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We all know how important it is to cut fabric on grain, right? Yet, how many of you use grain lines as a guide for fitting? I must confess that I have been ignorant of grain lines for quite some time.

Before, I was fitting garments using a trial-and-error approach: pulling fabric on one side, letting out on the other… The result? DISTORTED BALANCE!! The garment pulled and twisted, especially after washing. Wasted time, and a growing stash of UFOs because of poor fit. Are you familiar with this scenario, dear readers? I am, unfortunately!

Things changed once I learned more about couture and draping, where grain lines are used as the most reliable fitting guides. The following notes by Christian Dior (Secrets of the Couturiers by Frances Kenneth, Exeter Books 1984) were a revelation:

“To facilitate the fittings, the dresses arrive at the studio entirely covered with guide threads. Those threads, in contrasting colours that show up clearly against the material, have been sewed through every one of the pieces that make up a dress. One follows the grain of the material, and the other is at right angles to it. The bias lies between the two. The guide threads, pitiless critics, reveal all the possible faults in the cut, and must find points of equilibrium in essential parts of the dress.”

Draping guides are very explicit about the grain line marking and its use in fitting. No matter what you drape, grain lines always have to align properly. No doubt, there are styles that use the grain more creatively. However, to be successful with this type of construction, one needs to master the grain first.

It all begins with marking.

If you work with a pattern, start with the lengthwise grain. Extend the existing grain line guide on the pattern so it runs from edge to edge. Then, mark the crosswise grain.

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On skirts, mark the hip line (easy one!).

On blouses, jackets and dresses, in addition to the hipline, mark the bust line, cross-chest and cross-back lines. Following the instructions in Claire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing Techniques: “The cross-chest and cross-back lines fall at the narrowest part of the chest and at the midpoint of the armscye. The bustline falls at the base of the underarm and may not actually be at the bust point.”

On sleeves, mark the cap line and the biceps line. “The biceps line connects the top of the underarm seam and marks the crossgrain… The capline is located on the crossgrain midway between biceps line and shoulder point.” (Couture Sewing Techniques, Claire Shaeffer)

For pants, thread-trace the crossgrain at the crotch line and the knee.

Once you marked all these lines on the pattern, transfer them to your muslin or fashion fabric. A pencil or pen is good for a toile or muslin. But if you work with fashion fabric, mark with chalk or, even better, with thread.

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Fitting with Grainlines

I was surprised how much easier it was to recognize fitting errors by observing the position of the marked grainlines. With my favourite fitting companion – Fitting & Pattern Alteration by Elizabeth Liechty, Judith Rasband and Della Pottberg-Steineckert – I was soon able to detect most fitting culprits. For example, “if a crosswise grain curves up or down where it should be parallel, it is due to a body bulge or hollow directly above the curve of the grain,” explains the book.

Generally, lengthwise grain should always remain straight and perpendicular to the floor, the crossgrain should run parallel to the floor on all basic straight designs. Logically, on styles with some flare, as skirts, for example, the crossgrain will gradually drop.

My most successful experience using grainlines as fitting guides was with sleeves and pants. Try it when you do your next project – you will see what I am talking about! As for myself, I now diligently trace all my grainlines. And, dear readers, it’s such a relief!

~Marina

Marina von Koenig is a couture enthusiast documenting her learning experience on her blog Frabjous Couture.

18 Comments

  • Madmen_icon_large

    Oct 29, 2011, 08.57 AMby carmencitab

    I read the article just in time as I was making a muslin for a friend that will be fitted over Skype! So I did send it with grain lines and crossgrain lines, I am sure it’ll help. Thanks.

  • Missing

    Oct 27, 2011, 07.36 PMby Martina Soncica

    I wish for a video or at least more detailed tutorial as well, Im foreign and a beginner and I dont understand all expressions, visual would be so helpful, I really want to learn this.

    1 Reply
    • E4b64bee83c80798a9d4cb7f545e503a4fdce553_large

      Oct 28, 2011, 02.39 PMby lookingpast

      Martina, I understand completely! I have read lots and lots of books on fitting but until I took Lorianne’s class and actually saw (and did with my own two hands!) I never really ‘got’ it!

      A video tutorial would be very useful…….

  • E4b64bee83c80798a9d4cb7f545e503a4fdce553_large

    Oct 27, 2011, 04.34 PMby lookingpast

    I recently took a series of fitting classes from Lorianne Reeves who stressed that marking the grainlines on the pattern (and fabric) was only the beginning because then the pattern has to be adjusted for where your own waist, hip, shoulder, bustline, etc actually are on YOU. We spent hours adjusting our muslins so that the new lines could be transferred back to the pattern. I learned, for example, that I have a narrow back and high waist. Using the waist, shoulder, armscythe, etc as marked on the original pattern I ended up with something that might hang straight but didn’t fit ME. So yes, marking and staying on grain is necessary, but will not ensure you end up with a garment that fits right. Another thing she stressed was that you can’t fit yourself—someone else (someone with a good eye for fit) has to do it for you.

  • Ad90words_large

    Oct 26, 2011, 09.53 AMby studiostitches

    These are the hidden tasks that dramatically increase the price of a hand made dress, which clients are not always familiar with.

    I would always rather take time to prepare the pattern and fabric correctly rather than going a head and sewing up a pattern.

  • Missing

    Oct 26, 2011, 12.43 AMby fauvettetky

    Very gratefull for this article. The satin trousers I just finished instead had to be cut straight grain parallel to floor against all what I was taught before. And the result is gorgeous. Since the fabric was light I completely doubled it before assembling the pieces… The pattern was for cotton summer pants with zipper on the side and I made it with a zipper at the back.

  • Missing

    Oct 25, 2011, 08.45 PMby firthnorton

    This is a very helpful post. However, @ neenkster, I have found it critical to finding the correct grain that the fabric piece is straightened before laying out. Often the piece is not cut on the cross grain so the piece needs to be treated a bit like Granma used to do with bed sheets just off the clothes line: pulling from corner to corner on the bias, a good ‘snap’ along the long and sideways grain. When the piece is laid on the table it should be square, the fold should be wrinkle-free and the selvedges should line up easily. Sometimes, printed fabric is actually square when printed but the grain goes out since then. The correct process would be to straighten the fabric piece, lay out the pattern, cut out the pattern pieces, mark the grain lines, construct.

    1 Reply
    • Pic_large

      Oct 25, 2011, 10.59 PMby milnay3

      I have an old “Simply the Best Sewing Book” that says that the grainline of fabric is not always straight and that it needs to be rolled to find the straight grainline. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds like you might…

  • Meprofilebarn_large

    Oct 24, 2011, 04.36 AMby Justine of Sew Country Chick

    I often use a ruler if I am cutting from a pattern. I line up the grain line with the selvedge and make sure it is the same distance all the way down.But I have never considered the cross grain before reading this and I went to design school years ago so I guess I didn’t “get” it. Sometimes it takes tears of experience for this type of info to sink in for visually spacially challenged folks like myself. If I am draping I like the thread trace idea a lot from C Dior, thanks Marina!

  • Missing

    Oct 23, 2011, 06.25 AMby rochelle49

    I agree. We need to compare those that use centimeters and those that use inches and yards.

  • Wenlanskirt4_large

    Oct 21, 2011, 02.10 AMby elisabetsy

    Thanks for this. Really helpful and totally makes sense. Never thought to add the extra markings.

  • Missing

    Oct 20, 2011, 11.38 PMby qml347

    this was very enlightened maybe someone could do a video and post especially for us novice or newbees

    1 Reply
    • Alice_in_wonderland_book_purse_large

      Oct 24, 2011, 02.16 AMby bibliobags

      Yes, I agree! I spent most of this article with glazed eyes and an open mouth.

  • Deck_pictures_003_large

    Oct 20, 2011, 04.48 PMby chelsiaberry

    Great article. Seeing the crosswise grain “in action” was a game changer for my sewing. I always measure grain from edge of blocked fabric to grainline on pattern. But the crosswise grain during fitting is like an audit. I didn’t like the pickiness of this until fitting pants. Now I apply it to all my patterns. Especially muslins for pattern blocks.

    Chelsia Berry chelsiaberry.com

  • Nmwed_large

    Oct 19, 2011, 04.57 PMby neenkster

    My grandma always told me how important cutting on the grain was, so I do pay attention to that. One problem I do have though, is that for some reason prints on quilt fabric (too cheap?) are never on the grain! I then choose to go with the direction of the print instead of the grain, because otherwise it would look ridiculous! But it does annoy me a lot…

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    Oct 19, 2011, 03.39 PMby nouvellegamine

    maybe someone at burdastyle would be interested in making a video of fitting a garment so we could see examples of this in action? i’ve always been pretty careful about lengthwise grain, but i’m definitely going to take a look at my crosswise grain. thanks guys! great post!

    2 Replies
    • 5_large

      Oct 20, 2011, 02.19 AMby susanne2011

      Yes, a tutorial or something like this would be awesome!

    • 2mfm0bp_large

      Oct 26, 2011, 03.05 AMby n45

      Agreed. A tips/tutorial vid would be really helpful.

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