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Sarai Mitnick is back with us today; she’s the genius behind Colette Patterns and author of The Colette Sewing Handbook: Inspired Styles and Classic Techniques for the New Seamstress. Sarai joined us earlier with this helpful post on The Hows and Whys of Clips and Notches, and today she explains everything you need to know about fabric grainline.

The Colette Sewing Handbook reflects the lovely modern vintage style and clear instruction Sarai is known for in her fabulous patterns. The book includes five new patterns for modern classic pieces (scalloped-hem skirt, flutter-sleeve blouse, sweetheart neck sheath dress, asymmetrical flounce dress, and a lined dress with gathered sleeves), and guides you through simple, sewing fundamentals. You gradually build your skills as you build a beautiful wardrobe. It’s a wonderful book, and it so clearly reflects Sarai’s aesthetic and skill (we enjoyed this recent post Sarai wrote about the book writing process, and you might too). Add it to your holiday wish list (or just go ahead and get it for yourself!).

Krause Publications is generously sponsoring today’s giveaway. You can win a copy of The Colette Sewing Handbook: Inspired Styles and Classic Techniques for the New Seamstress (US Addresses Only). Tell us what you learned about grainline, or how much you love Colette Patterns. Tell us what you like about the new book… Comment for your chance to win!

Let’s talk about grainline. “Grainline” is a term that can seem weirdly technical to the new sewist, especially when we start talking about things being “off grain” or “on grain.” What exactly does that mean?

I talk about grainline in several places in The Colette Sewing Handbook, but I thought I’d give you a bit of a primer to help you review these terms and what they mean for your garment sewing projects.

First, let’s take a look at this fabric. We’re going to be talking about woven fabrics today (as opposed to knits). Here’s a swatch of a fabric with a really clear, easy to see weave.

At the bottom, you see where the fabric has been cut off the bolt. The other edge that you see is the selvedge. Notice that it looks a little different from the rest of the fabric and doesn’t fray like the cut end.

On printed fabrics, you’ll sometimes find manufacturer information and color dots or it will be a simple white line. Even if there’s no visible difference between the selvedge and the rest of the fabric, it is always referred to as the selvedge.

The threads that run parallel to the selvage are known as the lengthwise grain, or the warp threads. You’ll usually want to align your pattern pieces with the lengthwise grain, unless otherwise noted in the pattern.

Sometimes, you’ll also see the lengthwise grain referred to as “straight of goods,” especially on vintage sewing patterns. Other times, sewists will simply call it the “grainline.” Just be aware that that usually refers to the lengthwise grain.

You also have threads that go across the fabric, from selvedge to selvedge. This is known as the crosswise grain.

Now, in addition to those two grainlines represented by the threads running up and across the fabric, we also have a way to refer to any other direction on the fabric. This is called the bias grain.

Technically, the bias is any direction on the fabric other than straight up and down, or straight across. True bias, usually referred to as bias, is a 45 degree angle between the crosswise and lengthwise grainlines. If you take a perfect square swatch of fabric, grab two opposite corners and give it a tug, you’ll see that it stretches quite a bit.

That said, in practical usage, we often just say “bias” when talking about the true bias. Cutting patterns on the bias allows them to stretch, allowing a close fit over your body. Garments cut on the bias often have a very slinky look. Think Jean Harlow in a beautiful satin gown.

When a pattern piece isn’t correctly aligned with the grain the way it’s supposed to be, it is called off-grain. As I mentioned, most pattern pieces should be aligned with the lengthwise grain. If it’s a bit tilted and ends up off grain, you can get some odd effects, especially in the way the garment flows and moves around the body.

I hope this has helped clarify some grainline terminology. You can check out more about grainlines and working with patterns in my book!