Do You True Up?

This blog will turn three years old in just a couple months, and I haven’t yet written a post about the sewing term after which this site is named — trueing up. For shame! Well, let’s make up for lost time.

“True up” means means to make balanced, straight, square. In sewing, it means to make a piece of fabric true to grain with a cut or rip. (You might want to (re)visit the Know Your Weaves post if you’re not familiar with lengthwise and crosswise grain, and the three basic weaves: plain, twill, and satin.)

Why True Up? Unless you’re intentionally bias-cutting your fabric to make trim or a drapey, bias-cut garment, un-true pieces don’t behave well — they can stretch and get distorted with just normal handling. Misbehaving fabrics mean hard-to-align pieces, can make even seams difficult to achieve, and makes the fabric hang oddly. If you’re working with directional prints, the lines will end up slightly off-kilter.

How Do You Know a Fabric is True? With plain weave fabrics (most quilting cottons are plain weave), a thread pulled from one corner will come off cleanly across the entire cut edge.

How to True Up? That depends on the fabric and your personal preferences. It seems like most books recommend the “fold fabric selvage to selvage, smooth, and cut” method. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong (I’d love to hear your thoughts!), but that still often results in a somewhat off-grain cut.

So, I’m a ripper. That means: snip through the selvage, and rip through the width of the fabric. You can also rip lengthwise. That usually means you lose a 1/4-1/2 inch or so of fabric along the ripped edge, which gets kind of distorted and wavy, but if your fabric HAS to be true, that’s the best way, in my opinion.

Another method is the thread-pulling method, as shown in the picture above. You snip through the selvage, find a crosswise thread sticking out to grab hold of, and pull it. (This works well for lengthwise cuts too.) In most cases, this will create a noticeable (and true) line that serves as a cutting guide. However, it can be very tedious!

Some fabrics don’t rip, or won’t rip both crosswise and lengthwise — plain-weave linen, satin weave fabrics, and twill weave fabrics, to name a few — so you have to choose one of the other methods.

And oh yeah. Sometimes you’ll never get a piece of fabric trued up because it’s poorly manufactured. The print is skewed off-grain, or the grain itself is messed up (e.g. the cross grain won’t be perfectly perpendicular to the lengthwise grain). If you get one edge true and notice the print is skewed relative to it, or if you true both edges but the edges won’t match up when the piece is folded selvage to selvage and smoothed, you’ve got some problem fabric on your hands. Take it back!

Just thinking. Maybe this is more a question for shop owners — do you make sure your cuts are true? Buyers, would you notice/care if the fabrics you buy are cut perfectly on grain? I think that might be a nice selling point, and one I haven’t seen used before. “Guaranteed True.” Maybe I could make a logo for that. I imagine that there’s just not enough demand, or that the demand doesn’t justify the added time and potential waste fabric for the retailer. But I’m still curious …

Because I haven’t done one in ages, a little poll (RSS subscribers, you might need to jump over to the site to answer the questions) …

How Do YOU True Up?

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Would You Seek Out "Guaranteed True" Fabrics?

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38 Comments

  1. Cathy A says:

    As a shop owner, I think I’d go crazy and out of business trying to really true up the fabric that I cut to sell. If a fabric is not folded exactly right, getting it right would require fighting against that fold and possibly having to refold and then re-roll it back onto the bolt. It would take so much more time and I would lose fabric. Time and fabric are money, and, honestly, it’s just too expensive.

    • Kim says:

      Good point, Cathy … this is exactly the kind of thing I was wondering about. Of course — the bolts would make trueing up a big old pain!

  2. Bobbie23nc says:

    I love stores that tear their fabric even if I have to deal with a few ravels. I also always buy enough of my outside border to cut each piece length of grain. It helps keep my quilt square. If I have a lot of sashing in my pattern I try to cut that length of grain also. I find my quilt goes together a lot easier when I follow this method.

  3. martha brown says:

    I live in Toronto and most of the fabric stores that I go to rip their fabric (plain weave). I’m always surprised when I go to the US and places don’t rip their fabrics. And I always feel like I might be getting ripped off…..

  4. chole says:

    the bane of my existence is these young girls who work in the fabric stores around me… somedays it feels like they don’t have any CLUE how to true up fabric or cut a piece so that I can true it later without loosing a large amount!

    • belle says:

      hallelujiah chloe, once trued up a lot of my purchased fabric is often short of what I purchased. some basic training on cutting a STRAIGHT length wouldn’t go astray

  5. Amy Hodge says:

    When I was at Josephine’s fabric in Portland I noticed that they measured, then snipped the selvage and ripped. I think if you do this consistently every time, then there would actually be less waste to the shop owner. At the shop where I work, we always cut a little extra because it’s hard to cut straight (we don’t use rotary cutters) and because the fabric is often not straight on the bolt. Ripping would solve all those problems — but I’ve tried this and can never get the fabric to rip very far!

  6. MJ Mayer says:

    I remember going to the fabric stores with my mom at a very early age and watching them snip & rip! My dear mom let me snip & rip her scraps at home – what fun! Sadly, my fabric stores all cut and are always off by a few inches…occasionally I can get one of the elder ladies to snip and rip for me if my kids ask and smile all sweet :)

  7. DianeY says:

    I find the bigger problem to be directional prints that are not printed true to the grain. I’ve had some from each of the quilt shop quality manufacturers that are printed slightly off grain. I’ve had to religate these to projects with small pieces & if needed, I cut with the print rather than the grain because I hate a strip that does not the design evenly. It’s gotton so I avoid purchasing fabrics where I can see this as a possibility.

    • Rachel says:

      I just ruined and entire FQ of Modern Meadow Sunflower fabric trying desperately to get it even sorta on grain. I don’t know why I thought I could fix the fact that it was so off, but I think I was in denial.

  8. Jemellia says:

    It drives me nuts when a shop cuts and it’s usually done poorly. One of my favorite shops, Fabritopia, would tear, I loved it, but she doesn’t sell fabric much anymore.

  9. Kath says:

    I’m a reformed thread-puller. I used to not start a project until my fabric was true; it satisfied my perfectionistic tendencies. Ripping never worked for me–it always seemed to distort the grain too much (plus my sewing teacher in HS was a thread-puller, NOT a ripper). As satisfying as it is to work with fabric that’s true…I resist the temptation when it doesn’t matter so I don’t stall out on the project.

  10. MelanieO says:

    This is interesting as far as shops go. When I had my shop, I always cut extra rather than rip. I once saw someone badmouth a shop on Twitter for ripping rather than cutting, so I wasn’t sure if people felt that was better.

  11. Sadly, I have more issue with the fabric not being printed on grain correctly than the shops. I hate having to make a choice between cutting the fabric correctly on grain or having the line or pattern straight across my quilt piece.

  12. Jacqui says:

    Although I voted that I’m a thread-pulled, I actually pull and rip, but I find that ripping can damage the fabric up to a cm in from the rip so I’m careful about the fabrics I do it on. Nothing drives me mental quicker than trying to tru up a pattern that isn’t square to the grain of the fabric! But I get really REALLY mad when I buy fabric from a shop and they don’t cut square across the grain. I’ve had some shocking cuts from reputable online shops that are essentially parallelograms with a lot less useable fabric than what I’ve paid for. I don’t think they’re deliberately out to rip me off, it’s just seriously sloppy. And of course being a dedicated true-upper (in both senses of the term!) I find it hard to accept that everyone doesn’t share my appreciation of the square edge.

  13. Rhonda says:

    one store I frequent will only sell yard ‘cuts’ or larger because they rip and are generous so you get a full undistorted yard of fabric between the rips.

    i’m sure that the Quilt in a Day online store rips, at least they did on the order I received a few months ago.

    i rip on large pieces, but not on FQ’s at home – i just sort of hope for the best. Since I was my fabric, i tend to have enough threads tangled to be able to true up what’s left.

  14. Carla says:

    I shop at a store that pulls a thead to cut the fabric perfectly on grain….sometimes they tear. While it is thoughtful, it isn’t neccessary really for the type of quilting that i usually do. Because of the added time it takes, I once actually had to leave a stack of fabric behind because I just couldn’t wait any longer for the teenage girl to slowwlyyyy cut my fabric as she’d been taught.

  15. Johanna says:

    I hate it when shops tear the fabric because most of them don’t give me that extra inch that gets lost on the edges when you tear and then most of the time I don’t have enough fabric. Fabric is really expensive around here so that is a huge minus. Plus, tearing stretches the edges and most of the time they can’t be ironed back to normal.
    Also, most designs are not really true so even if the seller makes sure she cuts on the grain most of the time the design would still be a bit off and I have to decide what is more important in the thing that I make out of it: the design or the fall.
    When I started selling handmade accessories it would drive me nuts, now I just don’t care anymore. What’s the point if I am the only one to notice?

    Whenever I am making clothing for myself though, I make sure to only buy fabric in person where I can examine the fabrics before bying and give clear instructions as to how to cut (or even cut myself). It just would make me sad to wear things that took such an effort to make yet are not perfect due to things that I could have prevented.

  16. Aditi says:

    I always rip to true-up and I beg the store to rip too, but since I rarely buy in person, I’m at the mercy of whoever is cutting the fabric at the online store. I do try to buy only from online vendors who give you an extra inch or two so that you can true up and not lose a big chunk of fabric.

    You said to “take it back” but almost everywhere I’ve seen, cut fabric sales are final. Has anyone actually successfully returned fabric because it is skewed? I’ve definitely bought a yard, trued it, and ended up ripping off a huge triangle that is 1/2″ at the “point” and over 8″ at the base… which is almost a quarter yard! Very frustrating indeed.

  17. Aditi says:

    Just wanted to add – for the consumer who is paying retail price, to lose a sizeable chunk of the fabric in the truing up process is probably more expensive than for the seller to true up the bolt once and lose a relatively small chunk (in relation to the whole bolt), even factoring in the time spent to do it (since it would only have to be done once per bolt). If I buy 2yds and rip off 8″ to true it up, my piece is not only now much smaller, but the next cut off that same bolt will also need to be significantly reduced in size to true it. This would cost each customer time, money and frustration. (I’m not talking about the cuts that only require 1/2″ to 1″ of rip to straighten, but the ones where the rip removes a huge chunk and you have to practically wash and reiron the remaining yardage so you can fold it properly) I have definitely dropped sellers after they repeatedly stuck me with fabric cuts that require significant truing up.

    I’m not sure I’d pay “a premium” for that service, but I wouldn’t mind paying a small amount more if my fabric would arrive “guaranteed true”. BUT, that store would definitely get a lot of my business (if not all), and I do buy a LOT of fabric. So perhaps it is not such a huge price for a seller to pay to guarantee themselves a very loyal customer base. (this was in response to Cathy A’s comment above)

    But that made me think of something else – if you’re advising the consumer to return a badly skewed cut of yardage, why can’t the retailer also return a badly skewed bolt? that is, a bolt that is so badly skewed that after ripping to get the grain, the fold is now way off and there is absolutely no way to re-roll the bolt. If enough retailers did return bolts and complain about poor quality, perhaps there would be enough pressure on the manufacturers for better quality control (thereby reducing returns from retailers who are unable to sell their poorly bolted stock)?

    I can’t, in good conscience, make things out of untrued fabric and sell those things, with visible problems. I’m not sure I could sell someone fabric at the full retail price when I know full well that they will end up ripping off 1/5 to 1/4 of the yard just to straighten it. If there is a quality issue (where those big prints are so skewed that if you straighten the grain, the pattern is off and if you keep the pattern straight, the grain is so off that your workmanship suffers), it seems unfair to pass that cost onto the end user of the product rather than returning it to the manufacturer and letting *them* eat the cost.

  18. carrie says:

    I, too, have lost 8 inches or more trying to correct terrible cuts–the latest such fiasco occurred when sewing up some flannel pajama pants and I came up 6 inches too short for one pant leg! The seller did give me a discounted price on the additional yardage I was forced to buy, but the fact remains that I had no choice but to shell out more cash order to complete my project. I would love to see my favorite shops do more ripping–I feel like the half-inch or so that you lose to the wavy, stretched-out edge is nothing in comparison to the 4+ inches I routinely lose with every purchase. Sigh… probably the ONLY thing I don’t love about buying and working with fabric!

  19. Myrinda says:

    ok so I’ll ask then…do you want your fabric ripped? I’d be MORE than happy to rip, it’s faster. But I’m a retailer and I can’t rip some and cut others. And if it’s off grain, it’s off. We can’t return it to the manufacturer either. Surely you don’t expect me (and it’s JUST me) to unroll every single bolt and check the whole thing. Actually, I should be able to trust my vendors to do their job right first…I DO add about 1/4″ to each cut because I use the edge of a cutting mat so I hope that helps my customers…but for half yards, I could lose as much as 1 – 1 1/2 yards per bolt. Sales are down and who is going to shop with me when I have to add 25 cents to the cost of each HALF yard when people are selling for $1 over wholesale on etsy?

    I don’t think the majority of fabric shoppers even have a clue about trueing to begin with :(

    • Rachel says:

      I want ripped…but of course not everyone is going to want the same thing. I’m a thread puller, so rips get me to the pulling a lot faster than if i have to deal with a cut.

  20. melimba says:

    I had no idea that’s what “True up” meant!? Wow, it’s like I’m in school all over again. :) I loved your lesson. And, how CLEVER are you to use it as your blog title?! nice.
    AND! Now I know what my mom has been complaining about for YEARS. She’s not a fan when shops slice away without taking account of the grain. She loves it when they give you a little extra so she can make it perfect later.
    Me? I am lazy and haven’t done a lot of LEGIT sewing. This is me hiding my head in shame, I know.
    Great post. Congrats on almost 3 years!?! You’re the bomb.com

  21. lea says:

    I voted that I fold and cut. I almost always buy a 1/4 yard more than I need…even tho it’s more expensive for me, the bottom line is if the fabric is off a bit, I’ll have enough (I’ve never had a fabric that was off more than 1/4 yard…maybe I’m lucky?). If the fabric is true, I have a bit of fabric stash for other projects.

    I also find a lot of people who do not sew clothing (or don’t do a whole lot of sewing) have no idea about the grain of the fabric, or how important it is to have non-skewed fabric. It makes me nutty to try and help someone who’s cut a pattern off grain and then expects it to hang correctly.

  22. annmarie says:

    Thanks for the very informative post. I remember learning this concept when I took a beginning sewing class right out of high school eons ago. I’m going to start paying more attention as there are many times I can tell that matching the selveges is not accurate. Thanks again.

  23. Rhea says:

    I have worked in a shop for 12 years and owned one for the past 6 years, and I would like to address the issue at hand and one other issue that I have seen pop up in the comments:

    1) As someone who began working at a fabric shop when she was 19 years old, knowledge of “True-ing Up” a fabric (or any other fabric-related issue) has NOTHING to do with age. I’ve been to plenty of shops staffed by older ladies who DIDN’T know what they were doing, and plenty of shops staffed by older women who DID know what they were doing.

    The same is true of younger staff members.

    If you were taught well, you were taught well, regardless of your age.

    It hurts me deeply as someone who has been a target of age-ism in my own fabric shop when people make generalized comments that”these young people don’t know what they are doing.”

    I will admit that certain young people don’t know what they are doing and certain older people don’t know what they are doing, but the opposite is certainly true as well.

    2) In the 12 years I have been working in a fabric store, I have only ever heard negative comments regarding shops that cut and tear. My customers are much more upset when shops cut and tear than when we simply cut and oftentimes they refuse to buy in shops that cut and tear. It has been my experience that most people feel cutting and tearing distorts the fabric more than anything. I agree that certain people out there may not be cutting and tearing properly, but at least to my knowledge, the stigma attached to cutting and tearing is so great that even if you are properly cutting and tearing, you will get the bad press anyhow.

    Having said that, whenever we cut, we “Thumb” the fabric (meaning we cut an extra thumb’s width, or couple of inches of fabric) to compensate for the “True-ing Up” that customers may or may not have to do. Even on smaller cuts and fat quarters.

    In 12 years I have never received any negative comments about this policy.

    However, unless a customer goes home and re-measures their fabric they won’t even know that I have done this. I don’t tell my customers I have given them extra because that seems a little silly, but maybe I should tell them!

    Now I am a little worried that online shoppers may be upset if they receive a piece from my shop that may or may not be cut on-grain and then assume that they are “losing” fabric when they true-up, when in fact they received a complimentary extra few inches from me on each cut for just that reason… an extra few inches that comes out of my profits, and believe me, that adds up!

    Just 2.25″ of a fabric that costs $14.95 a yard is almost $1.00, and even if you are cutting from a fabric that costs $9.95 a yard, that is still 63 cents. If a customer has ordered 10 yards I am literally giving away at least $6.30 worth of fabric, if not more. Imagine multiplying these numbers by the last 6 years worth of fabric purchases.

    Now, I am happy to provide this service to my customers, but if they receive a piece that is not cut perfectly on the grain, please remember that as a business owner I would never let my customers be on the losing end of that deal. I cannot speak for other stores, but for my part, we ALWAYS give at least a thumbs’ width (often more) extra, which should be plenty to true-up with.

    When I am trueing-up a fabric, I bring my selvages together and smooth. I teach my students and customers to ignore what is going on on the fabric’s cut edges, and that oftentimes they will find when they bring selvages together and smooth that there will be some pretty funky cut edges going on, usually due to the way a fabric is wound on the bolt. But, if they keep the edge of their cutting tool/ruler PERPENDICULAR to the selvages, they will be cutting on the straight of the grain.

    This has always worked for me and I cannot recall even one case where this method has resulted in a compromised finished project.

    Sorry to be long-winded! This certainly is a hot-button issue, and I am very glad to be able to read all sides of the situation and to give my opinion as well. I’ve really learned a lot by reading this post and all the comments.

    Thanks, Kim!

  24. Jacquie says:

    My lqs pulls threads when they cut. Takes longer, but I get what I pay for. I true up my cuts depending on what I’m working on.

  25. Erica K says:

    Hmm, that’s interesting. I always just meet up the selvedges and cut a nice straight line according the the fold. I have no idea if it’s true or not. Does it matter in quilting? I have no idea. But that being said, if I care too much, make too much fussy work, I just won’t want to do it. I already hate the idea of squaring up my work…hate indeed, and lots of times don’t even bother to do it. If this is really necessary in clothes making, I may just skip learning altogether. :( I sew as an outlet, so it needs to be fun and carefree! :)

  26. SarahB says:

    I marked “cut” in the survey above because that’s what I do, though I spend far too much time fiddling with the fabric straightening it out. I do prefer fabric I purchase be ripped rather than haphazardly cut and would pay a bit more if necessary. I don’t mind cut if it’s done carefully, I just hate seeing the waste when fabrics cut so poorly.

  27. Monica says:

    Yes, I true up. Even on knit fabrics I often trace a row of knits with a drawn line to get my grain straight. I get annoyed when I end up with not enough fabric to make a garment because I lost so much fabric with it squared up.

    A note on the survey, the more expensive of fabric I buy, the more additional I am willing to pay for a true cut.

  28. Cat says:

    First thing I was taught (by quilting grandmas) is Wash immediately after buying fabrics to pre-shrink and remove sizing.

    Then after it’s dry, try stretching a fabric first, by grabbing opposite corners and pulling until selvages line up. This often does wonders to true-up a well woven material. You need a partner at the other end for long yardage. Cheaper runs aren’t so easy to fix.

    We always washed and straightened, then put away in Stash, so it would be ready when you got an itch to sew.

    Fabric stores used to give you 3 or 4 extra inches, rip or straight cut with scissors. At least you had a bit to work with even after pre-shrinking.

    I sell mostly Vintage remnants from quilters Stash collections, so often they are pre-washed with rough straggly edges. I use a Rotary cutter to neaten, lighten cost to ship and not “sell the waste”

    A good rule of thumb is to purchase at least a quarter yard more than you think you’ll need

  29. Nell Gleason says:

    Lately I’ve been on a Liberty binge and found that all the on line UK sellers rip, (plus they measure by the meter so 3 “extra” inches are “included”) and have so little waste compared to the premium quilting fabrics which always seem to be printed off grain. I have learned to avoid large scale directional prints from some of the famous designers / manufacturers because of the waste in truing the fabrics was very frustrating to me. In somethings I am a perfectionist, not many, but cutting on grain is one of them. Cutting along the print when it is off grain is like nails to a chalk board. Sometimes, and it seems more frequent with the Japanese fabrics, I can cut perpendicular to the selvedge and be on grain, and those are exciting times in my studio! Thank you for this great post!

  30. Patsy says:

    Well, I’m a long time sewist ands former teacher of Home Economics and I have yet to read the correct answer to truing up fabric. Cat had part of it right but didn’t go quite far enough. First, if fabric is washable, wash to remove sizing as she said, then pull a thread or rip to true ends. The next step is to fold the fabric with selvages and trued ends together. If there are funky diagonal folds on the folded edge of the fabric (where the original fold line was), then the fabric must be pulled/stretched to eliminate the problem. If you have more than a yard of fabric, you will need help to do this. To decide where to pull, slip the selvage edges separately until you have a folded edge w/no diagonals. You would pull the corner that is furthest away from you and the person at the other end of the fabric would do the same thing. You would be pulling opposite corners. If there are several yds of fabric, you would need to pull in several places along the selvage with your helper doing the same thing until you can fold the fabric and get no funky folds. I am not a quilter so don’t know the protocol for fabric prep for quilting, but in garment construction, the garment will never hang properly if it is not trued properly.

  31. Cat says:

    Thanks SEW MUCH, Patsy… MUCH better explanation!

    I learned to sew early as a survival skill. Quilting at Church Quilt Bees, sewing my own school clothes, chorus dresses, Bridesmaids dresses, etc. And of course, dressing up my Babies.

    As a young girl we went to a big Fabric Warehouse with a small budget for patterns, material & notions. I remember a lot of ripping, and some expert cutting going on, too. Most fabrics would be pretty doggone true when you got it home, though.

    If a successful quilting adventure is your goal, always pre-shrunk before starting, then I think the IRON is your Next Best Friend. Repeat after me: I do have an Iron and I know how to use it… Then invest in a big Clear ruler with a Rotary cutter and you will ROCK!

    I never iron fabric until I am ready to cut though. That is all I would have time to do, because I buy fabric by the trunkload : |

    I am more inclined to straighten just before cutting after I press. I press A LOT as a quilter/sewer, you really get to know how your fabric handles at an intimate level that way. Not much “new” fabric out there of comparable quality that behaves well so I prefer earlier Vintage Fabrics (made before about 1980). Once you taste Vintage you’ll never go back…

  32. Patsy says:

    For anyone who is interested, there is a wonderful section on “graining up” in Roberta Carr’s book “Couture – The Art of Fine Sewing” from Palmer/Pletsch. It is available on Amazon. Roberta was a wonderful role model for couturist. I was fortunate to have several classes w/her and she was adamant about the preparation of fabric. Her book is my sewing bible !

  33. Patsy says:

    One last thing !! Maybe I’ve just missed the information, but I do not ever recall seeing a bolt of fabric that was “Guaranteed True” and I always read the end of the bolt! And one more “last thing”, crappy fabric gives crappy results or a nicer way to say it “You get what you pay for”. AMEN

  34. Erica K says:

    What have you done!?! :D Ever since I read this post I’ve been noticing how ‘untrue’ my fat quarters are. And I’ve been cutting more mindfully. I even ripped and tried the pulled thread thing (the thread just kept breaking). Anyway, it’s all your fault! :D funny…