What Is Railroaded Fabric?

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SKU: X-HT-300107
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When starting a fabric or upholstery project it is always good to become familiar with some industry terminology. “Railroaded” fabric is an upholstery term that can be a real head-scratcher. While it seems to have nothing to do with fabric at all, railroaded fabric can save you time and money in your next upholstery project.

Railroaded fabric refers to the way a fabric, particularly a pattern or stripe, is milled. Usually fabric patterns run “up the roll,” meaning the pattern flows from top to bottom, parallel with the selvage edges. On a fabric that is railroaded, the pattern runs across the roll from selvage edge to selvage edge.

When upholstering, it generally looks best to run a patterned or striped fabric from top to bottom and from back to front. Imagine upholstering a sofa. It would look best for the stripes to have a vertical orientation, like soldiers standing in a row.

Most upholstery fabrics are 54 inches wide. On a regular “up the roll” pattern this would mean creating a seam every 54 inches to get the desired pattern on the sofa. Railroaded fabric makes for less seaming because the pattern continues over a long stretch of fabric. Even in railroaded fabric, sometimes the patterns can be difficult to match. You may need to do some seaming to achieve your desired look.

Some fabrics will say in the description or on the tag if they are railroaded. If this information isn’t available, here’s how to be a savvy shopper and check yourself. Roll the fabric off the roll enough to see which way the pattern is facing. If the top of the pattern faces up towards the roll or down towards the fabric end, the fabric is up the roll (not railroaded). If the top of the pattern is sideways the fabric has been railroaded. When shopping online, look for patterns that run from selvage edge to selvage edge in the photo for fabrics that have been railroaded.

Notice that the left roll's striped pattern is going up the roll versus the railroaded pattern on the roll to the right.

Whether you choose up the roll or railroaded fabric for your next project, you’re now one step closer to speaking the lingo like a pro. Check out our fantastic and colorful selection or railroaded fabric. Just type "railroaded fabric" into the search box on our website, or you can click "Railroaded" in the "Fabric Design" category on the left-hand side of our Fabric section.

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