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What is the "nap" of a fabric?
9th December 2014

What is nap?

Since writing about the Sport-Luxe Collection, I’ve had several enquiries about “occasion” fabrics and how to deal with “nap”.

So what is "nap"? Nap is the term used to describe the textured surface of a fabric. It is most noticeable in velvets, corduroys and fleece fabrics but it is also present in silks, satins and other smooth surfaced fabrics.

When fabric is woven, the surface is not perfectly smooth; through the spinning and weaving process fibres protrude. To create a smooth surface the fabric will be “sheared” removing the nap.

But sometimes a “piled nap” is created to give a more luxurious thickness; loops are woven into the cloth to create an obvious pile. The loops are sometimes left as loops as in terry toweling otherwise they are cut to create a velour or velvet finish.

Carding or combing the fabric surface also forms a nap; historically Teasel pods were used but wire brushes have replaced these. By teasing or brushing the fabric, more fibres are raised or fluffed up. This surface is then uniformly trimmed to give a plush finish.

The nap of a fabric needs to be taken into consideration, when laying out your pattern pieces, as it usually lies in one direction. To see if the fabric you have chosen has a distinctive nap, brush the palm of your hand down the length of your fabric, now try bringing your hand in the reverse direction – one way will be smooth and the other may "fight" against you. Alternatively place one end of your fabric 180 degrees to the other end and see if there is a change in the depth of colour. Either way, when you have a nap, traditionally you should lay your fabric out flat in a single layer and place your sewing pattern pieces with the nap lying in a downward direction, because when you put your garment on it is natural to smooth it down ones body.

In the instruction sheet for the Sport-Luxe bomber jacket, I have used the most economical lay with the grain running down the sleeve, as this works well with the garment's batwing sleeve cut. But if your fabric has a distinctive pattern, for example a check or large print, this may visually over-ride the sheen of any visible nap. If this ios the case I would suggest the layout shown below. With this layout you can match the pattern across the body, and any check would correspond from back to front.


Checked fabric lay

Often with evening or occasion wear fabrics the width can be narrower 120cm. If you are using a narrower fabric with a nap, for the Sport-Luxe Bomber Jacket, use the fabric lay shown below. This will require slightly more fabric; for 114cm wide fabric you will require 2 metres.      

Narrow fabric lay