Before you can sew a project, you need to cut out the pattern pieces. Commercial sewing patterns provide you with pattern layouts that show how to position each tissue pattern piece on your fabric. To the beginner, these layouts can sometimes be confusing. Learn the basics of grain and nap to increase your confidence in pattern cutting layouts.
Fabric Grain: Warp and Weft
Woven fabrics consist of lengthwise threads (warp) and crosswise threads (weft.) On the side edges of the fabric, the warp threads are closer together and make edges we call the selvedges. The grain line arrows on your pattern pieces are to line up parallel to the selvedges, and thus to the lengthwise threads of the fabric. Cutting with the straight grain of the fabric prevents pieces from stretching out of shape during sewing or wear.
Pieces that are to be cut on the fold are marked by a line with arrows pointing to the fold line. In this case you have half a pattern piece and the fold will enable you to cut the entire symmetrical piece.
Occasionally your grain line arrow will be at a 45-degree angle to the usual grain line. If this is the case, you are cutting the piece on the bias (diagonal.) Bias is used for pieces that are supposed to have some stretch. You will most often see bias used in skirt pieces, draped bodices, or lingerie. You will still line up the arrow of the pattern piece with the selvedge, but the piece will look crooked compared to the usual layout.
Nap and One-Way Designs
To illustrate nap, imagine petting a cat. If you pet the cat one way, it feels smooth and the cat purrs. Rub your hand the other way and the cat might not be as happy! A cat has nap, or direction. Textured fabrics may also have nap. Velvet, corduroy, suede, velour, and terry cloth are all fabrics with nap. When cutting such fabrics, use the “with nap” pattern layout for cutting. In this layout, the tops of all pattern pieces are facing the same way. If a piece were accidentally cut the wrong way, the piece would appear darker or lighter than all the other pieces because the surface would face the wrong way.
One-way designs are also cut with nap layouts. Some one-way prints are easy to spot. For example, a dog print with all the dogs right side up needs a nap pattern layout. Sometimes one-way fabrics are subtle, however, so check florals and other prints to see of the motifs are all lined up or scattered willy-nilly. Fabrics that reflect light, such as satins and taffetas, should be cut with nap layouts to be sure some pieces do not look shinier than others in the completed garment.
Nap layouts often require more fabric than regular layouts, so be sure to buy the yardage recommended on the pattern envelope for “with nap.” When in doubt, it is always safe to use the nap layout.
Final Cutting Notes
Pay attention to the layout and to notes on the individual pattern pieces. If your pattern uses more than one fabric for contrast, lining, or underlining, use the layouts given for each fabric. At the top of the layout you will see a list of the pattern pieces that will be cut from each fabric. For example, you may need to cut the bodice pieces out of both fashion fabric and lining fabric. Sometimes a garment has separate pattern pieces for linings, so be sure not to confuse these with the regular garment pieces. Each piece is numbered, so just stay alert and follow your layouts.