Working with Nap Fabrics

Working with fabrics that have a nap doesn't have to be challenging! Sure, it takes a little more prep work, an eensy bit of caution when ironing, and may require a few tricks in cutting, but once you get the hang of things, sewing with napped fabric can be really rewarding!

What is "Nap" Fabric?

Some of you might be wondering what a nap fabric is. Basically, napped fabrics are fabrics that have -- through the weaving process -- raised fibers on their surface that tend to fall in one direction. This raised surface is referred to a the fabric's "pile," and you can typically distinguish the direction of the pile by running your hand along the fabric. If it feels soft and smooth, you are going with the nap of your fabric. If it feels bristly and a little rough, you are going against the nap of your fabric.

Some common napped fabrics include:

  • Velvet
  • Velveteen
  • Corduroy
  • Faux Fur
  • Fleece
  • Flannel
  • Brushed Denim
  • Etc, etc.

There is a really cool document talking about the differences between true nap fabrics vs. pile fabrics that you can check out here.

Cutting Napped Fabrics

Aside from the feeling of napped fabrics being different depending on which direction you brush them, you might be wondering why you need to treat these fabrics differently than any other material you are working with. The most important answer lies in the color.

Because nap fabrics consist of tiny (or large!) raised fibers that are all falling in one direction, depending on which way you hold your material, it will catch the light differently. Generally, nap fabrics are cut and sewn so that the nap is going from top to bottom. Think back to your favorite velvet garment. When you wore it and found yourself petting it (come on, we have totally all done it! The fabric is too soft not to pet!), didn't it feel smooth? That's because the nap was heading from top to bottom.

Sometimes, though, garments will be purposefully cut upside down with the nap running from bottom to top. This creates a deeper, more lustrous color/ effect for the fabric. I have primarily seen darker jewel-toned fabrics cut with the nap running in the opposite direction.

What is most important, however, is not in which direction you ultimately decide to cut your fabrics but that the direction you choose is consistent for all your pattern pieces! If you wind up accidentally cutting some pieces with the nap and some against the nap of your fabric, you will likely wind up with a garment that looks as if you have sewn two different fabrics together. I have actually done this before and sometimes it works out, but most of the time it just looks a bit silly!

So it is really really important that when you are laying your pattern onto your fabric, you keep everything going in the same direction. Think of working with nap almost like working with a direction print! You wouldn't want your directional print of cute puppies tumbling around in different directions on your finished garment, would you? Ok... that might actually be adorable, but you get what I am saying!

When you go to actually cut into your napped fabric, it is important to use sharp tools. Generally a pair of sharp scissors or a rotary cutter will do the trick, especially if the nap on your fabric is rather short. If you have a long-haired nap (think faux fur), it is actually best to cut from the wrong side of your fabric using an Xacto-knife. This is a tricky thing to do and should be done with great care, but by using an Xacto-knife, you will maintain a really crisp line of cutting AND eliminate a lot of fur shedding since you are cutting only the back fabric piece and not the fur itself.

Sewing Napped Fabrics

Sewing with napped fabrics can present its own challenges, but this blog post cannot cover all of them. Each napped fabric is unique, just as each fabric in general is unique and has its own personalities to get to know and work with.

Some napped fabrics require trimming of the nap in order to sew without having too much bulk. Others stick to themselves like Velcro and get eaten by the sewing machine if you fail to put tissue paper underneath them.

All I can suggest is that if you are working with a new fabric that has nap, purchase just a little bit extra to play with on your machine. Try different needles and threads and thicknesses and techniques to see how your new fabric takes to being sewn. And write notes about it down someplace that you can reference in the future in case you ever purchase a similar fabric. That way, you aren't in the dark every time you buy a napped fabric!

Pressing Fabrics with Nap

Pressing napped fabrics is probably the "trickiest" part of working with this sort of material. Because of the pile, you can easily crush it under the weight and heat of your iron, resulting in shiny, squished spots that you probably don't want as a design feature on your garment.

Generally, you can get away with placing the pile side of your fabric on top of something bristly, like a rolled up terry towel. This allows the piles to settle and not get crushed against the flat surface of your ironing board. Then, when you press your garments seams, you want to stay as far away from the actual seam as you can and use steam if possible. Fabrics with nap enjoy a good steam bath, but if you're working with something that specifically says "No Steam," then opt to use just the tip of your iron instead of the entire iron plate.

The above method works best for fabrics with a short pile, such as velvet. However, if you find yourself working with some faux fur or anything else with a larger pile, you may want to invest in a needle board. A needle board is exactly what it sounds like: a board with needles sticking out from it that allow your fabric pile to gently fall between the needles and remain un-crushed by your iron.

Additional Resources

Luckily, if you are on a journey to working with napped fabrics, there is a plethora of information available to you on the internet! Below, I have put together a few blog posts that I think you might find helpful. Feel free to add any others you come across in the comments below. You never know- your favorite blog post might help someone who is working on a project right now!

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