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Beauty on the bias: take the mystery out of sewing on the bias by understanding fabric grain and following these expert sewing tips.



Learning to evaluate your fabric is just as much a part of the process as the draping itself. Here are the key fabric structures to understand prior to draping. Once you know how to follow the rules, you can break them to create new and exciting designs.

The first thing I ever learned about sewing was how to check the grain. In my experience, if you start with a quality on-grain fabric, you will rarely have to mess with this step. If a fabric is severely off grain, chances are it will also drape, sew and hang funny on the body, and you probably don't want to use it.

At right are definitions for the different grains of fabric:

Warp: Fabrics are woven with vertical yarns that create a lengthwise grain called a warp. This grain is parallel to the selvage, and this is the strongest grain on the fabric. Some fabrics are woven with thicker, stronger threads on the warp, so even on a balanced fabric weave, one direction is stronger than the other. Some knit fabrics are woven with one grain that is stretchier than the other. This is useful if you want the most stretch to go around the body.


Weft: The weft rhymes with left and runs left and right or horizontally across the fabric. Think of a weaving loom: The vertical yarns are placed first and then the weft yarns are added back and forth from selvage to selvage to fill in the structure of the fabric.

True Bias: The bias is a very pliable grain on the fabric that has a great amount of stretch. Since the warp threads are not creating a foundation, the bias grain is very weak, but a designer can use this to her advantage to create very drapey, pliable and stunning designs. True bias runs at a 45[degrees] angle to the warp.

Bias: Once you place a pattern on the fabric with the grainline at any angle that's not parallel to the warp or straight of grain, you're using the bias. Using bias does not always include the true bias with the most stretch, but partial bias can give a designer lots of flexibility in her creations for fitting and fabric manipulation.

Not all areas on a pattern are on grain. Common areas of a pattern that are on grain include the vertical center front, the center back and the length of a sleeve. But even more areas and edges of patterns are off grain, including armholes, waistlines and necklines. When you make a pattern or modify a pattern, you can use this to your advantage.


For example, you can cut a sleeve slightly off grain so it eases into the armhole on a stiff fabric, or you can cut a bodice off grain to add drape and give over a full bust. Working off grain is not incorrect if it creates a solution to a fit issue and does not interact with a pattern or print on the fabric. Note, however, that breaking the rules of grain can cause fit issues like twisting and stretching. The best way to tell if your use of grain is correct is to experiment with a fit sample.


In traditional bias sewing, pattern pieces are laid out and cut from fabric at a 45[degrees] angle, achieving a form-fitting but softly draping effect. But because you're molding flat fabric around a three-dimensional body, all garments will have some sort of bias somewhere. Use that bias to your advantage in design and fitting. The technique can be used with any kind of fabric for a variety of results. Keep the following tips and considerations in mind.

* Never cut bias garments on the fold.

* Fabric has two lines of bias so cut all your garment pieces in a single layer going the same direction.

* Create a pattern piece for the left and right of a garment.

* Use directional sewing. Start at the center and sew outward for any horizontal bias area on a garment

* Bias requires more yardage.

Plan approximately one yard per pattern piece.

* Add a wider seam allowance for bias-cut patterns. Add at least 1/2" to 1" more than a standard seam allowance. Bias-cut garments will lengthen and narrow as they hang. A wide seam allows you wiggle room to adjust the fit.

Don't be afraid to experiment with bias sewing. Consider cutting a sleeve off grain so that the stretch better contours the arm, or try the same on the front of a bodice so it drapes over the full bust better without excessive seams and tailoring. Bias-cut pattern pieces can also serve as a design feature with successful results.


The best way to understand the benefits of sewing on the bias is to make a garment and see how the fabric drapes, feels and reacts while sewing.

Choose a pattern that's easy to sew and has minimal seams. Begin with a top or skirt that doesn't require a lot of fabric, such as the Bias Cowl Top at right.

Experiment by making samples in different fabric types to find one that drapes to your liking. The featured top is made in a stretch lace, but jersey, slinky knit and double knit also work well with this style.

Choose a solid color fabric to avoid having to match a print at the seams, which requires even more fabric. Move on to print matching when you're more confident with bias sewing. Or throw caution to the wind and don't worry about matching the print. If the seams are minimal, no one will notice!

Find the featured top pattern and three more exclusive patterns from Joi Mahon, including technique videos to further explain the steps, at

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Author:Mahon, Joi
Publication:Sew News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2016
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