Understanding Fabric Nap for Sewing Projects

Important Essentials for Sewing with Velvet, Corduroy, and Other Fabrics

Velour fabric in two different directions
Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

If you are reading a pattern envelope or getting ready to buy fabric for a project, it is important to understand some essentials about fabric nap, which is the raised, often fuzzy surface on certain kinds of cloth.

A fabric with nap usually has a pile and will look different color shades from different angles. Velvet, velour, 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. And, 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 or it will look like you are using two different color fabrics.

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 in doubt about a fabric having a nap to it, there are a couple 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 to the fabric the fabric will appear different depending on what 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 and up in the folded section. If there is nap, you will see the fabric as if it were different colors.

If you are not sure if your fabric has nap or not, play it safe and use a nap layout, rather than regret it later.

Nap Gone Wrong

A good example of a sewing project with nap gone wrong is if a velvet gown is not cut out with all the pattern pieces going in the same direction. When this happens, the dress will look like it was made with two different color fabrics.

History of Nap as a Textile Term

Since the 15th century, the term "nap" generally refers to a special pile given to cloth. The term "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.