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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Handy sewing hint of the day #10

Oh my goodness.

I had no idea how much random sewing detail is moving around in this head. When will this series actually stop?

We will see.


I know I promised marking, a huge topic, but some excellent comments have reminded me of fabric pre-treating issues and something old school called "straightening" the grain, which you probably shouldn't be exposed to but I am going to do anyway.

First pre-treating fabric.

This means, more or less, getting the shrinkage out of the fabric before you cut so you won't get your heart broken by bad surprises after the first wash.

The rule of thumb to do what you will do to the garment to the fabric before you cut. 

This means if you don't sort your colours and throw all your clothes in a hot dryer you might as well find out before you start sewing if your fabric can cope with that lifestyle future. If, on the other hand, you wash everything in cool to warm water only and always line dry, either outside in a good stiff Nova Scotia breeze (do you know fog takes stains out?) or down the basement on a long line demonstrating that no one is going to ever Pin your family room, do that to the yardage too.

One word about knits though. 

All most all knits have the degree of greatest stretch running crossways so if you fold you piece over the line (or shower rod I do that too in the downstairs bathroom) crossways, the weight of the fabric will stretch the knit out starting at this fold, and you will be dealing with wonky from then on in. 

Try, if you can, to hang a knit lengthwise along the direction of less stretch. 

I always, always pre-wash all knit before I evaluate them - so often they are stretched as they are wound onto the bolt and they definitely need a chance to recover from that. If I have time I even lay a knit out on the cutting table overnight so it can retract/recover before I cut, can make a difference.

For 100% cotton fabrics of all kinds I would actually pre-treat twice to get as much of the shrinkage out of the fabric as I can - cottons, particularly loosely woven ones or twills like denims, can lose as much as a few inches per yard in shrinking - over more than one wash.

For fabrics that you will dry clean, although for environmental and health reasons there is less of that happening these days, many folks are spot cleaning when they can instead, you still should pre-treat.

For wools, the largest category of fabrics like this, you would traditionally do something called a London shrink.

Translated into domestic application this means laying a wet sheet over the fabric, folding it up, putting it in a plastic garbage bag and waiting a number of days for the wool to absorb the moisture and pull in a bit. 

You can of course achieve a similar effect with steam pressing, holding the iron over, not on, the fabric and shooting it with steam, but doing that over 6 yards of 60" gabardine with a domestic iron is more than I can stand, although stronger women can and should.

My own method for sanely pre-treating wool is to run a tricot slip or something that picks up very little water through the rinse/spin cycle of the washing machine then put that damp item in the dryer with the wool. Ten minutes on a low heat will shrink the wool just enough without changing it perceptively.

When you remove the wool from the dryer lay it out onto the cutting table to cool right away though, so it doesn't pick up wrinkles.

Now back to fabric straightening. 

In the old days when I was a junior sewer my mother made me hold one end of the fabric and pull on it diagonally while she pulled on the other end - this was supposed to "straighten" the grain, although even at eight years old I could figure out that surely would not be a permanent solution. The idea was that the selvage edges would of course be on grain but the cut ends, and maybe the fabric itself, might not be true cross grain.

I can't quite figure out how you can weave a fabric with the cross grain not perpendicular to the selvages unless you were producing some A1 crummy fabric that no one should have been sewing with anyway, but the point about uneven cut ends is a good one.

I am sure if I ever worked in a fabric store I would not be doing exactly cross the grain cuts at all at the cutting table. So it is not unexpected for the cut edges not to match when you fold the fabric in half before you cut. This is not the end of the world if you can recut them with a straight edge, but to make sure all four sides of your fabric piece are entirely on grain you can, if you want, follow a cross thread right across and cut along it.

The way to do this is to make a small cut through the selvage and fray it a bit until you find a cross thread in the fabric. Once you have found it pull carefully along that thread (it may break and you will have to really look closely to find it again) right through to the other selvage. This will make a sort of puckery line along the fabric you can cut along to ensure you are in fact working with fabric that is as much on grain crosswise as lengthwise.

I always do this to each cut end if the fabric is really worth it to me and have never thought that it was not worth the trouble.

Marking will really be next up.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Thank you very much for explaining fabric pre-treating as I have learned more than I was aware of and intend to apply this knowledge, hopefully when I sew again. Your kindness and efforts to share your sewing knowledge so that the reader is well-instructed is greatly appreciated. Lynda in Toronto

Angela said...

Hello! Loving the little posts about sewing basics, never hurts to review them even if you think you know everything - which I assuredly do not! Leading me to a question about the knit fabrics. I guess my brain is being dense and old, so if you could clarify somehow. Knits generally have the greatest amount of stretch crosswise, most definitely. So in my head I'm thinking that hanging fabric lengthwise along the shower bar or whatnot would allow the fabric to stretch the most, while hanging it crosswise (along the direction of greatest stretch) would allow the less stretchy direction to be hanging and result in less distortion. But this is the opposite of how I understand what you wrote...

Don't laugh too much.... my mom taught me to sew many, many years ago and never said word one about straightening fabrics (she also was afraid to ever alter patterns in the least, meaning that once puberty hit and my long-waisted body appeared, nothing ever fit well....memories of a little jumpsuit that gave me a permanent wedgie come to mind). Once I came back to sewing as an adult I read about this very technique of pulling on corners to straighten fabric. First problem - hard to do when one is alone in the sewing room! LOL! But I had some of the same thoughts... if it was produced in such a way, wrapped carelessly on the bolt, etc. such that washing/drying still left it off grain, I wasn't sure that yanking on it would result in permanent change. Then I figured I just didn't know enough, but now here you are with the same thoughts!

Angela said...

Just had to add - talk about learning something new even for us older dogs that need to learn a new trick sometimes - So Sew Easy just had a post about when to use the vertical vs horizontal thread holder on the machine; the difference between the regular spool of thread unwinding vs a cone of thread. I admit that I had never once heard about these differences, and was amazed. You would think about all these years and time in sewing stores, lessons, books, etc. that this tidbit would have come up but not for me at least. Just to show that reviewing the basics is never a bad thing!

Barbara said...

Angela hanging the fabric crosswise along the stretch will create a bow along the fold. Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

Enjoying this series SO MUCH....and yes, I remember being shown that diagonal tugging thing to straighten the grain in middle school home economics, which was one of those classes that gave the whole discipline a bad name for a while......I went home and repeated it to my expert sewer mother who scoffed as she did at all the home ec wisdom (usually with some justification.....).

These days I usually wash and steam press fabric and then leave it on the guest room bed to recover itself for a while. Hopefully with the room door shut to preclude friendly visits from the dogs.


Sally King said...

Thank you so much for your generous sharing of knowledge .... I am learning a lot. But I must thank you even more for the picture of your SIL and his dear golden friend. So beautiful - I will say a little prayer for both of them.

Jodie said...

This is good timing for me as I have some precious silk to pre-treat and cut into for a dress for my step-son's high school graduation. So - advice on treating the silk? It was brought to me many years ago by my Dad from an international posting. I want to be gentle, and do have some to "play" with. But I also don't want to necessarily have to dry clean the dress if I can avoid.

Help and advice would be so appreciated - I have sewing plans for my spring break next week

theresa said...

Good points on prepping fabric, Barb and on the cutting as well. I will pre-wash denim up to three times but never try to straighten the grain. Denim has a mind of its own and if it is off-grain and then straightened, will return to off-grain as soon as its washed. That's something learned from one of the Palmer and Pletsch books. Sometimes it's worth tearing fabric to establish grain. I do this to take long lengths down to manageable lengths before washing and drying, serging the ends to stop ravelling. Washing several times can also tell you a lot about the fabric as once the finishing starch and sizing is removed the hand may be quite different. Of course, for silkies and types that slip and slide all over you can always restarch to control it long enough to cut and sew.
Theresa in Tucson

Sandra Thwaites said...

Really enjoying all your tips. Here's my 2 cents worth on pre-treating: for wovens, I always serge the ends to avoid fraying just before throwing it in the washing machine. For knit fabrics, I use my regular sewing machine and sew a line of stitching through a single layer across the cut ends. This reduces the distortion/stretching that can occur during trips through the washer and dryer. It also makes it easier for me to figure out which fabric has been pre treated or not because it has been known to be a considerable period of time between acquisition and use of fabric, and it's one less thing for me to try to remember.

SilverMom said...

I second theresa's comments about denim and grain. I ran into this when I made an unlined coat from a fabulous, but off-grain, grey denim shot with glittery mylar threads. The presence of the mylar, which is basically plastic, made the denim even more determined to hang onto its off-grainness. So, I opened it to a single layer and laid out the pattern pieces one at time, orienting each one to be parallel to the (faintly) visible grain of the fabric. Took some extra time, but worked...the coat hangs perfectly on grain. I have since used this technique with other off-grain fabrics. There are some notable exceptions, but I find that the grain is almost always discernible to the eye, even with knits.

/anne... said...

I sew a lot of wool, and unless I'm using proper tailoring techniques (which aren't keen on being washed), I prewash the wool before sewing it. I have some wool skirts that have only been hand washed, never drycleaned, and are over ten years old that are still going strong.

Note: I have a proper Australian laundry with a proper stainless steel laundry trough. I handwash using wool wash, rinse, then put it in my toploading washing machine to spin out the water, then dry either on the clothes line or on a drying rack inside. My me-made clothes last much longer than they fit (unfortunately!).

Worsted-spun fabric, in my experience, shrugs off hand washing like a pro. A nice dip in tepid water with some wool wash, rinse, spin out the water, then line dry. So far, I've had no shrinkage.

Woollen-spun fabric can shrink - and if it's a bit meh, try actually running a sample through the washing machine to see if it fluffs up and turns into something much nicer. However, only ever do it once - after that, hand wash only, or it may continue to change, and not in a good way.

The only problem fabric I've found is crepe - it continues to shrink. I'd handwash it gently once, then dryclean it afterwards. Handwashing it once can improve the texture - but any more, and it will end up small and felted.

PLEASE don't use baby shampoo! I'm not sure why it's so popular, but it is the wrong PH for protein fibres like wool and silk. Baby shampoo is designed so that if it gets in a baby's eyes, it won't sting - and as eyes have a different PH to hair, it's actually lousy shampoo. You'd be better buying cheap unperfumed shampoo in bulk or a proper wool wash than baby shampoo.