Corduroy, that staple of 70s fashion, is making a serious comeback! And why not? The signature velvety texture and vertical ridges (called "wales") have always been eye-catching, but now, with textures ranging from subtle to bold, and beautiful new designs including patterns and prints, corduroy is more versatile than ever. The luxurious feel disguises just how sturdy this fabric is. With the durability of denim, it's ideal for garments, but can also be used for a wide range of projects, from bags and backpacks to stuffed toys. Like any fabric, however, corduroy has some quirks that can make it a challenge for those just discovering it. Check out these tips and tricks for working with corduroy!
1. Choose Quality Fabric
Whenever possible, opt for an all-cotton corduroy rather than a polyester blend. The blended fibers don't tend to hold up well in repeated washings, and the pile (that's the fuzzy bits) is more easily crushed and misshapen. Cotton also steams evenly and takes well to finger-pressing, which is an important feature since typical pressing methods would damage corduroy. If you're not sure whether the fabric you're looking at is high quality, try scratching at its surface with a fingernail. If this causes discoloration or raises a powdery substance to the fabric's surface, you're likely looking at an inferior product that's been filled with sizing to try to disguise the fact.
2. Use the Right Layout
Corduroy has what's known as nap, meaning the fabric looks different from different directions. This is easy to see with piece of fabric with a deep pile, like velvet or corduroy, but you can even see it on fabrics like terry cloth or even a carpet. The fibers of the pile aren't standing straight up, but have a sort of direction to them. If you brush the fibers backwards, you can see the change in color and texture immediately. The goal is to avoid accidentally assembling your project with the nap running all different directions. Thankfully, most patterns have a "with nap" layout, which ensures that all your pieces will be correctly oriented. Double check the fabric requirements before making your purchase; "with nap" layouts typically require a little extra. Remember, you're using a fabric that's either mostly or entirely cotton, so you'll also want to take into account any possible shrinkage in your fabric.
3. Opt for Simple Shapes
Corduroy's most prominent feature is its raised lines of pile, known as wales. These can be tiny ridges, often known as pin wales, to quite wide. There are even some types of corduroy that have alternating thick and thin wales. With all that texture going on, it's best to opt for garments with simple shapes rather than complex, highly tailored lines, like this jacket sewalong project. Not only does this make it easier to match the wales in each pattern piece, it also keeps the finished project from looking overly busy.
4. Think Vertical
Like working with any striped fabric, the direction of your stripes matters. Traditionally, the wales in corduroy projects run vertically. Not only is this slimming, but it's easier to lay out larger pattern pieces with this orientation. However, this doesn't mean there's never any call for wales to run diagonally or even horizontally. Play with textures and layouts to see what works best for your project. Remember, like any woven fabric, corduroy does have slightly different properties when cut on the bias, so expect it to have a bit more stretch and give.
5. Match Wales
Again, like any other striped fabric, projects made of corduroy tend to look best when the wales are matched at the seams. However, there is a bit of leeway, especially with narrow wale corduroy. Getting all those teeny wales to line up would be tricky, and it's not worth the effort. For wider wales, however, misalignments will be very noticeable. Take care in laying out your pattern to avoid this mishap, and be sure to have enough extra fabric to adjust your layout as necessary.
6. Don't Press
If you've ever accidentally ironed velvet, you know exactly why you shouldn't press corduroy. Pressing crushes the wales and leaves a shiny, flattened texture that's unfortunately permanent. Instead of pressing your seams open as usual, finger-press the seams first, and then, using just the very tip of your iron, gently set the stitches by passing the iron down the seam. If your fabric, or your finished garment, is looking a bit rumpled, check out this tutorial for getting those wrinkles out without crushing that gorgeous texture.
7. Avoid Fusible Interfacing
Another technique to avoid with corduroy is using fusible interfacing. This may seem a bit obvious—if you shouldn't press it, ironing on fusible interfacing is probably not the best idea—but for many of us sewists, fusible is an automatic choice, so it bears repeating. Adding a bit of stability to your corduroy with interfacing, especially in elements like collars and cuffs, is actually a great idea. It gives a nice crisp finish and a touch of structure, but always opt for the stitch-in variety.
8. Reduce Bulk
Fabrics with pile are notoriously problematic when it comes to bulky seam allowances. With such thick fabrics, it doesn't take many layers before the seams become stiff and and inflexible, which is especially problematic in garments, where seams are exactly where you want the most flexibility. There are quite a few tricks to limiting this bulk. Some of the simplest include clipping curves and corners. Where several layers come together, such as at collars, grade your seam allowances by trimming inner layers shorter than outer layers. When possible, opt for lightweight facings or linings instead of self-facings, and avoid finishes like French seams, which add more layers than are strictly necessary.
9. Shave Seam Allowances
Usually when we talk about shaving down bulk from seams, we're speaking metaphorically, but when it comes to corduroy (and other fabrics with pile), it's literal! Electric hair clippers work well to buzz down the pile from seam allowances, giving you a little extra flexibility and space to work with. Practice your technique on some scrap corduroy before attempting it on your project. Always shave seam allowances on the wrong side after you've stitched the seam; this will help you avoid accidental bald spots on the finished side of your garment.
10. Finish Raw Edges
Corduroy has a tendency to ravel at the edges if they're left unfinished. Since seam allowances often need to be clipped fairly close, it's important to provide them with a bit of extra protection to keep them from becoming unsightly or worn. There are lots of effective ways to solve this issue. Depending on the project, you may even want to employ several. Serging your edges is a simple option, but if you don't have a serger, you can also use binding techniques like a Hong Kong finish. Check out this tutorial on how to create this easy and polished finish.
11. Consider a Full Lining
One easy way to protect all your seam allowances at once, and add a little flair to your garment, is by using a full lining rather than just facings. For a full lining, choose a soft, lightweight fabric like cotton or even silk to avoid adding further bulk to your project. If your lining will be visible, think about whether you want a coordinating lining that will fade into the background, or something surprising for a little pop of color or pattern.
12. Use a Walking Foot
Because the texture of corduroy is very different from one side to the other, it's quite easy for the fabric to "creep" as it's being sewn. This means that the bottom layer is pulled along by the feed dogs, while the top has a tendency to lag behind, making your seams out of place and uneven. One way to help with this issue is to raise your presser foot slightly, provided your sewing machine allows for this kind of adjustment. An even better solution, however, is to use a walking foot, which provides the same kind of feeding motion to the top layer of fabric as the bottom and creating an even feed. In fact, walking foot attachments are also sometimes called "even feed" feet!
13. Choose Subtle Embellishments
Be careful not to go over-the-top with corduroy embellishment. Unlike denim, which easily stands up to studs, rhinestones, lacy overlays, embroidery, and more, corduroy already has a lot of eye-catching style built in thanks to its texture. Embellishments on corduroy can very quickly look excessive, so instead opt for something understated, like contrasting topstitching, unique buttons, or exposed zippers. Even the placement of darts, since they'll interrupt the regular wales, can become a design feature. Feel free to get creative!