Corduroy

By | May 7, 2016
Narrow-wale corduroy. 21 wales to an inch. Source: fabric.com

Narrow-wale corduroy. 21 wales to an inch. Source: fabric.com

Let me just this get out of my system right away. Did you hear about the new corduroy pillows? They’re making headlines! Whew. Thanks. Corduroy is a woven fabric that features a fuzzy pile, just like velvet (the difference between nap and pile). But while velvet’s pile is sheared all the same length, corduroy is cut to differing heights in long rows along the grain of the fabric, giving it its distinctive ridged appearance. It looks like a stack of cords lying side by side and sewn together, and that’s where it gets its name from. Bet that surprised you. According to Wikipedia, it’s sometimes called Manchester cloth, corded velveteen or pin cord. Corduroy is usually made from cotton but it can be made from any fiber that can stand up to be used for a napped fabric – cotton, wool, even silk I suppose although I’ve never seen such a beast. Most corduroys out there are cotton or a cotton blend.

Medium-wale corduroy. 14 wales to the inch.

Medium-wale corduroy. 14 wales to the inch.

The cords in corduroy are called “wales” and corduroy is often described by how many wales there are to an inch. The lower the number, the thicker the cords. Pin wale corduroy features very narrow wales, so it takes about 16 or 17 to make an inch. The ‘standard’ is 11 to 12 wales per inch, but you can find very fat wale corduroy with as little as 2 wales per inch. Corduroy can be a solid color, or printed in a dizzying array of patterns. Sometimes you can find corduroy that has been machine embroidered with a pattern. For reasons that baffle me, corduroy has been a popular choice for pants even for adults. Anyone my age knows the distinctive voop-voop of walking while wearing corduroy trousers. I never saw the point in using any napped fabric for trousers because, surprise! The nap is going to crush and wear off the seat of said trousers over time and you’ll end up with a garment that looks old way out before its time. Corduroy can also be used for jackets and it’s a popular choice for children’s clothes because it’s pretty durable and it’s easy to clean. Whether you know it or not, you probably had a pair of corduroy dungarees when you were a kid. Although I make fun of it, it’s a great fabric because it’s available in all kinds of colors and styles, and the ridged texture is kind of catchy. It’s got the lushness of velveteen, but can be way more interesting to look at. Corduroy is a popular fabric with historical re-enactors, too. Yes, it’s actually “legal” for most Renaissance faires as long as you find it made from the right fibers – no polyester! It’s also good for upholstery – hence the terrible joke at the beginning. Corduroy can range from $9 to $25 a yard. The more expensive stuff is the funky super-wide-wale variety, or it might feature embroidery or a complicated and colorful print job. Be sure to double-check the fiber composition of it when you buy it – don’t pay pure cotton prices for a poly/cotton blend. It can be machine-washed in cool water and put into the tumble dryer on low.

Garment made with wide-wale corduroy. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Garment made with wide-wale corduroy. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Speaking of heat makes me think of ironing and I should say this now: because corduroy has a pile, you shouldn’t shove your iron down onto this fabric. Put the corduroy right-side down on top of a towel or a large scrap of corduroy left over from a project – that’s a handy trick with velvet, too. Use only the tip of the iron to press seam allowances open when needed. If your garment needs more love than that, steam it with a garment steamer or with steam from your iron, or run it through the “fluff” cycle of your dryer. As with other napped fabrics, always try to sew in the direction of the pile of the fabric whenever possible. Use a universal needle to match the weight of your corduroy. Because some corduroys can be heavier than average, you want to pay attention to that – sometimes a jeans/denim needle is a better choice than a universal needle. Cotton or polyester thread will suffice. For mid-weight or heavier corduroys, using a rolling foot or a walking foot on your sewing machine,as that will help with the bulky bits.

Wide wale corduroy, approximately 6 to the inch. Source: fabric.com.

Wide wale corduroy, approximately 6 to the inch. Source: fabric.com.

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