14 December 2022

Five Tips for Sewing with Corduroy

Five tips for Sewing with Corduroy or Needlecord - Tilly and the Buttons

I love corduroy. And judging by the number of corduroy makes that pop up on our Instagram feed, so do lots of people! Today I thought I’d share a few tips on sewing with corduroy to get a great result.

Corduroy - which is made of cotton, sometimes blended with polyester - has visible ribs or “wales” running vertically down its lengthwise grain. The width of the ribs can vary, from jumbo cord which has wide wales - if you see it labelled as “3 wale”, this means it has 3 ribs per inch - to finer needlecord or pincord, which is more like 16 wales per inch).

Corduroy is great for making dungaree dresses, skirts, trousers (corduroy flares, anyone?) and jackets. Finer needlecord is also lovely for shirts and dresses. Keep on scrolling to find a whole host of our gorgeous patterns you can use with this lovely fabric.

So what do you need to know when cutting and sewing with corduroy?

Tips for Sewing with Corduroy or Needlecord - Tilly and the Buttons

1) Decide what direction you want the nap to lie

Rub your hand along corduroy’s ribs – the pile will feel smooth one way, slightly rough the other way (a bit like stroking a cat). It will also look slightly different from each direction. So decide which way you want the pile to lie before cutting out the pattern, and then cut all the pieces pointing in the same direction.

I found this interesting nugget on the subject in Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book (I highly recommend this book if you want to get to know fabrics better and avoid buying the wrong thing online – that's my affiliate link in case you fancy it):

“Traditionally corduroy is cut with the pile brushing in an upward direction, which gives the fabric a better sheen. In the late 1960s, to give the fabric a more contemporary feeling, many designers reversed the pile direction.”

Of course, it’s up to you if you prefer the pile running up or down. Personally I like it running down as that’s the way I’d stroke it!

Tips for Sewing with Corduroy or Needlecord - Tilly and the Buttons
Tips for Sewing with Corduroy or Needlecord - Tilly and the Buttons

2) Keep the ribs straight when cutting

Take extra care when cutting out corduroy to keep it on grain. More specifically, make sure the grainline arrows on the pattern are exactly parallel to the fabric wales (ribs).

I find it helps to cut out the fabric with the right side facing up so I can see the ribs. Rather than lining up the grainline arrow on the pattern with the fabric selvedges, line it up with the ribs. Do the same with any fold lines and any edges that are exactly vertical (such as the side seams below the hips on the Cleo pattern). The ribs are pretty helpful in this way :)

Tips for Sewing with Corduroy or Needlecord - Tilly and the Buttons

3) … and keep the ribs straight when sewing!

While the visibility of the wales can be helpful for cutting the fabric straight, if you sew the fabric slightly off-grain on a vertical seam, it can look glaringly obvious! Take a look at the two straps in the photo above. The top one was sewn slightly off-grain – you can see that the strap is twisted. The bottom one was sewn dead-straight and looks a lot neater.

Stitching exactly parallel to the ribs is easier said than done when the fabric is wrong side up and you can’t see them as you are sewing. What I do on pieces with vertical seams like the Cleo straps is press them wrong sides together first so I can line up the fold with the wales, before refolding them right sides together along the pressed line and pressing again.

Tips for Sewing with Corduroy or Needlecord - Tilly and the Buttons

When you’re topstitching a vertical seam, such as on the sides of the Cleo pockets, you can sew with the right side of the fabric facing up and keep the needle lined up with a channel between the ribs. Keep your eye on this channel as you're sewing to keep it straight.

Tips for Sewing with Corduroy or Needlecord - Tilly and the Buttons

4) Avoid squishing the fabric

The pile on corduroy can squish up while you’re sewing and pressing it. To avoid this, lower the presser foot pressure (if your sewing machine lets you), and lower the thread tension slightly too. If you’re using a wider wale corduroy, such as jumbo cord, you can also lengthen the stitches to about 3mm.

Try to avoid pressing the fabric too much, as the iron can crush the ribs. Try using a square of the same fabric as a pressing cloth – place it right sides together with the garment, so the wales will cushion each other and soften the impact of the iron.

Use a light touch, or just use steam where you can without touching the face of the iron to the fabric. You can also use the tip of the iron to press just the bits you need to, such as when pressing seam allowances open. Try not to press the edges of the seam allowances against the garment as they can leave an impression on the right side of the fabric.

Tips for Sewing with Corduroy or Needlecord - Tilly and the Buttons

5) Be prepared to make a mess!

Corduroy is one of those fabrics that tends to shed itself all over the place. You can find little bits of the threads everywhere after a cutting session!

Keep a lint roller handy when cutting and sewing corduroy, so you can quickly clean yourself up afterwards. A lint roller is also handy when wearing your finished outfit, as fluff and threads tend to stick to it! Finish the seam allowances with zigzag stitch or an overlocker to stop them fraying, trimming off any loose threads first if you need to. And give your sewing machine a good clean inside and out after sewing!

Projects for sewing with corduroy

So, you've had the tips, now onto some suggestions for patterns you can make with this wonderful fabric!

Bobbi pinafore or skirt sewing pattern
Bobbi pinafore or skirt sewing pattern

First up is one of our most swoonsome patterns - the Bobbi skirt and pinafore. The fab thing about Bobbi is you can sew two completely different garments with the same pattern. You could make a chunky cord skirt with pretty buttons and optional pocket flaps, or sew a classic pinafore in corduroy like we did. It will become a wardrobe staple that allows a lot of layering - from jersey tops to roll-neck sweaters to pretty collared shirts. The possibilities are endless! You will want to pick a medium to heavy-weight cord for Bobbi as you want something that will hold the shape.

Corduroy dungarees are an absolute must in any wardrobe. Simple to sew, the Erin dungarees or overalls are ideal for days when comfort is key. Oh so versatile, choose from multiple versions and wide a variety of fabrics, including knits as well as wovens. (No, you're obsessed.)

Jessa trousers and shorts sewing pattern

Corduroy is the perfect weight for bottoms, so why not make some super cool Jessa trousers? This pattern has two main variations, so you can make a statement with the gently flared trousers, or sew a pair of cosy corduroy shorts that will be perfect for wearing with tights in the colder months. The pattern comes with gorgeous patch pockets and faux flap pocket, so you get to decide what your pocket combo and count are. Add the Jessa trousers or shorts to you makes list pronto!

Ness skirt sewing pattern

Elevate your sewing and corduroy garment count with a stunning Ness skirt! This pattern is packed full of beautiful denim-inspired details that will make your heart flutter and set you up with sewing skills for the future. Choose from mini version or below-the-knee hemline with centre front split. Ness looks stunning in corduroy and if you find one with a little stretch in it, you will have an extra comfy skirt.

Milla dungarees sewing pattern

Hands up if you love dungarees? Our Mila dungarees work so nicely in stretch corduroy and make a great base for styling with lots of different things. Check out the 'Five Ways to Wear Dungarees' blog post with video on our YouTube channel where Louise styled her corduroy Mila dungarees in different ways!

Cleo dungaree dress and pinafore sewing pattern

We can't talk about corduroy without mentioning our most popular pattern - the Cleo pinafore and dungaree dress. This beginner-friendly pattern is just the thing to flex your corduroy muscles if you are new to working with it. Make it dungaree-style with buckles or as a pinafore with buttons, with mini- or knee-length hem, optional centre-front split, choice of patch pockets and contrast topstitching. Wear Cleo year-round, over a Breton top in the summer or with a roll neck and snuggly tights in winter. You will love this me-made for many years to come!

Tilly's Rosa shirt dress

If you want to add a timeless classic to your me-made wardrobe, then a Rosa shirt or shirt dress is it! You have the option of making the pattern as a shirt or dress, which means you will probably do both :) Rosa can be made using a fine needlecord in any shade or print your heart desires. Wear your Rosa shirt or dress for work or play, and let the compliments come flooding in..."You made that yourself?!"

We hope you will love working with corduroy, it is a fabric that fully has our hearts! #CorduroyLove