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All about those sewing terms

Sometimes when I write my sewing column, I assume that everyone knows the basic terms that are involved in sewing.  But I think I need to step back and re-evaluate that line of thinking.  The words, bias, grain, selvage are terms that are often thrown around.  In fact, those terms are so common that people are afraid to even ask what they mean because they might feel silly.

Woven fabric is composed of two sets of yarns (threads) that run at right angles to each other.  The lengthwise yarn (warp) runs vertically, and is called the lengthwise grain.  The selvage is the finished lengthwise edge on each side of the fabric.  The crosswise yarn (weft or filling) runs horizontally from selvage to selvage, and is called the crosswise grain.  This is a good time to take a deep breath.

Bias refers to any diagonal on the fabric.  True bias is the diagonal edge formed when the fabric is folded so that the crosswise threads run in the same direction as the lengthwise threads.  Fabric cut on the true bias has the maximum “give”.  Sometimes garments are cut on the bias for reasons of design, but generally they are cut on the lengthwise grain because it is the strongest and most stable grain.

A fabric is on grain when t he lengthwise and crosswise threads run exactly at right angles to each other.  When the two sets of yarn do not run at right angles to each other, or the crosswise yarn curves toward fabric’s center, the fabric is off grain.

Garments which are cut correctly on grain hang well and retain their shape.  There are many reasons which cause a fabric to be pulled off grain.  If the fabric is rolled onto a bolt with uneven tension, or subjected to irregular pressures during printing and finishing, the finished product will be off grain. Off-grain fabrics are not a good choice for the beginner because the grain can’t be made thread perfect.

I guess there is a moral to this story.  Sometimes when we go against the grain, we have to selvage the situation and take a right angle.  After all we are all looking to give our maximum in our lives.

About Sally Cowan (23 Articles)
After Keeping You in Stitches for over 45 years, Sally enjoys her memories of events that happened on her way to retirement. Author of 6 books, lectures, teaching, and TV host on PBS and now has time for her many cats and Snuggles, the dog. She also loves playing trumpet in the Anastasia Baptist Church orchestra.

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