Quilting Blog

A Smart Method for Squaring Up Fabric Yardage

Cutting up small pieces of fabrics, like fat quarters and fat eighths, is relatively easy. Cutting into yardage, on the other hand, is considerably more intimidating for the new quilter or sewer. Learn how to square up yardage, creating a straight edge.  This preparatory technique is the foundation for accurate patchwork cutting.

Cut Fabric Edge

Getting started

Don’t prewash

It’s easiest to cut unwashed fabric.  Fabric fresh off the bolt has factory finishes that help the threads of the fabric lay as intended.  Once washed, the threads may shift, distorting the print slightly. Prewashed fabric is generally more fluid and requires more skill to handle. If you’re new to rotary cutting, do not prewash your fabrics for quilt and home decor projects.

Press

Always, always, always press fabrics before cutting. Do not press out the bolt fold, as this is useful when cutting into yardage. Add starch while pressing if dealing with a troublesome shifty fabric, such as linen. Quilting cottons are easiest!

How to square up fabric yardage

Step 1: Match the selvedges

Match Selvedges

Images via Stitched in Color

Each cut of yardage has four sides: two selvedges and two cut edges. The selvedge is a tightly woven clean edge produced in the fabric factory. Often designer fabrics are printed with the name of the fabric designer and collection along the selvedge.

On the bolt, fabric is folded with selvedges matched together. The fold down the center of your yardage is the bolt fold. Ideally, when the fabric is folded along the bolt fold, the selvedges are matched and parallel to each other. Check that this is so. If not, if the bolt fold is made so that the selvedges are not parallel, do press out the bolt fold and refold with selvedges matched and parallel. 

Step 2: Shift and slide

Hold your yardage in the air with the selvedges neatly matched (as you see above).  Keeping the selvedges aligned, shift the fabric as necessary so that there are no pull lines and the fabric hangs flat.  This shifting is similar to how sliding doors move on a track.

Depending on how straight the fabric store cut your fabric, you may need to shift just a little or a lot. If working with a large length of fabric, such as a 2-yard cut, you might need help for this step.

Step 3: Place the fabric on a cutting mat

Lay your flat, folded yardage on your largest cutting mat, being careful to keep the selvedges together. The bolt fold should be oriented horizontally.  If you are right handed, the right cut edges of the yardage should lie over your cutting mat.

Fold Fabric

If the entire length of the right cut edge does not fit on your cutting mat, fold the fabric again to make it fit. Be very careful when you fold! Every fold introduces an opportunity for error. Try to keep the fabric that remains on the mat very still and match up the first fold to the selvedges carefully.

Step 4:  Align fabric

Align Fabric

You’re almost ready to cut! First you’ll move the folded fabric carefully so that it’s sitting straight on your cutting mat. Align the bottom folded edge with a horizontal line on the cutting mat. Try to disturb the fabric as little as possible. It usually works best to pull the fabric down toward a horizontal line, instead of moving the fabric upward.

Step 5:  Cut

Cut Fabric Edge

Your folded yardage should be laying on your cutting mat with the bottom fold aligned to a horizontal mat line and the right cut edges (or left if you are left handed) of the yardage entirely on the mat.  Place a quilting ruler along the cut edges, matching the ruler to a vertical mat line.  Trim off whatever fabric is necessary to make an even, freshly cut edge.

Now that your yardage is squared up, you are ready to make any width-of-fabric cuts needed.  Cut strips across the width of fabric, then segment in the shapes you require. 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2015 and was updated in December 2017.

81 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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Winne Peterson

I’m afraid I must disagree that stretching the fabric diagonally and squaring up the end accomplish the same thing. Stretching, which is done in one direction only, realigns the crosswise and lengthwise threads so that they are perpendicular to one another. This procedure is clearly demonstrated in a video made by “Threads” magazine, April/May 2016. Google “How to Straighten Fabric Grain”. If you don’t realign by stretching but you rip the end of the fabric to make sure you have one continuous crosswise thread, when you try to fold the fabric selvedge to selvedge – while keeping the torn edge aligned and the fabric smoothed out flat – the selvedges will not line up. This is because the crosswise and lengthwise threads are not perpendicular. I’m quite certain this information is correct but seeking verification is always a good practice. Thank you.

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Winne Peterson

I should have included a test for this. Using a length of fabric that requires adjusting as in step 2 above (without straightening as per “Thread’s” video), complete the rest of the steps and then cut a 2.5 inch strip. Open it up and examine it. It will not be straight all the way from end to end but will have a “V” at each point where it was folded. Now, with the same length of fabric, perform the straightening procedure as demonstrated in “Thread’s” video. Cut and Unfold a 2.5 inch strip. It will be straight all the way from selvedge to selvedge with no “V”s at the fold points. This is because the intersecting threads are now perpendicular to one another.

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Ruth

This is my go to method taught to me in home ec class in high school 50 years ago.

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Lucille

I’m puzzled, that doesn’t seem the same at all.

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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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Mary Spriet

I am a longarmer, and yes I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to explain this to customers. However, there are a couple of things I don’t agree with. First of all I always suggest prewashing, to get out all those nasty chemical additives, & especially to get OUT the crease lines from folding. I will not spend my time pressing to get these out without a fee. These fold lines will not come out any other way. I always pre wash, then press, then square up. If it is a bit more difficult, so be it. I like it done right. Then we are left with a backing that is square, no wrinkles and good to go. I like the way you describe it as slide & shift. No more parallelograms for backing.

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Bette

I agree about prewashing. No fabric gets into my sewing room until it’s washed—with a color catcher thrown in the machine—and ironed. Who knows what chemicals the fabric has been treated with, not to mention colors that can bleed!

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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Diane Moore

Sherry, I think I can understand why you could do it that way when the fabric was torn rather than cut. I would say it was due to the fabric being pulled out of alignment due to the tearing. If it had been cut properly off the bolt, then pulling opposite corners would have warped the fabric so the grain would n’t run true anymore. Love all the tips on here though. Thanks all xx

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Beth245

I have just done a course on Craftsy where we had to tear 3 inch strips from the 70 inches of fabric. My edges are frayed like anything. I washed the batik material first as the course said to do. My long armer is going to have a hissy fit if I cannot somehow even the edges without losing too much of the fabric/ What should I do – fold it over to a suitable length and then rotary cut to make a nice clean edge. Could someone please advise me on what it the best thing to do please.

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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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Kathleen

I remember the fabric being torn from the bolt back when I learned to sew clothing. We were also taught by the home ec teacher to always buy a couple extra inches if the fabric was scissor cut, so we could tear it and not sacrifice needed yardage.

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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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Valda Collison

I know Linda, that can be so frustrating but if you can take the time to keep chasing and pulling the thread it works. I use a pin or a fine needle to chase with, or I cut the line I have and then follow through. Nice and slow and with just enough tension to move it a little at a time and then using fingers to help it along.

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Karol

I’ve done it on batiks. It’s not very fast but it works.

Some times the fabric is stretched off grain as it is rolled on the bolt too

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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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Denise

Me too I am a total newbie to everything sewing but I am slowly learning. Watch tons of videos ask questions on groups for sewers read books and we will get good too

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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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Marilyn Book

I learned to rip fabric like cotton but to pull a thread on looser weaves like wool. Also if the amount the fabric was off grain was small you could iron it straight by matching salvage and pressing towards the center fold after ripping the end to get a straight edge.

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Malin

Can someone direct me to an online link to learn the 4H methods- clip the selvage and pull a thread or the corner to corner tug to get straight of grain? Thanks so much!

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Cindy M

Under GETTING STARTED above it it says: “Always, always, always press fabrics before cutting.” So why do all the photos show fabrics that have not been pressed? Personally, I do ALWAYS press my fabrics before cutting. I also ALWAYS pre-wash my fabrics. I’ve had the dyes run horribly and would never risk not pre-washing.

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Rachel Hauser

Hi, Cindy! The fabric I’m demonstrating with is a prewashed 100% linen. Although I did press it, it sure doesn’t appear pressed! That’s one of the disadvantages of linen. I find it doesn’t get very smooth once prewashed.

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Julia Zusin

I have been sewing for 57 years… both commercial and home hobbyist….. and I loved your article! I have been doing this squaring for many years sometimes starting with a 25 yard bolt for wedding dresses!! What i loved about this article was your description of how to square. Finding the right words and putting them into a picture image for the reader can be a challenge. You did a fantastic job and reading all of the comments i can see that others understood your article…. Well done!!!!

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Julia Zusin

BTW as a newbie, age 13, i decided to sew and made a skirt that was big enough for 4 people. It was a mess! So i decided to use a pattern and try again. It wasn’t pretty but it fit and i wore it with pride. Scared newbie?? What are you afraid of? Last time i checked fabrics dont bite…. jump in and swim…. you will get better with every single stitch. There is no better teacher than experience so go get some experience and have some fun with your first mistakes. You CAN do this!!

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bunny rogers

Malin. I suggest you buy at least a half yard of fabric to actually do this yourself. Simply take your scissors and cut about an inch(or less) into a selvage side. Use your fingers or a pin to find a single thread near where you cut. Now pull that thread across to the other side. You might lose it but the next thread will work too. I find it easier to keep the fabric flat. After you pull that thread OUT, you can see the line where it used to be. Cut on that line and you have found the straight of grain. This is my preferred method and I have been both a commercial and personal sewist for more than 55 years.

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Demetria

I feel prewashing is one of the most important steps to prepping fabric. As well as zigzag stitching the cut ends of the fabric before I prewash! It helps cut down on fraying. I also look at the care instructions on the bolt of the fabric I’m buying plus the fabric content. I usually take a pic of it, so I don’t forget. I usually wash on cold, with a small amount of laundry detergent if the care is of a normal way. I never use softener. I dry on normal. Then I “press” not iron. There’s a difference. The whole reason for prewashing is because most fabrics will shrink so if you cut them before prewashing won’t your project be a different size after you wash it for the 1st time? Won’t stretching the fabric distort it as well? Whenever I have an issue with fabric being off grain I do the thread pull method till I get it on grain. If that’s the right term for it. I have only been sewing for 25+ yrs. I’m still learning too! However I’m die hard on some things, lol.

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