What is Railroaded Fabric?

Most quilt-weight fabrics are made with the pattern running UP the bolt. However, you will sometimes run across a fabric that is railroaded, meaning that the pattern runs across the bolt. This is more common in upholstery and Home Dec fabrics but you can run across them in quilt-weight.

What does that mean exactly, patterns running UP the bolt versus ACROSS the bolt? Let me illustrate the point.

Horse fabric with design running up the bolt.

In the illustration above, the pattern is running UP the bolt. When you look at the fabric coming off the bolt with the selvedge edge to your right or left, the pattern is oriented correctly.

Square Dance fabric with design running across the bolt.

In the illustration above, the pattern is running ACROSS the bolt. When you look at the fabric coming off the bolt with selvedge edge to your right or left, the pattern is oriented sideways.

All-over, non-directional, and multi-directional designs are different from those above, but if the design on the fabric can only be viewed in one direction, you need to take railroading into account.  

For some patterns, such as our Essential Pillowcase, this matters because you want the design oriented correctly when the pillow is sitting on the bed, rather than upside down or sideways.

Watch Pillowcase

The Essential Pillowcase pattern is written for designs running UP the bolt, which works for about 95% of all quilt-weight cottons out there. The pattern won’t work for railroaded fabric without reworking how to cut the panels, which is way more advanced. For a beginner sewist, staying with non-railroaded fabrics will be easiest.