Fabric Focus – Corduroy

My jumbo cord dungaree dress – love it.

Corduroy. Soft to the touch, relaxed in fit, much comfier than denim yet with the same undertone of too cool for school.

Before I began sewing, I thought corduroy was corduroy. I think the above photo proves that’s not the case! The swatch is a cotton baby cord. The mustard cord has a much thicker wale. Ooh, get me – wale. That’s the term for the ridges running down the fabric. There’s an interesting and fuller description of corduroy over at Wikipedia.

Most of us will be familiar with cotton corduroy but it can also be made with viscose, contain lycra or polyester or even be silk-based. Look at this awesome embellished cord from Mood. Any other corduroys that you’re aware of?

Threads has an exhaustive article on corduroy here. Check it out! But, still, here’s my four’penn worth and I’d love it if you could add yours.

Buy the best you can

There’s cord, and then there’s cord, and then there’s cord. In my experience, buy the best that you can. Cheap cord can start to moult pretty quickly – I’ve found whole bare patches on brand new fabric.

Be aware of stress points

Cord does age and any part of an item that is going to get extra stress – on knees or elbows, turned corners etc – is, over time, going to become bare. So it might be worth remembering this when planning a project and it certainly means turning a cord item inside out when laundering. Maybe you don’t mind the distressed look – indeed, on the right piece of clothing, that’s part of cord’s charm.

Cord is relaxed

One of the things I love about corduroy is how relaxed and soft it is. This can also become a drawback. Over a day’s wear, I found that my Star Wars corduroy skirt just got bigger and roomier until it was swivelling around on my waist and not looking flattering at all. Again, choose your make with care.

beignet-skirt

The nap means pattern placement is key

Cord is the kissing cousin of velvet and has an obvious nap. This means you will need to be careful when cutting out pattern pieces. Ideally, all pieces should run down your bolt of fabric in the same direction. Otherwise, the finished item will have odd differences in sheen and colour when sewn together that could make or break a project.

Eliminate bulk

Corduroy is a thick fabric so in any key intersections – corners, for example – do everything you can to trim away bulk.

Press with care

Although corduroy has a reputation for being a very practical fabric, it can be a princess around pressing. If you have the equipment to hand, use a press cloth and a velvet press board. If you don’t have these items, just use a light touch with your iron, and as much as possible, press on the wrong side of the fabric.

velvet-pressing-pad

I think that’s it from me! What have your experiences been around corduroy? Do you love it or loathe it? I love corduroy but I’m quite cautious around sewing with it. Should I stop feeling the fear?

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40 Responses to Fabric Focus – Corduroy

  1. suth2 says:

    One of my first errors in sewing was when I made a pinafore dress from corduroy. I was just a youngster! I didn’t realise that corduroy had nap. When the garment was put together the side seams showed that the front was darker than the back because I had not cut the pieces out in the same direction! Oh dear.

  2. Ginny says:

    I’ve only ever sewn with baby cord, never a heavier wale fabric, but It wasn’t too difficult. The main issue is the creeping you get between layers as they feed through the machine, caused by the nap, something you can solve with extra effort in pinning or tacking. And the fluff. My god the fluff! Specks of the nap fibre everywhere for a month after you’ve cut it, a lap full of the stuff from trimming seams at the machine, and a bobbin race full of lint after two lines of stitching!

    So while it’s not the worst fabric to deal with, there are things to remember when working with it. Pin or tack well, or your top layer will walk as it goes through the machine. Clean your bobbin area out frequently while sewing, or it will quickly fill with fluff. Keep a lint roller handy if you don’t want to trail bits of the stuff all over your house! Use a scrap of the fabric as a pressing cloth when pressing on the right side. Put right sides together and interlock the ridges, then press- this will help reduce any flattening of the pile.

  3. MaryKS says:

    This is great information, ladies! I have never worked with this fabric before because of its difficulties. I have learned quite a lot this morning! Thank you all for sharing!

  4. PoldaPop says:

    I do like sewing with corduroy, but I think one of the reasons I find it easy is that my sewing machine has a built-in walking foot. If your machine doesn’t have this feature (oh thank you, Pfaff 1222se), you can buy a walking foot. It will help you will all sorts of things!

  5. Sewer from across the Pond says:

    Using a Teflon foot can help.

  6. sullivan1970 says:

    Good tips Karen. I just purchased two lengths of corduroy and since I haven’t ever sewed this type of material, I think your tips will help me from looking like a hot mess!

  7. Tatiana says:

    I am actually addicted to baby cord, I just bougth a few yards of it, in 6 different colors, ha! I just finished a Woodland Cape (pattern from Liesl&Co) with this baby cord, black with red flowers on it, and I am in love! I don’t think the fabric is difficult to work with, the only thing I really pay attention to is the nap…

  8. lisa g says:

    oh i love corduroy! i’ve only sewn with it a couple times though, it’s hard to find a good one in the right wale. my husband has been not too subtly dropping hints that he’d love a new pair of corduroy pants… hopefully i can make that happen soon!

  9. nettie says:

    I have two lengths of cord that belonged to my late grandmother that I’d love to make something with. But, I find it very hard pairing things with corduroy. I made a perfectly nice skirt, out of beautiful, fine wale stretch cord, that hasn’t made it out of the house.

  10. Ellen says:

    If you do not have a needle board for pressing napped fabrics you can use a large scrap of your fabric on your pressing surface or a napped towel. Also, using 2 business- sized envelopes under your seam allowances will help to prevent “show through” when pressing seams.

  11. shivani says:

    I do like cord. Early on in my sewing career, I learned the hard way that you need to be careful when pressing, and quite badly ruined a nearly finished skirt with too vigorous a press. oh well, you live and learn!

  12. LinB says:

    Be aware of nap, yes. Be aware that the color seems richer and denser when you run the nap “upside down” (that is, when you run your hand along the grain, the rough is the side you want to be at the top of each pattern piece). You’ll get a soft sheen if you run the nap “the right way” (so that when you run your hand along the grain, the smooth is the side you want to be at the top of each pattern piece). Wear and tear is about the same either way. Theater folk like to intensify the depth of color when costumes are seen under bright lights, so costumers tend to run corduroy “upside down” when constructing garments from this fabric.

    A fanciful story is that the derivation of the fabric name is from the French, “corde du Roi.” It is certainly a fancy sort of velvet, and was originally quite expensive to produce. I am of two minds about the stuff: 1. It is beautiful, affordable, and easier than many fabrics to sew. 2. I still remember the horrible “swish, swish” of hundreds of pairs of teenaged thighs rubbing together as we strode along the hallways of middle and high school in the mid 1970s.

  13. Fiona says:

    I love the finest babycords. Pain in the neck to sew but so soft and warm to wear.
    With such fine fabrics I find that a bit of abuse from an iron improves the softness and the gentle fading makes them more attractive.
    I get more cuddles when wearing them too!

  14. Love this, I’ve never sewn on corduroy, but I definitely love the way it looks. This fall when I get inspired I will definitely be referring back to this for tips!

  15. I used a small wale but not babycord to sew a skirt… my goodness I stroked and stoked that nap during the cutting out process to ensure that the finished skirt all went in the same direction!!! I can’t see myself purchasing it specifically but it was in my acquired stash so I used it.

  16. Alice says:

    Corduroy is my very favorite fabric! (Especially with fall coming up.) The one time I made a skirt from it I completely ignored the nap, and I kept having to seamrip which threatened to destroy the fabric, but I love it to death anyway.

  17. Becky says:

    I am a corduroy addict, only very small wale corduroy, and I think a lot of textile companies have ruined it by adding lycra. Corduroy has some inherent stretch to it, and adding lycra causes it to stretch waaaaaay too much during the course of the day. Pants become baggy, skirts become loose, jackets look sloppy. I know! I have a strong opinion about this! My best advice is to never buy corduroy with lycra unless you want your garment to “grow” all day. Otherwise, corduroy is one of the most forgiving and comfortable fabrics you can wear, IMHO.

  18. redsilvia says:

    I love cord! Stretch baby cord is like wearing your pjs in public – so supremely comfy. You are spot on about the stretchy nature of cord though. I have a skirt that grows like yours does and it doesn’t get worn much anymore. I’d love to see what you come up with for jacket. Blazer type or Minaru type?

  19. What a helpful and timely post! Can you recommend any good places (UK/European based) to buy good quality cord? I’m thinking of making striped dress with an ombre effect ranging from the lightest of greys all the way to black. I need a good selection of shades of colour and so far I’m coming up with nothing. As always, a great post! x

  20. sewsable says:

    I love corduroy, you do need to be careful of quality; if it’s poor quality you’ll likely also get seam slippage as the background fabric wasn’t woven tightly enough. I’ve got quite a bit of cord in my stash, mostly the mid-range and needlecord types. Make great trousers and it has a distinctive odour to it when warmed which always reminds me of winter.
    Also it’s great for kids clothing, nice and warm for them in winter.

  21. I’m in the love it camp for sure! I haven’t found it too hard to work with, in fact when I was making my latest pants I ripped and adjusted and sewed again about a million times, and they still came out great. I used hemp and organic cotton fabric from Near Sea Naturals, and I will say that I didn’t know how much the hemp would soften over time, it turns out it’s like linen! Although I’m still in love with these pants, they now look saggy after just a day of wearing, so I think next time I will save the hemp fabric for a drapier design.

  22. Julie says:

    I love it. But I just choose patterns that I think will go with the bulk. I also love Jarvis wearing it, so sometimes we double up. But then look how cute he is in cord?!
    http://iliska-dreams.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/caramel-koala-bear.html

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  25. Jen (NY) says:

    I’d love to have a velvet pressing board, but they are somewhat expensive here, upwards of $100. Last spring I made a pinwhale corduroy shirtdress – looking forward to wearing it again when the gets cooler. The pressing was done with a light touch, the cord face down on a lofty towel. That seems to have worked just fine, but I would test first just in case.

  26. Jacqueline says:

    I have metres and metres of light blue corduroy fabric, but don’t really know what to do with it. Probably nothing!

  27. I loves me some corduroy! But all of your points about it are right-on. Except I wouldn’t have thought about turning it inside out for washing, so thank you for that tip!!

    I was actually scared to press corduroy the first time I sewed with it. I don’t have a pressing pad so I just was really careful and used steam and a light touch, with a press cloth between. And even then I had to use my fingers to press directly on some of the seams. Fabric that I can’t press the crap out of makes me a little twitchy, so it was definitely an exercise in patience. 🙂

  28. Diana says:

    I’ve never liked ‘cords”, that is, corduroy jeans type pants because of the swish they make when you walk. However, my all time favorite jacket was one I made out of a very wide wale cotton corduroy. I wore it for years and have never been able to find the right corduroy to replace it .

  29. Tatiana says:

    I just posted about my last creation using baby cord. The first one of many to come, I just love this fabric!

    http://themonthlystitch.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/woodland-cape-challenge-completed/

  30. I remember making a japanese tunic out of very lightweight corduroy a long time ago, and thinking “if I ever work with corduroy again, I’ll wear a mask”, because the fluff was out of control and covered every surface… including the inside of my nose. So in the end, the tunic was barely wearable because the darts were almost under my chin, AND I was sneezing black fluff. No wonder I had buried this in my memory until today. 🙂

  31. CUP + PENNY says:

    Corduroy IS luscious in the fall. I once found some corduroy pants I liked, and bought them in every color. Every fall/winter, I pull them out of storage and wear them with EVERYTHING.

  32. yosami says:

    Hi, great topic! I agree, cord is a really versatile fabric. I saw a designer cotton/cashmere mix on http://www.naturstoff.de which I was very tempted by! I made a tulip skirt using a pattern by Jenny Gordy out of a Liberty of London baby cord that’s worn really well and is so soft. Thanks for reminding me that I should make more!

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  34. CurlsnSkirls says:

    Thank you! Great post & quite timely as I’d just received some baby cord in a swap & was thinking of how to use it. (It became a cape for the Monthly Stitch August challenge.)
    del

  35. Ally says:

    Your blog made me realize I need to sew with cord more often. I just love this fabric but seldom think to use it. Thank you!

  36. Rachael says:

    Love this Fabric Focus idea, really useful and really interesting!

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  38. Thanks for this really helpful post. I just made my first cord skirt – sadly I didn’t find this post until I’d already cut all my pattern pieces out, so I made the ‘nap’ error – kicking myself now! Luckily the fabric I was using has lots of different stripes, so the colour difference isn’t too noticeable. I’ll definitely be thinking about it next time though!

    Rebekah x

    http://handmadebyrebekah.blogspot.co.uk/

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