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Why We Tear Our Fabric

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.

FabricTearing - Combo

10 thoughts on “Why We Tear Our Fabric

  1. I learned “straight of grain” the same way! When I suggested this to a small group of ladies I was helping learn to piece blocks, they thought I was nuts! Well, better nuts than sorry!!! Thanks Jenny!

  2. I remember when fabric was torn so it would be straight with the grain. Only, I don’t remember the clerk being kind enough to give extra. And I found that when torn, the fabric always had an unusable area about a half inch in along the tear. I am glad to hear you allow for this when you measure fabric.

  3. this has been really helpful, thank you.

  4. Sometimes less expensive fabrics aren’t printed true to the grain and it’s good to fine this out when one does the tearing. Stripes and plaids can be slightly diagonal and polka dots can also be off. If a true grain is important for the project, be sure to check that the fabric was printed straight – it’s not easy to tell by just looking at it unless it has been torn or a thread has been pulled.

  5. Will be giving my local fabric store owner a few pointers from now on! As she is just cuts the fabric with no concern with fabric grain . I must admit I never knew this too I will be trying this out for myself. Thanks Jinny. Happy New Year.

  6. I still don’t understand why it matters. I’d I’m careful and don’t stretch then why does it matter? Will the quilt be messed up after a few washings or something! Will it rip in the dryer? Why does straight of grain really matter?

    1. I will let others chime in here and explain why they feel it is important to keep fabric on grain. I also have some more info on my website at http://jinnybeyer.com/info/why-we-tear.cfm

    2. My grandmother had a quilt that was made of fussy cut diamonds. She had the quilt hanging on a wall and over time the quilt began to wave. This was because the diamonds were not cut on the grain and some stretched more than others and caused waves in the quilt. Even if you are careful not to stretch in construction of the quilt, it can stretch with washing or just hanging.

      The quilt was beautiful and the fussy cutting was what made the quilt so stunning. So we had the quilt reworked with a new batting and a new backing. We were able to fix most of the stretching by quilting the diamonds to the backing with dense stitches.

      My lesson learned is; when ever possible cut on the grain… and if you need to cut off grain for sake of design or printing, you must stabilize the piece with batting that doesn’t stretch, quilting densely and an on grain backing.

  7. Thank you Jenny! We are from the old school proper sewing group! I think most of the younger women don’t know anything about the grain of the fabric! I love your fabric and your quilts! Thank you again for the explanation!

  8. Hello Jinny,
    This post and comments from folks have been very helpful. The pics of fabric tearing, however, have been broken. These pics are not on your website. Please provide the pics as sometimes a visual is worth a thousand words. Many thanks!

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