How to Square Your Fabric

In this article, you will learn what it means that a length of fabric is square; several methods to squaring woven and knit fabrics; and why it pays to buy high-quality fabric.

If you’re here, I know that you must have pre-washed your fabric, dried it, and ironed it.

And now you’re ready to make sure your fabric is square.

Failure to check that your fabric is squared or grain perfect before you layout and cut will result in a garment that feels uncomfortably twisty on your body and that has a fugly, saggy hemline.

And we got no time for any of that nonsense, do we?!

So, let’s learn how to get our fabric grain perfect…

On Grain or Square Defined

Everything — face fabric, interfacing, underlining, lining, interlining — must be on the straight of grain, or square!

When a length of fabric is on grain (square), all of the following statements are true:

See what I mean?!

How to Square Fabric for Sewing

The fold is nice and flat.

And the cut end at the top is even AND perpendicular to the selvages.

Sew easy tip: When buying your fabric, make sure the previous cut on the bolt was even. Do NOT let the cutter cut your length uneven. Because if you have to straighten the grain, you may lose precious yardage that you’ve paid for!

Now that you know what squared fabric looks like, let’s learn how to check if our length of fabric is grain perfect…

How to Check If Your Woven Fabric Is On Grain

In order to check if your length of fabric is on grain (square)…

FIRST, fold your length of fabric until both selvages meet and match up with the folded edge closest to you.

Now smooth your fabric until it is nice and flat.

How to Square Fabric for Sewing

In the image above, look at that awful fold. It is a hot, wonky mess!

And if you look closely you can see that the cut ends — at the top and the bottom — are also uneven.

Mmm. Can you now begin to imagine how awful a garment made with this off-grain fabric would look and feel to wear?!

Not. Good.

Okay, then…

So where do we begin to fix the wonky, hot mess in the image above?!

Well, there are several methods you can choose from…

How to Square Woven Fabric

The ultimate goal is to  establish the correct horizontal (weft) grain at one or both cut ends.  There is no need to straighten the lengthwise (warp) grain.

And you have choices. Which one you choose will depend on the weave of your fabric and your preferences.

Let’s begin with…

Step 1: Are the cut ends (crosswise grain) straight?

Stripes + Plaids

If your fabric has a prominent yarn, rib, line, or stripe and if the fabric pattern is actually woven in rather than printed on, you can cut along one of these to straighten the cut ends!

In other words, if you turn the fabric to the wrong side (WS) and it looks the same as the right side (RS), the pattern was woven into the fabric on the loom, rather than printed on after the fact.


But for other wovens, you have options…

The Tear Method

This method works with medium-weight plain weave wovens (like cotton). But it will not work with satin or twill weave wovens.

And it is also not ideal for linens and other thin fabrics, because of the resulting distortion of the fabric.

There are two steps to the tear method…

How to Square Fabric for Sewing
  1. Make a little snip at the corner of the shortest selvages.
  2. And then, tear the fabric from one selvage to the other selvage. Repeat on the other cut end if it also uneven.
How to Square Fabric for Sewing

So while tearing the fabric may be easier than pulling a thread, I don’t use it. Because I don’t do fugly!

In the image above, it isn’t too bad though. You know why?! Because this damn good quality cotton lawn!

Pull a Single Thread Method.

If your fabric is tightly woven, has a loose weave like linen, or is very thin, you will most likely not be able to tear it.

I’ll be honest with you, with this method, you will need lots of patience.

So you will have to pull a thread. And here’s how…

How to Square Fabric for Sewing
  1. Make a snip at the corner of the shortest selvages just like you did for the tear method above.
  2. Next, carefully pull a SINGLE, crosswise thread.  As you pull on that single thread, it will gather.
  3. Once you’ve got that straight, crosswise line (see image below), use your dressmaker’s shears to cut along that line to remove the uneven end.
  4. When you’ve reached the opposite selvage, refold the fabric, aligning the selvages with each other again and smooth your fabric until it is nice and flat. And re-assess the cut ends and the fold. Remember, right angles rule!

Now, please keep the following two points in mind when using this method:

  • As you pull the thread, the thread will break at some point — probably more than once. Annoying, I know.
  • But just smooth out the gathered area. Then, take your shears, find the fine line the pulled thread has left behind, and cut up to the point where the thread broke. Continue in this manner until you reach the other selvage.


Step 2: Re-test. Check and make sure the length of fabric is on grain.

Once you’ve straighten the cut end(s), it is important to retest by folding your fabric, selvage to selvage. Place the folded fabric on a table or mat with square corners.

Then, make sure that the selvages are aligned directly over each other, that the fold is flat, and that the cut end(s) create 90-degree angles like this…

How to Square Fabric for Sewing
How lovely am I?!

However, if everything still refuses to line up nice and square, then you will need to…

Step 3: If your grain lines are still not squaring up, then you may need to pull on true bias.

Well, if after trying one of the above methods, your fabric may still have the audacity to be off-grain?

This means it may be time for a little tough love. And here’s how…

How to Square Fabric for Sewing
  1. Gently but firmly grasp the short corners of the fabric.
  2. Then, pull the short ends along the true bias in the direction it needs to be straightened. Be careful when pulling printed fabrics on the bias. You don’t want to distort the prints!
  3. Do this until your edges are even and ALL four corners form perfect right angles like the first image above!

If your length of fabric is long, you will have to do this in sections.

Truth is, pulling on the bias can help a lot, a little, or not at all. It depends on the quality of your fabric.

If you’re feeling frustrated right now, can I tell you a secret?!

Better quality fabrics are generally NOT off grain. This is just another reason to invest in the best quality fabric you can afford!

The Waste of Squaring Wovens

Whether you tear or pull a thread, there can be a lot of waste of your precious fabric…

How to Square Fabric for Sewing

Therefore, you might want to buy an extra ¼ yard of fabric to account for any you might lose as a result of squaring your fabric.

Alright, it’s time to talk about squaring knits…

How to “Square” Knits

While knits are a little more forgiving than wovens, it is still important to make sure that they are are also squared before you layout and cut.

With knits, you cannot tear, pull a thread, or pull on the bias.

You could…

Method 1

How to Square Fabric for Sewing
  1. Turn your knit fabric on its right side (RS). And locate a single column of “v” stitches.
  2. Then, mark this column from one cut end to the other cut end with a chalk wheel or ballpoint straight pins.
  3. And then fold along the marked line.
  4. Now, you’re ready to place your pattern pieces that call to be placed on the fold.

BUT honestly…

Who has the time, the eyesight, and/or the patience for all this?!

Not me!

Method 2 and 3

So depending on my mood and the project…

  • I create an expanded pattern and cut out my knit garment in a single layer layout; or
  • From the RS, I eyeball it and get as close as I can to a straight column of “v” stitches (see image below).
How to Square Fabric for Sewing
Good enough.

While knits are more forgiving than wovens, the diagonal slant shown in the image below is a definite no-go.

How to Square Fabric for Sewing
Sorry, this is a no go!

RELATED: Click HERE to learn everything you need to know about wovens and knits!

The End

Now, you know why it is ESSENTIAL for your fabric to be grain perfect BEFORE you layout, pin, cut, mark, and sew.

And you know how to make it so.

So if you’re square, let’s meet at the cutting table and learn about sewing patterns.

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!