by Andrea Moore
from Threads #62, pp. 66-71
Corduroy is one of those sturdy, reliable fabrics that sewers tend to take for granted. A cousin of velvet (the original French cord du roi means "king's cord"), this is a fabric we think of today more in connection with kids' school pants than royal garments. But current fashion designers are taking a new look at this affordable staple, and savvy sewers should too.
|More on fabric:
• Guide to Fibers
• Know Your Knits
• Video: How to Identify Fabrics with a Burn Test
• 19 Essential Fabric Tips & Tricks You Should Know
Generally made of all cotton or a cotton/polyester blend, modern corduroy's pile is usually woven and cut in a striped pattern, resulting in distinctive ribs, or wales, that run the length of the fabric. Yet some lightweight corduroys have a smooth, short pile with barely visible wales. The difference between such corduroys and velvet is that velvet has a thicker pile formed by loops in the warp yarns, while most corduroy's pile is created from extra floats in the weft, or filler, yarns.
Corduroy comes in a wide variety of styles, with wale size and fabric weight varying greatly, from the featherweight miniwales with 22 wales/in. to hefty, 3/in. jumbo wales. Stretch corduroy has a small amount of spandex added to allow the fabric to flex horizontally, vertically, or in both directions. And corduroys printed with plaid, floral, paisley, or other designs add even more variety to the wide selection available.
|It isn't difficult at all to sew with supple, high-quality cotton corduroy. But you will get superior results if you use a few special techniques to prepare, fit, cut, and sew the fabric to ensure a smooth, non-bulky finish.
Corduroy comes in a wide array of basic and not-so-basic colors and prints, with the wales tiny or wide, colors subtle or bold, and prints sedate and realistic or playfully abstract.
Start with high-quality fabric
When shopping for corduroy, you'll see that it varies widely not only in color, pattern, wale size, and weight but also in quality. Always buy the highest-quality, all-cotton corduroy you can find-even superior corduroys are inexpensive when compared to other fine fabrics. Look for one that has a generous, lush pile and a superior sheen and drape, which will produce a beautiful, cushy, rumpled look after many washings-something you will never be able to achieve with polyester blends.
When you assess a corduroy's pile, be sure to examine the reverse side-the ground fabric should be firm and tightly woven, with filler yarns meeting the selvages at right angles. Rub the fabric vigorously, right sides together, and scratch the surface with your fingernail. It's not a good sign if you loosen bits of the fiber or create a powdery dust, which indicates the use of too much sizing, a common method for concealing poor quality.
If you're unsure about the quality of a fabric you like, buy 1/4 yd. and toss it in with your next few washer loads of clothes. You will know right away if the fabric will season into a silky, supple cor-duroy or into a stiff, uneven pile that saw its best day on the fabric-store shelf. Armed with this information, you can go back and purchase the amount you need-or continue looking.
Vertical wales become design elements
Corduroy's strong vertical wales give it a distinctive visual appeal that enables it to hold its own with many other fabrics like silk, suede, and crunchy knits. You'll also find that by mixing contrasting weights of corduroy you can create an outfit with interesting texture. And don't overlook the possibility of creating irresistible contrast and texture in a corduroy garment by cutting one or more elements (the collar and cuffs, for example, or even the side-front or -back pieces of a garment) on the crossgrain for horizontal ribs or on the bias for diagonal lines.
Generally speaking, corduroy is not a fluid, drapey fabric, and is therefore best used for designs that fit the body fairly closely. Outerwear garments are an exception, since many styles look wonderful with the considerable volume that heavier weights can provide.