True Up Follow Up!

{ Some nicely ripped fabric from my stash. }

My post from a few weeks back Do You True Up? garnered lots of great feedback (both in the comments and via email), and I learned a thing or two, so I wanted to post a follow-up.

One big surprise for me was that it sounds like ripping is de rigueur outside the U.S. Non-U.S. folks, is this true? Are most fabrics ripped rather than cut from the bolt or roll? I’m thinking of fabric orders I’ve received from Japan, and they’re cut, if memory serves. Maybe there’s an online vs. brick & mortar divide at work here, too. And Chantal from the London, Ontario-based Hyggeligt wrote and said “I have quilters that would faint if I ripped their fabric and others that are pleased I would follow the [print] instead of being ‘true’.”

According to commenter Patsy, my trueing up instructions didn’t go far enough. She mentions that you have to wash first, then rip/pull a thread to true the ends, then ease to straighten the grain:

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.

The poll results indicate that most of don’t put in much extra effort beyond folding selvage to selvage and cutting, and don’t expect fabric shops to do so either. However, there was a vocal minority in the comments who routinely find that their fabrics are not cut true to grain, and that doing so themselves at home results in the loss of a few inches up to a quarter yard (!) of fabric, which makes them mad. And rightly so. I think everyone, from shop owners to fabric buyers, would agree that when you order a certain amount of fabric, you should receive that amount of usable fabric.

I can understand how people might perceive ripping as a brutal and careless way to remove fabric from the bolt, and a few commenters said they don’t like how it results in wavy/slightly stretched edges, but probably at least as many (including myself) prefer the rip.

I don’t think I’ve ever been given the choice, but I think if shops asked customers if they had a preference for cutting or ripping, experienced sewists would appreciate it, and it would be a chance to provide newbies with a little education. (A couple commenters said their local fabric shops use the thread-pulling method — wow!) Then again, I can also see how that would result in waste and potential chaos. Customer A wants it ripped, then Customer B wants the same fabric cut and doesn’t like the looks of the ripped edge, so the retailer has to cut a little off before cutting B’s length. Customer C wants the fabric cut true to the print and doesn’t care about grain, and the print is slightly off-grain, so after C leaves, the cut edge coming off the bolt is un-true, which means more waste trueing up for Customer D. I don’t blame retailers for wanting to stick to one method.

Indeed, most of the shop owners who responded to the post balked at the prospect of having to judiciously true up their fabrics. Anything that adds extra time or wastes fabric from the bolt can really add up, eventually hurting a shop’s bottom line, especially in These Tough Economic Times. Again, I think ripping is a good solution — it is faster and results in less waste — but if a portion of customers don’t like it, is it worth it?

Rhea from Alewives Fabrics shares her solution in this very helpful comment) — she cuts a couple inches extra (she uses a thumb’s length). That costs her extra (she even runs down the numbers), but it is enough to allow the customer to true up at home according to his or her preferences and, in the vast majority of cases, still end up with the amount of fabric they paid for. Of course, we’re now getting into pricing issues, which is a whole big sensitive issue unto itself that needs to be addressed here eventually.


  1. Great follow up post, thank you so much – Rhea’s comment makes great reading.

    I’ve been thinking about this ever since the original post – One fabric shop I go to a lot always tears the fabric – but they are more for dressmaking … the LQS always cuts using a ruler and a rotary cutter! Different strokes …

    I guess online stores cut because it looks neater (even if they sometimes ruin it all by shoving it in the envelope, LOL)

    I always tear when I get home if it’s 1/2 yard or more – If it’s a FQ I just trim!

  2. Lisa says:

    I always true up and believe it is the reason my quilts are always flat and non-rippley. I really do not like when shops rip my fabric – - – actually, there is not a shop in my area that rips fabric any longer, and I have many shops to choose from. Most owners give an extra inch or so to allow for the owner to true up – if they don’t, I’ll usually shop elsewhere.

  3. Laura B says:

    What a great series! I had a big problem with double gauze over the summer, one customer reported to me that her DG was off by 1/2 an inch or more on a series of 1/2 yard cuts. What I discovered is that it is impossible to true up the double gauze and have since made it a personal policy to cut at least a couple of inches extra of DG, and an inch or two extra of the other fabrics, and a half an inch extra on FQ’s. While it’s true that I will lose money over time I would rather have customers that feel like they got a little extra than a little less than they paid for. I have seen a few bolts from American and Japanese manufacturers unroll wonky-like and I do ponder what am I supposed to do about this, with 10-15 yards on the bolt there is no easy way to smooth out the irregular shape. Hopefully we can all understand that shop owners do the best that we can and appreciate when our customers let us know about their issues so we can remedy issues promptly.

  4. Jacqui says:

    Thanks for following that post up – I’ve just gone back and read all the comments after mine and it does make for interesting reading! Here in New Zealand it seems like the LQS cut with a rotary cutter and mat, the garment fabric places rip or cut depending on the fabric, and the chain places cut no matter what. I was one of the people who complained about badly cut fabrics and how much you can lose and I just wanted to add to that in response to one store owner’s concerns that I think most people who true up the fabrics realise when extra has been included to compensate for any issues, and I for one really appreciate that. The times I’ve found the fabric to be way off true I’ve actually carefully measured the usable section so that I know for sure what I’ve got. I’m not very good at complaining about things like that though, but perhaps retailers would like to know if they’re inadvertently ripping off (haha) their customers? I make a lot of clothes and know the importance of fabric running on the grain, but maybe it’s less important to quilters and therefore the retailers may be unaware of what they’re doing.

  5. Jan says:

    Such a great topic…thanks for presenting so many points of view, Kim! (I prefer ripping, btw.)
    I just got back from Tokyo and found once again that fabric retailers there seem to be most generous in their measuring, adding several inches to each half meter cut.

  6. Cathy A says:

    For what it’s worth…I cut generously, like Rhea mentioned in her post. And I’m sure it adds up quickly, but I try not to think too much about that. I have one particular print that is so clearly off in the way it’s printed on the fabric that I’ve been giving several inches–probably 1/8 yard or more to help the compensate for this. It’s the most expensive fabric that I have, but I don’t feel right selling 1 yard if the customer will really have so much less of a yard to work with.

    I wonder about a fabric that’s printed off–meaning a straight line in the print doesn’t match up with the grain of the fabric. Can that ever be rectified? I would have fits trying to deal with that, which is part of the reason that I rotary cut or cut with a scissor and just add an inch or so.

    Also, I think of fabric as a non-perfect sort of item, rather like yarn. It’s not like molded plastic, so I don’t expect that kind of precision. It’s probably a bit of a personality thing, and I’m a pretty laid back person who likes to avoid hopes of perfection because I’m almost always disappointed when I do. (Although I sometimes have to work to suppress perfectionism.)

  7. Deanna says:

    I had written out a long response to the original post, but due to a temporary glitch, it didn’t post @__@

    Anyway, I didn’t realize just straightening the fold and trimming the edge straight counted as “trueing up”. When I was little and learning to sew, one of my (vintage) kiddy books went into depth about how to true up (checking to make sure the grain is straight), pulling the thread and cutting a line and how to correct a slight skew by steaming and pulling the fabric. The big problem is many fabrics that are skewed are printed on the skew…so straightening it can distort the image. It seems like generic prints from chain fabric stores are more prone to being printed on a skewed fabric; and because they can’t be made true I try to avoid them. Higher quality brand cottons seem to be printed true most/more of the time though.

    Long story short, I do always true up my fabrics, but I only get tedious (thread pull method) when I am working with a fabric where it makes a large difference (yarn patterned stripes and plaids mainly). I do get kind of finicky compared to a lot of people I suppose, I tend to remove the selvages from fabrics prior to trueing up since often times they are tighter than the yardage (bunching the fabric ever so slightly, especially when it is pre-washed).

    Also, on the cutting vs. tearing debate: I hate it when fabric stores try to cut long fur fabrics, it makes such a mess and it wastes fabric (since the edges are wasted due to the chopped off pile!). If you are going to cut faux fur (rather than tear) it has to be done from the back so you only cut the backing fabric and not the pile, which is time consuming.

  8. Dana says:

    Thanks for the post. I go to one quilt shop and they rip the fabric, which I love because I have edges that are correct. Others, like major fabric stores, cut to keep the line of customers going.
    I think it has to do with the experience of the people working there and the experience the customers have. The smaller quilt shop has more experienced people working there and buying fabric. The larger chains probably have more people that do simple projects that buy fabric. They may not understand why people rip into perfectly good fabric.

    To each his/her own, I say!

  9. Sue says:

    Although I have only recently started buying fabric from Fabricworm, I am happy to report that most of their fat quarters are usually 20″ long, so you can “true up” and still get a workable 18″.

  10. Linda K says:

    It depends on the use of the fabric as to my preference of tearing or cutting. If I am going to be using the fabric for smocking or heirloom sewing, I like to have it torn. The heirloom shops I have been to always tear, to give a straight of grain. A couple of inches is always added. I have used some vintage fabrics that do not have to be trued, because greater care was taken in the weaving process. I have used some newer fabrics that are impossible to true, especially plaids and stripes, so I use them not trued. If this were a perfect world…

  11. In Australia, most patchwork shops cut fabric instead of ripping. Clothing fabric shops sometimes rip though. I’ve NEVER seen fabric ripped in Japan in any of my six fabric buying trips.

  12. Rhea says:

    Thanks for highlighting my comment, Kim: I was glad to put my two cents in as a shop owner. This is a fascinating discussion, that’s for sure! I’m glad it is continuing, because each comment I read (and I have read them ALL), has been very insightful.

  13. strikkelise says:

    I’ve seen ripping, cutting with scissors, rotary cutters and the thread pulling/scissors cutting methods in different Norwegian shops. I think it depends on the type of shop, the skill of the staff, the quality of the fabric, a lot of things. It seems that shops that sell things like curtains will be more likely to do the thread pulling thing. They will also be more concerned with making sure you get the right pattern repeat on you fabric for your curtains (you will have to buy/pay for enough fabric to get even repeats on both sides of the window, can’t remember the English word for that right now). Good retailers will give you a little extra fabric, like the length of a thumb mentioned earlier in the comments. The will also give you the the rest of the bolt for free if there’s maybe 25 cms/10 inches left.