How To Prepare Fabric For Sewing?

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Once a friend of mine told me: “I have just sewn an amazing wool skirt with a concealed zipper. But after I washed it, the area around the zipper got distorted and it looks awful now. I just don’t understand what happened.”

One of the main reasons may be the absence of fabric treatment before starting the project.

In this post, I describe how to prepare fabric for sewing so that the result of your sewing effort is long-term pleasing to the eye.

In this tutorial you will learn:

1. Identify the lengthwise, crosswise grain and selvedge line

Lengthwise grain, crosswise grain and bias on a fabric explained on a  scheme.

What is lengthwise grain (warp)?

Lengthwise grain is a set of yarns that make the length of the fabric. Fabrics on bolts as you can see them in shops are rolled on the lengthwise grain. Almost all of the patterns will ask you to place the pattern pieces along with the lengthwise grain (apart from pattens designed to be sewn on the bias). Therefore, it is important that you learn to identify the lengthwise grain.

What is crosswise grain (weft)?

Crosswise grain or weft are yarns that are perpendicular to the lengthwise grain. They are weaved through the lengthwise grain. Crosswise grain defines the width of the fabric – fabrics are usually 150 cm (59 inch) wide.

What is selvedge line (selvage line)?

The selvedge line is the edge of fabric. Its yarns are usually denser than the rest of the fabric. It’s about 1-2 cm (about 3/8 5/8 inch) wide on both sides of the fabric along the lengthwise grain (see the image below).

Various selvedge lines of various fabrics.
Example of various selvedge lines of various fabrics.

What is bias?

The bias runs under 45 degrees to the lengthwise grain. Woven fabrics stretch on the bias the most. Bias cut fabric is also used to make bias binding tapes. To learn more about those, read this blog post.

a) How to identify the lengthwise grain using the selvedge line

The selvedge ALWAYS runs along the lengthwise grain (warp) (see the image below).

How to identify lengthwise grain using the selvedge line.

b) How to identify the lengthwise grain without the selvedge line?

You may run into some pieces of fabric from you previous projects that no longer have their selvedge line. Try to identify the lengthwise grain (warp) in the following way:

  • In the direction of the lengthwise grain, the fabric has the minimum stretch.
  • Lengthwise yarns are stronger than crosswise yarns.
  • In plain weave fabrics, there may be more yarns than in the crosswise grain.
  • Stripe prints almost always run along the lengthwise grain.
  • In fabric with nap (velvet for example), the nap is turned in the direction of the lengthwise grain.
  • Fabric with long ‘wrinkles’ like the pink chiffon in the picture above – the ‘wrinkles’ are on the lengthwise grain.

2. Identify the right side of the fabric

a) How to identify the right side of fabric using the selvedge line?

Before you do anything with the fabric, look thoroughly at its selvedge line to decide which side is the right and the wrong one as sometimes it is not obvious at first sight. On the right side, you can see raised fibres around the little holes along the selvedge line (see the image below).

How to identify right side of fabric using the selvedge line and holes in it.
How to identify right side of the fabric.
How to identify wrong side of fabric using the selvedge line and holes in it.
How to identify wrong side of the fabric.

b) How to identify the right side of fabric without the selvedge line?

Sometimes you might come across some scraps of fabric that no longer have the selvedge line. Try to identify the right side by thorough examination of the fabric.

FabricRight side
With printed patternSide with printed pattern and bright colours
With napSide with the nap
Sateen fabricsShinier side of the fabric
BlendsSometimes they have a shinier side – that is the right side
How to identify the right side of fabrics without the selvedge line.

There are also fabrics that look the same from both sides if they have no print, of course. Crystal organza (mirror organza has a really shiny right side), georgette, chiffon and plain weave fabric that has no nap or print for example. In these cases it does not matter which side you choose.

3. Mark the right side and lengthwise grain

A few cm (inch) from the selvedge line, but not directly on it, mark the right side and also the lengthwise grain with a few stitches of basting thread. Make sure to place the marking a few cm (inch) from the cut edge of the fabric. I mark the fabric along the selvedge line like this (see the image below):

Marking the right side of a fabric along the selvage line with basting thread.
Marking the wrong side of a fabric along the selvage line with basting thread.

I also recommend you to create a marking like this when you are about to store scraps of fabrics which do not have the selvedge line. Pieces of fabric from which you have already removed the selvedge line or cut out pieces from the middle of the fabric. This marking will help you identify the right side as well as the lengthwise grain of the fabric in the future.

4. Pretreat the fabric the way you plan to treat the finished garment

Every time you buy a fabric, certain laundry symbols should come with them. Many fabrics can be both washed (either hand or machine washed) or dry cleaned. Decide, how you are going to treat your finished garment and pre-treat the fabric you have purchased in the very same way .

In case you are going to wash the fabric, never apply higher washing temperature than recommended by the laundry symbol. If a hand wash is required, either hand wash the fabric or machine wash using a special program on your washing machine with a low temperature and a low spin speed.

I always wash the new fabrics separately and never mix them with any other laundry. Bear in mind that coloured natural fibres may bleed. I would also recommend washing natural fibre fabrics of different colours separately from each other. Especially, when you are working with a fabric you have no previous experience with and thus are not sure how it will react to the first wash. You have no desire to destroy your new fabrics, do you? And you also do not want to prepare fabric for sewing by changing its colour 🙂

On the other hand, you may prefer to dry clean your garment when necessary. If so, this is the decisive factor for the fabric pre-treatment which is dry cleaning in such a case.

5. Create the perfect rectangle of fabric by pulling threads

a) Pull lengthwise thread

This is an important step when you prepare fabric for sewing. Start by clipping in between the selvedge line and your thread marking. Clip about 2 – 3 cm (about 1 inch) into the fabric.

Move the selvedge to the side and pick one of the threads along the selvedge. Hold the thread and move the rest of the fabric away from this tread. As if you were gathering fabric (see the image below).

If the thread breaks, pick a new one from the part with the selvedge line. As you pull the thread, a ‘path’ is being formed along the selvedge line (see the image d)).

Clipping into the fabric along the selvage line.

a) Clip into the fabric along the selvedge line.

Picking a thread from the clipped area along the selvage line.

b) Pick a thread along the selvedge line.

Pull the fabric along the picked thread.

c) Hold the thread you have picked and pull the fabric away from the thread.

Path along the selvage line created by the thread pulled out.

d) Path created by pulling out the lengthwise thread.

Cutting along the selvedge line following the path created by pulling a lengthwise grain.

e) Cut along the path created by the pulled out lengthwise thread.

b) Pull crosswise thread

The very same process applies to the crosswise grain (see the images below).

Clipping into the fabric along the crossgrain.

a) Clip into the fabric along the crossgrain (perpendicularly to the selvedge line).

Picking a thread from the clipped area along the crossgrain.

b) Pick a thread along the crosswise grain.

Pulling the fabric along the picked thread.

c) Hold the thread you have picked and pull the fabric away from the thread.

A path is created along the thread you have pulled out.

d) Path created by pulling out a crosswise thread.

Cutting along the path created by the pulled out thread.

e) Cut along the path created by the pulled out crosswise thread.

After you have cut along lengthwise grain, removed the selvedge line and cut along the crosswise grain, you should end up with an almost perfect (or perfect, depending on the quality of the fabric) rectangle.

6. Press the fabric properly

Fabrics are usually wrinkled to some extent after washing, drying and pulling threads out of them. Press the fabric from the wrong side or use a pressing cloth from the right side of the fabric to prevent shine that can be caused by the hot iron.

Depending on your design fabric, you may use some steam, however, be moderate. NEVER IRON IT ON THE BIAS. Pressing the fabric on the bias may cause it to pucker or stretch in a way you don’t fancy at all.

7. Transfer the pattern pieces, cut and sew

Now that your fabric is properly prepared, transfer the pattern pieces to it, cut them out and finish your garment or another project. As you have an exact lengthwise edge of the fabric, measurements taken from this edge will be accurate as well.

Exactly measuring from the lengthwise edge of the fabric before transferring pattern pieces.

Conclusion: How To Prepare Fabric For Sewing Projects?

To prepare fabric for your sewing project may take a little more time than you would like to, yet, it is worth doing in order to have a quality outcome. Remember, all things are difficult before they are easy. 🙂

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