In our continuing series on period tailoring, I thought I'd throw in a little tip from my own recent experience. This week, I was working with some fabric that wasn't straight. What I mean is that the straight (long) and cross (width) threads in the fabric were not lying perpendicular (at right angles) to each other as they should be. Many seamstresses will make the mistake of cutting the fabric at right angles to the selvedges. But if the fabric has been stretched off the grain, this is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Grain is intensely important and cutting off the grain will produce a garment that never quite hangs right.
Sometimes when fabric arrives from our suppliers, it isn't straight. This is because mills do not measure large orders of fabric manually. They use a machine with two spindles on it to cut the fabric into smaller lengths. The spindles spin the fabric from the supply bolt to the smaller receiver bolt until the exact yardage desired is reached. Then a brake engages and stops the spindles from spinning. This sudden breaking is enough to pull the grain of the fabric out of alignment. The result is fabric that is skewed from the typical rectangular shape into a trapezoidal shape as shown in the illustration at left. If folded in half along the grain, the corners of the fabric will not line up.
Luckily, straightening the grain is fairly easy to accomplish. If your fabric is narrow, you can do it yourself, but you might want to ask a friend to help. Grasp the short corner of the fabric and have your friend hold the diagonal corner securely. Sharply tug the fabric along the diagonal as shown in the illustration at right. Don't be afraid to tug strongly. The grain needs to be jolted back into position. When you think you've tugged enough, fold the fabric in half along the grain and check to see if the corners line up. If they don't, repeat the process until they do. If they do, press the fabric along the straight (long) grain with a stream iron.
So before you cut anything out of new fabric, always visually inspect the grain. Most of the time the grain is apparently, but use a magnifying glass if necessary. If you find it difficult to see the grain, pull a thread out of the weave. This will make the grain easier to see and it easier to notice if the fabric is off the grain.
Never, ever cut off the corners in an attempt to make your piece of fabric rectangular. This will cause more problems than it's worth. Straightening the grain takes only a few minutes and the problems it prevents are legion.