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Tips & Techniques > Grainline Marking for Fitting

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Posted by: MarinaVK

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Member since: 9/19/09
Reviews: 10 (tips: 3)
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Posted on: 2/7/11 9:42 PM
Review Rating: Helpful by 1 people   Very Helpful by 24 people   
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"To facilitate the fittings, the dresses arrive at the studio entirely covered with guide threads. Those threads, in contrasting colours that show up clearly against the material, have been sewed through every one of the pieces that make up a dress. One follows the grain of the material, and the other is at right angles to it. The bias lies between the two. The guide threads, pitiless critics, reveal all the possible faults in the cut, and must find points of equilibrium in essential parts of the dress."

I came across this note by Christian Dior in a great book from 80s by Frances Kenneth, Secrets of the Couturiers. After reading it, I made connection with what I saw in men's bespoke tailoring where all jackets were meticulously marked for both lengthwise and crosswise grains. And Dior used tailoring techniques to the extreme.

However, browse through many sewing books and you will hardly find any line about the importance of grainline marking in fitting.

I usually take extra care when marking and cutting my garments, making sure that pattern pieces are aligned with the grain of the fabric. But, until recently, I ignored the grain line once the toile, or fashion fabric, was cut. So, I ended up making several alterations, especially, when using commercial patterns. My fitting was based on trial-and-error approach before: pulling fabric on one side, letting out on the other�

The result? DISTORTED BALANCE!!!! The garment pulled and twisted, especially after washing. Hours wasted, garments abandoned, a stash of UFOs grew because of the poor fit. Are you familiar with this scenario, dear readers? I am, unfortunately!


A wonderful book, Fitting & Pattern Alteration (a little bit pricey but absolutely worth it!) explains in detail how to use grainline to evaluate fit. The authors caution that the grainline can be difficult to recognize, especially for less experienced dressmakers.

�To simplify recognizing grainline during the fitting process and in the completed garment, it is advisable to transfer pattern grainlines onto fabric pieces with a marking tool such as pencil, transfer paper, or thread, depending on the type of fabric and the use of the garment� with practice, your eye will quickly identify grain position on the body and recognize even subtle needs for adjustments.�

I realized all the advantages of marking grainlines during my first draping project. For draping, lengthwise and crosswise grains are marked on a piece of muslin fabric in advance (especially for not-so-experienced). This makes it easier to see where there is some excess fabric, or where you need to let out more.

�Recognizing accuracy or error in the position of the fabric grain or marked grainlines while on the body provides clues as to the success or failure of the fit. For example, if a crosswise grain curves up or down where it should be parallel, it is due to a body bulge or hollow directly above the curve of the grain,� explains the Fitting & Pattern Alteration book.

Draping guides are very explicit about the grainline marking and its use in fitting. And in Haute Couture, this is an extensively used technique according to Claire Shaeffer who writes in her Threads article �Sew your Hautes� that �garment centers and crossgrains are thread traced to be used as guidelines during the fitting.� (Issue 141, Feb/Mar 2009)

Why haven�t I seen this advice in many sewing books. Well, it seams it is not in the same league as home sewing� Ok, I agree, thread tracing, tailor tucks, and similar, do require additional time; but, at the same time, grainline marking IS a great fitting shortcut.


On muslin, I mark the lines with a fineliner and, if I need them to be visible on both sides, I tread trace them, (it really depends on the complexity of design).

On fashion fabric, I thread trace grainlines. But be careful, on some type of fabrics thread-tracing may leave marks, so try on a scrap fabric and use extra fine needle and special silk basting thread for delicate fabrics.


Generally, lengthwise grain markings on a pattern are a good guide, so transfer those to your fabric making sure the line is marked all the way from the top to the bottom of the garment piece.


On skirts, mark the hip line (easy one!).

On blouses, jackets and dresses, in addition to the hipline, mark the bust line, cross-chest and cross-back lines. Claire Shaeffer explains in her book Couture Sewing Techniques: �The cross-chest and cross-back lines fall at the narrowest part of the chest and at the midpoint of the armscye. The bustline falls at the base of the underarm and may not actually be at the bust point.�

For marking crossgrain on sleeves, Shaeffer recommends marking the cap line and the biceps line. �The biceps line connects the top of the underarm seam and marks the crossgrain... The capline is located on the crossgrain midway between biceps line and shoulder point.�

For pants, it is recommended to thread trace the cross grains at the crotchline and the knee.

If you own Shaeffer�s Couture Patterns, you will find some directions on grainline marking in an introduction to pattern instructions.


Lengthwise grain should always remain straight and perpendicular to the floor, the cross grain should run parallel to the floor on all basic straight designs.

Claire Shaeffer explains how to fit the skirt toile (p. 107). I am quoting only the crossgrain related comments: �The crossgrain at the hipline should be parallel to the floor for several inches at the center front and back. As it approaches the side seams, this crossgrain will begin to drop on all skirts with any flare, but not any basic straight designs. On a correctly balanced skirt, the crossgrain will drop an equal amount on both sides.�

For sleeves, she says (p. 137) that �when the sleeve is correctly balanced, the lengthwise grain will hang straight from the shoulder point and be perpendicular to the floor, and the crossgrain will be parallel to the floor.�

On pants, the lengthwise grain will bend softly over the curve, but going downwards, from the widest point of your hips, it should run perfectly straight.

I am sure there are experienced seamstresses who have been using grainline marking for fitting for a while. But for me it is a recent discovery, and I hope these notes will save time for others. This was originally posted on my blog Frabjous Couture at

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Mole Princess said... (4/15/13 8:23 PM) Reply
Sarah Veblen's fitting book teaches the use of grainline marking as well, and is very reasonably priced.
JillyBe said... (3/6/11 4:09 AM) Reply
Brilliant information; thank you!
monijo said... (2/21/11 5:48 PM) Reply
Thanks. I've been to Boy! Am I glad I have vacation money. I will just cross some things off my list as this seems to be an incredible book. I never knew about it. Thank you again for the information. I will have a good book to read on the long flight back. You are an angel.
MarinaVK said... (2/17/11 10:30 AM) Reply
Hi Monijo, here is the book link on I would also recommend Claire Shaeffer's Custom Couture patterns, each pattern has great guidance on marking grainlines.
monijo said... (2/16/11 11:35 PM) Reply
Please give the author of the book Fitting and Pattern Alterations. I am in the United States and would like to order it before returning to Nigeria. When Jesus said we should keep our minds on higher things, maybe your post is included. Not only food for thought, but a lifting up of the mind. I have bookmarked your blog. Thank you for sharing you concentration on detail.
Annie- oh said... (2/11/11 11:36 AM) Reply
Another warm thank you!
K_sew said... (2/9/11 9:33 PM) Reply
Thank you! This is a terrific review.
SewFar said... (2/9/11 9:31 AM) Reply
Concise, clearly written and eye-opening. Many thanks, MarinaVK, for taking the time to compile the nuts and bolts of this technique for us.
Nancy Mac said... (2/9/11 8:38 AM) Reply
How enlightening! Thank you for sharing.
Charrlie said... (2/8/11 9:19 PM) Reply
Thank you so much. Helps us all.
Elaine Dougan said... (2/8/11 9:52 AM) Reply
Thank you so much for your very helpful tip.
KD in ATL said... (2/8/11 9:33 AM) Reply
Thanks for the reminder as to the importance of the basics. A good post!
Fran G said... (2/8/11 6:59 AM) Reply
Thanks for pointing out such helpful information!
SandiMacD said... (2/8/11 0:55 AM) Reply
Wonderful seemingly all inclusive tips. Nice balance of references.
my horse said... (2/7/11 10:34 PM) Reply
Excellent, well written observations. Your review will help a lot of us improve our fit.
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