Remember when we were in elementary school and made woven placemats with construction paper. Fabric is woven the same way on a larger scale. Lengthwise and crosswise threads are woven over and under to make fabric.
The majority of cotton fabric is considered a plain weave with the crosswise threads being woven over and under each lengthwise thread. Sometimes we find cotton "sateen" fabric where the crosswise threads are woven over two and under one. Cotton sateen fabric is not readily available. Standard even weave fabric is much less expensive to manufacture and is sturdier for regular use.
Cotton fabrics come in 44" - 45" widths but you should allow only 40" - 42" of usable fabric after shrinkage. If you do not pre-shrink your fabric remember that modern fabrics shrink in both length and width and not always at the same rate.
Straight grain -- the straight grain of the fabric or lengthwise grain are the threads that run parallel to the selvage. The straight grain is very firm -- if you pull the fabric on the lengthwise grain it is firm and taut -- it will not stretch.
Cross grain -- straight threads of the fabric woven from selvage to selvage or perpendicular to the selvage. Cross grain threads have more "give". If you pull the fabric on the cross grain it will have a slight give.
Directional Prints -- The direction of some prints are obvious such as trucks or animals. If you have a floral print that appears to look good in both directions but wish to use the fabric in the way the designer intended, unfold the fabric place the printed selvage edge to your left. That is the direction the designer intended. Also note the words start at the top and are read down -- similar to the spines on books.
Solid fabric -- What is the right side and wrong side of solid fabric -- technically there isn't a right or wrong of solid but some solids have a slightly different finish on the right side -- also if your solid is a dark color such as black you want to iron it on the wrong side so the shine from ironing is not on the right side.
In finishing the fabric it is stretched on rollers using small pins -- you will see the pin holes near the selvage. The fabric is pinned from the back toward the front -- so it appears the pin holes are going into the fabric from the wrong side -- if it appears the pinholes are coming out of the fabric, this is the right side.
Batiks -- Batik fabrics are usually made of higher thread count fabric that is very firmly woven. You will find that batiks don't have as much "give" on the crosswise grain as standard cotton fabric.
Selvage -- the selvage is woven differently than the remaining fabric and should be discarded. When it is included in a seam it appears different than regular fabric and makes puckers.
Bias -- bias is the diagonal of the fabric. Find the true bias by using the 45 degree angle on your rotary ruler. If you place the 45 degree angle line on grain of the fabric and make a cut it will be on the bias. 45 degree bias is considered "true" bias.
Bias is not always true -- any angle of a cut of fabric that is not on the straight or cross grain is considered to be bias -- when cutting patches for curved piecing usually part or all of the seam area is on the "bias" -- meaning it can stretch and distort.
To keep fabric from stretching and distorting when working with bias edge be very careful to not stretch the fabric. Over handling or over pressing can cause distortion that will affect the accuracy of your piecing. Many quilters use spray sizing to stabilize the fabric before cutting. Spray sizing is especially helpful to restore body to the fabric if it has been pre-washed.
When pressing bias seams use a dry iron. Press the seam to one side but do not slide the iron. Sliding the iron can cause distortion.
Using fabric on the bias is not scary. Use the bias to your advantage and make the fabric work for you. For instance, when making binding use a stripe fabric cut on the bias. Your binding will be interesting diagonal strips and add interest to the outer edge of the quilt. And because bias binding has a natural stretch, it is recommended for binding all curved and scalloped edges of your quilt.
Sometimes you may want to make a quick throw or lap robe or baby quilt without piecing the top or using batting. I like to make these to wrap up gifts to my grandchildren, give to parents-to-be at work who are not close associates, or to give away.
A lap robe for a senior citizen center is a good way to use up a fabric you have that you are not absolutely fond of, but can't bear to waste. This will work with many types of fabrics, as long as you wash them first to cover any shrinkage. I have made lap robes with polyester on one side and a textured fabric on the other side to provide a tactile experience. I have also tied some of these with a thin yarn with a 1 inch tail to give them something to "pick at". (For babies, make sure they are 1/2 inch or less so that they can't wrap around little fingers.)
Making one of these is very easy to do. First you decide what size you want the finished product to be. A good size for a baby or a lap robe is 40" x 40". A couch throw could be 60" x 40".
These measurements work well because they can be made from 1 1/4 yards of 44-45 in wide fabric for the baby blanket or lap robe and 1 7/8 -- 2 yards for the couch throw. Wash the fabrics before starting your project. Make sure the pieces are reasonably square, and lay them wrong sides together.
It's OK if one piece is 1-2 inches smaller all the way around, because this can be bound by folding the back over the front. Choose a matching or contrasting color of embroidery thread to use to tie the pieces together. Starting in the middle, tie knots using 3 strands of floss. To do this, go down, up about 1/8th in away, down through the first hole, and back up again. Leave a tail of about 1 1/2 inch and tie in a square knot (right over left, then left over right). Cut the thread, and then choose your next spot.
You can follow the pattern of the fabric or measure 4-5 inches away in a square or diagonal design. Tie to within 3 inches or so of the edges. Trim all tails to about 1/2 inch. I don't use a hoop, I just lay the fabric on the table, pin in a few places and tie. I work from the center out in all directions. After you finish tying all the knots, measure your piece through the center and square up the edges. It doesn't matter if it isn't exactly 40 inches, as long as it is square or rectangular.
Trim the top piece to 1 inch less than the bottom piece. Fold the back piece over twice and attach to the front. I usually use a zigzag, in keeping with the idea that this is quick and easy. You can miter the corners easily by folding back one of the edges after making the first fold. Pin to hold and stitch. If you choose to do a smaller edge, you won't even need to stitch the corner fold.