What is Nap of a fabric in sewing ?
Nap is the texture of a fabric with the raised fibers of the fabric going in a particular direction. This property of fabric is woven into it. A secondary yarn is woven through the cloth to get the nap.
You can feel the nap of a fabric by running your hand on the surface of the cloth.If you are running your hands ‘with the nap’ the fibers will feel smooth (in the downwards direction) , where as if you are running your hands ‘against the nap’ (upwards) the fibers will feel rough or not quite smooth.
A perfect example of a cloth with nap is Velvet. This fabric has a nap which is very much tangible as well as visible.
Which are the Fabrics with nap ?
In some fabrics like Velour, Velvet, Fleece, Corduroy Faux fur Nap is very obvious. Brushed denim, flannel, synthetic suede, stretch twill, terry cloth are other fabrics with obvious nap
Why is nap important in sewing ?
Nap is very important in determining how you set out the pattern on a fabric. Layouts of fabric with nap will be different from fabric without nap. When cutting fabric keep the pattern pieces so that Nap is going upwards
- Finish of the garment – If you ignore the nap of a fabric when sewing and join together two pieces with different nap direction especially for fabric with very obvious nap it will definitely look very odd. I have first hand experience – the two arms of a top ended up looking like two types of fabric. That is how much it matters.The shading of the two pieces look different from the same bolt of fabric.
- Determines how much fabric you need for sewing a pattern – When sewing with a pattern that has many pieces you will have to make sure that all the fabric pieces (pattern pieces) are cut in the direction of the nap ; You need consistent colour and texture through out the garment. To achieve this you may even need more cloth than you probably estimated for a fabric with less nap
A fabric with nap can be cut in only one way for the same pattern which is a definite disadvantage in that you waste a lot of fabric like that.
How to find the nap of a fabric ?
One way as said is to pass the hands softly over to feel the nap. The smoother feel is the ‘with nap’ direction. Rougher feel is the ‘against nap’ direction.
Nap also shows up as shaded.The brightness of the fabric is different when viewed from different directions. The nap of velvet shows a dull, matte side when viewed in one direction but from another direction it looks bright and shiny, and very smooth.
An easy trick to find the nap in fabrics with less obvious nap ( which feels the same even when you run the hands over it) is to take it to broad sunlight. Smoother surface which is with the nap ( the downward direction) will be lighter and the rougher surface which is against the nap ( upwards ) will be slightly darker.
For a visual understanding of how nap of a fabric works checkout this video
Sewing with fabric with nap
Sewing with a napped fabric is a pleasure because of the beauty of the finished garment. The texture of the fabric which nap provides it is very attractive. There is a sheen to these fabric which is extraordinary. But as already said you have to get the layout of pattern pieces right.
Because of the fabric wastage involved and the bulkiness of most of the napped fabric I always prefer to make simple clothes ( without too many pattern pieces or design details with these fabrics ) Checkout the free sewing patterns page for simple clothes you can make for yourself with the napped fabric
As for choosing the direction of the nap when cutting fabric – this is mostly a personal preference. Decide on the look you want. If you are going against the nap you will get a rich colour which some prefers over the lighter colour of with the nap. But “with the nap”
One thing which deters me from the napped fabric is that most of the napped fabric is expensive to maintain ( to buy also). They are almost always ‘Dry clean only’ . Checkout this post on hand washing clothes which is what you can do if you donot want to dry clean always ( may be after the first few drycleans)
Related post : Piled fabrics (Vz Napped Fabrics)