What is Railroaded Fabric?

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.

What does “railroaded fabric” mean?

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 is railroaded fabric helpful?

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.

How can I tell if a fabric is railroaded?

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.

Railroaded fabric (left) versus regular fabric (right) on the roll.

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. Beautiful, luxurious indoor and outdoor fabrics can be purchased by the yard at www.sailrite.com

  1. Lorraine said:

    Re railroading – I am confused by the 2 pictures of the sofa. These 2 pictures end up with the same vertical stripe sofa so the fabric has not been turned or railroaded. Surely if the fabric is as per the first picture & comes off the roll like this then when you railroad it & turn the fabric to run along the length of the sofa then the stripes would then be going the other way i.e along the sofa so you would get horizontal stripes if you railroad this fabric & vertical stripes if you don’t?

    • Nikki said:

      A fabric is railroaded not by the direction you turn the fabric roll, but rather how the fabric was woven/printed at the mill. So a railroaded fabric would have been made at the mill so the pattern runs across the width of the fabric roll, as opposed to the more common practice of printing/weaving the pattern down the length of the fabric. Does that help answer your question?

  2. patti colin said:

    Is one easier to work with than the other… I am purchasing fabric for a medium size antique chair and fell in love with a branch design railroaded fabric…Myla Ebony Culp fabric SKU V53-MYL-EBO… and I’m trying to figure out how many yards I would need??? any advice..

    • Typically railroaded is only necessary when you have a longer application that you don’t want the cushion to have a seam in. For an antique chair it shouldn’t make much of a difference to go with railroaded or not.

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