Visual working memory provides an essential link between perception and higher cognitive functions, allowing for the active maintenance of information regarding stimuli no longer in view1,2. Research suggests that sustained activity in higher-order prefrontal, parietal, inferotemporal and lateral occipital areas supports visual maintenance3-11, and may account for working memory’s limited capacity to hold up to 3-4 items9-11. Because higher-order areas lack the visual selectivity of early sensory areas, it has remained unclear how observers can remember specific visual features, such as the precise orientation of a grating, with minimal decay in performance over delays of many seconds12. One proposal is that sensory areas serve to maintain fine-tuned feature information13, but early visual areas show little to no sustained activity over prolonged delays14-16. Using fMRI decoding methods17, here we show that orientations held in working memory can be decoded from activity patterns in the human visual cortex, even when overall levels of activity are low. Activity patterns in areas V1-V4 could predict which of two oriented gratings was held in memory with mean accuracy levels upwards of 80%, even in participants exhibiting activity that fell to baseline levels after a prolonged delay. These orientation-selective activity patterns were sustained throughout the delay period, evident in individual visual areas, and similar to the responses evoked by unattended, task-irrelevant gratings. Our results demonstrate that early visual areas can retain specific information about visual features held in working memory, over periods of many seconds when no physical stimulus is present.