If one of your soft furnishing projects isn’t successful, it could be your choice of fabric or the way you handled it that lets it down. With such a wonderful range of fabrics on the market, there is no need for “hand-made” to mean a cheaper alternative or second-best. Staff in most fabric shops will be pleased to pass on their knowledge about choosing the best fabric for a particular purpose.
Once you have chosen the fabric, the temptation is to start cutting straight away. Curb your enthusiasm, however — a little time spent preparing the fabric before you begin will help prevent costly mistakes later.
Before beginning any soft furnishing project, the first thing to do is to straighten the fabric. When fabric is wrapped around a large bolt or roll, it can be pulled slightly out of shape and this may not become obvious until you have already started sewing. Problems such as the pattern not matching, cushion covers that aren’t square, curtains not hanging straight, or a swag draping incorrectly can all be caused by the fibric being slightly off-grain.
To check whether the fabric is straight or off-grain, first straighten the ends, either by tearing the fabric or by pulling a thread, then fold it in half lengthways with the selvages together to see if the two crossways ends meet squarely. Sometimes it isn’t obvious that the fabric is not straight because the bolt was used as a guide for cutting in the store, which can make the end look straight. Always check it anyway — it will help to ensure perfect results.
Straightening fabric ends
If the fabric has an obvious weave, or a woven pattern such as a check, it can easily be cut along the grain to ensure it is straight. In most cases, however, you will have to tear or cut along a thread to guarantee a straight line. Tearing is the quickest way to straighten a fabric end but this is only suitable for plain-weave fabrics such as calico or poplin. Try a test piece first to ensure that tearing the fabric won’t harm it, or cause it to tear lengthways. The safest way to straighten the end is by pulling a thread. This takes longer, but is worth it.
Look carefully at the weave of the fabric and snip into the selvage next to where the first thread goes straight across. Pull one of the crossways threads until the fabric gathers up.
Ease the gathers gently along the thread as far as possible, then cut carefully along this line. Continue this process until you have cut right across the fabric.
Straightening the grain
Once the end of the fabric is straight, you will be able to check if the fabric is off-grain. There are two ways to do this. You can either lay the fabric flat on a square table or fold it in half lengthways with the selvages together. In both cases, the ends should be square. If the corners don’t match, the fabric needs to be straightened before you can begin cutting and sewing. If it is only slightly off-grain it can be steam-pressed into shape, but misshapen fabric must be pulled back into shape. This can be quite hard work for a large piece of fabric, and you may need to enlist the help of a friend to pull from the opposite end. This step is essential and will affect the final drape of the fabric, so don’t be tempted to miss this stage.