Category: Blog

crosswise grain and lengthwise grain

Q: What is the difference between
crosswise grain and lengthwise grain?

Why should I select one over the other?
A: “To answer the first question, grain is the direction the threads run through
the fabric. Which type of grain is defined by how the fabric is manufactured.

Lengthwise grain runs the direction of the selvages.This is the warp on the loom when the fabric is made; so it is tight and does not have much give. The crosswise grain runs perpendicular (ideally) to the lengthwise and is called the weft. It is not pulled as tight when the fabric is made. Otherwise the fabric would draw in from the sides as you may have seen on someone’s first attempt at weaving. Because it is not as tight, there is some give in this direction of the fabric. Checking the amount of stretch with the grain is a great way to test a piece of fabric, if you need to know which direction had the selvages.

Any other direction is bias. True bias, which has the most stretch, is 45 degrees from both grains.

Knowing these main properties of the grain can help you choose when to use them to your advantage. Many quilters elect to use the lengthwise grain for borders because it does not stretch as much as the crosswise. Marti Michell chooses to cut lengthwise grain strips for strip piecing. (She often buys 3/4 yd lengths.) Then, when she is piecing the sub-cuts together, she uses the stretch of the crosswise
grain to match points. (This is exactly opposite of most strip-piecing instructions which start with crosswise cut strips.) Marti cuts crosswise strips for binding because she stretches the binding as it is applied to draw up any excess in the edges of the quilt.

In my teaching, I have found that a majority of quilters align the lengthwise grain (by aligning selvages) and cut crosswise strips.
If the fabric is woven well, this will also mean that the crosswise grain is aligned. If the weave is not square, there will be some extra stretch on the edges of the strips because of the slight bias and the fabric will ravel a lot. To remove these effects, cut crosswise strips with crosswise grain aligned. See description below. To minimize these effects, consider following Harriet Hargrave’s recommendation of applying starch or sizing to washed fabrics to stabilize the grain.

Now that you know some reasons why to select one over the other, here is how to align each for cutting:

To cut strips aligned with the crosswise grain (rather than assuming that the fabric is woven perfectly), tear one end of the fabric. Fold the fabric in half as usual, selvage to selvage, but align the torn edge with itself and allow the selvages to be askew if needed.

Keep the ruler lines parallel to the fold and strips will be cut following the crosswise grain.

One caution on this method, if the fabric is of poor quality and the crosswise grain is bowed, there is no easy way to cut a straight strip that is in line with the grain across the entire strip.

To cut strips aligned with the lengthwise grain, for borders, open fabric completely, fold end to end, aligning selvages on both sides and smoothing out any twisting.

The shorter the yardage the easier this is to manage. Keep the ruler lines parallel to the fold and strips will be cut following the lengthwise grain.

Cutting a straight strip, without an elbow or “V”, does not depend on the grain of the
fabric. If you get crooked strips every now and then, learn how to always get a straight strip, even when folding the fabric a second time, from our Know Before You Sew, Rotary Cutting, Basics reference card.

This tip – Tool Tips: Rotary Cutter

Here are a few tips that can help you with choosing, using your rotary cutter
and replacing the blade when needed. Blades can be very expensive, it’s a good
idea to be careful with them so they last longer.

Use the most comfortable rotary cutter you can find. There are many ergonomic models and sizes. “Test drive” a few at the store to see which one fits you best.Use a small rotary cutter (28mm) to cut and trim small items.

Use a large (60mm) if you are accustomed to cutting multiple layers at one time. Choose a medium size (45mm) for all around use.

Always cut away from you. It’s not only safer, but you have more strength pushing than pulling.

Always use a sharp blade – it requires less strength and makes a very clean cut.

Try out your rotary cutter on a mat – it should roll easily without a lot of force. If not, you may need to clean the lint from your blade, or loosen the screw attaching the blade to the cutter.

Clean the lint from your blade periodically. It will make your blade last longer.

When you clean your blade, wipe the blade with a little sewing machine oil. It will help your blade roll smoother. For this reason, new blades will always be a little oily when you buy them.

If you have rust on your cutting blade, wipe it with a little piece of fine sandpaper or steel wool, then replace it and use a drop of sewing machine oil

Try not to hit the blade on your ruler, the ruler can dent or nick your blade. If your rotary cutter blade has a nick, it can create a skip in the cut in your fabric.

Using a Teflon Pressing Sheet for Fusible Appliqué.

Ever wanted to try fusible appliqué? It’s one of the hottest techniques being used by quilters. It’s an easy, almost instant way to create fabulous designs for everything from quick crafts to art quilts.

Essentially, you iron fusible web onto the back of fabric – sort of like melting a very thin sheet of glue. This fuses the fabric fibers into a stable sheet which can be cut out into any shape. The shape is then ironed down onto fabric to make your design. There are several brands of light weight fusible webs available from quilt stores. I recommend using a teflon pressing sheet to keep the fusible web from gunking up your iron. Here’s how to do it:

* Cut fabric a little larger than the actual finished size of the shape you want and cut a piece of fusible web to fit the fabric.
* Fold teflon sheet in half on the ironing board . Open teflon sheet and lay the piece of fusible web down and the fabric right side up covering the fusible web.
* Fold over the teflon sheet so that the fabric and fusible web is sandwiched between the two layers of teflon sheet.

* Iron the teflon sheet for about 4 seconds with a hot, dry iron and let cool for a few seconds.
* Open pressing sheet and peel off the fused fabric. The fusible web is now melted into the fabric.
* Wipe the sheet clean with a small wad of batting to remove every trace of melted fusible web left on the sheet. This is important – you want to keep the sheet clean.
* Draw the desired shape on the reverse side of the fabric or cut free hand with a sharp scissors. Make sure that there are no little “fringes” of fusible showing around the edge as these will stick to your iron. A product such as ‘Hot Iron cleaner’ is useful to clean off any bits of fusible that inevitably get onto you iron.

Your shape is now ready to iron down into place. If your fusible appliqué design is used on a quilt that will be washed, finish off the edges with machine stitches. If it’s for a wall hanging that won’t be washed, the edges of your fusible appliqué shapes can be left with out stitches