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July 17, 2017 7 min read

Despite of what many people may think, there are other things you need to do before actually sewing a garment. First of all, you choose the pattern and the fabric. Then, you need to prepare the fabric for cutting. When you’re working with woven fabric, there are three essential things that you should do, prior to cutting the fabric.

  1. Wash and Dry Clean Your Fabric

Maybe you never thought about this before, but just imagine how it would feel if you spend hours altering your pattern to fit your curves, making a muslin perfecting the fit and sewing your garment, wear it and then wash it after your first wear, to discover that it shrinks. Well, this wouldn’t be very pleasant, as you can imagine, so what can you do to avoid this from happening? The answer is very simple. All you need to do is wash your fabric before you cut. This way, you make sure that any possible shrinkage will happen before you get to cut your garment. This saves you from getting a garment that is too tight and that you can’t wear for the second time.

You need to pay attention, though. In case your fabric is dry clean only, then you are recommended to take it to a reputable dry cleaner. This saves you from getting your garments damaged. Even if it is only a fabric for now, it is the fabric that you want to use for your garments, so it is important for you not to damage it.

Getting your fabric ready for the cut is highly important, as it is the step that helps you avoid your garment from getting that awful, homemade look that you definitely don’t want to happen. To do this, you need to make sure you carefully follow the care instructions provided by your fabric’s manufacturer.

However, as with any rule, this one also has its exceptions. So here you have the exceptions to cleaning your fabric:

  • Changing the fabric texture to get a creative effect. As an example, you may wash wool to get a felted look. As you probably know, wool is usually dry cleaned.
  • You don’t need to do this for fabric that has already been pre-shrunk or isn’t a type of fabric that shrinks, such as for example satin or velvet.
  • If you only use muslin for fitting purposes, then you don’t need to pre-clean your fabric.

Pay attention to the fabric care instructions! This is very important. You can find them on the end of your fabric bolt. You are recommended to take a notebook with you when you go shopping for your fabric, or to take a photo of the instructions, rather than trying to memorize them. As you probably know, respecting the care instructions given by the manufacturer is important, as it helps you avoid your fabric looking worn after only a few washes or dry cleanings.

Fabric care instructions

We mentioned the preshrunk fabrics before. In case of a preshrunk fabric, this information is available on the end of the fabric bolt. For this type of fabric, you don’t need to wash or dry clean it prior to using it, as there is no risk that it shrinks.

You can do a shrinking test on your fabric. All you need to do is to cut a 4-6 inch square and wash and dry it with the appropriate load of laundry in your machine. Once it is dry, measure the piece to see if it measures the same as you cut it or if it got smaller during the wash and dry. In case it is smaller, it means you need to wash the rest of your fabric before cutting it.

  1. Press the Fabric

Never cut fabric that has wrinkles. Although you might be tempted to hand press the fabric as you lay the pieces, this wouldn’t be of much help. Instead, take some extra time and press it with your iron. You won’t regret doing this, because not taking your time to press the fabric may result in too short, too long, or too small garments.

Press the fabric using the iron

As an advice, you should know that it is recommended to remove the fabric from the washer and dryer as soon as possible after they stop. This is essential to do in order to avoid the fabric from getting many wrinkles. Usually, the bad wrinkles appear when the fabric is left in the washer or dryer for a long time after they stop.

  1. Ensure Your Fabric is on Grain

To help you understand what you need to do, here you have some of the terminology that you need to know regarding the fabric.

  • Straight Grain – this refers to threads that run the fabric’s length and parallel to the selvage.
  • Cross Grain – is the term for those threads that run the width of the fabric and perpendicular to the selvage.
  • Bias Grain – it is forty-five degree angle to the straight and cross grain.
  • Selvage – it refers to the self-finished edge of the fabric and it is done by the manufacturer to stop the fabric from unravelling. When the fabric is unfolded, the selvage is on each side of the fabric.
  • Cut Edge – it refers to that edge that was cut to separate your yardage from the rest on the bolt.

Fabric terminology

Now, if you are still unsure about the reason for the fabric grain is such important, here we’ll tell you. It determines the way that your garments should be cut and whether it will hang correctly on your body after you sew it.

So when is the grain straight? It is easy to determine the answer to this question. When the cross grain is at the right angle to the straight grain, you can be sure that the fabric grain is straight.

How do you know that it is straight? Well, you need to fold your fabric in half lengthwise and make sure that the selvage matches to selvage and the cut edges match. Make sure that there are not any diagonal wrinkles across your fabric. Also, you should have a straight lengthwise fold that lies flat, without wrinkles and without being twisted.

If your fabric only lays flat and it is wrinkle free when the cut edges are uneven, then chances are it is off grain. However, if this happens, it can be fixed. How to do this? Well, all you need to do is cut a little past the selvage, by taking a crosswise thread and pulling it until it meets the fabric. What you need to achieve by doing this is to push the gathers until you reach the fabric’s other selvage. Don’t stop pushing the gathers until you get the other selvage or until the thread breaks. In case it breaks, you need to smooth out the gathers and cut on the fine line that it forms in your fabric. As soon as you get to the end of the fine line, pull a new thread, gather the fabric more and then just repeat this step.

After you finish this process, you can go on and fold your fabric. When you do this, make sure that you match selvages and cut edges. You can only lay out your pattern and start cutting it if the fabric lays smoothly and the cut edges are even. On the contrary, if the cut edges are still uneven, you can correct this by stretching your fabric on the bias grain.

When you do this with your fabric, it is sometimes needed to have someone to help you. Although you can usually do this on your own, you might need to get some help, especially if you have a lot of yardage. In case you get someone to help you with this step, you hold one corner of the fabric, and have your assistant hold the opposite corner diagonally across from you. Once you both get your corners, pull gently.

As you probably imagine, it may be easier to do this process with an assistant. However, in case you stretch on the bias on your own, you will have to grab one end of the fabric and use your other hand to pull on the bias. Once you do this, lay your fabric to check the grain. In case it is needed, continue stretching it until you get the desired result.

Well, everything you know now is the basic of stretching and making your fabric straight. However, when you stretch your fabric, it is still one essential thing to take care of: the printed fabric. In case you work with printed fabric, you should pay more attention to this stretching process. In this case, you need to make sure that you don’t stretch the fabric too much, otherwise you risk to stretch the printed design on the fabric out of its shape. You probably can imagine what the result may be, so you definitely understand the importance of this advice.

Words in the end

As you can see, there are some important things you need to know prior to just cutting your fabric. It is essential to follow these tips in order to get the best possible results. You surely know that when you buy fabric, it is considered to be an investment, so you probably don’t want to waste your money to find out that you destroyed your fabric. Although following these steps might take you some extra time, you’ll find it to be truly worth it, as you avoid creating garments that you can only wear once.

As we told you in the beginning, not doing everything possible to get a great work done, might result in too small garments, in garments that no longer fit you after the first wash, or in garments that get an old, worn look after only a few wears.

So in order to avoid any of these situations from appearing, all you need to do is following the three steps that we presented to you in this article:

  • Pre-wash or dry clean the fabric
  • Press the fabric after you wash it
  • Ensure your fabric is on grain
Once you follow these three steps, you are ready to start cutting your fabric and enjoy a wonderful garment that you create with it. Enjoy your sewing and go on with doing what you know best – creating some of the most beautiful and unique garments that you’ll love to wear!