Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jargon of the Week - Grain

Last week we defined selvage. This week, I'll explain what the grain of a fabric is. defines grain as:
grain [greyn]
1. a small, hard seed, esp. the seed of a food plant such as wheat, corn, rye, oats, rice, or millet.
2. the gathered seed of food plants, esp. of cereal plants.
3. such plants collectively.
4. any small, hard particle, as of sand, gold, pepper, or gunpowder.
5. the smallest unit of weight in most systems, originally determined by the weight of a plump grain of wheat. In the U.S. and British systems, as in avoirdupois, troy, and apothecaries' weights, the grain is identical. In an avoirdupois ounce there are 437.5 grains; in the troy and apothecaries' ounces there are 480 grains (one grain equals 0.0648 gram).
6. the smallest possible amount of anything: a grain of truth.
7. the arrangement or direction of fibers in wood, or the pattern resulting from this.
8. the direction in which the fibers of a piece of dressed wood, as a board, rise to the surface: You should work with or across the grain, but never against.
9. the side of leather from which the hair has been removed.
10. a stamped pattern that imitates the natural grain of leather: used either on leather to simulate a different type of natural leather, or on coated cloth.
11. Textiles.
a. the fibers or yarn in a piece of fabric as differentiated from the fabric itself.
b. the direction of threads in a woven fabric in relation to the selvage.
12. the lamination or cleavage of stone, coal, etc.
13. Metallurgy. any of the individual crystalline particles forming a metal.
14. Jewelry. a unit of weight equal to 50 milligrams or 1/4 carat, used for pearls and sometimes for diamonds.
15. the size of constituent particles of any substance; texture: sugar of fine grain.
16. a granular texture or appearance: a stone of coarse grain.
17. a state of crystallization: boiled to the grain.
18. temper or natural character: two brothers of similar grain.
19. Rocketry. a unit of solid propellant.
20. Obsolete. color or hue.

–verb (used with object)
21. to form into grains; granulate.
22. to give a granular appearance to.
23. to paint in imitation of the grain of wood, stone, etc.: metal doors grained to resemble oak.
24. to feed grain to (an animal).
25. Tanning.
a. to remove the hair from (skins).
b. to soften and raise the grain of (leather).

26. against the or one's grain, in opposition to one's temper, inclination, or character: Haggling always went against her grain.
27. with a grain of salt. salt 1 (def. 23).

1250–1300; ME grain, grein < OF grain < L grānum seed, grain; see corn 1

Definition #11 is fairly close to the fabric definition of a grain. Let's go a little more in depth, though.
There are two types of grains: crosswise & lengthwise (shown in above diagram).

The crosswise grain runs perpendicular to the selvage. The crosswise grain is sometimes referred to as the cross grain. Most of the time the crosswise grain is looser and stretches more than the lengthwise grain.

The lengthwise grain runs parallel to the selvage. If you pull on the fabric, it is usually less stretchy than the crosswise grain.

What does it mean when a fabric is said to be grain perfect or on grain?
Grain perfect or on grain means that when the fabric was woven, it was woven at a perfect right angle. This means that the threads in the fabric are all aligned properly and the crosswise grain and lengthwise grain are at a perfect 90 degree angle to one another.

Can I use a fabric that is not grain perfect?
Yes! If it is only off a slight bit, it won't hurt anything. A fabric that is off significantly from grain perfect, however, requires extra special attention to make sure it works nicely in your project.

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