What does ‘Railroading’ mean when used to describe Upholstery Fabric?

Railroading is a term you might run across when buying fabric for a home decor project, and here’s what it means in upholstery lingo:

When I first heard the term ‘railroading’ in my upholstery teacher’s shop, I thought ‘What the heck could fabric have to with being unfairly forced into something you don’t want to do (the definition I found when I had to look it up in the dictionary)?’ I learned pretty quickly that it refers to the orientation of a fabric’s pattern or nap (directional weave) on the fabric bolt.

Most home decor fabrics that you’ll run into are oriented ‘up the roll’, like this:

Railroaded fabric made simple


In some fabrics (this is less common), the pattern is oriented to accommodate wide applications, such as upholstery on a long sofa – without seams. This is called a railroaded fabric, and is identified with a graphic like this:

'railroaded' fabric vs 'up the roll'

If we use a striped fabric as an example, the railroad reference becomes obvious (like ties running crosswise to the tracks):

striped fabric looks like railroad ties

Here’s that same striped fabric shown with the pattern running up the roll:

striped fabric will not fit across the sofa back without a seam

Using the ‘Up the Roll’ orientation would require seams in the middle of the sofa back – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but could make a difference in the look of the finished piece.

If this had been helpful to you, feel free to share this infographic:

fabric buying tips infographic

Find inspiring fabric design ideas on Upholstery Arts’ Patterns for Upholstery Design on Pinterest.

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