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What is Corduroy Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where

by Boris Hodakel  • October 30, 2020 • 7 min read

Fabric name Corduroy
Fabric also known as Corded velveteen, Manchester cloth, elephant cord, pincord
Fabric composition Cotton, cotton-poly blend, wool, or fully synthetic
Fabric possible wale variations 1.5 to 21
Fabric breathability Medium
Moisture-wicking abilities Medium
Heat retention abilities Depends on the material used
Stretchability (give) Low
Prone to pilling/bubbling Depends on the material used
Country where fabric was first produced England
Biggest exporting/producing country today China
Recommended washing temperatures Depends on the material used
Commonly used in Pants, overalls, jackets, uniforms, shirts, dresses, pillows, upholstery

What is corduroy fabric?

Corduroy is a durable, ridged fabric that textile producers can make with a variety of different materials. This fabric is most notable for its unique ridged pattern, which corduroy producers can weave in a variety of widths.

While it is usually made with cotton, corduroy can also be woven with blends of polyester and cotton or even full polyester. Textile producers also sometimes make corduroy with wool, but the ridges present on wool corduroy are not as visible as the ridges on corduroy made with other materials. Fabric manufacturers dye corduroy in a wide variety of different colors, and one form of corduroy dying results in an uneven fading that is highly aesthetically pleasing.

Corduroy technical specifications

Corduroy consists of three separate yarns woven together. The two primary yarns create a plain or a twill weave, and the third yarn intersperses into this weave in the filling direction, forming floats that pass over at least four warp yarns.

Textile producers then use blades to sever the float yarns, which causes ridges of piled fabric to appear on the surface of the weave. The ridges of piled yarn on corduroy fabric are known as wales, and these wales vary significantly in width. A piece of corduroy fabric’s “wale number” is determined by the number of wales contained in a single inch of fabric, and standard corduroy fabric has around 11-12 wales.

The lower the wale number, the thicker the wales on corduroy fabric will be. Concurrently, higher wale numbers indicate thinner wales that are more closely bunched together.

History of corduroy fabric

Fabric historians believe that corduroy originated from an Egyptian fabric called fustian, which was developed in approximately 200 AD. Like corduroy, fustian fabric features raised ridges, but this type of fabric is much rougher and less closely woven than modern corduroy.

Textile manufacturers in England developed modern corduroy in the 18th century. The source of this fabric’s name remains debated, but it’s highly unlikely that at least one widely popularized etymological theory is correct: Some sources suggest that the word “corduroy” comes from the French corde du roi (cord of the king) and that courtiers and nobility in France commonly wore this fabric, but no historical data back up this position.

Instead, it is more likely that British textile manufacturers adopted this name from “kings-cordes,” which certainly did exist during the early 19th century. It’s also possible that this name draws its origins from the British surname Corderoy.

Regardless of why this fabric is called “corderoy,” it became highly popular among all strata of British society throughout the 1700s. By the 19th century, however, velvet had replaced corduroy as the most sumptuous fabric available to the elite, and corduroy received the derogatory nickname “poor man’s velvet.”

Corduroy in the 20th century

Corduroy received a resurgence in popularity during World War I, and it briefly became the default fabric for infantry uniforms as well as the era’s school uniforms. This fabric remained reasonably popular throughout the first half of the 20th century before going out of vogue in the 1950s.

During the 1970s, corduroy enjoyed a widespread revival within Western culture, and bands like the Grateful Dead re-popularized this fabric throughout the United States. Sometimes seen as a throwback to early 20th-century working-class culture and other times simply viewed as a “groovy” fabric with unique colors and textures, corduroy rapidly became the defining fabric of the era.

Corduroy today

Since then, corduroy has come in and out of style numerous times. While this fabric has largely lost its cult following, the general public still views corduroy as a versatile, durable fabric that’s ideal for pants, jackets, and children’s clothes. While textile manufacturers commonly produced corduroy using synthetic fibers throughout the 20th century, a recent resurgence of interest in natural textiles has increased the popularity of all-cotton or all-wool corduroy fabrics.

How is corduroy fabric made?

The production processes used to make corduroy vary depending on the types of materials used. Cotton and wool are derived from natural plant and animal sources respectively, for instance, and synthetic fibers like polyester and rayon are produced in factories.

Once textile manufacturers have acquired one or more types of yarn, however, corduroy fabric production follows a universal set of steps:

1. Weaving

Most types of corduroy fabric feature plain weaves, which consist of weft threads that alternate over and under warp threads. It’s also possible to make corduroy using a twill weave, but this approach is less common. Once the primary weave is complete, textile manufacturers add a “pile thread,” which will be cut to form corduroy’s characteristic ridges.

2. Glueing

Glue is applied to the back of the woven fabric to ensure that the pile yarn does not pull through during the cutting process. Textile producers remove this glue later in production.

3. Cutting of pile yarn

Textile manufacturers then use an industrial cutter to sever the pile yarn. This yarn is then brushed and singed to produce soft, uniform ridges.

4. Dyeing

To produce a unique, irregular pattern, textile manufacturers can pigment-dye completed corduroy fabric. The pattern that this dyeing process produces becomes more accentuated as it is washed, providing one of the most visually appealing facets of corduroy fabric.

How is corduroy fabric used?

In the past, garment manufacturers used corduroy to make everything from workwear and soldier’s uniforms to hats and upholstery. This fabric isn’t as popular as it used to be, however, so the applications of corduroy have slimmed down somewhat.

These days, garment manufacturers primarily use corduroy to make overalls (also known as dungarees), pants, and jackets. Corduroy trousers have lost the cult-like popularity they enjoyed in the 1970s, but pants made out of this material can’t seem to quite go out of style.

Outside the realm of apparel, furniture and accessory makers also use corduroy to make chair and couch coverings as well as decorative cushions. Starting in the 1910s, the first automobiles on the market featured corduroy upholstery, but more durable weaves soon replaced this fabric. Don’t expect to find corduroy on the seats of any modern cars, but don’t be surprised if you come across this ridged fabric on the surface of your friend’s couch.

Where is corduroy fabric produced?

The world’s largest textile producer is China. While India is the largest producer of cotton and other countries lead the world’s wool market, China produces the most finished garments per year of any nation on the face of the planet.

Due to its preeminent status as a textile producer, it’s likely that China produces more corduroy fabric and finished corduroy garments than any other nation. Indian textile manufacturer Sintex, however, claims to be Asia’s biggest corduroy producer. While China may produce the most corduroy overall, India may be home to the world’s largest corduroy producer.

How much does corduroy fabric cost?

Corduroy is generally more expensive than fabrics made with similar materials due to its relatively complicated production process. This price discrepancy between corduroy and standard weaves, however, should be minimal since modern technology has dramatically reduced the production time necessary to make corduroy fabric. In general, corduroy fabric should cost 10-20% more than plain-weave fabric made with the same fibers.

What different types of corduroy fabric are there?

There are a few distinct subtypes of corduroy, and there is also one type of non-corduroy corded fabric you should know about:

1. Standard corduroy

Standard corduroy fabric has 11 wales per inch. If a piece of corduroy fabric has anywhere between 8 and 13 wales per inch, it is usually still considered to be standard corduroy.

2. Elephant cord

Named for the distinctive folds in an elephant’s skin, this type of corduroy has very large, thick cords. Elephant cord fabric can have a wale number anywhere between 1.5 and 6.

2. Pinwale corduroy

The opposite of elephant cord, pinwale corduroy features a large number of tiny ridges in every square inch. Some of the finest forms of pinwale corduroy can feature up to 21 wales per inch.

3. Pigment-dyed corduroy

This special corduroy dyeing process results in a mottled appearance that becomes more distinct with each washing. Most types of corduroy fabric are pigment-dyed.

4. Spandex corduroy

Textile manufacturers can combine cotton, poly blend, and wool corduroy with spandex to produce a stretchy corduroy fabric. Children’s garments commonly feature spandex corduroy.

5. Bedford cord

Bedford cord is an American fabric with a similar weave to corduroy. However, the pile yarns in bedford cord remain uncut, resulting in ridges that are less prominent.

How does corduroy fabric impact the environment?

The environmental impact of corduroy fabric depends on the fibers it contains. Synthetic fibers are generally more harmful to the environment than natural fibers, but depending on how they were produced, natural fibers can also impact the environment negatively.

To make synthetic fibers, such as polyester, textile manufacturers use industrial processes that result in significant chemical waste. Furthermore, synthetic fibers are not biodegradable, and they release environmental pollutants into the water supply with each washing.

Among the natural fibers used to make corduroy, cotton has the most potential to negatively impact the environment. Cotton is a plant crop, and cultivators of this fiber commonly use chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which pollute surrounding ecosystems. However, cotton is biodegradable, which means it does not contribute to microfiber pollution.

Wool is one of the most sustainable textile fibers. While bodily waste from wool-producing animals can become problematic, chemical cultivation agents are not required to produce wool. Additionally, wool is biodegradable and recyclable.

Corduroy fabric certifications available

Corduroy fabric may be eligible for various certifications depending on the fibers it contains. Recycled synthetic textiles may be eligible for Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification, and GOTS is also the world’s premier certifier of organic cotton and wool. Non-recycled synthetic textiles may be eligible for International Organization of Standardisation (ISO) certification. Wool corduroy products may be eligible for certification from organizations such as Woolmark, and corduroy products containing American pima cotton may be eligible for certification from the American Supima Association (ASA).

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About the author:

Boris Hodakel is the founder and CEO of Sewport - an online marketplace connecting brands and manufacturers, former founder of various clothing manufacturing services. He is passionate about e-commerce, marketing and production digitisation. Connect with Boris on LinkedIn.