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Grain considerations (and weaving 101)

The shirt I'm making (haven't moved a finger on it yet: need to copy pattern, make muslin, make shirt!) will be made in a stripe fabric. However, as I said in my previous post, it has princess seams.

I've spent my day worrying that I won't be able to match the seam lines correctly if both bits of the princess seam are cut on the lengthwise grain. Then, at some point, I had an idea: what if I cut the bigger piece (middle) on the lengthwise grain, and the smaller piece (side) on the crosswise grain? This would make an interesting "almost-chevron" pattern.

The problem here though is that I didn't really know the difference between these. I always used the lengthwise grain because patterns say so. I've mostly kept away from bias due to its... stretchy nature.

If you're like me here is a Grains 101:

From threads magazine
I've now read up on the difference in several places on the internet. It bottles up to:

  • lengthwise: tough, non-stretchy; 
  • crosswise: semi-tough, some stretch, although waaaay less than the bias.
Why, you ask? Let's look at what a weave looks like:

Thank you, Wikipedia, for the picture
The lengthwise thread is the one going top-to-bottom. It does not stretch because it's already stretched on the mill. The crosswise thread is the one going left-to-right. It stretches a bit because it goes over/under the lengthwise thread, so it has a bit more give.

Here's a picture of a loom. I wanted a real picture, but figured that pointing out the two threads is more important:

From via Google Image Search

Lengthwise is the one which stretches from one side of the loom to the weaver. Crosswise is the one the weaver holds in her right hand. I actually saw one of these in real life - my grandmother used to have one when I was (very) young, maybe 5 or 6 years old?

Luckily, while finding this information I came across this very good Threads Magazine article so I was really spared the trouble of figuring out for myself whether my idea of cutting the smaller front piece crosswise was likely to end in tears.

The article actually quotes a designer who does exactly this for shirts, although having just spent the past 15 minutes on their website looking for an example and not finding it, it may be an antique fashion.

My plan is to actually test how this would work in my muslin. Stripes and all if I have enough stamina for it.


  1. I don't think cutting it on the cross grain will end in tears at all! If you're worried matching the stripes, then I would do just the same (cut it on the cross grain). Although it does have more stretch than the lengthwise grain, it's nothing like the bias.

    That is so cool you saw an actual loom when you were younger!

    1. I think I'll try to go ahead with cutting on the cross grain, but I don't think I can match the stripes - Mr T and I discussed the geometry of this (he loves maths) at length last night and arrived at the conclusion that what I want can be done if you can print the stripes according to a mathematical formula. The only way to really do it otherwise is to cut on the bias, and not a curve.

      Quite geekish, but true.


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