Quilting with corduroy

Corduroy. Soft and richly colored—it is basically a form of velvet. The only problem is that it can be very thick and therefore very frustrating to quilt with. A few meetings ago Vanessa mentioned that she had a stash of corduroy without a plan, and I am ashamed to say, “me too!” I have had a large stack of cut up corduroy pants staring at me from my fabric stash for close to 5 years. I think it is time to finally conquer it!

I am going to talk a little about corduroy itself and then suggest a few ways of incorporating it into a quilt without giant lumps and bumps. If you want to read even more about corduroy, check out this Threads article.

About Corduroy

Corduroy can be made from different fibers, but it is usually cotton, a cotton/poly blend, or either of those plus some spandex.

The width of the “cords” in corduroy is called the “wale” and can be from 1.5 to 22 cords per inch. The smaller the number is, the wider (and thicker) the cords. For example, most men’s pants are around 4 to 11 cords per inch and are called a “wide wale” or “normal wale”. This is a fairly heavy fabric and more difficult to quilt with. I give you a few ideas for quilting with this below.

Corduroy shirts and some women’s and children’s pants are usually between 11 and 21 cords per inch and are not much thicker than quilting cotton or flannel. Corduroy with wales of 16 cords per inch or higher is also called narrow or fine wale, pincord, or pinwale. For the most part, you can treat this lightweight corduroy just like quilting cotton.

Corduroy, similar to velvet, has a “nap”. What this means is that the tufted fibers in the cords want to lie in one direction only. You can feel this by brushing your hand up and down the cords—brushing with the nap will smooth the fibers, and brushing against the nap will feel rough and fluff them up. The fabric will also appear to be slightly different colors from different angles. In a quilt, unlike a garment, not all pieces have to have the nap facing the same direction, but nap is something to consciously consider when you are arranging the pieces.

Purchasing corduroy

To acquire corduroy for quilting, you can either cut up clothing from your home or a thrift store, or you can purchase yardage at a fabric store. Try to choose a 100% cotton fabric if possible, and avoid corduroy with spandex for quilts as it stretches.

Jo-Ann fabrics in the Twin Cities carries corduroy in a handful of colors, in weights of 4, 16, and 21 wale. You can tell by the label on the bolt—it has a number like “21/w” for 21 wale.

Cutting up clothing is probably the greener and cheaper option, but it will also take you much longer to collect and cut your pieces. As a bonus, though, you will get a much greater variety of colors and sizes. To save the most money, try shopping at a thrift store on sale days (for example, Goodwill in the Twin Cities has $1.49 tag day on Tuesdays) or at a thrift store outlet (such as Goodwill Outlet in St. Paul, where clothing is $1.29 a pound). Both places will vary in how much corduroy you might find in a day, and it will probably take you a few trips to collect enough for a quilt—but the hunt and collecting is half the fun, anyway!

One thing to note is that corduroy made of cotton shrinks, and sometimes a lot. I would recommend you pre-wash all corduroy before incorporating it into a quilt, even if you don’t prewash your quilting cottons, and especially if you are mixing varieties or sources of corduroy.

Cutting your corduroy

If you are cutting up corduroy from pants, it is easiest to first cut off the "skeleton", or all of the seams. This gives you four large, flat pieces to work with. I use the same method when cutting up jeans for quilts as well.

When you make vertical cuts in your corduroy, you might want to forgo the quilting ruler and use your rotary cutter or scissors to cut precisely in the channel between wales. This can take a long time, but is worth it for the look it gives with all the wales being perfectly parallel to the edge of the piece.

Problems with Corduroy

Two big problems you will run into when sewing corduroy are “creep” and fraying. When you place two pieces of thick corduroy right sides together, and try to sew them with an accurate ¼ inch seam, the pieces will shift (creep) when going through the presser foot. This can result in both inaccurate, crooked seams and a seam that is narrower on one of the pieces.

To combat creep, lower the pressure on your presser foot if you can, heavily pin or baste all seams beforehand, and pull the fabrics taut front to back as they are going through the machine if they are being troublesome. You can also use an awl, stiletto, or seam ripper to hold the fabrics in place and ensure that the fabric edges stay aligned right up to the needle. You might also try using your walking foot.

Corduroy frays like crazy, so if you do wind up with a narrow seam, then it will likely come apart at some point. If you want to use corduroy in a durable quilt that gets used and washed regularly, use a minimum ½ inch seam allowance. For further security, reduce your stitch length slightly. This is especially true if the quilting on your corduroy quilts is minimal. Also, do a few test seams before you start your quilt; because of the thickness of the fabric you might also need to lower your tension to get a good stitch.

Another tricky thing about corduroy, especially wide wale, is that it is difficult to press without marring it. If you press firmly on the fabric with an iron, you might permanently crush your cords. Finger press your seams open first to reduce bulk, and then press your seams with the right side down on a fluffy towel. Use only the very tip of the iron, lots of steam, and very little pressure. I would also consider topstitching the seams open, maybe 1/4 inch away from the seams, to ensure they stay flat.

Ideas for sewing with corduroy

The biggest issue to me in using wide and normal wale corduroy is that the bulk created by the seams makes for a lumpy quilt. Below I suggest five different ways of getting around this, each of which succeed to varying degrees.

I will also mention that both corduroy and denim share a lot of the same problems—I would also use the techniques below when I incorporate denim into a quilt (except #1, of course). Most of the ideas below also work best if you square up after every step to keep the edges even.

1. Shave the cords in the seams

Something that garment makers do to reduce bulk is to use electric clippers to shave off the cords in the seams. I have not tried this, but I think it would work well. Definitely practice on scraps before trying it on your quilt.

2. Overlap pieces


This is the method I will probably wind up using, as it completely eliminates any lumps and makes the seams perfectly straight, flat, and smooth. Cut large strips or squares of corduroy. Take two pieces, both right side facing up, and overlap them on one edge by 1 inch. Lower your stitch length to 2.0mm, and stitch across close to the center of the overlap, or about 1/2 inch away from the top edge.

Then, change your stitch to a wide zigzag and stitch along the edge of the top piece of corduroy, securing it to the piece underneath and reducing fraying. It will still fray some, but not too badly.

Finally, stitch one more straight seam about 1/16 inch away from the widest point of the zigzag on the top piece, again using a smaller stitch. Repeat, building rows, columns, or blocks and just keep overlapping. Trim any edges that will show on the top of the quilt before sewing them.

3. Eliminating 4+ point intersections

Regular seams
Seams with added topstitching
If you don’t want any raw edges in your quilt, you can eliminate some of the bulkiness problems by choosing a pattern that never has more than three pieces of fabric coming together in one place. There aren’t a lot of all-over patterns like this, but you could also sew any block that has no more than three pieces coming together in the block, and then sew the blocks together with sashing that is corduroy or another fabric. Blocks could be rail fence, log cabin, Chinese coin, etc. If you want your seams to lie flat without pressing, topstitch the seams open as in the second photo, above.

You can also just do random lengths and widths strips like in the quilt below from Nifty Quilts (photo reposted with permission). She uses a narrow wale here, but I think it would work with a wider wale, too. This pattern would also look great using the overlapping technique.
Photo from Nifty Quilts
4. Use strips of a thinner fabric, like cotton or flannel, as sashing so corduroy does not need to be stitched to itself.


I thought this was a brilliant idea when I came across it. Use strips of quilting cotton or flannel to create sashing of some kind on the outside of each block so that when the blocks are sewn together, no corduroy is sewn to itself. In my example above, I used a plaid flannel, which I would not recommend as it made the uneven-ness of the seams really obvious.

Alicia of Lucy’s Quilts does this with denim, but it would work just as well with corduroy. Below is one of her many stained glass denim quilts (photo reposted with permission).

Photo from Lucy's Quilts.
What I especially like about her pattern is that it would use up all but the smallest scraps if you are harvesting corduroy from clothing. She says she uses 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10” squares for this pattern, and 1” strips for sashing. If you are applying this to corduroy, I would suggest using 2” sashing strips, a ½ inch seam allowance, and pressing or topstitching the seams towards the sashing. If two adjacent pieces of corduroy overlap underneath because your fabric crept during stitching, just trim the seam back a little.

Another example that would work well and I think would look gorgeous in corduroy is this pattern by Mary of maryquilts (photo reposted with permission). A pattern is included on her site.

Photo from Mary Quilts.
Notice how if you used corduroy for the center of each block and quilting cotton or flannel for the outer strips on the block, that no corduroy would be sewn to itself.

5. Raggy quilt

Raggy sample, pre-washing.
The last and probably one of the best options is to make a rag/raggy/fringe quilt. There are already so many great tutorials out there (including the three below) that I don’t think I need to write another one. I would use another soft fabric for the backing, such as flannel. You can make it so that all the corduroy is on one side of the quilt, or you can mix and match so both sides of the quilt are half corduroy.

This makes a wonderfully heavy, warm, and snuggly quilt that is perfect for the car, picnics, or the couch. The bonus of using corduroy and flannel is that it would already be very warm, so the batting is optional. No batting eliminates the tricky part of centering the batting, makes quilting optional, and makes this quilt very fast to make. The raggy seams also hide any slight creep where the seams don't line up perfectly or where the wales wind up not perfectly parallel to the seams.

http://thimblesandthread.blogspot.com/2009/12/corduroy-rag-quilt.html

http://www.modabakeshop.com/2011/07/charming-rag-quilt.html

http://jenyu.net/make/ragquilt.php

Once you are done your quilt top and are ready to quilt it, you have a few different options, but I would keep it simple. A few lines in the ditch, straight across, or at an angle across the quilt should be all that is necessary, especially if you omit the batting. Personally I would choose random lines as it would be much more forgiving of wobbles than trying to stitch in the ditch. You can also always just tie the quilt and forgo quilting altogether.

I hope this inspires you to try using corduroy in a quilt!

24 comments:

  1. Nice post! I have several boxes that have corduroy in them that I need to use up sometime. I will have to refer to this when I am ready. First I need to use up those piles of denim that I have collected!

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  2. Nice post! You have definetly inspired me to give courdaroy a try... As if I need another project. But winter is coming and I can use a nice heavy quilt to snuggle under! :-)

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  3. Great post. I backed a quilt with corduroy, it had an autumn theme and the cord just worked. Haven't put it on the front of a quilt.......yet.

    Judith Inge

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  4. Wow! Thanks for the tips - I'm off to my 'Stash' to work up my first for a charity quilt from my guild. Nancy Ann

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  5. Thank you this was very helpful. I "inherited" quite a bit of pastel corduroy and pinwale. I am a quilt maker so I wanted to use it where possible. It will make some very nice lap quilts.

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