A Fabric Guide To Corduroy: What’s In A Wale?

I just love cord, it reminds me of autumn when the leaves turning golden and marching through the fallen leaves. It has that lovely cosy feel, cord is perfect in that transition period  from the heady carefree days of summer dresses through to snuggly woolly jumpers.

What is corduroy fabric?

Cord is a woven fabric which has raised, textured ribs on the right side that run parallel to the selvedge. The ribs are formed by cutting the threads in one direction and the result is a hard wearing fabric that’s soft to the touch.

The name originates from the French cord du roi and it was originally a popular fabric for French royal servants uniforms in the 17th and 18th centuries.


What’s a Wale?

The ribs, or wales, are what gives corduroy it’s distinct quality and the number of wales lets you know what kind of cord you’re dealing with.

When you see a wale number given when you’re looking at cord fabric  it’s telling you there are that many ribs per inch.  The higher the wale number the finer the wales will be. Classic corduroy material typically has 14 wales per inch.

Needlecord has finer ribs and is typically 14 to 18 cords per inch which gives a lighter weight fabric and a shorter pile than regular corduroy. We have a super stock of needlecord and have lots of coloured & patterned corduroy to choose from. Needlecord is brilliant for clothing and makes fantastic shirts, dresses, bags and children’s clothes.

Then there’s pincord or babycord which has a finer wale again, typically 18 to 22 cords per inch and has similar uses to needlecord and at the other end of the scale there’s constitutional cord which is also known as jumbo or elephant cord which is much thicker and heavier and typically has just 3 to 10 cords per inch.

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Sewing Tips For Corduroy Fabric

Cord is a lovely fabric to sew. It’s stable & doesn’t really require much special handling so it’s a great fabric for beginners. The only thing to think about is those parallel lines….

Make sure your cutting is accurate. This will help you when you sew your item together – you don’t want the wales on a slant! Also consider the direction that the nap is going and use the “With Nap” cutting layout if you are dressmaking.

Use a 80/12 needle and a stitch length of 2.5mm. You may wish to loosen your top tension or use a walking for if you find the fabric is travelling a little – the nap might cause this to happen.

Recommended marking tools for cord fabric are Chaco markers, Erasable Fabric Markers or tailors tacks

The most popular interfacings to use for corduroy fabrics are sew-in or fusible

It’s advisable not to press the right side of the fabric, you can end up with unsightly lines from your seams. Use a pressing cloth like a lightweight calico is recommended


And I’m super excited that our 16 wale needlecord is featured in this month’s Love Sewing magazine, there’s a feature on making this adorable cord pinafore as well as a skirt and appliquéd shirt.

I hope you enjoy sewing with this wonderful cord as much as I do! What will you make from cord this season

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