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