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It isnt 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.
It isnt 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.

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: the inside story
To construct the inside of a corduroy garment successfully, you'll need a few techniques that are different from what you might choose for another fabric.

Don't use fusible interfacing, since fusing will crush corduroy's nap. Instead, use a sew-in interfacing that attaches to adjacent seams.

Lightweight facing
  Photo: Karen Morris

Consider lightweight facings. For professional-looking results on a more fitted garment, you may want to replace corduroy facings with a lighter-weight fabric, such as a fine cotton. This reduces bulk inside the fitted jacket at right. Be sure to prewash the fabric as you did the corduroy. A coordinating fabric adds an interesting detail to the inside of the garment while eliminating a layer of the bulkier corduroy. It also allows you to apply fusible interfacing to the facings, if desired.

Opt for a full lining. A full lining makes many corduroy garments more comfortable and easier to slip on. Since a lining eliminates many facings (such as on a vest) as well as the need to finish seam allowances, you may find it's the easiest way to polish the inside of the garment.

Tricks to sewing corduroy
Although most corduroys are easy to sew, they require special care to prevent the layers from creeping during stitching and to reduce bulk where several layers join. A plain, pressed-open seam works best with corduroy fabrics, and there are a few special tips for creating flawless, flat results. Start with a Universal H needle (from size 70/10 for lightweight to size 100/16 for heavyweight corduroy) and long-staple polyester, cotton, or cotton-wrapped polyester thread.

Test-stitch on a two-layer swatch-Begin by sewing a test seam with two pieces of fabric cut exactly 12 in. long. The stitch length depends on the fabric weight, from 2mm (12 to 14 sts/in.) for lightweight corduroy to 3mm (8 sts/in.) for heavier ones. Loosen the upper tension slightly, and lighten the pressure on the presser foot, if it's adjustable on your machine. Hold the fabric taut while stitching, and always sew in the direction of the nap. A roller or even-feed foot helps the top layer feed the same as the bottom. Every inch or two, stop sewing (with the needle down) to raise and lower the presser foot, which relaxes the fabric and reduces creeping.

Examine the stitching line. It should be smooth and without puckers, and the two layers should come out even at the end. If your underlayer creeps during stitching or if the seam puckers, experiment with the options above to remedy the problem.

On long vertical seams that are prone to creeping, I sometimes hand-baste the seam before stitching, using a brightly colored rayon thread that will be easy to remove later. Rather than backstitching at the beginning and end of a seam, which adds bulk, I like to start and finish seams in corduroy garments by sewing tiny stitches (about 20 sts/in.) for the first and last 1/2 in., which allows the seam to be pressed perfectly flat.

Eliminate unnecessary bulk-Since the pile on corduroy can result in bulky areas where several layers of fabric join, it's important to reduce bulk at these points. Do so by trimming and grading seam allowances after you stitch and press, and by trimming the corners of seam allowances where two seams cross. Clip curved seams as little as possible, staggering the clips so they're not opposite each other and clipping at an angle to reduce raveling.

Shave off extra bulk
  Shave off extra bulk on any seam allowance to be enclosed inside the garment, like at a jacket's neck and front edges. A hair clipper, used carefully, removes just the nap and gives a flatter finish. Photo: Karen Morris.

In areas to be enclosed by a facing or lining, you can further reduce bulk by shaving the pile from the seam allowances after stitching, as shown at right. I've used an electric hair clipper with good results. But since it can slip and bite into the main fabric, it's a good idea to protect the outer layer with sheets of paper under the seam allowances while clipping.

Wherever many layers meet you'll have problems with bulk if you're making a heavyweight corduroy jacket or coat. For example, in the lower front corner where the front facing overlaps the lower hem, you can easily reduce the bulk by mitering the corner. This quick process will produce a smooth, flat finish. Mitering works well with a hem and facing of both even and uneven widths.

To miter a corner, first fold the hem and facing into normal position, and mark the points where they intersect with chalk or a water-soluble marker and the outer corner with a pin, as shown at far left. Right sides together, match the chalk marks and sew from the marks to the corner pin. Trim the excess fabric, leaving a narrow seam allowance (you can shave off the seam-allowance pile, as shown above, if desired), clip the point, and press open. When you turn the point to the outside, you've made a perfect mitered corner, as shown on the facing page at bottom right.

Fold hems in Smooth and flat
Mitering a corner reduces the bulk of many layers of corduroy, and works with hems of uneven widths. Fold hems in and mark where they intersect (left). After stitching (right), the mitered corner lies smooth and flat.

Polish the finishing details
-Since the cut edges of corduroy will continue to ravel and fray as a garment is washed, you'll need to add a sturdy finish to the seam allowances on unlined garments. Finish straight seams after pressing them open. Finish curved seams after stitching, before clipping and pressing them open. My favorite seam treatment is the Hong Kong finish, sewn with bias tape or rayon seam tape.

Hong Kong finish A Hong Kong finish is elegant

1. Cut 1-in.-wide bias strips of light-weight fabric (or use rayon seam tape).

2. Right sides together, stitch binding to edge of seam allowance with a 1/4-in. seam.

3. Wrap binding around edge and press. Ditch-stitch to secure.

Topstitching looks great on corduroy, but the nap will sometimes cause it to disappear. For a bolder line of stitching, use a topstitching thread or two strands of regular thread with a needle one size larger than that used to construct the garment, and a stitch length of 3.5 to 4mm (6 sts/in.). Always pretest any topstitching, pockets, buttonholes, and other treatments on swatches before applying them to your actual garment.

In areas where you don't want topstitching, corduroy looks great with an invisible hem. My favorite technique is to finish the raw edge with zigzagging or a two-thread overcasting stitch on the serger, then sew the hem by hand using the blind-hemming stitch, as shown in the drawing below. The stitches float between the hem and the garment, so the edge of the hem does not press into the garment and make an impression on the right side.

Invisible, handsewn hem
Invisible, handsewn hem. After finishing raw edge with sewing machine or serger, turn up hem, fold back 1/4 in. and sew, alternating stitches between hem and garment. A fine monofilament thread makes stitching even harder to see.

A final note on garment care
To prevent fading and maintain the bright colors of corduroy garments, turn them inside out before laundering in cold water. Remove the garment from the dryer while it is slightly damp and hang it to dry, straightening the seams to relax wrinkles. To revive the nap, steam with an iron or hang the garment in a steamy bathroom, allowing it to dry completely before wearing. Alternatively, try brushing against the nap with another piece of corduroy fabric. To prevent hanger marks on skirts and pants, sew seam-tape hanger loops into the waistband.

Once you try some of these techniques, you'll discover that corduroy is a pleasure to sew on. And I bet you'll soon find this comfortable old friend a favorite new staple in your wardrobe.

Andrea Moore sews corduroy and lots of other fabrics in Spokane, Washington.

Photos, except where noted: Scott Phillips; drawings: Robert La Pointe

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