Sew from Wide to Narrow

“There Are No Hard and Fast Rules in Sewing…”… except for one. Always sew from wide to narrow.” -Susan Khalje

During the weekend sewing class, this subject came up. I don’t know about you, but when I make an A-line skirt, I sew starting at the waist, and ending at the hem. It’s how I always have sewn my skirts. It works fine on straighter styles, but I’ve never been very happy with the results on my A-lines. They always seem to be a little wavy, which bugs me. Well, when Susan uttered those words, I looked at her and said, “I’m going to test that out!” So here you can see the results of that exercise. First off, I cut two “A-line skirts” (mockups) from some heavy silk charmeuse I have lying around. Silk is good to use as an example because it shows every ripple, bump and lump. But you can do this test on any fabric and you’ll get similar results.

Sorry for the lousy cell phone picture

The first one I did was the narrow-to-wide version. As I said, this is my usual method.

Start at the waist and sew down?

And here is the result I get.

Paging Mister Ripple...

As I joked in the class, it looks like my usual A-line skirt. But in seriousness, the rippled seam has always driven me crazy. I press it, and it still has some distortion.

Next, I sewed it from wide to narrow. Other than reversing my usual direction, I made no changes – same needle and thread, same stitch length, same tension:

Let's try this from the other end, shall we?

Now look at the result.

Much better!

Here’s a picture of the two pieces, side by side:

What a difference the direction of your sewing makes! I’m not a textile scientist, but it has to do with the stability of the fabric along the diagonal. If someone (Kathleen?) has a thorough explanation, let me know and I’ll be happy to link to it. But the fact is, it works. And it’s something that I will do from now on.

Parting Shot: The Header Fabric

Several people have written to me asking about the new header fabric and where they can find it on the site. Alas, it is the only piece and it’s my own. It’s an alpaca blend that I bought at one of my vendors. She only had 4 yards, so I grabbed it. I brought it out in the class and we were all pawing it. It’s really gorgeous and simply sumptuous to the touch. Neener neener neener! Oh wait, that’s not very gracious, is it? Sorry.

Seriously, I have asked said vendor to see if they can get me more. If so, I’ll let you know! In the meantime, it’s destined to become my next Chanel-style jacket.

HTH, and happy sewing!

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44 thoughts on “Sew from Wide to Narrow”

  1. I’ve seen books talk about grain of the fabric, and show which direction the cut ends of the fabric are pointing, but I don’t recall that they ever put such a clear reason as your photos. What gets me confused is – what do you do when you have to ease one side onto the other (like some shoulder seams) and need to sew from different ends so the longer fabric is at the feed dogs. I can see where steaming would work on fabrics like wool, but what about fabrics that don’t steam shrink? Use a thousand pins or baste?

  2. If you look at a diagram of the woven fibres, sewing from narrow to wide forces them open (stretching them) while sewing from wide to narrow flows in the same direction as the cut threads. I still forget to do it about 50% of the time, however.

    Re JustGail’s question, you could always staystitch the piece not to be eased (done from wide to narrow) to stabilize the seam line before sewing it to the piece to be eased (from narrow to wide).

    1. Thanks for that, Kay!

      And regarding the staystitching – you can stabilize the non-eased seam further by sewing a selvage of organza or habotai along the seam. Does that make sense?

    1. And I’d love to thank you for using a white, solid fabric. It really grinds my gears when a tutorial is shown on printed fabric! You can’t see the stitches! Grrrrrrrrrr

  3. Now that is interesting. Funnily enough I always sew from the bottom up which is just right for a skirt side seam, but how about a sleeve? I sew from the cuff to the underarm but I guess that is the wrong way around?

  4. Thanks for the tip. And for neck lines, I’ve been taught that you should sew from centre front or centre back) through to the shoulders. I think this is the aame thing as far as warp and weft goes.
    I think for sleeves (talking to you, Pam from South Australia as SewingElle from South Australia!) , you would only sew cuff to underarm if they were trumpet sleeves? Otherwise its wide (underarm) to narrow (cuff)

  5. Adding to what Elle says (thanks, Elle!), I have always sewn from underarm to cuff just so I make sure I match up all the seams at the underarm point.

  6. …another reason I like reading blogs! I’d never thought about it – but then again, I haven’t sewn an A-line skirt in a very, very long time!

    A well deserved “Neener” for all the eye candy you provide for us! I’m looking forward to seeing the jacket!


  7. The rule I have lived by for many years is to sew skirts and pants from the bottom up and tops and dresses from the top down. However, I hate having the extra fabric at the waist but you just proved why I need to follow the rule. Thanks for confirming it.

  8. Ann, thanks for the tip. I never knew this, but will stick this tidbit in my sewing knowledge arsenal for and future use!!!

  9. Cynthia Guffey refers to this as sewing with the grain. She really stresses the importance of this in her dvds and sewing classes. When stay stiching a neckline, armscye, and even princess seams, she will stop and change sewing directions several times. She also sews shoulder seams high to low on each side.

    Not only does sewing against the grain cause ripples, it can cause the fabric to stretch out of shape. She recommends pulling your finger along the cut edge of the fabric to pull a few threads. You will be able to see the direction of the grain. She says to imagine that you are smoothing the hair on a cat’s back. I hope that makes sense.

  10. Ditto about Cynthia Guffey’s rules on grain. I learned that from her at a workshop, and seeing your photos really helps me understand.

  11. Thanks for the tip, and for the handy visual… For some reason, I’ve always gone along with “Sew with gravity” but maybe on bias-y seams this is obviously by far the best way. Thank you! I love making my sewing better.

  12. I think it was Carolyn who first told me this. I remember being surprised. But, I started following her directive. I’d never tested it myself. Thanks for taking the time!

  13. For me, there’s nothing like seeing a concrete example. I never would’ve believed it if I hadn’t seen the results with my own eyes. Thanks for doing this.

  14. Wow – I was taught the you should sew seams in the direction of gravity (ie shoulder to toe). Yet I noticed that it was sometimes more difficult to get a smooth seam in skirts and pants that way. But I thought I had to tough it out, doing my best. Never again! Thanks for enlightening me!

    PS – the fact that you are hoarding that gorgeous header fabric for yourself AND you just happen to have heavy silk charmeuse “lying around” to test a theory on really puts me in touch with my inner jealous b*tch over your stash. LOL

  15. OMG! That’s Why!!!
    I was just stitching together my lining for the A-line portion of a dress just last night! On one side I stitched from waist to hem and the lining was being all shifty like, and not at all cooperative. And I just happened to sew the other side from hem to waist, and it was a-okay. I was flummoxed as to why this was happening, but I had a hunch it was from the stabilization of the prior stitches in the hem.
    Thanks soooo much for sharing this post. There’s now a reason for the madness. 🙂

  16. Wow – thanks for this! I had heard thsi rule before and basically ignored it when making skirts with a slant side seam – A line, bias whaterver – so any slight difference in length would be at the hem edge not the waist edge. And I always get that slightly wavy result. You’re brilliant – thanks so much for taking the time to test and photodocument this!

  17. I had one of those no-doubt-age-related memory lapses and suddenly I couldn’t remember the chant. Narrow to wide? Wide to narrow? OMG. I’ve been sewing since they invented bone needles and buffalo sinews. What’s the matter with me? But Google led me to your blog, and I can breathe again. A belated thanks for taking the time to explain this in words and pictures. I will remember to stitch from the buffalo’s butt up.

  18. Wow, I’m so glad I fell onto this, I was initially searching for the correct pronunciation of Susan’s last name and found this very valuable information, so thank you! Also, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind spelling out how to correctly pronounce her last name? It would really help me when I reference her when I talk about what she has taught me in her books. 🙂

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