It’s essential to place pattern pieces on the fabric ’straight of grain’.

Resist the temptation to lay the pattern pieces as close together as you can, ignoring the grain lines, to save fabric. A false economy – if you do that the finished garment will sag in odd ways.

The lengthwise grain of woven fabric (the direction of the selvedges) is the strongest direction of the fabric. The fabric changes very little in length in this direction, even when you pull on it.
So the ‘grain line’ on each pattern piece is put in the direction where the garment needs to sag the least.

If you’re cutting from a woven scrap with no selvedges :
– pull on the fabric in both thread directions,
– the direction with the least stretch is the ‘lengthwise’ grain.

Here’s a photo tutorial, second half of this fabric preparation tutorial by Tilly and the Buttons.

Three methods, for placing a pattern piece :
– on a fold,
– on the straight of grain,
– when a pattern piece needs to be cut on the bias (not in that tutorial), it will have a line showing the lengthwise grain. It looks a bit odd, but use it in the usual way.

Two types of double headed arrows on pattern pieces. Both show how to use the grain of fabric.

Fold line


Place this edge of the pattern piece along the fold of fabric.
Don’t cut along this edge of the pattern piece.

Grain line


The key steps for placing the grain line are :
Fix one end of the grain line arrow in place.
Measure how far that is from the fabric selvedge.
Move the other end of the grain line until it’s the same distance from the selvedge.
Fix this end of the grain line in place.

[selvedge UK, selvage US !]

That holds the pattern piece securely.
Then you can use whatever method you like to hold down the edges of the pattern piece.

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Written October 2014, links checked February 2019

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