Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Draping & the Grain (and Fabric Choices)

As I have already mentioned in the first post on draping, I decided to follow instructions from a great Dutch book Draping: Art and Craftsmanship in Fashion Design.  Yet, when I started preparing the toile, I realized that instructions for the one-piece circular skirt were misleading.  To understand what was wrong with these instructions I needed to know more about fabric grain and its role in garment construction. So, before I post the blog entry on muslin preparation, let me elaborate on some terminology most of you may already be acquainted with.

Grain is the direction of the yarns in a woven fabric

Selvage is the narrow woven border at both lengthwise sides of the fabric.

Lengthwise (straight) grain is formed by warp yarns, which run parallel to selvage. Warp yarns hold their shape best, that’s why most of the garments are cut on lengthwise grain.

Crossgrain is formed by weft yarns; these run perpendicular to selvage. Weft yarns have a greater stretch in comparison to warp yarns. This quality is useful for constructing figure-hugging garments.  Little stretch of weft yarns allows for comfort without obstructing the movement. However, if the crossgrain is perpendicular to the floor it will stretch and droop over time, especially on light- to medium-weight fabrics.

Bias is an imaginary line that falls at any diagonal angle to the selvage. Cutting on bias adds stretch and elasticity to the garment. If you want a flirtier or sexier garment and are not afraid of revealing your body curves, this is the construction method for you.

True bias always falls at 45-degree angle to the selvage.

This Draping on Grain Exercise helps understand different grains better:

You will see the most difference if you use less stable fabrics, such as silk chiffon or silk charmeuse. Medium-weight fabrics are also interesting to experiment with.

1. Drape fashion fabric over dress form with the lengthwise grain perpendicular to the floor.

2. Now repeat the same with the crossgrain.

3. Finally drape the fabric with the true bias perpendicular to the floor.

Do you see any difference? Observe how fabric folds fall. Where do the folds start to form? Does the drape conceal the body shape or reveal it?

I take pictures of draping steps from this stage on and until I am finished with draping. This ensures that all stages are documented well and I can easily recreate the garment without having to reinvent the wheel.

Finally, I started a journal with swatches of my fabrics where I attach the pictures of draping samples and make notes with ideas. I don’t do it for all fabrics, but only when I feel that I need to explore new ways of handling fabric. For example, I had a nice plaid for a skirt, and I didn’t want to have the stripes align horizontally or vertically – it looked so boring. So, I draped a pencil skirt on true bias, added a circular ruffle at the bottom and finished the hem with contrasting thread.

I must admit that construction on bias is a whole new territory for me, so until now I have been using only stable fabrics for bias projects. Nevertheless, I am always trying to find out first if changing the grain line will help me come up with new styles. Part of the fun in sewing is overcoming challenges and constant learning.

Now, how this post helps me advance with the circular skirt project?

Well, first, it helps me choose the right fabric. As the skirt is draped in a circular manner, it affects its behaviour around your body in different manner. Only the center front is on lengthwise grain; the rest is will hang differently. So, I decided (luckily, it’s winter outside) to go with thicker, more stable fabric – I would rather avoid grain issues at this stage of exploring the basics of draping.

Finally, all three different types of grain are clearly marked on muslin (toile), which makes it invaluable learning experience: observing how fabric behaves while you are draping and knowing what affects any changes in fit or drape.

To conclude, I must say I started indicating grain lines clearly on all my muslins, even those that I create from patterns – it's very helpful for fitting!


  1. If this is a circle skirt, the center back will also be on the straight of grain. The two sides will be on the crosswise grain. The bias parts will fall between those four on-grain places.

    But maybe you mean a flared skirt instead of a true circle skirt?

  2. Hi Marina, thanks for popping over to my blog and for leaving a comment. DB's How to Knit has long projects whereas the book I was mentioning has much shorter ones in comparison. There are no clothes, only accessories for women such as socks, gloves, wristwarmers, bangles, hats and scarves; things for men such as a tie, hats, socks, scarves; homewares like cushion, mug, teapot and cafetiere cosies, ipod and laptop cases; and things for baby - bib, blanket, booties, toy. There is good how to description, a selection of stitch patterns, advice on tools plus a few blogs to check out. I'm teaching myself with a combination of this book and youtube and if any of the projects appeal to you I would definitely get this book. I love it. If you want me to take a few snapshots for you let me know. Now I'm off to read your blog!

    Kate x

  3. @ goodworks

    Thank you for pointing it out - it made me think for a while, I admit.

    The skirt follows the circular shape - depending on the width of fabric and the length of the final garment it can be a full-circle (a mini skirt, a girls skirt can easily be made full-circle, for example). Same draping procedure applies to any amount of flare in this design. And, because you have only one seam - it can take only the full width of the fabric, not more. So, you have to sacrifice the amount of flare, or the length of the garment. Then, as you say, the center front and the center back would be on the straight of grain.

    If you, however, (more probable version, especially for adults), go for a knee-length version with regular 60" (150cm) width of fashion fabric, you would end up with the lengthwise grain at the center front, the rest will depend on amount of flare you achieve through draping.

    The beauty of draping this skirt is that you control the amount of drape for individual body and see if it flatters you or not. And, with one seam it is also great for prints.

    But back to the terminology, let's call it a flared skirt with circular potential :-)

  4. Kate, thank you so much for taking your time and giving me more info about the book! It is definitely what I need! Small finish-able projects for working moms. And I love both scarves you did! Looking forward for your next projects!




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