the original question! Is the grain of fabric important when quilting? It is important to help avoid warping fabric. Have you ever cut out a simple fabric square and found that is looked a little wonky? Or when you use it in a full quilt block that has been pieced that the block doesn't want to lay flat? This typically means that the small square was cut on a slight angle within the fabric - or on the "bias".

Have you ever used fabric scraps that you dug out from a toss pile to cut your square? You grab your square ruler and zip out a nice square to use in your block. Is it that big of a deal if it's not cut on the straight-of-grain? It can be a real big deal (quite a pain to sew with!) if your small block stretches. Check to see if the sides of your square can stretch. If they do, then they have been cut on the bias or with some slight bias.

Now I have to worry about "bias"? Knowing what bias is will make such a difference in the quality of your finished quilt squares. Bias is the 45 degree angle of a piece of fabric. Hence, bias is the diagonal, from corner to corner, of a square. You can check ANY piece of cotton quilting fabric for straight-of-grain versus bias by yanking , or trying to stretch, one edge of the fabric. If an edge of fabric snaps tightly between your hands, then you have your straight-of-grain. That edge could be either lengthwise or crosswise - it doesn’t matter. If an edge of fabric stretches, then you have a bias edge.

Bias Square Stretching

 

You will have bias edges if you cut a square in half on the diagonal. Triangles are often used within quilt blocks. Just handle gently so the bias edges aren't stretched as you sew. Bias binding is often used to finish quilts - especially if the quilted borders are curved as bias easily molds to different shapes.

Happy quilting!

 

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Glossary

Bias
The direction of a piece of woven fabric, usually referred to simply as "the bias" or "the cross-grain", is at 45 degrees to its warp and weft threads. Every piece of woven fabric has two biases, perpendicular to each other. Non-woven fabrics such as felt or interfacing do not have a bias.

Same As: Cross-grain
Binding
Binding is used as both a noun and a verb. As a noun it is the fabric that's used to cover the raw edges of the quilt sandwich after it's quilted. This edging fabric is referred to as the Binding (noun). As a verb it is the process of putting on this fabric, and it referred to as Binding a Quilt.
Block
The basic unit of a quilt top, usually square but can be rectangular or other shapes. Blocks can be pieced, appliqued or plain.
Drape
How stiff or soft the fabric or quilt is.

Same As: Drapability
Grain
The lengthwise and crosswise threads (warp and weft directions) of a woven fabric.
Homespun
A fabric woven with colored threads instead of printing the fabric after it is woven. Homespun fabric is generally plaid and looks the same on the front as it does on the back. Named for its French inventor, Joseph M. Jacquard.

Same As: Jacquard
Ruler
A heavy plastic measuring guide that can come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Selvage
The outer edge of both sides of a woven fabric where the weft turns to go back across and through the warp. This is a stiffer and denser woven area of about 1/3-1/2 inch and is usually trimmed off and not sewn into a quilt.

Same As: Selvedge
Warp
Threads which are put on a loom under tension and raised and lowered to allow the weft to pass through. The warp direction (parallel to the selvages) is the most stable in the finished fabric. Some quilters always use this warp direction for cutting borders.
Weft
The woven threads in a fabric which run across the width of the fabric during weaving and intersect with the warp threads.
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