After posting my last Back to Basics article on fabric grain and bias I thought to myself, “You know, you really should have posted at least a brief article about fabric weave and fiber first.  It would have really helped the grain article make more sense.  So here we are, a basic foundation article on fabric itself.

Fabric=weave + fiber

Fabric is created by weaving together long strands of spun fibers.  It’s usually woven on looms but textiles can also be created by knitting and crochet.  Here we are mostly concerned about cloth that is created on looms.  The type of loom will determine the width and sometimes type of textile.  For instance, “narrow wares” (narrow bands of textiles made during the medieval period by inkle or tablet weaving) are typically made on small lap looms but you could create a tablet woven band by weaving together strands of fibers strung between two people or two objects, like chairs, or there are also examples of narrow bands that were tablet woven directly to the hem of hoods and other garments.

The type of fabric you have is determined by the type of fiber used and by the type of weave that the fiber is woven into.

Fiber:

The fibers used to create fabric can be either natural fibers or man-made fibers.  Below I have put together a short and by no means exhaustive list of common fiber types.

  • Natural Fibers
  1. Silk: Silk is a natural protein based fiber created from the cocoons of silk moth larvae.
  2. Linen: Linen is a plant based fiber created from the fibers of the flax plant.
  3. Wool: Wool is a fiber obtained primarily from the hair of sheep but can also be obtained from the coats of other animals like angora rabbits.
  4. Cotton: Cotton is a plant based fiber obtained from the fluffy fiber that protects the seeds of the cotton plant.
  5. Hemp: Hemp is a fiber that can be obtained from the Cannabis plant.
  • Man Made Fibers
  1. Nylon: Nylon is a synthetic, silky fiber made from polymers and originally created by the DuPont company in the mid 1930’s.
  2. Polyester: Polyester is a synthetic fiber made from a polymer of ester groups.

Weave:

Once you have a fiber, you have to weave it together to make fabric.  Below I have put together a short and by no means exhaustive list of common weave types.

  • Plain Weave: A plain weave is a fabric in which the warp fibers and the weft fibers are aligned is a 90 degree criss-cross pattern.
  • Twill Weave: Twill is a fabric in which the weave has alternating diagonal ribs.
  • Satin Weave: Satin is a weave that produces a fabric with a silky, glossy front and a matte back.
  • Velvet: Velvet is a type of fabric in which the woven fibers are “tufted” on one side of the fabric and the threads are cut to give a short, thick pile.
  • Jacquard: Jacquard is a type of weaving in which each of the warp threads can be raised independently.

Cloth can be made of any weave and fiber combination.  There’s silk satin, cotton velvet, polyester brocade…the options are extensive.

Bias of the fabric.  The bias of the fabric runs diagonally at a 45 degree angle to the fabric grain.  The fabric grain runs with the weave of the fabric.  The length-of-grain runs in line with the selvedge edge of the fabric.  The cross-grain runs perpendicular to the lenth-of grain.

Bias of the fabric. The bias of the fabric runs diagonally at a 45 degree angle to the fabric grain. The fabric grain runs with the weave of the fabric. The length-of-grain runs in line with the selvedge edge of the fabric. The cross-grain runs perpendicular to the length-of-grain.

Today I want to talk about fabric grain and fabric bias.  Understanding these fabric qualities will help immensely with your pattern draping as well as understanding how to ease in sleeves and other things when you are sewing you garments together.

When discussing grain there are three things to keep in mind: the bias of the fabric, the length-of-grain on the fabric and the cross-grain of the fabric.

The bias of the fabric runs diagonally at a 45 degree angle to the fabric grain. The fabric grain runs with the weave of the fabric. The length-of-grain runs in line with the selvedge edge of the fabric. The cross-grain runs perpendicular to the length-of-grain.

When a pattern piece is cut on the bias, the bias of the fabric gives the pattern piece a stretchy quality.  Now, it won’t be a stretchy as elastic or as a stretchy fabric like Lycra if what you are using for your fabric is linen but it will give the patter piece some give and some “stretchyness”.  A good example is making fitted hosen from wool or linen.  If you were to cut the hosen out on the grain the hosen won’t have the stretch the need to fit around the legs well.  Cutting them out on the bias gives the them stretch they need.  Cutting a gown out on the bias is also what gives those beautiful 1930’s gowns that slinky, drapey quality.

When a pattern piece is cut on the cross-grain or the lenth-of-grain (from now on we will refer to this as “on the grain”), the grain and weave of the fabric makes the pattern piece stronger.  For instance if you are making a gothic fitted gown, you want to cut your pattern pieces on the grain because the grain is what helps make your dress self supportive.

 

So you want to learn to sew but you need a sewing machine?  Lucky there are a several options.

Borrowing a Machine

You don’t necessarily need to run out and buy a brand new machine.  In fact, if it’s an option I would strongly recommend borrowing a machine from a family member or friend before your first purchase.  When you are learning to sew there is a lot to learn and I think it’s nice to get an idea of what you like and what you want in a machine before you purchase one.  There are lots of options available now and they aren’t all fancy stitches.  When you are just starting out learning to sew I think it’s best to learn a little bit about what you are doing so that when you go out to buy you first machine you have a little knowledge under your belt about what you need, what you want, and what you could live without.

It’s still very common for beginning seamstresses and tailors to sew their first projects with their mother’s or grandmother’s machine.  I learned on my mothers c1970 Singer.  It has awesome big orange flowers and still works great.  In fact I just had it tuned up for her recently and it’s still sewing like a champ.

Many beginners also have friends that sew, that’s part of what got them interested in the hobby.  And if you friends are anything like me the probably have an older machine or two that they still use but could potentially lend you to help you get started.  Even if they don’t have a machine that they could lend you the could probably go on for hours about the options they like on their machine and the things the wish they had gotten and/or hadn’t gotten when they bought it.

Beginner Classes

If you want to get started with sewing check to see if any of the shops or community colleges in your area offering beginning sewing classes also have beginner machines.  It’s not as common but some places do have machines available to their students.  A quick internet search of my local area found two private studios offering lessons that had machines available for students and two shops that required students to bring their own machines.  So it’s worth checking class offerings in your area to see if any of them have machines available for student use.  This is a good option when you are getting started because it also offers you a chance to learn a bit about what you want and don’t want in a machine before you make a purchase.

Buying a Machine

Buying a machine to get started is certainly always an option.  To help make sure you are getting the right machine for you take your time and look at machines at several reputable dealers in your area.  Sew something with them.  Try them out.  There should be a sales rep that can talk to about the machines and their features and help you with testing out the floor models.  Visit several shops.  Some of the higher end shops will also offer refurbished models, specials on floor models, and models sold on consignment for customers that have upgraded their machines.  Since you are new to the craft try everything out to get an idea of what you like and don’t like.  And don’t be afraid to take some time to think on it if there is an option that you are on the fence about.

I recently purchased a new machine and will be discussing my adventures shopping for it in an upcoming article!