Tip – Check The Grain on Knits

When cutting out patterns, many people use the fabric’s selvage as a guide for pattern placement. In woven fabrics, this is often a good guide. Place your pattern with the grain arrow parallel to the edge of the fabric and you are (in the case of good quality fabric) ready to cut.

With knitted fabrics, that may not always work as well. The reason is that many knits are created on machines that knit the fabric in a big tube:

Totally tubular, Dude.

On occasion, I have tubular knits at Gorgeous Fabrics that are straight off the machine.

Once the tube is removed from the knitting machine, a worker cuts it open so you get the flat fabric we see in fabric stores. And have you ever noticed on some knits, especially rayon jerseys, there are dabs of dried glue running along the selvages? That’s because the edges curl along the cutting line, so the glue keeps them flat.

Sometimes these cuts are not done along the grain of the fabric. Even in really high quality knits, the grain can be askew to the edge of the fabric. So rather than using the “selvage” (which this really isn’t, if you think about it) of a knit to gauge the placement of your pattern, I prefer to fold my pattern piece along the grain line and lay it so the line runs along the ribs in the fabric. This will guarantee that your fabric hangs properly. Here you see a picture of my pattern placement on a wool jersey.

Check out the different distances from the cut edge

Notice that the top of the grainline is significantly farther away from the cut edge than the bottom. By checking this on all my pattern pieces, I avoid the twisting and discomfort that would ensue if I just blithely measured from the edge of the fabric.

It only takes a few extra seconds to do this, and the results will be well worth it!

Happy sewing

19 thoughts on “Tip – Check The Grain on Knits”

  1. Diane Tucker says:

    Knits and no selvage? A lightbulb just came on! After sewing on knits all these years. Thanks, Ann for the super explanation.

  2. Ann, thank you, thank you, thank you. I am a total newby to knits and I bought three or four pieces all ready to start, but see, without information like this I would have ruined the garment. I hate when knit come out skewed after washing because they were not grained (cheap T-shirts). And, in fact, I haven’t seen much information on sewing with knits… I could go on and on… 🙂

    1. Gorgeous Things says:

      Well here you go, Marina – here’s a whole bunch of information on sewing with knits! 🙂

  3. RK says:

    Good tip! Thanks.

  4. Dilly says:

    Perfect timing – I’ve been doing a lot of sewing with knits lately. I always align the pattern pieces like this, but it always slightly worried me why the grain of the knit didn’t line up with the “selvedges” (i.e. was I doing something horribly wrong?!). Your description of how the fabric is made has explained this for me – thank you!

  5. Beth says:

    What is the best way to find the grain line on a knit, though? It’s easy if there is ribbing, or if it’s a relatively coarse knit but with a very fine-grained knit (ity springs to mind) do you have any suggestions?

    1. Gorgeous Things says:

      The way to find the grain is to eyeball it. On jersey knits, including ITY, one side has the ribbing and the other side has the loops. They may be really tiny, and you may need to use a magnifying glass, but once you do a couple of times, you’ll probably find identifying the grain on knits pretty straightforward.

    2. June says:

      I am terrible at seeing the rib lines on fine jersey, too. I’ve marked a rib line with row of pins in the past, but it can get a little bumpy when I lay the pattern over the pinheads. Next time, I’m going to try thread tracing with contrast silk thread.

  6. I just found your Facebook page and your blog. I’m very much into knits right now so this is very timely. I’m not quite clear on grain vs selvage.

    1. Gorgeous Things says:

      “Grain” refers to the direction in which a fabric is woven or knitted. “Selvage” derives from the words “self edge” which refers to the edges of a woven fabric as it is woven on a loom. In most patterns for woven fabrics, the grain runs parallel to the selvages.

  7. Renee says:

    Thanks for the timely post, Ann. I’ve just started working with knits, so this is a big help. Your excellent video on working with knits was also very informative. I see Beth beat me to the question of how to find the grainline. Thanks, Beth!

  8. Laura says:

    Thanks for this information! I have wondered why my knits usually have such a horribly skewed edge. I used the ribs in the fabric to get my grainline already, but it is nice to know why this occurs.

  9. Phyllis says:

    I have always wondered about those little glue dots! Now I know 🙂

  10. Jilly Be says:

    *headslap* (twice, for good measure). When I’m being picky about the grain in a knit, I’ve always thread traced it – accurate, but time-consuming, to say the least! How much EASIER it would be to just fold along the line!

    Sometimes, the simplest of solutions are hidden in the deepest of caves until someone turns on the light – Thank You Ann!

  11. Sarah says:

    Awesome, Ann, thanks for this! Your ‘knits’ category is going into my bookmarks 🙂

  12. Heidi says:

    One method I created is to use a piece of non-tacky blue painter’s tape to mark the “grainline”. The tape can be about 5″ long, but make it shorter or longer depending on the size of your pattern piece.

    In the general area you want to place your pattern piece, find a rib and then gently press the painter’s tape along the rib. Next put your pattern piece on top of the area where you placed the tape — you can see the tape beneath the pattern piece unless it’s a heavy paper pattern. Place the pattern’s “grainline” right along the length of the painter’s tape and pin or weight down your pattern piece. I got this tip published in Threads a few years ago.

    But your method works better in many instances because it eliminates the need to put pieces of tape around your fabric!

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