How to Prepare Your Fabric

You learned in Section 5 that the secret of constructing a garment which will fit perfectly, hang well, and keep shape lies in preparing and cutting it with grainline perfection. The lengthwise grainline is the selvage of the fabric and is grain perfect. The crosswise grainline must be established by tearing or by pulling a thread.


In many shops, particularly if the fabric is expensive, the clerks pull a thread when cutting fabric off the bolt so they don't have to allow for waste when the customer straightens it to prepare for cutting. Observe whether or not the end of the fabric on the bolt has been torn. If not, mention it to the clerk so she will allow extra.

Some fabrics will not tear successfully. They might tend to “cross tear”, such as cords, drip-dry, or easy care. When tearing, always cut one selvage; tear firmly and quickly until you reach the other selvage; cut this selvage. Do not attempt to tear through a selvage because it's apt to cross tear.

Pulling a Thread

Clip one selvage. Pick up one or two crosswise threads with a pin. Gasp thread and pull gently, easing the fabric along thread. Cut on pulled thread. If straightening the ends will waste much fabric, don't cut. Keep pulling the thread slightly and mark puckered line with colored basting thread or a row of pins. (See diagram 30.)

Bonded, heat-set and permanent press fabrics don't need to be grain perfect before cutting because grainline has been locked during finishing processes and they can not he straightened.

Pile fabrics — unravel threads on crosswise edge until one thread can be pulled off the entire width. Cut off fringed edge.

Napped and brushed woven fabrics — may be difficult to unravel. Pull a thread and cut.

Napped and brushed knit fabrics — The crosswise grainline can usually he seen on the wrong side. Mark with a row of pins and cut.

Knit fabrics almost impossible to pull a thread. You may be able to ravel the end to straighten some pieces. If you look at the back or under surface of the fabric, you can detect horizontal lines or ridges. Place a row of pins along a continuous horizontal line and trim. Knits require very little pressing if shrunk carefully. Press very carefully because some knit fabrics stretch easily.

The lengthwise edges on some silk or silk-like jersey are often curled or folded over. Press these edges — the edges will be quite irregular but disregard this. If the fabric is printed, the pattern may not extend to the edge in some places. Watch for these unprinted portions when placing pattern pieces on the fabric.


To be grain perfect the fabric must “lie square” for cutting. After both ends have been straightened lay fabric on flat surface; fold in half lengthwise, matching selvages. If crosswise ends are matched evenly and form a right angle with lengthwise thread, fabric is grain perfect. Double check by folding in half crosswise. If, when in crosswise fold with ends even, it will not lie flat because diagonal wrinkles form, it's off-grain. Number and size of wrinkles indicate how much it's off-grain.

All fabrics which will not lie square (ends and sides even), must be stretched — stretching on a true bias (45°). It will be necessary to have someone assist you. Start at corner which was short. Fold it over about 10 inches to establish true bias. With helper, pull diagonally, working across the end and down sides, pulling at 10-20 inch intervals. Grasp fabric firmly. As you pull you can feel it “giving”. Fold and check again for squareness. It may be necessary to reverse the procedure. If material is badly out of line, repeat. (See diagram 31.)

All fabrics stretch more quickly if they are slightly damp because moisture relaxes the threads. If fabric required shrinking, stretch while still slightly damp. If shrinking was not necessary fold on a damp sheet, leave for several hours; stretch again and press. Many washable fabrics don't require shrinking because the various finishing processes used during manufacture have shrunk fibers. Test a sample for shrinkage. Drip-dry cotton will not stretch unless slightly damp.

Some fabrics have a “heat-set” finish to insure no change in shape or size. Others have a “permanent” finish which will retain their specific properties, such as crease and crush resistance, glaze on chintz, crispness, shrink resistance, etc. These are so permanently set off-grain that they will not change after cleaning or laundering. If they don't respond to a reasonable amount of stretching don't force them. Fold fabric as required in layout for cutting, selvages even; fabric flat, proceed to cut.

If fabric is only slightly off-grain and doesn't require shrinking, it can he squared by pressing with a steam iron. Straighten ends. Fold length wise, right sides together. Pin or baste (machine basting is quick) selvages together, then crosswise ends. Lay on flat surface; dampen underside of folded fabric with a wet sponge. Press with steam iron — hold iron slightly above fabric for a few seconds to bring up more moisture from underside; pull or hand-flatten wrinkles; lower iron to dry fabric. Press in the direction of lengthwise grain. Do not press folded edge, but open and press that area.


Custom dressmakers test every fabric for shrinkage or as a precaution shrink every fabric. Occasionally a fabric will shrink slightly when being pressed with a damp cloth or steam iron during construction, and there might he further shrinkage when garment is cleaned or laundered. If custom dressmakers think this is necessary, home dressmakers should take the same precaution.

Testing for Shrinkage

Test all non-washable fabrics. If you have acquired a sample when shop ping for fabric, use it for testing. If there is shrinkage, buy extra if necessary. If you have purchased your fabric, cut a small rectangle from corner about 1 by 13 inches. Draw exact size on paper, or tape paper on corner of fabric with magic tape, so there will be no slippage, and cut together. Separate them. Wet fabric thoroughly; let it dry. Do not press it dry because you are apt to stretch it. When dry, compare with paper. The slightest change in the small sample will become a large amount on the garment fabric. If sample is 1 x 2 inches and shrank 1/16 of an inch, on short side of sample this would become 1/16 x 36, or 2 1/4 inches on every 36 inches of garment fabric. This is enough to result in a snug and short garment after laundering or dry cleaning.

You can understand why custom dressmakers test, then shrink if necessary, every piece of fabric, because their customers can hold them responsible if there is shrinkage later.


1. Establish crosswise grainline.

2. Fold fabric in half lengthwise, right sides together. Pin, then baste selvages and ends together, either by hand or machine.

3. If you have an automatic washer, run fabric through rinse cycle, at low temperature setting.

4. Spin until almost dry; stop machine.

5. Place fabric on flat surface to determine whether it lies square or re quires stretching.

6. Observe whether or not selvages draw or seem tight. If tight, clip selvage at regular intervals until fabric will lay flat.

7. Dry in dryer, then press if necessary. Do not press a crease in folded edge.

If you don't have access to an automatic washer and dryer:

1. Pin, then baste fabric, and fold in accordion folds 8 to 12 inches wide.

2. Place in warm water and let soak for several hours.

3. Lift from water, squeeze out excess moisture. Do not wring, as it will produce wrinkles.

4. Using bath towels, blot out as much water as possible.

5. Dry flat or hang over a rod. If a long length of fabric, fold crosswise several times to eliminate the possibility of the weight of the wet fabric stretching the material.

6. While still slightly damp, stretch if necessary.

7. Press — don't press the folded edge.

Many home dressmakers prepare their fabric for shrinkage and shrink it as soon as they bring it home.


These include woolens, man-made fabrics and blends.

1. Straighten, fold, baste ends and sides, right sides together.

2. Snip selvages if they appear slightly tight.

3. Wet a sheet or two sheets if required for a long length of fabric. Wring out excess moisture.

4. Lay damp sheet on a large table or the floor. Place fabric along one side of the wet sheet. Fold remaining side over fabric.

5. Fold in 8-12 inch accordion folds, keeping fabric and sheet as smooth as possible to avoid unnecessary wrinkles.

6. Wrap folded fabric in a piece of plastic or brown paper. Leave for 4-8 hours or overnight, so the moisture will be distributed evenly throughout fabric.

7. Stretch if necessary.

8. Lay flat or fold and hang over a rod to dry.

9. Press if necessary. Do not press folded edge.


(If garment will be dry-cleaned, it will not be necessary to shrink fabric.)

To avoid crushing pile when wet these fabrics should be handled differently.

1. Make fabric “grain perfect”.

2. Soak in warm water.

3. Lift from water and gently lay on towels to absorb some of the water.

Change the towels if necessary.

4. Spin dry in an automatic dryer — this will raise the pile and pressing should not be necessary.

PREV: How to Pick a Proper Pattern NEXT: How to Adjust and Alter Patterns Home

Friday, 2009-04-10 2:11