• Kaine

Sewing 107 - Fabric Properties and Preparation

Updated: Feb 6

Welcome back to this fresh chapter! Thanks for being patient, I know you want to jump right into sewing your own clothes, but the right foundation make for a stronger skill. Today, we’ll delve into how to prepare your fabric for sewing, there are so many terms used in sewing and naming them all will simply lead to a boring read. Rather I’ll explain things as we come across them and we can both build up our own sewing glossary. But there are a few terms I’ll clarify here.


Metric system is Metres and Centimetres. Imperial system is Feet and inches. In Nigeria, we use the Imperial system for sewing and the metric system for everything else. Now, the important thing to note is that 1 inch = 2.54cm, so you can do the conversion regardless of the source you are working with. Some sewing books I read are in metric system for instance.

measuring tape

An inch is divided into eights, 1/8, 2/8/, 3/8, 4/8, 5/8, 6/8, 7/8, 8/8. On the other hand, A centimetre is divided into tens, ten millimetres. So it’s 1/10, 2/10, 3/10, 4/10, 5/10, 6/10, 7/10, 8/10, 9/10, 10/10. These are indicated on the lines of your measuring tape.


Fabric is basically sold by the Yard (Imperial) or by the Metre (metric). A yard is 36 inches long and a Metre is 100cm long. The width of the fabric can be 45 to 60 inches or 115cm to 150cm wide.

yards and metres conversion
yards and metres table


As I mentioned in the previous chapter, Fibres are either woven or knitted together to create fabrics. For now, let’s tackle the Woven fabric which in its most basic form is the warp threads are stretched out on the loom and the weft threads are woven in and out of them.

A roll or cut of fabric has different parts and this helps you determine how to cut out your pattern pieces for sewing. Whether you buy your fabric straight off the bale in the market or in a packet like your standard 6 yards ankara or wax print, it is the same principle.

Width – It is usually 45 to 60 inches (115cm or 150cm) depending on the brand or 100inches for bedsheets. This is the edge that is cut by hand in the market by the seller. The crosswise grain is parallel to the width.

Length – It is the total length of the bale of fabric. This is the Selvedge edge which is already finished from the factory during production. The line running parallel to the selvedge edge is the lengthwise grain. It is along this length that the yardage (or metre) is measured. The selvedge usually has the label of the manufacturer printed on it

The Warp threads run from width to width (up and down). They are parallel to the selvedge.

The Weft threads run from selvedge to selvedge (left to right). They are parallel to the width.

stretchy on the bias

Bias – when you cut fabric on the diagonal at a 45 degree angle, this is the True bias cut. Any cut that is not strictly on the lengthwise or crosswise grain such as a curve, is on the bias. Fabric cut on the bias does not fray (much) and fabric is stretchy on the bias.  You cannot buy fabric in the market cut on the bias.


A knitted fabric is formed by knitting a yarn or thread into fabric which creates a system of interlocked loops. Various patterns of these loops can result in different knitted patterns. Many knitted fabric form a continuous shape like a cylinder or tube, thus having 2 cut edges and no selvedges.

close up of knit fabric
Close up of knit fabric

parts of knit fabric tubular

parts of knit fabric tubular

There are other knitted fabric that are flat just like woven fabrics. According to Wikipedia, "in knitted fabrics, selvages are the unfinished yet structurally sound edges that were neither cast on nor bound off. Historically, the term selvage applied only to loom woven fabric, though now can be applied to flat-knitted fabric."

Width – It is usually 60 inches (150cm) which is the edge that is cut by hand in the market by the seller.

Length – It is the total length of the bale of fabric. It is the folded edge as in the image above or the Selvedge edge if it is flat-knitted like a woven fabric.

Right and Wrong Side of FabricThe side that will be used on the outside of the garment is the right side, and the side that will be used on the inside is the wrong side. In some fabric, it is quite obvious which side is which since the print on the right side will be brighter or clearer than that of the wrong side. In other fabric, it is hard to tell by eye, so you need to use other references.

right and wrong side of fabric

This is an example of the right side being clearer than the wrong. Note also that the label faces the right way on the right side.

right and wrong side of fabric

This is an example of where both sides are almost identical. But if you look closely, the weave of the selvedge of the wrong side is flat, while the weave on the right side is raised.

right and wrong side of fabric

This example shows machine perforations on the selvedge. On the right side, they are puckered and on the wrong side they are depressed.

right and wrong side of fabric

This example also shows perforations, but either side of this fabric may be used as the ‘right side’.

Fabric Pre-Treatment and Ironing – What you need to know

What do you do with new fabric? How do you get it ready for sewing? The truth is, you can just go ahead and cut it up for sewing, but the results might not be great. I am by no means a professional when it comes to these issues, but this is how I handle my fabric.

Pre-wash/Pre-Shrink – Depending on the fibre content of your fabric, you most likely need to pre-wash it. Natural fibres especially like cotton, linen, and wool are prone to shrinking and wrinkling unless the fabric has been specially treated in some way to combat these issues, or where the fabric is a blend of natural and synthetic fibres.

I wash my fabric before use. Just a simple quick hand wash or a quick tumble in the washing machine. I keep the fabric rolled to prevent it from fraying or getting too squeezed. The benefits of this is that the fabric can shrink if it’s going to, excess dye is washed out, and of course it gets cleaned. This is especially good for ankara or wax print. I do this for all fabrics, both knitted and woven. If it is very delicate I only hand wash and air dry, then steam while it’s still damp

Ironing – Even if you decide to skip the pre-washing, especially when the fabric is not yours, or the fabric is dry-cleaning only, Please iron and steam the fabric. This can help it to shrink too. It is much easier to handle when it smooth and pressed. You can even starch it to give it more hold. Cutting wrinkled fabric can lead to inconsistencies when sewing. I know a lot of people cut the fabric into the pattern pieces thinking they will be smaller and easier to iron later on. Do not do this; by then the damage is already done.

If I am dealing with long yardage of fabric, I estimate the amount I’ll need and cut say, 2 yards off and iron that first. Another useful trick for ironing is to let the fabric cool afterwards. Fabric has memory so to speak and will usually retain the shape it cools in, making it less prone to wrinkling while you are cutting it.

Did you know that you can also watch this lesson?

Visit our channel and don't forget to subscribe to receive updates about new videos!

We love to hear from readers so please leave a comment if you please. Thank you!

122 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All