Start your sewing adventure with us.    Join Seamwork Now

Articles on this site were all published prior to 2017 and this site is no longer updated. Please visit our current Articles, Patterns, and Classes for the most up-to-date content and products.

Working with nap and pile

Fabrics with nap require special handling, but with a few basic principles in mind, you can easily add them to your roster of sewing favorites.

If you’re unsure what I mean when I say “with nap,” think about fabrics with a raised pile to them, such as velvet, corduroy, or velour. When you run your hands along these fabrics in one direction along the length, they feel smooth. When you run your hands the other way, they feel a bit more bristly. This is because the pile goes in a single direction.

How does this relate to sewing? Well, if you were to hold up a piece of velvet with the pile pointing down it would look one way, and if you were to turn that piece of fabric 180 degrees so that the pile points up it would look slightly different. The light reflects off the pile differently, causing it to look lighter or darker, or perhaps appear to have a different texture.

And then there are fabrics that do not have that tell-tale thick pile, but still have nap! For example, there are many satin fabrics that look different when held in different directions. To check for nap, just try examining a couple pieces of your fabric when held up from opposite directions to see if it the two pieces look at all different.

Cutting napped fabrics

When you’re cutting a fabric with nap, you want to lay out all of your pattern pieces so that they face the same direction. This is called a one-directional layout. If not, you risk sewing two pieces together that, while cut from the same fabric, appear to be slightly different.

Here is an example of a regular, two-directional layout that is designed for any old fabric. Note that the top of the pattern pieces, though they are all aligned with the grain, face different directions:

And here is a one-directional layout that would work for a napped fabric. Here, the tops of each pattern piece face the same directions, so that the pile will look the same on each one:

Pressing fabrics with a pile

Pressing seams on a fabric with pile can be tricky. You don’t want to crush the pile with your iron, which would result in odd shiny spots, but you still want pressed seams.

First, lay your fabric down with the pile on top of something stiff and bristly. This will hold your pile in place while you press, so it doesn’t get flattened against the ironing board. Some people use a fluffy towel, but for deep piles you can use something called a needle board. This is a sort of mat with needles sticking out, and the pile falls between the needles so that it doesn’t get crushed.

Second, try to get as little contact with the iron as possible. Use just the tip of the iron along the seam, rather than laying the whole iron down. If possible, just finger press the seam by flattening with your finger tips, and apply some steam without actually letting the iron touch the fabric.

Caring for your garment

Be careful when removing wrinkles from your garment. Generally, fabrics with pile like steam but not the pressure of an iron, so try steaming them to remove wrinkles. You can use a steamer, hang them in the bathroom when you take a hot shower, or place them in the dryer with a damp towel.

Washing will vary depending on the type of fabric. Some things need dry cleaning, others can be washed by hand or machine. If you’re uncertain, test it out before sewing on a scrap. If you plan to wash your fabric, be sure to pre-wash it in the same manner before sewing.

If you do end up with any flat or shiny spots, they can be hard to remove. But applying a little steam while gently brushing the pile out can work wonders.

{images above: (1) kbaxterpackwood, (2) Colette Patterns, (3) Colette Patterns (4) Timeless Vixen Vintage}

Sarai Mitnick


Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.


Mary Beth Klatt

August 16, 2010 #

The dress goes to show how sewing anything velvety is much easier with the proper tools.

Laura S.

August 16, 2010 #

I am really enjoying this recent series you are doing, including this post. Thanks!

And that 1920s dress is absolutely to die for. Ohhh, I love it…!

The Sew Convert

August 17, 2010 #

I am about to sew something using corduroy so this is really informative. Thanks so much!