A Beginner’s Guide to Corduroy Wales

A Beginner’s Guide to Corduroy Wales

So, it is the season for corduroy, the ideal companion to polo necks, tights and heavy boots but have you ever wondered where it comes from? Why is it called Corduroy and what on earth are the Wales? Well, we have done the research for you to produce a beginner’s guide to corduroy wales, so you can dazzle your next dinner party guests with your knowledge.

What are Corduroy Wales?

Jumbo cord wale     Needlecord wale


Pink corduroy fabrics in different wales


So, let’s start with the wales, that is the name given to the raised ridges that give the corduroy that distinctive velvety texture. The type of corduroy is based on the number of ridges per inch, so a jumbo cord has less ridges per inch, the finest corduroy is Pin or Needle cord which has over 16 Wales per inch and is the finest corduroy out there. But a standard corduroy has around 11 Wales per inch. Here is an approximate guide in the table below but do be aware that everyone has a slightly different definition of the number of wales for each type of corduroy.


Type of Corduroy

Typical Number of Wales

Jumbo Cord


Standard Corduroy

11 - 14



Pin Cord


Baby Cord

22- 25


Where Does the Name Wale Come From?

The term “wale” has many different meanings depending on the context (for example it can refer to a strip of wood used on the outer hull of ships) but the origin of the word is thought to be from the Anglo Saxon word wale which refers to the raised ridges in a ploughed field. We are sticking with that version as it seems to make perfect sense.


History of Corduroy

Technically Corduroy is a type of velvet, which seems obvious now as they both have a pile, and its origins are just as fancy. It became popular in both France and England in the 1700s, when it was made from silk for the servants of the Royals.

The name apparently is even based on the French word “cord du roi” which means cord of the king. However more recently this has de-bunked and many now believe this was started by the original English factory owners who wanted to make it sound chicer and French. In fact, even today in some parts of continental Europe corduroy is called Manchester because of where it was most famously made. 

But as time when on it started to be made from cotton in factories and it became much more closely associated with the working classes as it was both durable and inexpensive.


When did Corduroy Become Fashionable?

In more recent times, corduroy creates strong nostalgic feelings for many of us because of its links to preppy looks and large lapelled suits of the 1970’s.

Corduroy has enjoyed may different incarnations since the beatniks and students of the 1960s who worn it as an alternative to chinos or jeans. In fact, it was given the coolest possible stamp of approval during this time when Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones wore a pair of pink corduroy trousers for a portrait by Cecil Beaton, which looks very similar to our latest pink Jumbo Cord.


Jumbo Cord Rose Pink

Jumbo Cord in Rose Pink



But then it reappeared teamed with flannels and converse by the rockers of the 1990s. So, despite being sometimes called the Poor Man’s Velvet, Corduroy is pretty cool. 


Sewing with Corduroy…. 


Today, is it even Autumn/Winter if you haven’t pulled a corduroy pinafore dress over a polo neck and tights? But if you haven’t ever considered sewing with corduroy before, it is very much like a denim but slightly bulkier because of the wales but is just as durable and maybe even slightly warmer. It tends to be made from 100% cotton or occasionally it is mixed with something else to give it some stretch, again just like denim.  


It is especially good for new sewers who want to branch out a bit from basic cottons but don’t want to deal with anything that is difficult to cut out. The key thing to remember is that like a velvet it has a nap (mean the raised texture which can change depending on which way it is laid) so make sure to cut it all the same way.


Corduroy Pinafore Dress Inspiration


We have been thinking about making another pinafore dress recently and quite fancy the York Pinafore by Helen’s Closet as it’s looser shape would be handy for fitting a chunkier knit underneath. 

York Pinafore Dress Pattern from the Foldline

York Pinafore Dress Pattern from the Foldline


Is Corduroy a good Children’s Fabric?

But corduroy isn’t just for adults either; is there anything cuter than little ones having printed corduroy loose trousers for exploring in? And as corduroy is famous for being both soft and durable surely that makes it even more perfect for kiddies? We think we have found the perfect pattern for children's baggy trousers which would be super in any of our corduroy fabrics.

Children's Corduroy Trouser pattern

Fibre Mood Child/Teen Chris Trousers



Using Corduroy to Patch Jeans

But also, if you have scraps left over from your own dressmaking what about patching up some jeans with a soft corduroy patch to make their trousers last a bit longer?


Buy Corduroy Fabric Online

So hopefully that has answered all your corduroy questions…..particularly those relating to wales and widths. Whether you are looking for jumbo cord, baby cord, needlecord, printed corduroy, brightly coloured plain corduroy or pretty florals, you can find them all in our great  corduroy fabric collection online.

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