Quilting Blog

Make It Square, Part 1: How to Square Up Fabric Yardage

Have you ever pieced a block or an entire quilt only to find it a bit wonky after it is sewn together?

While mastering fundamental quilting practices may seem tedious, the end result is worth the care and time from the moment the first fabric strip is cut. 

Make the first cut count — every time — by learning this simple method for how to square up fabric yardage.

Farmer's Wife Sampler Block Photo via laugh yourself into Stitches

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Before cutting…

Fabric is made of many threads running lengthwise and crosswise. Before cutting, it is very important the length and crosswise threads line up perpendicular to one another, creating a “right angle” where the threads intersect. This is called on grain. Fabric strips cut off grain will cause the fabric to stretch, creating a wonky block or a quilt top with a distorted shape.

How do you square up that first strip of fabric from a yardage cut?

Step 1:

Open up the fabric yardage and gently press using your favorite spray starch.

Bottle of Mary Ellen's Best PressStep 2:

Fold the pressed fabric yardage in half “selvage to selvage.” Keep the selvage edges lined up together and lay the fabric on your cutting mat. Smooth the fabric fold back and forth until it lies flat while maintaining even selvage edges. This will create an uneven edge on the right side of the fabric.

Demonstration of a lining selvage ends together for quiltingStep 3:

Lay a straight line from an acrylic ruler on top of the fabric fold with the uneven fabric edges exposed just beyond the ruler’s edge.  

Lining up fabric with an acrylic ruler

Step 4:

Keep the acrylic ruler firmly in place and trim the uneven edges into a nice clean on-grain cut.

Squared up fabric ready for cuttingStep 5:

Without shifting the freshly cut edges, turn the fabric over to the opposite side of the cutting mat. These edges are now on the left side of the folded yardage piece and are ready for the first “squared up” or “on grain” cut.

How to Square up Fabric

In the photo above, notice the ruler line is directly ON top of the fabric edge. Proper rotary cutting is key to successful piecing. See our post Rotary Cutting 101 for detailed instructions on the best techniques.

In our next Make it Square installment, we’ll cover how to squaring up blocks and borders. Make sure you don’t miss it by subscribing to the Craftsy Quilting Blog today!

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61 Comments

Kay Landreth

I have been sewing since out-of-square fabric was the norm. We were taught to unfold the full length
of cloth, grab opposite corners, and pull. Be sure to pull both sets of opposite corners. Continue
this process until selveges match. Two people work best for long lengths of fabric. And, this process
seems to be little known today, but, it is still good once in a while when needed.

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Karen Walker

hi Kay, thanks for sharing your method. It is virtually the same as what is described above with the same results. I appreciate your thoughts, it’s wonderful to learn from each other.
Thank you!
~karen

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Peggy

How could making a cut to square up fabric be the same as stretching fabric to square it up?

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karen walker

Hi Peggy,
The idea is to align the length crosswise threads to run perpendicular to one another. In the blog post, read ‘before cutting’which explains this a bit more. Thanks for your question 🙂

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Gloria Schmidt

I to learned that back in the 60’s when I was taught how to sew in the 4th grade and 4-H.

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Cyndi Dexter

Oh Kay, that brings back such memories! When I was in Junior HS we (as in the girls) were required to take a semester of cooking and a semester of sewing each year. Our teachers would pair us all up with our fabric, doing just what you describe: pulling on opposite corners until it squared up. Thanks so much for that memory!

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Rosa Yoder

I’m with you, Kay! I’ll continue to do it the old fashioned way. And yes, squaring up the fabric is really important for a quilt.

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Quilted Bead Works

It is really important to your long arm quilter. Start square, end up square! I can’t tell you how many quilts it take in that are not squared up. No matter how many times I remind clients to square up their quilts, it usually doesn’t come in that way. Once you do your own quilting you’ll get it!

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liz

That is how I learned to square up fabric. In my Home Ec classes many, many years ago!

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maxroberts

My mother used this method all her life and taught me the same.

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Christy

This would make things difficult if the fabric was not properly cut at the fabric store. One would be stretching all day! Just cutting the edge off after ironing and using a descent ruler would make one’s life easier and simpler, get sewing!

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Naomi Laurino

I was taught to “pull a thread” on the cross grain, then line up the corners to pull it straight. You had to make sure that the cross wise was a single thread all the way across. You could do that by pulling a thread and then cutting along that line or unraveling the edge until you could pull a single thread across. It depended on how crooked it had been cut which method you used.

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MarleneC

This is how I was taught to in Home Ec but now I do the squaring up like this latest information.

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Sherry Moore

It isnt really the same. I talked to a store associate where I purchased some fabric that had been torn instead of cut and I knew the torn edge was on grain but the selvidges did not meet. She told me to pull opposite ends of the fabric gently until all the edges did meet. I saved quite a bit of fabric that would have been wasted if I had done it the way suggested here!

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Marianne

Thank you for posting these great tips! This is another really smart tip.

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karen walker

Thank you Marianne 🙂

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Margie

Thanks for the lesson on squaring up fabric for cutting. I also noticed the fabric pattern is very straight. Having the grain and pattern aligned is sometime a consideration. The fabric lines from Craftsy are of a quality that likely pass that test.

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Karen Walker

hi Margie,
It is important to purchase good quality fabric. Sometimes the printing on fabric can be really off grain and that is frustrating. Thanks for your input. 😀

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Elsie Ford

How do you go about squaring about fabric that’s three or four yards long?

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Karen Walker

Hi Elsie,
Good Question 😀
When I have multiple yards, I will square up many times during the process of cutting out a pattern.

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Rosa Yoder

Kay’s method works great for larger pieces of fabric. (See her earlier comment.)

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Debbie Dorombozi

I purchased some good quality fabric from a quilt store and it was torn from the bolt. When I got home it wasn’t square at all. Being a beginner, I used the “torn” side as my guide to be the straight grain of fabric, but the selveges were not lined up at all.

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Jan T Urquhart Baillie

Debbie
Fabric can only tear down the grain, so is the best way to have the edge on a straight grain. If the selvedges don’t match on the torn fabric, then tugging diagonally as described by Kay above, is a good way to get them to align. My mother was a dressmaker and all the shops where we bought fabric in the 50s and 60s would tear the yardage off the bolt.
Sometimes the shop person doesn’t make a straight cut across the bolt, and then you need to straighten the cut edge as was described at the top of the page. I always teach my students this method to make sure the first edge is straight when they start cutting strips for their blocks.

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Sewmany

What if your squares are wonky? I have some fabric I got at a quilt show with images in individual squares on it. You have to cut the images to have an even edge around, but those ‘squares’ are not square. Won’t that just multiple once sashing and borders are added?
How to fix? Will steam ironing help?

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karen walker

If the fabric is not printed correctly, there is nothing one can do to ‘square it up’. Good quality fabric should be printed well…however, i always check before i purchase to see if there will be a problem. If the design is small, no one will really notice if it is not printed on grain….however, if you are fussy cutting or the fabric has a geometric design, and the fabric motif is not printed onto the fabric ‘squarely’, ugh, this is a problem.

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karen walker

If a fabric design is not printed ongrain…there is nothing one can do to correct it. The fabric is simply printed crooked. This can be very frustrating. Small prints are not as obvious as larger prints or geometrical designs. If you are fussy cutting a fabric that is printed ‘offgrain’, you will have to treat it and sew it just as if you are sewing on the bias edge. I use a good quality spray starch like Best Press before i cut the fabric. This will help a little to stabilize the fabric and make it easier to manage.

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Maggie Avrit

I learned to square fabric by stretching it on a 45 degree angle and just keep doing that for the length of the fabric. Works unless the fabric is printed incorrectly. Then just cry or take the fabric back to the store.

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Susan

How do you square it if it is printed incorrectly? Making a crib set. Baby is early Help

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Mayzernelli

I was taught to start at one side of the salvage edge. Snip in until you get to the grain. Grab one of the threads and slowly pull it out. Then trim at the spot where the thread came out. Works every time.

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Linda

Do you have a picture to show what you mean? This sounds smart, but I’m not sure I understand.
Thanks!

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Linda K

Mayzernelli, Pulling the thread . . That is what I was taught in 4-H. Too be honest, I never knew I was squaring it. But I’ve not had problems with blocks. Hmm.

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Linda Kroschel

Pulling a thread is not always possible. It only works on loose weave. On a tight weave the thread just breaks.

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Sunnysewsit

I was taught to pull a thread on grain also, and it does work well, even for larger pieces, UNLESS the print is off-grain. I started out as a garment sewer, and it made a definite difference on how a garment hung if it was cut on grain!

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Sue

Fabric reminds me of the Morton Salt girls….. maiden name is Morton….

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Kim

If you have many strips to cut, it’s also important to “re-square” your fabric edge after every 3-4 cuts.

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karen walker

HI Kim,
Yes, this is a great point! I do ‘resquare’ my fabric edge after every 3-4 cuts. Thanks for adding this important tip!
~karen

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Mary Harrisin

I love the block pictured here. Is there a pattern/cutting instructions for this block?

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Chris P

Some corrections for left handed quilters would be helpful. There are quite a few of us out there and to be given directions strictly as a right hand person would do it, can be confusing to new quilters.

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Sew do it

If you stretch the fabric it goes back to the original off grain when it is washed, then it is really a mess. But glad it works for some of you
A long time ago in4-H we learned to cut on ends, just a clip, and then pull on that thread until all the way across the fabric. That left a line easy to see, to cut across and have the perfect grain.

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Ulavon Niemuth

The “just a clip” and pull on that thread all the way across the fabric is the way I learned to square it up in 4-H also. It’s amazing the little things that we remember from those early years of sewing.

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Linda

Can you give a little more detail or do you have a picture of what you mean? I would greatly appreciate it.

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Debbie in Sanford NC

Thanks for this reminder. I am just starting back to sewing and have been racking my brain to remember things as it has been 30+ yeas since I have made anything. Looking forward to learning on this site from you more experienced ladies.

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SHARON

SO EASIES TO FOLLOW.

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SHARON

know about quiltin g knitting

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lynn p

If it was wound on the bolt originally ‘wonky’, you can pull or cut all day and it won’t be straight. In 4-H in the 50’s, we were taught to wash it, dry it, then pull a thread from the selvage (like a “pull” in a sweater) and cut along that line for a true straight edge. That will also tell you if the print is truly square.

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Shirley

I always square up by putting selvage edges together and cutting it square. But my question is when you are buying fabric should it be cut or torn. I have had people that do lots of quilting say never let them tear and a quilt shop employee say tear as it always tears on grain. I have had to square up both.

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karen walker

Honestly Shirley, tearing verses cutting….I also square up both. Tearing can distort the fabric…leaving an area of loose weave. One truly has to look carefully at the woven threads…and Ulavon and Lynn’s comments above are correct. Pulling a continuous thread from the selvage. But so many fabrics are not printed on the straight of grain.

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maxroberts

one fabric store I go to tear the large width fabric.

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Liz Youll / newcomer

I’m new. I’ve never folded material. I’ve never even bought material yet. my sewing machine is still in the box unwrapped and I’m scared to death. After reading everything it’s gone in one ear and straight out the other. I’m so new I’m new born. Hahahaha. Shoot me now. !! 😕😕😢😢😢😯 #scared

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Amy

You just gotta jump in and get started!! I started only a few months ago and it really is a learn as you go thing. I have done a bunch of Craftsy classes (I love the Amy Gibson learn to quilt series and there’s a free block of the month from 2012) and YouTube is great too. You’ll love it once you get started, promise 🙂

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karen walker

You are right Amy! Thanks for giving Liz this encouragement!

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Cindy

Liz, I too am a newbie to sewing. My first quilt was a ‘practice’ quilt made from a kit which has pre-cut fabric. The fabric was in 7″ squares so it was easier to cut. These kits are called “Frivols”. Now I’m working on my second quilt which is the ‘block of the month’ quilt. I have to square off a large piece of fabric and I’m terrified. LOL. I’m looking at some videos and they’re helping. Good Luck to you, I know you’ll get through it!

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Marilyn Tippett

I’m a 73 year old newcomer to quilting. I sowed all my children’s clothing many years ago. However, when I recently arrived in the Minnesota northland I found new friends who have been quilting all those years that I was teaching and farming with my husband. I’m not completely ‘lost’ when it comes to making quilts but I’m WAY behind! I’ve been putting together a few small 9 Patch items. Gail Kessler does a beautiful job of slowly teaching how to create the MugRug and more! But, here’s my dilemma: I can’t seem to make sharp corners, ie; when I follow the directions of countless YouTube experts, and watch them turn the corners. . . .mine don’t match up. I’ve downsized many sample pieces to try to make the grade and it’s not working for me. I sure need some advice!

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karen walker

Hi Marilyn,
Can you send me a picture? I’m not sure what you mean by turning the corners? Are you referring to the corners on the binding?

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Denise Deane

This is so helpful. I have never done this but will be working with some newly purchased fabrics very soon and you can be sure I will square them. Thanks for the lesson😀

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Catherine Hugues

I don’t understand what you mean in Step 5. Literally flip the fabric over? Without shifting?? So you use the left side as the basis to line up the ruler and cut from the right? The selvage is still on it. Don’t you cut that off?

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Judy Huffman

I was taught to pull a thread from selvage to selvage to find the grain,
then cutting on the line and working the fabric until it is even and square with the selvages…if that makes sense. But, it was time consuming, even though it worked well.

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Lori

I was taught the old fashioned way (clip a selvage edge, pull a thread, cut along that line and then tug the fabric from corner to corner until both selvage edges and the newly cut edge match) to square cotton fabrics as others have mentioned, but I do have a concern about it. If you wash your cotton and it comes out of the dryer “wonky” and you press it and square it the old fashioned way and then make a garment out of it won’t it go back to “wonky” after it’s washed and dried as a garment? I have been using the newer way described here, but I did notice that when I cut out a pair of shorts for my granddaughters (I’m teaching them to sew) the random pattern on the fabric was misplaced a little oddly at the front seam of the shorts. It really didn’t matter – just something I noticed. I’m thinking that doing it the old fashioned way might be very important if pattern is an issue like gingham for example. I’d really appreciate any thoughts on this so that I can teach them the correct way to do it!

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karen walker

Hi Lori,
sometimes the fabric is not printed on the ‘straight of grain’ which is unfortunate and even when the fabric grain is ‘squared up’ it appears off because of the printing. Most good quality fabric is printed well.

If you have concern, try both ways and see what you looks best. There are more ways than one to accomplish the same task.
Thanks for your question. 🙂

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Jan Wegge-Schlick

I can’t find the next “make it square” installment. Can you direct me?

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