A shift into neutral and a grainline mystery

Every time I make some kind of pronouncement – like “Hey, I’m into sewing colorful fabrics now!” – I seem to go out of my way to defy myself. Well, it’s happened again. No sooner had I written that post did I sew a string of neutral projects.

The evidence is quite damning:

In addition to these nine (!) projects, I sewed a couple of grey pieces in March. One is a total success and the other a total failure that I could use some input on.

First up – the success! These pants are sewn up in a thick linen woven using Vogue 8909.

crabandbee.com | Vogue 8909 grey linen pants

I’ve sewn the pattern up three times before, blogged only once as part of a tiger costume.

This time, I shifted the front seams in by another inch and added 2″ of ease to the hips in the rear. I like my hip ease. I’d also shortened the rise by 1″ in an earlier iteration (and as you can see, they are by no means low-rise even after the alteration.)


I also lowered the back yoke line by 1″. These are my dream lounge pants, but nice enough (I think? I hope?) to wear to my casual-ish desk job.

And now, the fail: a longline cardigan based on McCall’s 6886.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6886 long-line cardigan pattern hack

To be clear, I think the pattern was a good choice for this project. I altered McCall’s 6886 to include a front opening and a low v-neck. I also think these photos of the cardigan look GREAT.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6886 long-line cardigan pattern hack

The fail is due to the fabric. I washed this 100% wool sweater knit on cold, and dried it in the machine. (Worth noting: I am cavalier with most fabrics. For a pre-wash, I machine wash and dry almost everything except coatings and lace. I baby my fabrics later by minimizing washings and line-drying, but I like to minimize surprises if a piece accidentally gets thrown in the wash.) No unexpected shrinkage, BUT the grainline shifted dramatically. The horizontal striations were now at a jaunty angle. After consulting with the fabric seller, I had mostly straightened it by dampening it and blocking it. So I cut and sewed it and was happy with it. As I wore it, the side seams began to skew but not so terribly that I wouldn’t wear it.

But, as time went on, the fabric relaxed, especially in the arm scye. Back it went into the washer/dryer, after which the side seams skewed dramatically to the point where the buttons now form a diagonal line across my front. Not only that, but the button band edges now form a very ripply fold.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6886 long-line cardigan pattern hack

I’m not here to blame the seller, because I think every fabric care suggestion would tell me not to put wool sweater knit into a washer or dryer. But, I am curious – is this sweater knit intrinsically off-grain or did I make it so?

I have a yard or so left, and my thought is to sew something leaving the striations slanted and let the fabric do what it wants to do. I see quite a few RTW garments do that, so while it’s not my favorite look, I wouldn’t be conspicuous and the fabric wouldn’t go to waste.

Lastly, I shall leave you with a bonus project – the black tank I’m wearing with both of these grey projects!

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6886 black viscose tank top

It’s another McCall’s 6886 in black viscose, bringing my neutral sewing total up to twelve pieces. It’s quickly become one of my most-worn pieces as my two black RTW tanks (purchased in 2008 and 2011) disintegrate. I love the drape of the fabric.

Thanks for stopping by, and please do share any knowledge you might have about knit fabric grainlines!


61 thoughts on “A shift into neutral and a grainline mystery

  1. Even a hand knit sweater gets wonky if you wash/dry it like that.
    You *might* be able to reblock it back into the correct shape, like you did after washing, but I doubt it would ever be perfect. Plus, everytime you wear it, the hairs of the wool become warm and damp, which is likely what caused it to slowly get wonky. It’s like curly hair, it needs lots of shaping or once it gets humid, it’s going to do what it wants!

    I think:
    Either wash/dry and go with whatever wonky grain you get or accept that the garment will require more babying than most bras!

    On the plus side, it’s super pretty in the pictures!!

    1. I think this cardigan will need to be harvested for fabric, unfortunately. I doubt it will ever regain its shape! I think I will accept the grain as-is and maybe just buy sweater-knit cardigans from now on 🙂

  2. Oh no! that is bad… 😦 although like Chris above I wouldn’t ever toss knits in the dryer either. My machine has a gentle cycle that I use for all woollens and silks, and I line-dry everything. Probably easy for me, living in a hot dry climate, but even during wet wintery days I hang everything up. I use my dryer really rarely, and only as a last resort, like say; you’ve washed the sheets, hung them up all day, it’s getting late in the evening, they’re still damp and you need to make up the bed to actually sleep in it!
    I really love the trousers and the tank top though, very you. You look terrific in dark neutrals like this 🙂

    1. That’s awesome – dryers are really hard on clothing and huge energy hogs! I love air-drying and pressing but our weather is cool and damp for half the year or so. I’ve also had some laundry heartbreaks so I like to try and beat those to the punch. To make matters more confusing, other wool knits I’ve worked with weathered a wash and dry just fine. But I understand it’s risky treatment! 🙂 Thanks for the kind words on the tank and trousers!

  3. I love these colors, and I think it’s great that your choices have been so consistent. I think that’s a great basis for a wearable wardrobe.

    My problem is the opposite I guess — while I love black, navy, and gray, I find it easier to buy patterned fabric simply because it’s more eye-catching. I try to make an effort to balance purchases of patterned fabric with solids in those colors. But then I realize I need to brighten things up a bit. So that’s another conundrum 😉

    1. That’s a smart strategy, mixing prints with matching solids! I like prints so much on other people and can’t see to buy them myself. I’m guessing I’ll start picking some brighter colors soon, though – the pendulum has to swing sometime!

  4. I have no solutions to your Grainline mysteries and it’s happened to me before with a linen knit – it looked like a herd of drunk monkeys had attacked it mid wash – and I was gentle washing it… however I am also very cavalier with most of my fabric. I call it the ‘lifestyle test’ 😉

    1. Oh yes, I think linen knit is a big offender! The only one I’ve worked with had the same issue; that time just cut on the grain the fabric had chosen after I washed and dried (aka your ‘lifestyle test’, which is right on the money!)

  5. I love the linen pants!! I’ve been looking at a couple of similar burda patterns to make a pair of pants like this. I have no insight for the cardigan. But I always wash and dry all my fabric, too. If I can’t do that with the garment I make, I can guarantee it won’t get worn!

  6. It all looks fantastic. I’m the same way with my fabric in that it goes through the washer and dryer before sewing it up and then try to line dry. With the knit you will probably have to wet block it after every wash and then dry flat. Its a lot of work but is your best bet. I wash my hand knit sweaters by hand with eucalan and then pull them into shape and dry them flat on a mesh disk meant for that sort of thing. This means I don’t wash them very often. This knit might want to always be diagonal because it was knit in the round and then cut into a flat piece meaning it might always want to pull back to where it was. Good luck with the rest of the yardage.

    1. Ooh, yes, I forgot to mention it but I’m 99% sure it was knit in the round – there was no selvedge, just a cut. Does being knit in the round skew the grain?

      I will say I also wouldn’t toss a hand-knit sweater in a washer or dryer, but this fabric is really more of a jersey. I’ve had ok luck washing wool jerseys a couple of times before, but not this time!

      1. Renee nailed it. If it was knit in the round, it doesn’t have a true grain: a piece knit in the round looks like a tube but is really a spiral. The end of each round is offset from the beginning of each round, because the end of the round has to “step up” on top of beginning of the round to start a new round. There are tricks a handknitter can employ to minimize this step effect (usually called a jog); if you’re ever knitting in the round, particularly stripes, check out TECHKnitter’s blog. But even if the fabric is cut open exactly along the round change, when laid flat the fabric is going to behave more like a parallelogram than a rectangle. I’m sure it’s a thin comfort, but it was very likely to skew no matter how you washed it.

        I hope you’re able to salvage the fabric into something you can enjoy more. My best piece of advice would be to try to find a pattern that has more/shorter seams, since seams will stabilize the fabric and counteract any skewing. Good luck!

      2. Yes. When you knit in the round you essentially knit in a spiral which can look like things are on the diagonal when the tube that is made is cut open. Not always so noticeable though especially on a finer knit.

  7. Those pants in that linen! ❤ ❤ ❤ Must try 'em out. I have no knowledge about weird grainline issues, but there's something kind of hilarious about that image of the cardigan on the hanger. Like it's… smirking at you?

    1. It’s TOTALLY SMIRKING. That fabric does what it wants and it doesn’t care who knows it.

      When I left that comment on your post, I realized I’d better write about this pattern! I’d been talking it up all over town.

  8. I just made a striped t-shirt with fabric that was off grain like your knit. I laid the fabric out in a single layer, let the selvages stick out at weird angles, and cut my pieces with the grainlines perpendicular to the stripes instead of parallel to the selvage. I’ve washed and dried the finished tee, and no twisting at all. I don’t know if that would work for all knits but it worked well in my situation.

    1. Hi Karen, I’m actually wondering if your piece of fabric wasn’t off grain as much as cut badly! There was no way to match my fabric to both the grain and the horizontal striations. Either way, I’m glad your shirt turned out well and didn’t give you any nasty surprises in the wash!

  9. The tank and pants are 👌🏼. I put everything through the washing machine and dryer too. It will deffo accidentally make it in there accidentally one day. Merino can be reliably tumble dried, bless it.

  10. Ah no, shame about the knit. Both look great on. My understanding of knit fabrics is that they are knit in the round (in a tube), so the grain always gets dragged to one direction. I always try and go with the fabric. Either the cross grain or the lengthway grain looks wonky (I go with length unless it’s a stripe). If you look at RTW knits like t-shirts often have side seams that bear to one direction for the same reason.

  11. They do look to be the perfect lounge pants. I am no help on the grainline of knitted fabrics, though I would wash your remaining piece several times before using it in its skewed state.

  12. Oh Morgan, very kind of you to have this little fabric tragedy so that I can hopefully avoid it with an organic cotton slub knit I just bought! It’s wildly off-grain and I’ve been puzzling over whether to try and force it to lie on-grain in order to cut, or to let it do what it wants. Based on your cardigan and Karen and Marilla’s comments, I’m going to let it be wonky. I also try to give fabrics a rougher wash than they’re likely to get as garments, just to be sure – although, like Carolyn, I never dry anything by machine (don’t have one). Yes, apparently knitting in a tube = twisting, and I’m sure I even read somewhere that you shouldn’t knit a jumper in the round with single ply yarn, because that will be extra twisty (something about a second ply balancing out some of the twist in a yarn??). Your trousers and tank look great.

    1. You’re welcome! I’m glad someone can learn from my issues. Fascinating about the hand-knitting parallels – wonder if this factory was cutting major corners?

  13. Oh, such a shame about the sweater! I’ve had that happen to me with jersey knits, and it’s so frustrating. I’ve always gone with the off-grain when cutting, because I figure the fabric is gonna do what it wants to do… Love these pieces you made. I’ve been so drawn to neutrals and solids lately and have hardly bought or sewn any prints! I suppose it’s all about balance!

  14. Thanks so much for posting this – although it may not save your cardi, it is for the good of sewing-kind! I hadn’t realised that about knit fabric made in the round. I am intrigued now as to whether it’s all made in the round and the ‘selvedge’ you often get is just a treatment of the cut edge, hmm. The only time I’ve ever worked with a wildly off-grain knit I lined up the horizontal and ignored the vertical grain, which was way off-kilter. The garment has behaved perfectly since.

    1. Fascinating, I would not have expected that would work! The world of knits is mysterious to me. I’ve seen a lot of knits with just cut edges but a few with selvedges, too.

    2. Some knits are knitted flat, so the selvedge is actually a selvedge. I often see circular knits that are sold still in tube form (rib knits, in particular) and really infrequently see a tube that’s been cut.

  15. So I’m not the only one who makes claims to only rebel against said claims.

    I like the neutral palette and need more of these staples in my wardrobe. I love your lounge pants!! Hmmm I wonderful if I have a piece if linen large enough in the stash?!?

    It’s too bad about the sweater…thanks for the tip about allowing the fabric to just “do its thing”. Hopefully you can rescue your remaining piece.

    1. There are at least two of us 🙂 I managed to eke these pants out of slightly over a yard of 55″ish fabric but I think I shortened them slightly as I have short legs for my height.

      I think I will just embrace the slanting striations and cut along the “grain” (in quotes because apparently knits do not have a grain, strictly speaking!)

  16. I love the linen lounge pants. That pattern has been in my queue forever. I gotta get to it. I just hate fitting pants.
    It’s too bad about the cardigan, but I think machine washing it was definitely the problem. Next time, hand wash & lay flat to dry!

  17. I love your loungers! They strike a great balance between cozy and chic. I could easily see wearing these to the office! It’s really strange that your wool behaved the way it did. However, knitted fabrics that are produced in the round either by hand or on a machine don’t have a true grain. The structure of the fabric is, in essence, a helix. You can really see this when you’re trying to knit stripes in the round. The colors appear to ‘jump’ between rows.

    1. Ah, good to know! It’s so interesting to hear a knitter’s perspective on knit fabric. It seems like the jump should be pretty minor with yarn so small, though, right?

  18. I love all these pieces, and I really wish I could help you with the wool fabric, but I have no idea. I think those pants are the perfect, comfy casual pant, and I could totally see wearing them to work. I’m loving all your neutrals!

    1. I’m going to take the attitude that the fabric is going to do what it wants and sew it up accordingly! I think I’m coming to grips with the fact I don’t love sewing with knits… they’re so squirrely!

  19. Well this is weird. I’m making brighter clothes (due to some kindly comments from clients) and have just written an (as yet unpublished) blog post with my thoughts! Neutrals feel so much more sophisticated to me, but I’m going to give brights a go now the sun is out.
    Regarding the cardigan (which I really like on you, by the way). My mum told me to always wash woollens either by hand or in the machine on a wool wash with a special wool wash liquid then dry flat. So I either dry them on an airer shelf (the kind that goes over the bath and folds very flat) or on a mesh garden chair outside in the summer. I think tumble drying knits can lead to felting as well as grain issues – probably not worth the tears!

    1. I’m excited to read your post! I think I like bright, deep colors or neutrals, nothing in between.

      I will definitely rethink my approach to woolen knit fabric in the future – if I have the heart to try again! I do worry about a fabric that can’t accidentally get sent through the wash, though. Cardigans are a wardrobe blind spot for me… I don’t really like sewing them, but they are difficult to thrift!

  20. Ooh such interesting discussions… Clever ladies to think of the tube factor. I do love your neutrals, and the pants are great. So sad about the cardi…. I can’t offer dryer thoughts as I don’t have one(but like Carolyn had damp sheets at bed time the other night so briefly yearned for one!). I do machine wash all my wool knits, on the cool hand wash cycle and air dry flat. I’ve never bought a tube knit before and now never will, so thankyou for that learning experience!

    1. My pain is your gain! This and a linen knit I bought are the only issues I’ve had with skewed grains… I wonder why? I bought a tubular hemp/cotton blend with no problems.

  21. Love the pants! I’ve had this pattern on my to do list after spotting it in various blogs. I think they look really comfy and stylish at the same time 🙂 I don’t know anything about knits but I’ve enjoyed reading the comments. Thanks!

  22. I loved your bright clothes but you do neutrals so well Morgan! These trousers and vest look so stylish and comfortable, a hard combination to put together I think. What a shame about your cardigan, it looked so good in those top photos!

    1. Thanks, Kathryn! I’m hoping I can resurrect the cardigan and the rest of my fabric into something wearable. It was lovely while it lasted in its previous form.

  23. you’re killing it with all these neutrals (cardigan issues aside).. i would steal your pants in a heartbeat (but no way i can fit into them, so i’ll have to sew my own)

  24. Snap! I’m in the middle of a bit of a monochromatic phase at the moment as well. It’s just so great when you know things will coordinate without any effort. I did buy some cherry red wool for a cowl yesterday though in an effort to mix things up a bit. Love your pants by the way, off to google that pattern STAT!

    1. I think your instincts to throw some cherry red in the mix are good! The pendulum usually shifts towards brights and prints when I realize I’m trying to wear two shades of grey, some navy and some black all in one outfit!

  25. Love the pants! I just made that pattern up with an upcycled jersey maxi dress and they’re more like summery pj pants, excited to make a more wearable version. Might need that tank pattern also!!

    1. Oh nice! I’ve wanted to sew it up in a knit at some point (although given my track record, maybe I should just hold off!) I really like McCall’s 6886 – it’s really versatile!

  26. I love neutrals and all three pieces are great. too bad for the unluckiest cardi ever, it had the perfect design 😦 … on that I’m with the no dryer let it be crowd – i just fold it in two lengthwise and let it hang, when it hangs well, the fold line is what i’d consider “gainline”

    1. You always have the most unusual tips! I’m going to remember that one (although sadly it wouldn’t have worked for this one as it was a tubular knit cut in a most haphazard way!)

  27. I didn’t know that tubular knits would twist… But that totally explains why one of my handknit sweaters is twisting like crazy – and it’s absolutely noticeable because of a high low hem. Sad thing.
    As for knits with wonky grainlines – at least when they are not knit in the round – it’s a manufacturing issue. I’ve bought some pretty cheap knits with very diagonal grainlines in the past and I always ignore the edge and trust the vertical stitch direction. I always planned for those clothes to be wearable muslims, but they held up really well and did not ever twist. I’ve been wearing some for over 3 years with nothing to report except that I could have been more careful with my choice of serging thread color 🙂
    So my advice: if the fabric wants to twist, work the twist!

    1. I’m sorry about your sweater 😦 That’s much worse than having a sewing project twist!

      I’m probably going to re-visit that fabric now that we’re approaching fall, and will definitely be letting it do what it wants to do!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s