Understanding Fabric Nap for Sewing Projects

Essentials for Sewing Velvet, Corduroy, and Other Fabrics

Velour fabric in two different directions

Debbie Colgrove

If you are reading a pattern envelope or you're looking to buy some soft, cozy fabric for making an epic winter blanket, you'll probably encounter the term "fabric nap." No, it's not a snooze you take at the sewing machine; it's the raised, fuzzy surface on certain types of fabric.

Since the 15th century, the term "nap" in sewing has referred to a special pile given to cloth. Pile refers to raised fibers that are there on purpose, rather than as a by-product of producing the cloth. In this case, the nap is woven into the cloth, often by weaving loops into the fabric, which can then be cut or left intact. Carpets, rugs, velvet, velour, and velveteen are made by interlacing a secondary yarn through woven cloth, creating a nap or pile.

A nap appears to be lighter or darker shades of color from different angles. In addition to the velvet and velour mentioned above, terry cloth, corduroy, and suede fabric are examples of fabric with nap.

Pattern Envelopes and Nap

A pattern envelope will list fabric "with nap" or fabric "without nap" and in most cases, you will notice different fabric requirements depending upon fabric nap. When cutting out fabric, the directions will usually be different.

If your fabric has nap, all of the pattern pieces must be laid in the same direction.

Fabric with a one-way design will also use the "with nap" cutting layout so that the design on the fabric all runs in the same direction on the finished item.

Check If Your Fabric Has Nap

You can feel the nap when you lightly run your hand long-ways over the right side of the fabric. The hairs lie smooth and flat with the nap and feel slightly rough against the nap.

If you are feeling unsure about whether a material has a nap to it, there are a few different ways to test the fabric:

  • You can lay the fabric on a surface and brush it with your hand. Now brush the fabric right next to where you brushed it, in the opposite direction. If there is nap, the fabric will appear different depending on which direction you have brushed the fibers.
  • You can also take a length of the fabric and fold it up on itself, so the fabric is going down in one section and up in the folded section. If there is nap, you will see the fabric as if it were different shades of the same color.

If you're still feeling unsure, play it safe and use a nap layout. When you treat a fabric with nap the same as a fabric without nap, you will end up with a garment that appears to be made from two different colors of fabric. Patchwork is fine for quilts, but you don't want your clothes to look like they've been pieced together with different fabrics!