LaRueSews-Quilting-Straighten Up!

In beginning this blog, I realized that I need to back track and talk about something I left out some time ago. You really need to straighten the fabric before you begin any project.  That doesn’t include quilting alone.  It includes any kind of sewing.  Because of the nature of woven fabric, preparing the fabric edges will helpmake a better finished product.

To explain, let me remind you of that “screwy” pair of jeans that just feel out of kilter when you put them on. (Please stay with me. I’ll get to the quilt fabric soon.) If you try to iron them, you can’t get the legs to lie flat on the ironing board, no matter how hard you try.  (Excuse me, I know that few people iron their clothes these days, but just imagine the situation if you can).  Well, the problem is not all in your head, it’s because the fabric was not cut on the straight of the grain when it was being cut with two layers prior to sewing, actually, probably die-cut with dozens of layers.  It also applies to that bed sheet or pillow case that youhate to use because you can’t get it to fold straight after laundering.  The fabric was cut off the straight grain.

When woven fabric is torn, from selvage to selvage, the torn edge is across the natural cross grain of the fabric. However, when you purchase fabric, the two torn edges often do not meet.  Scissor-cut fabrics are cut across the width, but not straight on the grain. The reason for this is that when many yards of fabric are rolled lengthwise on the bolt boards at the factory, the top layers shifts just a bit.  In the process of rolling the fabric onto the boards, this shifting increases as the fabric is rolled, making the cut edges uneven. 

So . . . when you cut out a pair of jeans or pants, that “shift” causes one leg to be cut slightly on the bias. This bias grain is what makes one pant-leg feel funny and the crease goes side ways, while the other lcrease is straight.



You will need a partner to help. 

1. Grasp the fabric on the fold of the length and let the two selvage sides drape.  If the torn (or cut) edge on both sides is the same length, you’re done.  If not, go to step 2.

2. Each partner will have one side that is not as long as the other.  Both partners grasp a short side (opposite corners) by the torn edge with both hands, back away, plant your feet and pull a steady strain (not jerk). Repeat step 1.  If the sides are still not straight repeat step 2.


You can’t change those pant-legs, but when you sew on woven fabric, you can do a “fix” before you start to cut them out.  This whole process doesn’t apply to just sewing pants.  It is for any kind of apparel sewing. Whenever that fabric is not straightened, one layer of the fabric may be slightly on the bias, depending on how much the fabric is off grain.  I have even had to buy more fabric at times, because the grain was asmuch as six inches off.  I just recently learned my lesson again when I made a pair of pants, and didn’t straighten the fabric well enough.  Those pants are a bother every time I iron them.

OK, now back to quilting fabric.  Since you will not be sewing large pieces of fabric together, the straightening process is simpler.  But it is still important.  Even those small pieces in a quilt can make aquilt look wavy and bumpy, since there are bias pieces all over the surface of the quilt.  The same is true for the large pieces of fabric used for the quilt backing.  It needs to be cut straight to avoid a diagonal “pulled” look on the back of the quilt.

To get a straight edge at the beginning of a piece of fabric, use as large a surface as possible for the piece of yardage you work with.  Lay the fabric out flat on the work surface.  Lay the fabric with the selvage edges together, to your left, folded edges to the right.  Pick up the selvage edges and bring them over and lay them evenly with the folded edge.  Be sure the layers lie flat with the selvages and the folds even.  There will probably be a difference in the cut edges that lie toward you.  This is because the fabric was not cut straight.  If the fabric is torn in the store, by the sales person, the edge will be straight on the cross grain. 

When you observe the cut edges, you need to “square them up” with the selvage and folded edges. With the fabric laying this way, pick up the selvages and place them evenly on the fold line. Using long quilter’s ruler, 6 inches by 18 inches is good, lay the ruler across the cross grain, perpendicular to the selvages, with one of the inch lines on the ruler parallel with the selvage edges.  With your rotary cutter, make a clean cut across the four layers of fabric.  This becomes your starting point for cutting strips, etc for block pieces. Since the block pieces are small, it doesn’t matter if the cut pieces are just a bit off grain. 

Triangles and diamonds are a different matter.  With those, be sure that two edges of a right triangle are on the straight grain.  With other triangles, make at least one edge on the straight grain.  In making triangles, the bias is stretchy, so if all edges are on the bias, it will be a very unstable.  With diamonds that have two parallel edges, make sure the two parallel edges are on the straight grain.  If all edges are on the bias, the diamond will be unstable in all four directions. But with two parallel edges, only two edges are stable and two are on the bias.  When sewn together, diamonds will often turn out with a straight edge sewn to a bias edge, which makes all edges of the pieces more stable.  Try cutting some scrap diamonds and triangles. 

Make some with all bias edges and some that have straight sides.  Just play with them a bit, tugging gently on the edges, and you will see the results. Press bias edges carefully to avoid stretching the bias. I have a quilt that was given to me.  It  has bias edges on all four sides of the p diamonds.  It’s a pretty quilt, but it has wavy and bumpy places all over.

I hope I have not confused you by these explanations.  I learned the process of straightening fabric when I first began sewing in my teens.  And I learned, may times over, that it is well worth the little extra time it takes to do it right.

Whew, I feel like I just made a whole quilt today.  I have so many plans for quilts this year.  I hope I can get at least a few of them done.  This is a picture of the center block of a quilt that I need to sew together.  I finished all the blocks several months ago, but I just haven’t put them all together.  That’s another of my many UFO’S.


Please, if you decide to comment on this here, tell me where you live.  It’s fun to imagine where you all live, even though I can’t imagine what you look like.  Feel free to ask questions.  I'll be glad to help if I can.


I hope you are all having a good winter, not too cold and snowy.  It’s been cold in Alabama, but not compared to places farther to the north, and not as warm as Jan, our friend in Australia.

Stitches to you,

Comments (22) -

LaRue, I remember my first sewing class in home ec in jr. high school. We spent the whole hour learning how to straighten fabric. I'd already been sewing for quite a few years and wanted to get my shears into some fabric, but it was a valuable lesson.

I remember those jeans, I thought I had a bum leg for a while!!!  LOL

I am here in Southern California, San Diego and it has been an Indian Summer here for the last few weeks.  We had a little rain, but nothing to write home about.

Great blog!  Pat


Funny the usefull things we learned in our youth, isn't it.  I know that I certainly appreciate the really basic things I learned in jr. high and high school.  Things like straightening fabric, sewing a hand hemmed dress and making biscuits, FROM STRATCH!  And there's a whole bunch of those things I don't do any more.  But I still straighten those woven fabrics.  It makes sense.

Ahah, Pat,

You do know about crooked jeans.  It wasn't your legs after all.  

We've had a lot of rain in Alabana this winter, and it's been cold and then warm and then cold again.  Just enough to keep us guessing..

Stitches . .


Thank you for the tips.  I totally agree with you.  I spent alot of time on a twin quilt for my granddaughter recently just getting it sandwiched together on the straight of the grain.  It is so important. I preferhandquilting.  My sister & I have machine stitched pieces together.  I knew there was a reason I have stayed away from all those stars. Ha!


Great tip - I forgot about having to do this!

tourlady522 1/24/2009 1:01:11 PM

Great Blog, I had forgotten to do this on one of my quilts and boy what a mess it was. Now I try to do it every time I cut fabric.

Bonnie Winnipeg, MB Canada & Silverr Springs, FL.

weebtinystitches 1/24/2009 1:30:30 PM

Great blog.  Those home-ec classes really stick, I had home-ec in the early 60's and have never forgotten the fabric straightening.  I really appreciate the tips on cutting the quilt pieces, I never considered that small items would need the same treatment.  Thanks.  Here in Oregon it is cold and damp, makes staying indoors and catching up all those little projects that got set aside for the holiday sewings.  Yvonne in soggy Oregon


After reading some of the comments, I'm glad that I wrote about straightening.  I thought about this subject for a long time.  I wasn't sure that I could convey the message in this venue.  It's nice to know that there are still some hand quilters left.  It was practically a lost art.  But with the growing interest in quilting, many have turned to just machine quilting because of the time factor.  Keep on hand quilting!


Mind if I shorten your screen name?  Thank you for adding your comment.  Sometimes we don't realize that we are touching others with what we learned long ago.  Allow yourself to remember that this is a good way to make a beautiful product better.


I'll bet you are in Florida, since it is winter time.  The straight of the grain means a lot, especially in clothing.  It surprising that we can "feel" the difference and know just what caused it.  Hindsight would be more helpful, if we could see before the fact.


Yes, even small pieces can show up the difference in whether we pay attention to the grain.  If it's just a piece here and there, it's not so bad.  But if it is an all over problem, it can really change the beauty of the finished product.  I'm very thankful for the good sewing education I have had.  I'm not much of an experimenter when it comes to cooking and sewing.  I tend to stick to the directions.  It certainly shows when we let don't pay attention to detail.

Thank you all for reading and commenting on LaRueSews.  Your comments add so much.  You all have taught me a lot too, expecially about the value of friends on the web.

Stitches . .


Larue, this week a lady asked me to make some pillow coverings for her out of pillowcases she'd bought.  Should have been an easy project, except one of the pillowcases was crooked.  I had to take it apart and straighten the fabric before I could continue.  I can't stand making something and it coming out crooked....especially if it's for someone else.  When you are getting paid to do a job, it pays to do it right.



I agree with you completely, but it sure takes the joy out of the pay you get for the job well done.  I'm sure the lady didn't know all the work you did to make it right.  Thanks for telling us about your experience.  It certainly helps to leaarn through the trials of others.

I'm just glad you knew what to do with the problem.

Stitches . .


Your blog made me laugh, I had forgotten about straightening fabric and was totally bewildered when my little wallhanging looked loppy.  I will keep that hanging in my workspace as a reminder.  Thanks for your insight.


It's funny about the things that come back to haunt us when our memory slips a bit.  Sometimes, I think it's just too much trouble to do that "straightening thing".  Every time I don't do it because of laziness, I regret it.  It's not just for clothes, and quilts.  Anything that has a grain will give us the slip.  Knits are the same way sometimes, but I don't know of a surefire treatment, other than just eyeballing it.  Knits really can be a culprit too.  That's why T-shirts can have seird sideseams after thay are washed.  Unfortunately, when we purchanse clothing, we just have to deal with it.  Nobody told manufacturers to straighten fabrics.

Stitches .


Hi LaRue

I have been sewing & quliting for many  years, and I was taught to straighten fabric at school. I was however never taught the importance of it until I read your blog. I won't be slack from now on & will check every peice of fabric not just those that look crooked.

Thankyou for the wonderful blogs.

Rosie Vivian


Great brush-up. Another problem I encounter here in Maine where it was 10 below zero this morning when I got up is the gals who cut fabric in the fabric stores.  Often times when I get home they have cut it uneven and I don't end up with the correct amount for the project. Even tho it measures the correct amount where they start cutting it narrows up on the other side, making the piece to short.

Ellen-Jay Maine

Interesting.  It seems no one straightens fabric any more.  I also had home-ec in the 60's.  My mother always insisted that fabric be straightened.  I find that old habits die hard.  The first thing I do with when I get home with fabric is pull a thread, straighten the fabric, sew the cut edges together, and wash it.

Most quilting books don't even talking about straightening fabric.  I've even seen books where it's the auther feels it's not necessary!!!

I live in Western Washington where it has been very cold and snowy for the last 6 weeks or so.  And then floods when it warmed for a week.  The temps are back in the mid 20's again.  Great weather for embroidery and quilting.


It's very cold here in Michigan.

I have always checked for straight of grain, but never fixed it.  I always adjusted the pattern accordingly.  I have sewed for years.  My mom was our 4-H sewing leader.  I learned to quilt recently.  I still hadn't learned of the importance.  I thought the fabric would just go back to the original shape.



Nice to hear from Australia again.

I'm a little surprised at how many of you know about straightening fabric.  Seems like it isn't talked about that much any more. But I'm glad that it was a reminder to some of you.


It's not just in Maine that you have to watch the people who cut your fabric.  Either the store are lacking in training, or they have taught them to be overly cautious about NOT cutting too much.  Be sure to keep an eye on them when they cut.  I never hesitate to let them know I'm looking out for my interests. It has something to do with having worked at faqbric shops, myself.  It seems that the only places that are even close to fair are the independent quilt shops,  They seem to do much better in all their service to customers.  I guess they just appreciate us more.


You are one of the few who is so good about preparing your fabric.  I failed to mention pulling a thread.  Sometimes, if you can't tear the fabric to get the straight edge, you can pull a thread and trim the fabric at the pulled thread to get the straight edge.  It just depends on how the fabrics are made.


I'm glad that you do check the grain, but that doesn't fix the problem if there is one.  Because of the slippage of the under-layer, the whole bolt can be off a tiny bit to several inches.  When the pattern is laid on the top layer, there is a difference in the grain line on the under layer, making it somewhat on the bias when you cut both layers together.  The only way to solve the problem if you can't pull it straight from corner to corner is to cut each pattern piece, one layer at a time.  But that isn't necessary with very small pieces, as in quilting.  The larger the pattern pieces, the more it will show up when the grain isn't even.

Thanks so much to all of you for your comments.  I really feel blessed to be able to talk to all of you VIA AnnTheGran.  Without this web site, I never would have had the chance to try out my writing skills.

Also, thanks for telling me where you all live.

Stitches . .


Don't forget, we need to forewarn the WHOLE state of Florida, we are coming in March.

Check it out here:">

See you all there, Pat



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Thank you again,


How do you square a bias tape corner?


I'm sorry I didn't answer before, I just went back and saw your question.

That's a good question, and I know you waiting for an answer.  I plan to address that in a future blog.  If you need it sooner, please go to my profile page and send me an email.


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